- Maryam Al Farsi
Money, Inequality and the Crisis of American Democracy
A growing amount of American literature we read in class indicates that the greatest threat to the politics and the interests of America today is not the control of some group or a minority, like the rise of new conservatives to power, as much as the threat coming from the growing gap between the rich and the poor in America
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According to various articles and Timothy Noah’s book “The Great Divergence” this gap has increased since the seventies. This inequality has come to represent the greatest threat to American democracy. This gap puts the reins of decision-making in the United States in the hands of elites who gradually tend to protect their own interests by separating them from the interests of the average American citizen and the agenda of the poorer class. This class has become more isolated and reluctant to engage in America’s political process which in turn jeopardize its democracy. They have become more accepting of inequality because of their strong belief in capitalist culture, which calls for the existence of natural differences between individuals that lead to such disparities in wealth. They reject or refuse to see that inequality is caused by discrimination and inequality in economic and political opportunities. It has become more difficult for the poor in America to progress socially to join the middle class as well as the increasing difficulties faced by the middle class to not slip below the poverty line. It has become extremely difficult for Americans to ensure their financial future.
This gap increases not only by the active participation of the rich in the political process, but also by the wide spread use of modern communication tools such as the Internet. A lot of the poor class don’t have access to this tool, which is an advantage for the wealthy and politically active, so that they maximize their influence. The decrease in unions has been met with an increase in interest groups that represent the rich and even interest groups representing public issues such as the environment isolate its self from normal public issues as they gain more political influence. Such power that is given to the rich, not only by themselves but the different political parties that look for their support and how to serve them, isolates the poor from using the democracy that was given to them more than 200 years ago. Democracy has become in the hand of politicians and not the people, as it should be (Ringen).
The US government’s policies may not pour directly in the interests of the wealthy as much as it fail to address programs and agendas that serve the interests of the poor. Democracy in the United States was founded on the basis of serving all people equally and allowing them to benefit from its fruits. However, when money can penetrate the political process with great ease and parties in the United States are willing to take money to adopt any case, democracy will suffer. America was founded to fight against the aristocratic corruption in Europe. Today, inherited wealth rooted in the United States is more than it was in almost every corner of the ancient world. Democracies must balance the need to grant full political opportunities for all to participate with the need to accomplish what is necessary. Ideally, democratic decisions are taken unanimously and with consent of all members of society.
However, the actual practice of democracy in the United States has nothing to do with the common image that it is a “Government of the people, by the people, for the people” (Lincoln). The political outcomes are rarely compatible with the views of the majority because there is a very low level of political participation and awareness by those who have been isolated. Thus, actual decisions are in the hand of the small interest groups. The interest groups are racing to attract the attention of Congress and do not represent the American people, but represent the most organized and the most well off in American society. This works against the interests of those unorganized groups who are mostly poor, uneducated or marginalized (Low).
In his book “Failed States”, Naom Chomsky wrote about how American citizen’s feeling of weakness and inability to influence the political system reached worrying levels. Chomsky believes that the use of the state as a tool in the hands of the powerful elites to achieve their interests and protect it from the majority poor is not new. It was revived in the sixties when the wealthy elites have taken several actions such as, increasing lobbying activity and political pressure on behalf of companies and businessmen to undermine the rise of marginalized groups like women and minorities. These actions gradually aborted the rights and freedoms of such groups including the effort to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. According to Chomsky this resulted in a quasi-separation between the demands of the American majority and the prevailing political agenda in Washington with Republican and Democratic alike. With the continuation of this phenomenon, Chomsky asserts that American citizen has little interest in American elections and its candidates.
Of course, money alone is not enough to change the election results. In a celebrity-driven age, there is also a distinction value of the name. Both combination helped in growing inequality. It would not be surprising if 2016 elections will turn into a contest between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush. Note that seven of the last nine presidential elections included a member of the Bush or Clinton families. Upcoming elections may make it eight out of ten. Both families are tremendously benefiting from the network of donors who have developed relationships with them over decades. Needless to say that these donors also succeeded. The story continues with George P. Bush, the son of Jeb, Commissioner of theTexas General Land Office. Many believe that Mrs. Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea, will also pave the way for her future in American politics. Yes, American democracy is still able to make an unusual disorder like the unexpected emergence of Obama to remove Clinton in the 2008 election. However, Obama might be the exception that proves the rule. His campaign revolved around his promise to bring money out of this process, but his efforts failed. With the exception of the nominal ban on lobby pressure in his administration, Obama was unable to stop the flow of funds since the Supreme Court decision in 2010. Social inequality in the United States regained the levels last seen in the in the twenties (Sivy).
The legacy of American democracy is in danger with the steady decline in the levels of participation by yet another group, which is African Americans. The government has become less democratic, responding primarily to those who have it all and is no longer a powerful tool to protect the majority.
People differ on why rising inequality is such of importance and what should be done. I think that is of utmost importance, at least for the US. Inequality eliminates any hopes of a reasonable degree of equal opportunities and strengthens inequalities in power, which in turn allow those in power to retain a broad range of privileges in taxation. In a society where the average net worth is $56,335 per household (Bernasek), can you consider the average net worth of members of Congress, which is worth more than a million dollars per capita, as fair? Should the idea of one vote for one person be replaced by the idea of â€‹â€‹one vote for one dollar? Most economists agree that the impact of technology and globalization will lead to even greater inequality in the coming years.
The United States gained a lot in terms of racial equality since Martin Luther King marched decades ago, but the equality of class seems more a difficult task in front of Americans today. What should be done? It requires a huge agenda. This should include working, education, corporate governance, financial reform and also re-distribution, no matter how difficult. This will lead to unavoidable division. So be it. You cannot avoid this controversy if the US democracy wants to continue to earn its legitimacy in the eyes of its people. To face and eliminate such threat requires a bigger role from the American media in dealing seriously with politics and bias. Their ultimate goal must be maximizing American democracy and managing the risk it faces. There should be more policies toward programs that serve the poor so they can feel that the political process is helpful to them and gradually give up their isolation. In addition there is a need for a greater role from the civil society organizations across the United States. The only real countervailing force that stands against that is politics. It may be tragic for democracy in America for the political system to serve as an incentive rather than a stabilizing factor on the sides of extremism that exist in our time. Louise Brandeis asked Americans to “make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”
Bernasek, Anna. ‘The Typical Household, Now Worth A Third Less’.Nytimes.com. N.p., 2014. Web. 18 Apr. 2015.
Chomsky, Noam.Failed States. New York: Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt, 2006. Print.
Goodreads,. ‘A Quote by Louis D. Brandeis’. N.p., 2015. Web. 16 Apr. 2015.
Low, Jonathan. ‘The Low-Down: Institutional Decay, Political Dysfunction – And Us’.Thelowdownblog.com. N.p., 2014. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.
Ringen, Stein. ‘Is America Still A Democracy? – Yale Press Log’.Yale Press Log. N.p., 2013. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.
Ringen, Stein. ‘Is American Democracy Headed To Extinction?’.Washington Post. N.p., 2015. Web. 17 Apr. 2015.
Sivy, Michael. ‘What Should Be Done About Growing Inequality?’.TIME.com. N.p., 2015. Web. 18 Apr. 2015.
whitehouse.gov,. ‘Abraham Lincoln’. N.p., 2014. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.
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