There was something I was supposed to remember today—something really important, possibly related to fundamental threats to our American way of life. What was it? I swore I’d never forget. Oh yeah—a decade of skyrocketing income inequality. According to tax data, the top-earning US households captured a larger share of the nation’s income than ever before, breaking a record set in 1927. If I remember correctly, the years after 1927 saw a rising tide that lifted all boats. I’m being sarcastic, of course. There was a worldwide depression, but that situation was different, because back then most of the high-end income came from the financial and real estate economies. Wait—I’m still doing it.
The recall votes are in, and Scott Walker has easily remained governor of Wisconsin. Walker won by seven points over Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett, who is the same person he defeated in the election of 2010. Let it never be said that the Democratic Party is a political slug who believes its moral superiority entitles it to win elections simply by not being the other guy. Wait, I did that wrong—let it always be said that thing about the slug. There is a silver lining in the Wisconsin Democrats’ plan to do the same thing and get different results, though. Two elections between the same two guys two years apart give us a rare opportunity to isolate variables, and there happen to be two things different about Walker vs. Barrett 2010 and Walker vs. Barrett 2012: The Rewalkering. One, the Supreme Court declared limits on corporate political spending unconstitutional in Citizens United v. FEC. Two, the first Walker/Barrett tilt cost $18.9 million, whereas yesterday’s recall cost $63.5 million.
In our general dissatisfaction with the vagaries of American government—stuff like this, for example—we sometimes forget what a genuinely nonfunctioning state looks like. Fortunately, we made one seven years ago. Last week, the New York Times ran this fascinating story about the fate of approximately 8,000 laptops—purchased with $1.8 million of your tax money—donated to the children of Babil. In this case, “donated to,” means “denied to, because they sat in customs for weeks before disappearing.” Don’t worry, though; Iraq’s Commission On Integrity is on the case. “We are still investigating,” an official from the commission told the Times. “We cannot give anymore information now, but soon you will receive a lot of information about this issue.” He forgot to say “my friend,” but presumably that was because he was in a hurry.
Slate is midway through what is threatened to be a two-week series on income inequality in America, just in time for the controversial announcement that the President will not try to solve the economy by giving more money to rich people. Timothy Noah looks at several putative dangers to America’s middle class, including immigration, racism/sexism, and computers, none of which accounts for the growing gap between rich and poor in the United States. That gap is enormous. Currently, the wealthiest 1% of Americans take home 24% of the national income. Between 1980 and 2005, more than 80% of the nation’s considerable increase in earnings went to that 1%. To put that in perspective, back in 1915—the era of the Carnegies, Vanderbilts and Rockefellers, as well as a generation of non name-brand robber barons—the top 1% only got 18%. Economically, ours is a less equal America than that of our great grandparents.
Okay, I have abused your trust. Joe Biden did not say the n-word to Cub Scouts, and today’s Combat! blog is about taxes. In addition to being an unpopular topic for which no interesting visual images exist whatsoever, the federal income tax happens to be at the center of present political debate. It’s smack in the middle there on the micro level, as Congress will decide whether to extend the Bush tax cuts when it returns from its August recess. It’s also central on the macro level, since fear of deficits—whether founded or not, and I think it is—is the animating force behind the Tea Party* and pretty much all of contemporary conservative rhetoric.