Inequality rules in 'land of the free'

April 17, 2011

In his April 13 speech on his country’s $14.3 trillion government deficit, US President Barack Obama called on the US Congress to change the US tax system “so that the amount of taxes you pay isn’t determined by what kind of accountant you can afford.”

He said: “In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90% of all working Americans actually declined. The top 1% saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each. And that’s who needs to pay less taxes?

“They want to give people like me a $200,000 tax cut that’s paid for by asking 33 seniors to each pay $6000 more in health costs? That’s not right, and it’s not going to happen as long as I’m President.”

Woah! What’s that? Is it the surprise return of “Yes-We-Can” Obama who instantly morphed into “Yes-We-Can-Continue-To-Serve-The Rich” Obama after his 2008 election?

Don’t hold your breath.

The gross inequality in the US was summed up in the pithy May 2011 Vanity Fair headline: “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%.”

The article, by Joseph Stiglitz, revealed some of this ugly truth:

“The upper 1% of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1% control 40%.

“Their lot in life has improved considerably. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12% and 3% …

“While the top 1% have seen their incomes rise 18% over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall. For men with only high-school degrees, the decline has been precipitous — 12% in the last quarter-century alone.

“All the growth in recent decades — and more — has gone to those at the top."

So Obama had to acknowledge this truth. But he added that he was open to compromise with the Republican-controlled US Congress.

In the absence of sustained mass pressure, on his past record Obama will not deliver on his latest promises.

Could such a “game-changing” movement arise in the US? It can, if the struggle of the working people of Wisconsin against cutbacks in that state can be generalised. When that happens, the US will really become the “land of the free” and a real beacon of liberty to people around the world.

Struggling for real change from within the “belly of the beast” is arduous. We know that without system change in the world’s wealthy nations, war, oppression, hunger and environmental destruction pose a grave threat to human survival.

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