Many people have been discussing Thomas Piketty’s book Capital In The 21st Century lately. As they should. It is a very important contribution to the fight against economic inequality. We have seen the writing on the wall for many years, but until now we didn’t have a quantifiable theory as to how or why wealth is gravitating towards the richest of the rich.
I have not read the book yet. It is buried under many other titles that are either in progress or take precedence (damn you, college!). But I do have a few thoughts to share concerning the subject.
It seems, first and foremost, that the idea of our society being transformed back into something resembling the Gilded Age has finally caught the attention of a few important groups. Left-leaning liberals/moderates (Democrats?) who were previously apathetic toward a Marxist analysis of capitalism, and some sympathetic/moderate libertarians who don’t only blame governments for economic woes and are willing to meet halfway on markets and their discontents.
The key to both of these groups joining with their radical (Anarchist, Communist, etc.) brothers and sisters is the baseline argument that we can all agree on: that the politicians that we have elected to represent us in our democracy have not been speaking for us. Have they ever really?
Not only are we as a people confronted with the reality of corporate dynasties (The Waltons, The Kochs) but who would have ever imagined we would have to deal with political ones as well? The possibility of another Clinton or another Bush in the oval office frightens me.
We are on an old road that hasn’t been walked on since the 1920s. It’s hard not to think that we could see another financial meltdown followed by another war. Would we survive? Can we prevent or even reverse what has been set in motion? I guess that’s if you even believe that history is repeating itself based on the data.
Wherever we’re going we are being driven by a vehicle built on a specific ideology that seeks to hinder our senses. The more we fight to see the truth the tighter the blindfold becomes. The more we fight to listen to one another the louder the megaphone of the elite becomes. It’s going to take a lot of people being okay with alternative ways to organize society for anything resembling democracy to return.
This is why Piketty’s book and others like it will gain more readers in the coming months and years. The more people that are aware of their lack of opportunity originating from their lack of wealth the more they will be willing to talk to one another about how to fix it.
As I prowl the internet I come across a great many sites that argue over the fact that we do not have more presidential candidates participating in the debates. That it’s “unAmerican” that Ron Paul, or Gary Johnson, or whomever is running on a specific ticket is not allowed to debate with capitalist choice A or capitalist choice B (psst…that’s Obama and Romney) on live television in front of the rest of our country.
I hate to break it to those red, white, and true blue believers, but that isn’t just an American value, that’s a democratic one that isn’t specific our country. We didn’t invent democracy, though many on either side of the political spectrum still considers it an invention of our revolution and subsequent union. But even that kind of democracy – and the one we struggle with today – is a limited one.
We seem to be in the stranglehold of the fist of capital, or wealth, or debt – whichever one you choose really because these days they are all the same in the eyes of the working class. Our capital has been shifted upwards through crony capitalism and corporate socialism. Our wealth (social, emotional, physical) has in most cases been depleted through the longer hours we work for the smaller piece of the pie. And our debt is the only thing handed back down to us as a means to survive while banks make sure we’re locked in to feed them like the good hosts for parasites we’ve become.
It’s nothing new in the eyes of Generation X, Y, or Z. All the lines on the graph of life have been skewing downward for the past 20-30 years no matter where the plot started. That is except for the ruling class who have begun to take notice of the people becoming a bit…upset.
More people have started waking up and realizing that the promise of being affluent like everyone else was a farce. There is no American dream because as George Carlin once said “you have to be asleep to believe it.” But we aren’t totally screwed because we’re only as powerful as we are conscious and active in our political, social, and economic surroundings. And these days there isn’t any shortage of that.
Sure, vote for your favorite candidate come election day, but also take notice of what’s happening around you after you leave the booth. Take notice and be inspired by the teacher strikes in Chicago (they weren’t just striking for more pay), or the recent Walmart ones (they are striking for more pay because their current wage is a joke). Follow economists like Dean Baker, Richard Wolff, and Steve Keen. They all have great ideas and solutions to help get us out of this hole. And above all else, get involved locally. The only way we can have our democracy back is not by waiting for some man or woman to appear on television to speak to us, we need to speak to each other.