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Thursday, September 02, 2010

It's a Lot Easier for the Rich to Get Richer Without Democracy

Chinese Reebok factory worker
One of the few things that left and right can agree on (though the right will only do so grudgingly) is that, regardless of how you counted the disputed votes in Florida, Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000. If the concept of "one person, one vote" were anything other than a lie, we wouldn't be talking about "Bush tax cuts" right now. Democracy in America is more of a conceptual thing than an actual thing. And it's becoming more conceptual all the time. As the world changes, our access to democracy is changing as well.

One of the biggest threats to democracy and the average voter has been the rise of capitalism in China. Not because of the competition -- we've had credible competitors many, many times in our history -- but because it has proven to the professional investor class in America that democracy and freedom aren't essential to thriving capitalism. Sure, there have been economic success stories in less than free nations before, but generally speaking these have involved luck; an abundant natural resource that can be exploited, maybe. Saudi Arabia would be an example of this.

But China is an oppressive system that has seen the rise of a manufacturing base. They don't have to worry about environmentalists or (ironically) unions. As a result, they are pure capitalism -- maybe the purest known to exist -- with few restrictions and even fewer beneficiaries. They have gone from communism to oligarchy and there are more than a few would-be oligarchs in the US who look at China with one thought in mind; "I want that."

Already, we see the complaints that we aren't enough like China. That the US cares far too much about the majority of its citizens and not enough about the minority of the wealthy.

Daniel Gross, Salon:

It's hard out there for a CEO. There's a Democrat in the White House, and Washington is being ruled by a coalition of socialists and anti-capitalist thugs. There's uncertainty about taxes and policy. Business leaders are constantly being vilified for taking home huge paychecks without providing meaningful returns to shareholders, or creating jobs, or boosting wages. The newly passed financial reform bill requires CEOs of public companies to measure and report the ratio of their pay to that of their workers. Blackstone Group CEO Steve Schwartzman is complaining that the Obama administration is like Hitler invading Poland.

With government and the media making life so difficult for CEOs, it must be nearly impossible to turn a profit. Right? Um, not really.

Gross goes on to explain that "Corporate profits as a percentage of GDP are back up to nearly record highs." But without any restraints, they could make more. A lot more. And we know that supply-siders' argument that a "rising tide lifts all boats" -- i.e., that if the wealthy get wealthier, everyone benefits -- is false, because we're watching it fail to happen right this very minute. Corporate boats are rising, but the rest are being pulled under by their moorings. If you ever needed proof that Wall Street and the economy are two different things, here you are. Corporate bigs are enjoying the high life and your situation still sucks. This isn't China, a nation of drones and queen bees, but we're getting there. All it takes is a lot of complaining, in the form of lobbying.

And as luck would have it, lobbying just got a lot easier. The US Supreme Court, in their Citizens United ruling, found that laws regulating the direct contribution of unlimited amounts of cash to candidates were unconstitutional. And the effects were immediate.

Dave Zweifel, Editor of The Capital Times:

In less than one month before [Minnesota's] August primary, 13 companies, including Target, Best Buy and Pentair, funneled more than a million dollars to Mn Forward, a pro-business campaign conduit, which in turn poured roughly $200,000 into the campaign of Tom Emmer, a staunch anti-gay-rights conservative. Republican Emmer won the Aug. 10 primary and will face Democrat Mark Dayton and the Independence Party's Tom Horner in the fall election.

The Target donation, which was $150,000 alone, stirred some controversy and evoked a call from gay support groups to boycott the upscale discount giant. That led the company's CEO to assure gay customers that the donation was meant only "to advance policies aligned with our business objectives."

In other words, Emmer was good for Target and who cares if he's good for you? One person, one vote? Don't make me laugh. Anyone who thinks that their political power as a voter is equal to that of Target's CEO Gregg Steinhafel is drunk... and stupid... and insane. Zweifel says, "[A]s Mike McCabe of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign noted, corporate donations in political campaigns have really nothing to do with enhancing the public discourse, as a 5-4 majority of our Supreme Court would have us believe, but everything to do with bolstering the bottom line by electing politicians" who represent that bottom line. I find it doubtful that Steinhafel will even vote on election day. Why would he bother?

All of which brings us here:


Tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 expire at the end of this year. President Barack Obama and Democratic congressional leaders have been eager to extend the breaks for individuals who earn less than $200,000 annually and joint filers who make less than $250,000. Those who earn more would pay higher, pre-2001 rates starting next year.

However, a small but growing number of moderate Democrats are balking at boosting taxes on the rich. Many face electorates that recoil at the mention of any tax increase. Some represent areas that are loaded with wealthier taxpayers. Further, some incumbent senators who don't face voters this fall are reluctant to increase taxes on anyone while the economy remains sluggish.

Without their support, the push to raise rates on the rich probably will fail.

"The economy is very weak right now. Raising taxes will lower consumer demand at a time when we want people putting more money into the economy," said retiring Democrat Evan Bayh. As I've already pointed out, the wealthy are making a lot of money right now and it hasn't helped the economy. Now Bayh, a corporate Democrat right to the end, is making an argument that we see proven false right in front of us. As a result, your share of the deficit grows, while your income shrinks. And those guys on Wall Street? They're already doing just fine, but that's not the point. The point is that they could do better. And what's good for you or the majority of people in this country is irrelevant.

We aren't China yet, but we're getting there.


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