Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Nightmare of Plutocracy

(WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

According to a recent report by OxFam International, the 85 richest people in the world have as much wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest people.

According to tax attorney Bob Lord, the wealth of America's 400 richest individuals is equal to the wealth of the entire African American population of the United States.

According to U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, and a subsequent fact check, the Walton family (Walmart) have more wealth than the bottom 40% of the U.S. population.

What does all this mean, politically? Well, it means that the wealthiest of Americans have more and more money (power) to influence public policy, while the rest of us have less and less money (power) to do so. As Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig argues, campaign funding by wealthy donors means that "the tiniest fraction of the one percent have the effective power to block reform desired by the 99-plus percent."

In other words, plutocracy.

(WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

If all this concentrated wealth actually made our lives better, as the peddlers of trickle-down economics told us it would, that would be one thing. But we know that the opposite is occurring: Wages are stagnant despite increased worker productivity; many college graduates are having a hard time finding good jobs and are defaulting on their student loan debt; the middle-class is shrinking; long-term unemployment remains a problem; there is only one job opening for every three job seekers; the labor force participation rate is at a 35-year low; we have the largest prison-industrial complex in the world; suicides rates have risen (and unemployment and financial duress are factors in suicide rates); and much, much more. In sum, as the wealth of the financial elite increases, the quality of life for everyone else decreases. And, to add insult to injury, the financial elite are pouring millions of dollars into our electoral and political systems to ensure that their wealth continues to grow and ours continues to decline.

As if all this were not bad enough, millions of Americans simply don't care. Millions do not vote and, among those that do, many will continuously vote for candidates backed by big banks, fraudulent corporations, and the billionaires who want to shred our social safety net (see, e.g., "Peter Peterson Spent Nearly Half A Billion In Washington Targeting Social Security, Medicare").

For those of us who value democracy, these are the worst of times. The American Dream has been replaced by the Nightmare of Plutocracy. Further, as long as millions of voters continue to believe that politicians backed by Corporate America will make things better, the Nightmare of Plutocracy will continue to degrade our quality of life.

(In the audio above, we hear President Franklin Roosevelt warning us about the danger of plutocracy. Unfortunately, we have failed to heed his warning.)

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