Income Inequality in the Big Apple
Income inequality and the death of culture in New York City. The battle between the 99 percent and the one percent began before Occupy Wall Street protesters filled Zuccotti Park.
In this series of images, Dan Tague reveals hidden messages in U.S. currency. Tague’s work, according to his bio, “incorporates dollar bills, repurposed cars and furniture, screen prints, sound, video and propaganda poster art to create visual riddles and social commentary illustrating a great failing of leadership to promote a true common good.”
Editor’s note: Christopher Ketcham wrote this essay before the Occupy Wall Street movement began, and before “the one percent” and “the 99 percent” became buzzwords defining income inequality. After OWS was in full swing, Ketcham wrote in a postscript, “I had little hope that the kids in New York would pull off anything like the growing revolt in Liberty Square and beyond. I am delighted to be proved totally wrong.”
For my daughter’s benefit, so that she might know the enemy better, know what he looks like, where he nests, and when and where to throw eggs at his head, we start the tour at Wall Street. It’s hot. August. We’re sweating like old cheese.
Here are the monuments that matter, I tell her: the offices of Deutsche Bank and Bank of New York Mellon; the JPMorgan Chase tower up the block; around the corner, the AIG building. The structures dwarf us, imposing themselves skyward.
“Linked together like rat warrens, with air-conditioning,” I tell her. “These are dangerous creatures, Léa. Sociopaths.”
She doesn’t know what sociopath means.
“It’s a person who doesn’t care about anybody but himself. Socio, meaning society—you, me, this city, civilization. Patho, like pathogen—carrying and spreading disease.”
Long roll of eyes.
I’m intent on making this a teachable moment for my daughter, who is 15, but I have to quit the vitriol, break it down for her. I have to explain why the tour is important, what it has to do with her, her friends, her generation, the future they will grow up into.
On a smaller scale, I want Léa to understand what New York, my birthplace and home, once beloved to me, is really about. Because I’m convinced that the beating heart of the city today is not its art galleries, its boutiques, its restaurants or bars, its theaters, its museums, nor its miserable remnants in manufacturing, nor its creative types—its writers, dancers, artists, sculptors, thinkers, musicians, or, god forbid, its journalists.
“Here,” I tell her, standing in the canyons of world finance, “is what New York is about. Sociopaths getting really rich while everyone else just sits on their asses and lets it happen.”
The Cancer That Led to Income Inequality
Talk is cheap, anger without action is a turnoff, and even at 15 my daughter sensed that her father’s rage was born of impotence. I thought of Mark Twain’s line, “The human race is a race of cowards; and I am not only marching in that procession but carrying a banner.”
A few weeks later, Léa was gone, back to France, where she lives with her mother. I had new material to chew into bitter cud. It was a report titled “Grow Together or Pull Further Apart?: Income Concentration Trends in New York,” issued in December 2010 by a Manhattan-based nonprofit called the Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI). The 25-page report only quantified in hard data what most New Yorkers—the ones struggling to survive (most of us)—understood instinctively as they watched their opportunities diminish over the past three decades.
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