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10 Ways Our Democracy Is Crumbling Around Us

The financial rot is deeply impacting our democratic structures.

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For a short time it seemed as if Wall Street would pay for the damage it had caused – that the large banks would be broken up, that homeowners would be bailed out, that the unemployed would be put to work, and that Wall Street gambling would be eliminated with the passage of New Deal-like controls.

But the oligarchs would not stand for it. They got bailed out, not the average American. Too-big-to-fail banks used our bailout funds to get even bigger. And the reforms are weak and yet to be instituted.

That’s not what Americans wanted or expected. But under our financialized democracy, that's what we’re getting…and more is yet to come.

6. Deficit Hysteria

It’s remarkable to watch how oligarchs shift the national conversation toward debt and away from themselves. By the summer of 2011, both parties where clamoring for cuts (which they call “reforms”) in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. As the Democrats moved to the right, the Republicans went even further, demanding more tax cuts for the rich and more draconian cuts in social programs – from food stamps to Head Start. All of this becomes possible because of the national drumbeat about deficits and debt.

With massive investments in think-tanks and media infrastructure, Wall Street’s minions successfully persuaded Washington that the American people, not Wall Street, should pay for the damage that Wall Street created. That’s the very definition of oligarchic chutzpah.

7. Crumbling Social and Physical Infrastructure

When you’re a financial oligarch, you live in your gated community, you send your kids to private schools, you go to your own expensive healthcare providers, and travel on your private jet which leaves from its own private terminal. You could care less what happens to the rest of America. You have no interest in funding public education. (In fact, the very profitable student loan market depends on rising education costs.) You would think that business leaders would want an educated workforce. But the real oligarchs don’t care. They can get their workers from anywhere in the world. What about the decay of our roads, bridges and public transportation? Doesn’t business need that too? Productive enterprises do, but the financial elites rely almost entirely on a privately controlled electronic infrastructure. Cracked bridges don’t matter.

But financial elites do care deeply about privatization. Turning over the government to the private sector is a thing of beauty for oligarchs. It’s a nice transfer of taxpayer money to firms that can use political muscle to gain contracts. The insecurity of competitive markets is eliminated as you waltz off with military and civilian contracts worth billions. (See Colin Greer’s “ The Biggest Engine of Economic Growth? 8 Ways Taxpayers and the Government Are Necessary to Capitalism.”)

When America was competing with the USSR, maintaining some semblance of substantive democracy was critically important. It’s not an accident that during the Cold War we invested heavily in higher education, transportation and social programs like Medicare and Medicaid. We even supported unions. Oligarchs were constrained in the name of freedom. No more.

8. The Failure to Create Jobs

Until recently, our democracy would not tolerate high levels of unemployment. In fact it was suicidal for any politician or political party to preside over severe recessions that lasted over a year. And even during the Great Depression, it was expected that government would do everything possible to create jobs and protect the unemployed. That sense of urgency is long gone as the oligarchs have flexed their political muscle.

We are now four years into the crisis and the unemployment rate remains stuck at around 8 percent. In the past, such levels would have forced government to create jobs programs left and right. At the very least, federal money would have gone to state and local governments to prevent more public layoffs. Instead, we are witnessing an on-going human catastrophe, especially for the long term unemployed – those without jobs for 26 weeks or more. These workers will find it extremely difficult ever to find work again. A vital democracy would not stand for it. Instead, we are getting far too used to it.

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