Two stories out today in Salon point to the growing disparity between average Americans and the Masters of the Universe (aka leaders of investment banking, as coined by Tom Wolfe in Bonfire of the Vanities). In good news for those masters, we learn that banks are soon to become the most valuable industry on Wall Street again, repeating a feat they accomplished in 2008 (Link). Of course this is arguably bad news for the rest of us, as we saw what happened the last time they held that mantle. In a second story (Link), we learn that 80 percent of adults in the U.S. face near-poverty and/or joblessness. Yes, that’s 4 in 5. We are not there yet, of course, and I’m not sure I buy that percentage really (it seems excessively high), but the numbers are still staggering: 46.2 million living in poverty (15 percent of Americans), poverty rates for blacks and Latinos three times higher (that’s almost 50% to the mathematically-challenged), more than 19 million whites falling below the poverty level of $23k for a family of four, 25 percent of recent college grads underemployed and another 25 percent unemployed and a still historically high unemployment level. On top of all this, pessimism about economic opportunity has reached its highest point since the halcyon days of 1987.
The obvious moral of this tale is work for Wall Street at all costs. If it’s too late to make that mid-career change from McDonald’s Assistant Manager of Garbage Disposal to Hedge Fund Manager, I highly recommend sending your children to an Ivy League school majoring in Finance. That way they can fund your retirement, particularly as Social Security may be gone or so gutted as to be useless by then. On the other hand, the 99 percent of the world’s population who suffer from big bank excess – including exorbitant fees and interest rates, poor risk management and dramatic state and global political power – could simply rebel against the de facto leaders of the “free” and “unfree” worlds. It does seem Americans could learn something from the Egyptians, among whom a small, newly-created grassroots organization of young, dedicated social reformists overthrew an inept government within a few months.