“In a closed society where everybody is guilty, the only crime is getting caught. In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity.” – Hunter S. Thompson
A new study found Americans are experiencing a sharp increase in housing costs that makes it sometimes impossible to afford basic necessities like food and transportation. A Pew Charitable Trusts analysis found that in 2013, low-income Americans spent a median of $6,897 on housing. That increased to $9,178 the next year in 2014 – the greatest jump in housing spending for the 19-year period that Pew studied.
Erin Currier, project director for Pew Charitable Trusts said, “Since the start of the housing crisis, home ownership rates declined in the middle and upper-income tiers. That really impacted the rental market . . . led to historical lows in the vacancy rate, and that increases the cost of rental housing dramatically.” Lower-income renters are spending almost half their income on rent, while upper-income groups spend around 15%. Guess who caused the housing crisis? Over-speculation of the housing industry by bankers led to the housing bubble and its eventual bursting.
Lower-income and middle-class Americans are also being squeezed by outstanding student loan debt. The Dept. of Education last year garnished over $175 million from the wages of students that saw their loans default. Students and their families have accrued nearly a trillion dollars in debt, with the average person owing over $25,000. Yet, our politicians have done very little to increase wages for those struggling with loan debts.
David Graeber is an anthropologist & author of Debt: The First 5,000 Years. Graeber coined the term “We are the 99%” during the first days of Occupy Wall Street in September of 2011. Graeber presented the idea at the event that we should simply ignore the politicians because they are now irrelevant and that, instead of following the typical rally protocol with boring speeches a list of demands, attendees should instead occupy a center of power like Wall Street utilizing direct action techniques. Techniques that Graeber’s colleagues conscripted into practice in Egypt and Tunisia during the Arab Spring. Horizontal activism, as opposed to vertical activism, encourages self-reliance by not opting-in to existing organizations but forming general assemblies among “working groups” of people.
A brilliant example of horizontal activism was Mohandas Gandhi’s Salt March. In colonial India, the Salt March was initiated by Gandhi after British officials placed a tax on salt production. Gandhi led a non-violent march down to the coast so people could make their own salt from saltwater as they’d done for centuries. Similar to what happened when NYPD cops cleared Zuccotti Park, the British deemed the native residents’ sea-salt reclamation activities illegal, and proceeded to repeatedly use force to squelch it.
Richard Dawkins, the ethologist and evolutionary biologist, coined the term meme in his book, The Selfish Gene. Dawkins used the term to refer to any cultural idea that an observer might conclude has the ability to replicate itself. Memes are similar to genes because they behave in the same way that biological cells and viruses self-replicate. David Graeber’s “We are the 99%” meme actually changed the political dialogue regarding economic disparity. Both Republicans and Democrats at that time had to admit that marked economic disparity and systemic violence were very real problems for many Americans. Graeber’s meme also pointed to a startling fact, the top tenth of 1% now own over 90% of the wealth in the country.
During the 2009-2012 recovery period in the U.S., the top 1% captured an estimated 95% of the income growth, with their pre-tax incomes growing 31.4% while the pre-tax incomes of the bottom 99% grew only 0.4% A mere 500 people now own the same amount of wealth that 150 million Americans possess.
The present U.S. economic model no longer inspires creativity, it discourages it. Over the course of its history, the country became known among the world for its innovations and life-changing inventions. Scores of people that would be authoring the next scientific breakthrough or writing the newest masterpiece are forced to work 2 or 3 jobs just to make ends meet. But also, the present environment of fierce competition often discourages innovation because most creators are not given funding until they’re already proved they have a workable product. It should be the other way around, creators need funding most crucially at the early stage of development. If Americans stop innovating, the rest of the world will simply pick up the slack. The Pandora’s box of modernity has already been opened.