Excursion to Perversions – II

This continued blog-journey from Part I was inspired by and liberally borrowed from a classic book and well-known 19th century American writer you may recognize. I’ve added some modernized twists.

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Pleasuring and Measuring Sea, Passengers, and Crew

All day and night our ship was anchored in the Upper Bay. Yes, our great pleasure excursion had traversed a full two (2 I say!) nautical miles so that we may take in the rain-drenched shores of Brooklyn to the portside, New Jersey to starboard. Ahead of us beyond the Lower Bay and out to sea the storm was not yet finished with its mayhem. Waves churned up hills of sud and seafoam at the harbor’s mouth, beyond there only the bold and daring would ascertain. Thus, with no quarrels from one single passenger it was “unanimously” decided the Quaker City’s second departure would begin the following day should the sea and weather accomodate.

stormy seas

Our Sunday view from our quaint restless cabin port

This idleness allowed for more heavenly prayer and church hymns making us all more idealy situated should any misfortune befall our voyage. Up at first light I briskly made my way to breakfast and with good reason.

“I felt a perfectly natural desire to have a good, long, unprejudiced look at the passengers at a time when they should be free from self-consciousness—which is at breakfast, when such a moment occurs in the lives of human beings at all.

I was greatly surprised to see so many elderly people—I might almost say, so many venerable people. A glance at the long lines of heads was apt to make one think it was all gray. But it was not. There was a tolerably fair sprinkling of young folks, and another fair sprinkling of gentlemen and ladies who were non-committal as to age, being neither actually old or absolutely young.”

As hoped, a day later we heaved anchor and set out to sea, the storm less than mighty than the day before, yet unwilling to subside entirely. It appeared we elustrious passengers would be “tested” first to measure what fibers we had during the self-conscious hours and the ruckus sea would oblige. Finally departing there was a cheerful sigh on deck:  we were headed eastward and the American coastline began to fade. The broad and rolling ocean ahead had a different sort of welcome in mind.

“One could not promenade without risking his neck; at one moment the bowsprit was taking a deadly aim at the sun in midheaven, and at the next it was trying to harpoon a shark in the bottom of the ocean. What a weird sensation it is to feel the stern of a ship sinking swiftly from under you and see the bow climbing high away among the clouds! One’s safest course that day was to clasp a railing and hang on; walking was too precarious a pastime.”

However, should you have in your possession a mess-hall serving tray and a bar of deck soap, given the present seas you could easily travel from one end of the ship’s corridor in the stern straight to the bow (almost) in a most expeditious and harrowing manner — if timed just right with the troughs and crests. But fair warning, ill-timed starts would result in ill-timed endings. One’s most astute calculus is recommended, for the safety of self, property, and select others targeted.

To my pleasant surprise and good fortune I was not seasick. I found great joy in their gastronomic state and my lack of — for I had not always been so lucky.

“If there is one thing in the world that will make a man peculiarly and insufferably self-conceited, it is to have his stomach behave itself, the first day at sea, when nearly all his comrades are seasick.”

Good morning SirIt was about that moment, while outside near the after deck-house door, that one of our esteemed travelers of some age and great wisdom, heavily wrapped like a mummy from chin to toe, lunged out with the ship’s downward plunge right into my arms:

Good-morning, Sir. It is a fine day.”

He put his hand on his stomach and said, “Oh, my!” and then staggered away and fell over the coop of a skylight.

Presently another old gentleman was projected from the same door with great violence. I said:

“Calm yourself, Sir—There is no hurry. It is a fine day, Sir.”

He, also, put his hand on his stomach and said “Oh, my!” and reeled away.

In a little while another veteran was discharged abruptly from the same door, clawing at the air for a saving support. I said:

“Good morning, Sir. It is a fine day for pleasuring. You were about to say—”

“Oh, my!”

I thought so. I anticipated him, anyhow. I stayed there and was bombarded with old gentlemen for an hour, perhaps; and all I got out of any of them was “Oh, my!”

I went away then in a thoughtful mood. I said, this is a good pleasure excursion. I like it. The passengers are not garrulous, but still they are sociable. I like those old people, but somehow they all seem to have the “Oh, my” rather bad.

