Bill Moyers: Our Politicians Are Money Launderers Not Too Different from Tony Soprano
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I didn’t crib that litany from Public Citizen’s muckraking investigations over the years, although I could have. Nor did I lift it from Das Kapital by Karl Marx or Mao Tse-tung’s Little Red Book. No, I was literally quoting Time Magazine, long a tribune of America’s establishment media. From the bosom of mainstream media comes the bald, spare, and damning conclusion: We now have “government for the few at the expense of the many.”
But let me call another witness from the pro-business and capitalist- friendly press. In the middle of the last decade – four years before the Great Collapse of 2008 – the editors of The Economist warned:
A growing body of evidence suggests that the meritocratic ideal is in trouble in America. Income inequality is growing to levels not seen since the (first) Gilded Age. But social mobility is not increasing at anything like the same pace….Everywhere you look in modern America – in the Hollywood Hills or the canyons of Wall Street, in the Nashville recording studios or the clapboard houses of Cambridge, Massachusetts – you see elites mastering the art of perpetuating themselves. America is increasingly looking like imperial Britain, with dynastic ties proliferating, social circles interlocking, mechanisms of social exclusion strengthening, and a gap widening between the people who make decisions and shape the culture and the vast majority of working stiffs.
Hear the editors of The Economist: “The United States is on its way to becoming a European-style class-based society.”
Can you imagine what would happen if I had said that on PBS? Mitch McConnell and John Boehner would put Elmo and Big Bird under house arrest. Come to think of it, I did say it on PBS back when Karl Rove was president, and there was indeed hell to pay. You would have thought Che Guevara had run his motocryle across the White House lawn. But I wasn’t quoting from a radical or even liberal manifesto. I was quoting – to repeat – one of the business world’s most respected journals. It is the editors of the The Economist who are warning us that “ The United States is on its way to becoming a European-style class-based society.”
And that was well before our financiers, drunk with greed and high on the illusions and conceits of laissez faire (“leave us alone”) fundamentalism, and humored by rented politicians who do their bidding, brought America to the edge of the abyss and our middle class to its knees.
How could it be? How could this happen in the country whose framers spoke of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” in the same breath as political equality? Democracy wasn’t meant to produce a class-ridden society. When that son of French aristocracy Alexander de Tocqueville traveled through the bustling young America of the 1830s, nothing struck him with greater force than “the equality of conditions.” Tocqueville knew first-hand the vast divisions between the wealth and poverty of Europe, where kings and feudal lords took what they wanted and left peasants the crumbs. But Americans, he wrote, “seemed to be remarkably equal economically.” “Some were richer, some were poorer, but within a comparative narrow band. Moreover, individuals had opportunities to better their economic circumstances over the course of a lifetime, and just about everyone [except of course slaves and Indians] seemed to be striving for that goal.” Tocqueville looked closely, and said: “I easily perceive the enormous influence that this primary fact exercises on the workings of the society.”
And so it does. Evidence abounds that large inequalities undermine community life, reduces trust among citizens, and increases violence. In one major study from data collected over 30 years [by the epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett in their book: The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger] the most consistent predictor of mental illness, infant mortality, educational achievements, teenage births, homicides, and incarceration, is economic inequality. And as Nobel Laureate Kenneth Arrow has written, “Vast inequalities of income weakens a society’s sense of mutual concern…The sense that we are all members of the social order is vital to the meaning of civilization.”