America Is Rich Enough To Make Every American a Winner

The U.S. economic system is a hellish Squid Game — why do we keep playing?

Kurt Andersen
GEN
Published in
5 min readOct 13, 2021

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Why are more Americans watching a South Korean TV series than any other show on Netflix, a series that looks to become the most popular show on Netflix ever?

Maybe because “Squid Game,” a fable of cruel hyper-capitalist brutality and selfishness, strikes a chord in our own hyper-capitalist country of extreme economic inequality and insecurity — extreme compared to the rest of the rich world (including South Korea) and extreme compared to our system when I was young, before it got reengineered to let the rich and powerful get much, much richer and more powerful.

Between the end of World War II and 1980, U.S. economic output, our GDP per person, doubled — and as it did, the incomes of American families at every level doubled too, because the New Deal (progressive tax code, empowered unions, overtime pay, minimum wage, Social Security) had just made our system a lot more fair and decent.

Since 1980, our GDP per person doubled again — but this time, as a result of radical policy changes, only the incomes of the rich doubled (and for the very rich, tripled and quadrupled), while the median household income grew by barely a third, a fraction of one percent per year, reversing economic progress, pushing U.S. income inequality back to what it was a century ago. The new U.S. inequality of wealth — mainly stocks, other financial assets, and real estate — has grown even more extreme. The richest tenth of Americans now own more than two-thirds of all the wealth in the country; the richest 1% of Americans own more than the combined wealth of two-thirds of their fellow Americans; and so on.

In other words, while our economic pie has kept on growing since 1980, only a fraction of Americans has been getting served commensurately larger and larger pieces of the pie. In the course of researching my most recent book, “Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America,” I came up with a way to think about how remarkably rich America actually is, and how much more pleasant American life could be for the overwhelming majority of us if we shared more of that national wealth, the way the other prosperous democracies do.

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Kurt Andersen
GEN
Writer for

Award-winning, bestselling author (Evil Geniuses, Fantasyland, True Believers, Heyday, Turn of the Century) and creator of media (Studio 360, Inside, SPY).