The best data series I could find is for Argentina. In the 1940s, the top 1 percent there controlled more than 20 percent of incomes. That was roughly double the share at that time in the United States.
Since then, we’ve reversed places. The share controlled by the top 1 percent in Argentina has fallen to a bit more than 15 percent. Meanwhile, inequality in the United States has soared to levels comparable to those in Argentina six decades ago — with 1 percent controlling 24 percent of American income in 2007.
At a time of such stunning inequality, should Congress put priority on spending $700 billion on extending the Bush tax cuts to those with incomes above $250,000 a year? Or should it extend unemployment benefits for Americans who otherwise will lose them beginning next month?
One way to examine that decision is to put aside all ethical considerations and simply look at where tax dollars will do more to stimulate the economy. There the conclusion is clear: You get much more bang for the buck putting money in the hands of unemployed people because they will promptly spend it.
In contrast, tax cuts for the wealthy are partly saved — that’s both basic economic theory and recent history — so they are much less effective in creating jobs. For example, Republicans would give the richest 0.1 percent of Americans an average tax cut of $370,000. Does anybody really think that those taxpayers are going to rush out and buy Porsches and yachts, start new businesses, and hire more groundskeepers and chauffeurs?
In contrast, a study commissioned by the Labor Department during the Bush administration makes clear the job-creation power of unemployment benefits because that money is immediately spent. The study suggested that the current recession would have been 18 percent worse without unemployment insurance and that this spending preserved 1.6 million jobs in each quarter.
But there is also a larger question: What kind of a country do we aspire to be? Would we really want to be the kind of plutocracy where the richest 1 percent possesses more net worth than the bottom 90 percent?
Oops! That’s already us. The top 1 percent of Americans owns 34 percent of America’s private net worth, according to figures compiled by the Economic Policy Institute in Washington. The bottom 90 percent owns just 29 percent.
That also means that the top 10 percent controls more than 70 percent of Americans’ total net worth.
This hasn't happened because the pie is bigger, or because the benevolent wealthy created an economy that allowed them put put a sign up saying "Welcome, Truck Drivers!" It's because their greed required them to cost-cut in order to keep up profitability. It's because of outsourcing and union-busting and huge payoffs to politicians to demonize working people and the poor -- all the while convincing these same schmucks that If They Just Work Hard Enough™ they'll be allowed into the club.
So how do you feel now, suckers? Don't answer that -- you just voted to give power to the very same people who screwed you over.