By Peter Bergel
$700 billion is a number that rings a bell for most Americans these days. It was the first installment U.S. taxpayers were forced to pony up for Wall Street to “stimulate” the economy. But, according to analyst Don Monkrude, that sum is also, coincidentally, the amount by which the 400 richest Americans increased their net worth during the Bush years.
How Can This Be Justified?
Now, even as citizens from all walks of life struggle to pay mortgages, feed their families, pay for their kids’ schooling and bail out irresponsible banks, the super-rich are literally rolling in dough. Monkrud tells us “In 1955, IRS records indicated the 400 richest people in the country were worth an average $12.6 million, adjusted for inflation. In 2006, the 400 richest increased their average to $263 million, representing an epochal shift of wealth upward in the U.S.”
By what reasoning can this possibly be justified? By what morality can it be considered acceptable for millions of hard-working people to be impoverished, their retirement packages endangered, their home equity destroyed and their healthcare decimated while those at the very top of the income pyramid increase their wealth by an amount equal to what the rest of us paid to bail out the economy they sabotaged?
Monkrud again: “Over 40 per cent of GNP comes from Fortune 500 companies.” According to the World Institute for Development Economics Research, the 500 largest conglomerates in the U.S. “control over two-thirds of the business resources, employ two-thirds of the industrial workers, account for 60 per cent of the sales, and collect over 70 per cent of the profits.” Does this sound like “the land of the free?” Free to be poor, maybe. Otherwise most of us have become indentured servants to the overlords of wealth accumulation. And it’s not as though these moguls were all operating wealth-producing businesses. Most of them are manipulating the means of production to create short-term profits while their machinations actually reduce our collective wealth. In the process they are stealing from the environment in such a way as to seriously degrade it, thus ultimately killing the goose that lays their golden eggs.
This Bell is Tolling for Thee
If it were only the very wealthy whose golden eggs were endangered, I would not worry overmuch. But it’s not. This affects all of us. In the sacred name of profit, all other values have been relegated to a lower priority. Karl Marx told us that capitalism contains the seeds of its own demise. The truth of that is being played out right before our eyes and it’s not pretty.
If you read Norman Solomon,s column in this PeaceWorker, you’ll see that this same heedless quest for wealth is dooming our best chance for a fiscally and medically sound health care system.
Wealthy corporate interests scuttled Oregon’s SB 80, a bill which could have been a worthwhile response to global warming, because it might have reduced their profits. As a letter in this issue attests, and “The Beltway Bulletin” explains, the ACES global warming mitigation bill in the U.S. House also fell prey to these interests.
We can’t seem to stop making nuclear weapons (see the SMART section in this issue) because too many military contractors are getting rich on them. Likewise, our economy continues to be hobbled by excessive military spending both on weapons and on wars — spending which is of no value to anyone except those who profit from it.
The list goes on.
Do the Vision Thing
It does not have to be this way. Indeed, Monkrud notes, “In 1955, the richest tier paid an average 51.2 percent of their income in taxes under a progressive federal income tax that included loopholes. By 2006, the richest paid only 17.2 percent of their income in taxes.
“In 1955, the proportion of federal income from corporate taxes was 33 percent; by 2003, it decreased to 7.4 percent. Today, the top taxpayers pay the same percentage of their incomes in taxes as those making $50,000 to $75,000, although they doubled their share of total U.S. income.”
Had enough? We need to begin imagining a world that is oriented around sustainability rather than profit. OPW has started the PeaceWorking Blog (www.oregonpeaceworks.org/wordpress) on the OPW website to help formulate this vision. See page *** for more information. Over the next few months, you will see OPW devoting much more attention to creating this vision and to the strategic planning needed to achieve it. You are welcome to be part of that process. Φ