I just finished reading another kindle short. This one was Beyond Outrage: What has gone wrong with our economy and our democracy, and how to fix them
by Robert B. Reich. And recently I finished another, very similar book - One Way Forward: The Outsider's Guide to Fixing the Republic
by Lawrence Lessig.
I'm feeling a little saturated with outrage now (and not so much with the 'how to fix it all' part) and I'm just kind of thinking and reflecting on the state of things.
It kind of baffles me how much power and influence corporations have. I mean, it's in our fiction, in our media, in our popular consciousness that The Company is a bad thing, yes? Look at Aliens! Look at, oh, I dunno, just about any sci-fi produced in the last thirty years. I don't get how we can all know this, how we can all basically agree that yeah, obviously
companies looking out only for their profits is a bad thing, and still end up with what we've got today. There's some sort of fundamental disconnect going on here, where obviously The Big Bad Corporation is a lousy idea, and yet owning such a thing, being part of a super mega rich profitable wowzinga endeavor, is still part of the American Dream (tm).
I highlighted a lot of passages in the Beyond Outrage
book, because there were just gosh tons of facts and figures. Here are a few:
- "CEOs are hauling in more than three hundred times the pay of average workers (up from forty times the pay only three decades ago)"
- "The tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003—and extended for two years in 2010—in 2011 saved the richest 1.4 million taxpayers (the top 1 percent) more money than the rest of America’s 140.89 million taxpayers received in total income"
- "The chairman of Merck took home $17.9 million last year, as Merck laid off sixteen thousand workers and announced layoffs of twenty-eight thousand more. The CEO of Bank of America raked in $10 million, while the bank announced it was firing thirty thousand employees."
- "Fewer and fewer large and medium-sized companies offer their workers full health-care coverage—74 percent did in 1980, under 10 percent do today."
- "Three decades ago more than 80 percent of large and medium-sized firms gave their workers “defined benefit” pensions that guaranteed a fixed amount of money every month after they retired. Now it’s down to under 10 percent. Instead, the employers offer “defined contribution” plans where the risk is on the workers."
- "Last year, according to the Internal Revenue Service, the four hundred richest Americans paid an average of 17 percent of their income in taxes. That’s lower than the tax rates of many middle-class Americans, as I’ve already said. Mitt Romney paid less than 14 percent on income in excess of $20 million, in both 2010 and 2011."
- "In 2010, eighteen thousand American households earning more than half a million dollars paid no income taxes at all. The estate tax (which affects only the top 2 percent) has also been slashed. As recently as 2000 it was 55 percent and kicked in after $1 million. Today it’s 35 percent and kicks in at $5 million."
That's just a small sampling, folks. Your eyes aren't glazing over yet, are they? It goes on and on. I read this stuff, and my mind boggles. The amount of money that's being concentrated at the very top is astounding, and politics is just a big money game - a place to pour out a little cash and get some return on investment. That's not 'by and for the people' right there. It's by and for the people with the big money, and that number is increasingly small. I'm appalled. Thing is, I've been appalled for a while. And so have other people.
The Occupy movement did a fabulous job bringing these concepts forward - the meme of the 99% has staying power and it has the ring of truth to it. We are
I just don't get how people can know these things, can have this knowledge, and still think that capitalism is working and is working for them. You know, if you think other systems don't work, too, that's fine! The problem with human systems of government is that they've got humans in 'em. I understand that just fine. But capitalism, at least the way we're practicing it, is completely and totally broken. We don't have a democracy - we have a corporatocracy. We don't have a republic, because the people elected to represent us are bought and paid for by corporate interests. I feel like the people arguing for capitalism are all Dr. Pangloss, saying over and over that this is the best of all possible worlds, even when it's so clearly not.
I want to fix things. Of course, I don't know what it looks like when it's fixed. I can imagine things less broken, though, and that's a start. Beyond Outrage
really didn't offer a plan (a couple of very strongly worded letters and an exhortation to get out and talk to people about stuff is not
a plan, dammit), but One Way Forward
I don't know how effective these things will be, but I'm certainly willing and able to talk about them. One Way Forward
basically proposed a three-pronged approach to getting the money out of politics (which is, as Lawrence Lessig sees it, the root of the problem).
1. Engaging Congress. He suggests we do this by asking that our politicians sign The Anti-Corruption Pledge
, and only supporting candidates who do. We can try to hold Congress critters accountable and ask that they institute the changes which would clean things up. It's a step, and I think it's worth doing at the state level, too.
2. Engaging the President. This is a little bit harder. Have you ever heard of Americans Elect
? I know I hadn't. But now you have. This is a nonpartisan presidential nomination process that's being conducted online. It's an amazingly powerful idea, and only possible because we are totally living in the future. I think it's an awesome idea. I don't know that it will gain a lot of traction or be a real force to be reckoned with in this presidential election, but I do think it deserves greater exposure. Check it out.
3. Engaging the Constitution. In order to get the money out of politics, and keep
it out of politics, we may needd a constitutional amendment. Actually, we may need the very real threat
of major constitutional change. And the threat might be enough. I don't know. But I know that it's an interesting idea, and it's something else to actually do. Check out CallAConvention.org
. Read about it. Spread the word.
So, here I am, distilling ideas I've found in books and spreading around the links. I like ideas which engage with the new technological realities of the world we're living in - going door to door and knocking and saying "hi would you like to sign a petition" just doesn't feel very effective or sensible to me (yes, I know that kind of activism still has its place, believe me). I like ideas that aim to mobilize all kinds of people, even if they disagree on many issues. I like ideas, period.
Really, what I want to see is more people talking about these problems, and envisioning what a more perfect union really does look like. We have the means to create something new and different, if it becomes clear that what we've got just isn't working. It seems to me that it isn't. So what could we have instead? What would be better? What holds us back? Let's talk.