Everyone's Getting Rich!

Or so screams the cover of Money magazine's May issue

| Tue May 11, 1999 2:00 AM EDT

On which planet, Money doesn't specify.

Beneath the headline stands an upper-class white couple wearing blue and red -- literally embodying the American flag, intentionally or not -- on a lawn, crudely retouched into a literal field of green.

The clear message: if you're not getting rich, you're an un-American loser. But not to worry: Inside are Money's top 10 recommended stock investments.

None of which will help much if you don't have tens of thousands of dollars lying around to invest.

So who, pray tell, does common sense tell you "Everybody" is?

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Common sense, unfortunately, isn't.


I'm driving down LaBrea in Hollywood with two friends a few months ago. In the course of a discussion about Clinton's shockingly steady popularity, one attributes it -- as is common -- to the terrific economy.

So I respond that the economy isn't terrific at all. As a matter of fact, it sucks.

(I'm a lot less articulate when I'm bonding with my male friends.)

My friends express shock at such heresy.

One of them is an honors graduate of Georgetown who, despite his education and effort, still struggles with two part-time jobs and barely gets by. The other is an actor who, after years of pavement-pounding, finally landed a small recurring TV gig, putting him in the upper two percent of income earners in his profession. He now lives in a one-bedroom apartment. He also qualifies for health insurance through his union, a luxury the vast majority of other dues-paying members don't receive because they don't make enough money.

Even where we are -- a relatively nice part of town -- homeless people with shopping carts sit hopelessly in bus shelters near almost every stoplight. On our right, the McDonald's we're approaching has 60-year-olds working behind the counter. At night, you can walk from where we are to a schoolyard where poor young men sell drugs and poor young women sell sex.

If we hang a left and drive a bit, we'll pass the closed gates of several small specialty stores, followed by a strip mall anchored by the big, box-building supply store that drove the smaller stores out of business. Outside the big box, on weekday mornings, you can often see poor men, many with families, lining up, hoping maybe a contractor buying supplies will hire them as day laborers with no benefits or security.

All of which is in plain sight.

And still my intelligent, good-hearted, well-educated friends need a lengthy explanation.


A recent Louis Harris poll discovered that only about half of all American adults can answer even the simplest economic questions. Here, try one:

If the price of beef doubled and the price of poultry stayed the same, people would most likely buy:

A. More poultry and less beef.
B. Less poultry and more beef.
C. The same amount of poultry and beef.

(If you need me to tell you the answer, please remove your wallet, proceed to the nearest public space, and begin hurling all your cash at total strangers. You probably do this every day without realizing it already.)

Given 20 such questions, less than a third of Americans scored a C or better.

Half of the adults and two-thirds of the high school students received an F.


Here's some other stuff not enough people understand, the results of decades of policies and laws designed to benefit Money's concept of Everyone at the expense of everyone else:

In the 1970s, the top 1 percent of households had about 20 percent of the national wealth. This was widely considered excessive. Today, the number is over 40 percent and climbing.

Thirty years ago, about 10 percent of American households were broke, with a net worth of zero or less. Fifteen years ago, the number was about 15 percent. Today, the number is almost 20 percent.

Adjusting for inflation, blue-collar workers are making less than they did a quarter-century ago. The U.S. savings rate is now negative 0.5 percent, the lowest level since the early Depression.

Most Americans have a lower net worth than they did 15 years ago, when this greatest stock-market rally in history began. The bottom two-fifths of households have lost about 80 percent of their average net worth. The middle fifth has lost about 11 percent. The richest 1 percent of America owns more wealth than the entire bottom 95 percent combined, and the inequality is increasing.

Twenty years ago, a typical big-time corporate CEO was paid about 40 times what an average worker received. CEOs today are paid almost 420 times as much. As CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch has eliminated 128,000 jobs. But GE stock has appreciated about 40-fold, even adjusting for inflation. So Jack Welch is paid $83.6 million.

Meanwhile, after what economists will soon call the longest economic expansion in U.S. history, 20 percent of all American children now grow up in poverty.

And Money can write "Everyone's Getting Rich!" in giant letters across the cover.

We hear the idea so frequently these days -- often expressed by corporate media pundits with six- and seven-figure incomes -- we even actually believe it, though our own eyes might protest.

Bathed as we are in ignorance and corporate propaganda, these numbers might seem stunning.

How handy it is to have the real world around to check them against.


One final note:

It's about 3 a.m. on May 10th as I write this. I just did the math. If you had bought this issue of Money when it hit the racks, and obediently bought 100 shares of all 10 can't-miss picks, you'd be down 2 percent.

During which time the Dow is up over 6 percent.

Whoops. Maybe even Everyone gets screwed sometimes.

Cool.


Bob Harris is a radio commentator, political writer, and humorist who has spoken at almost 300 colleges nationwide.

To receive a free e-mail subscription to The Scoop, just a blank e-mail to BobHarris-subscribe@listbot.com. Or visit his Web site.