Artvoice: Buffalo's #1 Newsweekly
Home Blogs Web Features Calendar Listings Artvoice TV Real Estate Classifieds Contact

Bill Moyers On Inequality

Bill Moyers, also known as “America’s Conscience” , returned to the public airwaves this week with his new show, Moyers & Company.

Moyers & Company Generic Promo from BillMoyers.com on Vimeo.

He came back with a progressive bang; airing segments on engineered income inequality, Occupy Wall Street, and the political system that birthed both of those outcomes. It was the most intelligent and thought-provoking television I’ve watched since, well, the last time Bill Moyers was on the air.

His segment on Occupy Wall Street was the best I’ve seen since the movement began. It’s amazing what a a journalist can do when given 15 minutes to tell a story without multiple pundits arguing over the top of the content.

Moyers’s closing essay was fantastic.

Waking up is right. Waking up to the reality that inequality matters. It matters because what we’re talking about is what it takes to live a decent life. If you get sick without health coverage, inequality matters. If you’re the only breadwinner and out of work, inequality matters. If your local public library closes down and you can’t afford to buy books on your own, inequality matters. If budget cuts mean your child has to pay to play on the school basketball team or to sing in the chorus or march in the band, inequality matters. If you lose your job as you’re about to retire, inequality matters. And if the financial system collapses and knocks the props from beneath your pension, inequality matters.

I grew up in a working class family. We were among the poorest in town, but I was rich in public goods.

I went to a good public school, played sandlot ball in a good public park, had access to a good public library, drove down a good public highway to a good public college, all made possible by people I never met. There was an unwritten bargain among the generations — we didn’t all get the same deal, but we did get civilization.

That bargain is being shredded. The occupiers of Wall Street understand this. You could tell from their slogans. A fellow young enough to be my grandson wore a t-shirt emblazoned with the words: “The system’s not broken. It’s fixed.” That’s right. Rigged. And that’s why so many are so angry. Not at wealth itself, but at the crony capitalists who resorts to tricks, loopholes, and hard, cold cash for politicians to make sure insiders prosper and then pull up the ladder behind them.

Yes, Americans are waking up. To how they’re being made to pay for Wall Street’s malfeasance and Washington’s complicity. Paying with stagnant wages and lost jobs, with slashing cuts to their benefits and to their social services. And waking up to the grotesque Supreme Court decision defining a corporation as a person, although it doesn’t eat, breath, make love or sing, or take care of children and aging parents. Waking up to how campaign contributions corrupt our elections; to the fact that if speech is money, no money means no speech.

So the collective cry has gone up loud and clear: enough’s enough. We won’t, as I said, know for a while if this is just a momentary cry of pain; or whether it’s a movement that, like the Abolitionists and Suffragettes, the populists and workers of another era, or the Civil Rights movement of our time, gathers force until the powers-that-be can no longer sustain the inequality, the injustice and yes, the immorality of winner-take-all politics.

Welcome back, Mr. Moyers. Welcome back.


  • Jesse

    Such nonsense. “Inequality” doesn’t matter for shit.

    * to pay for Wall Street’s malfeasance and Washington’s complicity.
    * Paying with stagnant wages and lost jobs
    * slashing cuts to their benefits and to their social services

    That matters.

    It doesn’t matter that Francis Businessman makes 400x what I do, what matters is that the middle class isn’t seeing the fruits.

    Dragging the rich down is a stupid answer to the problem. Defining the entire problem as “inequality” completely misses the point.

    The problem is that idiots vote for the guy the 1%’ers offer as the ‘left wing alternative’ over the the guy they offer as the ‘right wing alternative’.

  • Bbill

    It doesn’t matter that Francis Businessman makes 400x what I do, what matters is that the middle class isn’t seeing the fruits.

    Huh? Over the past thirty years the fruits have been going to Francis from the middle class. And somehow that doesn’t matter? Mmm kay.

    The systematic dismantling of the middle class has been the numero uno informing event over most of our lifetimes. But it “doesn’t matter for shit”.

    The right wing media clearly has been effective on its overlords’ behalf.

    Thank you occupy for bringing all this to the surface.

  • Max

    Moyers’ eloquence is ‘Murrowian’ in its expression of outrage and discontent of the tacit acceptance of the rampant inequity that’s fostered in the U.S. It’s not about dragging the rich down, but providing a level playing field. I recall the controversy about the “mortgage cramdown” revisions in the U.S. Senate a few years ago. There was a proposal to allow judges in bankruptcy proceedings to permit reductions in principal balances of residential mortgages as they were in current practice for commercial mortgages and properties used as 2nd homes. The revisions were summarily rejected as the monied special interests had the day with “their” elected representatives. We have the best government money can buy.

  • Wonderful commentary and discussion of growth in income inequality over the past 30 or so years. Certainly will read these gentlemen’s book. Agree that the takeover of government by big money is the main problem but don’t think it explains why so many Americans vote against their own interests. While it is the case that many people don’t bother to vote at all because they are disenchanted with the political system, and many other of our modern institutions (corporations, religous institutions, etc.),for those that do vote it seems that too many buy the nonsense that candidates spout. So, they are left to choose between candidates who are selling a message that resonates, but that leads to no change. So glad that Mr. Moyers is back on air.

  • keliher walsh

    Fantastic! Bill Moyers is my new hero. This is a time when people like Mr. Moyers, his elegant non combative voice, gives out a light to guide us in the dark. Please! Keep the “voice” speaking! We need to hear from those that have compassion and reason.

