Friday, July 29, 2011

Now is the Populist Moment - Part I

The current long period of stagnation has created a level of cynicism, disengagement and distrust greater than any other time in my life.

The public is convinced that a culture of greed in our financial sectors has brought the economy to it's knees, causing massive unemployment. A stalemate in Washington has curtailed any effort to stimulate the economy or even create the leadership to improve consumer confidence that could help spur things forward.

Stopping at a Union 76 station off I-5 in Tukwila, Washington, the station manager vented his frustration, "these greedy bastards should have to pay for this but if the government tries to fix it, they'll end up making me pay."

This is the populist moment. We are living in a time that too closely parallels the Gilded Age of the late 19th century when huge corporations and financial institutions gobbled up a bigger and bigger share of our nation's wealth.

Economist Robert Gilman in a 1969 study for the Bureau of Economic Research revealed that the share of wealth owned by the top one percent of the population increased from 21% in 1810 to 24% in 1860 to 31% in 1900.
This aggregation of wealth and it's ostentatious display led to a populist movement that resulted in the creation of labor unions, regulation of trusts and government reforms.

Today, according to a recent paper by Edward Wolfe, wealth has become event more concentrated then that earlier age of robber barons and trusts with the top 1% controlling 34% of the wealth in this country and the top 10%, 84% of the wealth.

Where is this populist movement today as luxury spending goes up and long term unemployment reaches record highs? Are citizens so cynical disengaged from civic government that they are willing to just sit and watch?

The only truly grass roots response has come from the right, the T-Party.

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