While climbing up the stairs to the quarter-deck from the many rushing and thrown to the side rails to share the day’s meals with the sea, the bow of the vessel reaching up to the sky, I took a big puff of my cigar feeling quite bold that Poseidon kindly favored me rather than our geriatric Oh-my’ers, when someone shouted:  “Come, now, that won’t answer. Read the sign up there—NO SMOKING ABAFT THE WHEEL!” It was Captain Duncan, the excursion’s chief. I damped out my tasty tobacco, nodded in acknowledgement, and continued my way forward. In a pursuit to discover and understand ways of naval travel, I found a spyglass in an upper-deck state-room behind the pilot-house. Ah, another ship off the horizon. Then another shout:  “Ah, ah—hands off! Come out of that!” I exited as commanded, found a lowly deck-sweep and inquired:

“Who is that overgrown pirate with the whiskers and the discordant voice?”

“It’s Captain Bursley—executive officer—sailing master.”

I loitered about awhile, and then, for want of something better to do, fell to carving a railing with my knife. Somebody said, in an insinuating, admonitory voice:

“Now, say—my friend—don’t you know any better than to be whittling the ship all to pieces that way? You ought to know better than that.”

I went back and found the deck sweep.

“Who is that smooth-faced, animated outrage yonder in the fine clothes?”

“That’s Captain L****, the owner of the ship—he’s one of the main bosses.”

Wise deck-sweepRealizing that the port side of the Quaker City was overcrowded with more Don’ts than Do’s, I took my curiosity starboard. There on that side of the pilot-house lay a sextant on the bench asking for my close examination. I told myself, they look to the sun as such, and I had hoped to relocate that ship in the distance. With my eye and hands on the instrument no more than three innocent seconds, a tap on the shoulder followed by yet another detesting voice:

“I’ll have to get you to give that to me, Sir. If there’s anything you’d like to know about taking the sun, I’d as soon tell you as not—but I don’t like to trust anybody with that instrument. If you want any figuring done—Aye, aye, sir!”

I began deducing there was apparently very little a paying passenger could tinker with save your cabin’s lavatory toilet-tissue and soap, and perhaps there too one required first a full naval inquiry. I ventured to find the deck-sweep once more for more future Don’ts.

“Who is that spider-legged gorilla yonder with the sanctimonious countenance?”

“It’s Captain Jones, sir—the chief mate.”

“Well. This goes clear away ahead of anything I ever heard of before. Do you—now I ask you as a man and a brother—do you think I could venture to throw a rock here in any given direction without hitting a captain of this ship?”

The wise sailor advised against given that the Captain of the Watch — a vessel’s sheriff if you will — was standing just over there quite interested in my probing curiosity. With my tour of investigating dashed…

“I went below—meditating and a little downhearted. I thought, if five cooks can spoil a broth, what may not five captains do with a pleasure excursion.”

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Aristippus of Cyrene once said “The vice [of pleasure] lies not in entering the bordello, but in not coming out.” Let us hope there are not so many captains disembarking at our destinations. As a wise Irish friend once told me, some cause happiness wherever they go, and others whenever they go.

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To be continued…

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Excursion to Perversions – I

This blog-journey was inspired by and liberally borrowed from a classic book and well-known 19th century American writer you may recognize. I’ve added my modernized twists.

EtP_divider

 

The Programme and Bombastic Hubbub

The travel itinerary had been released months earlier. The 163-day voyage would make port in The Azores, Britain’s Gibraltar, Marseilles, Rome, Athens, Constantinople, Odessa, Smyrna, Beirut, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Tangiers, Bermuda, and home to New York harbor. Only a few select passengers would be chosen for this fashionably grand journey across the Atlantic. It was to be a who’s who list of celebrities to far away places that most could only dream. Quickly the trip was the talk of the country as much as the names to be offered tickets of passage.

“It was a novelty in the way of excursions—its like had not been thought of before, and it compelled that interest which attractive novelties always command. It was to be a picnic on a gigantic scale. The participants in it, instead of freighting an ungainly steam ferry—boat with youth and beauty and pies and doughnuts, and paddling up some obscure creek to disembark upon a grassy lawn and wear themselves out with a long summer day’s laborious frolicking under the impression that it was fun, were to sail away in a great steamship with flags flying and cannon pealing, and take a royal holiday beyond the broad ocean in many a strange clime and in many a land renowned in history!”

Victorian picnic

So how does one finagle himself past the stringent bowelless “Committee On Applications” and onto a prestigious vessel with numerous notable travelers? Voilà! Utilize a popular Shakespearian tactic known as inflated nothingness:

“I referred to all the people of high standing I could think of in the community who would be least likely to know anything about me.”

