Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.

3.05.2011

Plutocracy: A Political System Governed by the Wealthy People

It's a story about power. It's about the loss of a countervailing power robust enough to stand up to the influence of business interests and the rich on equal terms.



From the Kevin Drum article that inspired this post's title; link to follow. This seems to be the issue of the moment for me, and I see it in everything I read and read everything I see about it. I don't know if it will be my last post on it for a while or not, but I want to tie together a bunch of that "stuff" here. Starting with a joke I posted the other day:

A unionized public employee, a tea partier, and a CEO are sitting at a table. In the middle of the table is a plate with a dozen cookies on it. The CEO reaches across and takes 11 cookies, then looks at the tea partier and says, "Watch out for that union guy, he wants a piece of your cookie."

I think I first touched on it in this post, partially in reference to a Paul Krugman article saying:

What’s happening in Wisconsin isn’t about the state budget, despite Mr. Walker’s pretense that he’s just trying to be fiscally responsible. It is, instead, about power. . . . You don’t have to love unions, you don’t have to believe that their policy positions are always right, to recognize that they’re among the few influential players in our political system representing the interests of middle- and working-class Americans.

Kevin Drum goes into it even more explicitly in his article Plutocracy Now: What Wisconsin Is Really About: "How screwing unions screws the entire middle class." An excerpt:

The first is this: Income inequality has grown dramatically since the mid-'70s—far more in the US than in most advanced countries—and the gap is only partly related to college grads outperforming high-school grads. Rather, the bulk of our growing inequality has been a product of skyrocketing incomes among the richest 1 percent and—even more dramatically—among the top 0.1 percent. It has, in other words, been CEOs and Wall Street traders at the very tippy-top who are hoovering up vast sums of money from everyone, even those who by ordinary standards are pretty well off.

Second, American politicians don't care much about voters with moderate incomes. Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels studied the voting behavior of US senators in the early '90s and discovered that they respond far more to the desires of high-income groups than to anyone else. By itself, that's not a surprise. He also found that Republicans don't respond
at all to the desires of voters with modest incomes. Maybe that's not a surprise, either. But this should be: Bartels found that Democratic senators don't respond to the desires of these voters, either. At all.

It doesn't take a multivariate correlation to conclude that these two things are tightly related: If politicians care almost exclusively about the concerns of the rich, it makes sense that over the past decades they've enacted policies that have ended up benefiting the rich. And if you're not rich yourself, this is a problem. First and foremost, it's an
economic problem because it's siphoned vast sums of money from the pockets of most Americans into those of the ultrawealthy. At the same time, relentless concentration of wealth and power among the rich is deeply corrosive in a democracy, and this makes it a profoundly political problem as well.

I, of course, recommend reading the whole article, because he explains at length the history behind the current circumstances and how we have ended up here. Now to add a bunch of related stuff, some of it much more fun, related to the topic. First, a religious perspective from Jim Wallis:

This week, I have reminded television and radio talk show hosts that our budget didn’t get into this mess because we spent too much money on poor people! And cutting programs that help the most vulnerable (which are among the most cost-effective and least costly public spending we have) isn’t going to get us out of financial trouble, or reduce the deficit in ways that we now need. Excessive deficits are indeed a moral issue and they place crushing burdens on our children and grandchildren. But how we reduce the deficit is also a moral issue.

But, of course, I have been asked, “Okay then, what would you cut?” This debate has reminded me of the famous statement by bank robber Willie Sutton. When asked why he robbed banks, he famously replied, “Because that’s where the money is.” If we really want to reduce the deficit, we also have to go where the real money is: our massive military spending, corporate welfare subsides to big businesses, and corporate tax loopholes, as well as the long term costs of health care and Social Security, which will require important future reforms. On a television program yesterday evening, I said that I want those who now propose major cuts to critical low-income family support programs to say, out loud, that every item of Pentagon spending is more important to our well-being and security than school lunches, child health, and early education programs.


Next, The Daily Show looks at how much of this has been covered in the news. For more on that topic, I'd refer you to my previous post about Fox News:



Followed, logically of course, by a possible solution from Stephen Colbert:



Finally, if you're still with me, a couple of interesting videos from over 20 years ago. I'm not a Marxist and do see benefits to a free market economy, but think voices like this need to be part of the debate since everything has shifted so far away from them. It's long and starts slow, not even really getting into things for a good five minutes then shifting to what I think is an even better perspective around ten minutes in. Since this is related to what he says in Part II, I'll first share a bit of humor considering themes of Dr. Seuss books:



A Critique of Capitalism, Part I:



Part II:

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