It’s amazing what inequality can drive people to, eventually. Just look at Egypt.
“These big guys are stealing all the money,” one 24-year-old textile worker standing at his second job as a fruit peddler told a reporter this weekend. “People are desperate.”
“I wish we could be like the United States with a democracy, but we cannot,” said another.
And so they protest, regardless of police batons, curfews and shootings. With over a 150 estimated dead, a march of millions is scheduled for Tuesday.
In spite of what some on Fox News (and the Israel lobby’s camp) sought to argue this weekend—namely that the protests were all the work of Islamist radicals—every report from the ground contradicts that. As in Tunisia, the protesters are driven by fury at poverty, lack of options and the looting of their state by the super-powerful.
It’s an equation we understand—elsewhere: a massive gap between rich and poor is inconsistent with democracy. But before you get carried away with third world conditions there, try here. On Friday a guest blogger at Yves Smith’s Naked Capitalism blog noted a remarkable fact: the US actually has much greater inequality than Egypt—or Tunisia, or Yemen.
The Gini Coefficient is a number economists use to measure inequality, and the US is ranked as the forty-second most unequal nation—Egypt is ninetieth.
It’s not just numbers—we can see it every day. As Edwidge Danticat told us last week, “There are places in the US that are like Haiti, that are like Zimbabwe.”
While 22 million were searching for jobs in the US this week, Goldman Sachs tripled Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein’s base salary and awarded him $12.6 million of stock, a 42 percent increase from ’09. The billionaire Koch brothers threw a lavish secret party for their looter cronies, to talk about their election plans.
The average American may not be suffering the way the average Egyptian has been but as Danticat noted, there’s a tendency to exaggerate the suffering of what we think of as the “third world” while assuming that the US has it better.
As for that anti-democratic gap between rich and poor—not better, worse. And here too, our democracy is suffering. What are we going to do about it?
The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv and editor of At The Tea Party, out now from OR Books. GRITtv broadcasts weekdays on DISH Network and DIRECTv, on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter and be our friend on Facebook.