Occupy these truths

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I have a few numbers for you to think about. They tell a classic American story of riches and rags. The tale spans the quarter century leading up to the Crash of 2008.

In 1982, one year into Ronald Reagan’s presidency, the gradually rising trend line graphing a widening gap between the rich and the poor in this country suddenly shot nearly vertically upward. The administration had promised an upheaval in economic policy and the Gipper kept his word. The calculated transfer of the nation’s wealth to the wealthiest had begun.

The former gap yawned into a chasm from which America has never retreated. Under Bill Clinton, from 1994 to 2000, the richest 10 percent’s share of our pie grew from 40.8 percent to 47.6. And by the end of George W’s tenure, the “top 10″ folks had captured 50 percent of all national income.

However, among the very well-off in this land, there is a growing chasm as well. It gapes (as gaps will) between the super-rich one percent and the rest of the very wealthy. When Reagan came to power, the top one percent of Americans received 10 percent of all wealth. By the end of G.W. Bush’s terms in office, the “One Percent” had increased their gains to 23.5 percent of Americans’ incomes.

Mind you, that’s one percent soaking up nearly a quarter of our wealth, just as the economy swirled right down the crapper. Meanwhile, the wealth in the next nine percentiles grew by only one and a half percent.

From the administration of Richard Nixon, through the presidency of George W. Bush — 33 long years — 99 percent of American families saw only an 8.5 percent increase in their wealth. All the while, the top one percent of our fellow countrymen saw their incomes rise 190 percent! Those lucky ducks (deliberately enriched by specific government tax policy, et cetera) were, by the eve of our Great Recession, hauling in, on average $952,388 yearly apiece.

The racket cuts across party lines. During the Clinton years, the One Percenters raked in a 59 percent annual income increase, from $531,842 to $843,599.

As I said: it’s been an unprecedented transfer of American wealth from the bottom rungs to the tippy-top. Quite frankly, it’s been foisted on most of the wealthy by a few dozen weird men in dark suits, sitting with their cronies around long oval tables in very high places. And the rest of us, my fellow Americans, are victims of a long and heinous crime.

Source: The Mendacity of Hope, Roger D. Hodge, HarperCollins