The rich should pay more

Wealth inequality is a threat to American democracy

One of the more trenchant posters we’ve seen explaining the Occupy movement was one we saw circulating on Facebook being carried by a young woman at one of the demonstrations. It was stunningly simple: “I don’t mind you being rich. I mind you buying my government!”

Historically Americans have respected the wealthy. We admire people who bootstrap their way up by working hard and being creative. But increasingly it’s become clear that the playing field isn’t level anymore and income inequality is widening in a way that is not healthy for a democracy.

For example, the top 1 percent of Americans now gets 25 percent of the nation’s income, up from 9 percent in the late 1970s. The top 10 percent gets 50 percent. The average corporate CEO earns 300 times what his or her average employee makes.

In California, according to a report issued Tuesday (Nov. 1) by the nonpartisan California Budget Project, between 1987 and 2009 more than one-third of Californians’ income gains went to the wealthiest 1 percent, and almost three-quarters of the gains went to the top 10 percent.

The average inflation-adjusted income of the top 1 percent increased by half during that period, from $778,000 to $1.2 million annually, while that of the top 10 percent increased by nearly one-third. Meanwhile, the average incomes of Californians in the bottom four-fifths of the income distribution decreased.

Meanwhile, the super-rich are paying the politicians to keep their taxes low. That forces middle-income citizens to bear the brunt of the recession in increased unemployment, higher college tuition fees, skyrocketing health-care costs, failing schools and declining governmental services.

The rich (and their political lapdogs) tell us to be patient, that the wealth will trickle down, but that’s clearly not happening. Because of the Occupy movement, people are waking up to this reality. Which is why, for the first time since the 1930s, a majority of Americans (an astonishing 66 percent, according to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll) say the nation’s wealth should be distributed more evenly and that the rich should pay more in taxes.