Time magazine had an interesting article in this week’s edition concerning the sorry state our country is in today.
The author was Steven Brill, who it turns out is about my age, and its title surprised me: “My Generation Was Supposed To Level America’s Playing Field. Instead, We Rigged It For Ourselves.”
The article was adapted from Brill’s book, Tailspin, which came out this month.
The article begins by pointing out that most Americans have been asking themselves some version of the same question: “How did we get here? How did the world’s greatest democracy and economy become a land of crumbling roads, galloping income inequality, bitter polarization and dysfunctional government?
The article is a lengthy one but well worth the read. How it happened, Brill says, was through a number of strands of a story that began 50 years ago. While each of the strands were different, they had a common theme: Most of the country’s most talented, driven Americans used what makes America great to chase the American Dream. When they won it, for themselves, they consolidated their winnings, coopted the forces that might have reined them in, and pulled up the ladder so more could not share in their success.
By consolidating their winnings, Brill says, they were able to finance so many lobbyists that, today, there are more than 20 lobbyists in Washington for every member of the U.S. Congress. In 1971, there were 175 firms with lobbyists in Washington. Today, there are 7,700 such firms.
Those firms funnel millions and millions of dollars into their lobbyist army to make sure Congress passes no laws that would threaten their immense wealth. And Congress has gleefully obliged them.
Almost every law, regulation, organization, institution, etc., that had ever protected the havenots in this country, in the last 50 years, have been either destroyed or decimated to the point they are no longer effective at helping people who, for whatever reason, missed out on the American Dream realized by this country’s wealthiest people.
And the onslaught continues.
Brill argues that today’s polarization is not so much between Democrats and Republicans, its between the protected vs. the unprotected ….. the common good vs. maximizing and protecting the elite winners’ winnings.
The lobbyist army isn’t the only army protecting this country’s wealthiest. There’s also an even larger army of lawyers who earn enormous fees for finding ways to protect the wealth of the protected elite. While lobbyists were seeing to it that no laws would pass to threaten their bosses’ wealth, the lawyers were working to use the legal system to challenge virtually anything that threatened that wealth.
And yet another tool of the wealthiest of Americans is to pour millions upon millions of dollars into election campaigns, thereby insuring that those elected to office will protect their wealth.
One would think the wealthy would no longer be wealthy by spending all that money on lobbyists, lawyers and elections. To the contrary, Brill says, for the wealthy are spending mere millions of dollars to protect, or earn, billions of dollars in return.
Brill paints a grim painting of our country but he sees a glimmer of hope growing on the horizon. He points to a growing number of equally talented, equally driven achievers who have grown so disgusted by what they see that they are pushing back.
Many of them believe the country will overrun the lobbyists and lawyers when enough Americans see that we need leaders who are prepared and intelligent, who can channel our frustration rather than exploit it, and who can unite the middle class and the poor rather than divide them.