Wealth Inequality

The three richest people in the world possess more wealth than the poorest 42 nations combined. In the US, wealth inequality has skyrocketed, especially since the start of the Great Recession.

Consider the Koch brothers Charles and David, owners of the second largest privately held company in the US (next to Cargill), whose financing of right-wing groups like the Tea Party is well known. While they are not the richest men in the US – Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison wouldn’t let them shine their shoes – together they have a net worth, according to Forbes, of $68 billion.

Meanwhile, Evonne and Jose Martinez, SAFE members, have worked all of their lives. When Evonne became ill, she lost her job as a social worker, and Jose had to take time off as a letter carrier to care for her. When their 26-year-old son needed two brain surgeries, they sold what they had to pay for his treatment. In the course of this tragedy, they understandably fell behind on their mortgage. Their bank, however, was less understanding. JP Morgan Chase sold their home at auction and is seeking their eviction – even though Evonne and Jose are now back at work and can pay their mortgage!

Then there’s Larry Ellison. In 2012, he increased his net worth by $7 billion. Assuming a 40-hour week with two weeks unpaid vacation, he made $3,500,000 per hour, i.e., $972.22 per second.

Unfortunately in 2012, Larry and Flor Benes, also SAFE members, did not fare so well. After serving ten years on active military duty plus a three-year stint in the Reserves and the National Guard, Larry developed PTSD and a total service-connected disability rating of 70 percent. Nonetheless, he then worked as a stevedore for 20 years, but was eventually laid off because of his disabilities. To survive, Flor works two jobs. In 2012, Larry himself had no income. Bank of America is foreclosing on their home.

We are not claiming that all billionaires are moral reprobates. Our point, rather, is that there’s something terribly wrong with an economic system that allows, and even honors, such a skewed distribution of wealth.

How do the rich and their academic sycophants justify such extreme inequality? Four arguments:

The US is the greatest country on the planet, because each of us has the freedom and opportunity to become a billionaire (formerly, millionaire, but those days are now considered quaint).
The opportunity to amass enormous wealth motivates us to grow our economy.

Wealth and poverty have always existed. Inequality is a natural phenomenon, a law of nature.

The rich are the job producers; without them, there would be no jobs.

Some thoughts:

(1) How well is this freedom-to-become-a-billionaire model working? In Qtr. 1, 2013, the US had 442 billionaires, one out of every 701,000 US residents. Do we call this a well functioning model? Is your car well functioning if it only starts one out of every 701,000 attempts to turn it on? Should we have a Lemon Law for economic systems?

(2) The motivation argument. Clearly, if you “earn” $3.5 million per hour, you too would love going to work, but what about the rest of us whose jobs are dehumanizing, repetitive, and, at times, injurious? How motivated are we to go to work, or does our motivation come from the fear of being unable to provide for our families? Sixty percent of our population, 186,000,000 people, own only 4.2% of our nation’s wealth. Are they not motivated, or is our economy broken?

(3) Inequality is natural. The problem with the natural-law argument is the fallacy of deriving an ethical conclusion from an existing state of affairs. Because slavery exists (astonishingly, it’s still with us), does that make it right? Because only a man and a woman can procreate, does that mean gays and lesbians should not marry? Because there is economic, social, educational inequality, this does not make it right; it makes it something we need to correct.

(4) The rich are the job producers. What this means is the rich have the capital to invest in people and machines, which in turn produces jobs. The problem, however, is that the rich are getting richer, but they are not producing jobs. We hear a lot about the unemployment rate (7.5%), but more revealing is the underemployment rate (17.5%), which includes (a) those who are looking for work but cannot find a job, and (b) those who want a full-time job but must settle for part-time work. It does not include those who have given up looking for work. When 17.5% of the work force is suffering, the system isn’t working.

The rich are the job-producers argument, however, has a second and more serious flaw. True, the rich now have the capital to create jobs. But if we remove the distinction between rich and poor, it doesn’t follow jobs will disappear. If wealth is divided more-or-less equally, why couldn’t the people collectively create jobs?

