Since I don’t look at mainstream media (for the most part, although– digression alert– I sometimes cannot resist the temptation of things like the dog-emerges-from-tornado-wreckage footage on the AOL Homepage), I do not know if this week’s Occupy Wall Street protest at the Department of Justice is getting any air. I found it only after googling “whatever happened to the Occupy Movement?” That the protest at Justice is focused on home foreclosures is apropos of last Sunday’s front-page New York Times article (link below), on a luxury apartment tower being built in Manhattan.
“Luxury” is an understatement: “… the top penthouse is already under contract for $95 million,” the Times’ Charles Bagli reports; the total amount under contract, at this point in the development of the building at 432 Park Avenue, is $1 billion. For those with modest desires, the asking price for a 2-bedroom apartment (1789 sq.ft.) is $9.7 million. The people who can afford this housing are the worlds’ super-rich. Because they are super-rich, they generally own several properties; but because they are human, they can only inhabit one of those properties at a time. Consequently, the 84-story building will usually be 3/4 empty.
Those protesting this week at the Department of Justice over home foreclosures are angry because they feel like the Americans who are in the class of the rich and super-rich (who can afford multi-million dollar properties) got away with making the mistakes that led to people losing their homes. For them, “Too Big to Fail” has become “Too Rich to Jail.”
On the other hand is the defense of the rich and the super-rich: they worked for it, they earned it; and their risk-taking entrepreneurship is the rising tide that lifts all boats. Stifle that, and stifle all economic growth.
These are irreconcilable views. What is not debatable, is that the gap between the rich and the poor is increasing.
That widening gap leads to these twin questions: assuming that some gap between the rich and the poor is inevitable, at what point on the acceptability scale does the size of the gap become morally unacceptable? Politically unsustainable?
Here’s an answer: the size of the gap becomes morally unacceptable when a class of people in a society avoidably bear disproportionate pain in hard times. I think we have crossed that line.