Plutocracy and politics

We’re living under government by and for the very wealthy

The author is a small farmer and professor emeritus of sociology at Chico State, where he taught for 30 years.

A key issue in this election is big government. Many in this country, myself included, believe the real issue is not whether government is too big but whom government is for. Clearly it is not for most who read this newspaper. It is for the top one percent, maybe even the top one-tenth of one percent. It is a plutocracy—government by and for the very wealthy.

For the past three or four decades almost all gains from economic growth have flowed to the very top. Forty years ago, the top one percent received about 10 percent of total income. That figure is now close to 25 percent. The bottom half of earners combined—150 million Americans—have less wealth than the richest 400 families. Meanwhile, the wages of the average worker have stagnated, with virtually no increase since 1970 adjusting for inflation.

This concentration of wealth and income at the top brings concentration of power—power used to rig the system so the very wealthy get even more. This happens in many ways—tax cuts for the rich, tax loopholes, corporate and big-farm subsidies, deregulation to get government out of the way for big corporations and the very wealthy, easy access to office holders, huge campaign contributions, hordes of lobbyists. This is how a plutocracy works in America.

While wealth and income disproportionately flow to the top, we see stark and disturbing decay in funding for roads and bridges, public parks, public schools, colleges and universities, student aid, police and fire, services to the needy, medical research, environmental protections, and more.

I am not alone in my dissatisfaction with this picture. In a recent New York Times/CBS poll, two-thirds of respondents said the nation’s wealth should be more evenly distributed, while a similar percentage stated that the rich should pay more taxes.

This is not “class warfare.” Class warfare is what has already been happening these past 30 years, with the bottom 99 percent its target.

A recent Pew Research Center poll shows that 77 percent of respondents said too much power is in the hands of a few rich people and corporations. That same New York Times/CBS poll revealed that 69 percent of respondents believe that Republican policies favor the rich. Only 28 percent think President Obama’s policies do so.

These respondents got it right.