Super-rich and super-angry

September 30, 2010

The rich have made out like bandits, but they're still not satisfied, writes Gary Lapon.

ANGER IS on the rise in America. People are looking at the policies coming out of Washington, they're fed up--they're mad as hell, and they're not going to take it anymore.

Only the outrage you're most likely to hear about in the mainstream media isn't coming from the people you'd expect: the millions of people facing unemployment, for example, or the victims of racist scapegoating.

Amazingly, it turns out that Wall Street and the richest 1 percent of the U.S. population are just furious.

They're sick and tired of the U.S. government "whackin' them with a stick," as Anthony Scaramucci, a multibillion-dollar hedge fund manager, whined to President Barack Obama at a recent CNBC town hall.

Then there's Stephen Schwarzman, whose $4.1 billion fortune makes him the 69th richest person in the United States, according to Forbes magazine. Schwarzman compared Obama's move to close a tax loophole--one that allows Wall Street investors like Schwarzman to pay only 15 percent in taxes on private equity income, about the same rate as someone making $38,200--to Hitler's invasion of Poland.

Blackstone Group CEO Stephen Schwarzman
Blackstone Group CEO Stephen Schwarzman

And there are those who are complaining about the Democrats' plan to extend Bush-era tax breaks for everyone but those in the top income bracket. Under this measure, taxes on income over $250,000 would go from 35 percent to 39.6 percent, affecting approximately the top 2 percent of the U.S. population.

It's important to realize that this higher tax rate would only apply to income above $250,000 in a year. So a household making $260,000 a year wouldn't pay 4.9 percent more on their total income, only on the last $10,000: their tax bill would increase by $460.

Nevertheless, to Todd Henderson, a law professor at the University of Chicago, the proposal to not extend the Bush tax cuts on the super-rich is proof that "the world we are now living in has that familiar Marxian tone." (If only.) Henderson says he and his wife, a doctor, could be "subject to a big tax hike," and he worries that he might have to give up such "necessities" as his gardener and housekeeper.

After decades of tax cuts, the lion's share of which have benefited the wealthy, and in the wake of an economic meltdown that saw the banks get bailed out while the rest of us are left to pick up the tab, the rich have some nerve complaining about a minor tax increase and a few harsh words from the president.

What you can do

Socialist groups and progressives are coming together for a socialist contingent in Washington at the "One Nation" rally on October 2. You can read the call for the contingent at

Join us in Washington--the contingent will meet up at 10 a.m. at 12th and Constitution (NW), Washington, D.C. Following the rally, join activists at a meeting on "Socialism for the 21st Century" featuring Dan La Botz, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor and others.

Contact organizers by e-mail to endorse the contingent. For more information and updates about the contingent, go to the Socialist Contingent Web site or the Socialist Contingent Facebook page.

Apparently not content to have their asses saved, they expect them to be kissed as well.

THERE'S PLENTY to be angry about, but the rich aren't the ones with a reason to complain.

They've enjoyed rising wealth for decades, while working people have compensated for stagnant wages and the rising costs of housing, education and health care by taking on record levels of household debt, and working longer hours for lower wages and fewer benefits.

Income inequality is at an all-time high in the United States. As noted in the Huffington Post's report on a study by Emmanual Saez, in 2007, "The top .01 percent of American earners took home 6 percent of total U.S. wages, a figure that has nearly doubled since of 2007, the top [10%] of American earners...pulled in 49.7 percent [of all income]."

Doug Henwood of Left Business Observer explains how it's possible that median household income increased by only 2 percent since 1989, while total Gross Domestic Product increased 63 percent. Incomes for the top 5 percent went up 75 percent, with gains concentrated at the very top:

The top 1 percent was up over 100 percent. The top 0.01 percent--the 12,000 or so richest households, with incomes averaging $35 million a year--were up 215 percent...almost 30 times the increase of the bottom 90 percent of the population. In other words, an enormous portion of the gains of economic growth have gone to just a few thousand hyper-rich.

The gap between rich and poor has widened into a chasm, and it's only getting worse. The latest news, according to Forbes, is that the wealth of the richest 400 Americans increased by 8 percent last year, to a combined $1.37 trillion.

Meanwhile, foreclosures are on the rise, and the most recent Census Bureau data shows poverty at a record high of 43.6 million people.

As David DeGraw points out at Alternet, the federal poverty line ($22,050 for a family of four) and gaps in the statistics grossly understate the real crisis of poverty: they fail to count millions, low-ball what qualifies as "poor," and ignore important factors like household debt. According to DeGraw:

A key metric to judge the overall economic security and hardship level of a country is the percentage of the population living paycheck to paycheck. Anyone who lives paycheck to paycheck can tell you about the stress and psychological impact it has on you when you know your family is one sickness, injury or downsizing away from economic ruin...77 percent of Americans are now living paycheck to paycheck. This means in our nation of 310 million citizens, 239 million Americans are one setback away from economic ruin...

Tens of millions of Americans are wondering how they are going to pay their bills, while the people who caused this crisis, [the top 1%], are rolling around in $13 trillion. The robber barons have been displaced as America's most despotic and depraved ruling class.

UNFORTUNATELY, THE Obama administration is paying more attention to the anger emanating from Wall Street than to the crisis of poverty and unemployment faced by the majority of Americans.

Another sign of the White Houses priorities: Obama's top economics adviser Larry Summers is stepping down, and according to the Wall Street Journal, the most likely candidate to replace him is former Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahy. According to Democracy Now! Mulcahy laid off 30 percent of Xerox workers during her time at the helm of the company, and cut health benefits for retirees.

While once upon a time, Obama talked tough about Wall Street, calling the executives and investors "fat cats," in office, he continued the multi-trillion-dollar bailout of Wall Street and signed toothless financial reform legislation, while simultaneously doing next to nothing to ease the impact of the crisis on the majority of people.

And now, Obama is softening his rhetoric still further in response to criticism from the wealthy. As he said at the CNBC town hall meeting, "I've constantly said what sets America we've got the most dynamic free-market economy in the world. And that has to be preserved."

We should be the ones who are angry--that the top 1 percent are sitting on $13 trillion while states cut social services, health care and education just when people need them most because of budget shortfalls and cutbacks we're told are inevitable.

While the anger of the wealthy has been making headlines--and eliciting a response from the politicians in Washington--the truth is that the anger of U.S. workers is very real and is directed at both parties of big business. According to a recent Associated Press-GfK poll, support for both parties in Congress is hovering in the 30 percent range, and about six in 10 disapprove of the way both Democrats and Republicans are handling the economy.

The October 2 One Nation march on Washington for Jobs, Justice and Education will provide thousands the opportunity to channel our anger into a demand for a shift in priorities toward policies that put working people first and reject the scapegoating of immigrants, Muslims and people of color.

While the main organizers will be calling for participants to vote for the Democrats, hundreds of socialists and others seeking to build a left alternative will meet at the corner of 12th and Constitution Avenue (NW) at 10 a.m. on October 2 for a feeder march that will send the message that "change can only be brought about as it has been in every period of American history by independent social movements that are active for more than a single march."

Bring your friends, family and co-workers, and don't forget to bring your anger--let's see if we can drown out the whining coming from Wall Street.

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