Thursday, February 18, 2016

America’s Stacked Deck

In the 2016 presidential nomination contests, there is much anger afoot on both sides of the political aisle.  In both cases, the anger is focused on America's rigged society and economy which increasing funnels wealth and privilege to a tiny percent of the population.  Yet the enraged Republican base is rallying to those who have most supported - and continue to support - the policies that have tilted the playing field strongly against them.   These individuals foolishly allow themselves to be motivated by GOP sound bites that play to their religious and racial prejudices and point to scapegoats to distract the knuckle dragging based form recognizing the true culprits: the GOP and its vulture capital cronies and hedge fund donors.  Despite their failings to recognize the possible, at least the Democrat base seems to recognize the real enemies of average Americans.  A piece in the New York Times looks at America's increasingly rigged system.  Here are highlights:
It’s a little bizarre this political season to see wealthy candidates in both parties denouncing our political system for representing mostly the interests of, well, wealthy people.

Bizarre, perhaps, and sometimes a tad hypocritical, but also accurate. America’s political system is rigged. The deck is stacked against ordinary people. That’s the frustration that has fueled, in very different ways, the anti-establishment campaigns of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders in particular, and that is leading other candidates, like Hillary Clinton, to grab their pitchforks as well.

“Yes, the economy is rigged in favor of those at the top,” Clinton declared in the Democratic debate last week.

One glimpse of the structural unfairness in America is this: A dumb rich kid is now more likely to graduate from college than a smart poor kid, according to Robert Putnam of Harvard University.
Another: The 20 wealthiest Americans, a group that would fit comfortably inside a luxury private jet bound for a private Caribbean island, are worth more than the poorer half of the American population, according to a recent report from the Institute for Policy Studies. Forbes’s wealthiest 100 are worth as much as all 42 million African-Americans, the report says.

Wendell Potter and Nick Penniman write in their eye-opening new book about money in politics, “Nation on the Take.” They call for a “profound course correction,” like those the United States has periodically undertaken before.

So it’s healthy for American voters to be demanding change. But when societies face economic pain, they sometimes turn to reforms, and other times to scapegoats (like refugees this year). So the historic question for 2016 is which direction the popular revolt among American voters will ultimately take. A President Trump or President Cruz would build walls and waterboard suspected terrorists, a President Clinton or President Sanders would raise the minimum wage and invest in at-risk children.

It seems to me to make more sense to target solutions than scapegoats, but sense is often in short supply in politics. . . . . n the solutions domain, a starting point should be to reduce the influence of money in politics.

The pharmaceutical industry, for example, has used its lobbying heft — it spent $272,000 in campaign donations per member of Congress last year, and it has more lobbyists than there are members of Congress — to bar the government from bargaining for drug prices in Medicare. That amounts to a $50 billion annual gift to pharmaceutical companies.

In this election season, many Americans feel that they are living that rigged Monopoly game.
Two business school professors, Michael Norton and Dan Ariely, showed people charts of the distribution of wealth in egalitarian Sweden and in highly unequal America and asked them which kind of society they would prefer to live in, without saying which country each chart represented. Some 92 percent of Americans chose Sweden’s distribution.

So American voters are right to feel angry. Yet the challenge is not just to diagnose the problem but also to prescribe the right fixes and achieve them in this political environment.

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