By Jim Miller
Recently Thomas B. Edsall penned an interesting column in the New York Times asking “How Did the Democrats Become the Favorites of the Rich?” where he observed that while the gulf between the two parties is still very wide on many social issues, on economic issues, Democrats have “inched closer to the policy positions of conservatives, stepping back from championing the needs of working men and women, of the unemployed and of the so-called underclass.”
Consequently, Edsall notes that:
Democrats now depend as much on affluent voters as on low-income voters. Democrats represent a majority of the richest congressional districts, and the party’s elected officials are more responsive to the policy agenda of the well-to-do than to average voters. The party and its candidates have come to rely on the elite 0.01 percent of the voting age population for a quarter of their financial backing and on large donors for another quarter.
He then goes on to cite the research of Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page showing that policies favoring the working and middle classes but opposed by the affluent are rarely enacted while policies favored by the affluent but opposed by the majority of people are more likely to get adopted.
This is because, he argues, “The practical reality is that the Democratic Party is now structurally disengaged from class-based populism, especially a form of economically redistributive populism that low-to-moderate-income whites would find inviting.” Edsall also makes the point that many working class voters are less culturally liberal than affluent voters hence putting Democrats at a disadvantage even when they embrace an economically populist agenda as Bernie Sanders is doing at present.
While it is open to debate whether cultural conservatism would win out over economic populism if Sanders’ insurgent campaign were to prevail in the Democratic primary, Edsall’s argument is spot on when he observes that there has been a bipartisan “ideological shift toward acceptance of a form of free market capitalism which, among other characteristics, offers less support for government provision of transfers, lower marginal tax rates for those with high incomes, and deregulation of a number of industries.” One need not go further than Hillary Clinton’s robust defense of capitalism in the recent Democratic presidential debate to see how deeply entrenched neoliberalism is among Democratic Party elites.
And this is why, despite a resurgent populism on the left, the slow drift toward entrenched plutocracy continues unabated. It is, along with the looming threat of the climate crisis, the story of our time.
Unfortunately, however, much of the corporate media don’t agree. That’s why Project Censored’s recently released list of the most underreported stories of 2015 features the news that 2016 will be the year when half of the world’s wealth will be controlled by the top 1%. More specifically, they document how:
According to the Oxfam report, the proportion of global wealth owned by the 1 percent has increased from 44 percent in 2009 to 48 percent in 2014 and is projected to reach 50 percent in 2016. In October 2014, a prior Oxfam report, “Even It Up: Time to End Extreme Poverty,” revealed that the number of billionaires worldwide had more than doubled since the 2009 financial crisis, showing that, although those at the top have recovered quickly, the vast majority of the world’s population are far from reaping the benefits of any recent economic recovery. Even more staggering, the world’s richest eighty-five people now hold the same amount of wealth as half the world’s poorest population. “Failure to tackle inequality will leave hundreds of millions trapped in poverty unnecessarily,” the report’s authors warned.
This news was not just delivered with a sigh. In fact Oxfam paired it with a 9 step “Even it Up” campaign that could address the problem:
- Make governments work for citizens and tackle extreme inequality.
- Promote women’s economic equality and women’s rights.
- Pay workers a living wage and close the gap created by skyrocketing executive rewards.
- Share the tax burden fairly to level the playing field.
- Close international tax loopholes and fill holes in tax governance.
- Achieve universal free public services by 2020.
- Change the global system for research and development and pricing of medicines so everyone has access to appropriate and affordable medicines.
- Implement a universal social protection floor.
- Target development finance at reducing inequality and poverty, and strengthening the compact between citizens and their government.
According to Oxfam, “taxing billionaires just 1.5 percent of their wealth ‘could raise $74 billion a year, enough to fill the annual gaps in funding needed to get every child into school and to deliver health services in the world’s poorest countries.’”
This would seem to be a fairly reasonable response to a socially catastrophic global problem, but both the news of this shameful landmark and Oxfam’s campaign were met with the collective equivalent of a yawn by the corporate media. As Project Censored observes:
Corporate coverage of the two Oxfam reports has been minimal in quantity and problematic in quality. A few corporate television networks, including CNN, CBS, MSNBC, ABC, FOX, and C-SPAN covered Oxfam’s January report, according to the TV News Archive. CNN had the most coverage with approximately seven broadcast segments from January 19 to 25, 2015. However, these stories aired between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m., far from primetime. Other coverage focused on Obama’s push for tax reform. CBS and MSNBC ran segments with this focus four times between 1:00 and 4:00 a.m., January 20–21, 2015, with the exception of one MSNBC story, broadcast on February 2, 2015, at 12:00 p.m. ABC covered the story once on January 19, 2015. FOX also covered the story once on January 19, 2015, questioning Oxfam’s motives for releasing the report just before the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
With corporate news coverage like this, it’s hard to be too critical of the average American voter for being led astray by the use of divisive cultural issues in the service of what Thomas Frank has called “backlash populism” that ignores economic privilege while obsessing over the sins of a mythic “cultural elite.”
If both parties are pigging out at the corporate trough and courting donors from the 1% while our information system is owned by that very same elite who don’t consider their growing domination of the global commons news, how are regular folks going to get the tools they need to draw an accurate cognitive map of power?
The answer to this question is that unless they are staying up all night to monitor obscure cable news, most people are being left in the dark about just how bad things are getting and why.