Having miraculously been selected as one of the traveling “select,” a supplemental programme arrived in the postal box. It informs the passengers boarding, the Quaker City will be graced by the celebrated Plymouth Collection of Hymns for heavenly song. A more joyous activity can scarcely be found. There were more pragmatic items to be addressed:

“This supplementary program also instructed the excursionists to provide themselves with light musical instruments for amusement in the ship, with saddles for Syrian travel, green spectacles and umbrellas, veils for Egypt, and substantial clothing to use in rough pilgrimizing in the Holy Land. Furthermore, it was suggested that although the ship’s library would afford a fair amount of reading matter, it would still be well if each passenger would provide himself with a few guidebooks, a Bible, and some standard works of travel. A list was appended, which consisted chiefly of books relating to the Holy Land, since the Holy Land was part of the excursion and seemed to be its main feature.”

Pilgrims excursionWith such acclaimed fanfare and America’s social prominents and acolytes, surely there was more ornation to be done! A renown physician and reverend upon the passenger list perhaps? Someone from the Ben Carson and Billy Graham family lines would conflate this voyage nicely and return America To Greatness in the eyes of the world, yes?

“Reverend [Carson] was to have accompanied the expedition, but urgent duties obliged him to give up the idea. There were other passengers who could have been spared better and would have been spared more willingly. Lieutenant General [Rex Tillerson] was to have been of the party also, but the [Russian deals and collusion] compelled his presence on the plains [of Siberia]. A popular actress had entered her name on the ship’s books, but something interfered and she couldn’t go. The “Drummer Boy of the Potomac” deserted, and lo, we had never a celebrity left!”

Alas, the August proportions of wonderous pomp and circumstance and snazzy names were pruned down or rescued despite the vivacious programme to the City of Amour, the Sultans of Constantinople, the enlightened Greek culture of Smyrna, the hallowed martyrs of Jerusalem and Jericho, concluding with native Bermudians. With such effervescent destinations, nay, what chance there be for any fuss?

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Final Preparations and Bon Voyage

Curious about the goings on at the slip where the Quaker City underwent some refitting, questions about the additions and non-additions were about and murmurings of why. As departure loomed the details of the steamer, amenities, and personalities of the “select” versus the unselective rattled ears and out of mouths. It seemed the adventure had already begun and the great ship had no more cargo than it had when her builders laid the keel, let alone cast off from port. What more could possibly add to the anticipation?

“I was glad to know that we were to have a little printing press on board and issue a daily newspaper of our own. I was glad to learn that our piano, our parlor organ, and our melodeon were to be the best instruments of the kind that could be had in the market. I was proud to observe that among our excursionists were three ministers of the gospel, eight doctors, sixteen or eighteen ladies, several military and naval chieftains with sounding titles, an ample crop of “Professors” of various kinds, and a gentleman who had “COMMISSIONER OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA TO EUROPE, ASIA, AND AFRICA” thundering after his name in one awful blast!”

Clearly I have found myself outclassed and outgunned. If I hadn’t so little to offer, I would reconsider my risks among such company, but the allure and majesty of a Mediterranean excursion complete with all possible luxuries, history, spirit and drink had transfixed my compass beyond reason or caution. Why was this particular organic cargo necessary? How many enemies has this gaudy, trumpish man bred?

“I fell under that titular avalanche a torn and blighted thing. I said that if that potentate must go over in our ship, why, I supposed he must—but that to my thinking, when the United States considered it necessary to send a [trum-pity] dignitary of that tonnage across the ocean, it would be in better taste, and safer, to take him apart and cart him over in sections in several ships.

Ah, if I had only known then that he was only a common mortal [posing as an orange Zeus], and that his mission had nothing more overpowering about it than the collecting of seeds and uncommon yams and extraordinary cabbages and peculiar bullfrogs for that poor, useless, innocent, mildewed old fossil the Smithsonian Institute, I would have felt so much relieved.”

