The BillBoard: Worth Reading

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Whenever a smart article catches Bill Moyers’ eye, we share it with you on The BillBoard (Follow on Twitter via @MoyersStaff and @BillMoyers to get the #BillBoard.).

Currently pinned: articles from The New York Review of Books and The New Yorker.

Pin #1  The New York Review of Books: We’re More Unequal Than You Think

Andrew Hacker reviews four books published in the last year that explore the different ways that inequality impacts our society. Data as diverse as the doubling of the average size of American houses since 1970, the correlation between the political party in the White House and the nation’s “violent death rate,” to the rise in the occurrence of “diseases of affluence” that affect the so-called “winners” is presented and analyzed.

“Imagine a giant vacuum cleaner looming over America’s economy, drawing dollars from its bottom to its upper tiers. Using US Census reports, I estimate that since 1985, the lower 60 percent of households have lost $4 trillion, most of which has ascended to the top 5 percent, including a growing tier now taking in $1 million or more each year.1 Some of our founders foresaw this happening. “Society naturally divides itself,” Alexander Hamilton wrote in The Federalist, “into the very few and the many.” His coauthor, James Madison, identified the cause. “Unequal faculties of acquiring property,” he said, inhere in every human grouping. If affluence results from inner aptitudes, it might seem futile to try reining in the rich.

All four of the books under review reject Hamilton and Madison’s premises. All are informative, original, and offer unusual insights. None accepts that social divisions are inevitable or natural, and all make coherent arguments in favor of less inequality, supported by persuasive statistics.” Read more »

Pin #2  The New Yorker: “Poor, White and Republican

George Packer writes this week on about the evolution of “the forgotten man” from the Depression Era to modern times, and what this group’s current situation means for the country and this year’s presidential election.

“F.D.R. called him “the forgotten man,” but that was long ago. By 1972, he was a member of the silent majority and had become a Democrat for Nixon (he wore a hard hat with an American-flag sticker). 1980 produced the Reagan Democrat (this time he came from Macomb County, Michigan, and was discovered by the pollster Stan Greenberg). By 1994 he had curdled into the Angry White Male (he elected the Gingrich Congress). In 2008, he was simply the working-class white—by then he was no longer forgotten, and no longer a Democrat of any kind; he was a member of the much-analyzed Republican base. The television godfather of the type, of course, is Archie Bunker, but you can also trace his lineage more darkly through the string of hard-bitten blue-collar movies that begins with “Joe” (Peter Boyle, 1970), goes on to “Falling Down” (Michael Douglas, 1993), “Gran Torino” (Clint Eastwood, 2008), and, in a rural context, “Winter’s Bone” (2010). He’s a descendant of the thirties Everyman played by Henry Fonda and Gary Cooper, except that in the intervening decades he lost his idealism and grew surly, if not violent, consumed with a hatred of hippies, immigrants, blacks, government, and, finally, himself.” Read more »

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