Mark Blyth (6): Going to school on “Occupy Wall St.”

Click to listen to Chris’ conversation with Mark Blyth (20 minutes, 8 mb mp3)

I arrived in the States twenty years ago, to the month. When I look at the wealth and income distribution in the United States today, I’m looking at Mexico in the 1970s and Brazil in the 1960s. This is not America. This is not a land of opportunity. You can’t talk about opportunity when 60 percent of the population can’t afford to go to college, where the costs of basically a middle-class education far outstrip the resources of the average family; when you have 54-million people living, in a family of four, on less than $22,314 a year; and meanwhile, the top one percent have trebled their share of income…

Mark Blyth with Chris Lydon at the Watson Institute

Mark Blyth, political economist and ever the argumentative Scot, has gone humble before the Wall Street protest. He and we should be learning from the crowd in Zuccotti Park — and in Boston’s Dewey Square — just what people have discovered from their own experience, their own anxiety.

There’s a crisis of income growth in this country that’s papered over by credit. That’s why there’s $56-billion in student loan debt. That’s why there’s $14-trillion in mortgage debt. That’s why there’s more than $1-trillion in home equity lines of credit outstanding. Because people have been borrowing against an uncertain future to finance an ever more expensive present. At the same time income has stagnated. Let’s be clear. When you adjust wages for prices, when you look at the real wage, it’s stagnant for 40 percent of the population; and for the next 20 percent of the population it’s barely edged up over 25 years. Meanwhile the top one percent has increased its share from the late 1970s, from 9 percent of national income to 24 percent just now. You can’t say these things are not causally related… Economically, inequality is a bad thing. You don’t even need to make a moral argument. You don’t have to mention the word justice once. More equal societies grow faster. They’re better…”

It turns out that Americans have more reverence for “fairness” than for equality. We’re not Sweden, and perhaps just as well, Mark Blyth allows. “But we get out of shape when we realize that the risks are being socialized and the profits are being privatized. And that’s what’s happening on Wall Street… “

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