AMERICA, THE LAND OF THE VERY RICH, THE NOT RICH AND THE POOR

AMERICA, THE LAND OF THE VERY RICH, THE NOT RICH AND THE POOR

David Carroll Cochran has written a very proactive article, Plutocracy or Democracy? In the February 10th issue of Commonweal magazine http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/. What is plutocracy? Cochran says it is a system in which political influence is used to maximize the interests of the wealthy and powerful at the expense of the rest of society. It is a political corruption of the Golden rule – a society in which those with the Gold, rule. In the plutocratic scenario all costs and risks are covered by the government while all profit is privatized, pocketed by corporations and wealthy individuals.

In suggesting that America has transformed from a Democracy to a plutocracy over the past thirty Richyears, Cochran notes the rise in poverty in the United States occurred as corporate CEO compensation ballooned from 24 times the average worker's wage to 300 times that amount. He says that just six members of the Walton family, who founded Wal-Mart, now have as much wealth as the bottom 30% of the entire United States population. He says during the last 30 years the minimum wage in the United States fell from to a 50 year low; it now pays a worker $15,000 a year not nearly enough to keep a family of four above the official poverty rate of $22,000. While American workers put in more and more hours trying to keep up, the United States is virtually alone among advanced industrialized countries in not guaranteeing paid vacation time and family leave while union membership has been cut in half. More Americans have fallen into poverty, record numbers are on food stamps, unemployment while the loss of health insurance have devastated billions, and the working families have seen their incomes shrink and their wealth evaporate. Cochran says that our countries inequality now exceed that of Nicaragua, Pakistan and Ethiopia.

At the same time the conservative claim is that the real problem is not poverty, unemployment or inequality, but the deficit and that the only solution is cutting social spending, not raising taxes on the wealthy. Republican congressman from Wisconsin, Paul Ryan , says calls for the wealthiest Americans paying higher taxes is " class warfare." Ryan voted for all of the major policies that reduce the deficit and then turned around to use the deficit to justify a GOP budget blueprint that would phase out Medicare and drastically cut Medicaid, unemployment benefits, and food assistance while leaving the Fed spending untouched as well as offering the wealthy another round of tax cuts. Wisconsin's Republican governor Scott Walker, in a state where the wealthy pay a lower tax rate than the poor, used a budget shortfall not just to justify wage and benefit reductions, but to curtail the collective-bargaining rights of state employee unions. At the same time Republican Newt Gingrich offered a tax plan that would give an enormous new tax break to the wealthy while he characterized unemployment insurance as paying people for "doing nothing."

Plutocracy repudiates American traditional values by separating the wealthy and powerful from all others while maximizing private gain at the expense of the common good of the people. Over the past 30 years the poor are disengaged from political matters and unions are a shadow of their former selves says Cochran. He notes the federal government's revenues have shrunk to a 60 year low. He says we currently possess one of the lowest tax rates in the world. He claims that if we simply adopted the tax rates of Canada we would return to surpluses and still leave us as one of the least taxed countries on the planet. He argues that state governments could balance their budgets by simply flattening their own regressive tax systems and asking the wealthiest taxpayers to pay the same percentage as their poorest ones already do. Instead the wealthy and powerful want deregulation to leave them free to exploit profit taking while avoiding the obligation to pay taxes that would give assistance to the middle class and poor.

It is hard to argue with Cochran's claim that the United States over the past 30 years has become more of a country where the rich and powerful benefit from government and the poor become even poorer. Powerful lobbying groups seem to run Congress. Politicians appear far more anxious to be reelected then to represent the people government is supposed to be concerned with. The enormous amounts needed to be elected to public office results in politicians being politically indebted to those who contribute the most to their campaigns. Since that is not the average citizen or the poor but rather the rich and powerful the result is what we find America is today.

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