Third Party & Independents Archives

December 26, 2006

Racism Recedes: Classism Grows

It is no longer publicly acceptable to be racist. Just ask Senator Allen who lost his election bid for a racist remark. As racism recedes from public acts, another deeply entrenched discrimination of very long standing is rising to the fore for attack, belittlement, and reform. Classism, or discrimination based on economic class, is becoming the new politically incorrect behavior to overcome.

From medical care, to education, to housing, to job opportunities, those of the wealthy class get better treatment and favor than others of less affluence. Harvard, one of the costliest universities, has tuition assistance for the non-wealthy. But, the average income of families receiving tuition assistance for Harvard is over $100,000 per year.

The wealthy gated communities in which the better off reside, no longer exclude residents on the basis of race. But, they discriminate intensely on the basis of financial status, which mirrors racist selectivity in some areas of the country, but, race is not the operative selective criteria. No ethnic family would be denied access to a wealthy gated community if they have the resources to outbid others for the residence. (Though they may find the estate has already been sold, in Alabama or Mississippi, for example.)

As many as 96,000 people die in American hospitals each year as a direct result of medical malpractice. Many times that number receive the wrong procedure, medication, or diagnosis resulting in a worsening of their malady or, the creation of a new one they didn't walk in with. There are many factors involved in why this occurs. But, chief among them is the hours medical practitioners put in. Some residents routinely put in 36 hours at a time. That last 12 hours results in their working on patients with the same attention and judgment skills as a .10 % blood alcohol content. They aren't permitted to operate a vehicle in that state, but, they are permitted to operate on a patient in that state.

Wealthy clients go to wealthy practitioners who don't need to work 24 or 36 hour shifts. Wealthy clients also have the resources to sue for malpractice and so, are treated with greater care and concern on average. Public Citizen has a lot of information on this health care class issue, just type health care in their search box.)

Wealthy persons have greater access to government. Whether that wealth is derived from union memberships, or personal entrepreneurial luck and acumen, folks of the upper classes have access to Congresspersons and the White House which those in lesser classes do not. Therefore, as we have seen, when it comes to issues like tax policy, the wealthy have been able to use their affluent influence to shape tax policy which favors them far more on a per capita basis in their class, than those of lesser affluence.

Many Republicans and Democrats tout that equal opportunity is all that should be afforded. What people do with that opportunity is up to them. But, this is the same as saying that putting Olympic gold medalist Jim Thorpe and a wheel chair bound individual on the same starting line for a 100 yard dash will give both contestants and equal opportunity to win. It doesn't.

Many poor work just as hard, and just as long hours as the wealthy. This is the fact that stands in the way of any easy solution to wealth distribution in America. A woman working as assistant manager at Wal-Mart makes approximately $24,000 per year, but her work day is not over when she leaves Wal-Mart. She must then come home, make dinner, tend the kids, supervise clean up, do the laundry, balance the check book, pay the bills, schedule appointments for the kid's doctors, after school events, and weekend sleepovers, before she lies down to try to get 6 to 7 hours sleep before rising to get the kids off to school. She works just as hard and as many hours as a $5 mil. a year stock broker.

Is it fair and just that she should have to do without health insurance, tutors for her kids when needed, access to a reliable car for transportation, a home of her own, and preventive medical checkups even though she works a full time job? This is the question that underlies the growing debate over class discrimination in America. And it is not a debate that is going away. More research supports debated intuitions of the past, that the poor suffer far more in terms of longevity, health condition, class rise for their children, and in limited opportunities than those born into the upper middle or higher classes.

As this research builds, and becomes more public, the issue of class discrimination will also build to make or break politics and policies in coming years. Classism is replacing racism as the new social issue of the 21st century. And it is not a coincidence that Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security and pension plan bankruptcy are rising as key issues at the very same time. For they constituted the great leveler in wealth distribution in the 20th century, but, are under increasing pressures to be dissolved if the political will to reform and salvage them does not occur.

Posted by David R. Remer at December 26, 2006 07:36 AM
Comments
Comment #200391

OK…so what do you suggest?
Is there really any solution that is fair?

I taught my children that there is no such thing as fair. “Fair, is when I have the advantage” I told them.

