If a time-traveling robber baron from the Gilded Age—a Rockefeller, say, or a Vanderbilt—somehow materialized in one of New York’s or Chicago’s or San Francisco’s money-green suburbs, he wouldn’t take long to find his bearings. Today’s economic situation, summed up in Chuck Collins’s useful new book, 99 to 1, is remarkably similar to that of the early 1900s. In those days, a handful of trusts and early corporate entities engaged in all manner of shot-calling and rule-rigging—and now, with a post-World War II era of relative equality behind us, a very small percentage of Americans are again in control of enormous wealth and influence.
But today’s chasm between rich and poor is about more than unfairness. In fact, Collins argues, extreme wealth disparity can throw a society’s basic stability into question, putting physical and mental health, ecological systems, and communities at risk. The end of the line for such a system—and we’re very nearly there—is a kind of economic ghetto, in which rich and poor limp toward fear and anger in separate, broken universes.
But readers of this measured and well-researched book will find that all is not lost. Many in the wealthy 1 percent—Warren Buffet and a group called Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength, for example—are standing up for progressive taxation, reined-in CEO pay, and a reversal of Citizens United. And then, of course, there’s you, and me, and the Occupy Movement, and every other burgeoning and related social movement around the world, the sum of which, says Collins, is far greater than the force of money. After all, it’s 99 to 1—the odds are in our favor.
How do your representatives stack up when it comes to voting on policy that helps—or hinders—economic equality? Before you go to the polls, check out this new report card.
David Korten on how closing the wealth gap can open the way to a fairer, more prosperous economy.
Cutting through the campaign rhetoric and attack ads, here are five issues we believe should be at the center of the 2012 election, plus one that has no place in the public sphere.
No one of us can do it alone. If, however, we each contribute according to our distinctive gifts and circumstances, together we can turn the human course.