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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 7/30/11

Wealth and Democracy

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 - But prison is, at least, one place where more Americans are finding a home.  With an inmate population of 2.3 million people, the US warehouses more people than any other nation in the world.  The incarceration rate of 700 per 100,000 citizens far exceeds that of China (at 110 per 100,000), France (at 80 per 100,000) and Saudi Arabia (at 45 per 100,000).  And the prison industry represents a thriving -- and increasingly, corporatized -- growth sector.  A report titled Incarceration Nation revealed that "a new prison opens every week somewhere in America."

 - The US government understates the national unemployment rate and has done so for many years. The most recently publicized number for June, 9.3%,  is highly deceptive.  Known as the U3 rate, it excludes those who have given up, the so-called "discouraged workers", as well as those part-time workers seeking full-time employment.  By this reckoning, the real unemployment rate,  known as U6, is over 20% for June.  But the government must hide the real numbers, since it has sanctioned the rush to off-shore American jobs by multi-national corporations and the "hollowing-out" of American industry.  As Phillips wrote: "some managements hoped to no longer process or manufacture anything in the United States, but merely to import and distribute goods, much like the ill-fated Enron transformation from producing company to financial trader."

 - And, most recently, the Pew Research Center reports that the median wealth of white households is 20 times that of black households, and 18 times that for Hispanic households.  This newly released information from the 2009 census also revealed that between 2005 and 2009 the inflation-adjusted median wealth in white households fell by 16%, compared to a 53% drop for Hispanic households and a 66% drop for black households.

The disparity between rich and poor in America could hardly be more stark, the ultra-wealthy with their enablers and courtiers and the millions struggling in a system beyond their control and comprehension.  But, for the elite, the disparity can be widened; the limit has not yet been reached. This is a quest that demands the unassailable, unyielding, and unrepentant devotion and belief of its corporatist adherents.  This is where Phillips' imbalance of wealth meets his democratic deficit, where market theology and unelected leadership vanquish participatory democracy.

The Gilded Age, then and now

It was Mark Twain in 1873 who coined the term, "Gilded Age."  And one of the first of his contemporaries to draw the line connecting excessive personal wealth with the power of the corporation and the flagrant corruption in politics was James B. Weaver, when he declared in 1880 that the nation's founders had imagined a system in which " the wealth of the country should diffuse itself among the people according to natural and beneficent laws.  They did not contemplate these corporations that are as real entities as are individuals."  

And so began the tensions between populist and corporatist forces in American politics that have raged, ebbed, and flowed to the present day.

The populist messaging has remained remarkably consistent down through the years.  Theodore Roosevelt famously said, "There is absolutely nothing to be said for government by a plutocracy, for government by men very powerful in certain lines and gifted with a money touch, but with ideals which in their essence are merely those of so many glorified pawnbrokers."  Fast-forward to the near-present and in 1996 Senator Bill Bradley elaborates further, "Money not only determines who is elected, it determines who runs for office.  Congressmen will listen to the 900,000 who donate to their campaigns ahead of the 259,600,000 who don't."  And then, as Democratic presidential candidate in 2000, he described the corruption of the 1990s as "a story Americans have heard before.  Its the story of the late 19th century, the era of the spoils system and recurrent scandals, when politics became hostage to the money power of Wall Street financiers, railroads and industrialists, when each senator was virtually the property of whatever magnate had engineered his appointment."

Candidate McCain, in the Republican primaries of the same year, showed common cause when he, too, identified the monied influence in political life, "we know what the influence of this big money is on the legislative process and how its taken the government away from the American people and given it to the special interests...in 1907, Theodore Roosevelt, the great reformer, was able to get corporate contributions to American political campaigns outlawed, because the robber barons had taken over American politics."

The concentration of wealth, both then and now, was and is aided by the corruption of politics on the one hand and the general suasion of the of market idolatry and economic Darwinism on the other.  As Phillips notes, "No other nation has matched the United States for the overall centrality of private corporations (including banks) in its economic growth and political life." 

And today, the tensions between populist and corporatist forces have been played out, and corporatism is again (and perhaps finally) ascendant; against all that was first imagined for America, markets have been turned into the vehicle for human governance.        

Unelected is Unaccountable  

The quiet gains and carefully implemented infrastructure of the right wing over the past 30 years are now coming to full fruition.  The much publicized success of the Brothers Koch in subverting the general welfare merely continues a long and distinguished tradition of right-wing patrons.  A network of think-tanks and journals, foundations, lobby groups, legislative councils, and advisory groups have prepared the ground for one final assault.  And, with the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court justices, themselves unelected and unaccountable, have opened the door to untold sums for the final purchase of America's democracy. 

The largest transfer of wealth in the history of the world has set in place the final conditions necessary for the conservative transformation of government.  As the 2012 election cycle approaches, the wealthiest Americans will bring to bear the full weight of their own unelected and unaccountable power to seal the deal, in what will be the most expensive election in history.  And it doesn't matter who "wins;"; as Chris Hedges has said, "[t]he war is over, and they won".  And yet, it seems completely incomprehensible that so many could be delivered into penury while so few live at the very edge of imagined privilege. 

When victory does come, the unelected will be prominent in sharing the spoils - the wealthy, the corporations, the PACs of all description, the Chamber of Commerce, the foreign interests, the think-tanks and pundits and lobbyists.  Even the Tea Party, a so-called populist movement, now vaingloriously holding the line in Congress against any taxation, is really a creation of corporate power that provides cover and misdirection as the monied interests affect their real agenda - more useful idiots.  They are all the 21st century equivalent of TR's glorified pawnbrokers.  

And so too, hidden in plain view, are the politicians themselves.  It may be stretching the point, but they are perhaps as unelected as they are unaccountable.  Using Bradley's definition, incumbents who are bought and sold so openly can hardly be considered truly elected, and they have certainly ceased to reflect the will of their constituents, unless it is in the service of their major contributors.  Incumbents know that corporate funding and a market theology are the keys to re-election, and this certainty allows them to ignore public sentiment.  It explains how lawmakers consistently refuse to acknowledge the will of the people, including their desire to see increased taxation of the rich and corporations, the protection of Medicare and Medicaid, and a significant curb on military spending.

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David Ruhlen is a writer and musician living in Canada. He notes with great alarm the profoundly negative trends that will increasingly affect us all. And the trends that have come to so completely reflect the human condition are these: (more...)
 
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