US Part II: Most Equal Society

Last time we took a small look at the influence, and dependence of oil in American society. We should now take a look at the social inequities haunting the US.

When Alexis de Toqueville penned his Democracy in America, the US was indeed the most equal society on Earth. That is, equal compared to the countries of Europe, entrenched in aristocracy as they were. While Toqueville saw down on some things, such as slavery (and correctly guessed that the slave question would tear the country apart down the road) he also saw favourably on other things, such as the subjugated role of women, which goes to show how values change. Perhaps now we can say that the Scandinavian countries are the most equal on Earth – compared to other countries.

Anyway, there seems to be a very strong trend in American society actually favouring inequality, arguing that some should be rich. The results of which we can read about in the wonderful book Spirit Level: Why Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better:

As we can see there is a very strong correlation between equality and living standards. A from the start staunchly individualistic (in the negative sense) country, there was, and still is, a sort conservative egalitarianism, the conception that success and failure was invariably up to the entrepreneurial life choices of the individual. It was thus a country which in conception wasn’t particularly interested in the common good of the country and its people, but which really took this “social contract” theory seriously. The result is that there is that the underclass is steadily growing. “Trickle down” my ass:

It’s no use pretending that what has obviously happened has not in fact happened. The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent. Their lot in life has improved considerably. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12 percent and 33 percent. One response might be to celebrate the ingenuity and drive that brought good fortune to these people, and to contend that a rising tide lifts all boats. That response would be misguided. While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall. For men with only high-school degrees, the decline has been precipitous—12 percent in the last quarter-century alone. All the growth in recent decades—and more—has gone to those at the top. In terms of income equality, America lags behind any country in the old, ossified Europe that President George W. Bush used to deride. Among our closest counterparts are Russia with its oligarchs and Iran. While many of the old centers of inequality in Latin America, such as Brazil, have been striving in recent years, rather successfully, to improve the plight of the poor and reduce gaps in income, America has allowed inequality to grow.

A leading factor behind this is of course a very successful class struggle. On the part of the upper class. Taste that word, class struggle. It’s like there’s a complete lack of class consciousness. While the US used to have a few quite powerful unions, such as IWW and the Teamsters, and which had some influence, they were brutally beaten down by thugs hired by corporations and, a few times when the strikes were big enough, by the armies of the State. Few workers are now affiliated with unions. Another factor is the lack of parties working for socialism. While they do exist, the political system is set up so that only two parties had a say. The Democratic party thus absorbed all the progressive forces of the country, and the Democrats are quite right-wing by European standards. Say what you want about social democratic parties, but they did a whole lot of good here.

What does all this mean? Keep in mind that rights are given neither by nature nor god; they’re something one must fight for. Remember that during the 20’s and 30’s, it was only the American Communist party which was in favour of racial equality, but the civil rights movement of the post-war period would go a whole lot of way towards that. There has been very few struggles inside the US, though. While the demonstrants in Wisconsin (almost completely ignored by the media) is impressive, it is impressive because it is actually happening in the US. Demonstrations larger than that size have been going on and are ongoing in Europe. The American populace has taken a lot of beating by the rich, and have done much to fight back, and so they’ve ended up in this situation.

I’ll end this blog post with a video about Martin Luther King, showing that he wasn’t as soft as some would believe (how strange that MLK day was introduced by Ronald Reagan):

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