The Supreme Court’s recent decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, expanding the Citizens United doctrine that money equals speech, formalized what was already clear: The 1 percent is undertaking a serious effort to buy elections. So how will our nation’s elected leaders, of both parties, respond? By offering themselves up for sale? Competing to see who can get the most money from the Sheldon Adelsons of America? Or by seeking to play on a different field — one where they listen seriously to the hundreds of millions of people who are not getting ahead even as our economy grows?
In many ways, the driving question in a capitalist democracy is: Do people have enough money at the end of the week to provide for themselves and their families?
Six years after the financial crisis, an alarming concentration of wealth and income at the top of this country is hobbling our economy and strangling our democracy. Wage stagnation is a fact of life for the vast majority of the United States. The bottom 90 percent of wage earners have experienced falling wages since the end of the Great Recession, and 95 percent of the income gains since June 2009 have gone to the richest 1 percent. But the problem predates the recession. Census data show that household income for the typical family in 2012 was lower than it was in 1989 and that the median income for men working full time is lower than it was 40 years ago.
This is regress. This is retreat. This is democratic capitalism teetering, held upright mainly through greed, speculation and fear.
The winners in our society, the top 10 percent, belong to both political parties, as do the 90 percent experiencing stagnant and falling incomes.
And the winners in our losing economic game have pushed policies that benefit the super-rich instead of helping most of the United States: bank bailouts and fiscal austerity, NAFTA-like trade agreements, attacks on Social Security. The more this agenda gains ground in both parties, the more working-class voters get discouraged and don’t turn out.