Because they don’t have enough money quite yet (excerpted from from The Great Divergence by Timothy Noah at Slate):

All my life I’ve heard Latin America described as a failed society (or collection of failed societies) because of its grotesque maldistribution of wealth. Peasants in rags beg for food outside the high walls of opulent villas, and so on. But according to the Central Intelligence Agency (whose patriotism I hesitate to question), income distribution in the United States is more unequal than in Guyana, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, and roughly on par with Uruguay, Argentina, and Ecuador. Income inequality is actually declining in Latin America even as it continues to increase in the United States. Economically speaking, the richest nation on earth is starting to resemble a banana republic.

That’s right, we have greater income inequality in the United States of America than in the third world country of Guyana. I’ll bet many people in the US don’t even know where to find Guyana on a map, or even that it exists. Well, here’s the CIA World Factbook entry on Guyana for those who wish to become more informed.

When I was younger, I used to read about the extreme right wing politicians and dictators we supported in Central and South America because we needed to be a bulwark against Communism. In extreme cases we helped fund and train “death squads” in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala and “freedom fighters” (the so-called “Contras”) in Nicaragua, many of which committed massacres and atrocities against poor civilians. The most infamous incident (though some may quibble) may have been the assassination of El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Romero:

The archbishop, who started out as a conservative, had become the voice of the poor and disenfranchised, documenting killings and disappearances at the hands of the army and mysterious right-wing death squads during his weekly sermons. Just before his murder, Romero had broadcast an appeal to ordinary soldiers to stop the killing, counseling them that they were not “obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God.”

After the broadcast, Salvadoran rightist leader, former Major Roberto D’Aubuisson, gave the order to members of his security service to assassinate the Archbishop, according to the findings of the United Nations Truth Commission report.

Suffice it to say, those right wing groups included and had the support of some of the wealthiest individuals in those countries. They were a law unto themselves, acting more like feudal overlords than citizens of a “Republic.” Now I fear that our own nation is headed down the same path that led to so much misery and death in Latin America during my lifetime.

In many ways, America had its own period of Death Squads during the Gilded Age, except ours operated under the legal sanction of the Courts and were paid handsomely by large corporations to break strikes. They were known as the “Pinkertons” a private detective agency that from a historical standpoint could be considered the Blackwater of its time. Even politicians at the time noted the Pinkerton’s propensity for violence against workers:<p

On June 26, 1893, Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld signed pardons for Fielden, Neebe, and Schwab after having concluded all eight defendants were innocent [of causing the deaths of police at the infamous Haymarket riot]. The governor said the reason for the bombing was the city of Chicago’s failure to hold Pinkerton guards responsible for shooting workers.[

The Gilded Age was an era where income inequality between the rich and the poor was perhaps at its highest in our history. There was no safety net: no medicare, no social security, no unemployment benefits. Men, women and children worked in appalling conditions and whenever they opposed corporate domination of their lives, the state and federal government were often more than willing to lend a hand to attack the workers and destroy the fledgling union movement (see for example, the Homestead Strike, The Pullman Strike and the Ludlow Massacre).

Yet today we see in the Republican party a movement to return to the policies of the 19th Century when financial panics and depressions were common occurrences, where unemployment was often in double digits and where worker protections and concerns for worker and consumer safety were non-existent. It is not a recent movement, but its proponents have been more open about their goals then at anytime in the last fifty years.

Recently I had a conversation with someone who was thrilled that Hurricane Earl did so little damage so there was no need for another “government bailout” of anyone who might have been harmed. I found the use of that term in that context both disturbing and enlightening. For the Tea Party true believers any government action to aid or protect individuals in crisis, whether from natural or man-made disasters such as Hurricanes and flooding or Oil spills, to economic benefits in a time of rising unemployment is a “bailout.”

The anger and bitterness with which that term was used was also telling, considering it comes at a time when the wealthiest Americans and corporations pay the lowest percentage of taxes on their income than any other group of taxpayers:

Billionaire hedge fund managers pay taxes at lower rates than their receptionists. Corporations get tax breaks for moving jobs overseas. Oil companies with the largest profits in corporate history receive annual tax breaks worth $14 billion, roughly twice the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency.

While rich people reap tax breaks, working people struggle just to keep even. Adjusted for inflation, weekly wages were lower in 2007 than they were in 1979. […]

This graph from the Congressional Budget Office highlights the decline in effective tax rates for the wealthy since 1980:

Yet for all the benefits the richest Americans, individuals and corporations alike have amassed, little if any of those benefits have made their way into the coffer of the poor and middle class. Quite the contrary, as real wages (adjusted for inflation) for middle class Americans have actually declined since 19080, with the steepest declines occurring after the Bush tax cuts took effect.

If these trend lines continue, if the most extreme radical Republican candidates are elected to national political office, nothing good can come of their desire to eliminate the role of government in our economic lives. We will indeed become a banana republic in which a new aristocracy will control the levers of government, a dwindling middle class will scramble for the scraps and the rest of Americans will find themselves in the same position as their for-bearers in the 19th Century — powerless, and subject to the use of legally sanctioned violence against them whenever multinational corporations and our richest citizens feel their property rights are endangered by the “political unrest” of the great unwashed masses.

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