America Remains a Banana Republic

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Is income inequality a serious problem in the U.S.? There's a case to be made for that. Is there merit to Nicholas Kristof's assertion that America, in its lopsided distribution of wealth, is sort of like the "banana republics" of the developing world? Possibly. Does the assertion bear repeating just 11 days later? That's just crazy talk! Come on, Nick!

Here's how Kristof's November 6 column for The New York Times starts out:

In my reporting, I regularly travel to banana republics notorious for their inequality. In some of these plutocracies, the richest 1 percent of the population gobbles up 20 percent of the national pie. But guess what? You no longer need to travel to distant and dangerous countries to observe such rapacious inequality. We now have it right here at home — and in the aftermath of Tuesday's election, it may get worse.

And here's how he opens his November 17 column:

Earlier this month, I offended a number of readers with a column suggesting that if you want to see rapacious income inequality, you no longer need to visit a banana republic. You can just look around. My point was that the wealthiest plutocrats now actually control a greater share of the pie in the United States than in historically unstable countries like Nicaragua, Venezuela and Guyana. But readers protested that this was glib and unfair, and after reviewing the evidence I regretfully confess that they have a point. That's right: I may have wronged the banana republics.

No one can say that Kristof, a two-time recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, isn't one of the best at what he does. The Wire did include the second "banana republic" column in our top five roundup, after all. And the economic realities that Kristof highlights--for example, that "the top 1 percent of Americans owns 34 percent of America's private net worth, according to figures compiled by the Economic Policy Institute in Washington," while "the bottom 90 percent owns just 29 percent"--certainly bear consideration.

But at this point, we can't help but picture Kristof's morning routine: Wake up. Wash face. Come downstairs for a bowl of cereal. Think about this week's column. Stare at fruit bowl... That's it! (Confidential to Kristof: Please don't stop doing what you do. That'd be like an expert knot tier quitting a knot-tying contest right in the middle of tying a knot.)

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.