Soon enough the call went out, the Quaker City was ready to receive her illustrious seafaring men and women and those higher ranked. The pier was congested with carriages, luggage, porters, and hats of every sort all scurrying to unload, load, and embark. The traveling costumes were quite the unattractive sight as the rain and drizzle fell revealing molty wigs and toupees not even a Wall Street umbrella could hide. Even the glorious Stars-n-Stripes was limp along the ship’s flag pole. Yet, the time was nearer for casting the ties off the pier, the gangways retracting…

“Finally, above the banging, and rumbling, and shouting, and hissing of steam rang the order to “cast off!”—a sudden rush to the gangways—a scampering ashore of visitors—a revolution of the wheels, and we were off—the pic-nic was begun! Two very mild cheers went up from the dripping crowd on the pier; we answered them gently from the slippery decks; the flag made an effort to wave, and failed; the “battery of guns” spake not—the ammunition was out.”

USS_Quaker_City

USS Quaker City

Apparently, while threatening the North Korean leader with never before seen fire and fury, someone forgot to first check the inventory of gunpowder and shot. It was too late. All bark and show, but no bite or brains. And if that shouldn’t clamp a bigly Chihuahua yap closed:

“We steamed [ten minutes?] down to the foot of the harbor and came to anchor. It was still raining. And not only raining, but storming. “Outside” we could see, ourselves, that there was a tremendous sea on. We must lie still, in the calm harbor, till the storm should abate. Our passengers hailed from fifteen states; only a few of them had ever been to sea before; manifestly it would not do to pit them against a full-blown tempest until they had got their sea-legs on. Toward evening the two steam tugs that had accompanied us with a rollicking champagne-party of young New Yorkers on board who wished to bid farewell to one of our number in due and ancient form departed, and we were alone on the deep. On deep five fathoms, and anchored fast to the bottom. And out in the solemn rain, at that. This was pleasuring with a vengeance.”

Pleasuring with a vengeance indeed. All the steamy, drippy expectations of a grand exit, a phenomenal finale had all the pow and distance of a little trum-pity cap-gun. So much hoopla for hasty idleness. You might imagine how utterly relieved I was to hear the ring and hail for the prayer meeting and hymns to soothe our drab, wanting souls — like intestinal gaseouness sitting on a Buloke-wood seat atop a trotting donkey — I was thrilled.

Lulled by the to-and-fro sway of the ship, and the wavering chatter of voices outside my cabin hallway…

“I soon passed tranquilly out of all consciousness of the dreary experiences of the day and damaging premonitions of the future.”

Would tomorrow hold more tantalizing surprises, more peculiar intrigue? Was more even possible and of what recipe, what flavor? Sweet or sour?

(paragraph break)

To be continued…

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A Collective Imperative

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If a free society cannot help the many that are poor,
it cannot save the few who are
rich.
— John F. Kennedy

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[This is the fourth and final segment of a series continuing from part 3 – Unveiling Incentive-Opportunity Fallacies] (paragraph separation)

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* * * * * * * * * *

What is excessiveness?  The dictionary defines it this way:  exceeding a normal, usual, reasonable, or proper limit.  Historians have sometimes defined it as out Herod Herod.  Lord Salisbury in Shakespeare’s King John perhaps described it better as painting the lily:

Therefore, to be possess’d with double pomp,
To guard a title that was rich before,
To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
To throw a perfume on the violet,
To smooth the ice, or add another hue
Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light
To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,
Is wasteful, and ridiculous excess.

Every single human being requires a handful of necessities:  water, food, climate-control, and shelter.  To what extent or elaboration those four basic needs are fulfilled, can be averaged at any location, and thus a global standard can be determined.  One and perhaps a minimum of two of these basic life-needs are in finite supply and crisis on our planet.

Fair warning for those who are sensitive to or bothered by grim facts of nature, our planet, and other human groups, self-discretion should be considered.  What follows, in my opinion, needs to be at least made aware and considered by everyone on Earth.

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* * * * * * * * * *

What do you think would happen if when you turned open your faucet and nothing came out?  How long could you survive without water?  Now, what do you think would happen if your entire city was without water or operating sewage?  What would happen if a nation lost its water and sewage?  There is no water to feed crops or gardens; no clean water to drink.  Are you getting the picture?  If not, let’s hear the alarming projections some scientists, scholars, and professional experts are reporting.  Sorry this alarming documentary is an hour-and-a-half long, but it needs to be shared:

If you still feel this is not a problem for you and your children and grandchildren, you should have your ears examined.  If you feel resource conservation is a form of socialism or communism, then you are in delusional denial.

Excessive opulence or resource hoarding is no different a global footprint than spending or consuming recklessly; they both accomplish the same singularity:  proportionate risk.  The more excessive, the more risk; the more risk, the more excessiveness to avoid it.  As a species, if not as Americans, we need to…no, we must greatly refine our life-ambitions and the education of those ambitions and their purpose.

