Throw the Books at Them

November 24, 2005 | | In These Times |
As economists Heather Boushey and Christian Weller note in their contribution to Inequality Matters: The Growing Economic Divide in America and Its Poisonous Consequences, a fascinating collection of essays commissioned by New York think tank Demos, "the average real income of the bottom 90 percent of American taxpayers declined by 7 percent between 1973 and 2000, while the income of the top 1 percent went up 148 percent."
 
That's partly because the rich-and the media-set the standard for what's necessary for life, a culturally relative category that expands with growing needs. This creates a "hedonic treadmill" or, in the words of economist Robert H. Frank, a "spending cascade" that puts pressure on consumers to buy and can even drive up prices.