I found myself this week waiting in line at the local Walmart with a cartful of groceries wondering why I decided to pick the longest line in the whole store. With no end in sight my mind went amiss and I did what most people do who are waiting in a long line. I began people watching. I watched a mother scold her child for cleverly concealing an unwanted candy-bar between two packs of Lunchables. I chuckled at the sight of a young man who seemed a bit too interested in the front cover of Vogue magazine.
In the midst of all of this diversity, one thing remained constant. All of these people were paying with cards that had the stars and stripes on them. In fact, I began to notice that the majority of people around me were using these cards. Upon closer examination I realized they were all EBT cards (electronic food stamps).
How did we get to the point when a growing majority of everyday people can’t sufficiently afford the basic amenities needed for survival? How did we get to the point where poverty, unemployment and income inequality transcends our nation’s demographics upon almost every level?
Some would like to answer these questions by blaming Democrats or Republicans. Others would respond with the evils of Chinese mercantilism and the NAFTA. Others would blame the people themselves for being “lazy welfare using crooks.” While I do not fully disagree with any of these statements, I do not believe any of these are the singular problem for our current predicament. These issues are too micro in nature to dictate what has happened here.
Instead we must look to the system under which all of these issues operate and largely owe their existence to. This system in question is of course the primary way in which most of the world now organizes itself both economically and politically; The neo-liberal system.
Also largely known as Reaganomics, this system has now been in place since the late 1970’s in response to the wheels flying off the prior capitalist system of Keynesianism. Adopted by most developed countries and later shoved down the throats of developing nations through IMF restructuring, this “new way” promised new found wealth and easy access to capital through the liberalization of the free market.
It appears that now in the 21st century, we are returning instead to 19th century economics where wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few. In the U.S. between 1979 and 2004 the wealthiest 1 percent of our population saw an increase of their national income by 78 percent. Compare this to the 80 percent of Americans who experienced an income share drop of 15 percent during the same time.
This accounts to a wealth transfer of some $664 billion from an overwhelming majority of people to a very small minority. Yes, there was new found wealth created from this system. The only problem is that it has only benefited a minuscule amount of our society.
This system has effectively turned the majority of American society into a three-class system. An underclass that is caught between welfare and low wages, a middle class that is heavily in-debt and increasingly subject to job and retirement security, and a class of super-rich “elite” that seem to be above all laws of taxation and criminality.
Many developing countries in Africa and South America have seen income inequality explode since the onslaught of neo-liberalism through IMF restructuring. In fact the only thing neo-liberalism has ever achieved in every single country it’s been implemented in is to increase the gap between the rich and poor.
Neither the left nor right seems capable of channeling this system into benefiting society as a whole. However, I give you no alternative. My goal is for you to realize, if you haven’t already, that this system is failing for the majority of us. What you wish to do about it, I leave up to you.