What the One Percent Don’t Want You to Know
One of my favorite public intellectuals, partly because he is a Christian and a Baptist, is Bill Moyers. He was President Johnson’s press secretary in the 1960s and wrote many of Johnson’s speeches. Since then he has served in many government positions and has served as a Christian ethicist both to Christian and secular America. He has a series of Youtube videos that I highly recommend. Most of them are interviews with influential Americans—both religious and secular.
One such Youtube video interview is this one entitled “What the 1% Don’t Want You to Know.” The interviewee is economist Paul Krugman—another public intellectual. He and Moyers discuss a fairly recent book by French economist Thomas Piketty entitled “Capital in the Twenty-first Century.” The “gist” of the interview is that “The U.S. is drifting toward oligarchy” because so much American wealth is inherited rather than earned and is in the hands of a very few people—about one percent of Americans possess about 36% of the nation’s wealth. And that percentage, concentrated in the accounts and investments of the 1%, is growing exponentially—mainly due to untaxed inherited wealth.
*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*
According to Moyers and Krugman, agreeing with Piketty, this situation in America is leading away from true democracy and toward oligarchy—partly because billionaires control so much of the political life of the nation through implicit obligations by politicians to the billionaires who funded their campaigns for office.
Great wealth in America automatically leads to great influence and even control over the levers of political and economic power. The gap between the rich and the poor and the thinning out of the middle class is becoming a genuine threat to America’s social stability.
What is the solution? Well, that’s obvious—inheritance tax with the government channeling some of those unneeded billions of dollars to programs to lift the poor out of poverty.
Moyers and Krugman discuss France where there are poor people but they have access to government programs for health, food and housing that keeps them from becoming destitute.
When I lived in Germany in the 1970s I made a point of looking for the “slums” where the “poor lived.” I couldn’t find them. I asked Germans to tell me where they were. They would say, but when I went to those neighborhoods, they weren’t at all like American slums. Yes, there were homeless people, people begging mainly in the tourist areas, but when I talked to them I discovered that they wanted to beg rather than work. Most of the people I saw sleeping in the train stations were American youths backpacking through Europe!
I am not in favor of the government handing out cash to people. Personally, I think people who receive cash from the government should be required to do some work for it—if possible. Work is ennobling. I believe the same goes for the rich. Those who live off of inherited wealth and investment income should work at something, even if only by volunteering to mentor poor students.
This growing gap between the rich and the poor and the disappearing of the middle class cannot be good for American society in the long run.
The solution is to tax inheritances—as America used to do. Yes, we still have an inheritance tax (snidely called a “death tax” by its opponents), but it is not nearly enough. Extremely wealthy people are able to pass down to their heirs extreme fortunes with the result that a few families now control most of the wealth and the power that comes from wealth. That is called oligarchy and is inimical to true democracy.
Watch the video before commenting.
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