But let’s pause a moment and analyze where most Americans have headed since 1870 and are currently heading.

1870 – 1900:  The Gilded Age
Mark Twain

Mark Twain

Much pride and boasting has been made of America’s age of industrialization, that it was the catalyst that put the nation in the same discussion of the world’s greatest empires.  Yet of our nation’s 12-million families then, 11-million earned less than $1,200 per year; of this group the average annual income was $380, well below the poverty line.  In today’s CPI dollars (the purchasing power of goods and services produced in the 1890 economy) that is $9,890 per year per household.  In his book The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, Mark Twain wrote of the day’s barons and tycoons, What is the chief end of man?—to get rich.  In what way?—dishonestly if we can; honestly if we must.

Though pre-1920 U.S. economic reports are less comprehensive as post-1920, Benjamin Schwarz of the World Policy Institute and Executive Editor of World Policy Journal writes in his 1995 New York Times article By 1890, the richest 12-percent of households owned about 86-percent of the country’s wealth.

1890 – 1920:  Progressive Era
The Roaring Twenties

The Roaring Twenties

In 1910 the average annual household income was $574 per year.  In today’s CPI dollars that is $14,300 per year per household.  During this era America’s top 1-percent owned about 40-50 percent of the nation’s wealth and the top 10-percent fluctuated around 70-percent until President Theodore Roosevelt began his anti-trust legislation and wealth redistribution via progressive taxation.

1920 – 1929:  The Roaring Twenties

The average annual household income was $1,407 per year in 1920.  In today’s CPI dollars that is $16,100 per year per household.  In 1922 America’s top 1-percent owned 37% of the nation’s wealth; a slight change in years following Teddy Roosevelt’s administration.  America’s middle-class indeed experienced a relative age of prosperity during the Roaring Twenties due to the automobile industry which fed industries such as oil, road-construction, tourism, manufacturing, and electric-power.

1929 – 1941:  The Great Depression

the-great-depressionThe average annual household income in 1930 was $1,388.  By 1940 it had dropped to $1,315.  In today’s CPI dollars that is $19,100 and $21,500 per year per household respectively.  America’s top 1-percent in 1933 owned 33% of the nation’s wealth and 36.4% in 1939 demonstrated the upper-upper class comfortably rode out the stock market crash of ‘29.  Unemployment for the nation’s middle class was at 25% and especially higher in heavy industries such as lumbering and agricultural exports in cotton, wheat, and tobacco.  Fortunately, from a purely economic standpoint, another world war was on the horizon ready to put Americans, particularly women, back to work on a road to bigger prosperity than the Roaring Twenties.

1945 – 1973:  Postwar Prosperity – The Golden Era

The average annual household income was $3,180 in 1950 ($30,300 in 2012 CPI) and $4,816 in 1960 ($37,300 in 2012 CPI), a significant increase in just 10-years.  Middle-class Americans also enjoyed a bigger piece of the nation’s wealth:  70.2% in 1945 and 73% in 1949 while America’s top 1-percent saw their portion drop again to 29.8% and 27% respectively.  Yet, it is this Golden Era that firmly placed the United States as a world power and dominant economy.  As more and more Americans gained more wealth and more income, the nation experienced its most prolific prosperity to-date.  How it happened will be examined shortly.

The American Dream

The American Dream

When Dwight Eisenhower took office (1953-1961) the nation was going through another recession post-Korean War causing a decline in the nation’s GDP.  This resulted in middle-America having less of the nation’s wealth over a 16-year period down to 65%, while America’s top 1-percent relished in increases back up to 34.4% of the nation’s total wealth in 1965.

By 1970 the average annual household income was $7,494 or about $44,300 in today’s CPI dollars; another notable increase in 10-years.  As the Golden Era drew to a close and the Cold War and Vietnam festered, President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs increased lower and middle-America’s wealth to 71% while America’s top 1-percent saw theirs fall to 29% of the nation’s wealth.  However, hard times were just around the corner for most Americans.