Posted by: cliff at December 26, 2006 10:34 AM
Comment #200394

David,

You have identified the problems(?). What is your suggestion for improvements? Education? Government intervention? What? These are problems that have been with us for millenia, not just a recent phenomenon. As far as I can tell, no one has ever come up with a suitable answer.

Plus, like Cliff said: “What is ‘fair’?” Truth be told, there is really no such thing as fair when it comes to life. Some folks are born into wealthy families, some win the lottery, and some come up with a better way of doing things that makes them a pile of money. Which one would you single out for special treatment and why?

Just asking.

Posted by: John Back at December 26, 2006 11:17 AM
Comment #200396

David

You have correctly identified a definition of being poor. When you are poor you have less than when you are rich. Whether or not that is fair depends on your definition of fairness. Fairness is not the same as equality. In fact, a fair act may lead to a very unequal outcome.

You also need to look at the causes and MOST are not income based.

There exists a complex of behaviors that help a person become healthy, wealthy and wise. These behaviors are unevenly distributed in our population. One reason is that parents teach their children good (or bad) habits and there may even be a genetic component to personality types. But a great deal is just what we used to call character development.

That is why I chose the Ben Franklin quote. There is an issue of overlapping causality. Usually if you manage two out of the three, the third one comes along. If you behave in such a way that makes you healthy and wise, for example, you may not become very rich, but you will become moderately wealthy. A wise and wealthy person has both the money and intelligence to choose a healthy lifestyle. I suppose it is possible to be healthy and wealthy w/o developing much in the way of wisdom, but you probably at least would get a decent education.

This goes to the solution to your dilemma. You talk about economic discrimination as thought it is something imposed on people from the outside. Unlike gender or race, economic status is very changeable. I have occupied all five quintiles during my lifetime. It is not something determined at birth.

In order to mitigate this problem (you will never solve it) our primary focus should be instilling good habits and knowledge.

Many poor people suffer from this substandard medical care you mention. It is not primarily a lack of money, however. It is more a lack of knowledge. They do not know how to question a doctor and have problems following advice that leads to better health outcomes. You can double their incomes and their outcomes may not improve much. In fact, some have comprehensive insurance. They just did a poor job of using it.

Re government - that is highly related to education. I can get quick service from governments. When I bought a farm in a new county, I was able to get very quick and efficient service that some of the locals told me was amazing. Why? I know how to ask and who to talk to. I didn’t have to pay more. In fact I paid less than those poor guys. Wealth was not an issue. Education was.

Re housing, I think we should have more mixed zoning, but you have to expect a poorer person to have a less attractive house than a richer one. That is one of the things you earn. I live in the same house I bought in 1997. As we got more money, we upgraded (hardwood floors, tiles etc). When I was poorer I didn’t have those things and that was fair.

Anyway, if you want to change the outcomes, you have to change the character of the poor. You can do some of this with government programs. The New Deal was a success and so was the GI bill. These programs were successful BECAUSE they changed the nature of the poor and did not merely treat the problem as something outside. The Great Society generally failed because of the different paradigm.

Remember teach a man to fish. Do not tell him that he is entitled to them.

Posted by: Jack at December 26, 2006 12:08 PM
Comment #200397

Cliff and John, I am not running for office, so, it isn’t important what I think the answers should be. As a political writer, I believe it is important for voters to understand what is going to be driving the policy issue debates coming up in the 110th Congress and beyond.

For example, some Republicans and Democrats in the new Senate and the President perhaps, are going to propose eliminating the border barrier between us and Mexico and granting amnesty to the 10 to 20 million illegal immigrants already here.

This may appear to be good politics for getting more votes, but, it will only exacerbate the Classism problem that is growing.

The big question is what do you, the voters think should be done, if anything, to address the growing Classism struggle? To be sure, as our current generation of workers find themselves facing the choice of bankruptcy or caring for their retired parent’s medical expenses, class warfare will become paramount in American politics and economics.

Are you, the voters going to allow that crisis to blossom before addressing it, or are you the voters going to demand that your politicians address these issues today before they become a crisis which no one will be able to address affordably and fairly?

Posted by: David R. Remer at December 26, 2006 12:10 PM
Comment #200400

Jack, thanks for the thoughtful reply. While I disagree with some minor points, we agree entirely on the overview. The nation must address the social conditions that CAN be changed to accommodate less classism. Improved education, universal health maintenance insurance coverage, ongoing adult education, multi economic stratification of housing divisions, are just some of the answers.

