The Great American Rip-Off


Last week, I wrote about how naming things poorly this leads to indifference. Let’s revisit the subject with the case of the phrase “income inequality.” Once again, we’re talking about a serious problem, but because of the tinkly nerd-committee designation, any discussion of it bounces off the eardrum and never makes it into the brain. “Income inequality” sounds like a bunch of tin dimes being dropped in a bucket. That’s what it feels like, too, when the poor get paid.

Income inequality (Plink! Plink! Plink!) should matter, because super-rich bastards own everything, and regular people aren’t doing well at all. We’ve exported the American Dream to Europe—at least, it feels that way. If it’s easier to go from poor to middle class or from middle class to rich in “socialist” countries than it is in the U.S.A., then we’re doing something wrong.

Abortion! Now there’s a word! There’s an issue we can talk about all day. It involves sex, control, life and death, and the very nature of the soul. We can argue about it all day and not get a damned thing done, because women are always going to get pregnant (you know they invented some 100% effective birth control years ago and it’s sitting in that warehouse with the Lost Ark of the Covenant) and some will want to end their pregnancy, legal or not. It’s also something that’s fun to say. Abortion. Punch that B! Roll that R! Hum the N. It’s a great word. We need more words like that.

What’s to be done with plincome plinkuality? Might I suggest that the problem isn’t that our incomes are unequal (Incomes are ALWAYS going to be unequal) but that we’ve got a RICH GLUT. Gotta love a glut. A glut is the sound of mud in the hose; it’s a choking, gurgling problem. There’s too much of something, and it’s got to be dispersed better. The last decent glut we had was the oil glut in the eighties. The average Joe couldn’t grok why too much oil was a problem, but dammit, there was a glut, and something had to be done about it.

The right’s going to say “What’s wrong with too much richness?” Of course, they say “What’s wrong with income inequality?” too, so let’s make the most of the argument. Because a RICH GLUT isn’t about too much wealth, it’s about too few guys hoarding all the wealth. Also, thanks to our new nomenclature, we’ve split the problem of income inequality into its two composite parts. You see, not only do we have a RICH GLUT, we’ve also got a POOR GLUT. Sure, the rich guys having it all is a problem, but the poor people getting poorer, well, that’s going to lead to riots. A RICH GLUT and a POOR GLUT. Put them side by side and it becomes obvious how we’re going to solve the problem.

It’s all been boiling down to this since Reagan. He’s why we’ve got a rich glut. He was rich and didn’t like to pay taxes, back when we had a progressive tax system. People loved low taxes, didn’t feel the repercussions (the ones we’re feeling today), and were scared to death of the Russians, so Reagan was popular. His policies were great for rich people, and they’re the people who usually buy elections, so we’ve been living in Reagan’s world ever since.

The only thing is, people also love the New Deal and the Great Society. Social Security and Medicare are the obvious poster children for the social compact, but there are other aspects of government people like too, whether they admit it or not. Highways, parks, police, the military and all its gadgets. They also like unemployment and food stamps, when they’re in trouble. These days more people are in trouble.

Reagan’s (and Bush’s and Paul Ryan’s) tax cuts were and are supposed to lift all boats and pay for themselves. Instead, the rich get richer, and the American people get mountains of debt. What we have is THE GREAT AMERICAN RIP-OFF. It’s time to rip back.

It’s the Great American Rip-Off vs. the New Deal. Let’s have that fight. With a rich glut, how can you argue for lower taxes on the rich when the alternative is to cut Medicare? The demographics aren’t going to allow cuts to Medicare, so long as people continue to get old. Now is the time to enact some real reforms and get back on a progressive footing. We can make this country great again.

We need gluts, not inequalities. We need words that give us the fire to fight. No “gluts,” no glory.*

*Some may argue that this whole piece is an argument AGAINST gluts, and that closing with “No gluts no glory” is confusing. Well, I’m sorry, I need that line, even if it doesn’t make a damn bit of sense. It’s got to sound right before it is right.

1 reply
  1. avatar
    Michael Kilian says:

    I think the problem is less income inequality as it is increasing lack of income opportunity. There seems to be increasingly fewer ways, even with a good education, to make a reasonable living without having skills in increasingly narrow fields (e.g., Facebook programmer). Of course there are glaring examples of income inequality and some of this has to do with Gluttonous Rich (Polaroid management arranging bizarrely large compensation packages for themselves as they were preparing to file Chapter 11 is one example), and it is true that the US has some bizarre skews between highest and lowest paid employees in a company. That being said, I think we are increasingly seeing a global phenomenon of entire classes of people not having an opportunity despite have certain skills (i.e., these are not uneducated people).


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