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  • One study shows that while for Europeans, inequality truly makes them less happy, in the United States only the moods of rich leftists are adversely affected. – Dalton Conley, Don't Blame the Billionaires

    That sucking sound you heard is made by the super-rich sipping wealth from a super-sized champagne glass brimming with assets and collateralized debts through a golden straw. Are most Americans saying "cheers" rather than "where's mine?" How did we get that way?

    At the time of the American Revolution, the richest 1% of colonials made 9.3% of the new nation's income. Now that small bracket takes 20%, and owns even more of our wealth. Thomas Jefferson, for one, would not be happy about that. (Remember "All men are created equal"?) In an 1814 letter to Thomas Cooper, Jefferson wrote:

    "We have no paupers. Most of the laboring class possess property, cultivate their own lands, have families, and from the demands of their labor are enabled to exact from the rich and the competent such prices as enable them to be fed abundantly, clothed above mere decency, to labor moderately and raise their families." – quoted in the New York Times

    Perhaps he was kidding himself, but the rich, Jefferson said, being few and of moderate wealth, had "only somewhat more of the comforts and decencies of life than those who furnish them ... Can any condition of society be more desirable than this?"

    I think not, but most of the 10%, 1%, and 0.1% would beg to differ. And their voices are the ones we mostly hear, day in and day out, on almost any media outlet we flip to or scroll through. How often do we see struggling workers quoted saying "I'm so glad those rich folk are doing well"? Even those who might say that rarely get the chance.

    Sure, not everyone is poor, and people have expensive personal possessions, but how much of their homes, workplaces, communities, or environment do they really own, and for how much are they as taxpayers on the hook for maintaining, operating and restoring those things? Every month, they pay their bills to entities that own or tax what they have, use and consume. That isn't what Jefferson had in mind.

    Do you know who holds your mortgage? Our most important assets have been purloined by financial institutions and transmuted into debt. The debt is used as collateral to issue more debt. Insurance policies on the debts create more fantasy wealth. Legitimate organized crime, I call it.

    Stripped of our assets, we have become prisoners of large, distant institutions, both private and public. Rather than beseech them to do unto us as they would do unto themselves, which hasn't been working, we need to take steps to regain our sense of ownership, that is, our sovereignty.

    What does doing that mean in practical terms? Well, you can move your money from megabanks into community and cooperative banks, credit unions, or (if you happen to live in North Dakota) a state-run bank. You can refinance your mortgage with a lender that won't securitize it behind your back. Patronize local businesses instead of big-box stores. Buy fresh food at farmers markets and CSAs instead of stale or packaged food at supermarkets. Share tools with your neighbors. Ratchet down your consumption of fashionable baubles and toys. Use script or barter instead of cash or credit. Kill your TV, or at least turn it to the wall. Eschew Internet connections in favor of dialogs with people around you. (Yes, even Cowbird!)

    The more of this you do, the more beautiful and gratifying your life will become. Soon you won't have any regrets about simplifying your life and scaling down your transactions. Pinch that straw to stop the sucking sound. By being local, you can have a global impact.

    Continued in That Roaring Sound

    [The original seed of this series is On Sustainable Power, May 31, 2012.
    To identify all the stories in the series, click the tag That Sound beneath the map on the Connections panel.]

    @image: Dalton Conley "champagne" income distribution chart
    @audio: Straw Slurp 3
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