To Perfect Imperfect America (2)

The third great flaw in American society is our wealth disparity. According to the Economic Policy Institute, “Income inequality has risen in every state since the 1970s and in many states is up in the post-Great Recession era. In 24 states, the top 1 percent captured at least half of all income growth between 2009 and 2013, and in 15 of those states, the top 1 percent captured all income growth. In another 10 states, top 1 percent incomes grew in the double digits, while bottom 99 percent incomes fell. For the United States overall, the top 1 percent captured 85.1 percent of total income growth between 2009 and 2013. In 2013 the top 1 percent of families nationally made 25.3 times as much as the bottom 99 percent.”

We are, in other words, grossly unfair in our income distribution. The poor, especially racial minorities, suffer the most while the richest among us grow richer.

My sense is that the flaws in our culture spring in large part from the great reverence given to individualism in American culture. The emblematic and mythical heroes of our society are not those who worked with others for the good of all but those who strived alone and succeeded—Davy Crockett and Paul Bunyan, for example. We glorify not those who stand with others but those who stand alone.

Compare us with the other nation famous for its revolution, France. While we admire the feats of individuals in our struggle for freedom, the French point to the success that resulted from everybody working together. Their motto, Liberté, égalité, fraternité, says it all.

So we Americans, for all our greatness, have some work to do to improve our nation. We need to move away from glorifying rugged individualism toward exalting compassion for others. Along the way, we need to learn to love other races, move toward banishing firearms from our society, and redistributing our wealth.

My understanding of the effect of the covid-19 pandemic and its economic damage is that people, especially the young, have come to value charity towards others in a new way. If I am correct, we Americans will come out of pandemic better than we went in.

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