A miner is walking home after a long hard day down the pit. Being weary, he takes a short cut across a field.
Soon enough, he is approached by the land-owner. “You are trespassing on private land, this land belongs to me.”
The miner responds, “So, how did you come by all this land?”
“My ancestors won it in battle,” proudly says the land-owner.
“Okay, get your jacket off” replies the miner, “and I’ll fight you for it right now!”
Despite a number of trends indicating improved economic circumstances, poverty remains deeply entrenched and pervasive. If poverty persists in America, it is not for lack of resources. For the large majority of black families, the ghettos of the civil rights era have been passed on from parents to children, with little change. No other advanced nation tolerates the depth of deprivation allowed in the United States. Among too many poor and minority Americans, voting and choosing elected officials just isn't viewed as essential to their lives. Over time, while assistance to the poor has increased, families deemed as "undeserving" have experienced a decrease in assistance. But these crude distinctions between the "deserving" and "undeserving" poor are unworthy of true progressives.
1.5 million households, including 3 million children, living on no more than $2 a day in 2011 for seven months or more -- the measure used to determine poverty in the underdeveloped world. This number has increased by almost two and a half times since 1996.
The most recent poverty data for 2014 show that 47 million Americans (14.8 percent of the total population) were living in poverty -- on less than $24,000 for a two-parent family with two children. Even more distressing is that 21 million Americans (6.6 percent of the total population) were living in deep poverty -- less than 50 percent of the official poverty level or $12,000 for a family of four. Since 2007, when the recession began, the number of Americans living in deep poverty has increased by over 5 million people, while over 9 million more people are living in official poverty.
A recent Pew analysis shows that hollowing to be very real: The share of the adult population living in middle-income households (defined as having an annual household income between $42,000 and $126,000 in 2014 dollars for a three-person household) declined from 61 percent in 1971 to slightly less than 50 percent in 2015.
At the lower end of the income scale, the proportion of adults living in households with the lowest incomes grew from 16 percent in 1971 to 20 percent in 2015. (A three-person household in the lowest-income tier had an income of $31,402 or less in 2015.) At the upper end of the income spectrum, the share of adults in the highest-income tier reached 9 percent in 2015, up from 4 percent in 1971. (A three-person household in the highest-income tier had an income of $188,412 or more in 2015.)
Notwithstanding the increase in the percentage of people in the lowest income group, their overall share of aggregate income actually declined slightly over the 44-year period, dropping from 10 percent in 1970 to 9 percent in 2014. By contrast, the share of aggregate income held by high-income households at the upper extreme of the income spectrum escalated from 29 percent in 1970 to 49 percent in 2014! This expansion was at the expense of both the lower class and the middle class. The latter's share of aggregate income dropped precipitously, falling from a 62 percent share in 1970 to just 43 percent in 2014.
The median net worth of families in the lower-income tier has decreased from $11,544 in 1983 to just $9,465 in 2013 (measured in 2014 dollars). The median net worth of the upper-income tier, however, more than doubled during the same period, soaring from $323,402 in 1983 to $650,074 in 2013. The median net worth for the middle-income tier of families has risen slightly, increasing from $95,879 in 1983 to $98,057 in 2013.
The richest, most exceptional country on planet earth cannot admit to have so many poor. "The middle class" is not really a class, it is a demographic. It is a measure of income. It is a self-serving term for politicians because anyone who can identify as middle class in any given year, has an interest is maintaining or enlarging the status quo - which is mission critical for bourgeois servants of Wall Street, as exemplified by Hillary Clinton. What the American 99% need is an understanding of genuine class politics. The vast majority of us are proletarian, working class people, whether or not we are making enough money at the moment to fit into the bourgeois "middle class "demographic - so many of us aren't who once were.
There is a way out: Revolutionary Economics. We must realize that humanity is one family and actually live so as to manifest that oneness. Cooperation, not competition is the way. Become motivated to replace that shameful capitalist economic system with one genuinely under democratic control. When Marx talked about “class dictatorship” so long ago, what people seem to miss, and that needs to be driven home once again, is that there is a ruling class, and this class operates according to certain imperatives. Simply put, and on one level it is just this simple, for pretty much the whole world, capital decides. To bring in a little complexity: 1) In other words, politicians or presidents don’t decide, capital, as a social process rooted in socialized production and reproduction (and, sure, its accumulated wealth and power), decides, the basic social decisions in a capitalist society are made by what is necessary for this process to continue to advance; again, to simplify, the accumulation of profit decides; 2) This is the case unless there is some truly countervailing force such as a vigorous class struggle And at this point in time that is pretty much nothing.
The fact is that the president serves at the pleasure of the U.S. ruling class. Given that no one who has actually studied the question of socialism thinks of Bernie Sanders as a “real socialist,” or perhaps, at best, it might be conceded that he is a “socialist” of the “Swedish” sort where people work in relatively good conditions for good wages, with all kinds of nice perks such as day-care and good health insurance, while building fighter jets that will be used to drop cluster bombs on Palestinians; most people don’t seem to realize that even this sort of “Swedish socialism” hasn’t existed in Sweden for some time now and is now being increasingly eroded even more. If by some almost unimaginable set of circumstances he were to become president, would this actually be good or bad for “real socialism”? Regarding whatever there is of “socialism” in Bernie Sanders’ program, it is interesting that he uses the term “political revolution.” What genuine socialists aspire to create is a “social revolution”, not just redistribution of wealth from the wealthy and super-wealthy by using higher tax-rates. Clearly the inequality in the United States has reached obscene proportions, just as the inequality in the world has been beyond obscene more or less forever, but it becomes a question of global social relations. There can be “[democratic] socialism in one country”. There is a worldwide dimension to a socialist revolution, the working class forms a single, international class that transcends nation-states, that must ultimately transform the world in a liberatory way. So, the question becomes, what good is accomplished by advancing that sort of socialism advocated by Sanders?
The problem is not the “billionaire class,” but instead the ownership of the means of production by the capitalist ruling class. And the problem is not “greed,” but instead the way the capitalist system works, to channel all productive efforts into the creation of surplus value, called “profit” by capitalists. One of Marx’s great discoveries is that this process is guided by the social relations (including the property relations) that are the heart of capital, and not by the subjective desires, avaricious or otherwise, of individual capitalists. In other words, the problem is capitalism, not greed. The solution is to create a real break with capitalism. Marx demonstrated that the subjectivities of capitalists–and everyone else–are rooted in social processes, though nothing deterministic can be said about this. Perhaps some capitalists are “nice, caring people,” or whatever. On the other hand, in what they participate in, capitalists are indeed bad people to a one, so let it not go without saying. They need to be dealt with, as part of breaking with capitalism.
Even if Sanders is sincere he is not just up against “greedy billionaires,” he is up against the compulsion of the U.S. capitalist ruling class to compete in a vast global market with no ethical concerns whatsoever, other than profit accumulation “by any means necessary.” In attempting to extend the welfare state with relatively mild reforms, or in the case of at least trying to make corporations and capitalists simply pay taxes at the low rate they are already charged, the odds are stacked against Sanders. America is divided into two distinct and opposing camps, the one side having little to say for itself other than that it owns everything and that it will use every means in its disposal to hold on to the ownership of everything. On the other side we can only hope that people will begin to question and challenge this “ownership,” and how it could conceivably be that a relative handful of people own everything and exert tremendous control over the lives of billions. The job of socialists is to provide such critical tools and terms necessary for dissecting this situation.
“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”- Martin Luther King, Jr