A while back I watched a video of David Simon from the Festival of Dangerous Ideas. (How cool is it that such a thing exists?) David Simon is the creator of The Wire. He also created Treme. He makes it his business to study urban and economic development in order to write compelling dramas about them. So when he talks about income inequality and where he thinks it’s headed, I listen. He got to a point in the hour long talk where he’s thinking about where things are going and he says this:
“We’re either going to do that in some practical way when things get bad enough or we’re going to keep going the way we’re going, at which point there’s going to be enough people standing on the outside of this mess that somebody’s going to pick up a brick, because you know when people get to the end there’s always the brick. I hope we go for the first option but I’m losing faith.”
This week I found an open letter by billionaire Nick Hanauer called “The Pitchforks Are Coming…For Us Plutocrats”. It’s a scathing letter explaining in detail why the middle class must be rebuilt by paying workers more money. In words that eerily echo David Simon’s he says:
“If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counterexamples. None. It’s not if, it’s when.”
These are smart men who know what they’re talking about and I don’t see a lot of compelling arguments going that refute their claims. More to the point, if you’re looking for it, I can see evidence of this war happening already.
Anyone who is paying attention can see that we have an increasingly militarized police force. Recently a Massachusetts SWAT team when asked for records of their activities claimed to be a corporation or a private mercenary force. This isn’t a promising sign when you have SWAT teams in other parts of the country injuring 2-year-olds.
When people aren’t getting injured or killed by the police, they’re getting arrested and imprisoned. In America we have 5% of the population and yet we have 25% of the world’s prisoners. We are incarcerating humans at a rate never before seen in human history. We are then taking those prisoners and forcing them to work for little to no pay often to increase the profits of private companies running state prisons. This is the legal slave trade of America. And you’ll find no millionaires among their ranks. Most prisoners aren’t white. Most of them are poor. All of them will have a difficult time finding a job if and when they are released increasing the likelihood that they will resort to crime resulting in more prison time.
Of course this isn’t the only problem. These days we have an increasingly large group of people who feel it is necessary to arm themselves with guns. Many of these people are anti-government. Many are poor. And thanks to gun laws so lax that even Mexican gangsters come to our country to get guns because it’s easier many of them are exactly the sort of people who shouldn’t have guns. Despite an annual death count that is nearly equal with car accidents, instead of increasing gun control laws, we have made guns even easier to get and easier to fire legally.
The combination of open carry laws and stand your ground laws make it possible for two people to openly carry guns, feel fearful of the other one and shoot each other without any law being broken. This isn’t the Wild West. It’s worse.
So we have unparalleled income inequality. We have unparalleled militarized police. We have unparalleled imprisonment. We have unparalleled private citizen armament. What we have is a class war being waged and it’s only just beginning.
If I were a billionaire, I’d probably do everything to erase my public existence, buy a fortified yacht, and hide out in the South Pacific until it’s all over.
Unfortunately, I’m a few billion dollars short of being a billionaire. Like most of you I’m living paycheck to paycheck at a pay rate closer to minimum wage than it is to the average CEO’s. I think it’s safe to say that the war is here and it’s going to get A LOT worse before it gets better. I’m talking Mad Fucking Max worse.
It could be that David Simon and Nick Hanauer and I are all wrong about this and it’s going to be fine. I accept that and I don’t have any questions about it.
What I don’t know is what should we do if we’re right? What do the people in the rapidly shrinking middle who don’t want to throw bricks or raise pitchforks do to prepare for war? How do we increase our chances of survival? Arming ourselves and stalking up on food doesn’t seem like a good choice because you don’t know how much food or ammunition you’re going to need and the best gun in the world doesn’t make you bulletproof. Is it as simple as drastic relocation? Should those of us who see this thing coming just get out of the country and try to find a safe place? (Though what place is safe from what seems to be a global class war?) These are questions I genuinely don’t know the answers to and I’m curious what others think about all of this.
I know it sounds a bit paranoid and most of us think that something else will happen before the pitchforks and bricks, but it’s a situation where we should start thinking about contingency plans before it’s too late.
I’m interested in what you think. Go ahead and comment below if you have anything you’d like to contribute to the conversation.
- Jack Cameron