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  1.    #1  
    I had the opportunity the other day to watch a most enlightening program broadcast by UCTV. The one-hour program was called "How Unequal Can America Get Before We Snap?" presented by President Clinton's former labor secretary Robert Reich.

    "Inequality of income, wealth, and opportunity in America is wider now than it's been since the 1920s, and by some measures since the late 19th century. Yet the nation seems unable or unwilling to do much of anything to reverse these trends. What happens if we allow the trends to continue? Will they "naturally" reverse themselves? Or will we get to a point where disparities are so wide that we finally find the political will to take action? Alternatively, will the disparities themselves grow so wide as to discourage action, by fostering resignation among the losers and indifference among the winners? And if the latter, where will it all lead?" SOURCE: Goldman School of Public Policy UC, Berkley

    The presentation made excellent use of economic graphs to demonstrate how large of a gap has developed between the upper class and the middle class (not to mention the lower class) with regards to income, wealth, and opportunity in the United States between the years 1962 to the present. The trends are alarming to say the least. The speaker correctly points to birthright as the beginning of the disparity that allows for advantages in everything from diet and healthcare to education and connections. Being born into a middle-class family myself, I have truly benefited from my birthright in terms of these advantages right from the starting gate. Some people would argue that many a poor person has risen up by their "own boot straps" but I would argue that in today's society, most (not all) poor people can only rise up with a good pair of athletic shoes or a willingness to sell drugs. Otherwise they have to remain content with working in the service industry for comparatively lower wages than their upper-class counterparts. Mr. Reich further points out that one of the elements keeping our society glued together is the belief or perception by the lower class that opportunity in this country still exists and that if one is willing to work hard, they can be successful.

    The speaker talks of two potential outcomes for this growing disparity. He uses the metaphor of the rubber band to illustrate his point. Our society will either "snap back" with a series of reforms supported by all three classes and the government to regain a sense of fairness when it comes to income, wealth, and opportunity in the United States. This has occurred at least once before in the history of our country during a time referred to as the progressive movement. The other potential outcome is for our society to "snap break" whereby this country exists with two entirely different societies. The problem with the latter outcome is that it often leads to the arrival of a demagogue who plays upon the emotions of the middle and lower classes all for the hidden intention of personal gain. We have seen this all too often in history with the likes of Napoleon, Mussolini, Hitler, Lenin etcetera. Mr. Reich suggests somehow that the upper class are not a group with malicious intent but rather are nothing more than a naive self-indulgent class of people who don't know any better. Here I beg to differ. I believe the upper class is guilty of a careless disregard for their fellow countrymen. They have the arrogance to believe they are superior and deserving of extravagance regardless of how they attained it and regardless of how it affects the rest of society. Once again, history shows us what happened to those monarchs who behaved the same way. Do I think there will be a violent revolution in this country? I hope not. Do I prefer a new progressive movement over even a peaceful revolution? Absolutely. My fear however, is that we are already rapidly approaching the point of "critical mass" beyond which there is no turning back. The question today before the American people is what are YOU prepared to do?
  2. #2  
    Ok, I have read over your article and I offer the following viewpoints.

    1. This issue has been circling around higher education circles for at least 7-8 years. This is not something new.

    2. It assumes that the 'wealth' of our society is some sort of 'zero sum game' where it will reach a limit and then the wealthy will keep getting a larger and larger piece of the pie. I dont really buy into that theory. Our economy will continue to grow and grow (especially as more and more world markets open up). As it does, incomes will grow (for the most part) in each of the social classes. What I do think is relevant is that instead of just 3 basic classes of socioeconomic classification, we will see new classes emerge.

    3.
    I believe the upper class is guilty of a careless disregard for their fellow countrymen. They have the arrogance to believe they are superior and deserving of extravagance regardless of how they attained it and regardless of how it affects the rest of society.
    I have to disagree. If you are involved in any of the philantropy literature, you would realize that a large majority of money given away for 'good causes' comes from the wealthiest of individuals. Also, the wealthiest people in this country (assuming) probably realize that they have to look out for the other classes of people. Its in their self interests to not allow too much of a disparagement in income.

    4.
    Mr. Reich further points out that one of the elements keeping our society glued together is the belief or perception by the lower class that opportunity in this country still exists and that if one is willing to work hard, they can be successful.
    I agree with this and for the most part, believe it to be true in theory and practice. Do we have more work to do in that area...debatable.
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  3. #3  
    I had the opportunity the other day to watch a most enlightening program broadcast by UCTV. The one-hour program was called "How Unequal Can America Get Before We Snap?" presented by President Clinton's former labor secretary Robert Reich.
    I stopped paying attention once you mentioned that midget Robert Reich...
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  4. #4  
    Quote Originally Posted by JOEBIALEK
    The presentation made excellent use of economic graphs to demonstrate how large of a gap has developed between the upper class and the middle class (not to mention the lower class)...
    First, welcome to TC. Quite an ambitious topic for your first post.
    Second, the crux of the problem may rest in the use of the term class. Why would someone with more or less possessions beconsidered of a higher or lower "class"? When our language reinforces our constitutional assumption that all men (the species not the gender) are created equal, change in behavior will soon follow.

    How can I be sure? Simple. We all unconsciously, if not subconsciously, work to make the world around us fit our belief system. What we hear on a consistent basis largely influences what we believe. When I hear that people without material possessions are of a "lower" calss than me, I will have a tendencey to unconsciously do things to maintain them in their "place." Even when my intentions are good, my practices will seek to maintain the "classes." Hence, well-intended social services programs tend toward creating dependents rather than independents. Namely because the programs often lack incentive to graduate.

    Cue violins... At one point in my life I was laid off, and exericsed my option to draw from the unemployment insurance deposits I had made. The eligibility requirement at the time was that I submit a weekly log of my efforts to get a job. I was immature at the time. I opted to scan the newspaper for interesting things, make a single call, then log the "effort." I then spent time doing what I wanted to do.

    [It turned out that I decided to volunteer with an organization that really (re)set my life on a great course.]

    Let me be clear: I was an abuser of the system! That is a matter of pesonal character, or lack thereof. However, the system did not discourage my abuse. In some ways it encouraged it. For example, benefits were reduced based on any earned income. So, there was no incentive to do anything unless and until I could identify a job that produced more income than I was getting from doing nothing.

    Again, the underlying issue was my poor character. But, the safety net turned out to be designed more like a hammock.
  5.    #5  
    good points...

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