EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.
Despair about the state of our politics pervades the political spectrum, from left to right. One source of it, the narrative of fairness offered in basic civics textbooks—we all have an equal opportunity to succeed if we work hard and play by the rules; citizens can truly shape our politics—no longer rings true to most Americans. Recent surveys indicate that substantial numbers of them believe that the economy and political system are both rigged. They also think that money has an outsize influence on politics. Ninety percent of Democrats hold this view, but so do 80 percent of Republicans. And careful studies confirm what the public believes.
None of this should be surprising given the stark economic inequality that now marks our society. The richest 1 percent of American households currently account for 40 percent of the country’s wealth, more than the bottom 90 percent of families possess. Worse yet, the top 0.1 percent has cornered about 20 percent of it, up from 7 percent in the mid-1970s. By contrast, the share of the bottom 90 percent has since then fallen from 35 percent to 25 percent. To put such figures in a personal light, in 2017, three men—Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett, and Bill Gates—possessed more wealth ($248.5 billion) than the bottom 50 percent of Americans.
Over the last four decades, economic disparities in the United States increased substantially and are now greater than those in other wealthy democracies. The political consequence has been that a tiny minority of extremely wealthy Americans wields disproportionate influence, leaving so many others feeling disempowered.