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  • In our own minds, we usually place ourselves in the social class in which we were raised.

  • For me, like many Americans, that means "middle class".

  • But the truth is that the social classes in the United States are rapidly pulling away from one another.

  • The emerging class system looks different, with its casual dress codes and somewhat greater variety of skin tones and ethnicities.

  • But we are the accomplices in a process that is strangling the economy, destabilizing our politics, and eroding democracy.

  • There is a familiar story about rising inequality in the United States.

  • The villains are the plutocrats, the fat cats, the tech bros and the rest of the so-called 1%.

  • The good guys are the 99 percent, also known as "the people".

  • In fact, it is the top 0.1% who have been the big winners in wealth over the past 50 years.

  • Their share of the pie climbed from 10 percent in 1963 to more than 22 percent today.

  • But not everybody below them had to give up something.

  • Only the bottom 90% did.

  • In between, there is a third group that has held on to its share of the wealth year after year.

  • Let's call it the 9.9%.

  • The 9.9% is rich in more than mere money.

  • It has substantially lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.

  • It marries later and has more stable family structures.

  • It lives in gilded neighborhoods with richer social networks and vastly better educational opportunities.

  • And it is able to pass all of this along to its offspring, leaving the bottom 90% in the dust.

  • We like to pretend that none of this matters because in the land of opportunity, everybody has a chance to make it.

  • But in fact, social mobility is lower here than in many other developed countries, and it's been going down.

  • Aristocrats take wealth out of productive activities and invest it in walls.

  • They lock themselves and their offspring in place at the expense of other people's children.

  • The escalating inequality of our time appears new.

  • But if you take in a broad sweep of history, starting, say, with the Great Pyramids of Egypt, inequality looks like the norm of human experience.

  • History tells us that aristocrats come to believe their own propaganda, that their superiority is an artifact of nature.

  • Today's 9.9 percent has convinced themselves they don't have any privileges, and the delusions are understandable.

  • A strange truth about rising inequality is that even as it locks our privileges in place, it doesn't seem to make things that much easier.

  • That's because the greater the inequality, the less your money buys.

  • Our insecurity grows as the chasm beneath us expands.

  • Rising inequality leads to political instability and typically ends in catastrophic violence.

  • Still, there have been exceptions.

  • America's founders were mostly 9.9 percenters.

  • But they turned their backs on the man at the top in order to create a government of, by, and for the people.

  • Reversing the calcifying effects of rising inequality isn't just a matter of helping out the less fortunate.

  • The challenge we face now is to renew the promise of American democracy.

In our own minds, we usually place ourselves in the social class in which we were raised.

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