- Your Town
There has been extensive discussion recently about the disparity of wealth in the world. Less than a hundred individuals have more cumulative wealth than the poorest half of the world’s population of about three and a half billion people. While these numbers are somewhat shocking, it is likely that things were about the same in 1750. The great feudal land owners and a few bankers had most of the world’s wealth. Most of the world outside of Eurasia had no wealth at all. When industrialization and revolution changed the landscape, the captains of industry and a few of the landed aristocracy obtained wealth and began to take control of the rest of the world by transforming areas into colonial holdings and sucking them dry. By 1850 democracies were being established in Europe and North America and idealists looked to more financial equality. It didn’t happen. We got Carnegie, Mellon, Rothschild, and a bunch more. The question is can democracy thrive when there is huge wealth disparity?
The answer is a very iffy maybe. A citizen in a democracy has the right to legally accumulate as much wealth as he/she can or desires. One of the situations that brought on the revolutions in Europe was the rigidly established social classes. Entry into the higher classes was essentially closed to all but those born in that class, unless the King made a special exception. The serfs and peasants were locked into their status by law in much of Europe. Democracy can’t work in a class based society. Class structure in the United States or any other democracy can’t be allowed any legal status or advantage. Great wealth means control of the economy.
Although the world economy has a vast variety of ways to make money with many new opportunities, the ordinary citizen is not able to take advantage of them. When economic power is concentrated among the few, competition tends to decrease because of buyouts and force outs. A wealthy company can sell products at a loss until the competition folds and then charge what they want. Many corporations are now controlled by a narrow group of wealthy stockholders who can outvote the rest. Can anyone compete with Monsanto? We eat their corn because there is little else to buy, Non genetically modified seed grain is getting difficult to buy. Is genetically modified beef next? The political realm is even more scary. The Supreme Court declared that corporations are citizens. They can’t vote, but they can buy votes at the polls and in Congress. A few more steps and they will be able to get laws passed that will permanently protect their wealth and power. I get requests to donate money to some candidate in Alabama. It is my opinion that no one should be able to campaign for or fund a candidate they are not registered to vote for or against. Since the wealthy own more and more of the media, they can spend billions in advertising to get a favorable law passed. Most of the very wealthy are internationally connected and American foreign policy is of critical importance to them.
They will step in to control trade regulations and agreements. How hard would it be for them to start a small war to disrupt oil supplies so they could sell theirs at a higher price? A trade agreement with an undeveloped country supposedly to exchange goods is used to move the factories of the wealthy there and produce corporate products with cheap labor. We get fewer jobs and more imported goods. If democracy is to survive, the wealthy can’t be permitted to use their wealth to control or influence the major functions of society. They can buy their jet liners, expensive art and mansions, but not lawmakers and those parts of the media that bring honest news. Just because they are rich doesn’t mean they are right. A final word, there is a reasonable number of very wealthy people who are supportive of democracy and are good and generous citizens, Perhaps we can look to them for help with this threat.