1970 – 1976:  Age of Stagflation
Image Time Warner

Image Time Warner

In 1973 the average annual household income was $9,037 or approximately $46,700 per household in today’s CPI dollars.  The nineteen-seventies became known economically as the Age of Stagflation.  The 25-year U.S. economic growth post-WW2 had stagnated to a crawl, and prices in goods and services rose annually in the double-digits from 10% in 1973 to 18% in 1979.  Due to poor performances on Wall Street, America’s top 1-percent saw their share of the nation’s wealth drop to the lowest in history:  19.9%.  Yet, middle-America enjoyed the highest ever share of the country’s wealth at 80%.

The eras of suburbanization in the 50’s and 60’s, however, had significant consequences in the 70’s.  The migration of tens of millions of middle-Americans (most of them White), moving to newly developing suburban towns meant getting to work in cities went from public transit to private vehicles.  This in turn caused America to become heavily dependent on foreign oil.  The long-term varied ripple effect of suburbanization cannot be overemphasized, one of which is our bigger footprint on environmental and global issues.

Wolff Table 1 Wealth

1976 – 1992:  Gilded Age Returns and Reaganomics
Reagan addresses Congress 1981 (Wikipedia)

Reagan addresses Congress 1981 (Wikipedia)

From 1976 to 1988 the average annual household income was $11,080 or about $44,700 in 2012 CPI dollars – yes, a $2,000 drop from the previous 3-years – to $25,167 or about $48,800 in 2012 CPI dollars; just above break-even from 1976.  To combat the stagflation of the 70’s, government deregulation along with personal and business tax cuts gained popularity.  As it turned out most of the tax breaks, along with deregulating helped America’s upper-classes.

Additionally, defeats of labor unions – unions made possible by Teddy Roosevelt reforms with long histories of keeping big-businesses from corruption and abuse of workers – also fattened the pockets of America’s top 1-percent by going from 19.9% ownership of the nation’s wealth to having 35.7% by 1989.  By 1992 the AAHI (average annual household income) was $28,870 or about $47,200 in 2012 CPI dollars; another drop from 1988.  While middle-America struggled, the top 1-percent in America owned a rising 37.2% of the nation’s total wealth.

Beginning in 1983 economist Edward Wolff has tracked America’s net wealth and financial (non-home) wealth distributions.  As Table 1 above and Figure 1 below show, it is an increasingly bleak outlook for the majority of Americans.

Figure 1 Net & Financial Dist

Click image for larger view

1990 – Present:  Globalization and World Superpower

The 1990’s will be compared to the prosperity of the 1920’s and the 1960’s.  But as a whole is that what the data reveals?  The AAHI was $32,558 in 1995 or about $49,000 in 2012 CPI dollars and America’s top 1-percent enjoyed another increase in the owned wealth of the nation at 38.5%.  For six brief years (1994-2000) the economy saw rises in the national debt, the stock market, and the GDP while inflation plateaued and unemployment dropped below 5% because of the Dot-com Boom.  Economist and civilians alike agree that the growth explosion was mostly a result of workplace computerization.  But the good times would come to an end in 2001.

Map of the world wide web

Map of the world wide web

A constant influx of immigrants seeking the American Dream, an American economy becoming one of the major players in a growing global economy, a false sense of security in the housing market, and numerous corporate scandals in the energy and finance sectors due to previous government deregulating, all contributed to the tipping-point by 2007.  The AAHI in 2000 was at $40,418 or $53,900 in 2012 CPI dollars and the top 1-percent in America saw their portion in the nation’s wealth drop to 33.4% due to a sharp declining stock market worsened by the attacks of 9/11.  There is another set of globalization dynamics that added to the plight of middle-America.

With the exodus of American jobs like cheaper electronics, fashion, shoes, and toys moving to developing nations, middle-Americans watched as their job and salary-leveraging also weakened with fewer lateral or upper employment positions.  Then jobs in TV, auto, steel, and home-furnishing manufacturing followed.  With those positions gone abroad, the American job-market went from high-paying management positions to simple service-industry low-paying positions which certainly need no college degree.  This move marked the boom of trade-school certifications for a growing electronic blue-collar job-market.

manufacturing_mexico

Why Mexico is becoming a global manufacturing power – Bloomberg Businessweek article

The domino-effect of American digitization, the snowballing Internet, and high-speed networks spreading to all corners of the globe have combined to gorge the growing socio-economic gap wider and deeper.  In 2007 the AAHI was $48,332 ($53,500 in 2012 CPI dollars) eaten-up by inflation and the cost-of-living.  Meanwhile, the top 1-percent owned a steady 34.6% of the nation’s wealth.  The lap of luxury doesn’t stop there.  With the creation of a connected more global economy today, along with new multiple global opportunities and substantially lower-wages to foreign workers, it should come as no surprise what sector of the American population currently enjoys the fruits-of-foreign-labor.

