President Obama’s advisor David Axelrod recently addressed the possibility of extending the Bush era tax cuts for the wealthy top 10% of the public. He stated, “We have to deal with the world as it is.” However, the “world as it is” in America seems to include the rapid rise of a plutocracy, or rule by the rich. While Alexlrod’s statement seems facially neutral coming from a political advisor, it shows signs that the Administration is not considering the fundamental threat such tax cuts pose. As this nation’s income inequality rises to levels higher than developing nations, the compromises being made by Obama are indeed compromising the lives, not savings, of working to middle class citizens. Further, the U.S. Supreme Court has advanced the plutocractic control over the nation through its decision to give the same free speech rights to corporate entities as average citizens.
Robert Frank, author of the book Richistan, recently examined the top 400 income-earners list and remarked that it showed a “hardening of the plutocracy.” There are several signs of this “hardening” but none more remarkable than the fact that the top 1% of the population owns 24% of the wealth, the top 10% owns over 70%, and the bottom 90% of the public owns a mere 23% of the nation’s wealth, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Those who would argue that the rich have always maintained such a hold over American wealth would perhaps change their opinion knowing that the top 1% owned merely 9% in 1976.
In the midst of some of the highest unemployment rates in modern history, with foreclosures threatening families with homelessness, the Republicans would like to revive tax cuts that would cost the nation up to $700 billion over the next decade. Rather than standing in direct opposition to such a self-defeating cause, Obama has stated that he would be willing to compromise with conservatives who now control the House of Representatives. While the ramifications of this tax cut for the wealthy would not make or break the economic recovery, they add another wall of seclusion for the elites from the average citizen.
Unfortunately, it is not just the White House, but the Supreme Court that is allowing this plutocracy to utilize its resources to take control of the political process as well as the financial markets. In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Court held that a corporation could covertly supply undisclosed amounts of money to political causes. Before discussing the ramifications of such a decision, it is important to state that in a democracy, a corporation, controlled by executives that make 42 times as much as their employees, does not deserve the same rights as an average citizen.
The fiction of awarding a corporation the same rights as a citizen caused hundreds of millions of dollars to be poured into the midterm elections, by wealthy entities that need officials elected who would continue facilitating the rise of inequality in America. The Supreme Court decision drowned out the voice of the common citizen with the cacophony of wealthy multi-million dollar corporations interested in legislators who can provide legal methods of exploitation. Further, when candidates are receiving millions from corporate sponsors, it is impossible for a competitor to stand a chance if they want to retain their independent judgment divorced from corporate control.
Indeed, the founding of this nation as a constitutional democracy was premised on overthrowing a system that allowed for the British aristocracy to rule, where merit was not as important as birth into a rich family. Thomas Jefferson explained, “Unless the mass retains sufficient control over those entrusted with the powers of their government, these will be perverted to their own oppression, and to the perpetuation of wealth and power in the individuals and their families selected for the trust.” By continuing to allow corporate and elite interest to pervade, the Obama Administration and the Supreme Court continually disregard the benefit and spirit of the American egalitarian democracy as embodied by founders like Jefferson.
President Obama is failing to give weight to the significance of the possible concessions to the Republicans over tax cuts for the wealthy. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is somehow awarding the same political and civil rights to million dollar corporate entities as they do to the common citizen for whom democracy was created. The surge of income inequality combined with the corporate-favored decisions by the nations’ highest court would lead Jefferson to raise questions about the fundamental change in our ruling system. The most alarming fact is that our leaders are not raising this basic question, which allows for our “rule by the rich” system to continue perpetuating itself and creating more distance between the top 1% and everyone else.
Similarly, the U.S. has inspired many of its international partners to join in this increasing disparity between the rich and all others. Pakistan is a prime example wherein the elite are both physically and mentally far removed from the average citizenry, and in fact publicly disavow any responsibility they owe to the people they exploit.