I can think of few books about a slice of American history that have more relevance to the vital debates of today than Sam Pizzigati’s “The Rich Don’t Always Win.” Sam’s book tells the story of how the United States, one of the world’s most unequal societies in the early 1900s, became by the middle of the 20th century one of the most equal nations on earth. He shows how average Americans, organized in the labor and other movements, mobilized and vanquished a plutocracy even more powerful than ours today.
This is an important and inspiring story. Imagine: This country, two-thirds poor over the first half of the last century, turned two-thirds middle class soon into the second half. Sam’s book tells us how and why this remarkable transformation took place.
What makes this transformation so relevant today? Well, starting with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, our federal government, fueled by a far-right “free market” fundamentalism, has pressed forward with tax and other policies that have left our contemporary United States the world’s most unequal major developed nation.
Movements like Occupy Wall Street have begun to help many of us understand why such extreme inequality corrodes our democracy and our economy, even limits how long we live. Early last month, right after New Year’s, this growing sentiment for more fairness and equality in our economy created enough momentum for Congress to pass the first tax increase on our top 1 percent in quite some time. The year ahead will see more major fights over tax fairness, and Sam’s book offers us a great guide to the fights we ought to be waging.
I first met Sam, a veteran labor journalist, decades ago when he ran publishing operations at America’s largest union, the National Education Association. Today, Sam is serving as an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., and he edits a remarkable online weekly newsletter on inequality and excess called Too Much. Sam also edits the best online portal into our great economic divide, Inequality.Org. You may have also seen Sam’s weekly columns in your local newspaper. His work is syndicated nationally through the Institute for Policy Studies OtherWords service.
In the 1960s, social movements took on racism and sexism and changed how an entire generation viewed our racial and gender inequality. We desperately need a new movement mighty enough to beat back our staggering economic inequality. With the assistance of books like Sam’s, that new movement can learn vital lessons from our not-so-distant past.
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