Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Broken Contract

Gregory Peck went undercover playing the part of a Jew in Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) to understand prejudice. But racism may no longer be the most profound inequity faced by Americans. As George Packer points out in "The Broken Contract: Inequality and American Decline” (Foreign Affairs, November-December 2011), “Between 1979 and 2006, middle-class Americans saw their annual incomes after taxes increase by 21 percent (adjusted for inflation).  The poorest Americans saw their incomes rise by only ll per cent. The top one percent, meanwhile, saw their incomes increase by 256 percent.” In the Preston Sturges classic Sullivan’s Travels Joel McCrea plays a Hollywood director who dresses up like a hobo to learn how the poor live. But who to cast as a poor person attempting to penetrate the precincts of the ultra rich? We are familiar with the face of Bill Gates. The face of the recently deceased Steve Jobs is ubiquitous (around the world) due to Walter Isaacson’s bestselling biography and we all remember the kindly Oracle of Omaha who once commented about derivatives “it’s not just whom you are sleeping with, but also whom they are sleeping with.” And then there are Trump, Icahn, Blankfein, Paulson, Schwarzman and Flowers. If it’s hard to imagine someone coming from nothing in the current landscape of exponentially increasing wealth, it’s even harder to bring a onetime portrayer of superheroes out of retirement to fill the part. OK Michael Fassbender, the heart throb du jour, exudes a protean mixture of grit and elegance. Packer goes on to say, “Inequality creates a lopsided economy, which leaves the rich with so much money that they can binge on speculation, and leaves the middle class without enough money to buy the things they think they deserve, which leads them to borrow and go into debt.”

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