Wealth and Power

For the last few years, there’s been a good deal of debate over the growing gap between the rich and everyone else.

We’ve all seen the numbers: the top 1% of Americans own 43% of all the nation’s wealth, and the next 4% owns another 29%. Meanwhile, 80% of Americans share only 7% of the nation’s total wealth.

That bare fact is troubling enough–disparities of this magnitude typically generate resentment and often lead to significant social disruptions–but the reasons for that gap are even more worrisome. The truth of the matter is that money buys access and power. Poor folks don’t have lobbyists, they don’t make significant political contributions. To use academic jargon, the poor lack “voice.” Meanwhile, the rich have megaphones.

Look at the proposals to cut the deficit–a deficit caused primarily by two ill-considered wars (wars that “coincidentally” enriched a number of major corporations) coupled with massive tax cuts for the wealthy. Programs at risk include things like early childhood education, low-income housing programs, community health centers, family planning and job training–all programs that assist poor Americans. It’s estimated that cuts to these programs will “save” 44 billion dollars (save is in quotes because most of these are short-term savings with significant long-term costs). Meanwhile, the recent extension of the Bush tax cuts to the richest 2% of Americans cost the treasury 42 billion a year. Changes to the estate tax–dubbed the “death tax” by opponents–cost another 11.5 billion.

Let me be very clear: I accept the argument that confiscatory tax rates dampen innovation and entrepreneurship. And I not only accept, but heartily endorse market economics. I’m a capitalist and make no apologies for that. But American tax rates are at their lowest levels in fifty years, and one would have to be delusional to believe that returning the top rate to 39%–the rate during the Clinton administration–would discourage investment. What is even clearer is that we have abandoned markets in favor of crony capitalism. Large employers and the wealthy have used their clout to game the system; they have effectively bought tax and other advantages that have had the effect of protecting them from the very market forces they so piously invoke.  Instead of a genuinely free market, where businesses compete on a level playing field, we have an economic oligarchy–an Animal Farm where some are much more equal than others.

This state of affairs is bad for the economy in the long term. It is worse for social stability and democratic institutions.

1 Comment

  1. Add to all of this, a new oganized campaign by the super-wealthy to roll back labor rights, and you have as detailed an explaination as is needed. People have to see the whole narrative of the power shifts in our democratic instutions. What the right is trying to sell is that the Unions by using dues that were supplied through tax dollars are thereby gaming the political system. Gliding over the fact that when any person recieves wages, it is their money at that point regardless of who their employer is. Coupled with the Citizens United decision, they have decimated any regulation of corporate contributions to political advertising. If the world we are creating were a teeter totter. One side would have a very large kid on one side and and a frail sickly small senior citizen on the other end, (you can gues who is who). The 200 pound kid on the other side, has decided it is his mission to knock the little guy on the other end off the whole ride. With the kidd not smart enough to realize that he is fat and happy due efforts of his opposite.

Comments are closed.