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Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Germany

America: 'Land of Inequality'


"U.S. society hasn‘t been fair for some time: Those who have nothing don’t stand a chance. … Among industrialized nations, the U.S. has one of the most unfair systems of taxation, a system that shamelessly favors the rich."


By Reymer Kluever


Translated By Stephanie Martin


January 26, 2012


Germany - Sueddeutsche Zeitung - Original Article (German)

President Barack Obama: Has he found a way to capture that old 2008 magic?

C-SPAN VIDEO: President Obama delivers the 2012 State of the Union address, Jan. 24, 01:05:51RealVideo

The Barack Obama of the 2012 presidential election is different from the one four years ago: The conciliator is no longer in demand. Instead, what is needed is a class warrior who stands up for social justice. This may be un-American, but it is nonetheless necessary. For in the face of a tax system that is unfair in the extreme and shamelessly favors the rich, many U.S. citizens have experienced a profound loss of confidence: namely in the belief that everyone has the chance to make his or her own luck.


Four years ago Barack Obama took office as a conciliator. The Americans had voted for him in the hope that he would narrow the conspicuous gulf that had opened up in the early years of the new millennium: The deep animosity between the country’s two political camps and the huge chasm between the profiteers of the boom years and the rest of society, in which more and more people are threatened with social decline. Since then everything has changed.


The hope that surged for Obama is long gone. Therefore this time around, a different Obama will stand for election. This was abundantly communicated during his State of the Union address to Congress. In 2012, it is Obama the class warrior who will stand for election.


He’s lobbying for a more equitable distribution of wealth in the U.S. - something that to European ears sounds like a given, but that is (no longer) taken for granted in the U.S. “If you make more than $1 million a year, you should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes.”


For more than a decade this has no longer been the case in the United States: Those who earn the most are expected to pay a smaller percentage of their income than the average earner. In America this is also considered unfair, as evidenced by all the polls. Obama is focusing his campaign on two simple questions: How fair should American society be? And what must be done to minimize inequality?


The Issue of Fairness


The question of fairness has long been fermenting in American society. The protests of the Occupy Wall Street movement have just brought the issue to the fore of public attention. For years now, the lines outside soup kitchens in American cities have been growing, houses in the suburbs have been standing vacant because their former owners could no longer pay the interest on their loans, and hundreds, sometimes thousands, have been waiting in front of school gyms because inside, an army of medical volunteers is offering care. At the same time the income of society’s top one percent has skyrocketed by 275 percent. U.S. society hasn‘t been fair for some time: Those who have nothing don’t stand a chance.


Even protests by the Tea Party had a lot to do with the frustration over what is perceived as a lack of fairness: That the state gives people money to help them out of a difficult situation, be they welfare recipients or Wall Street CEOs by way of a bailout, while no one supports the average earner. These questions touch on the very foundations of the country, because Americans have always been guided by a deep-seated optimism and the belief that in their country, everyone has a chance to make their own luck. Confidence in this central belief has been shaken. 


This also explains why there is a strange longing for supposedly simpler times. The Republican candidates make use of this nostalgic reflex when they suggest the (completely illusory) possibility of returning to the gold standard. But in his speech, Obama also celebrated the post war period - a period during which Americans created “the strongest economy and middle class the world has ever known.” 


And that is not simply an idealized view. In the decades after the Second World War, the distribution of rises in production in the U.S. economy and gains in income were fairly evenly distributed. That didn’t begin to change until the late seventies. Since then, income disparity in the U.S. has grown - and that growth was particularly rapid in the nineties.


Americans Want to See Action


This desire for action can also be seen in Europe, and especially Germany. But nowhere have the societal disparities become as great as in America. There are many reasons for this, including a lack of investment in public education. The result has been the creation of an army of unskilled workers suited only for low-income jobs. But another factor may be key: Among industrialized nations, the U.S. has one of the most unfair systems of taxation, a system that shamelessly favors the rich.  



In America, those who live off of investment earnings only have to pay a 15 percent tax. Even in America, where social envy is not much of an issue, this is considered disproportionate. Otherwise, multimillionaire Mitt Romney, who is hoping to replace Obama, would not have been so reluctant to release his tax returns (which is the usual practice in the U.S.).


And yet, it is by no means certain that Obama’s new message will catch on. Americans want action. They are asking themselves what their president has achieved after more than three years in office. And they primarily see record levels of unemployment and a sluggish economic recovery. They wonder why Obama didn’t do more to combat social inequality and why he’s only now discovering his class warrior within. The president still has to answer these questions. His second chance depends upon it.



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[Posted by WORLDMEETS.US Jan. 30, 2:39pm]


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