Monday, August 10, 2015

Wealth Disparity

In some circles there appears to be a growing concern about the increasing wealth disparity in America.  As early Americans discovered, free enterprise is a great system--but it has its limitations and dangers.  

Among other interesting stories contained in the early history of great American fortunes was the revelation that when Southern Pacific Railway was created with $1 million capital not one penny was spent for rails, cross-ties or spikes.  The entire million was spent bribing Congress to give huge land grants to the investors in the SP.  

There were numerous great fortunes made by the early robber-barons who became America’s first multimillionaires.  America soon learned limits should be placed on unfettered free enterprise.  The U.S. government leaders soon realized that some restraints--such as laws against monopolies--should be put in place in order to keep free enterprise on an even keel.  Early in Texas, lawyers, in order to stop the unbridled power of railroads, not only created a Railroad Commission for regulation but also put limits on the amount of money railroads and other corporate giants could spend for the purpose of buying elections.

Several recent events are contributing to the widening gap between the rich and poor in America.  Keeping that gap to reasonable limits in part, or perhaps largely, is what has made the United States a self-government beacon to the world.  Without the widening gap, all citizens believe they have a real stake in ownership of the nation.  The great Communist Karl Marx’ position, as espoused in his book Das Kapital, predicted that eventually the rich would grow richer and the poor would grow poorer until the vast majority of wealth would be concentrated in the hands of a few.  A huge gap in wealth would cause a revolt by the poor.  Unfortunately, the U.S. in the past decade has been trending in that direction.

Unfortunately, decisions of our Supreme Court--such as Citizens United, which allows corporations and labor unions to engage in unfettered spending to influence elections--has made matters worse.  Donald Trump, who gets in trouble for telling his true feelings occasionally, said it best in a recent debate.  Trump stated that he likes to give away lots of money to politicians because it fixes things where they will bend to his will.  Imagine where we are going when our new system allows billionaires to donate hoards of wealth in the billion of dollars to affect the outcome of our free elections.

If you are a person with less than one million dollars in the bank, do you have as much say in government as a billionaire?  Recently, a friend of mine put forth a plan which would narrow the gap.  His plan would cure the problem of run-away pay for managers of large corporations and the continued stagnation of worker pay.  He called his idea the “shareholder fairness bill.”  His idea was to pass a law in the United States requiring the CEOs of corporations to earn no more than ten times the amount of their lowest paid worker.  This certainly would create a pot of money more available for dividends for those who invest their money in the corporations, as well as tending to have CEOs more concerned about the level of their low-paid workers.  Currently, the average gap between worker and CEO is 300 to the CEO's favor!

Having a constitutional amendment to undo the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United would also be in the interest of small investors in large corporations.  Currently, if I own stock in a major corporation, the managers of that corporation can take money which is partially mine from the profits of the corporation and donate it to politicians who do not vote in my interest.  Also, corporate political gifts may not be in the interest of working people who invest their labor and their money in the corporation.  

The same principle has been applied to unions for years prior to the Citizens United ruling.  Unions were prohibited from donating dues money for political purposes because it was money donated by their members, and the choices of the union leader might not square with the choices of dues paying members of the union. 

While I disagree with the U. S. Supreme Court about corporations being people, I do agree with them that today, in politics, “money counts.”

While the free enterprise based economy is the best yet devised, we should take care to put safeguards in place which will assure us that the Communist predictions of Karl Marx will not come true in our nation.

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