Talking About Class In America

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Paul Taylor, executive vice president at the Pew Polling Center, discusses a recent Pew poll which shows that Americans see an increased conflict between rich and poor.


Paul Taylor

Comments [30]

@jgarbuz -

Poverty of the middle that is driven by the distribution of the fruits of our labor IS NOT some cosmic given. The logical endpoint for that way of thinking is a caste system. I won't give in to it.

The scam perpetrated on the middle class in America was getting us to focus solely on inflation and whether wages were holding level with CPI. Like any good magician, we failed to look at what was being done with the other hand. If average wages grow at one rate and the economy grows at double that, eventually everyone who works is poor.

Jan. 18 2012 12:48 PM
Gerrymandering allows Congress' 9 % approval from Where's the democracy ?

Gerrymandering allows a minority of the voters to
control a supermajority of the seats.
Gerrymandering creates "safe districts" where only
one party has any reasonable chance of winning the
seat (and that seat is occupied by an incumbent).

This is why Congress can have a 9% approval rating
and not care. They're going to get reelected anyway -
no matter what we - the citizens of the US - think,
say or want.

Where's the democracy ?

Jan. 17 2012 07:41 PM
Bring Abramoff on the show

He gave an excellent recent talk (on CSPAN) at Harvard
Law School. It basically doesn't matter who gets sent
to Washington - most of the time (unless they're already
rich) they arrive with significant debt. Their party
leadership introduces them to the lobbyists who are glad
to "help out". Even Supreme Court justices have spouses,
kids, relatives and friends who want or need largess - either
as a job at a lobbying firm, major corporation, consulting firm
or think tank. Super-PACs, various charities and other mechanism
like speaking fees, book contracts, etc exist to allow perfectly
legal quasi-bribes.

Staff do much of the real work behind legislation.
They write the "boring" details that almost noone cares about
except the companies or individuals who gain enormous amounts
of money from preferential contracting, tax breaks, asset sales,
and/or regulatory relief. Many of these people make very little
while working as Staff - but most have an immediate guarrantee of
very well compensated employment years before they quit.
Again, lobbying firms and major companies who stand to gain already
effectively own these staffers long before they actually quit
to join their firms.

This is a very sad situation for the country.

Abramoff (with his new book "Capitol Punishment") would be
an interesting guest for the show.

Jan. 17 2012 07:37 PM
fuva from Harlemworld

Right on, Natalie. But that mechanism -- of millionaire Dem Pubs being captured by the 1% and doing their policy bidding, instead of positioning the country to better absorb the global economic shift -- is lost on too many of the 99%. If we are to counteract current socioeconomic trends, this level of understanding is required. Unfortunately, given the push-button-addicted, highly distracted current zeitgeist, the prognosis doesn't look good...

Jan. 17 2012 11:09 AM
Natalie from Brooklyn

This is more than a conflict between rich and poor. I think the Bill Moyers program last night gave the right answer. For the past 30 years, the politicians have colluded with the super rich (now the top one percent to run this country for the beneift of the policians and the super rich. That is where the true power is now concentrated. Unless we recognize this, we will lose our country to rule by an oligarchy of these people.With a very few exceptions, the Democrats are now as corrupt as the Republicans.

Jan. 17 2012 10:57 AM
fuva from Harlemworld

jgarbuz, does this include the American Revolution?
So, the abolitionist, Progressive era, women's suffrage, civil rights, etc. movements were for naught, and mobilizing against admittedly large socioeconomic forces is bad faith and futile?

Jan. 17 2012 10:55 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

To Fuva

`Yeah, basically the only thing INDIVIDUALS can do is work hard, study, get skills, and try to survive. All revolutions produce nothing but bloodshed. In the final analysis, all progress is due to technological advances.

Jan. 17 2012 10:47 AM
fuva from Harlemworld

"jgarbuz from Queens", why are you so helpless? "The world economy goes through shifts as tectonic plates move", and so there's nothing we can do; we can't address the self-perpetuating, unsustainable income/wealth divide, re-training and education campaigns can't be instituted; nothing, NOTHING can be done, right? How bloody defeatist. And this attitude DOESN'T enable social breakdown?

Jan. 17 2012 10:42 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

to RUCB-Alum

The US was lucky in the post WWII era, from 1945 to 1975, because WWII had temporarily put out of action most competition from Europe and Japan, and we still had lots of cheap oil in the ground and intact factories. This was a very temporary situation, as were the 1920s after WWI. Economists should know that poverty is the NORM, and prosperity is the EXCEPTION! Temporary "Golden Eras" of prosperity can be noted throughout history, followed by long periods of mere subsistance. Subsistance is the norm, and most of us have come back down to an American standard of subsistance. Which is thankfully much higher than the Somali standard of subsistence.

