It Could Happen Here

Monday, December 28, 2009

Many believe that America’s politics are too stable to allow a second revolution, but Bruce Judson, Yale School of Management senior faculty fellow, explains why he thinks the unprecedented 30-year rise of inequality here has made revolution is a real possibility. His book It Could Happen Here shows how this level of disparity has almost always led to political upheaval throughout history.


Bruce Judson,

Comments [26]

sanych from NJ

"A revolutionary situation is when the upper classes cannot, and the lower classes are not willing to continue living the old way."

V.I. Lenin

The translation - people have to starve before a revolution to happen.

Dec. 28 2009 09:47 PM
David from Boston

Bruce Judson is one of the most cogent economic thinkers that I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. He is spot on, especially in terms of understanding the uselessness of much of the financial activity (betting) which has dominated our society over the last 30 years.

Unfortunately, Lenny's questions were scattered and random (typical Lenny), with distracting and pathetic attempts at humor. Only in the last 5 minutes did the questions get serious, as oppossed to simply playing the "Devil's Advocate" for 30 minutes.

Lenny: Listen more and talk less.

Dec. 28 2009 07:44 PM
Gary from near NYC

The main problem is that there has been an erosion in child development... somewhere in the 1960's, it began to accelerate. There are so many people in command of the influential ingredients that make our nation work, who are myopic in vision and selfish in perspective. This allowed the many short sighted decisions to be made that initially seemed profitable "at the time", only to have consequences later.

We've lost focus on what is most important, the extremely necessary careful and proper cultivation of the human mind.

And now we're on a downward spiral that we will NOT recover from in a way that will allow us to return to any of the "good times" we've had in the last century. The American Experiment is failing and it is too late to stop it. I do not wish to say this... I prefer to be an optimistic person. But I've seen far too many problems that Bruce has only begun to touch on.

People have to stop wasting money on venues of "temporary gratification" and start investing their time and money into efforts that will improve their lives over time and contribute back to society.

Dec. 28 2009 04:09 PM
Lauren Bielski from Astoria, NY (Queens)

I can relate to Jade. I'm tempted to join a revolution, too. Nevermind the details of my sob story, let's just say that 1. I need a job; 2. I'm middle aged and viewed as problematic simply because of that fact; 3. all the work and all the experience that I've amassed over 20 years now pretty much counts for zip and yet I'm "over qualified" to even pour coffee or work a cash register. And yet I'm supposed to ignore all of this and persevere despite an utter lack of opportunity (at this moment) and yes, I'm trying... I guess it's my own personal Baader Meinhof complex.

Dec. 28 2009 03:04 PM
Don from NYC

A suggestion for Mr. Lopate:
Listen a little more to your guests and talk a lot less.
I doubt you will, but I can hope.

Dec. 28 2009 01:21 PM
David D from NJ

This continuing and growing income inequality didn't just start to occur in 2009 but has been going on in the U.S. since at least 1973, the last year that we saw real annual growth in worker income. The Republican Right that has effectively ruled for the most part since 1980 and their Milton Friedman/Ayn Rand markets rule ideology chose to ignore this with glib responses such as that our economic system was never designed to provide equal results, only equal opportunity and that capitalism unfettered by government interference is the only true moral society (Ayn Rand's actual words).

The record on nations that have long term imbalances in wealth distribution is one of political instability and social strife (a la Latin America for the most part since 1800). This is not a threat but the historical reality that awaits us if there is no change.

Dec. 28 2009 01:03 PM
MC from Manhatan

Wealth redistribution CAN work and it does not need to be violent and disruptive. Instead of creating bank credits the Fed should have credited individuals individuals (making lower middle class and below) with 100K of cash 60% of which must be deposited as a long term Treasury deposit not able to be withdrawn until after 15 years,(depending on your age at time of maturity) 20% used to pay off debts or start a debt repayment fund, and 5% to invest and 5% to do what ever you feel needs to be done. THis would have flooded the banks with cash and the investment houses with funds but given everyone a greater stake in the economy.