The World’s 200 Richest People(s):

The most industrialized developed countries in the world by population-size are in Europe according to the 2013 United Nations Human Development Report.  Of the top 10 nations with the highest Human Development Index (HDI), six of them are in Europe (see Report).  One might infer from that list then that many of the world’s wealthiest people reside in those countries or at least in Europe.  You would be wrong.

Of the 200 richest people in the world as of 2012, 61 of them (or 31%) are citizens of the United States.  What is perhaps unexpected is where the second richest group of people call home.  Of the next 139, 20 of them (or 10%) are Russian, ironically a former part of the old communist U.S.S.R.  The next 26 richest people come from Germany (13) and Brazil (13) at 7% and 6.5% respectively.  To see the world’s wealth and what portion of it is owned by the wealthiest 200, see the pie-chart below.  For the most current world ranking of the world’s wealthiest as ranked by Bloomberg click here.

Wealthiest 200 pie-chart

As the largest population of one of the most modern industrialized nations – currently 314 million and growing – the United States has the largest percentage of the population with the smallest percentage of the nation’s wealth.  Since 1983, as seen in Wolff’s two Tables above, it has decreased every single year.  To put this disparity succinctly, in terms of financial eggs-in-a-basket the top 1-percent own 35% of all privately held stock, 62.4% of all business equity, and 64.4% of financial securities in America.  Is it any wonder why middle-American taxpayers were held for ransom in 2008 to bailout our own mega-banks and financial firms, mega-auto companies, and integral government-sponsored entities?  The top 1 and 10-percent held the nation by the balls.  Sit down, it get’s more alarming.

largeextremeinequalitychartThe top 10-percent own 81% to 94% of all American bonds, trust funds, stocks, and business equity, and nearly 80% of all commercial real estate.  The real value of financial wealth is determined by control of income-producing assets; assets that can absorb recessions or devastating irreparable depressions.  Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that 10% of Americans own the United States.  Talk about utter investment stupidity in placing the nation’s “eggs” in one or two baskets!  There is no way to sugar-coat it.  Perhaps Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address should be rewritten to reflect today’s socio-economic times:  Government of the 10-percent, by the 10-percent, for the 10-percent.

Land of the Few, Home of the Lavish

Listed at $190-million, Copper Beech Farm in Greenwich, Connecticut is the most expensive home in America.  Built in 1896 and previously owned by the Greenway family of U.S. Steel with Andrew Carnegie as well as timber tycoon John Rudey, it has over 13,000 square feet on 50 waterfront acres with spectacular views of Long Island Sound.  As a French Renaissance style home with 12 bedrooms, wine cellar, a 75-foot outdoor pool, a grass tennis court, a large formal arboretum, two greenhouses, and private apple orchard, accessible by a 1,800-foot private driveway.  Oh, and the property includes two offshore islands.

Copper Beech - Greenwich, CT

Copper Beech – Greenwich, CT

Copper Beech Farm is simply one home of over 100 homes priced above $10-million.  From 2005 through 2012 Greenwich, CT has been ranked as the best wealthiest place to live in the U.S., the “Biggest Earner” per household in the U.S., and #1 wealthiest residents per capita in the nation.  Many of the residents are Wall Street hedge fund managers, writes Nina Munk of Vanity Faire Magazine, and “of the $1.2 trillion currently invested worldwide, approximately one-tenth, or $120-billion, is now managed out of Greenwich alone, according to Hedge Fund Research, Inc.”  Munk also reports that four of the richest 400 Americans live in Greenwich and three of those are hedge fund managers.  One Greenwich real-estate broker reported these four residents will drop five to eight-million dollars without a second thought.  Some even a lot more.

Almost As Big as the Taj Mahal –
To judge by the number of swollen, over ambitious mansions rising from lots in Greenwich these days, you’d almost think we were back in the 1910’s and 20’s – except that this time round the lots are small, and the houses are almost on top of one another.  “Years ago, wealthy houses were hidden in the rear of properties after long driveways…and no one ever built to the maximum allowable square footage,” remarked Diane Fox, long time director of Greenwich’s Planning and Zoning Department, in an e-mail to me.  “Today all big houses want to be seen from the road.””

