Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Disconnect That is Congress

According to a 2013 poll, some 41% of Americans no longer believe it's possible to achieve the American Dream. I suppose that includes a good job with decent pay and benefits; a car; a home in a safe neighborhood; good schools; reasonably affordable healthcare. However, a plurality of Americans no longer believe they will do better than their parents nor do they expect their children or grandchildren will likely achieve the American Dream. That's something that's never happened to Americans before. We've always believed that each generation would build on the last and the quality of life would continue to improve. What happened?

Key has been our loss of faith in government. As we start 2014, Congress continues to have approval ratings in the toilet---currently 13%, though it's been lower (5% in December 2012) and there's no reason not to expect that it will continue to remain embarrassingly low. 53% of Americans disapprove of Republican House Speaker John Boehner's job while a pathetic 24% think their representative is the best person for the job. In another poll by Gallup, 81% of those polled said they had little or no trust in government---regardless of party.

Perhaps that's not to be unexpected. We've long known that Washington is out of touch with most America---what the Washington Elite spitefully refer to as "fly over country". After all, shouldn't there be some commonality with the people they represent? A "share the pain" moment?

As I last reported to you dear reader, there's an inequality that exists in the workplace today that's unheard anywhere in the world today. CEO's earn, on average, is 354% more than the average employee of their company (In France, the ratio is 104%. In Germany it's 147% while in the UK it's 84% and 206% Canada. Japan has a ratio of 67%). Seriously, is anyone worth that? Does anyone work that much harder or longer to earn that much discrepancy in income? Did you know, for instance, that the top 1% own 40% of all wealth in this country and "earn" 19% of all income while the bottom 80% account for only 7% of the total wealth? To put it another way, the top 400 wealthiest individuals in this country have a combined worth of the nation's 150 million poorest. A nation cannot long survive on such a disparity of wealth.

So then, given that the majority of members of Congress come from the business world, no one should be surprised to learn that 237 out of the 534 members are millionaires. The median income is $2.7 million dollars. Some are richer...much richer and the poorer ones aren't doing too badly either. They are indeed part of that top 1% mentioned above. Together, they have more money than 90% of all Americans. They don't worry about unemployment, healthcare, or foreclosures. They are exempt from much of the reality that you and I face. When they debate cuts in food stamps or job losses, I wonder if they have that same sick feeling in the pit of the stomachs that you and I do? When they discuss bank and corporate bailouts, are they thinking about your home interest rates or small business loans or the cost of education? They have guaranteed incomes for the rest of their lives while America is face with a unofficial but real unemployment rate of 23%. They don't have to choose between paying bills or buying food or medicine. They don't even have to worry about Obamacare because they have their own healthcare package which includes their families, not to mention a private gym and health spa largely paid for by taxpayers. That' you and I...again.

Members of the Washington elite have no concept of what the average working American goes through on a daily basis any more than the average American can relate to the lives of people living in third world countries. So, how can we expect them to make decisions benefitting the average working class family? When America was young, we were mostly a nation of farmers and shopkeepers---small businessmen (and a few businesswomen). True, there was income disparity, but not to this extent, and there was a real belief---a real hope---that with a little hard work and education, you or your children could and would do better. No more.

Our Founders opposed a professional political class as much as they despised political parties. Citizens were expected to briefly participate in holding an office---at little or no compensation---and then return to home so that someone else could have their turn. Instead, we are now a nation with a professional and wealthy ruling class---a plutocracy---far removed from the people they were elected to serve. With the Supreme Court's incorrect decision in upholding Citizens United, corporations can now act like individuals from a legal perspective, except they have literally more right than you and I do especially when it comes to money and campaigns. Whereas we are limited, they are no longer. Thanks to Citizens United, money is now equated with the 1st Amendment, that is, freedom of expression, and since they have more money...much more money...they obviously have more "freedom" than flesh and blood individuals.

Ben Franklin said they created a republic for us, if we can keep it. Well, old Ben, I am sorry to say that we failed or, at least, we're failing badly and will soon do as every democracy and republic before has done.

Trust in Government

Congressional Performance

New Financial Data on Members of Congress

Rich Congress Poor America

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