Leaders: Charles Sackrey and Joe Detelj
Description: This course concerns two principal dimensions of income inequality in the United States. First, the current distribution is the most unequal of modern times: the richest 10% receives over half of all the income, the top 1% over 20%. The richest 20% also owns about 90% of all the wealth -stocks, bonds, homes, cars, and such. We will begin with two class discussions of the view that inequality emerges inevitably in a capitalist system where there is a reigning plutocracy.
The second dimension of income inequality - the principal focus of the course - is that males receive higher wages/salaries on average than black and brown Americans, and women. Here is the proportion of white male wages/salaries received by the other groups: Women: 75-80%; African Americans: 60%; Hispanics: 65%; Native Americans: not known precisely, but by far the lowest.
The most long-standing (now gradually fading) explanation for these numbers is that white people are born with superior innate working and managing skills and that white men do it best of all. However, the true story is not about our genes but is embedded in our history. To develop that argument, we will read most of Howard Zinn's, A People's History of the United States, published in 1980, now with two million copies sold world-wide. We have chosen it because it focuses special attention on the struggle Native Americans, African Americans, and women have made against the inequality imposed upon them.
Zinn begins his book with the 1492 landing of Columbus and his crew in Hispaniola. As the ship approached, Arawak Indians greeted the sailors with gifts and gestures of friendship. And, at the end of that first day, Columbus wrote in his log that the "Indians were naked, tawny, and full of wonder....With fifty men, we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want." To paraphrase Marx,"Such was the rosy dawn of American capitalism." The Europeans and then the Americans proceeded to annihilate the Native Americans: of the roughly 20 million of them in North America in 1492, by 1900 there were only 240,000, most living on barren reservations that accounted for 2.5% of the land that once was all theirs.
Zinn also describes how 600,000 Africans were seized, brought to the colonies and enslaved, how they would become four million by 1960, and how all along they were suppressed by a merciless dictatorship. We will also study the staunch barriers constructed to suppress the struggle for equality made by women. In other words, with Zinn, we will present the view that inequality in the United States has emerged from a kind of capitalism grounded in violence, bigotry, and a stunning lack of human compassion...rather than being the result of differing DNAs.
Materials for the course: Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States, latest edition in paperback. We will email you materials and an assignment for the first class meeting, and will spend most of our classes in an open discussion of material that is both accessible and compelling.
Biographies: Joe Detelj holds a Master's Degree of Economics from the New School for Social Research. He currently attempts to incorporate the principles of "communion" on his biologically based farm. Charles Sackrey taught economics at Bucknell and during the past four years has managed the Mondragon Co-op bookstore, which he and others co-founded in 2009.
Number of participants:
Location: Public Library for Union County - Small Meeting Room
Meeting time: Thursdays, February 27 through April 3, 2014, 10 - 11:30 a.m.
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