by Dylan Ratigan
Have you seen the little piggies
Crawling in the dirt
And for all the little piggies
Life is getting worse
Always having dirt to play around in.
Have you seen the bigger piggies
In their starched white shirts
You will find the bigger piggies
Stirring up the dirt
Always have clean shirts to play around in.
In their sties with all their backing
They don’t care what goes on around
In their eyes there’s something lacking
What they need’s a damn good whacking.
Everywhere there’s lots of piggies
Living piggy lives
You can see them out for dinner
With their piggy wives
Clutching forks and knives to eat their bacon.
Everywhere there’s lots of piggies
Playing piggy pranks
You can see them on their trotters
Down at the piggy banks
Paying piggy thanks
To the pig brother*
*words by George Harrison
Imagine an ordinary man so desperate that he decides to rob a bank. For years, he’s worked a steady job, but when he loses that job, the only work he can find is as a part-time clerk in a convenience store. Still, he makes do. He cuts his expenses and relies on a little help from his family, though he hates to do so. Then he starts to develop health troubles. He’s nearly sixty years old, and he needs foot surgery. He develops crippling back pain and a frightening bone protrusion sticking out of his chest. He can no longer lift the stock he is supposed to load onto the shelves at the store. Although he could move in with his sister, he doesn’t want to be a burden, and he knows that she can’t afford to pay for his health care out of pocket any better than he can. So what choices does he have? He goes into the local bank and slips the teller a note. It demands $1—and health care.
This is not a fantasy, and the man wasn’t crazy. He was thinking clearly about a crazy situation. Jail, he realized, was the one place where he could get health care without bankrupting himself and his family. “Because he only asked for $1,” Yahoo! News reported, “he was charged with larceny, not bank robbery. But he said that if his punishment isn’t severe enough, he plans to tell the judge that he’ll do it again. His $100,000 bond has been reduced to $2,000, but he says he doesn’t plan to pay it.” Jail, he said, was the best of his bad options.
That true story is one glimpse of a country going seriously wrong. Our unemployment is stuck near depression levels, prompting outcries on both the left and the right. “We’re well on the way to creating a permanent underclass of the jobless,” wrote economist Paul Krugman in the New York Times. “One-sixth of America’s workers—all those who can’t find any job or are stuck with part-time work when they want a full-time job—have in effect been abandoned.” In the National Review, Rich Lowry wrote, “The statistics tell a dire, but incomplete, story. We were built to work. When we want to and can’t, it is an assault on our very personhood.” But even as the assault continues, our politicians seem not to notice, or not admit, how this country has changed. As Peggy Noonan, former speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan, asked in the Wall Street Journal, “do our political leaders have any sense of what people are feeling deep down? They don’t act as if they do. I think their detachment from how normal people think is more dangerous and disturbing than it has been in the past.” If jobs are a bad deal, housing is worse. More than one in four houses are underwater, and that figure obscures how bad it’s got- ten in the hardest-hit states. According to data from CoreLogic, a private research company, 63 percent of all mortgaged properties in Nevada are worth less than the owners paid for them. In Arizona, it’s 50 percent. In Florida, 46 percent. Lacking jobs or stuck in low-paying ones, unable to sell their homes and move somewhere more promising, many Americans find that now is truly the worst of times. The US Census Bureau says that 43.6 million of us are now living in poverty—that’s more poor Americans than ever in the half century since records have been kept. Talk about a bad deal.
According to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the US infant mortality rate is nearly twice as high as those of France, Japan, and Australia. In 2011, as food prices around the world continued to rise, the New York Times reported that 16 percent of Americans answered “yes” to the following question: “Have there been times in the past 12 months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?” Compared with over thirty other “advanced economy” countries, New York Times columnist Charles Blow found that the United States now ranks among “the worst of the worst” on measures such as income inequality, student performance on math tests, average life expectancy, and the percentage of our citizens in prison. No wonder that in a CBS News poll, 70 percent of Americans surveyed felt that the country was going in the wrong direction.
Even people who are used to feeling good about their lives are sensing the changes: the University of Chicago’s General Social Survey found that in 2010, only 29 percent of men and women reported being “very happy”—the lowest level of very happy people since the poll was first conducted in 1972.
But if this is the worst of times for many, it is an explosively wealthy time for a fortunate few. While jobs, investment capital, and confidence in the future drain away, there is good cheer in corporate boardrooms. According to a 2011 survey by the Business Roundtable, an association of chief executive officers from leading US companies, American CEOs felt more confident than ever before. And why shouldn’t they? A survey by Equilar, a private research company specializing in compensation, found that median pay for CEOs in 2010 had risen to $10.8 million: an astonishing 23 percent pay raise compared with just the year before. How about you? Did you get your extra 23 percent last year?
The fact is, the very rich are doing very, very well, as they have been for two or three decades. Journalist Robert Frank, the Wall Street Journal‘s first full-time correspondent about the very rich, found that “the United States is now the world leader in producing millionaires—even if it lags behind China and India in other kinds of manufacturing.” Their demand for servants has raised butlering, once a dying career, into one of American’s fastest growing trades, along with maids, nannies, personal assistants, and private security guards.
Butlering is one of our notable growth industries. It’s not sup- posed to be like this. The United States is still a wealthy country. Wealth in a capitalist country is supposed to be invested, making new ventures possible, turning our ingenuity into new industries, creating jobs, and helping the economy grow. In the phrase that President John F. Kennedy used often, a rising tide lifts all boats. But something has gone wrong in America. For the last few decades, the rising tide has been lifting only the yachts.
Almost anywhere you look, if you just open your eyes, you will see ordinary, hardworking people struggling. Not far away, you’ll find a few greedy bastards making out like bandits. What defines greedy bastards? It’s not merely that they’re rich. I’m a capitalist; I am in favor of making lots and lots of money, as long as it comes from creating value for others. Americans have a long tradition of getting rich by making a great product or service that contributes to the growth of our country. But greedy bastards have given up on creating value for others and instead get their money by rigging the game so that they can steal from the rest of us.