Eighty years ago, when the nation and the world were mired in the Great Depression, Will Rogers delivered a remarkable speech on the radio. Here’s an excerpt in celebration of the Wall Street Occupation and all its offspring.
So here we are in a country with more wheat and more corn and more money in the bank, more cotton, more everything in the world—there’s not a product that you can name that we haven’t got more of than any other country ever had on the face of the earth—and yet we’ve got people starving. We’ll hold the distinction of being the only nation in the history of the world that ever went to the poor house in an automobile. The potter’s fields are lined with granaries full of grain. Now if there ain’t something cockeyed in an arrangement like that then this microphone here in front of me is—well, it’s a cuspidor, that’s all.
These people that you’re asked to aid, why they’re not asking for charity, they are naturally asking for a job, but if you can’t give ‘em a job why the next best thing you can do is see that they have food and the necessities of life. You know, there’s not a one of us who has anything that these people that are without it now haven’t contributed to what we’ve got. I don’t suppose there’s the most unemployed or the hungriest men in America has contributed in one way to the wealth of every millionaire in America. It wasn’t the working class that brought the condition on us all. It was the big boys themselves who thought that this financial drunk we were going through was going to last forever. They over–merged and over–capitalized, and over–everything else. That’s the fix we’re in now.
In our time we’ve all read the rich-poor statistics that stun. Like the 400 richest Americans own more wealth than the bottom 50 percent of the population. Here are a few.
The Top 1 Percent Of Americans Owns 40 Percent Of The Nation’s Wealth
The Top 1 Percent Of Americans Take Home 24 Percent Of National Income
The Top 1 Percent Of Americans Own Half the Stocks, Bonds, And Mutual Funds
The Top 1 Percent Of Americans Have Only 5 Percent Of The Nation’s Personal Debt
The Top 1 Percent Are Taking In More Of The Nation’s Income Than At Any Other Time Since The 1920s
Here’s another provocative statistic, this one from Harper’s Index of March, 2011.
Chances are that a U.S. millionaire does not “feel wealthy”: 2 in 5
Average amount he or she believes would begin to create such a feeling: $7,500,000
Perhaps this isn’t altogether surprising. I’m always amazed to find that friends I know who have much more than I do, are just as anxious as I am about money. Money can be terribly mental.
Perhaps the wealthy are dupes (of the media and our consumer culture?). They always want more, no matter what they already have. And what’s more, most of them are certain they have every right to it. They earned it. Pulled themselves up with their own bootstraps. All that stuff.
Certainly they got no help from the poor, any more than American millionaires did in 1932.