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The rising of the American plutocracy


Published:   |   Updated: April 29, 2014 at 02:51 PM

I’m quite sure when Abraham Lincoln said “government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth” he didn’t mean only rich people.

But that’s where we’re headed!

Even before the Supreme Court’s disastrous decisions in Citizens United and McCutcheon loosing a three-headed hellhound of money, cronyism and corruption, the cards were stacked against average Americans.

According to Nicholas Carnes, author of “White-Collar Government: The Hidden Role of Class in Economic Policy Making,” 54 percent of Americans have held a blue-collar job most of their adult lives while the portion of those serving in Congress is less than 2 percent. And those with a net worth of at least $1 million constitute about 3 percent of the population but compose a majority of the House and a supermajority in the Senate.

Carnes studied the voting and legislative history of members of Congress from both parties and determined those congressmen with only white-collar credentials make economic decisions very differently than those with blue-collar credentials. That government by the rich leads to policies “that are good for the haves and not good for the have-nots.” Case in point, the very unpopular 2008 Wall St. bailout.

Carnes notes a majority of the current Supreme Court also is white-collar. Although he doesn’t draw conclusions from these data, might they account for the string of pro-business decisions since 2005?

Of course there’s not a politician out there who doesn’t ascribe to being “a man of the people.” You don’t get lots of votes running as The Simpsons’ Mr. Burns. You might be rich, but your parents were always coal miners or waitresses.

But Carnes found it makes no significant difference in how they govern whether their parents had a blue-collar or a white-collar background. He acknowledges many politicians grew up relatively poor and bootstrapped their way through college and into white-collar jobs, but still the only difference is what the member actually did for a living before going into politics.

He offers House Speaker John Boehner as an example. Boehner relishes telling his selective backstory of bussing dishes and washing floors in his father’s bar and as the first in his family to go to college. But out of college, Boehner got a job with a sales company and by the time he went to Congress was president of the company. Nothing wrong with success, but where’s the room for the successful carpenters?

Congress has always been a rich boys club. But now with unlimited cash at its disposal to buy elections — and as working- and middle-class cynicism toward government grows — politicians are even less constrained to heed their blue-collar constituents’ opinions when it comes to passing obscure perks for the wealthy. Who are you going to listen to, a fat cat giving you $100,000 or Joe Sixpack? Meanwhile, the political influence of the rich and corporations continues to expand exponentially. That’s what’s called a plutocracy, government by the rich.

Yeah, I don’t think Abe would like this at all.

Marty Moore is a freelance writer living in Port Richey.

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