Monday, September 7, 2015

Trickle Up

In past centuries, we called it 'divine right'.  Today, it's 'trickle down', the obvious rightness of the rich living at the top of the nation's immense economy and at the expense of a workforce that gets the leftovers.

Equal opportunity suggests that anyone can rise on their own efforts. We have so many stories of folks who began with a good idea and hard work, and made their way to success.  Supposedly, anybody can do it in America, the land of opportunity.  That's not today's reality.

The capitalist process of competition and a free market may actually shed a portion of the population from the bottom of the model.  Those who miss out on education and a safe childhood are the usual victims.  That isn't the path they would have chosen.

Poverty is not a choice.  No one chooses to be poor, to be unable to feed their children or to afford a home in a safe neighborhood.  No one chooses for their children to grow up with crime and drugs and violence on the street where they live.  It's done to them by a series of social structures and mechanisms.

Escape from poverty for you and your family  requires an opportunity context.  There has to be a place, schools, employment, adequate income for living, and a safe community for your kids.  The notable individuals who've made it out of poverty and achieved significant success had help along the way.  Without help, there's little chance of success for anyone.

Here's the challenge for Republicans and Democrats alike.  
The poverty numbers are not the measure of our health.  
The relevant metric is economic inequality.
The GAP between rich and poor has widened in recent decades, and it continues to do so.

All but the top 20% have lost ground, and the bottom 60% has effectively been left behind.

Consider the impact that might have on most of the population.

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Trickle Up!  Among the more grotesque examples of what actually happens is the Walton family.
Mom and Dad Walton did well with putting Walmart on the map.  They built the company, enjoyed the success of their efforts, and gave about $5B to charitable work.

The second generation Walton heirs, worth about $148B, have given 0.04% of their income to charity.  When compared to Buffet and Gates (who've given 27% and 36%, respectively, according to Forbes), the Waltons are oddly ... stingy, selfish, what?

The heirs own about 50% of the corporation and will receive about $3.21B in dividends this year, yet their employees are rather poorly treated.  A single mom working at Walmart is likely to be below the national poverty level and eligible for food stamps.

Since Walmart and the Waltons have refused to budge on wages, you and I pick up the tab.  Our taxes subsidize Walmart's operating expenses.  Walmart has been under scrutiny lately for costing taxpayers $6+ billion a year in social assistance because of low wages and the artificially limited hours they give employees.
“A single Walmart Supercenter cost area taxpayers between $904,542 and $1.75 million per year," according to The Americans for Tax Fairness. (That's $3000 to $5,800 on average for each of 300 workers).”  
Most Walmart workers can only dream of making $25,000 in a year. Meanwhile, the Waltons get $25,000 per minute from their Walmart dividends.

That's how trickle-up works.  Corporations and the top level wealthy individuals extract extraordinary wealth from both their employees and their community.  The gap widens, mobility decreases, poverty and crime increase along with social unrest.  It has happened before.

The U.S. economy is one of the most unequal in the developed world.  Do your own inquiry, then perhaps make sure your representatives are aware of your concern.