I like this piece of art. It exemplifies the state of American politics. The American flag and money. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders denounce the role of wealth in politics (amplified by the US Supreme Court) and the widening gap on income inequality. For many it is an abstract warning, for others, fuel for anger. What does it mean if there is no middle class? What if wealth concentration continues to its logical limits? How fragile is democracy? What world are we creating for our grand children? This is what my novel is about. America in the year 2115.
In the Chronicles of Spartak–Rising Son, The Twelve Families own just about everything. The middle class evaporated decades earlier. Survival jobs, charity, urban farming, art and crime are how one survives. And you eat less. Schools are terrible. And government is not there to protect you. But there is hope as an unexpected champion arises.
The novel presents a world where wealth concentration distorts politics, the economy and human rights. The rich have their own security units. And they don’t care. They don’t need the government although they control it. And clever ad agencies and campaigns distract people from their own economic needs. Pretty outrageous and yet so familiar. Our hope today is that people will vote in politicians who will protect their interests and crashing predictions about wealth concentration, voter suppression and environmental catastrophes will somehow mellow out and still allow the average America to enjoy a good life. Hmmm.
Here’s something to think about. The 85 richest people on Earth now have the same amount of wealth as the bottom half of the global population. This was reported in the Los Angeles Times in January 2014 and credits a report by the British humanitarian group Oxfam International.
Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman (yes, I know, often tagged as a liberal) says that in 1915, an era when the Rockefellers and Carnegies dominated American industry, the richest 1% earned about 18% of all income. By 2007, the top 1% accounted for about 24% of all income. The tend is clear.
Musings on The Great Gatsby Curve.
Did you know there is something called the Great Gatsby Curve? It is a chart plotting the relationship between inequality and intergenerational social mobility in several countries around the world, developed by the Council of Economic Advisors. It is named after Jay Gatsby the character in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby, a man who rose from a bootlegger to a social elite. Lots of social mobility for him.
The rungs of the economic ladder are getting sticky, as one economist described it. Where you are is where you are likely to stay. Does that have implications?
No less a business publication than Forbes carried a thought piece by contributing columnist Dr. Dale Archer, a psychiatrist and human behavior guy.
He quotes Aristotle—inequality triggers revolution. How is that for a source? Yet we are an aspirational society, everyone hopes to climb to the next rung. As long as the power of hope remains, Dr. Archer states, that anyone can better their life and grab the American dream, the status quo will be intact, people will work within the system. “But more and more, we are seeing this possibility fading in America.” The title of his article: Could America’s Wealth Gap Lead To A Revolt?
I was amazed that in the presidential primaries of 2012, one billionaire kept one candidate in the race long past his expiration date. One person. Today another billionaire is the GOP candidate and the other, wealthy in her own right, is funded heavily by major donors. Both decry where America is headed and offer quite different solutions.
Nicholas Kristoff, in a New York Times oped piece (6/12/16) entitled Is It a Crime to be Poor? lays out the scenario of Americans kept in jail because they cannot pay a fine. Here is the first paragraph:
In the 1830s, the civilized world began to close debtors’ prisons, recognizing them as barbaric and also silly: The one way to ensure that citizens cannot repay debts is to lock them up. In the 21st century, the United States has reinstated a broad system of debtors’ prisons, in effect making it a crime to be poor.
Remember Oliver Twist, written by Charles Dickens in the late 1830s about life in England. Dickens, at the age of twelve, saw his father arrested and sent to jail for failure to pay a debt. He himself was sent to work in a shoe polish factory. Kristof suggests we on on a dangerous path.
How do you think? Have I got it wrong?
What will Spartak’s world be like in a hundred years? You could be his great, great grandma or granddad. Will he look you up on Ancestry.com and wonder what you did to shape his world?
I include some interesting reading and sources for above. There are hundreds of reports and contradicting articles.
Spartak’s life is in your hands.
Oxfam International story, LA Times, January 20, 2014
Forbes and Dr. Archer’s column.
Harvard Business School study
The Gatsby Curve
New York Times, Nicholas Kristof, Is it a Crime to be Poor?