Charleston's favorite daily newspaper hit a new low recently with a syndicated column from one of its huge stable of right-wing stooges.
Under the headline "Democrats stuck in politics of envy," somebody named Star Parker took Democrats to task for criticizing the growing disparity in wealth in America. "Wealth, of course, is produced by individuals going to work," Parker wrote. "Not by politicians getting them ticked off that their neighbor is making more than they are. But the latter is what the Democratic Party is all about ... I call it the politics of envy."
Parker pooh-poohed the "Democratic" idea that the country is becoming a class-based society by pointing to the CEOs of two large corporations who last year pulled down $10 million and $48 million respectively, and yet came from middle-class or working-class backgrounds.
She went on to prove that there is no crisis of wealth disparity because Wall Street is booming and "the five largest Wall Street firms paid their employees a total of more than $60 billion last year, up nearly 32 percent from 2005."
In the strange parallel universe in which the editors of The Post and Courier live, I'm sure this was considered ironclad proof that everything is hunky-dory and any problems in America can be solved with further tax cuts.
Yet, for some 20 years, economists and sociologists have been warning us of the widening gap in wealth and the risk it poses to our economic and social stability. Only a week after the Star Parker column ran in the P&C, Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke warned that the widening gap between rich and poor -- and the shrinking middle-class in between -- may lead to trade barriers which would do more economic harm than good. (Curiously, the P&C did not care to comment on Bernanke's warning.)
Americans love to believe that we are a meritocracy, that individuals control their own destiny, that talent and hard work will be rewarded. But a growing body of evidence suggests otherwise. Income inequality is reaching levels not seen since the 1880s and social mobility is disappearing. The poor are finding it harder to climb the social and economic ladder and the children of the rich are more likely than ever to remain rich. "The United States risks calcifying into a European-style class-based society," according to The Economist.
The Economic Policy Institute argues that between 1979 and 2000, the real income of the lowest 20 percent of American households grew by 6.4 percent, while that of households in the top 20 percent grew by 70 percent. The family income of the top 1 percent grew by 184 percent.
Back in 1979, the average income of the top 1 percent was 133 times that of the bottom 20 percent; by 2000, the income of the top 1 percent had risen to 189 times that of the bottom fifth. And this was before the Bush Administration's obscene tax cuts for the rich -- including the abolition of the estate tax -- making it possible for the wealthiest Americans to accumulate ever more wealth and keep it within their families and their social circles.
The Economist summed it up this way: "America is increasingly looking like imperial Britain, with dynastic ties proliferating, social circles interlocking, mechanisms of social exclusion strengthening and a gap widening between the people who make the decisions and shape the culture and the vast majority of ordinary working stiffs."
One of the best antidotes to this kind of social sclerosis is education. As Ben Bernanke said in his recent comments on the subject, "policies that boost our national investment in education and training can help reduce inequality while expanding economic opportunity." But of course, the tax-cutting frenzy has devastated social programs such as Head Start, public education, scholarship funds and other programs which used to give the less fortunate a boost.
It is not envy to point out these very real social problems. The mobility and meritocracy which defined this nation, which made America the destination for the smartest and most creative people in the world, these national virtues are threatened by the widening and deepening disparity of wealth.
The fact that the editors of The Post and Courier are unable to see these dangers -- and even scorn any attempt to address them -- probably says a lot about their corporate culture. The P&C is largely owned by the ancient Manigault clan, one of the wealthiest families in the nation, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Pierre Manigault is chairman of the board of this family enterprise.
I'm sure he would say that it is envy that makes me point out these unpleasant truths. I think it is greed that makes him deny them.