Wealth Distribution and Power

A note:  When I’m talking about the rich in this post, I’m not referring to that millionaire you may know. That millionaire is rich, yes, but their wealth still pales in comparison to the 1%, which, along with wealthy corporations, is who I’m referring to when I refer to the rich in this piece.

How do you believe wealth is distributed in the United States? How do you believe wealth should be distributed? What percentage of wealth does the top 1% have? The top 20%? How about the bottom 20%? How much should they have?

Well, some smart people explored these questions. They asked how Americans believe wealth should be distributed, how they believe it is distributed, and then show how it is actually distributed. Then they put it together in this video to break it down.

That’s insane, right? I mean, spreading that wealth more equitably (but still not 100% evenly, of course) would pretty much let our country’s poorest live in comfort, while there would still be incentive for people to get ahead and enjoy more luxury in their life. Seems like a reasonable proposition, unless you’re one of those who happens to be super rich.

Of course, it’s good to be the king. And make no mistake, the rich have a lot of power and aim to be the king. They already lobby for laws favorable to themselves and pay lots of cash to get it done, because in the long term, they will be able to accumulate even more wealth by making such up front expenditures. Think about that for a second. The rich can actually buy laws they like.

The rich have other forms of power too. Being rich gives you more of a chance to be famous, and being famous gives you the ability to reach more people. People love wealth and the idea of wealth, so if someone rich speaks, people are more likely to listen. Wealth also provides you the ability to do what you wish without needing to worry about how much it will cost. If you want something, you buy it. If you want to go somewhere, you go. If you want to do something, you do it. Also, earning money often requires investing money, and having money makes it easier to earn more money.

If you don’t believe that last line above, consider this. If you have little money, then you have no access to a car. This limits your job prospects to whatever you can get to by foot or through public transportation, and in many parts of the US, public transportation is laughable. If you have a little more money, you have a car, so your job prospects open up a bit, and you can work anywhere in driving distance, assuming the cost in gas and time is worth the wages, but you may not be able to afford moving somewhere else for a new job. With yet more money, you can also afford to move so a new job would be within driving distance. And with much larger amounts of money, you can even invest money and live off the interest, dividends, and other forms of income generated from letting someone else hold or use your money.

So I hope by now you see where there are advantages in having more money, both to do what you want, and to earn more money so you can continue to do what you want.

Now think about your employer. If you’re like much of America, your employer can likely fire you whenever they please. They will likely not feel it, and even if they do, it will be a slight discomfort for them, and a major life event for you. This gives them power over you already. So then they use that inequality to determine how much they’re willing to pay you (just barely enough to keep you working), and will dictate the terms of your employment for you. If you have a specialized skill, training, or are otherwise valuable to your employer, you may have more bargaining power than the average American and be able to negotiate something better, but even then you are likely still at some kind of disadvantage compared to your employer. After all, your employer has the money.

This is seen lately by many retail outlets deciding that they will be open for Thanksgiving Day. I guarantee you no one wants to work on Thanksgiving. And I say that to mean even if they don’t like going to work, they specifically do not want to work on Thanksgiving, as it is traditionally one of the few holidays that most workers are able to enjoy as a holiday (I understand that restaurant workers and emergency personnel do not get this, and there are likely a couple other exceptions). But they will, because the risk of getting fired and not being able to earn what they can isn’t worth the risk of standing up to those with the money and the power.

The rich have the money and the power, and they don’t want to share it. There are some among the super wealthy (Bill Gates and Warren Buffet come to mind) who do use their wealth to try and help those who are worse off. But as an institution, the rich want to maintain their advantages. They don’t want to even out the wealth so the poor can be comfortable. Note, I said comfortable, not living in luxury.

As a country, we can’t let that continue. We have to put enough pressure on our representatives, our government, and our employers to force change in spite of the money that is arrayed against us. Think about the video at the beginning of this post. Even if we could change the actual distribution of wealth to the distribution of wealth we think exists in America life would be much better for those in the bottom 80% of the country. And remember, although I’ve talked about money being a form of power, it’s not the only form of power. Information is power, so make sure people understand the issues facing them and us. Banding together in large groups to pick someone who represents what we want, then voting together for that person is a way to harness our individual power to force change as well. If you aren’t sure where to start, then start by talking to someone else and asking them what they think about this, or any other issue you feel strongly about. Even if you can’t work on a large scale, or don’t know how to start, starting with one person is how movements begin, whether they are for smaller victories or the larger changes those small victories eventually lead to.

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