Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Wonder What the Richistanis Are Doing?

Crawford Killian has an interesting book review, Rich as Hell: Richistan: A Journey through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich by Robert Frank in I'm a long-time fan of Killian's cluster of blogs, including Ask the English Teacher where he offers insights on many types of writing, Bridging the Income Gap, where he cross-posted this review, and Homage to Arrhenius, about climate change.

Frank approaches the Richistanis as a distinct nation. They aren't really living with ordinary Americans, physically or culturally. But most are emigres from America's middle class, the wealthiest parvenus in history. They are both a recent phenomenon and a familiar one: Frank sees them as the "Third Wave" of dramatic wealth-building, after the Gilded Age (1865-1890) and the Roaring Twenties (1918-1929). In those eras, the top one percent of Americans held almost half the nation's wealth.

But after the Depression and Second World War, wealth began to reach ordinary Americans. By 1975, the top one per cent could claim only 20 per cent of all American wealth. Those were the days when a one-income working family could support a stay-at-home spouse, buy a home and send the kids to college....

Ronald Reagan changed all that. By 1989, Frank says, the top one per cent held 30 per cent of U.S. wealth, and their share is now 33 per cent....

...[T]his is a readable, informative and insightful look at the biggest group of very rich people the world has ever seen. At some point a new war or depression may cause their government to redistribute Richistani wealth, as Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt did. The middle class may again see a golden age like that from V-J Day to Watergate, while the Richistanis worry about meeting their mortgage payments.

But I don't expect to live to see it.


Sherry said...

I just really think we have to re-state Lincoln: you can fool enough of the people enough of the time that they will vote away their prosperity in the belief that they can become filthy rich.

It's sad.

Rebecca Clayton said...

I've read that a majority of Americans overestimate their financial status--20% think a tax on the top 1% of incomes will affect them.

It's nice that we are so pleased with our own levels of affluence that we all think we're rich, (and compared to many places in the world, we are), but I wish we could vote based on facts, not perceptions.