Rising plutocracy threatens American democracy
There is a good chance
Like so many before him, Cebrian says, "In the U.S. there's hope, and the feeling that you can achieve whatever you want." Indeed, this creed implicit in so many American movies has been one of the reasons for the sustained global appeal of
As the late director
At their convention in
Today, however, opportunity for everyone is fast becoming
But for the vast majority of Americans another story is emerging: a new plutocracy of the super-wealthy is cementing its hold on the top. Only low-wage jobs that lead nowhere are being created at the bottom. The middle class is being hollowed out because manufacturing has been shifted out of the country and new digital technologies, which outsource white-collar work to consumers themselves, are replacing everyone from bank tellers to airline clerks.
Just connecting the dots with a few key figures paints a clear picture of just how America's foundational creed is under assault.
While the top 1 per cent of Americans held 8 per cent of all income in 1975, by 2012 they held 22 per cent.
Much of this wealth is concentrated in the so-called super-elites of finance, who claimed 40 percent of all corporate profits at the time of the 2008 crash. The "winner-takes-all" access to global markets is another key factor.
At the same time, American manufacturing has dropped to less than 12 per cent of GDP from about 24 per cent over the past two decades. Nearly a quarter of those jobs were lost as a result of trade with
Meanwhile, as Nobel laureate
The great danger to the American creed of opportunity is that this combination of wealth concentration, industrial demise and technological displacement will lead to a closure of upward mobility. As the plutocrats seek to defend their privileges through the political influence of money and perpetuate their elite status by monopolizing access for their children to the Stanfords, Harvards and Princetons of higher education, everyone else will be shut out from ever getting to the top.
Without doubt, American entrepreneurial energy will seek to breakthrough this tendency toward closure by the plutocrats at the top. Government policies that provide incentives (like
But, as all economists agree, the key variable in income differentials is the level of education. Only a highly skilled and imaginative workforce will be able to harness the digital revolution's creative-destructive dynamic so that high-paying jobs follow rising productivity.
Investment in education, training, research and development, however, will require wresting resources for the future from an economy not only skewed toward the plutocrats well positioned to protect their interests but also weighed down by the present costs of past promises through
In short, any attempt to restore the aspirational faith in mobility and opportunity will necessarily pit the top and the past against the future. What has been made clear by the re-election of President Obama -- and the continuing battle over the 'fiscal cliff' -- is that most Americans are in no mood to sacrifice their promised social benefits on behalf of investment in the future if the plutocrats are left off the hook.
We got a hint of how this all might be sorted out in
The true import of this election is that a powerful new constituency has emerged for investment in the future, affirming a key tenet of the American creed: Education, particularly affordable public higher education, is the best guarantor of upward mobility for all citizens.
Soaking the rich alone is not going to renew the clogged meridians of mobility and opportunity for most Americans. In the end, a society only works if everyone who shares the benefits also bears the costs.
But what the vote in
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