The Power of Positive Thinking

If you are reading this blog, the chances are good that you are some kind of left-leaning soul.

And if you are a (United-States-of) American and your left sentiments are more than a purely private matter, the chances are decent that you&undefined;ve been told at least once to "stop being so negative" about social and political conditions in the glorious United States. 

After all, as the smiley U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Texas) once (in the summer of 2002) said —- in a positive speech happily authorizing her friend and fellow Texan George W. Bush to execute deadly force in his noble campaign to deepen U.S. control over Middle Eastern oil (sorry, that was a NEGATIVE thought…I meant to say "to export freedom to Iraq and the Arab world") —- the United States of America is "the beacon to the world of the way life should be." 

It&undefined;s fun and cool to be the world&undefined;s life "beacon." 

Sometimes I go "negative" and forget that, like when I recently published an article (see "Empire, Inequality, and the Arrogance of Power,"Dissident Voice,April 14  2006, www.dissidentvoice.org/Apr06/Street14.htm) in which I pointed out that:  

* More than 37 million residents of the United States languish beneath the federal government&undefined;s notoriously low poverty level ($15,219 for a family of three in 2004).

* More than 13 million or 18 percent of US children live below that sorry measure, and the US child poverty rate is substantially higher than that of other industrialized nations.

* 15.6 million Americans live in what social researchers now call "DEEP POVERTY": at LESS THAN HALF the inadequate U.S. poverty level, comprising 42 percent of the nation&undefined;s giant poverty population.

* More than one in three US children live in or near poverty and more than 8 million Americans live in homes that frequently skip meals or eat too little.

* More than 45 million Americans lack health coverage, making up 16 percent of the U.S. population.  The U.S. is still the only modern industrialized state without a universal, socially inclusive health insurance plan.

* The top 1 percent owns more than 40 percent of the wealth in the U.S..

* The top 10 percent owns two-thirds of US wealth, leaving the rest of us – 90 percent of the population – to fight it out for one third of the nation&undefined;s assets.

* As the New York Times acknowledged in a front-page story last May, “Life at the Top Isn&undefined;t Just Better, It&undefined;s Longer” because "class is a potent force in health and longevity in the United States…. Upper-middle-class Americans live longer and in better health than middle-class Americans, who live longer and better than those at the bottom. And the gaps are widening, say people who have researched social factors in health" (Janny Scott, "Life At The Top," New York Times, 16 May 2005).

* Unequal health care contributes to more than 100,000 black Americans dying earlier than whites each year. Middle-aged black men die at nearly twice the rate as white men of a similar age.

Since I tend to "dwell" on this sort of "unhappy" information (for an extended version see the chapter titled "Mirror, Mirror" in my book Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11) "so much," it has recently been suggested to me, I need to "focus a bit more on the good side of things…." you know the glass that is half-full as well as the glass that is half-empty. 

And here, dear reader, is, I am told, an example of the half-full-glass —- the happy side of life in the beacon, brought to us courtesy of the positive thinkers at the Financial Times:    

" &undefined;Very Rich&undefined; List Grows at Fastest Pace in a Decade"

Financial Times

 April 19, 2006 10:12 PM ETUS

"The number of very rich people in the US grew last year at the fastest pace in at least a decade as their moves into international stockmarkets, real estate and alternative investments paid off."

"The number of households with $5m (€4m) or more in investable assets — excluding the family home —- rose by 26 per cent to a record 930,000, according to a study by Spectrem Group. That is the biggest jump since Spectrem began its survey in 1996. The number of millionaires rose by 11 per cent, to a record 8.3m — the second biggest jump in the decade since they were surveyed."

"The overall affluent market — households with $500,000 or more — rose by 7 per cent to a record 14m. This group fared the worst in the wake of the stockmarket collapse, with their numbers falling sharply from 2000. Last year was the first time their total passed that of their peak in 1999. Catherine McBreen, a managing director at Spectrem, said: &undefined;It&undefined;s been a great couple of years for America&undefined;s millionaires … the stockmarket, which posted solid improvement in 2005, was one reason for the advance. However, for the wealthiest Americans it appears the increased use of international markets and alternative investments were key drivers of their improvement.&undefined; "

"George Walper, president of Sprectrem, said the group had questioned respondents on their investments and returns, and also examined the returns of international markets and alternative investments to ensure the veracity of the results. In a sudden reversal of their longstanding affinity for their domestic market, US investors last year put more than $130bn into international mutual funds, more than three times the amount they put into US funds."

"Most overseas markets performed better than the US market, so their switch paid off."

"Hedge funds returned on average only slightly more than the US stockmarket last year, but investable real estate and some private equity investments returned more than this."

"Affluent households, on average, held close to half their money in assets —  stocks, bonds and alternative investments —- and a larger than usual amount of cash, Spectrem said."

"The affluent reported a greater satisfaction with their financial advisers than in recent years, but this was still short of the highest level previously reported. Those who used advisers were shifting back to use full-service brokers as their main advisers."

Copyright 2006 Financial Times


Ok, how&undefined;s that for some cognitive therapy? I know I feel better. I hope you, fellow leftist, do to — feel better that is.

There I was sending Dissident Voice readers into fits of depression with my self-defeating "glass half-empty" thoughts when…. there was so much reason to be having totally postive "glass half-full" thoughts.  

There I was looking, as usual — yes, there I went again (to paraphrase the recently departed icon of positive thinking Ronald Reagan) — at the 16 million people living at LESS THAN HALF the (laughable) U.S. poverty level even as the number of people with more than FIVE MILLION DOLLARS IN INVESTIBLE ASSETS  was climbling to a record 930,000! 

