DEMOCRACY VS. THE DOLLAR
By JJ Jackson
A democracy is predicated on the idea that each member is equal; each has an opinion that should be taken into consideration. Power is exerted by collective decisions of the population not by individuals or select groups. Decisions are made by considering the needs of the entire population and what will serve everyone the best. America is not a democracy, in many ways, but especially when it comes to distribution of wealth. Unequal wealth distribution leads to unequal power distribution because society has allowed the wealthy to amass so much power.
When power is unequally distributed, the power struggle is turned into systems of control. Groups with more money and power exert control over other groups with less money and power. This unequal power distribution, caused by the wealth gap causes our social relations to decline.
Chuck Collins and Felice Yeskel do a very detailed job at portraying Americas wealth gap and its effects in their book, Economic Apartheid in America. They explain that the bottom 95 percent of America’s population doesn’t have enough combined wealth to surpass the wealth of the top 1 percent.
This gap has been widening. Here are a few statistics Collins and Yeskel found. Between 1979 and 2000, the average after-tax income of the wealthiest 1 percent of households went up 201 percent - the bottom fifth of households rose only 9 percent.
In 2001, the richest 20 percent of Americans owned 84.4 percent of all
financial wealth, with the top 1 percent owning almost half of the stock market (44.9 percent) and 39.7 percent of all financial wealth compared to the bottom 90 percent, which owns only 20.2 percent of all financial wealth. This is a dramatic polarization of wealth.
America was founded on the idea that everyone had a chance to lead a successful life. That is not the case anymore. We are moving closer to a class society where people are born into a level, based on wealth. By limiting their access to resources because of their lack of wealth, they are prevented from moving out of that level and up the social ladder.
As we continue to separate Americans into two groups the rich and the poor we also are limiting their freedom of personal choice the powerful vs. the powerless. Collins and Yeskel wrote that the accumulation of wealth is about amassing power and using it to influence society. Concentrated wealth leads to corruption when it invades the media and the power to shape public thought.
Corporate lobbyists influence legislation in their favor by making campaign contributions. The ears of Congress will listen to the wealthy because they can make contributions. Common people can’t make contributions to Congress because they are forced to live paycheck to paycheck. The common person isn’t adequately represented in our government anymore.
The rich are free to make whatever decisions they want because their wealth is their security. They are placed in their own world where they no longer have to think of the consequences of their actions.
The first change that must take place must happen within the minds of each individual. If we don’t eliminate the psychological fixation with wealth and power and control, we will never be able to see each other as equal. Our actions must be geared towards helping the community thrive, not just the individual. Once we drop the fundamental delusion of competition, we will begin to see others in terms of what they can offer to the community, not just what they can offer to any individual. A community will thrive best off the contributions of each member, not a mere individual.
After we can make this transformation within our own minds, we can bring the transformation to the business sector.
Valuing each person equally means everyone has the chance to progress to whatever level they choose. We must get rid of the hierarchies that exist within the business world. Business will thrive more if more input is allowed into business decisions.
In 2003, the average Chief Executive Officers (CEO) pay was 300 percent higher than an average production workers pay, according to Collins and
Yeskel. Because CEOs are assured of their prosperity, they are only going to be interested in making decisions that will contribute to their prosperity. We must level the earning potential of each member in a business so that business decisions will made on the premise of what’s good for the business and the community it represents, not what’s good for the CEOs.
Our governments, federal and local, have the greatest power to make change when it comes to the wealth gap and the power imbalances it creates. The first change that must be made is to eliminate soft money from political campaigns. This is money donated to political figures or parties by wealthy individuals or groups. The problems occur when these political figures feel obligated to make decisions in favor of these wealthy contributors, many times at the expense of the greater population these figures are supposed to represent.
Political campaigns need to be publicly funded so that the general population has more of a stake in the politics that come out of the election. If political figures were indebted to the population as a whole, instead of just wealthy individuals, they would be obligated to make decisions that benefit the population. Limits on personal wealth could also contribute to more resources available to the general population. Most peoples spending potential would not be affected if a cap were put on personal wealth. After a certain point, a few million or so, a persons’ wealth becomes an instrument of control and this ability for a single person to exert control is what needs to be eliminated. The excess wealth from instituting a personal cap would open up more resources that could be used to benefit the population as a whole.
Lastly, the media must stop glamorizing wealth. It is through the media that the people have a voice. This voice must ring louder than the voice of any corporation or government, because it is this voice that is the basis for our democracy. The voice of the media needs to come from the mouths of the people. Their voice must be the loudest if democracy is expected to thrive.