The Richest Americans vs. The American Dream for the Rest of Us

It was about a year ago that Michelle Bachmann said we’re running out of Rich people in America.  I remember the quote, but I don’t remember the context.  It had something to do with President Obama, but I refuse to spend my time looking up why Michelle Bachmann said anything. 

Is it true?  Are we really running out of “rich” people, or is there just less opportunity in this country to get rich.  For the past 30 years, we have been told that the rich make the country successful, “they create jobs!”  So we’ve cut taxes, we’ve allowed tax loopholes to stay, eliminated tariffs, bent over backwards to make concessions to the rich and corporations, and what have we gotten in return? A poverty rate that has only increased since the 1970s.  Shouldn’t there be more rich people by now?  Bill Maher and Michael Moore have thrown out the statistic that the Forbes 400 richest Americans have more wealth than the bottom 50% of the United States population.  In pure numbers, that means 400 people have more than 155 MILLION Americans. 

Do you think that is sustainable?  I would not be shocked at the possibility of a revolution during my lifetime if we continue to move toward a society of financial extremes in wealth and poverty.  It might not be called a socialist or communist revolution, but it would fit into that category.  It would be a class war.  Historically, revolutions occur when the basic needs of people are not being met, or when basic rights are being trampled by the government.  I’m not sure we don’t have both of those right now in some cases.  

But when a statement like that is made, you can hear right-wing talking heads bring up that the left is trying to foment class-war.  Maybe a little class awareness at least would be a good thing.  The median income in America is $48,000.  Of those 155 million Americans who make less than $48,000, I have a feeling that they have felt the biggest brunt of the negative economic and political decisions that have been made to benefit the richest Americans.  A vast majority of people making under $48,000 didn’t gain because of the mortgage bubble, the energy bubble, the hi-tech bubble or whatever bubble.  No, more often they were hurt by the outcomes of the decisions and policies made to benefit the richest Americans.  How many Minnesotans have lost their jobs or are at risk of losing their house because of the greed of the richest Americans. 

These richest Americans are responsible for many of our problems.  I’m not discounting the fact that many people work because of these Americans, but without them, the services, items or whatever would still be needed and provided by many others making a great living.  Anyway, who thinks most of the richest of the rich didn’t gain their wealth without taking advantage of somebody else?  Even with all the good things Bill Gates has done or intends to do with his fortune, his fortune was built to its prestigious level with collusion and ruthless anticompetitive practices.  And while the richest may not always break laws to get rich like Madoff, Hecker, Lay, Skilling, Petters, or whoever, it is hard to justify paying less than a living wage, either in America or overseas, when the owner, CEO or shareholders earn billions.  In my mind it is criminal that companies like 3M, Exxon, Apple, Massey, Cargill and even the company that supported my family, Ford, take shortcuts to save money risking the health and future of workers, consumers and communities. 

So what do we do?  Give up hope?  Retreat to our television or following Charlie Sheen instead of turning this around before it is too late?  There are those of us that still want the American Dream, an ideal that we are all richer when everyone has the opportunity to be successful.  Thomas Jefferson wrote:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Great words, and isn’t that the American Dream?  Everybody should have the same opportunity to be successful.  But I’m not sure that is the case.  I’m not sure that a government that continues to stress that the freedoms of those 400 richest Americans are more important than the interests of 155 million Americans or more is truly moving us toward the American dream.  I’m not sure a government that eliminates rights and freedoms is even American, in the true sense of what it means to be American. 

Political outcomes during the rest of this decade could be the watershed for our future.  Franklin Roosevelt prevented revolution during a crisis eight decades ago by compromising despite his personally held economic beliefs.  Based on what is going on across the country in Republican politics, I’m concerned that the only way today’s Republicans  would compromise is by giving in to the desires of the richest Americans even if that means deception and violence.  What’s next after that, but full blown revolution? 

“We have this fantasy that our interest and the interest of the super rich are the same. Like somehow the rich will eventually get so full that they’ll explode and the candy will rain down on the rest of us like they are some kind of piñata of benevolence. But here is the thing about a piñata, it doesn’t open on its own, you have to beat it with a stick.”  — Bill Maher

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