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Miller: The great disparity

Alex Miller

In the Frisco neighborhood where I live, there are two interesting homes I pass often when I bike to work in summer. One is actually the former home of a high school friend, as normal a single-family home as one can imagine back in the 1980s when Staci lived there with her family. Two summers ago, the seemingly abandoned home underwent a remodel that dragged on month after month. Trucks appeared full of materials, presumably to redo floors, walls, ceilings – whatever. I can only imagine the remodel cost was well into six figures, given the amount of work involved.

To this day, I have never seen any evidence of anyone living in this home, even temporarily.

Across the street, another modest home was leveled sometime last year to make way for a mega-mansion, the likes of which we don’t see much of nowadays. I don’t know anything about the owners, but judging from the size of this place, they either have an enormous family or are, perhaps, opening an orphanage.

But I doubt it. Chances are it’s some couple who’ve done well and have opted to create their “dream home” – a phrase in real estate parlance that generally equates to way more room than anyone needs in a dwelling coupled with energy-guzzling extras like a second fridge, oven and dishwasher, a spa, a home theater, etc. As I pedal past and look at the half-dozen or more vehicles out front and workers busy on the mansion, it’s hard not to think there just might be a little big of excess at work here – bad enough in the boom years but almost an insult in a time when so many remain out of work and so many other homes sit empty and/or in foreclosure.

Changing channels, I recently volunteered with some other Rotarians at the Tuesday night community dinner down at the Elks Lodge. Every week, several hundred folks show up to get a hot meal at no cost, a response from the community to assist those in need. There they were, regular folks of all kind representing the faces behind the statistics: 8.7 percent of all Coloradans are unemployed, compared to 3.5 percent in March of 2007.

Meanwhile, the food banks scramble to fill their shelves for the constant need while around 20 percent of us lack basic health insurance. Over the winter holidays, our community scrambled to raise $50,000 in emergency funds for those who need it – real money for some, but perhaps just the cost of the bathroom fixtures in the mansion.

This is the part where I might be expected to say I don’t begrudge the mansion builders their well-earned home or the corporate CEO his private jet. But I do, and I’m not alone in the feeling that the disparity of wealth – still evident here in Summit County with the log mansions and high-flying second-home owners and visitors – has reached disturbing proportions in the U.S. And we’ve heard the figures: The richest 10 percent of American control a whopping two-thirds of the nation’s net worth. The bottom 90 percent controls about 27 percent.

It’s diabolically simple, as former labor secretary Robert Reich explained in an excellent two-minute video posted recently (http://youtu.be/JTzMqm2TwgE): As the wealthy get wealthier, their ability to influence policy in Washington grows, which in turn results in even more policies created to favor the accumulation and retention of wealth – mostly in the form of lower taxes. Both parties are culpable, but one in particular has sided with the rich to the exclusion of almost all else. Why else, for one example, would they lobby for continued tax breaks for the rich in the midst of a national economic crisis? (Answer: Because they have been paid, in the form of campaign donations, to do so. And with the Supreme Court’s awful ruling last year allowing corporations to donate at will to candidate campaigns, it will only get worse).

Meanwhile, the middle class, as it’s weakened, is turning on itself. We have tea party folks on one side saying the government spends and taxes too much, and liberals on the other saying the money we do have is not spent in the right places (on the military, for one example, or on frivolous corporate tax breaks). Both sides have compelling arguments, neither can be completely right – yet the rich and their champions in Congress continue to amass great wealth as the rest of the nation bleeds.

Oh, it’s broken alright: the economy, Congress, the middle class. What the cure is no one can agree, and neither the president nor Congress appear to have the ability to set aside politics and the concerns of the next campaign to do what’s necessary to identify and implement real change.

In the meantime, Wall Street is doing great, and some can still build that dream home – that dream mansion, even. As in Greece, perhaps soon that house on the hill may be surrounded by an angry mob demanding to know what happened to theirs.

And nobody knows.

Summit Daily editor Alex Miller can be reached at amiller@summitdaily.com or (970) 668-4618.


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