Tag Archives: income inequality

South Africa v United States: Trevor Noah

South African comedian Trevor Noah will replace Jon Stewart as host on “The Daily Show.” In his debut on the show last December, Stewart played the straight man as Noah compared race relations and poverty in Africa with conditions in the U.S. (watch the video, above). Guess who won?

In Africa Noah found a stretch of a superhighway and a shot of children in school that he compared with the F.D.R. Drive in New York City and children living in Detroit:

FDR / Central Africa

FDR / Central Africa

Kenya / Detroit

Kenya / Detroit

He also pulled in a clip of Nick Kristof saying

The United States right now incarcerates more African-American men as a percentage than apartheid South Africa did.


Right now the race gap in wealth between the average median white family and the median black family is eighteenfold. That’s greater than it was in apartheid South Africa.

“Africa is worried about you guys,” joked Noah. It was only partly funny.

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Filed under ComedyBeat, Income and Wealth Inequality, Race, Society

Mandela and Francis, agents for change

Nelson_Mandela-2008_(edit)Nelson Mandela was the archetypal hero. To achieve his goal, he had to endure great personal suffering before leading his people out of the wilderness of fear and pain. He vanquished the oppressors by dint of unwavering faith in the eventual triumph of right. The world has seen few heroes so steadfast in their adherence to their principles. On the occasion of his death on December 5, Mandela was deservedly eulogized as a man who, despite his faults, achieved greatness.

One hero passes, another one rises.

Papa_Francisco_na_JMJ_-_24072013Throughout its history, the Vatican has always sought to enrich itself. Bishops and popes accumulated earthly treasure even beyond the store in royal coffers. Yet now we have a pope who is calling out the evils of income inequality, which, along with climate change are our gravest challenges. Pope Francis:

While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power.

To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. Continue reading

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Filed under American Society, economy, Environment, Politics

The Two Manhattans

New York Magazine’s view of Lower Manhattan blacked out by Hurricane Sandy is a symbol of the deep division in American society. The blacked-out neighborhoods don’t correspond with income levels, but the darkness juxtaposed to the light is a visual representation of the unprecedented income inequality that insulates the wealthy from the hardships that afflict New Yorkers of middle and lower income.

Twenty-one percent of New York residents live below the poverty line. In Manhattan last year the wealthiest 20 percent made more than 40 times as much as the lowest 20 percent. Compared to last year, the rich got richer and the poor got poorer.

Sections of the city were submerged in the dark and wet and cold for six days and still counting before power was restored. New Yorkers — an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 people— are relying on FEMA and the generosity of strangers for food, shelter, diapers, formula, meds— all that Sandy washed away. Finding housing for so many people, most of whom live in public housing, is a massive job. “I don’t know that anybody has ever taken this number of people and found housing for them overnight,” said Mayor Bloomberg.

If you’d like to help Sandy’s victims by volunteering and/or donating, here’s a place to start.

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Filed under economy, Hurricane Sandy

If land = dollars, how much of the U.S. would go to wealthiest 1%?

The wealthiest 1 percent of Americans are about 3 million people. They have tripled their income since 1979.

The next 9 percent are about 27 million.

Everybody else—90 percent, about 278 million— would be squeezed into that narrow southern tier .

H/T Juan Cole

Update: If the map were split in half, only 400 people would own half the land; the rest of the population would own the other half.

2nd update: Correction: The net worth of the 400 wealthiest Americans exceeds  the net worth of the poorest 60 percent of American families.


Filed under economy, Musings, Politics

Banana Republic

What will it take to wrench America back to the principles and ideals that seemed immutable in the mid-twentieth century? We believed in America the Beautiful because it really was, before the oil spilled, the great forests fell to loggers’ saws and strip miners decapitated the mountains. We believed in Justice and Freedom even as the South lived under the rule of Jim Crow, much of the North had de facto segregation and the Greatest Generation fought World War II in segregated units. Fifty years ago we were bloodied by the struggle for civil rights. In the following decade women fought for the privileges men had always enjoyed.

Was there ever a time when the rich were considerate of the poor and politicians weren’t corrupt? Were we ever less venal than other countries? Were we ever justified in feeling morally superior to the rest of the world? Despite the self-deception (or lack of self-awareness) that blinded us to the inequities all around us, we believed that American democracy would save us and show the way to the rest of the world. We strived to form a more perfect Union.

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Filed under Musings, Politics