MORE THAN “Just the Money, Stupid”

April 10, 2018

My wife and I are in the process of selling our home in Northern Minnesota. We are both 68 years old and we have been married since we were 21. We were married in 1971.

The time sure has flown by. That time 40 years ago seems so fresh and five minutes ago is not even a memory. Maybe life isn’t lived on a continuum by is lived in chunks.

Maybe it is just that I can’t adjust to losing a faculty that was once so dependable. When several of my faculties have been lost my living gets pretty disjointed.

Several things are hurtling at me as I write this. How to find an apartment we can afford, one level, two bedrooms (I have to one for my computer and writing Stuff!).

We may have to face losing our two Ragdoll cats and our Landseer Newfoundland. Losing Berkley will be heart-breaking for me more so than the cats. Berkey is rarely more than 5 feet from my side and is a Certified Companion.

Mango flame point ragdoll on his throne stairway banister Craig Martineau
Mango, The Headmaster, a flame point ragdoll on his throne stairway banister
Berkely, the Companion Craig Martineau
Berkely, the Companion a very faithful friend indeed
Lacey, The Queen on her Throne. Seal Point Ragdoll Craig Martineau
Lacey, The Queen on her Throne. Seal Point Ragdoll

That’s what brought this topic up. Was I so out of touch that I seriously misjudged the future? (I did but humor for a few minutes please).

Have the current economic times changed so drastically? (They have!)

Two years after we were discharged from the United States Army (I was drafted in 1971. Yes, I received my draft notice the day we were returned from our honeymoon!)

Income in the US is displayed in the information below.

Table of Average Income (abbrev.) 

1975 – $13,779

1980 – $21,063

2000 – $51,855

2010 – $67,392

2014 – $75,738

I don’t mind you asking. No, I was not making anywhere near the level of income listed here. I had the misfortune of changing careers three times since I was discharged from the Army.

It is hard to change jobs and maintain some semblance of the former income, at least in Northern Minnesota.

I am typing this after a long evening of looking at potential apartments. I asked my wife to join me tonight thinking that some good luck might rub off on me.

I have sent out emails on each of the last two nights and received only one reply. We live next to two college towns. What is going on that no landlord responds to my email?

I am just looking for tours!

So, in my funk, I started looking at some data and before long I was writing this article.

Let us set the tone of this conversation.

What do you have to earn to be considered Middle Class?

The American Middle Class has been DECIMATED!

Great question but it is different for every state and probably within select areas within a state.

Since I’m a Minnesota boy I will start there for a quick comparison.

In 2015 the Minnesota median household income was $60,792.

For the Minnesota middle class, the lower boundary was $40,468 and the upper boundary was $121,404. (Minnesota state income is the tenth highest in case you are dying to know).

For comparison, Mississippi‘s median household income was $37,963. The lower boundary of the middle class was $25,309 and the upper was $75,926.(Mississippi is the last state on the list.)

It is hard to speak in generalities. However, I am going for it.

In 2014 The New York Times (“The American Middle Class is no longer the world’s richest”) stated that using the 20th percentile for comparison, Americans in 2014 earned less than Norweigns, Canadians, Dutch, Germans, Swedes, and Finns (comparing those in each country’s respective 20th percentile).

For comparison, three decades earlier Americans earned more than anyone except Canadians.

Income Inequality is a Conversation Starter

Let us start with a smart man (and a very wealthy one – one of the three richest men in America. (People with a net worth of more than $1 million represent just 0.7% of the world’s population but they have 41% of the wealth)

In the United States three men Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and Jeff Bezos combined, hold more wealth than 50% of the population – 160 million US citizens.

The alarming detail is that 63 million, one-fifth of the population have zero or even negative net worth.

Is there some understanding of why I am in a funk? It isn’t just me.

I just read an article while eating a breakfast muffin at McDonald’s.

Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris had some nasty snafus last week. By the way, these two US Senators are projected to run for president in 2020.

In particular, Ms. Harris, while addressing a primarily black audience mentioned income inequality as a financial issue. Well, that didn’t play well to this audience. They address income inequality as only one slice of this ugly pie.

Let’s go international with this

Inequality is not just a financial issue, as Senator Harris quickly learned.

A United Nation’s official, Amina Mohammed notes:

Income inequality is a major problem because it also encompasses “poverty, environmental degradation, persistent unemployment, political instability, violence, and conflict.”

Graph Global Income Inequality rated by severity of problem PEW Research Center Spring 2014 Global Attitudes survey
Graph of Global Income Inequality rated by the severity of the problem

In the image above note that the date of the PEW Research Center graph is 2014.

This is not a new issue.

I think it is safe to say that the economic system that we have in the world today is not working for humanity.

“It will take 100 years for the world’s poorest to earn $1.25 a day. Global Development Professionals Network

Gold Bullion The Guardian April 7,2018. Photo: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
Gold Bullion The Guardian April 7,2018. Photo: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

            Richest 1% on target to own two-thirds of all wealth by 2030

   The Guardian’s Headline Saturday, April 7, 2018
FORGET THAT!

Do you think the world will stand still and let that play out? I don’t think so.

This idea that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer is not a silent issue anymore.

Nor is it acceptable!

It is also starting to really impact the United States.

The three richest men in America held a combined wealth of $248.5 BILLION in mid-September 2017.

As of April 8th, 2018, the “new estimated figure stands at $263 BILLION thanks largely to Jeff Bezos of Amazon.”

