Thursday, January 1, 2009

Out of Whack

The New York Yankees, a baseball team, have over the past two and half months spent $423.5 million dollars for three ballplayers: a switch-hitting first baseman, and two pitchers. It's an obscene amount of money, a sinful amount of money, a scandalous amount of money especially when hundreds of millions of "normal" people are facing hard times ahead in this brand new year, on top of seeing their savings and retirement plans crater. Nothing so illustrates the distorted sense of priorities in this country than how much it pays athletes, actors, singers, TV stars, and other entertainers. The first baseman, Mark Teixeira, who is being paid all this money is a good ballplayer, a productive hitter, and sterling fielder. But he isn't a Hall of Famer. He's being paid $22.5 million a year.* I simply cannot agree with those who argue that such ridiculous sums for ball players--ball players, for God's sake!!--are simply capitalism in action.

If this is capitalism, then something's out of whack. A recent article in The Guardian reports that the income gap between rich and poor in a number of American cities such as New York, Atlanta, New Orleans, Washington, and Miami has now reached Third World proportions. We're talking gaps as bad as they are in Nairobi and the Ivory Coast. According to a report of the International Labor Organization, the gap between the top 10 percent and the bottom 10 percent in the US is worst of all the developed countries. (Full report is here.) The chasm has not been this large for 25 years.

At the end of 2005, the top 1 percent (over $364,657 earnings) in the US earned 21.2 percent of all income, according to the latest figures I could find. The top half of the population earned over 87 percent of the income. If this is capitalism in action, something is out of whack. At the end of 2004, the with four more years of the Bush tax cut for the filthy rich still to run, the top 20 percent of the population earned half the income. Guess how poorly the bottom 20 percent compared? 3.5 percent. These kinds of numbers are just criminal, yet nobody much seems to care. I'm just guessing, but when they're done calculating how things stand at the end of the year we just completed, the figures will show even more disparity.

I'm continually amazed by the quiescence of the American people in the face of such revelations. And with the widely reported fact that a huge portion of the tax burden has been shifted from the bloated rich to the strapped middle class. I don't even hear much outcry at the brazen presumption of the bank executives and Wall Street fat cats continuing to pay themselves bonuses from bailout money we taxpayers gave them. When is somebody going to get pissed off at this? When are these sleazeballs going to be prosecuted?

Happy New Year! I do hope that it will indeed be that way for you, despite indicators that the coming year promise a rough time for us in the US, and not much more promising for others across the world.

*If Teixeira puts up the same numbers next year as he did in 2008, this works out to about $39,200 per at bat, $127,119 per hit, or $750,000 per home run.
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