Sunday, April 29, 2007


Wealth, Color, and Secrets

May Day. Question: Just how is wealth distributed in this country, anyhow?

Answer: Badly.

Poverty is too often blamed on the victims suffering from it. Poverty is a financial disease that’s endemic to almost all economic systems. The reason for this, at least in our win or lose economy, is that to win, that is to get elected, takes a LOT of money. To get this money, candidates have to court (a polite word meaning “kiss up to”) big sources of money.

People with money expect a return on their investments. They invest in politicians. They get what they pay for.

I know: this is “the greatest country in the world, or else”—I mean, “...or what?” to quote Bill Clinton, among others. Yeah, it just about is. From what I can see, though, there are other countries with more equitable distributions of resources. We say “assets,” now. Like “assets” are what it’s all about… Never the less, wealth in America is unevenly spread out, and the government helps keep it that way. And manages to convince those with and without money that it's their own responsibility. Check out the book Oprah's been hustling, "The Secret," because that is more of the same.

A look at 'The Color of Wealth'
© Indian Country Today October 17, 2006. All Rights Reserved
Posted: October 17, 2006
by: Jerry Reynolds / Indian Country Today

WASHINGTON - A multicultural history of American wealth - that is the billing given ''The Color of Wealth,'' a socioeconomic textbook of 300-plus pages, divided among chapters on American Indians, Latinos, blacks, Asian-Americans and European-Americans. Tellingly, the chapter on European-Americans is subtitled ''White Advantages in Wealth Accumulation.'' The chapters on the minority groups are variations on the theme of obstacles to wealth and what it takes to overcome them.

Meizhu Lui, of United for a Fair Economy, and Rebecca Adamson, of First Peoples Worldwide, two of the book's five co-authors, explained why those remain dominant themes for people of color in presentations on Capitol Hill and at Olsson's bookstore Sept. 26.

''We looked at African-American wealth in 1958 and 2004,'' Lui said, ''and we found that in 1958 African-Americans made about 55 cents to the white person's dollar. And by 2004 it had risen only three cents, to 58 cents for the white person's dollar. Now, the civil rights movement made it go up for a while, but then it came back down. ... We calculated that at that rate of speed, it would take 362 more years to reach income parity with or between blacks and whites.''

Disparities in net worth are also pronounced, Lui said.

Americans have always had easy explanations for minority poverty, often involving alleged behavior factors such as laziness, unmarried motherhood and debt brought on by irresponsible spending. Lui used an anecdote of J. Paul Getty, one of America's first oil millionaires, to dismiss the mythic discredit poured on the poverty of minority groups. Getty revealed his ''three little secrets'' for getting rich, Lui said: work hard, rise early, and find oil - or in other words, get lucky.

Getty's message was that without luck, you can do everything else it takes to get rich and still not get rich. Lui, though, was pointing out that without the property unmentioned by Getty - without the asset, land that yielded the oil - even luck wouldn't have done it. The larger message here was that people of color have been deprived of assets they owned, or on other occasions excluded from owning them, throughout U.S. history.

''The Color of Wealth'' provides detail for the proposition that lack of assets is the main reason for the wealth gap between white Euro-Americans and people of color. But in the presentation version, the case was Adamson's to make. As founder and president of First Nations Development Institute for 25 years before tackling global indigenous land and resource issues with First Peoples Worldwide, she has made Native assets her lifework.

Government policy makes a difference, she said on Capitol Hill. Current socioeconomic policies are devastating all low- to moderate-income people, she added. ''But what we have seen is that good policy can create fair, equitable societies and economies. What made this country great was the Homestead Act in the 1800s, because people were allowed to own land for the first time. ... Having not been an aristocrat and born into wealth, they for the first time ever had an opportunity at assets, ownership, property ownership on their own. ... If you weren't Native American, you did get a chance.''

The Homestead Act, among many other measures, dispossessed Natives. Even so, Adamson said, Indians and Alaska Natives own 5 percent of U.S. surface land today, making them the largest private landowners in the country. Considered altogether, their properties vie with Alaska, California and Texas in terms of land mass. The minerals and fossil fuels in their earth, the board feet in their forests, the natural resources on their lands are the assets of wealth. ''How could we be the poorest people in the United States and own this amount of assets? ... It's deliberate government [policy] ... The action is so misguided, and I'll give them the benefit of the doubt on the intention. I think in some cases, there was clear intention to give some to a group, and to aggrieve other groups. But by and large we were operating under a democratic republic that was looking at the future of the country. And these policies that got put into place - the Homestead Act, the veterans [GI] bill, the federal housing administration - these were good things for the average person. The way the Social Security Act was drafted was good. That was a safety net.

''They always had a group that got excluded, no matter what.''

A timeline the co-authors unscrolled showed the measures Congress has taken to weaken the asset holdings of brown-skinned people. Exhibit No. 1 for Adamson was the termination initiative in the 1950s, when the federal government decided it would not recognize a series of tribes with large timber holdings. They offered money in return for lands that reverted to the government once it revoked the tribes' federal recognition, and with it reserved rights to lands and resources.

Termination has been abandoned as federal policy. The co-authors urged lawmakers to visit the same fate on policies that favor assets for any one interest group at the expense of another.

''The Color of Money'' can be purchased at Other online outlets include the United for a Fair Economy Web site,

Today, the United States holds 55.7 million acres, most of it reservation land, in trust for Native Americans. (Twelve reservations are larger than the state of Rhode Island and nine are larger than Delaware.) Since the Native American population is about 2.8 million, this works out to more than 19 million acres per Native American.

The Homestead Act permitted settlers to purchase 160 acres of land for only $1.25 a acre after living on it for five years. The act was later amended to allow settlers on the Great Plains to buy up to 640 acres, but 640 acres was too little land for farming or ranching on the arid plains unless a river ran through it. Cattle syndicates used front men to buy up land around the rivers and then denied irrigation rights to farmers and ranchers away from the river. This allowed them to buy them out for a fraction of what they had paid for the land.

Still, the Homestead act created 372,000 small farms on about 80 million acres, but most farmers were driven off the land by the changing economy and competition from huge argribusiness corporations. Some of the homestead land simply blew away during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s Most famers sold out for virtually nothing and many were simply evicted for unpaid taxes.

When the Homestead Act was passed in the 1860s, there were more than 31 million American farmers, a number that grew to more than 38 million by the end of the decade. Today, there are fewer than 5 million farmers who make up about 2.6 percent of the labor force. The other 97.4 percent of Americans tend to live on very small plots in very large towns and, since they have virtually no savings, their “wealth” consists almost entirely of equity in homes they are still paying for. As the housing market continues to collapse, millions will own more on their homes than their homes are worth.
You know, America really hates its poor folks and works hard at keeping them that way.

I heard from a local FFA member that when he saw Al Gore speak here in the Portland area during the 2000 election, Gore told the group that ALL farming will soon be done overseas and they will no longer be needed.

On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, the White Plumes have been trying to grow hemp to bring one of the most impoverished nations out of their horrific poverty. It is legal to grow hemp on Pine Ridge. The feds came in and tore it down and are now taking the White Plumes to court.

Go ahead you poor folks, just try to pull yourselves out of poverty. We dare you!
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