Wednesday, November 19, 2014

In An Octopus's Garden In The Shade

Someone put this chart on Twitter from a NY Times article back in March:

It's from Thomas Piketty's book Capital In The 21st Century, which was a strong piling planted in the swirl of news and information, still visible but getting smaller as the great Collective Unconscious chugs upstream. I often repeat the fact that wealth and income inequality are back at 1920s Gilded Age levels, so what caught my attention in the chart is that's it's worse than in 1913, which Piketty shows to be the peak of the "Gilded Age."

Sgt Pepper

A couple weeks ago while getting loaded on Chappell Street (or Chappel Street depending on the street sign) I looked up the Wikipedia article about the Beatles transformative 1967 album Sgt Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band. It's a very thorough article and tells a great story of the album's conception and recording, its influence and even has some high level analysis of the music, which is higher than what I can understand. Their next album was Magical Mystery Tour and the next, Abbey Road, included the song Octopus's Garden (the only song written by Ringo Starr they ever recorded), a lyric from which I used as the title to this post.

When I just now went to look up that Wikipedia article and started to type in the name in my search box, as soon as I typed in "Sgt", the complete name of the album came up first on the list of possible suggestions, which is an indication of something's presence on the web. Same with "Magical". First item.

When I type in "Frank" my first name, it comes up with Frankie Valli. That surprised me. Frank Sinatra was down at number 3. He's a chunk of driftwood almost to the sea.

Buddy Greco, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra at Lake Tahoe

This is supposed to be one of the last photos of Marilyn Monroe, taken the weekend before she died. There are several other pictures taken that day here.


  1. I am not sure the concentration of wealth is "deepening" as indicated above. I think it has always tended to be that way in this country. And by this country I mean the United States. It seems that the way we are organized and function works to insure that the very rich control a very large amount of the wealth. I am sure that the wealthy have the means to insure this distribution and that they use those means effectively to maintain the status quo.

    We, and by that I mean the "we" group that I belong to, have increased our standard of living in the last 250 - 300 years. My percentage, low as it is, buys me a bit better living standard than that same percentage bought the folks in Boston way back when. I wish it were more, percentage wise, and I also wish it were more evenly distributed, but I sincerely doubt it will change much.

    It does not seem to matter who is in power or what party is in power. It just seems to be the way it is. If the system changes at all, it changes very slow. I do not think that changing the form of government would do it. I think, that slow as the change is, this is the best means we have at changing it. We just have to keep plugging away at it.

    I will quote from page 133 of the book America, a Narrative History, the sixth edition written by George Brown Tindall and David E Shi:

    "Class stratification in the cities became more pronounced as time passed. One study of Boston found that that in 1687 the richest 15 percent of the population owned 52 percent of the taxable wealth; by 1771 the top 15 percent owned about 67 percent and the top 5 percent owned some 44 percent of the wealth."

    1. Thanks for the comment, NM. That's interesting about Boston, and it's a reminder that, as you point out, living standards have gone up.

      But I do in fact believe there is a trend toward decreased living standards since Reagan, and since Reaganomics set in. Granted, it's an article of faith for many people like me that inequality is worse than during the post WWII period of union expansion. We can point to charts, of which there are others besides these, but if you don't want to rely on statistics, think about your own experience.

      I was born in 1952, grew up in the 50s and 60s, graduated high school in 71, in a small Michigan town on the far outskirts of the Chicago area, where there were union jobs, and good non union jobs could be had because they had to pay close to union jobs in pay and benefits. As I remember it, many mothers in my town didn't work. There used to be a term "the breadwinner," or "the breadwinner of the family" that has fallen out of common use because now it's normal for both people to work.

      But that one person working in a family, usually the male, could support the family, pay for a house and a good car, and sometimes a used car if the mother had a driver's license, and retire with Social Security and often a pension. All the kids who wanted to could go to college. All you had to do was want to.

      Since that time, Americans may have maintained a similar living standard, but it was because of a couple developments. First, women entered the work force in large numbers in the 70s and 80s. Then, when women were absorbed into the workforce, credit was increased. Remember Allan Greenspan? The housing bubble of the 90s and into the 2000s? Home prices soared, and people took out second mortgages on that increased value to maintain their lifestyle. Home Depots and construction jobs appeared all over. Credit was so easy that college kids were being sent credit cards in the mail.

      Americans began to work more hours. We work more hours of anyone in the industrialized world. The last figure I recall, from before the recession, was 51 hours per week. In many European countries they get five weeks vacation. Many of us are always at one week because we have to keep changing jobs.

      In my family everyone went to college on Pell Grants and a scholarship Michigan gave out that was based on need and a score on a test. I also had the GI Bill, which was more generous then, and I worked part time at a "work-study" job. Many of those benefits are reduced or gone. College is getting to be a pipe dream for working class kids and of those who go, their average debt when they get out is around $20k.

      That's because the wealthy pay much less in taxes now than in the 60s and 70s. That money is going in their pockets, which contributes to the imbalance, as does the fact that we pick up the whole tab. They are also accumulating the proceeds of women working and all the hours we work and the interest on the debt we have.

      We do have more "stuff" in homes now than when I was growing up, which I think contributes to the sense that we're still rolling along as before. In my house and my friends' houses there weren't multiple TVs in the house, computers, printers, microwaves. You go past a house in the country now and there are four and five cars parked outside - both parents and the older kids have cars. Things like cars, and other consumer goods, may be cheaper, but I think it's because the Chinese and Americans who make them work for less and work longer hours. Union US autoworkers now start out at $14 something an hour, which in the 60s would have been the same as $2 or $3 an hour, if that.

      So I think Americans' lives have changed a lot since I was growing up and we just haven't noticed or have grown to accept different expectations.

      As for our system being the best or only one in which change can happen, that may be true, or it may not be, but there's no reason other ways and ideas can't be tried out.