  • a beautiful, clear essay welcoming our man Moyers back where he belongs – on the air saying what other pundits refuse to. Bravo! to both Moyers and ARTVOICE.

  • stormkite

    Jean, it’s not that people vote against their own interests. They don’t.

    It’s that what people perceive as “their interests” aren’t always what the pundits and politicos say they should be.

  • Jim

    So who crowned this pontificating liberal ‘journalist’ “America’s Conscience”?? He plays his role of the wizened sage ‘principled opposition’ to a tee, but face it, kids – he’s part of the 1%. You don’t spend that many decades near the top of the major media food chain if you’re not. But if you want to cast him as your own progressive Diogenes, feel free to indulge your fantasy.

  • Dawson

    ” … the grotesque Supreme Court decision defining a corporation as a person, although it doesn’t eat, breath, make love or sing, or take care of children and aging parents…”

    Probably the single most horrifying event of all. This is more than a travesty, because eventually all that money, being filtered into the political system to control outcomes is money NOT returning to the econominc system (as Reagan may have said, “trickling down”)to produce goods or services. Rather it is designed to increase wealth, wealth of a few. It produces a “stacked deck” right out in the open.

  • KEN

    SO WHY DO WE PAY TAX S AND HOW CAN WE STOP A RUNAWAY GOV I HAVE SEAD FOR YEARS IT S THE GOV S NEW PLAN FEED THE RICH AND KILL THE POOR FROM THE BAILOUT TO THE LOBIEST IN 2001 THEY DROVE AIRPLANE S INTO BUILDING S BECAUSE OF AMERICAN GREED IN 2008 WE FOUND OUT THEY WERE RIGHT BEONER A RACIST
    AND IN THE REAL AMERICA IF YA DON T DO YOUR JOB YOU GET CANNED SO HOW DO WE UNELECT OR GET THE FREAK S OUT OF WASHINGTON THE U S GOVERNMENT BLOW S THERE ALL A BUNCH OF COLLECT A CHECK S THEY NEED TIME CLOCK S AND TERM LIMIT S FOR ALL THOSE DUM FOCK, S

  • Bruce Barnes

    “There is one and only one social responsibility of business — to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game.”
    Milton Friedman

    Corporations and wealthy people have the ability to influence and write the rules.

    I feel that Warren Buffet does more than most to stay within the rules of the game and I use him as an example only because his taxes are public. Mr. Buffet is on the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest people and Forbes reports his net worth in 2009 as $40 Billion, in 2010 as $45 billion and in 2011 as $50 Billion. It is safe to say his income for 2010 exceeded $5 Billion. His AGI Income reported to the IRS for 2010 was $63 million and he paid 17 percent in taxes or $11 million. Does Mr. Buffet pay his fair share to support the unfortunate?
    The wealthiest 400 people are Billionaires and have more net worth than half of all tax payers. The top 1 percent has over 40 percent of all personal net worth. The next 4 percent has 35 percent of all personal net worth. How much money is enough? What would the economy be like if 1 percent had 99 percent of the money?

  • Bruce Barnes

    The “Laffer Curve” is an untested thought experiment based on payroll like taxes where the first dollar is taxed the same as the last dollar. The basic assumption is “If you tax someone’s wages too high they will stop working overtime and at 100 percent, they will quit their job.”

    This is not true for progressive income taxes in the real world where the tax brackets increase with increasing income. Here the assumption is, “People will continue accumulating wealth until they reach their maximum marginal tax bracket and then stop their income producing activities.” Let’s use Mr. Warren Buffet as an example.

    I feel that Warren Buffet does more than most to stay within the rules of the game and I use him as an example only because his taxes are public. Mr. Buffet is on the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest people and Forbes reports his net worth in 2009 as $40 Billion, in 2010 as $45 billion and in 2011 as $50 Billion. It is safe to say his income for 2010 exceeded $5 Billion. His AGI Income reported to the IRS for 2010 was $63 million and he paid 17 percent in taxes or $11 million. Warren’s first $100,000.00 of wages will be taxed the same as anyone else making $100.000. If the maximum marginal tax bracket is raised to 50 % his tax may go up to $25 million on his $63 million of AGI, Warren would not skip a beat. He would not close one store or take any money out of the bank. If the maximum tax rate was raised to 100 percent, he would not shut down one corporation. In fact he could not stop making income and then restart the next year. The Laffer curve would be a monotonic increasing line starting at the first tax bracket, which means that government revenue increases as the tax brackets are increase.

    Why is this important? Republicans have almost bankrupted the country based on the false policy that “tax cuts will increase government revenue.” It’s especially harmful for the government to issue bonds to give wealthy people and large companies tax breaks.

  • constance flannery

    As a political science teacher, I was appalled at the recent Supreme Court upholding the concept that a corporation was a person entitled to the rights of people. Corporations never die. They have no conscious. They are institutions which operate to make money for stock holders, CEO’S etc. They can’t be put on trial or go to jail. In California, we have prop 13 that keeps property taxes low until the property is sold. Corporations can live forever so there is no change over. Their taxes stay low. Money that should go to schools, parks and public causes doesn’t ever get collected. Corporations have that money to buy politicians who appoint judges and the fix is on at every level of government. Why are all congress persons so wealthy? They have insider trader knowledge and use it to make sure fire investments. They also vote themselves the best healthcare, pension system, etc. Why isn’t this major news stories? The media is owned by major corporations and it isn’t in their interest to report these facts.