This disturbing fact has not gone unnoticed by a significant segment of politicians, economists and intellectuals. Many understand how we got here – now the question is, can we as (human) individuals regain control over our country and how?
Liberty, Equality, Fraternity –
In 1700’s France during the reign of King Louis XVI the country, due to financial mismanagement and feudal oppression, was in a serious downward spiral. Faced with a dwindling treasury, King Louis engaged his top financial advisers who ultimately suggested that the wealthy nobility, currently exempt from taxation, be taxed. The wealthy refused. With both the nobility and equally wealthy clergy exempt from taxation, the burden then fell onto the general French public. 1
But French commoners were not faring all that well and attempts to squeeze more tariffs from the growing peasant class resulted in social upheaval; the brunt of which was borne by the aristocracy and nobility who found themselves losing their heads, literally. After years of furtive attempts to design a new constitution and government, France eventually ended up being ruled by an emperor (Napoleon). 2
Could this happen in this country? We currently have corporate executives realizing previously unheard of amounts of executive compensation while the effective earning power (wages) of the middle class has declined. We are facing a widening disparity, in both and assets, between the middle and wealthy class. And like the reign of Louis XVI, the wealthiest 2% of our nation, and the clergy, retain their exemption (thanks to BOTH political parties) from bearing a reasonable share of the tax burden.
So will Americans be storming the Bastille any time soon? I genuinely doubt it. Unlike the draconian conditions which precipitated revolution in Egypt and elsewhere in the middle east...
1) American public awareness is broadly blind, or cannot otherwise fathom, degree in disparity between them and the wealthy elite: “…income inequality as an issue doesn’t win elections because Americans don’t begrudge the rich so much as they dream they may join them.”3
2) The staggering availability of cheap food, cheap technology and almost unlimited distractions in the form of entertainment and media propaganda, provide a welcome anesthetic to dealing with the dwindling opportunities for a better life for the middle class. It was the media that promoted the Tea Party from a fringe group to a position of legitimacy through constant media attention. Ask yourself why, for example, Sarah Palin continues to enjoy more media exposure than John McCain? The media chooses, orchestrates and controls the message.
3) Americans don’t think in terms of community or the well being of society as a whole, that would be too "European". Americans think of themselves in terms of the individual; beyond exercising their vote, most Americans feel they have little power. If you noticed the union demonstrations in Wisconsin the crowd was mainly comprised of older workers. Young workers see little relevance in union membership.
As long as the ultra wealthy and the corporations control access to Congress, define the media agenda and continue to placate us with consumer distractions, the American public will remain like the frog in the cooking pot, oblivious to the ever-slowly-increasing heat until they are cooked to death.
~~~1. "The French Revolution (1789–1799)", sparknotes.com
2. "France History - Causes of the French Revolution", Bonjourfrance.com
3. "Rising Wealth Inequality: Should We Care? - Why do Americans seem unperturbed about the growing gap between the rich and the poor?" NY Times - March 23, 2011
Frog cartoon courtesy of Graviton Creations