It’s no easier to predict the future now than it was when Yogi Berra, America’s greatest baseball player/philosopher, first pointed this out. (Well, maybe he wasn’t the first.) Nevertheless, there are some signs that the time is coming for a genuine, wide-ranging reform movement in this country – a “crusade for fairness.”
There should be no doubt about the need for one. We have the highest disparity of incomes between the rich and the poor of any industrialized nation and the highest poverty rate, and it has gotten worse since the beginning of the Great Recession. Here are a few ugly facts (as of 2008):
* The top 1 percent of our population possess 33.4 percent of the wealth in this country and the top 20 percent have 84 percent. The bottom 80 percent of the population have 16 percent.
* As for income, the top 1 percent receive 20 percent of the total, while the bottom 20 percent receive 5.2 percent.
* It is estimated that about one-quarter of our population now live in poverty and that 30 percent of our work force are “working poor” – they cannot earn enough for a decent standard of living.
Why are we not more aroused as a nation about this state of affairs? We could change it for the better. One reason, it seems, is that many of us are unaware of just how bad things are.
For instance, a recent survey of Americans by two Harvard Business School professors found that most respondents drastically underestimated the wealth gap. They thought the top 20 percent had only 59 percent not 84 percent. More significant, there was a consensus that the distribution of wealth should be even more equitable, with the “ideal” set at 32 percent according to the respondents. In other words, many Americans don’t know how bad things are in terms of wealth and income and would support changes designed make them much better.
Yes, I know that the forces arrayed against a Fair Society are formidable, and unscrupulous. But I also recall what the PBS TV interviewer Bill Moyers said at the end of one of his last shows. “The only answer to organized money is organized people.” Perhaps the recent efforts to raise the minimum wage in various localities will prove to be the leading edge of a new fairness movement.