Global elites deeply anxious about income inequality, refuse to fix it

Study reveals business leaders identify the wage gap as one of the planet's biggest problems. They had us fooled

Topics: AlterNet, Income inequality, wealth disparity, global elites, The 1%, megarich, tax loopholes, study, Pew Research Center, , , ,

Global elites deeply anxious about income inequality, refuse to fix it
This article originally appeared on Alternet.

AlterNet
Global elites are getting a bit antsy these days.

new study by the World Economic Forum based on a survey of 1,592 leaders from academia, business, government, and the non-profit world suggests that all is not cheery at the top. It seems that elites believe that the second biggest problem facing Planet Earth in 2014 is widening income disparities (unrest in the Middle East and North Africa is their top worry). When it comes to economic issues, elites and ordinary folks are often at odds, but according to a recent Pew survey, they converge on identifying the gap between rich and poor as a major flaw in the system.

What’s clear is that the schemes elites have supported, from austerity policies to financial predation, are driving inequality to such extreme levels that everybody is now talking about it. The Pope is talking about it. Robert Reich made a movie about it. All over the world, people having been protesting and rioting in rolling demonstrations about it. An ugly resurgence of fascist elements in Europe is capitalizing on it. Even folks like Larry Summers, who promoted policies that stoke inequality, are publicly lamenting it.

The global elites are sitting on piles of obscene wealth, but they also have two big problems:

  1. Soft demand: When people are too poor to buy goods and services, businesses suffer and the whole economy lags.
  2. Prospects of increasing social unrest: When people are so squeezed that they think they have nothing to lose by taking to the streets, the wealthy have to hide behind barricades.

The global situation is crazy and probably unstable, and the 0.01 percent knows it. The question is, what are they prepared to do about it?



Not much — not yet, anyway. You can peruse the top mainstream newspapers to get a sense of how most elites feel about the growing gap between haves and have-nots. Lately there’s been quite a bit of handwringing and an uptick of articles on subjects directly related to inequality, but precious few signs that any substantial changes are on the horizon.

Case in point: Just after Thanksgiving, New York Times readers found a moving article in the business section detailing the plight of unfortunate retail workers who don’t get paid enough to make ends meet. The author noted the hardship of food stamp cuts and described a situation so bad that companies had set up food drives for low-wage workers and dispensed tips on how to apply for public assistance

For a human touch, the NYT author quoted a depressed mom who works at Sears selling toys that she could never afford to buy for her own children. The author duly noted that Americans support raising the minimum wage by an overwhelming majority, but in typical mainstream media fashion, took a stance of  faux neutrality and provided the opinions of two mainstream economists who disagreed on whether raising minimum wage was a good idea or not. Overall, the article seemed cautiously in favor of something thatAmerican voters overwhelmingly say they want.

Conclusion: Some elites might be willing to raise the minimum wage just a bit.

But a couple of weeks earlier, the Washington Post ran a widely reviled editorialon Social Security that showed the limits of elite concern. The vast majority of Americans, aware of an oncoming train wreck of a retirement crisis, are against cuts to Social Security, but the editorial board at the Post made it clear that elites are not on their side and laid out various specious arguments, including an irrational appeal to deficit hysteria (the deficit is actually decreasing), to bolster its antisocial perspective. Elizabeth Warren, increasingly a thorn in the side of greedy elites, blasted the Post.

Conclusion: Elites are not really willing to pay taxes, and financiers wish to charge more fees on private retirement accounts, ergo Social Security must be cut. (Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the co-chairs of Obama’s Deficit Commission, are the standard-bearers for this line, along with their backer, Wall Street billionaire Pete Peterson.)

You can also look to top establishment politicians for insight into just how much elites are willing to do to solve the inequality problem.

For instance, there’s the little matter of a giant loophole in the tax code that favors the rich. The “carried interest” loophole allows financiers like hedge fund managers, venture capitalists and partners in real estate investment trusts to pay a lower tax rate on their profits than working people pay on their earnings. It’s an unjust handout to the wealthy, and again, the American people are clear on how they feel about the tax code: the rich don’t pay their fair share.

The GOP is vehemently against closing the loophole. But despite the fact that Democrats raged against it last year to defeat Mitt Romney, it is Dems themselves who are standing in the way of getting anything done. As the Boston Globe noted in a recent article, Democrats are worried that “crusading against the ‘carried interest’ loophole at this stage would inflame an important source of campaign contributions for Democrats.”

Back when he was in the Senate, John Kerry did an elaborate dance around the issue, using his influential post on the Senate Finance Committee to seed skepticism and parrot industry warnings of dire “unintended consequences’’ and unnamed risks to the economy if the loophole were closed, even while voting in favor of the change. With Kerry now at the helm of the State Department, a host of other prominent Democrats, including President Obama and Senator Chuck Schumer, have been quietly working to see that nothing much will be done.

Conclusion: Filling campaign coffers is more important than dealing with grossly unfair policies that contribute to dangerous inequality.

So there you have it. Global elites know that they have a vital interest in solving the problem of inequality, but few are willing to pay a dime or accept substantive changes to our economic system in order to solve it.

Perhaps the megarich will simply take shelter in armed and gated communities and continue to thumb their noses at the 99 percent until a mass movement rises to stop them. But many have a vague recollection of what happened in the French Revolution. At a certain point, the barricades don’t hold.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.

    Domino's

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.

    Arby's/Facebook

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.

    KFC

    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.

    Pizzagamechangers.com

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.

    7-Eleven

    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...