In his current N.Y. Times column, Frank Rich asks “whether the country can afford the systemic damage being done by the ever-growing income inequality between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else, whether poor, middle class or even rich. That burden is inflicted not just on the debt but on the very idea of America — our Horatio Alger faith in social mobility over plutocracy, our belief that our brand of can-do capitalism brings about innovation and growth, and our fundamental sense of fairness.”

Rich is echoing, of course, the more-or-less-accepted notion that America has become South America — a country ruled by super-elite haves with vastly different interests and goals than those of the rest of society. Which is the same point made by Arianna Huffington‘s “Third World America.” And by N.Y. Times columnist Paul Krugman when he said we’ve become “a banana republic with nukes.”

“‘How can hedge-fund managers who are pulling down billions sometimes pay a lower tax rate than do their secretaries?’ ask the political scientists Jacob S. Hacker (of Yale) and Paul Pierson (University of California, Berkeley) in their deservedly lauded new book, ‘Winner-Take-All Politics.’ If you want to cry real tears about the American dream — as opposed to the self-canonizing tears of John Boehner — read this book and weep. The authors’ answer to that question and others amounts to a devastating indictment of both parties.

“Their ample empirical evidence, some of which I’m citing here, proves that America’s ever-widening income inequality was not an inevitable by-product of the modern megacorporation, or of globalization, or of the advent of the new tech-driven economy, or of a growing education gap. (Yes, the very rich often have fancy degrees, but so do those in many income levels below them.) Inequality is instead the result of specific policies, including tax policies, championed by Washington Democrats and Republicans alike as they conducted a bidding war for high-rolling donors in election after election.”