My point was that the wealthiest plutocrats now actually control a greater share of the pie in the United States than in historically unstable countries like Nicaragua, Venezuela and Guyana. But readers protested that this was glib and unfair, and after reviewing the evidence I regretfully confess that they have a point.
That’s right: I may have wronged the banana republics.
The wealthiest 1% of Americans own 34% or our national wealth. The next 9% own 37%. The other 90% own the 29% that's left.
We've tolerated this inequality because of two important pieces of our national identity; we are supposed to have greater social mobility than other countries, and supposedly, "a rising tide lifts all boats".
Here's the problem - neither of these components of our national mythology is true.
This isn't the first time this has happened in the US - it has happened before most of our economic disasters, and for the same reasons. FDR faced the same forces in 1932, and his intention was to save capitalism from itself. His cousin Theodore had already noted the same forces, and made one of the country's greatest speeches about it, in Osawatomie, Kansas, in 1910:
"The true friend of property, the true conservative, is he who insists that property shall be the servant and not the master of the commonwealth; who insists that the creature of man’s making shall be the servant and not the master of the man who made it. The citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have called into being.
There can be no effective control of corporations while their political activity remains. To put an end to it will be neither a short nor an easy task, but it can be done....
The absence of effective State, and, especially, national, restraint upon unfair money-getting has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power. The prime need to is to change the conditions which enable these men to accumulate power which it is not for the general welfare that they should hold or exercise.... We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used. It is not even enough that it should have been gained without doing damage to the community. We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community. This, I know, implies a policy of a far more active governmental interference with social and economic conditions in this country than we have yet had, but I think we have got to face the fact that such an increase in governmental control is now necessary."
There's more, and it could have been written yesterday. Read it!