Sunday, December 5, 2010

Forget I said anything and go about your business.

When Forbes magazine first began [sic] compiling its lists of the 400 richest Americans back in 1982, just 13 of those people were billionaires. In 2010, every person on the list was worth at least a billion dollars, and the highest-ranked person, Bill Gates, was worth $54 billion. Forbes' 2010 list of the world's billionaires includes a whopping 1,011 entries. Of those, 75 people are tied for last place with a net worth of $1 billion.

First of all, the original article contained the phrase "first began," hence the sic ("Intentionally so written") which is not only redundant but inexcusable from someone who calls himself a professional writer. But I digress.

The point of putting that blurb at the top was to point out how quickly a million dollars has been devalued. It ain't what it used to be, which I can say because I'm not a professional writer.

Up until a short time ago, having saved a million dollars was not only something of an accomplishment, but a measure of your ability to survive without a job after you're 60 years old. After all, we're living longer than our parents, so you'd have to figure on at least 25 years of no income and rely on savings or some pension you may have stumbled into. By the way, mathematically speaking, a million dollars over 25 years is a measly $40,000 per year. Try factoring in inflation and see what $40,000 is going to be worth in 2035. The accounting term for it is: Ain't Much.

What the article did not mention was that in 1982 there were 32.4 million Americans living below the poverty level. In 2010 there were 43.6 million officially poor people in America. The old expression "the rich get richer" is indeed true. More of them and more of us. The gap widens. Combine that with almost 10% unemployment rate and the numbers are staggering.

I'm sure that if the billionaire list has increased, then the millionaire one must have as well. Sure, a million dollars isn't what it was, but there are still more millionaires, and obviously, the bottom end of the scale hasn't kept up with the top end. Otherwise, there would be fewer poor people too. I think the list of improved income stops at around $30,000. People in that income range suffer the most because their salaries don't increase as much as top management's.

There have always been growing numbers of poor people, and I wonder what happens when the gap widens between the poor and middle class to the point that those two groups don't have the same things to gripe about? Just as people earning $30,000 don't understand the struggles of millionaires, people making poverty-level wages will be separated from their slightly more successful friends. We're creating a stratification of people rather than bringing them together. I suppose some people would call me a Socialist for promoting such a radical idea, so go ahead.

It creates problems because people at the lower level want to live like the people in the level above them. It's natural. It's why we have such rampant debt. We all want iPhone's, a Lexus and a bigger house than we can afford. We get them by borrowing or purchasing them on credit, and we get deeper into the hole we'll never dig ourselves out of.

Where it really starts to manifest itself are issues like health care and retirement. Although, I suppose the two may work in concert sometimes. If you have no health care you won't live long enough to have to worry about retirement. But a sick citizenry is not a happy or productive one, either. One presumes that the worse our health care problems are, the more people that will be on some form of government-subsidized compensation program, and that puts an additional strain on the tax system.

And when jobless poor people reach retirement age, the pittance they have managed to stash away in Social Security will be their only sustenance, and it won't be nearly enough, since people who had a million dollars saved are already living on $40,000 a year - remember?

So, the more poor people we have, the worse off they'll be when they reach retirement age. They weren't able to find work when they were 40, so how will they find something when they're 65? They'll be living on $1,900 a month Social Security payments, and that won't go far in the future world of 2035. It isn't a pretty picture, if you sit and think about it - which I have.

I guess we're not supposed to think about it, because a depressed citizenry is bad too. We're supposed to live for now. Throw our trash all over the place, spend like we're going to the electric chair and eat, eat, eat. It's all stuff that I've heard called Bread and Circuses, which kind of means that if you entertain people enough, they'll forget how dire their circumstances are. That's why they put a string quartet on the deck of the Titanic.

So, don't think about it.

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