kentucky voices

Too much of a good thing: Income inequality

April 26, 2014 

Marty Solomon

HANDOUT PHOTO

Income equality is a good thing. It is the juice that makes capitalism work. It provides incentives for people to work hard creating new products and services, and at the same time, they can amass personal wealth.

Some people are more creative or smarter than others, like Steve Jobs who amassed $14 billion. Others like Bill Gates were lucky to be in the right place at the right time and take advantage of it to the tune of $77 billion. Sam Walton worked harder than the next person, and his family is now worth $145 billion.

The communist world found out that without the opportunity for substantial incomes, innovation and effort flounder.

While the quest for greater wealth has contributed to the spectacular success of the United States, too much of a good thing turns out to be bad.

Over the past several decades, the elite have been able to disproportionately influence, or legally bribe, legislators. Top earners make most of their money from lower-taxed dividends and capital gains. Powerful lobbies demand and receive massive corporate welfare. Big Oil receives billions in tax breaks and companies like GE and Caterpillar legally bank their profits overseas and shield billions from taxes. Ag giants like Tyson and Monsanto earn staggering profits, yet receive federal benefits.

All of this is made possible by a combination of campaign contributions and the promise of fat-cat future jobs for legislators. The Supreme Court has made matters worse by allowing the super-rich even more influence in elections. The wealthy hire lobbyists who actually dictate or write the legislation.

Many in Congress complain about welfare recipients being lazy and shiftless, but McDonald's and Walmart are the new welfare queens. They pay salaries near the poverty level, yet many of their employees are eligible for food stamps.

The disparity between the top one percent and the rest has never been greater. Some of this results from outsourcing and mechanization, but a large part is due to government subsidies to the super-rich. While millions have lost their homes and jobs, American corporations are making record profits, and CEOs, who were responsible for impoverishing thousands of households, get record millions.

In addition to campaign finance reform, two things could help.

First, Congress once worked Monday through Friday, lived in Washington and socialized with each other on weekends. But today they work Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and go home to their districts on the weekends. If they returned to the old workweek, they could get to know each other as human beings and could constructively work together.

Secondly, if nonpartisan redistricting commissions drew congressional districts in each state, instead of the gerrymandered districts of today, then moderate, centrist people could be elected and consensus could occur on important national issues.

Reach Marty Solomon, a retired University of Kentucky professor, at mbsolomon@aol.com

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