Steve Chapman

The wealthy are far better off than they used to be. But their improvement has not come at the expense of those down the economic ladder. Economists Bruce D. Meyer of the University of Chicago and James X. Sullivan of the University of Notre Dame find that over the past three decades, both the poor and the middle class have made substantial material progress.

"Median income and consumption both rose by more than 50 percent in real terms between 1980 and 2009," they reported last month in a paper for the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Those in the bottom tenth of the income ladder enjoyed comparable gains.

Not that everything is copacetic. The Great Recession has wrought havoc on the middle class and the poor -- eliminating jobs, reducing income and slashing the value of homes.

But if it's any consolation, the rich have seen their take shrink as well. Between 2007 and 2009, notes Steven Kaplan of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, the share of all income going to the richest 1 percent of Americans fell by a full quarter.

The miserable reality today is not that the many are doing worse because our capitalist system is set up to fleece them for the benefit of the few. They are doing worse because the economy went through a cataclysm from which it has yet to recover.

When the economy crashes, it's those with the least education, fewest options and slimmest resources who suffer most. That's true, by the way, in non-capitalist societies as well as capitalist ones. In either, people who have done nothing wrong often suffer.

At moments like this, it's not surprising that many Americans would resent the wealthy and feel the urge to punish them. But the OWS demand for action against them is the equivalent of honking your horn when you're stuck in a traffic jam. It makes a lot of noise, without getting you anywhere.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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