There are potentially many more - such as a nationally coordinated urban and suburban civil engineering designs that promote work and residence in close proximity with less expensive infrastructure, rapid developments of non-fossil fuels and cheaper transportation - and halting the illegal immigration pressures now exacerbating the growing classism conflict.

But where is the political will? The oneupmanship between the two major parties prevents any such coordinated and concerted approaches to heading off the classism conflict coming. The political will must come from the voters. Not the party line loyalists who care less about policy than being in the majority.

Posted by: David R. Remer at December 26, 2006 12:23 PM
Comment #200402

Life aint fair. If it was we’d all be driving a BMW and eating caviar. Even then someone would figure out how to have two BMW’s while others would only have one. BTW I don’t like either one.
The only solution to the above problems is government intervention. Then you end up with some serious problems. Like who’s gonna pay for it? And how will they pay?
And of course with government intervention comes government control. They’ll tell you where to live. Where to work and when to work. What to eat and when to eat it.
But then nothing would suite the bunch fixing to take over more. And the bunch leaving wish they could have gotten control of our lives while they were there.

Posted by: Ron Brown at December 26, 2006 12:34 PM
Comment #200403

Jack, one other question. If in America, there was a cap of 30 million dollars per year annual compensation regardless of what employment position one had, would those earning those amounts, or choosing to attain such positions be any less incentivized? If they would not be disincentivized by such a cap, would not 100’s of billions of dollars be freed up for capital investment as well as raising wages for entry level workers?

Posted by: David R. Remer at December 26, 2006 12:34 PM
Comment #200404

Ron, life is not fair in many ways. But, that doesn’t mean government and social policy shouldn’t strive to be.

Posted by: David R. Remer at December 26, 2006 12:36 PM
Comment #200413

David, there’s one thing you can be sure of.

The money beyond 30 million dollars than anybody in this country is making (a tiny group) is already going into capital investments, hiring workers, etc.

In fact, that money is being more efficiently invested in our economy than any massive stumbling government agency could do.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at December 26, 2006 01:28 PM
Comment #200422

Ben Stein had a great response as to why the wealthy had a responsibility to contribute more. It is in a way about fairness. To keep the poor from climbing the walls and taking it. He also wrote this editorial recently.

Life is not fair, and sometimes it is even cruel.

Sometimes the proletariat rises up, siezes the assets of the wealthy and slaugther’s them when they percieve they are being unfairly treated. Keeping the poor from climbing the gates and taking what they wish, how they wish is why society has law and order. Skirting that law to unfair advantage can result in the loss of order.

Like free markets, the motive is self interest. Like free markets,without order they are just driven by greed.

Democratic governance was the tool our founders came up with to deal with this imbalanced pendulum. You should hope it doesn’t fail to read the writing on the walls.

We all know what is right. We all hide some things we know others may want. We know what is just. We know when we’ve beaten the system. The problem is, it isn’t a secret for long. Everyone knows. Justice sometimes reaps a terrible price. The French revolution was a fate staring our founders in the face. It steeled them to do their duty. Sometimes a little fear is prudent.


Posted by: gergle at December 26, 2006 02:41 PM
Comment #200425

Well said, Gergle.

Loyal opposition, increasingly that money you discuss is being invested in workers, jobs, and production in other countries, not our own. I assure you that trend will continue and the rate increase as the boomers retire and other nation’s competitive advantages compound the severity of our national debt and inflexibility to respond to economic crises.

Posted by: David R. Remer at December 26, 2006 03:11 PM
Comment #200432

David,

I learned all my financing from a a single mother of three.

She is also a full-time college student and makes considerably less than $24,000 a year.

She is financially stable.

She tought me to be financially stable off my $11,500 a year.

I have only known one millionaire in my life and he told me “it is not how much you make, it is how much you spend’.

He was a union plumber.

If rent is 650, gas 80, food 100, utilities 60, phone 80 (we do live in a cellular world), insurance 300 (auto, health, renters), then your total cost of living is $1270 amothn and $15,240 a year, if you make $24,000 a year that leaves you with $8,760 to ‘play’ with.

