I have two friends. Let’s call them Dick and Jane. Dick and Jane graduated from an elite liberal arts college where they met and married. They both went on to get advanced degrees: Jane, a masters in language and Dick a doctorate in geology, respectively. Presently they teach at our state university.
Now you would expect this couple to be among the winners in our new creative economy; they went to college, got advanced degrees and worked hard. But you would be wrong. Recently, Dick had his post-doc funding cut and hasn’t taught in months. Jane, as an adjunct professor, is teaching nearly every class in her language department, making squat.
I think Dick and Jane’s story is representative of a larger trend. Nationally, our economy is becoming more and more concentrated between the haves and have nots. And the cover story of the American Dream–where that if you invest in higher education and work hard you’ll succeed–becomes more fictional.
Princeton economist and New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman is the latest to notice this trend. “If this is the wave of the future, it makes nonsense of just about all the conventional wisdom on reducing inequality. Better education won’t do much to reduce inequality if the big rewards simply go to those with the most assets. Creating an “opportunity society”, or whatever it is the likes of Paul Ryan etc. are selling this week, won’t do much if the most important asset you can have in life is, well, lots of assets inherited from your parents. And so on.”
“I think our eyes have been averted from the capital/labor dimension of inequality, for several reasons. It didn’t seem crucial back in the 1990s, and not enough people (me included!) have looked up to notice that things have changed. It has echoes of old-fashioned Marxism — which shouldn’t be a reason to ignore facts, but too often is. And it has really uncomfortable implications.”
So, what can we do about it without going all revolutionary?
Taxes on the wealthy, those making above $250,000, are supposed to rise, but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for a return to pre-Reagan tax rates for the wealthy. After all, “they own the place.”
I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again–neo-liberalism and neo-consevatism are bringing about neo-feudalism.
Can I has some more, please sir?