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Monday, April 21, 2014

America’s Mad Dash To Oligarchy

America’s Mad Dash To Oligarchy

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship
Consortiumnews.com
Monday, April 21, 2014

The evidence of income inequality just keeps mounting.

According to “Working for the Few,” a recent briefing paper from
Oxfam, “In the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent
of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90
percent became poorer.”

Our now infamous one percent own more than 35 percent of
the nation’s wealth.

Meanwhile, the bottom 40 percent of the country is in debt.

Just this past Tuesday, the 15th of April, Tax Day, the AFL-CIO
reported that last year the chief executive officers of 350 top
American corporations were paid 331 times more money than
the average U.S. worker.

Those executives made an average of $11.7 million dollars
compared to the average worker who earned $35,239 dollars.

As that analysis circulated on Tax Day, the economic analyst
Robert Reich, reminded us that in addition to getting the
largest percent of total national income in nearly a century,
many in the one percent are paying a lower federal tax rate
than a lot of people in the middle class.

You may remember that an obliging Congress, of both parties,
allows high rollers of finance the privilege of, “Carried
Interest,” a tax rate below that of their secretaries and clerks.

And at state and local levels, while the poorest fifth of Americans
pay an average tax rate of over 11 percent, the richest one percent
of the country pay, are you ready for this? Half that rate.

Now, neither Nature nor Nature’s God drew up our tax codes; that’s
the work of legislators, politicians, and it’s one way they have, as
Chief Justice John Roberts might put it, of expressing gratitude to
their donors:

“Oh, Mr. Adelson, we so appreciate your generosity that we cut
your estate taxes so you can give $8 billion as a tax-free payment
to your heirs, even though down the road the public will have to
put up $2.8 billion to compensate for the loss in tax revenue.”

All of which makes truly repugnant the argument, heard so often
from courtiers of the rich, that inequality doesn’t matter.

Of course it matters.

Inequality is what has turned Washington into a protection racket
for the one percent.

It buys all those goodies from government:

Tax breaks. Tax havens (which allow corporations and the rich to
park their money in a no-tax zone). Loopholes. Favors like carried
interest. And so on.

As Paul Krugman writes in his New York Review of Books essay
on Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, “We
now know both that the United States has a much more unequal
distribution of income than other advanced countries and that
much of this difference in outcomes can be attributed directly
to government action.”

Recently, researchers at Connecticut’s Trinity College plowed
through the data and concluded that the U.S. Senate is responsive
to the policy preferences of the rich, ignoring the poor.

And now there’s that big study coming out in the fall from scholars
at Princeton and Northwestern universities, based on data collected
between 1981 and 2002. Their conclusion:

“America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously
threatened. … The preferences of the average American appear
to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant
impact upon public policy.” Instead, policy tends “to tilt towards
the wishes of corporations and business and professional associations.”

Last month, Matea Gold of The Washington Post reported on a
pair of political science graduate students who released a study
confirming that money does equal access in Washington.

Joshua Kalla and David Broockman drafted two form letters asking
191 members of Congress for a meeting to discuss a certain piece
of legislation.

One email said “active political donors” would be present; the
second email said only that a group of “local constituents” would
be at the meeting.

One guess as to which emails got the most response.

Yes, more than five times as many legislators, or their chiefs
of staff, offered to set up meetings with active donors, than
with local constituents.

Why is it not corruption when the selling of access to our public
officials upends the very core of representative government?

When money talks and you have none, how can you believe in
democracy?

Sad, that it’s come to this.

The drift toward oligarchy that Thomas Piketty describes in
his formidable new book on capital has become a mad dash.

It will overrun us, unless we stop it.



Bill Moyers is Managing Editor and Michael Winship, is Senior Writer
of the weekly public affairs program, Moyers & Company, airing on
public television.

http://consortiumnews.com/2014/04/21/americas-mad-dash-
to-oligarchy

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