That $8,760 a year will get three kids full medical from a private agency, a years community college tuition for one, and a used car at no more than $3000.

Not to mention you still have a thousand left for school clothes and supplies, a night out once every couple of months, and christmas gifts (modest, but ‘fair’).

Then, if she has three kids and makes $24,000 a year, she qualifies for a small chunk of assisted living, a very small chunk yes, but some non-the-less. That’ll give her another $1500 a year or so.

Food stamps, that $1200 a year is back in your pocket and your not feeding your kids ramen noodles any more.

So you got another, lets round off and say $2300.

She could put that each year in to an IRA roth plus the super-phatty tax return she is going to get for being a parent of three and retire a with 1.4 million in the next 25 years.

Posted by: Bryan AJ Kennedy at December 26, 2006 04:08 PM
Comment #200437

Bryan some of your figures are very off in the low direction like insurance. And you don’t include principle and interest costs on purchasing a vehicle or home, nor the school costs for giving your children opportunities like band, athletics, etc. and the list is much longer.

I grant you that 24,000 a year is not poverty in Mississippi, but it is in California. And, it does require disciplined and educated choices to live on such a low income. So who is teaching the millions of poor children in this country that discipline and providing that education needed to make it on such a low wage?

My baby sister died a few weeks ago, after battling brain and spinal cancer. Without Medicare, and on her wages of $7 per hour she could not have even remotely been able to afford the medical care she received. 10’s of millions of Americans are in the same boat as my sister was. She had little but her funeral was full of those persons to whom she had given as much as she could of herself, her money, and her time.

She was so grateful that Medicare was there for her. She died with gratitude for America’s medicare program which gave her hope up to her last minutes. She fortunately died of a sudden heart attack brought on partly be the cancer therapy and was spared the agony of the terminal cancer progression.

I too am grateful to my fellow Americans for helping my family provide my sister Kimberly with the hope that came with medical treatment which she could not possibly have afforded on her own. She was 44 years old.

Posted by: David R. Remer at December 26, 2006 04:29 PM
Comment #200439

David

As you know, I wrote in general response to this article.

Re the 30 million, nobody I know makes that much. I would not mind capping it, but I do not think it is practical. You would be getting at a lot of sports stars and entertainers too. Also, how would you account for ownership. If Bill Gates never took a dime in salary from Microsoft, his increase in wealth would be a lot more than 30 million many years.

Posted by: Jack at December 26, 2006 04:42 PM
Comment #200460

Jack, estate taxes will take care of massive asset accumulation quite well, with a little tweaking.

Posted by: David R. Remer at December 26, 2006 10:47 PM
Comment #200465

David
Estate taxes need tweaking alright. They need to be tweaked right out of existence. All estate taxes is tax what’s already been taxed. Why should our kids pay taxes on money that’s already been taxed?
But sense the liberals are taking over Congress I reckon there’s gonna be a lot of tax legislation pushed through. I sure hope Bush finds his veto pen.

My heart felt sympathy at your loss.

Posted by: Ron Brown at December 26, 2006 11:43 PM
Comment #200467

Democracy is what makes life fairer, free market capitalism is what, as we are seeing unfold before our eyes, takes it away. As America devolves into a feudal society our grandchildren and great grandchildren (at least those not a part of the aristocracy) will look back at us and wonder how this generation that has had so many advantages could let it slip away with out a fight or a clue.

Posted by: j2t2 at December 27, 2006 12:00 AM
Comment #200469

David:

My condolences. And thanks for sharing that information.

Posted by: womanmarine at December 27, 2006 12:06 AM
Comment #200470

Ron Brown said: “All estate taxes is tax what’s already been taxed.”

No, Ron, it is much more than that. It is a prophylactic to prevent ruling families from running the whole kit and kaboodle. If you don’t redistribute the wealth of the Bill Gates and Wallmart families, they become the ruling families over time because they will control the nation’s wealth. Estate taxes work in conjunction with anti-trust laws to prevent King George from ever returning to rule America.

Remember the basic American equation: money is power, too much money in too few hands, negates decentralized democracy of, by, and for the people. In other words, allowing concentration of too much of the nation’s money into too few hands renders the people powerless and voiceless in government and therefore kills democracy. 18th century France and our Colonies taught us this - to avoid Revolution, decentralize the wealth and the power associated with it. That is the primary function of estate taxes.