Dec. 28 2009 12:47 PM
D from NYC

Why is it that anything that is proposed for the mutual benefit of "We" is immediately attacked as being "socialist". Have we been that individualized by capitalism that we see each other as enemies. Why is it a bad thing that people are able to keep their homes and jobs, but ok to give the corporations billions that ultimately go to keeping the income disparity status quo?

Dec. 28 2009 12:43 PM
LF from warwick, NY

Congratulations on having a rational and clear thinker on your show.
BTW has anyone at WNYC noticed that most of the working and middle class in New York have been banished to Brooklyn? And Manhattan has a moat around it. And one may have to eventually show ID to get across the bridges to work for the rich.

Dec. 28 2009 12:42 PM
Jon P. from The Garden State

Want a real revolution?

The only thing that could cause any serous change is completely eliminating special interest groups and 100% publicly funding all political races. Add to that, all government contracts have to be completely transparent and open to all bids, the winning bid going to the lowest bidder that can realistically prove to be able to do the job without fleecing the public.

Anything short of this is an absolute complete a waist of time and will just continue to allow our government to be bought and run by special interest groups as it has for almost its entire history.

Dec. 28 2009 12:41 PM
Jgarbuz from Queens, NY

The concept of "middle class" is one of those relatively rare occurrences in history, and generally rather unusual in the annals of economic history. Middle classes usually come into being when a particular country or society gains a temporary upper hand in global trade due to fortunes of war or global economic realignments. The general pattern has been societies whre the majority live at the precipice of bare subsistence ruled over by an small elite supported by religious priests and a warrior caste.

The US was one of those lucky cases where temporarily a broad middle class arose in the 20th century, but now the flattening out has begun again. In our case we were lucky for a large number of reasons, but particularly that we were not damaged in the big wars, and we emerged relatively unscathed and more productive. But now that the other nations have adopted free enterprise and the competition is fierce, that luck may have run out. We can no longer bomb our major competitors temporaril out of business, as was the case in WWII. So we have been forced by the reemergence of Asia to have to adapt to lower expectations. We may not have to go back to living in mud hut hovels, but I think the days of McMansions for the masses may be numbered.

Dec. 28 2009 12:40 PM
Gordon from Manhatan

you have a home that is worth half? OR the money that you paid and THOUGHT gave you some aliased form of "equity" was re confiscated by slight of economic hand?

You dont own a home until the last mortgage payment is made. Miss a payment , even after paying for 29 years and you lose it ALL.. does that male sense?

Dec. 28 2009 12:39 PM
Gordon from Manhatan

ipods, digital TV's (that we pay $160 a month cable bills for to watch commercials) and pocket computers are not enough. All too often we are lulled into thinking that "life is better " because we can order tube sox on our cell phone. I used to think when I was a child that if the Russians took over I had nothing to lose and so I never feared the "Russians" I lost my stake in this economy so yes , lets start over, what do "I " have to lose. Mean while I plan to get a EU passport.

Dec. 28 2009 12:36 PM
D from NYC

This is a difficult subject to discuss without bringing out fringe opinions on either the left or the right that preclude any real analysis of the economic situation that we find our selves in. This is unfortunate. It is undeniable that we are in the middle of another "crisis of capitalism", the question is are we going to use this as an opportunity to re-evaluate what we value as a society, economically speaking? Or are we just going to close our collective eyes to the fleecing that has taken place over the last few decades.

Dec. 28 2009 12:25 PM
Tim from brooklyn

I was a little shocked when Leonard made the statement that it appeared that the standard of living (paraphrasing) had been improving consistently over the last few decades. How do you explain the wage stagnation and decline in skilled as well as non skilled jobs and the exploding real estate market we saw. Anyone not holding real estate assets saw any dream of matching their parents level of ownership evaporate.

Dec. 28 2009 12:24 PM
Peter from New York City

Leonard; The dirty bomb on the plane over Detroit almost DID go off. I'm a bit credulous at your scepticism, or maybe you're just doing your Devil's Advocate job.