Jan. 17 2012 10:41 AM
CL from NYC

An entire segment on class and its associated economics and not a single word about Marx, Ricardo, Smith, Mill, Keynes or any other central authority on the subject! This ignorance of credible scholarship and a reliance on pseudo-expertise, popular opinion, and questionable polls is laughable, almost as laughable as the caller who maintained that GIngrich's "food stamp" comment lacks any connotation of race.

Jan. 17 2012 10:36 AM
G.R. from Manhattan

The caller who tried to defend Romney's use of "food stamp president" as acceptable is sadly misguided. Brian is correct in pointing out that it is another reprehensible Republican strategy to manipulate the middle class to vote against their own best interests.

Jan. 17 2012 10:28 AM

The buying power of the average wage has fallen by over 55% in the 40 years from 1968 to 2008. This is not just inflation but growth in the economy that middle class earners DID NOT participate in. If average wages had maintained their position relative to national income, average yearly income would be over $90K. It's closer to $42K. The upper percentile earners have been taking a lot more of the gravy than they are due and our tax code supports the theft.

Jan. 17 2012 10:28 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

The muckraking media will not be satisfied until blood flows in the streets her in America, so that they have good stories! THe fact is, there have been DOZENS of depressions in America since its founding, and while this latest is the worst in 70 years, it's still just an economic adjustment. The liberal media however wants to incite bloodshed, which will come if the incitement continues.

Life is rough. Scapegoating does not help. The world economy goes through shifts as tectonic plates move. The resurrection of Asia and other countries has hit the West who have ruled the roost for 2 centuries, and now that there is a decline in standards of living in the West, suddenly its REVOLUTION time again! This is bloody nonsense.

Jan. 17 2012 10:26 AM
Amy from Manhattan

It doesn't have to be put in terms of the rich "stealing" their wealth from the poor, but inheritance vs. hard work is still too simple. You could ask if some of the rich got their money by exploiting their workers, exporting jobs, or defrauding their customers.

Jan. 17 2012 10:26 AM
James from New Jersey

HOW people acquire wealth should be a more nuanced issue than asking about conflict between categories of people. For instance, I would not define as "hard work" the hedge fund manager who is taxed 15% on income, creates nothing, and employs egregious methods to gain wealth in a regulatory environment that favors the financial industry over the non-finance worker in the name of so-called free enterprise.

Jan. 17 2012 10:25 AM
Lori from Montclair, NJ

Wow, yesterday I tuned in at 10:14 a.m. and today it was 10:06 a.m. and Brian is again talking about raising taxes on the rich and income redistribution. So, today's "news bulletin" is that some Americans want OTHER people to pay more taxes while THEY pay less!?!

This is clearly a personal obsession of Brian's! This program is becoming the "Occupy" show (and THIS is coming from a social worker). Tiresome and the discussion never digs deeper in terms of the REAL reasons why the American worker is struggling. It's easy to point the finger at CEOs and high earners but I really have not heard ONE in depth, meaningful conversation about why American workers are not able to keep pace in a changing, global economy. How exactly does demonizing upper income earners move us forward as a nation?

You are losing all objectivity. And, yes, I'm a lifelong Democrat and WNYC supporter. Can't believe I'm turning WNYC off two days in a row.


Jan. 17 2012 10:24 AM
fuva from Harlemworld

"What's the conflict?" is the exact question. If the poll was worth its salt -- which most polls aren't -- it would have set out to answer this.

The "class conflict" discourse needs to advance. Too many, including OWS, can't or have failed to articulate the specific negative effects of the income/wealth divide. If this continues, this potentially fruitful discussion will degenerate into the "politics of envy" that Conservatives want it to be.

As the last callers have alluded to, the DECONSTRUCTION OF WEALTH -- exposing where it comes from, who gets it, how, why, the benefits it accrues to them and what they do with it -- is a critical first step.

Jan. 17 2012 10:24 AM
Cando from NYC

Take a really simple example of what happens to the middle class at the hands of the wealthy: Look at Soho in the 70s, Williamsburg in the 90s - where poor artists moved in because it was cheap and no one wanted to live there. Once the artists have built a thriving community, the wealthy move in, buy the buildings out from under them and turn the neighborhood into a super-expensive area. Same thing is happening on the Upper West Side. Back when I was a kid, no one wanted to live here. It was just musicians, writers, artists. Now so many wonderful little shops are being driven out by greedy landlords.

