Since 1980, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the United States has lost about a quarter of its manufacturing jobs. Between 1990 and 2000 CEO pay increased 570 percent. The average worker’s salary, however, increased only 34 percent. Of the total increase in all American income from 1980 to 2005, more than 80 percent went to the top one percent. The wealth of that top one percent of Americans now exceeds the combined wealth of the bottom 95 percent. America has the worst wealth distribution of any first-world nation. Income distribution in the United States, as Timothy Noah put it in a 2010 piece he wrote for Slate, is now “more unequal than in Guyana, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, and roughly on par with Uruguay, Argentina, and Ecuador.”
A culture that breeds revolt is one in which a vast army of ill-paid and largely miserable people toils in service to a soulless corporate institution or a few very wealthy people. The message this sends is that anyone outside of the top tier of American movers and shakers is not experiencing some temporary economic setback but, rather, is in some way fundamentally and irrevocably inferior. (“If you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself”) This is a trap from which the eventual perpetrators feel they have no way out. Confined by his lack of power, the “crazed” gunman fixates on exercising what little power he does have.
As societies become more inequitable, they become more violent. That’s because gross inequities in wealth make people feel angry and impotent and irrelevant. Their sense of powerlessness is ratified and reinforced by a culture and economic system in which the small group of winners feels morally justified in dismissing the large and growing number of losers (“There are 47 percent who … who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims. … I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”)