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Winner-Take-All Politics

Why do the rich get richer? These authors blame the Republicans.

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All of the above raises the questions: Did these unfathomably wealthy people earn all that additional income and are they satisfied with where they are, plutocratically speaking? No and no, insist the authors. The wealthy, whether their assets derive from inheritance, big business accomplishments, or working in the financial sector, have allied enthusiastically with the Republicans since the late 1970s to reduce their levies dramatically (whether on income, estate, or capital gains). They have also worked together to suppress the labor movement and to decimate government attempts to regulate the environment and fancy financial transactions like those subprime mortgage derivatives that brought the world to the brink of economic collapse.

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The Republicans, according to Hacker and Pierson, by marrying populist rhetoric to elite action, have been able to stitch together a constituency that includes moderate income supporters – Christian conservatives, tea partyers, and elite-wary blue-collar workers – while pursuing policies catering almost exclusively to business and moneyed elites. If the middle class, and below, is getting the short end of the economic stick from Washington, the Republicans blame it on the “tax and spend” Democrats, whose policies are actually more in tune with Middle America.

If there currently is gridlock in the Capitol because a super-majority of 60 senators in the Senate is needed to move reform legislation, the voters, the polls show, seem to be blaming the current Democratic majority rather than the obstructionist Republican minority. How can this be? Because, according to the authors, the GOP, in league with the wealthy and big business, has mastered the art of political organization and fundraising since this “30 Years War” began in earnest circa 1980. “Banks are organized; their customers are not,” they write, citing one example of the uneven political playing field.

America, they insist, is turning into “Richistan.” A nation that threw off the tyranny of hereditary aristocracy in 1776 is in danger of falling prey to a new economic aristocracy that dictates laws, regulations, and tax rates from on high while insisting it is all being done in the interest of the nation.

Hacker and Pierson make a compelling case. If Marie Antoinette were alive, she might aver of today’s great economically challenged masses, “Let them nibble on passbook-savings-account interest” – if they can manage to save anything, that is.

David Holahan is a freelance writer living in East Haddam, Conn.

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