The growing dominance of the wealthy
The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and the middle class is losing ground. The top one percent of Americans are now collecting 21.2 percent of the total personal income, and the bottom fifty percent are receiving only 12.8 percent. The per capita income of this top one percent is 82.8 times that of fully one half of all Americans. This is the greatest income gap since the 1920s, and it is growing steadily. Outsourcing of American jobs has boosted corporate profits at the cost of reduced wages for American workers. Fully eighty percent of the income gains of the past several years has gone to the wealthiest one percent. Even more startling is the disparity in personal assets. One tenth of one percent of our population – a mere 300,000 people – own as much wealth as the entire bottom half.And the wealthy take care of themselves. Of the $200 billion per year given to charities, only ten percent benefits the poor. The donations by the wealthy are largely investments in their own lifestyles – operas, museums, symphonies, and their well-endowed alma maters.We are fast becoming a caste society, controlled by the wealthy, for their advantage at the expense of the rest of the population. Those who run our government have abandoned the lower and middle classes, in favor of the interests of those who pay for their elections.There’s money for tax breaks for the wealthy and the unpopular war in Iraq (from which favored corporations are reaping huge profits), but not enough money to provide health care for children. The health insurance industry, the HMOs, and the big pharmaceutical companies virtually control health legislation. With the cooperation of a number of Congressmen, who later were rewarded by those companies with seven-figure salaries, Congress passed a Medicare Drug Plan, practically written by the drug industry, which – get this – prohibits Medicare from negotiating with the drug companies for the lowest prices for prescription drugs.The government’s inaction has permitted predatory lending practices, which have allowed excessive interest charges for “payday” loans, usurious interest rates on credit card debt, and the home mortgage scams, stealing from the poor and giving to the rich.Our public lands are being run for the profit of the timber, mining, and oil and gas industries rather than for the American people. Funding for amenities benefiting the public is being cut, and access to public lands is being diminished.And then we come to the escalating cost of higher education, which is pricing itself out of the reach of the poor and more and more of the struggling middle class, virtually giving the rich a corner on higher education and a lock on the high-paying jobs open only to those with the education, thereby assuring their continued supremacy. This was the situation during the Great Depression, but following World War II, millions of veterans, who would never have had the opportunity to attend college, were able to do so under the GI Bill. The result was an outpouring of college-trained people whose advanced skills created the booming economy we have enjoyed ever since. We need a similar program to fund higher education for every young person who has the desire and the capability, or we will fall behind those countries in the rest of the world who are doing so.If we do not take the subservience of the election process to money from corporations and large donors, and fail to guarantee higher education to all who qualify, regardless of their financial status, we run the risk of becoming an oligarchy run by the aristocracy. If we do not take action, we may be witnessing the end of the American dream for all but the privileged few.Hal Sundin’s column appears every other Thursday in the Post Independent.
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