Watching the pro-democracy demonstrators in Tahrir Square in Cairo several weeks back followed by the storming of the Wisconsin state capitol building by crowds upset over the prospects of being disenfranchised here in the U.S., I wondered when there might be pro-democracy demonstrations popping up all over the United States. After all, one of the major factors of the leaderless demonstrations in the Arab world is the oppressive economic disparities between rich and poor. As can be seen from the graph below, the gap between the richest one percent of Americans and the rest of us continues to widen. Eventually this gap will reach a breaking point. No society can sustain this rising disparity before the other 99% figures out the system is rigged against them.
John Perkins, former “economic hit man” who has inside experience of the power of corporate appetites, calls this result “corporatocracy.” Wikipedia defines corporatocracy, in part, as a governing system where “corporations, to a significant extent ‘own’ or have massive power over governments, including those governments nominally elected by the people, and that they exercise such power not by back-room conspiracies but by their enormous, concentrated economic power, and by legal in-the-open mechanisms (lobbyists, campaign contributions to office holders and candidates, threats to leave the state or country for another with less oversight and more subsidies, etc).”
In many respects, corporatocracy causes this growing disparity. By its nature it continues to drive economic wealth to the rich while leaving the lower and middle classes pretty much stagnated. This becomes especially notable when you adjust for inflation. Some argue that 99% of us are actually worse off now, in terms of spendable income, than we were thirty years ago!
As I was drafting this article, “60 Minutes” featured a shocking story which included, in part:
American families have been falling out of the middle class in record numbers….One of the consequences of the recession that you don't hear a lot about is the record number of children descending into poverty….it is estimated the poverty rate for kids in this country will soon hit 25 percent. (see entire report here)
Here’s a TED talk by Wael Ghonim, which was recorded last month at TED 2011. Ghonim is the Google executive who helped jumpstart Egypt's democratic revolution. He tells the inside story of everyday Egyptians showing that "the power of the people is stronger than the people in power." When enough people get fed up enough being victims of unfairness they will stand up for themselves.
Remember the parable of the boiled frog? Like the slowly-boiled frog we can get sleepy, then become unconscious and eventually die if the process is slow and gradual enough. The temperature rises so gradually that we acclimatize to the heat without triggering our life-threatening -danger responses. The disappearing middle class and the lower classes have been lulled into near-oblivion over the past thirty years as the gap continues to widen between the “haves” and the “have-nots.”
New York Times columnist Bob Herbert opined a few days ago, “There is plenty of economic activity in the U.S., and plenty of wealth. But like greedy children, the folks at the top are seizing virtually all the marbles. Income and wealth inequality in the U.S. have reached stages that would make the third world blush. As the Economic Policy Institute has reported, the richest 10 percent of Americans received an unconscionable 100 percent of the average income growth in the years 2000 to 2007, the most recent extended period of economic expansion.” [For the full column click here.]
Where is that tipping point for organizing our own Tahrir Square vigil? Like the people in Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain who have been willing to risk their lives for liberty, perhaps Americans can emulate what the protestors in Cairo bravely declared on television, “This isn’t fair!” and “We want our country back.”
Fortunately we are not frogs. We possess consciousness which, when awakened, allows us to make dramatic changes in our responses to situations. A dear friend recently reminded me of a pertinent quote to share here. It comes from Scottish psychiatrist, Ronald Laing: "The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice, there is little we can do to change, until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds."