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Income Inequality and the Death of Culture in New York City

Posted on Oct 3, 2011
Sunny Ripert (CC-BY-SA)

Truthdig contributor Christopher Ketcham was born in New York and he has watched it turn into America’s “most unequal city,” what he calls “a banana republic without the death squads.” And that’s not just his opinion—facts and figures trace the cultural decline of America’s original metropolis.

Christopher Ketcham in Orion Magazine:

New York, the [Fiscal Policy Institute] informs us, is now at the forefront of the maldistribution of wealth into the hands of the few that has been ongoing in America since 1980, which marked the beginning of a new Gilded Age. Out of the twenty-five largest cities, it is the most unequal city in the United States for income distribution. If it were a nation, it would come in as the fifteenth worst among 134 countries ranked by extremes of wealth and poverty—a banana republic without the death squads. It is the showcase for the top 1 percent of households, which in New York have an average annual income of $3.7 million. These top wealth recipients—let’s call them the One Percenters—took for themselves close to 44 percent of all income in New York during 2007 (the last year for which data is available). That’s a high bar for wealth concentration; it’s almost twice the record-high levels among the top 1 percent nationwide, who claimed 23.5 percent of all national income in 2007, a number not seen since the eve of the Great Depression. During the vaunted 2002–07 economic expansion—the housing-boom bubble that ended in our current calamity, this Great Recession—average income for the One Percenters in New York went up 119 percent. Meanwhile, the number of homeless in the city rose to an all-time high last year—higher even than during the Great Depression—with a record 113,000 men, women, and children, many of them comprising whole families, retreating night after night to municipal shelters.

But here’s the most astonishing fact: the One Percenters consist of just 34,000 households, about 90,000 people. Relative to the great mass of New Yorkers—9 million of us—they’re nobody. We could snow them under in a New York minute.

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Leefeller's avatar

By Leefeller, October 5, 2011 at 7:56 am Link to this comment

Remember as a kid playing the board game ‘MONOPOLY’. Kind of a cut throat game of opportunity and the roll of the dice. One you owned Boardwalk it was over. But what I really remember most, is some people played the game fearsomely as if their life depended on it, like it was real. I suspect for the top 1 percent this is their reality?

On the other hand, while people like myself never really gave a crap about besting and oneupsmanship of others and never really enjoyed playing board games. (though on occasion as the reluctant banker I learned how to make change and count money).

  Maybe I am just one of those slackers who enjoys life best I can, because for some reason I suspect life is short and I will never get to take any of it with me.

Guess, what I am suggesting, is MONOPOLY may not be just a board game!

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By Anarcissie, October 4, 2011 at 8:19 pm Link to this comment

The reason for wealth disparity is that you have an undisturbed capitalist system in the world.  In capitalism, since money makes money, the rich get comparatively richer and the poor get comparatively poorer.  This eventually begins to have political and social consequences, which is one of the ways such systems are disturbed, leading not only to ‘creative destruction’ but what we might call ‘creative redistribution’.  For instance, the rise of fascism and Bolshevism (caused by capitalist failures in the late 19th and early 20th century) forced the capitalist states to look to their defense, which meant, among other things, buying off their working classes.  When these enemies had been defeated, the buy-offs were (and are still being) gradually rescinded.  This process will continue until the next perturbation, or when people move on from capitalism to something more rational.

I am not sure any of this has a lot to do with the changes which are taking place in New York.  For instance, one change is that the Chinese are spending a billion dollars a year in the city on, you guess it, real estate.  Now, that’s only about $125 per resident, but it probably helps keep real estate prices up, which consequently drives, not the one percenters, but maybe the 10 percenters into formerly poor-but-arty neighborhoods like the Lower East Side and Williamsburg.  So how do you interpret that?

My theory is that the Chinese are planning to make New York City the capital of the North American East Barbarian Province.

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By JDmysticDJ, October 4, 2011 at 11:36 am Link to this comment

A more equitable distribution of the world’s wealth from the have nations to the have not nations is the goal of the great minds behind global free markets. The problem is that these great minds are not at willing to have their personal wealth distributed to those who have naught.

The most shocking, but not the only shocking statistic is that just 400 Americans possess more combined wealth than the combined wealth of the bottom 150 million Americans. The most shocking reality is that many Americans approve of the current economic status quo.

What we’re witnessing is the result of a capitalist adaptation which has created a tiered neo-feudalism. Multi-Nationals function as the feudal Lords and their financiers, stock holders, and elite managers are the new royalty.

The “Middle Class” will be content with their reality as long as they have food, shelter, transportation, a modicum of disposable income, aspirations of upward mobility, and an economic status higher than those below them. In the final analysis the “Middle Class” are complicit with their corporate masters in impoverishing and exploiting the poor.

World wide the supply of labor far exceeds the demand for labor. Satisfying the wants of consumers and the demands of global distributors requires that goods be manufactured and produced as inexpensively as possible, which results in a competition to create long hours, low wages, and poor working conditions for those who labor to supply the wants of consumers and the demands distributors.

The workers of the world are united, united in being cruelly exploited and impoverished. Enough is never enough, and their will never be enough exploitation to satisfy the demands of capitalists.

cap•i•tal•ist [ káppit’list ]
1. investor: an investor of money in business for profit

2. believer in capitalism: a supporter of capitalism, or a participant in a capitalist economy

3. somebody rich: somebody who is wealthy, especially somebody made rich by capitalism and considered to be greedy

It’s time to begin dismantling capitalism and to move towards a new more equitable and humane paradigm. It is well argued that exploitation is only one of the depredations that are the result of capitalism.

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By faultroy, October 4, 2011 at 11:30 am Link to this comment

This issue of wealth disparity is being talked about a great deal. One of the reasons for this disparity is that so much of our economy is based on the Financial Sector. And while it is now politically acceptable to demonize the wealthy, it is also important to realize that this is exactly why so many people work so hard—they seek wealth.
  The Tea Party, in its efforts to reduce the tax burden, has brought cries from both the right and the left to simplify the tax code—which heavily favors the rich.
  The Congressional investigations on who got what via the Stimulus, is another indirect attempt to veer towards this kind of a discussion since it seeks to find out whether there was favoritism and inside deals.
  The current protests at the Banks, is another way in which we deal with these issues.
  So while many are not talking directly about this issue, they are doing something much more proactive—they are attempting to change the political landscape to stop this rampant cronyism which allows the rich to actually game the system.

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By Anarcissie, October 4, 2011 at 11:21 am Link to this comment

The problem with complaining about income inequality in New York City is that New York City has always had extreme income inequality; people were complaining about it in the 18th century.  It has also, according to some people anyway, been a cultural powerhouse.  So that is one thing the author needs to explain.  He also needs to show that inequality is increasing and culture is declining.  That may be so, but basement-dwelling Anthony (now used twice—hope he’s getting paid) proves nothing about either.  God knows what Ketcham means by ‘culture’, of course.  The Metropolitan Opera?  Graffiti writers?  Avant-garde performance artists in Bushwick lofts?  Hip-hop in the Bronx?  Queens, with 150 different ethnic groups?

I believe the reasons artists have congregated in New York City probably has a lot to do with there being a lot of people around with more money than they knew what to do with; but also, it was an easy place for poor people to live, so you could start your artist’s bohemian existence in the Lower East Side on a few dollars a day.  Not any more, of course; so a decline of culture may be happening.  If Ketcham would stop flogging poor Anthony about, maybe he could look around and find out.

I would also like to know about places with more income equality, lower rents, and higher or wider culture.  Berlin?  Buenos Aires?  Let us know and we can all go there.

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By mrfreeze, October 4, 2011 at 9:15 am Link to this comment

Anarcissie - I noticed you made exactly the same comment in the article’s thread. I think that if you actually need an answer to the question of “what’s income inequality,” then you may fall into that category of sociopathic financiers spoken-of in the article (I don’t think you are, but, please…..). One of the other commentators in the thread linked to a great article having to do with the top 1/2 of the top 1%.......Essentially, that group of people have HUGE wealth because they have gamed a system that encourages income inequality in all its myriad forms.

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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, October 4, 2011 at 5:29 am Link to this comment

In order to make his point, the author would have to define ‘income inequality’ and ‘culture’ more than anecdotally, and show from facts, not tales about ‘Anthony’, that the former had increased and the latter had declined in New York, but that something different had happened somewhere else.  Maybe all that the author says is true, but he hasn’t shown us anything; all we have is the good old New York City game of complaining that the city has gone to the dogs, which I’ve heard people playing since I was a child.