That is a STAGGERING 5.5% increase in LESS THAN ONE YEAR?!?!

(Of course, Jeff Bezos lost considerable wealth last week when Trump blamed Amazon, incorrectly, for stiffing the United State’s Post Office.)

Kill Capitalism Save the World
Kill Capitalism Save the World Photo: Lucas Jackson/Reuters The Guardian March 30, 2015

A Solution?

Is it going to be business as usual?

“Since 1980 the global economy has grown 380%!”

“But the number of people living in poverty (on less than $5 per day) has increased by more than 1.1 BILLION that’s 17 times the population of Britain.”

Please prove to me the trickle-down theory works!

I’m waiting.

There is a standardized unit that measures resource and waste. It is called a “global hectares.”

“Our planet only has enough resources for each of us to consume 1.8 global hectares” in any given year.

The average person in Ghana or Guatemala consumes approximately 1.8 “global hectares.”

By contrast, the people in the US and Canada consume about 8 hectares per person, while Europeans consume 4.7 hectares.”

Maybe that can be called gluttony -one of the seven deadly sins.

Poor countries? They are never going to catch up!

Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, the rich countries of the world got together and instead of bombing Syria, or even gassing its own citizens and decided to do something.

If something does change how can we measure if progress is being made? 

We should find some units that can be measured throughout the world. Let’s say ‘life expectancy”.

Life expectancy in the US is 78.4 years.

In Cuba, it is 79.1!

The Gross Domestic Product per capita of Cuba is $6,000. Each person consumes 1.9 global hectares.

To really rub salt in the insult:

A Sampling of Literacy Rates

Albania: 97.6

Uganda: 73.9

Ukraine: 99.8

Zambia: 63.4

Zimbabwe: 86.5

US: 85% at best (Wikipedia_

How do we look at this?

The richest country in the world consumes the most resources and is almost dead last in measurable levels of sustainability. That is the term I use to describe the way we function in our society.

Level of Sustainability: The actions that we take on the way to happiness and well-being. It is our way to be gluttons on the world stage.

It is not acceptable!

Have we earned the right to be such hoarders? Can we justify ourselves to the rest of the world when many countries measure up better than we do in things that make for a truly civilized society?

Maybe we should not look at other countries as deprived or third world or undeveloped.

Maybe we should look at other countries in the top tier of usage of global hectares as overdeveloped.

Maybe we should have to justify our existence, or at least our gluttonous ways to the rest of the world.

There is a great ray of light shining

Warren Buffett states emphatically that the rich should not just dine at their own table but share their riches with everyone.

Buffett along with Bill Gates co-founded “The Giving Pledge”

a commitment from 158 billionaires to give away at least half of their wealth. It seems Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Richard Branson have the same definition of success.

Others? Not so much

They cannot justify hoarding their wealth! What are they going to do with it anyway?

I realize it is a way of keeping score but once everybody knows your score what game is left to be played?

I have read posts on Facebook emphasizing that when people my age (68) were growing up new schools were built, the interstate highway system was built.

Also, there was not a teetering inverted pyramid of uber-wealthy at the top.

Now?

Now we cannot even maintain our highways and byways. Our bridges. Our everything!

Trump proposed $1 Trillion in spending on infrastructure. The budget that was presented to Congress proposed $200 Billion in infrastructure funds. But it also CUT $275 Billion in CURRENT spending levels!

According to Kevin DeGood, the director of infrastructure at the Center for American Progress the budget reductions to the Highway Trust Fund alone is a “fiscal two-by-four to the face.”

So, we’ve looked at INCOME INEQUALITY. This inequality exists not just in the United States. It is dysfunction that encompasses the whole globe.

So, we’ve surveyed INCOME INEQUALITY. It is not just an economic issue but a global issue of sustenance: health, education, housing, jobs. People need a sense of self-worth to survive in this world.

So, we’ve defined INCOME INEQUALITY as gluttony by a very few people around the world but especially in the United States.We use 8.7 global hectares of the world’s resources. Compare that to Ghana, Guatemala, Nicaragua just to name a few examples.

Can we really justify our gluttony when we can’t even compare to many countries using life expectancy and literacy as standards of civilization?

Which country is the undeveloped one?

Or do we have an underdeveloped ethos of what is proper and just?

How can we look down on other countries? How can we justify the gluttony-the third of the seven deadly sins!

The United States has outstripped and cast off our moral compass in our headlong rush to wealth. We have lost our capacity to keep our growth on an equitable path. We don’t enrich everyone so that ALL Americans can live with a degree of self-worth and prosperity.

The Moral Compass. Good Evil Wrong Right Google Images
The Moral Compass. Good Evil Wrong Right

Perhaps we do need to de-develop our sense of those ‘things’ we think we need so that we feel self-fulfilled. Then we won’t gobble up far more than our share of the world’s resources.

Perhaps I do deserve to feel a little out of sorts and funky because my income hasn’t kept pace with any standard of measure of the growth in US wealth.

Perhaps I don’t need to feel overwhelmed at the prospect for our future and its needs!

I am not alone!

Thanks for stopping by!

Craig Martineau

Black and white hydride tea rose with water droplets on it's petals. Svetlana Manic 282267 Unsplash!
Hybrid tea rose with glistening water droplets on its petals. Svetlana Manic 282267 Unsplash!

 

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