They should not be so confiscatory as to prevent incentive and entrepreneurial risk taking, and not too lenient as to cause too much power concentration into too few hands.

Posted by: David R. Remer at December 27, 2006 12:07 AM
Comment #200474

Well said, David.
Ron When you earn money then give it to someone in return for something of value the person you gave the money to is taxed on that money as income and so on down the line. Thats how it works. Why should the estate tax be any different?

Posted by: j2t2 at December 27, 2006 01:15 AM
Comment #200477

It should not be forgotten that abortion is also a class issue. The wealthy have always had access to safe abortion and always will for their wives daughters and mistresses. An “understanding” if highly paid family phycisian, a trip “abroad” etc.

Posted by: BillS at December 27, 2006 01:30 AM
Comment #200478

The Estate tax has been part of the game since 1916. Why change the rules now? These super wealthy owe society NOT the other way around.

David you said it well.

Its a very “Rushian” simpleminded thing to say, “They earned their money let them keep it”, ignoring that they only earned it based on the rules we set up.

This really is the lesson of the very Revolution that founded this country. Why do people want to go back to a pre-Revolution America? Bunch of Tory loyalist I guess.

Posted by: muirgeo at December 27, 2006 01:32 AM
Comment #200509

David,

My condolences to you.

Ron Brown,

Have you ever heard anyone utter “my grandfather worked hard for all this?” and realized the ridiculous nature of that statement?

Allowing certain families to amass wealth and power cuts against the very idea or equal opportunity.

You can’t even enter a mule in horse race let alone win with one.

JT

Posted by: JayTea at December 27, 2006 12:47 PM
Comment #200520

JT, thanks.

Also, there is a distinction to be made here between individual wealth and dynastic wealth.

Bill Gates should be allowed to amass all the wealth he can in his lifetime. But, to allow him and dozens of others to continue pass that wealth intact from generation to generation can end up depriving the nation’s population of consumer capacity, not too mention voice in government and public issues.

An aristocracy of a small number of families controlling the majority of the nation’s wealth, power, and influence, is anathema to any form of democratic government and equality in the eyes of the law. Aristocracy is what we fought a Revolutionary War to overthrow. Aristocracy in form of capitalist barons at the turn of 20th century rendered up the great depression.

We should not be opposed to personal amassing personal wealth as a yardstick for success. But we must oppose with every democratic fiber of our being the establishment of wealthy dynasties who strangle the nation’s economic and political health.

Posted by: David R. Remer at December 27, 2006 01:14 PM
Comment #200547

David, terrific article and follow-ups! As you might guess, I agree wholeheartedly with your comments in this thread.

I am very sorry to learn of your sister Kimberly’s passing. I have wondered how she fared ever since I shared that appetite-stimulating marijuana tincture recipe with you (hope it helped a little), but didn’t want to ask since it would be an off topic comment for this blog. I too am glad that Medicare was there for her (and for any other of our citizens who need it). But what I think is desperately needed is Universal Healthcare legislation.
I am really hoping that in ‘08 the Democratic Party will prominently address this issue as part of their platform.

Posted by: Adrienne at December 27, 2006 06:15 PM
Comment #200567

Adrienne said: “But what I think is desperately needed is Universal Healthcare legislation.
I am really hoping that in ‘08 the Democratic Party will prominently address this issue as part of their platform.”

I couldn’t agree with you more, Adrienne. The current system is failing, in so many ways, the people and the nation’s future. We must try a different approach. As usual, Republicans will want to “stay the course” and Democrats will want to give the store away. But, if Democrats hold to the pay as you go ethic they have promised, something workable and sustainable may just be in the offing with some compromise by both sides.

Thank you for the kind words, regarding Kim.

Posted by: David R. Remer at December 27, 2006 08:34 PM
Comment #293346

I just came across the term “classism” and it coins a term that I have endured all my life, I knew it existed,

I have been aware for years that the “powers that be”(in layman’s terms) make rules that assure their power, and they are designed to keep the poor in thier “place”

One good example of classism, is the current credit system.

great reading.
Andrew taylor

Posted by: Andrew taylor at January 5, 2010 12:04 AM
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