In the last decade, much fuss has been made about the “1%”. In reality, every culture, city, town or village is going to have a top 1% and bottom 1% economically. Whether this means 1% of the villagers own more than 100 cows or only 1% of the population can afford to own their own jet, ultimately, there is always going to be a top and bottom 1%. Even in the most democratic of nations, there will generally be roughly a top 10-15% that is extravagantly more well off then the rest of the population and a 10-15% that lives in complete and abject poverty. This is just simply the nature of life.
The problem, however, is when you don’t have that middle 70-80% that has a much narrower discrepancy in income. In some developed nations, you will have roughly a top 40-50% and a bottom 50-60% with a wide margin in the middle. This means that 40-50% of the population is extremely well off, while the bottom 40-50% of the population lives in severe to extreme poverty. This often happens when cultures and civilizations have a “ruling class” or monarchy. In the majority of democratic societies, you generally have a more equal distribution of wealth.
Historically, the US has enjoyed a moderately equal distribution of wealth for much of its history, with a few notable exceptions. There is possibly no period in American history when wealth has been more unfairly divided than what is know as the Gilded age or the age of the great Robber Barons. A situation that America seems to be headed for a repeat of.
Unlike the massively wealthy in the Gilded Age that made their money from oil and railroads, today’s industry giants are coming from the tech world, or what is sometimes known as the FTE sector which stands for Finance, Technology and Electronics. With the rise of the FTE sector, America is moving into an economic distribution between a top 20% and a lower 80%.
In the top 20%, Americans have good jobs, enjoy a sound college education and are secure in the knowledge that they not only have enough money to meet any challenges they may face, but have the kinds of networking connections to weather any storms. These 20%-ers generally grew up with at least one stay-at-home parent who was around to read to them, help them with homework or hire a tutor to do it.
They most likely took vacations together as a family, sometimes even to a foreign country. When they traveled or went on vacation, they most likely flew in planes and were often ferried around at home in a new or fairly new car. These children considered themselves lucky to be Americans and generally grew into adults who now make plans and influence policy – often to their own benefit.
In the 80% sector, however, children grew up with parents who were burdened with debt and anxious about non-existent job security – if they even had a job at all. Without access to the finest health care America has to offer, they are dying younger. If they have cars, they are older and require almost as much in upkeep or maintenance as a new car, which often leaves them subject to the inconsistencies and vagaries of public transportation – which makes job security even more precarious.
If they manage to go to college, they often come out saddled by overwhelming debt and don’t have much energy to think about the future since they are so focused on simply surviving the present. This also means not a lot happens in the way of family planning, which places an even greater strain on women who often get left with unexpected children and unplanned pregnancies. The struggle to survive also leaves them with little time or influence to affect public policy – a situation in which they pay the dearest price for.
The current system is one in which winners and losers are often pre-determined by their background, which often ends up becoming and inescapable trap. In this system, however, it is not the best and the brightest that are rewarded, it is the people that were born into the right families that are. This is not a good situation for Americans and it is not a good situation for America. It won’t change, however, as long as the 20% have the most influence on public policy.