"We have to figure out what kind of people are we going to be and what policies will help us be our best selves."
In America’s unequal society, there are many reasons for embarrassment. Here are five of them.
By Paul Buchheit
America has experienced “gush-up” rather than “trickle-down.” The shame is on the adherents of unregulated free-market capitalism, who have assaulted us with the message of “winner-take-all” wealth over the common good. George Will perpetuates the neoliberal myth by quoting one of his idols, John Tamny: “Income inequality in a capitalist system is truly beautiful…it provides the incentive for creative people to gamble on new ideas..”
But in the realm of reality, there are many reasons for embarrassment:
1. Just Because They’re Rich, Billionaires are Trusted to Design Our Education and Health Systems
Bill Gates leads the way here. He got rich in questionable ways from technology, and as a result much of America feels he’s qualified to be a great humanitarian. Because of his corporate-endowed foundation, says Arundhati Roy, Bill Gates can “find himself designing education, health, and agriculture policies, not just for the U.S. government but for governments all over the world.”
In addition to Gates, education ‘reformers’ include Mark Zuckerberg and his fellow billionaires Eli Broad and Michael Bloomberg and Rupert Murdoch and the Walton family, none of whom have much educational experience, and all of whom are promoting education reform with lots of standardized testing and little accountability to the public.
Much the same in health care, with World Health Organization director Margaret Chan summarizing the role of money in global decision-making: “My budget [is] highly earmarked, so it is driven by what I call donor interests.”
2. A Prime Destroyer of Low-Income Homes is Awarded for His “Contributions to Society”
As part of the 2015 New York University’s 183rd Commencement, hedge fund billionaire John Paulson received an award for his “Outstanding Contributions to Society.” The commencement program addressed him: “..Your influence is felt throughout broad sectors of society..your commitment to..a better quality of life for people across the world.”
In 2007 Paulson had conspired with Goldman Sachs to create packages of risky subprime mortgages, so that in anticipation of a housing crash he could use other people’s money to bet against his personally designed sure-to-fail financial instruments. His successful bet against American households paid him $3.7 billion.
3. As America Adds $30 Trillion in New Wealth, 6 Million More Kids Go on Food Stamps
4. 40% of Food Wasted…..and 40% of Households Food-Insecure
According to Feeding America, almost 50 million households, or about 40 percent of American homes, experienced food insecurity at some point in 2013.
At the same time, the Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that 40 percent of food in the United States goes uneaten.
5. Graduate Students Work 6+ Years for a PhD, then Need the Safety Net to Survive
Businesses need less high-tech workers than just 15 years ago. Netflix, for example, serves 57 million customers with less than 2,200 employees, and much of the photo processing once done by Kodak with 145,000 employees is now done by Instagram with 13 employees.
Available jobs are well below the skill levels of college-trained adults. According to the New York Federal Reserve, 44 percent of recent college graduates were underemployed in 2012, holding jobs that are normally held by high school graduates.
New college graduates face their worst prospects in academia, where adjunct teachers now make up over 3/4 of instructors. One-quarter of part-time college faculty and their families are enrolled in food stamps or one of the other public assistance programs.
The Greatest Embarrassment
That would be Congress itself: Allowing Americans to go without health care. Blowing off jobs bills. Ignoring infrastructure. Privatizing education and other public needs. Doing nothing about student debt. Cutting the IRS even though every hour of auditing returns $9,000 from large corporations. And on and on and on.
Paul Buchheit is a college teacher, an active member of US Uncut Chicago, founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org, RappingHistory.org), and the editor and main author of “American Wars: Illusions and Realities” (Clarity Press). He can be reached at paul@UsAgainstGreed.org.