Through a show of fanfare, we are constantly led to believe that the American public is better off financially than ever before. We continually see splendid examples of advertising bent on convincing us that many “plain folks” just like ourselves own such things as banks and locomotives. Toffler tells us in his best-seller, Future Shock, that our society has “managed within a few short decades to throw off the yoke of manual labor.” Finally, a popular book for politicians asserts that “the economic class system is disappearing… Redistribution of wealth and income…has ended economic inequality’s political significance.”
Are we to believe this? Let’s look at some of the statistics. Only 4 percent of America’s population have estates worth $60,000 or more. Nine out of ten adults could pay their debts, sell everything they own, and not have over $30,000. Worse yet is the fact that over 50 percent of all Americans would have a “net worth” of $3,000 or less: At the top we find the richest 1 percent owns one quarter of the net worth of the entire population.
So what is new? Nothing. Economic historians tell us that on the eve of the Civil War, the top 1 percent owned 24 percent (1860). In 1969, that figure was 24.9 percent. There has been no change since World War II, as studied at roughly five-year intervals: The richest 1 percent owns a quarter, and the top half of that 1 percent owns one-fifth of everything in America.
As far as the many wars on poverty, or efforts to redistribute the wealth go, it is easy to see that words are cheap. The poorer people are paying more taxes than ever before. While corporate taxes have gone down, state and local taxes which tend to be more regressive than federal taxes, as well as social security have continued to take large bites out of the low income paychecks. Even federal taxes have been more regressive:
Harvard’s Kenneth Galbraith believes that “the number of white-collar workers in the United States almost fifteen years ago overtook the number in the blue-collar working force, and is, of course, now greater.” Of course? During these years, women have entered the job market in great numbers, mainly in “clerical or sales” or what has been called white-collar work. Also, the U. S. Census now catalogs such jobs as stock clerks, baggagemen, newspaper carriers, and even mailmen as white-collar workers. In all fairness, these are manual labor jobs.
The mass media’s failure to inform the American public of the historic and continuing economic class divisions in our society and who “really owns America” qualifies this story for nomination as one of the “best censored” stories of 1978. Like the “Myth of Black Progress” (last year’s top ranked “censored” story), the myth of economic progress is another continuing media deception.
The Progressive, June, 1978, p. 14, “Who Owns America? The Same Old Gang,” by Maurice Zeitlin.