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Thursday, March 3, 2011

DEMOCRACY -- OR PLUTOCRACY?

Bill Moyers recently gave a speech in which he outlined clearly how we are becoming a plutcracy, a government run by just the wealthy, not the ordinary people.  This is a summary of that speech.  The parts in bold italics are direct quotes.


Executive Summary -- Welcome to the Plutocracy

We all know something is wrong.  We just don't what it is, nor do we know how to fix it.  Ordinary, hard-working people are hurting.  Wages are falling; an unprecedented number of people are losing their homes; health care is costing lives or savings accounts.  Yes, something is wrong. 

Bill Moyers wrote a an excellent piece about what that is and what we can do to help our country recover, so that ordinary people like us can live our lives to the fullest once again.

Basically, for thirty years, some of the wealthiest citizens of our country have been selling us a bill of goods under the guise of working for us.  They get richer, we get poorer.  They don't even try to disguise it any more.  
In 2005  the Wall Street giant Citigroup, set forth an “Equity Strategy” under the title (I’m not making this up) “Revisiting Plutonomy: The Rich Getting Richer.”

. . . . from 1950 through 1980, the share of all income in America going to everyone but the rich increased from 64 percent to 65 percent.  The average income for 9 out of l0 Americans was growing, too – from $17,719 to $30,941. That’s a 75 percent increase in income.  But then it stopped. Since 1980 the economy has also continued to grow handsomely, but only a fraction at the top have benefited. Average income went from that $30,941 in 1980 to $31,244 in 2008. Think about that: the average income of Americans increased just $303 dollars in 28 years.
That’s wage repression.

Moyers goes on to show that this wage repression began with the Reagan presidency and has continued unabated ever since, due to a long series of legislative initiatives that have been systematically passed into law.  We often hear leaders sneeringly criticize our president because he is trying to "redistribute  wealth."  Well, the wealth has already been redistributed -- and it is not to the everyday people like us.  This has been going on for many years, but only now has it become more clear and obvious.   Only now are people having to live with the consequences of those decisions.

A  fraction of one percent of Americans  now earn as much as the bottom 120 million Americans.  Let me repeat that a different way.  If you add up all the salaries of the bottom 120 million Americans, it equals the salaries of a fraction of one percent of the wealthiest Americans.  Yes.  Something is clearly wrong.

Although there has been a gradual decrease in income to ordinary Americans for decades, the results are only evident now.  That's why everyone knows that something is wrong but we don't know what it is.  The changes have come slowly, so it is difficult to pin the change to the changes in the law.  But there is a clear connection.  And unfortunately, it is getting worse.

Due to the supreme court decision of last year, corporations can now give indefinite amounts of money to political candidates anonymously.  We saw the result of that decision in the last election.  Across the country, corporations gave anonymously in unprecedented amounts to candidates who would support their agenda.  Now those who constitute Citigroup’s “plutonomy” are buying our democracy.  Alan Grayson says lobbyists have walked into his office and said "I've got five million dollars to spend and I can spend it for you or against you."  Like I said, they are no longer even trying to hide it. (Alan Grayson, incidentally, did not go along to get along.  He stood up for us ordinary citizens.  He lost his election).

They ran elections void of truth and won massively in the last election. In Michigan the Republican party is now in charge of of the governorship, both chambers of the legislature, Attorney General, Secretary of State, and the Supreme Court. Not surprisingly,  according to Gov. Rick Snyder's inaugural address, the first item on the agenda is a further a attack on the middle class -- a pay cut for public employees, a direct decrease in money coming into our communities.

Part of the reason for this massive take-over is that many did not vote.  People have become so discouraged and lacking in hope, they did not bother to go to the polls.  They are not armed with facts and don't know who to believe, so they stay home from the polls.

And until we get clean, responsible elections, we can kiss goodbye  to our government of, by, and for the people.  Welcome to the plutocracy.

Historically, when a government becomes a  plutocracy, its chances of continuing as a democracy diminish.   In his book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, the Pulitzer Prize-winning anthropologist Jared Diamond outlines how governing elites throughout history isolate and delude themselves until it is too late.  Any society contains a built-in blueprint for failure, Diamond warns, if elites insulate themselves from the consequences of their decisions, separated from the common life of the country.


" . . . the answer to the question: “Do the Rich Need the Rest of America?” is as stark as it is ominous: Many don’t. As they form their own financial culture increasingly separated from the fate of everyone else, it is hardly surprising that so many of them should be so hostile to paying taxes to support the infrastructure and the social programs that help the majority of the American people.”


Basically, they know ordinary citizens are suffering.  But they don't care.  They are so insulated from the rest of us our general welfare isn't relative to their daily lives.  Now they are in charge of the government -- at least in Michigan.

We have been here before as a country, in the gilded age of the 1890s.  We recovered then and we can recover now.  But to do that, we cannot simply look the other way and pretend all is well.  We must inform ourselves and others so that when the lies begin, ordinary people will not believe them.  And we must give people hope once again so they will vote in leaders who want a democracy of, by and for the people.


The legendary community organizer Ernesto Cortes talks about the “power to preserve what we value.” That’s what we want  – the power to preserve what we value, both for ourselves and on behalf of our democracy.  But let’s be clear: Even with most Americans on our side, the odds are long. We learned long ago that power and privilege never give up anything without a struggle. Money fights hard, and it fights dirty.  We may lose. It all may be impossible. But it’s OK if it’s impossible.   The object is to do the right and good thing. If you decide not to do anything, because it’s too hard or too impossible, then nothing will be done, and when you’re on your death bed, you’re gonna say, “I wish I had done something."  But if you go and do the right thing NOW, and you do it long enough, good things will happen—something’s gonna happen.”















3 comments:

  1. I love Bill Moyers. I miss his show something fierce.

    We need to outline a real plan to save this country. 'Cause Canada is looking better and better all the time.

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  2. Well said Mary!

    It is very important to remember during all this budget controversy that the problem isn't that there's less money in American than before, it's just in different places than it used to be.

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  3. Another excellent analysis and writing effort. Thanks, Mary, for speaking the truth.

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