Friday, November 4, 2011

The new gilded age, the loss of Democracy

Here's a visual of the problem. This shows you the income of the members of Congress, House on the top, Senate on the bottom. Notice the number of them who are in the top 1%. Our "representatives" disproportionately represent the richest in this country.

 In the comments, Dr Primrose points us to a report, Corporate Taxpayers & Corporate Tax Dodgers 2008-10, from the Citizens for Tax Justice and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, which looked at 280 of America's top companies. It found that 67 of these firms had an average tax rate of zero, and worse, 30 of them had an average tax rate of -6.7%, meaning they taking more of our money than paying in taxes. A quote,
 "[O]ver time, Reagan’s 1986 decision to get rid of corporate tax subsidies and make our big corporations pay their fair share has been reversed. Ironically, that reversal has been led in large part by politicians who claim to be Reagan's disciples and to oppose government subsidies that interfere with market incentives. Indeed, many of these purported fans of Reagan want to expand corporate subsidies and tilt public policy even further in favor of corporate tax avoidance."
 And you can see from the image how that happened.

 Bill Moyers reminds us that it used to be possible to get a good education in public schools, access books in a public library, and move on to a good public university-- and kids from rich and poor families did it side by side. Now, however, we're a cultural apartheid, where those at the top separate themselves from not just the poor, but the middle class. And it happened with a corporate blueprint to dismantle the New Deal.   He writes, 
William Simon…. called on “men of action in the capitalist world” to mount “a veritable crusade” against progressive America. BusinessWeek (October 12, 1974) somberly explained that “it will be a bitter pill for many Americans to swallow the idea of doing with less so that big business can have more.” 
Those “men of action in the capitalist world” were not content with their wealth just to buy more homes, more cars, more planes, more vacations and more gizmos than anyone else. They were determined to buy more democracy than anyone else. 
And they succeeded beyond their expectations. After their forty-year “veritable crusade” against our institutions, laws and regulations—against the ideas, norms and beliefs that helped to create America’s iconic middle class—the Gilded Age is back with a vengeance.
Paul Krugman looks at the data and finds that yes, the inequality really is that bad.
But why does this growing concentration of income and wealth in a few hands matter? Part of the answer is that rising inequality has meant a nation in which most families don’t share fully in economic growth. Another part of the answer is that once you realize just how much richer the rich have become, the argument that higher taxes on high incomes should be part of any long-run budget deal becomes a lot more compelling. 
The larger answer, however, is that extreme concentration of income is incompatible with real democracy. Can anyone seriously deny that our political system is being warped by the influence of big money, and that the warping is getting worse as the wealth of a few grows ever larger. 
Some pundits are still trying to dismiss concerns about rising inequality as somehow foolish. But the truth is that the whole nature of our society is at stake.
Nick Kristoff also joins in

 [Y]es, we face a threat to our capitalist system. But it’s not coming from half-naked anarchists manning the barricades at Occupy Wall Street protests. Rather, it comes from pinstriped apologists for a financial system that glides along without enough of the discipline of failure and that produces soaring inequality, socialist bank bailouts and unaccountable executives. 
It’s time to take the crony out of capitalism, right here at home.        

Meanwhile, the Republicans in Congress vote down every jobs bill, and write unprecedented letters threatening the Fed:
In other words, it looks like the Republicans are once again violating a political norm -- while advising action that could keep hundreds of thousands of Americans out of work -- in order to advance their policy agenda, their political cause, or both. They're breaking the rules, at least as currently understood, because it will help them get their way.
And if you look at the chart with which I started this post, you can see why.

Image from here.  H/T Dr Primrose, Counterlight, and Andrew Sullivan 

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