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By gstoddard, October 3, 2011 at 9:08 pm Link to this comment

The silence of the Fox and talk radio media about this growing income and
wealth disparity is understandable because they have no interest in presenting
reality to the public. The relative silence of the supposedly “liberal” main stream
media can only be understood if one accepts that they are also invested in
supporting the big money folks. It’s all about money; egalitarian values be

I was really taken by the response of Jake Tapper to the program being
advocated by Howard Schultz of Starbucks. He is arguing for businesses
stopping donations to the political parties until Washington breaks its gridlock
and starts responding to the economic crisis that is developing in this nation.

Jake Tapper responded indignantly asserted that the Schultz idea was
“infantile.” I wonder if Tapper is concerned that if fewer dollars are devoted to
the current dysfunctional political system, the media revenues will drop.

The pundits and TV commentators are making millions by keeping the public
focused conflicts that distract most from the real issues that are being ignored.
They will be the greatest beneficiary of the billions to be spent in the 2012
election cycle.

It’s time to stop feeding the media beast.

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By Morpheus, October 3, 2011 at 8:13 pm Link to this comment

Nothings going to change until we stand up!

Read “Common Sense 3.1” at ( )

We don’t have to live like this…

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By Alan MacDonald, October 3, 2011 at 7:33 pm Link to this comment

Redefining Sovereign Wealth:

The global corporate/financial/militarist Empire which controls our former country by hiding behind the facade of its Two-Party “Vichy” sham of democracy has changed the definition of ‘sovereign wealth’—- and also shifted the very nature of what sovereign power itself means.

The almost unimaginable extent of money inequality was recently re-burned into my brain by this article and shocking data in WSWS:

“The most recent wealth report issued by Merrill Lynch and Capgemini concluded that the combined wealth of the nearly 11 million “high net worth” individuals increased by 17 percent in 2009 and 9.7 percent in 2010, reaching a total of $42.7 trillion. This sum is far higher than the combined state deficits of all the countries in Europe and North America whose people are being impoverished as a result of austerity programs.”


This vast, vast, unimaginable inequality of wealth of those in the global Empire, regardless of their nominal ‘home country’, suggests that the very definition of the term ‘Sovereign Wealth’ needs to be changed from that of a country’s wealth to that of the global Empire citizens who happen to have one or more mansions in said country!

I suppose I may be a bit naive in not having already come to this conclusion about what “Sovereign Wealth” really means—- because the extracted and accumulated private wealth of members of the global Empire that channels all the wealth up, would naturally be greater than the puny ‘Commonwealth’ of any so-called nation-state.

And the scale of this greed, excess, and arrogance of the global elite should really be no different in their ‘empire-thinking’ minds, than their inconsequential thoughts about which former nation-state most of their mansions are located in, or about which former country their corporate jet has most recently landed in.

So, the term ‘public debt’ is certainly correct in meaning the massive total public debt which has been dumped on the citizens of any of these passe and post-nation-state countries, which many of we naive and patriotic citizens still have our only house or cheap apartment and family in.

But for the ruling elite of this hidden global corporate/financial/militarist Empire, which has quietly taken control over most of what we used to call, and pledge allegiance to as ‘countries’, the term “Sovereign Wealth” has a more precise ring when we realize that the private empire is where all the wealth really is—- and that it also accurately reflects where the real “Sovereignty” (ie. power) resides today.

Let’s commit ourselves for our own sakes and for our children’s that we can confront, rebel, revolt, and successfully reverse this intolerable and unsustainable tragedy.

Best luck,
Alan MacDonald

Liberty & democracy

New America People’s party 2012—- our last chance “Against Empire” [Michael Parenti]

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Robespierre115's avatar

By Robespierre115, October 3, 2011 at 6:23 pm Link to this comment

It’s not just New York. California is a total Banana Republic. The fatcats want to buy off everything, even the Public Library is now being considered for privatization. The authorities basically carry out legal extortion rackets on the population, why Americans keep migrating here seeking riches baffles me.

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