Dec. 28 2009 12:21 PM

I **want** it to happen here!
I have none of the things mentioned as part of the American Dream: No job, no pension, no healthcare, no owned home. Instead I have 10K in credit card debt and 50K debt from a useless law degree. There's a job that I just didn't get because my credit history is less than perfect now that unemployment insurance doesn't cover my bills. All that's left to me is bankruptcy. Please. Start the revolution. I'll join.

Dec. 28 2009 12:21 PM
Gerald Fnord

Less Olympically: Our society has succumbed to an ideology of the inviolability of 'property rights'...well, property has no rights. 'Property' rights are the rights of people (or fictional persons) to do with their property as they will within the limits of the law (for example, you are allowed to tell someone with whom you disagree to get off your land, even if it's half a nation away and you never go there, but you aren't allowed to use _your_ pen to commit mail fraud).

This means that those with more property will be much more powerful; this in turn will aid them in getting even more property---libertarians actually have a good point here, that the connivance of government helps a lot here---but I think that even without government interference market equilibria fade in the face of the non-linearities of _huge_ amounts of property. As Joe-Bob Briggs put it, 'The problem isn't that there's no ladder of success, but that there's no slippy-slide of failure.'

And the mædia are _owned_, by persons with huge resources, so why should we expect _any_ of them to point to the real problem.

Which leaves one question: how does one invest in racism and anti-Semitism?; I think they'll be growth industries.

Dec. 28 2009 12:18 PM
Mike C from Manhatan

Increasingly the US has become an economy of economic sharecroppers. Most Americans do not "own" they "owe"
upon exiting school they are saddled with debt and accumulate debt throughout their life. This is not because of natural economic laws. It is a structured manipulation of supply and demand and economic opportunity to favor those that control power. 1 man 1 vote means nothing when your "share" of economic wealth is outvoted by the monumental wealth of the class A shareholders of USA Inc. Economic policy is crafted to separate the majority of the population from the wealth that was briefly accumulated after WW2. This is not necessary to create an efficient economy, Rather it is to preserve vested interests and prevent competitive entrepreneurship.

Dec. 28 2009 12:17 PM
seriously, get real

"world class soccer, host of 2016 Olympics... it's an inspiring success story which many others could learn from."

And how do sports address income inequality?

Let me guess, you're a white Brazilian living in NYC with an expense account and a paid for apartment.

Dec. 28 2009 12:16 PM

wait- Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Jay Gould, and J. P. Morgan didn't make more than 300 times the lowest paid employee. hmmmmmm

Dec. 28 2009 12:15 PM
Gerald Fnord

Once upon a time, there were knights. They were nigh-invulnerable to peasants. Then gunpowder was introduced, and firearms. At first, they were so expensive that only members of the knights' class could afford them, but eventually armies of peasants could be formed using them...for the central governments' ends, not the peasants' of course.

Once upon a time, there were nations....

Dec. 28 2009 12:11 PM

Brazil?? A booming economy, strong governance, world leader in biofuels, dramatic poverty class soccer, host of 2016 Olympics. It's not a basket case, it's an inspiring success story which many others could learn from.

Dec. 28 2009 11:56 AM

Brazil, Haiti, Mexico, India, China, Egypt, much of Africa, etc.

What will keep America off this list?

Dec. 28 2009 11:38 AM
Rick from Montclair, NJ

I loved your use of the word "Master" with a capital M.

Dec. 28 2009 11:02 AM
jeff from NJ

"At the present time, the system of protection is conservative, whereas the system of free trade is destructive: it dissolves old nationalities and pushes extreme antagonism between bourgeoisie and proletariat. In a word, the system of commercial freedom hastens the social revolution."

K. Marx

The Master clearly foresaw this coming down the road, and this was why he was for free trade! It is this free trade that will destroy the middle class, and they will revolt.

And let us never forget that the Bourgeois once had their bloody revolution, that brought them out of the womb to create their Zeusian rule for world domination.

"But unheroic though bourgeois society is, it nevertheless needed heroism, sacrifice, terror, civil war, and national wars to bring it into being."




Dec. 28 2009 10:50 AM

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