A first step to a more just and healthy society, one that prizes the growth and development of all its members, is a redistribution of wealth. Why should some – like the Koch brothers, who inherited their father’s oil business – start life with an insurmountable advantage over those who are born into poverty, despair, and deprivation? Why should someone, like Stephen A. Cohen, the hedge fund manager under investigation for insider trading, have the wherewithal to buy a Picasso for $155 million to put into his recently purchased $60 million mansion in the Hamptons, while others live without shelter, let alone art?

A second, and decisive, step to a more wholesome society involves the collective and democratic control of the redistributed wealth. Consider housing. Nearly all of us, if we wish to live in a home, must arrange a mortgage loan with a bank, the terms of which are set entirely by the bank for the profit of the bank. We, as buyers of the loan, have no input. To correct this, should we nationalize the banks? Yes, but in itself nationalization only shifts bank ownership from private hands to government bureaucrats. It does not address the question of who controls the banks and who decides their social purpose. What is needed instead is a revolutionary change in the way our society is structured, away from a class-stratified society where the few decide for the rest of us how our resources are allocated and distributed towards a classless society where the people decide democratically how our social wealth is utilized, one in which the unsustainable accumulation of profit for the few is proscribed and the amelioration of all is cherished.

Is this utopian? Perhaps. But what we have now is unjust and immoral. SAFE brings people together to fight the banks and to fight for Evonne, Jose, Larry, Flor, and all those suffering under the yoke of capitalism, struggling for a better life.

— Stephen, SAFE Volunteer

Housing is a Human Right!



Upcoming Actions:

  • Wednesday, May 22: Send a fax to Morgan Stanley CEO, James Gorman (212-761-0086):
    • “Jeremy Griffin, 725 So. Henderson St., Seattle, will pay you rent to stay in his home. Don’t evict him; accept his money!”
  • Thursday, May 23, 6:30 – 8:30 PM: Northgate Community Center, 10510 5th Ave NE, Seattle (Meet up outside of building.): Town Hall Meeting with Attorney General Bob Ferguson: Ask the AG what he’s doing to stop foreclosures and evictions. Demand a Moratorium.
  • Friday, May 24, 5:00 PM: SAFE Solidarity Blockade Party: At Jeremy’s home: Celebrate Day 10 of the Blockade!
  • If you have yet to join SAFE’s Rapid Response Network, please visit www.SAFEinSeattle.org, click on JOIN RRN, and sign up.
  • If you wish to be part of the 24-hour Watch Brigade on Jeremy’s South Park lawn to monitor any attempt by the Sheriff to evict, please also sign up on our website.
  • Check out articles in this week’s Real Change and The Stranger and today’s issue of TheStand.org for coverage of the SAFE blockade at Jeremy’s.
  • Two auction disruptions scheduled: May 31 (for Jane) and June 14 (for Jen). More details in next week’s Newsletter.
  • Jeremy Griffin’s court appeal has been rescheduled for 8:30 AM, Tues., June 25.

This Past Week:

What a week!

  • May 14: SAFE set up its first eviction blockade in Jeremy’s yard. Blockade will continue until Sheriff comes to evict. We will resist!
  • May 15: Press conference: Nearly all the local media came (except the Seattle Times). Good coverage on all TV channels and many radio stations; great stories on The Stranger’s blog, Real Change, The Seattle Weekly, The Stand.
  • May 17: Auction disruption at Northwest Trustee Services: Great crowd on hand. Larry and Flor Benes’s auction postponed until June 21!
  • May 17: Two SAFE members met with Sheriff John Urquhart to open a communication channel between his office and SAFE.

Other Upcoming & Ongoing Events:

Tuesdays, 7:00 – 8:30 PM: Weekly SAFE Meeting: Bethany UCC, 6230 Beacon Ave S (NE corner of Graham St). All are welcome!

Questions? Comments?

You can reach us at info@SAFEinSeattle.org or 206-203-2125. Please visit our web site: www.SAFEinSeattle.org.

Thoughts & Opinions (SAFE welcomes written opinions from all of its supporters. If you have a letter or comment you’d like to include in the Thoughts & Opinions section of this Newsletter, please e-mail info@SAFEinSeattle.org. Opinions must be informative, relevant to the foreclosure/eviction crisis, and consistent with SAFE’s mission and principles. The opinions below do not necessarily represent those of SAFE.):

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