Progressive Views: Income Inequality

by JC Dufresne
for the “Progressive Views” column, Boerne Star, September 6, 2019

Statues of depression-era farming couple with FDR quote: "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."
FDR Memorial by Larraine is licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

This summer, we celebrated Independence Day and the American Revolution, led by wealthy, educated elites in order to wrest control of government away from a distant despot and take it into their own hands. 

Soon after, France celebrated Bastille Day, their own revolution against the rich and powerful despots of the late eighteenth century. Workers in the cities and small farmers in the countryside resented the privilege and wealth bestowed by the accident of being born in to certain families. The triggers were the rising prices of bread and other staples exacerbated by crop failures and government on the brink of bankruptcy driven by the country’s participation in a war of choice, the American Revolution.

The seeds of revolution in our country have been planted once again and are growing even now. One famous rallying cry of the American Revolution was “No taxation without representation.” Unfortunately, many Americans, including Texans, once again suffer from it due to partisan gerrymandering. In some states 60 percent of voters can turn out for the party that ends up with just 40 percent of legislative seats because the other party had the opportunity to draw legislative and congressional maps that provide a near permanent advantage to that party regardless of the will of voters.

In the United States today three white men, Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, own more wealth than the poorest 50% of the population combined. The Walton Family and the Koch brothers combined own about the same amount, while Bezos, Buffett, and Gates started with little and made billions. The Waltons and Koch brothers inherited their wealth and use it to exert political control, gain privilege, and protect and increase their wealth.

Grocery prices have risen noticeably over the last year or two, as well as other living expenses, yet most workers have seen little if any increase in their wages. Trump’s tax cut put little more in the pockets of you and me while lining the pockets of the already fabulously wealthy. At the same time it further exacerbated the national deficit even as the nation still bears the expense of the unnecessary war of choice in Iraq. Climate change is bearing down on us like a freight train—this summer, Anchorage Alaska had a record high temperature of 90 degrees – that’s 5 degrees above the previous record. There was massive flooding in the Great Plains last month wrecking crops and killing livestock, and the Arctic ice cap is showing signs of record shrinkage. As climate change worsens crop failure and livestock losses will cause further shortages and price increases. With the vast majority of Americans living paycheck to paycheck there’s not much room in the budget for increased costs.

There is mounting pressure for change. In the past the United States has managed that through the electoral process choosing Teddy Roosevelt, his nephew Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson to manage the necessary adjustments. Will this nation choose another visionary leader to guide us through the critical transition or will it take the kind of upheaval seen in the latter part of the 18th century?

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