Stumbling Toward Oligarchy?

The staggering income inequality levels we’ve reached are bad enough, but are we becoming an oligarchy?

Income inequality has become a big issue lately, and that’s a good thing. For too long we have simply accepted that some people at the top deserve to earn 300 or more times what average workers earn. As if one person’s work is really worth $7,000 an hour while another person’s is worth just a little over 7 bucks an hour (at the bottom). I don’t care how smart your CEO is, or how little education a fast food worker has (although many are quite well educated), that’s just obscene.

Piketty, OligarchySome will say the top earners deserve their pay. While I don’t begrudge success born of true hard work and diligence, in most cases, these folks have simply been in the right place at the right time. Born to the right family, gone to the best schools, handed cushy entry-level jobs a typical service worker would die for.

And here’s the main point: We all built this economy, this country, this world. CEOs could not have done it on their own. The smartest guy in the world needs a big company of hard workers to accomplish anything of value. He needs the infrastructure this great (once-great?) country provides. He needs the educational system that prepared his underlings, the stable society, the work of legions before him that built it. We all contribute to the economy, and the efficiency with which we work has never been greater. And yet, only a very, very few at the top reap the gains we as a society have wrought. This is wrong.

However, the income gap is really just a small part of the problem. As a new book by the French economist Thomas Piketty shows, it’s the inherited wealth that is really transforming this country, and the world, into an oligarchy: rule by the rich. Basically, we’re allowing the rule of kings to come back into vogue. Democracy is dying.

Bill Moyers on the book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” by Piketty:

Here’s one of its extraordinary insights: we are heading into a future dominated by inherited wealth as capital concentrates in fewer and fewer hands, giving the very rich ever greater power over politics, government, and society. “Patrimonial capitalism” is the name for it, and it has potentially terrifying consequences for democracy. For those who work for a living, the level of inequality in the US, writes Piketty, is “probably higher than in any other society, at any time in the past, anywhere in the world.” Over three decades, between 1977 and 2007, 60 percent of our national income went to the richest 1 percent of Americans. No wonder this is the one book the 1% doesn’t want the other 99 percent to read.

One way to level the playing field again, and bring back a government of the people, by the people and for the people, is to reinstate the big inheritance and capital gains taxes of yesteryear. The term “death tax” has been widely used in recent times by those who want to eliminate the estate tax, and it has been an effective tool. But the reality is, without it, we are allowing a takeover of our society and government by the very rich.

I don’t know about you, but the American government I learned about in school — and the one I want back — was a government of the people, by the people, and for the people — not an oligarchy.

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