The number of "VERY RICH" (we&undefined;re talking $5 million and that&undefined;s just in INVESTIBLE assets baby!!) has been rising at the fastest pace ever recorded, for crying out loud!!

As Homer Simpson would say: "Woo Hoo, Hi Five!"

Sure a lot of those 16 million deeply poor folks are probably pretty sad.  I know a neighborhood in Chicago (Riverdale on the far South Side) where more than half the kids were DEEPLY POOR in 1999, at the peak of the long 1990s "Clinton boom" (things are probably worse there today).

But they&undefined;ll get over it.  I mean, come on. And, to focus on the positive for a moment…. how happy must those nearly 1 million qunitamillionaires be?   A lot of those people are probably, like, well super happy. Their happiness is so big I bet it might be able to soak up the negative thinking coming out of the poor people&undefined;s neighborhoods and homes …when they have homes anyway (the Times recently ran a piece about the masses of American poor people who live in automobiles).

So yes, the glass is half-full.  And no there&undefined;s no initimate or dialectical relationship between the grotesque super-opulence of the privileged few and the shameful misery of the systemically super-exploited many at the bottom of the steep socioeconomic pyramid in the industrialized world&undefined;s most unequal and wealth-top-heavy society (the "beacon to the world," that is). None at all.

Well, yes there is, but thinking so is "negative" and so should be be set aside. 

I mean, what are you a Marxist or something?    Karl Marx was a drag — totally depressing.   

Better to think that most of those people are the bottom will some day rise to the top some day, if they just plug into the power of positive thinking. That&undefined;s the ticket.  It&undefined;s called the "American Dream," pal (or gal), and it&undefined;s a big part of what made this country the big old "beacon to the world."   

Never mind that the Wall Street Journal last May published a front page article acknowledging that the social class into which you are born matters a great deal when it comes to determing where you stand on the American socioeconomic ladder.  It matters more in the "beacon" than it does in Europe, those anti-American negative thinkers at the Journal found. The American Dream of "rags to riches," those glass-half-empty types said, is less livable in America than it is in the aristocratic Old World that America rejected when its founding document proclaimed that "All Men Are Created Equal." 

See "As Rich-Poor Gap Widens in the U.S., Class Mobility Stalls: Those on Bottom Rung Enjoy Better Odds in Europe" (May 13th), where Journal reporter David Wessel notes that recent scholarship does NOT bear out "the notion that the US is…a meritocracy where smarts and ambition matter more than parenthood and class."  In reality, Wessel finds, the odds that a child born into poverty will climb into the middle or upper class are slighter in the U.S. than they are in "class bound Europe."  According to the latest and best research, the Journal reports, the U.S. and its junior partner England are "the least mobile societies" among the world&undefined;s "rich countries."  France and Germany "are somewhat more mobile than the U.S.; Canada and the Nordic countries are much more so."

Two days after Wessel&undefined;s article, the hopelessly negative New York Times noted that mobility up from poverty is less common in the U.S. than in Britain, France, Canada and "some Scandinavian countries."  The best the Times could say about America was that American upward mobility is still "not as low as in developing countries like Brazil, where escape from poverty is so difficult that the lower class is all but frozen in place" (Janny Scott and David Leonhardt, "Shadowy Lines That Still Divide," New York Times. 15 May, 2005).  

How fixed is class position in the supposedly hyper-fluid "land of opportunity?"  The best current research determines, the depressing anti-American pessimists at the Wall Street Journal reported,  that "at least 45%" and "perhaps as much as 60%" of  "parents&undefined; advantage" is "passed on to their children."  If you go with the 60% estimate, Wessel notes, then rich peoples&undefined; inherited edge – and poor peoples&undefined; inherited disadvantage – go back as far as five generations.  That happens to take us back to the end of the Civil War and the constitutional abolition of slavery.

According to the negative thinking Marxist Chicago Federal Reserve economist Bhashkar Mazumdor, who matched government survey data with the Social Security records of thousands of men burn during the 1960s, just 14% of American men born to fathers in the bottom tenth of the wage structure have risen to the top 30%.  Conversely, just 17% of men born to fathers in the top tenth have fallen into the bottom 30th. 

It gets worse, Wessel noted, when you factor in race.  He cited economist Tom Hertz&undefined;s finding that fully 42% of blacks born into the bottom tenth of families for income fail to escape the lowest ten percent. By contrast, Hertz determined, just 17% of whites born into the bottom tenth stay there as adults.  

What a negative shithead!

It should also be noted that the Wall Street Journal&undefined;s focus only on income mobility leads it significantly understate the real degree of socioeconomic immobility in the U.S.  The astonishing extent of American socioeconomic and related racial disparity becomes more fully evident when you factor in wealth. In the U.S., the most unequal nation in the industrialized world, the top 1 percent owns more than 40 percent of the wealth. The top 10 percent owns two-thirds of US wealth, leaving the rest of us – 90 percent of the population – to fight it out for one third of the nation&undefined;s assets.

Things get worse, again, when you factor in race. By 1999, economist Thomas Shapiro finds, the "net worth (all assets minus all liabilities) of typical white families was $81,000 compared to $8,000 for black families" in the US. By the recessionary year of 2002, black net worth fell to seven cents on the white dollar.

Talk about a bunch of stuff NOT to think! Forget you read all that here.  It&undefined;s all a bunch of negative thinking.








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