Hundreds of thousands of people have been evicted from their homes. The problem, they tell us, is the mortgage crisis or a lack of regulation. But these are just parts of the crisis; there’s a more fundamental problem, which Martin Luther King diagnosed when he said the following:
We must honestly admit that capitalism has often left a gulf between superfluous wealth and abject poverty, has created conditions permitting necessities to be taken from the many to give luxuries to the few, and has encouraged small hearted men to become cold and conscienceless so that, like Dives before Lazarus, they are unmoved by suffering, poverty-stricken humanity. The profit motive, when it is the sole basis of an economic system, encourages a cutthroat competition and selfish ambition that inspire men to be more I-centered than thou-centered.
As it turns out, the profit motive is also cannibalistic; it destroys itself when left to its own devices. The question for Americans to ask is how can our government discover so much money to allocate to this crisis when it leaves everyday tragic crises unaddressed?
According to a study by the Annie E. Casey, Ford and Rockefeller foundations, "one in every five U.S. jobs pays less than a poverty-level wage for a family of four." As a result, the study concludes, "nearly 39 million Americans, including 20 million children, are members of ‘low-income working families’-with barely enough money to cover basic needs like housing, groceries and child care."
According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, "The wealthiest 1% of Americans earned 21.2% of all income in 2005 . That is up sharply from 19% in 2004, and surpasses the previous high of 20.8% set in 2000 at the peak of the previous bull market in stocks."
The journal also notes that the "bottom 50% earned 12.8% of all income, down from 13.4% in 2004 and a bit less than their 13% share in 2000." Not since the 1920s have the rich had such dominant control of the wealth in the United States.(1) 12.3% of the population is impoverished, meaning that millions of individuals earn about $10,000 annually and millions of families, comprised of four people, bring in about $20,000.(2)
Meanwhile, 47 million people are without health insurance.(3) And the number of people living in extreme poverty "is at a three-decade high."(4) Nearly 16 million Americans live under conditions in which "a family of four with two children" has less than 9,903 dollars annually to live on.(5) Juxtapose this with the fact that 8.3 million people worldwide posses one-million dollars or more in financial assets, as of 2004, and control "nearly a quarter of the world’s financial assets ."(6)
Even former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said that the growing disparity between the rich and poor "is not the type of thing which a democratic society – a capitalist democratic society – can really accept without addressing."(7)
Activists, intellectuals, and citizens must unite now and utilize the failure of the unfettered free market to heed Martin Luther King’s call to restructure the economic system which produces poverty. The time has come to scream out that we are finished investing our taxes only to have our way of life mortgaged. We are done pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into a military that serves the financial interests of the moneyed elite; we are done watching politicians give hundreds of billions of our dollars to bail out the same financial institutions that refuse to bail out homeowners as they are booted from their homes. If we can save the millionaires from their disastrous behavior, then we can sure as hell save the hungry and homeless from lives of desperation.
Jeff Nall is writer, activist, academic, and speaker. His book, Perpetual Revolt: Essays on Peace & Justice and The Shared Values of Secular, Spiritual, and Religious Progressives (Howling Dog Press, 250 pages, $15.95), is available at his website: www.JeffNall.com. Email: PublicRevolt@yahoo.com
1. Greg Ip, “Income-Inequality Gap Widens; Highest Since 1920’s" The Wall Street Journal, 12 October 2007 12, A2
2. Reuters, “US poverty rate down, fewer have health insurance,” 28 August 2007.
4. AFP, “Report: In
6. Associated Press, “Some 600,000 Join Millionaire Ranks in 2004,”
7. The Christian Science Monitor, “Rich-poor gap gaining attention,”