Then look at the ridiculous tax structure that allows private equity firms to structure their pay packages so they are taxed as capital gains. There are so many ways in which the divide between the super rich and everyone else has been reinforced.

Jan. 17 2012 10:23 AM
trish from nj

What about Ginrich's comment on "black Americans should demand jobs, not food stamps" comment when, according to NRP, the majority of food stamp receivers are not blacks??

Jan. 17 2012 10:23 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

What many conservatives do not understand is - if the (white) working class feels they are not advancing economically, they will start to resent the rich, right or wrong fair or not, it doesn't matter. Look at any 3rd world country.

Jan. 17 2012 10:21 AM
June Golden from NYC

Pew on the Pew survey. it is totally loaded. Doesn't ask about religious v. non-religious. Sets up "conflict as a norm. Doesn't offer "luck" as alternative to inherited v. earned wealth. It's telegraphese shorthand is designed to skew Pew and get sound bites not insights. BTW, investigations of the Pew don't show them to be so pure and agenda-free either.

Jan. 17 2012 10:20 AM
John A.

"Americans don't hate the rich they want to be rich."
True for a majority probably, even though I hate that.
There is a new commercial (I think for NY Powerball) that shows the guy who won and now has to get in his car (luxury) in order to get the daily paper at the end of his (now long) driveway. I don't like being talked down to like that. As the first commenter said, it should be about education level.

Jan. 17 2012 10:19 AM
Chriss from Montclair, NJ

Wait. Brian. So the mere mention of "food stamps" has racial overtones? Is "work" also racist?

C'mon, we are making it so that ANY word, or as Newt said, “facts that are uncomfortable” is viewed as racist. We should be able to disagree with our Black President without everything being seen through the haze of race.

"I am going to continue to help poor people learn how to get a job, get a better job, and one day own the job." Gingrich is a racist!!!

Jan. 17 2012 10:16 AM
kc from Long Island

57 members of congress part of the 1 % and 250 additional milliionaires. who could be fair?

Jan. 17 2012 10:15 AM
Station44025 from Park Slope

These quotes accusing the 99% of "envy" are designed to distract us from the real issue: HOW the wealthy power elite gained their wealth. Our economy is becoming a kleptocracy, not a meritocracy based on so called "free enterprise," and that fact is absolutely worth discussing as a society, in public.

Jan. 17 2012 10:14 AM
bob from si

We do not tax wealth in this country. We tax income, so unless there is a politician out there willing to confiscate assetts from people nothing will be done. And for food stamps this is not against the poor, i know people who have their children in private school who use food stamps. they are white, it is this abuse that strikes a cord in the middle class.

Jan. 17 2012 10:14 AM
The Truth from Becky

Unfortunately there is still just enough racism left that when romney makes a statement like welfare President, most whites think he speaking of minorities. They follow him blindly not realizing the majority of people on welfare are white! He is rich, yet poor whites still follow him when he makes statements like that.

Jan. 17 2012 10:13 AM
trish from Madison, NJ

Why is Romney blaming Obama for the "class warfare"? As far as I'm concerned, OWS is the one to really bring up this issue.

Jan. 17 2012 10:12 AM
Marc from Brooklyn

The fellow travelers in our universities must be very proud: soon we'll be stringing up kulaks for owning three televisions.

Jan. 17 2012 10:08 AM
asdf from nj

I am a white man who until recently had been living in a (most-times) gloriously multicultural town in central New Jersey, mixed with African American, African, West Indian, white, arab, south asian, east asian, and a large number of ecuadorian and mexican as well.

When I was a kid living there it was all white, with a prejudice against black -- in the ensuing years lots of college educated black families moved in (often from Brooklyn) and in fact I now consider such families to make up the backbone of the good things in the community (coaching, parental involvement in schools, etc.).

I'll never forget a white parent with a nose for trouble coming over to me and muttering something conspiratorially about "the minorities". I stared at her, and was sort of proud to realize that I actually had no idea to whom she referred. (I didn't ask.)

Living in Manhattan, Brooklyn and New Jersey in the last decade, I have long become colorblind.

I don't even know what class is, but what I think it is not (now surrounded by McMansions) is the difference between rich and poor.

The one dividing line -- class line? -- we have found in the places we've lived is EDUCATION LEVEL. NOT money.

Interestingly, I've noticed that among those who also view education level as the measure of class, the liberal arts education is at the top of the pecking order. Often it is from this group that communities find their activists, politicians, board members, even coaches. I am sure it is because the group is able to see their community on multiple levels, as a result of their training, including its future and their own empowerment.

Jan. 17 2012 09:56 AM

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