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Reader Commentary: Class warfare 2013

The rich have successfully waged "class warfare" against the rest of us for over 30 years

By Bob Lowerre

From time to time, during campaigns, we've heard about the top 1 and top 5 percent of our people. We haven't heard nearly enough.

Not since an activist Republican president, Teddy Roosevelt, reined in the notorious robber barons of his era, has the distribution of income and wealth been so skewed in favor of the ultra-rich. It is a development that should alarm everyone - except the economic elite. It should, for the long term, alarm even them.

In our capitalist society, wealth is certainly no shame. It is a driving incentive to success. But when its distribution radically shifts over a relatively short period, the results are devastating to most of us.

Some examples illustrate what's happening. In 1978, the top 1 percent of earners took in 9 percent of our national income. By 2007, their share had grown to 23 percent. In the 1950s, employees' share of retirement costs was about 11 percent. By the mid-2000s, their share of such costs had risen to 51 percent. Health insurance tells a similar story. In 1980, 70 percent of American workers in companies employing 100 or more workers got fully paid health insurance. By the mid-2000s, only 18 percent got fully paid health insurance; 37 percent had part of their health insurance costs paid, while 45 percent received no paid health insurance.

Barbara Garson, in her book "Down the Up Escalator," sums some of this up:

"From 1820 to 1970, real hourly wages in America rose every decade, even during the 1930s. That extraordinary century and a half ended in the 1970s. From then until now, U.S. hourly wages stagnated or declined. Over the decades during which U.S. earnings were close to flat, productivity rose immensely. Between 1971 and 2007, it nearly doubled. Over those same 36 years hourly wages rose by 4%. In other words, the average worker's productivity rose 25 times more than his pay."

Who pockets the benefits of these vast changes?

Now, the richest 10 percent of Americans control two-thirds of the nation's wealth. About 400 people in this nation now hold more wealth than all 150 million people who are lowest on the economic scale. The Wall Street Journal informs us that American companies "have emerged from the deepest recession since World War II more productive, more profitable, flush with cash and less burdened by debt" than in 2007.

It's pretty clear who the pocketers are.

Why did this occur?

In the mid-1970s, when serious proposals for increased regulation were proposed, big business began to organize in earnest. The National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Business Roundtable, among others, initiated powerful lobbying campaigns to protect and further their interests. The marginal "top" tax rate ultimately fell from over 90 percent to the upper 20s and then the 30s. Countless loopholes and special treatments were engrafted into the tax code. Increasing attacks were made on labor unions. Companies began to move their plants into "right to work" states and overseas.

In the past decade, big business employed 30 times as many Washington lobbyists as labor, public interest and conservation organizations combined. The effects of these sieges on Congress, on legislators of both parties, but mainly Republicans, is obvious.
These vast disparities are growing. On April 24, the Washington Post published a study by the respected Pew Research Center. It shows that during the first two years of the economic recovery (1) the average net worth of the top 7 percent increased by 28 percent while that figure declined by 4 percent for the other 93 percent; the gap separating the top 7 percent and everyone else increased from 18-1 to 24-1; and the decades-long trend of wealth inequality is growing.

As we struggle to address our deficit and debt issues, President Obama's efforts to gain some additional revenue from the richest are called by his opponents "class warfare." The evidence is overwhelming that, to the contrary, the wealthiest have very successfully waged "class warfare" against the rest of us for over 30 years.

How is it possible that the American people have let a tiny minority pick their pockets? The media have done little to inform us of this reality. Few of us have lobbyists. And all too many of us have fallen for the sweet talk of our legislators.

We voters need to deal with those who have sold us out to the highest bidders. We might well start with the "picture boy" of such members of Congress - our own Rep. Bob Goodlatte.

Bob Lowerre is a retired lawyer living in Woodstock.


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