I give up. I have been trying to avoid the quadrennial American political circus that, this year, is especially disturbing. I have taken an essay I published here two years ago and updated the statistics, some of the text, and (unavoidably) my age. I think my thoughts of two years ago are still very much valid today. So, here it is.
The excitement caused by Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” has died down to a whisper, but not the issues he raised regarding the growing concentration of wealth in the hands of a minority of the population. The futility of implementing his proposed global wealth tax is obvious to all but the most blindly ideological. The argument over how one determines “wealth” will continue.
I will not deal with wealth here, but focus on income, something easier to quantify and a measure of how much a group benefits at any given point in time, and I will concern myself only with the US. The statistics on US income are not the target of particular controversy. Since the same basic trend can be found among the top 1%, the top 5%, and the top 10% of income-earners, I will use the middle group, the 5%, as my example today.
Using the statistics provided at The World Top Incomes Database created by Mr. Piketty’s team, here is a graph of the percentage of total income in the US earned by the “top 5%” over a 63-year period beginning in 1953 and the inauguration of President Eisenhower through 2015, the third year of President Obama’s second and final term. This removes the impact of World War Two and any residual impact during President Truman’s tenure. Call this, if you like, the Modern Age.
Clearly, something significant happened in the 1980’s. This graph concerns US income distribution, so it must reflect government policies, at least in good part, right?
Most people’s first reaction to this graph, at least those from my generation (I am 71), is to identify President Reagan’s tax cuts as the turning point. To me, that is too much focus on a tree while the forest stares me in the face.
The first 28 years, when the top 5% received just over 20% of the income, represent six Presidencies (Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter), three Democrats and three Republicans.
The remaining 35 years represent five Presidencies (Reagan, GHW Bush, Clinton, GW Bush, and Obama), three Republicans and two Democrats.
Some were generally judged to be conservative (e.g., Reagan), some moderate (e.g., Carter), and some liberal (e.g., Obama).
Ignoring trees and looking at the forest, what does this graph tell me? It tells me that the party identification or the ideological identification of the governing President made absolutely no difference at all to the proportion of income received by the top 5%.
There is no correlation, none, nada, zilch. If there was, you would be looking at a roller coaster, not a flat plain leading up to a mountainside. Either that, or Presidents Clinton and Obama are secret admirers of President Reagan.
Now, let me be clear. I see no sense in demonizing people who earn more money than I do. Nor am I a fan of demonizing people who are paid a lot more money than I think they are worth, as long as it’s not my money. If it’s my money given willingly, than I am the demon. But this is not the issue that concerns me today.
What concerns me is that we are now beginning the intense final period of an election year. Once again, I have no doubt Republicans will be criticized, even demonized, as the ones responsible for the results shown above. Once again, I have no doubt Democrats will insist they are the only people standing between the greedy corporate hoard and the innocent public.
I also have no doubt that the Democrats will be demonized as the “tax and spend” party, while Republicans will insist that only they can offer the programs that will strengthen the free market and benefit everyone.
To me, the graph above puts the lie to all that.
I am an independent and am thoroughly unimpressed with both “major” political parties. Their leadership is uninspired and uninspiring, and I am not alone. The results are clear in the polls. But I am especially not a fan of political manipulation from either side and one look at that chart explains why.
I am an American and intend to remain one, but I live and work outside the US. I look back with sorrow on my home nation. The level of semi-hysterical emotionalism from our political leadership is unnerving. The world has changed and I believe they know it, but I don’t think they have a clue what to do about it that won’t cost them votes in the election, if they actually do have a clue. After all, it is not about reality, it is about votes. To make matters worse, it seems most economic and investment analysts are every bit as blind, frightened, and lost. After all, it is not about reality, it is about money.
However, what really aggravates me is that this is so simple and so obvious. Why is it so hard for the politicians and the analysts to see that it goes ignored?
Our current leaders, both political and economic, of what I call the “Old World of the North Atlantic” are so trapped in the failure of their own analyses and policies of past decades that they are unable to look clearly at the present for fear of the future, especially their future.
I will listen to Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton in the campaign now underway, hoping to hear something far more innovative and convincing than I have heard from either to date.
But I am pleased that I will have one other choice to consider. For the first time in my lifetime, as far as I’m concerned, a “third party” provides two candidates for the Presidency and Vice Presidency who deserve attention. They are the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson, former two-term Governor of New Mexico elected to his second term by a double-digit margin, and William Weld, former two-term Governor of Massachusetts elected to his second term by an astonishing 43% margin. That’s not a landslide; that’s an earthquake!
There are other third parties that will be represented, but none have or expect to have candidates who have the credentials to step into office and go to work as Governors. Five of our last seven Presidents came to the Oval Office via a Governor’s mansion – Carter, Reagan, GHW Bush, Clinton, and GW Bush. It is a very credible route to the Presidency and the Vice Presidency and these two gentlemen have earned their credibility as much as any of those who came before them.
At the very least, I would like to see the Libertarian ticket reach 15% in at least five national polls and qualify for inclusion in the Presidential and Vice Presidential debates. The Republican and Democratic tickets need to be forced to deal with serious issues they otherwise likely will ignore or address in the spiteful and nasty way they do now.
There is much yet to be said and done, but it is a relief to know that there are three tickets to choose from, not just two, but the third one needs to be heard by everyone.
Like it or not, the more than seven billion of us who keep things running on this planet must depend on leadership that has a clear idea of where we are, where we should be, how we should get there, and then are able to communicate that to the rest of us successfully. That leadership does not exist today, most clearly not in US or in Europe, but the problem is global.
I like to think that the United States of America, which has been such a great global leader in decades past, can once again be a great global leader in today’s confused and conflicted world.
Until it does, we are all lost in a global forest. And pardon me for saying so, but I smell fire.
Postscript – This campaign has been absorbing my attention recently, despite my distaste for the insults and shouting, but it has brought me back to another concern that is very important to me as a result of five decades of professional work – the ongoing growth of a new global economy. I will be dealing with that, along with my interests in genetics, automation, and other future-oriented topics, in coming weeks.
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