Munk’s article of Greenwich’s rich and lavish also mentions that one interior designer installed broadloom carpet at $74,000 for one bedroom, and drapes and curtains at $20,000 to $25,000 for one bedroom.  You read it right, one bedroom.

Why is this level of wealth and excessive opulence worth mentioning?

Because today American legislation, political campaigns, and economic policies resemble little of what they did six decades ago.  In 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court allowed American corporations, including those owned by the top 1 and 10-percent of the nation, the opportunity of donating vast financial resources for political candidates and their election campaigns; “resources” with millions of dollars beyond what any individual voters could organize.  Remember, 80 to 90 percent of Americans hold or own just 4.7% of the nation’s financial wealth.  The political phrase in the 1940’s and 50’s “one person, one vote” means today “one dollar, one vote.”  That 2010 decision sets the stage for a class of super-wealthy political campaigners to push (as if a majority of individual voters) their one-dimensional political-economic interests:  enhancing their profits and revenues.

A Communal America is Imperative

This four-part series has not been about political, economic, or social envy.  It seems the bottom 99% or 90% are for the most part not jealous of America’s gazillionaires or their social contributions and hard-earned incomes.  What this four-part series has been about though is political fairness, representation, and efficiency.  As discussed in part two Productive Inequality, rent-seeking moves wages and wealth from the bottom and middle classes to the top 10 and 1-percent while distorting the “free market” in favor of some and to the detriment of most.  More “efficient” policies of the market matter for a more equitable distribution of national wealth.  Improper policies (e.g. of the last 32-years) lead to a less efficient economy and a growing divide between socio-economic classes.

Strength in lots of Einsteins!

Strength in lots of Einsteins!

It is a fairly simple overall concept.  When our society is sufficiently (even abundantly) funded in infrastructure, education, research, and technology, these vital areas of a thriving economy offer hope and security to ordinary citizens.  The majority of Americans, the bottom 90%, will actually SEE and experience for themselves what the U.S. Constitution, the Statue of Liberty, and all other symbols of democracy, equality and fairness are really made of… not just “promised” or rhetorically talked about on TV.  Those principles would be available to a vast number in society in an efficient dynamic economy.  Even the top 1-percent would benefit when the capabilities of so many quality workers and citizens are not wasted but fully utilized.  It’s a concept of not just strength in numbers, but strength in well-educated, ingenious, motivated Einstein numbers!  There is a huge difference between the two.  The difference is not just inclusive, but very alien to exclusive.

In his superb book The Price of Inequality:  How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future, Nobel Prize winner in economics Joseph Stiglitz gives a superbly educated agenda on exactly how American government and her 314-million citizens can avoid falling into the same death-trap history’s great empires and their leaders fell into.  If you would like to read an outline of his proposed extensive agenda, click here.

My own meek semi-educated ideas of how not to follow, for instance, the Roman Empire’s demise or the former Soviet Union’s, or the more recent countries of Egypt, Tunisia, and Syria… are this:

What is the reading on your/our Collective-Goodness-Gauge?  What is the health of your/our common welfare, our passion for civic responsibility and the well-being of the persons near us?

These are NOT just social questions!  More importantly they are political and economic questions too.  As the French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville noticed about the nature of American society in 1835, freedom (or individualism) can be a tricky balancing act within democracy.  Some “individualized” Americans independent of a majority often have the pragmatic realization that looking after the welfare of others is not only good for the soul, but is equally good for business and wealth.  Stiglitz elaborates on this truth wonderfully:

“The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought:  an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live.  Throughout history, this has been something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn.  Often, however, they learn it too late.”

Americans together

…no matter class or status

The Roman Empire, Egypt, Tunisia, and Syria are just four examples to what Stiglitz refers.  The former Soviet Union is an example of no individualism when no single “part” is allowed to reach its full brilliance and potential for the benefit of the whole; the other extreme.  Both ends of the economic-socio-political spectrum REQUIRE resource investments and management from every single citizen.  The stable “middle” if you will, has a steady balanced, efficient, fair, and equal flow of civic investment.  Any one mechanism cannot efficiently coexist without the other efficient mechanisms.  So…

If the United States wishes to return as one of the best symbols of freedom, liberty, democracy, and equality for all, then reaching that efficient balanced middle is an imperative collaborative, collective return to a well-managed, well-governed, wealth-balanced cause.

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Further information —

Inside Job

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