Economic Inequality: Still A Political Hot Potato (Page 3)

Economic Inequality:   Still A Political Hot Potato
(Page 3)

Challenging Corporate Dominance

Wealth inequality has grown to the point where today the top 1/10th of 1% of wealth holders in our country have more than the bottom 50%.   Last year, CEOs were compensated to the tune of 344 times the pay of the average worker in large corporations. At the same time, real wages (adjusted for inflation) of most working people have declined.     The result is that we are at an almost unprecedented level of inequality.   As the popular response to the bailout showed, the sense is growing that these gaps cannot be sustained without serious strains to the social fabric of the country.

Both Obama and McCain know this problem exists.   But, while they do have their differences, they both seem to accept the notion that “the business of America is business.” That it is right and proper for corporations to exercise dominance over government, the economy, and society at large.   It’s true that Sen. Obama railed against the excesses of the AIG executives who splurged on a company retreat, complete with hot tubs and massages even as their business collapsed.   He argued that we should have the authority to fire the CEOs responsible and get back the money they spent.   But his rhetoric was not backed up by specific proposals for doing so.   And despite occasional critical comments from the candidates about certain companies (the oil industry is a favorite election-year target), the general idea that corporations should be held mainly accountable for social problems is unutterable, let alone debatable.   Yet a mountain of evidence exists that supports this view.

It all comes down to choices: how we allocate resources, and what we value as a society.   Do we value individual freedom to the point that rampant greed is allowed to undermine our economic system, or do we value mitigating the effects of markets, so that more people have a chance to build wealth?   Lack of affordable health care, crumbling infrastructure, and lack of an alternative energy program are only a few of the many problems facing the next president that will not lend themselves to any solution without a change in the rules, i.e., a re-allocation of resources.

Both candidates would do well to recall President Eisenhower’s farewell address to the nation, which introduced the term “military-industrial complex” to our public discourse.   We need a new appreciation of what Eisenhower was saying.   We need to see how many schools, hospitals, roads, and bridges haven’t been built because the resources for building them have been diverted to the Iraq War.   We need to see the connections between our war effort and the profit margins of disaster capitalists like the Blackwater company, whose interests are powerfully represented in Congress and who have a stake in an open-ended engagement in Iraq.   Which candidate will make that point clearly?   Neither McCain nor Obama have done so.   Obama has even said he would maintain the arrangements with Blackwater if he becomes commander-in-chief.

Whether the candidates want to admit it openly or not, our country is in the midst of a lopsided class war.   Anti-government and anti-tax proponents have engaged in a generations-long effort to roll back every vestige of the Great Society and the New Deal, to return us to a day when capital could reign free and unfettered, when the government’s tax policies did nothing to mitigate rising inequality, and when the phrase from the Constitution that it is the government’s responsibility to “promote the general welfare” was so narrowly interpreted as to be meaningless.   Conservatives gained ascendancy during the Reagan and Bush administrations and have, until now, been successful.     They may yet find a way to use the current crisis on Wall Street to their advantage, as its negative effects trickle down through the economy.  

The potential power of ordinary people to demand that their concerns be addressed was shown clearly during the bailout debate, when so many wrote to Congress and spoke out.   As the journalist David Cay Johnston has written, “while the wealthy have, and always will have, disproportionate influence over politics, their power can only be held in check by the great mass of voters recognizing and pursuing their own self-interest.”

Simple fairness is missing from our economic system.   What you didn’t – and won’t – hear from either major party candidate is a profound alternative to this ingrained inequality, an inequality that will become unsustainable the more sand it throws into the social gears.

The answer?   People learning how the rules of the economy work and then using their knowledge to organize for changes in those rules.   UFE’s mission is to help people do exactly that.