Will Rogers' quip, "We've got the best government money can buy," is no joke.
Economic and political inequality are linked. Money buys unequal influence, unequal representation, and unequal power.
Economically, the United States is now the most unequal society in the industrialized world: the richest fifth of Americans earn eleven times more than the bottom fifth.
Money doesn't measure value: compare the incomes of those who produce the nation's wealth---the laborers, teachers, healthcare workers, and so forth---with those who buy and sell it---the speculators, traders, and financiers.
Today, the income disparity between corporate executives and their employees exceeds five hundred to one in America's 365 largest companies.
Since 1948, the effective tax rate (income + FICA) for the wealthiest Americans has dramatically declined while that for Middle America has steadily increased. The graduated tax system has virtually disappeared.
Income gap reflects that shift. In the years between 1977 and 1994, the after-tax income of the lowest quintile of Americans plummeted 16%, that of the middle quintile dropped 1%, and that of the top 1 percent skyrocketed 72%.
During the economic boom between 1983 and 1998, the top 20 percent of American households gained almost all the growth while the bottom 40 percent showed an absolute decline. By 2001, they owned 91% of the nation's wealth---and this was before the Bush tax-cuts.
What does all this mean in terms of representation and democracy?
If many of us make hardly a living wage, we haven't the time to stay informed and participate in the political process. And we can't afford to make the kind of political contributions that assure attention to our interests.
Look at the Bush/Cheney "Mavericks," "Pioneers," and "Rangers" (those who've generated $50,000, $100,000, $200,000 and more for their campaign). It's clear that the rich wield the influence---not Middle America.
Unfortunately, Republicans aren't alone; Democrats also count on the largesse of the wealthy.
It's no secret that contributions to political campaigns are rewarded infinitely better than contributions to society. And it's no mystery why those with less income are less likely to vote.
Our Constitution doesn't guarantee every citizen an equal lifestyle; but it does guarantee every citizen equal representation, equal opportunity, and equal justice. Yet these cannot be realized until wealth is distributed much more equitably.
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