Despair about the state of our politics pervades the political spectrum, from left to right. One source of it, the narrative of fairness — we all have an equal opportunity to succeed if we work hard and play by the rules; citizens can truly shape our politics — no longer rings true to most Americans. Recent surveys indicate that substantial numbers of them believe that the economy and political influence are both rigged, and that money has an outsized influence on politics. Ninety percent of Democrats hold this view, but so do 80% of Republicans. And careful studies confirm what the public believes.
None of this should be surprising given the stark economic inequality that now marks our society. The richest 1% of American households currently account for 40% of the country’s wealth, more than the bottom 90% of families possess. Worse yet, the top 0.1% has cornered about 20% of it, up from 7% in the mid-1970s. By contrast, the share of the bottom 90% has since then fallen from 35% to 25%. To put such figures in a personal light, in 2017, three men – Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett, and Bill Gates — possessed more wealth ($248.5 billion) than the bottom 50% of Americans. (Rajan Menon, Tom Dispatch, April2, 2019)
Back to the gilded age. At least the super- rich at the turn of the 20th Century, had some style, even if they were hard, grasping people for whom it was impossible to have enough money. And in due course their monopolies were broken up and some of the men themselves set up huge charities that are still disbursing money today to help the less fortunate. Bill Gates is following that path; Jeff Bezos is a different matter. He could start by being more generous to his own employees.
But this is chump change – you have to tax them and tax them, and break up all the burgeoning monopolies, whatever the industry. The current situation cannot stand for long; it is shameful and self- defeating. I wish Americans learned history, for at this rate they will repeat it for sure!