How The Richest Democracy in the World Abandons Americans
America is now the most unequal society in the developed world. Our billionaires are the richest, and our poor people are the poorest of any functioning democracy on Earth…
Every now and then we all get those moments of shocking clarity and insight that give us a new perspective on reality. Mine came over the weekend when I was watching the political shows on cable TV.
This one had to do with the stunned realization of how we’ve normalized the damage that corrupt Republicans on the Supreme Court have done to our country by legalizing political bribery.
An ad came on for a company that buys life insurance policies. The senior citizen in the ad says something to the effect of, “We learned that we could sell our policy when a friend did so to pay their medical bills.”
Wait a minute, I thought: we live in the richest country in the world, with the richest billionaires in the world, and we have people who must sell their life insurance policies — depriving their middle-class kids of an inheritance — because somebody got sick?
That sure isn’t happening in most EU countries, or Costa Rica, or Japan, Taiwan, or South Korea.
While every year over a half-million American families are wiped out so badly by medical debt that they must file for bankruptcy and often become homeless, the number of sickness-caused bankruptcies in all those countries combined is zero.
Another ad was for a company that sells “reverse mortgages” that let people strip equity out of their homes to cover living and medical expenses. Tom Sellick is a nice guy and all, but are there really that many seniors who are now destitute and thus must wipe out their largest store of wealth just to retire?
Then came on an ad for the Shriner’s hospital for children. One of the kids in the ad said to the camera that she was able to walk “because of people like you!” Another moment of shock as what I was seeing sank in: here in American we must resort to crowdfunding medical care for children with deformities and birth defects? What the hell?
A similar ad is for the hospital Danny Thomas started — years before there was any discussion of Medicare for All — to do cancer research and help kids with cancer. But why aren’t we all funding cancer cures for kids with our tax dollars? Or, at the very least, the tax dollars of America’s billionaires?
Oh, yeah, that’s right: billionaires in America pretty much don’t pay income taxes any more since Reagan.
That ad was followed by one for colostrum, a milk product that is supposed to help the immune system, with the ad’s pitch-lady saying something like, “There are over 90,000 chemicals in our environment that haven’t been tested for toxicity…”
And, damn, I thought, she’s right.
Most of the developed world uses the “Precautionary Principle,” requiring chemical manufacturers to prove their products are safe before they can put them into the market or the environment.
Not so in billionaire-run America: companies are free to poison us for decades and only have to stop when we — typically through lawsuits after thousands of people have been injured or died — sacrifice our lives to find the proof that their products are toxic.
If you don’t understand how this works, watch the brilliant 2019 movie Dark Waters starring Mark Ruffalo, Todd Haynes, Anne Hathaway, and Tim Robbins. It details how DuPont poisoned entire communities and to this day has largely skated, and they’re still pumping out the PFAS “forever chemicals.”
So, instead of keeping toxic chemicals out of our food and water, we’re being told to buy overpriced milk products that hopefully will help our immune system protect us from these chemicals? WTF?
In the next commercial break, actor Jeff Bridges popped up on my TV screen pitching for a charity called No Kid Hungry. Jeff is a brilliant actor and a great guy, and No Kid Hungry is a highly rated charity, but remind me why we have hungry children in the wealthiest nation on Earth?
The Biden administration just rolled out a new program to feed hungry kids in America, offering the cash to states with few strings attached. Nonetheless, 15 Republican-controlled states have turned the aid down at the same time several are loosening their child-labor laws. But that’s just the tip of the problem.
As the Center for American Progress notes:
“America’s hunger crisis is not due to a lack of food production or scarcity in food supply. Rather, hunger and food insecurity in the United States are symptoms of policy choices and an economic system that prioritizes the needs of corporations and the wealthy over those of the general population.”
The amount of money that America’s richest four billionaires (Musk, Bezos, Gates, Zuckerberg) added to their money bins since 2020 is over $300 billion: the cost to entirely end child poverty in America is an estimated $25 billion.
And, because of the body and brain damage hunger and malnutrition are doing to one-in-five American children, child hunger in the US is costing our society an estimated $167.5 billion a year.
So, why do we avoid spending $25 billion to solve a $167.5 billion problem?
I suspect you already know the answer, and it’s the same reason we crowdfund medicine for kids, sell our insurance policies to pay medical bills, lack a national healthcare system, routinely get ripped off by Big Pharma, and are daily assaulted by toxic chemicals: America’s morbidly rich and largest corporations were, in 1978 and again in 2010, given the legal right to bribe politicians by five corrupted Republicans on the Supreme Court.
As a result, Congress is essentially paralyzed when it comes to anything other than tax cuts for billionaires, subsidies for the oil and chip industries, and privatizing Medicare through the “Advantage” scam.
There were several years between the time rightwing Nazi memorabilia collecting billionaires began showering Clarence Thomas and his wife with gifts, trips, homes, and tuition for their “son” and Thomas made the tie-breaking vote in Citizens United.
And even those years had been preceded by Thomas, Scalia, and occasionally Alito being the guests at retreats held by rightwing billionaires who fund think tanks and Republican politicians.
From the billionaires’ point of view, the investment has paid off in a big way. They’re today richer than any pharaoh, king, or ruler in world history. They compete with each other over who has the biggest superyacht or who can shoot themselves farthest into outer space. And the richest American billionaires pay less than 4 percent in income taxes.
Morbidly rich people in Washington state have even managed to get a ballot initiative going that would end the capital gains tax, so people who make their money with money (investments) will end up paying essentially nothing in income taxes. Nice work if you can get it.
When Ronald Reagan came into office just three years after the Supreme Court first legalized political bribery, the top 0.01%, top .1%, top 1%, and all the rest of us were growing our wealth and income at about the same rate.
This was because of a top income tax rate of 74%, a top corporate income tax rate of 50%, and a robust tax code with few loopholes.
As a result, CEO’s only took home about 30 times what workers did, while about two-thirds of American families could buy a home, a car, take a vacation every year, and put their kids through school with the income from a single union wage-earner.
The Reagan Revolution, however, rationalized by trickle-down theory and funded by the morbidly rich, set out to make the rich vastly richer, arguing that doing so would “trickle down” wealth to the rest of society as the “job creators” were “incentivized” by their newfound billions to pay the rest of us better.
It didn’t quite work out that way. This graph from the CBO only shows the top 20 percent of Americans broken out into 4 tranches — everybody else saw virtually no income gains (or saw income losses) following Reagan’s massive tax cuts for the morbidly rich:
America is now the most unequal society in the developed world. Our billionaires are the richest, and our poor people are the poorest of any functioning democracy on Earth.
Twenty percent of America’s children go to bed hungry or malnourished, kids with cancer and birth defects must rely on charity to get world-class treatment, our food and water is laced with toxic chemicals, and elderly people are forced to sell their insurance policies or reverse-mortgage their homes just to survive.
And it’s almost all because five corrupted Republicans on the Supreme Court legalized political bribery, as I laid out in The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America.
Overturning Citizens United and its evil progenitors must be our highest priority if Democrats can take back the House and hold the Senate and the presidency this November.
If we succeed, we may one day become a country where medical bankruptcy, toxic chemicals, and poverty don’t haunt the 80% of us who are working class and poor Americans…and our country can once again experience a middle class revival.