'Winner-Take-All Politics'

The mix of money and politics has reached new heights.

November 17, 2011
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As the 19th Century turned toward the 20th, one of the major political power brokers was the Ohio republican Mark Hanna. “There are two things that matter in politics,” Hanna said. “The first is money. I can’t remember the second.”

Never were more honest words spoken by a political mover and shaker. Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, professors of political science at Yale and Berkeley, respectively, invoke the ghost of Hanna in their best-selling and critically received book, “Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer—And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class."

They clearly and unequivocally cast blame for our current economic malaise and the growing economic gap between the richest Americans and the rest of America squarely at the feet of our political system and its corruption by special-interest money.

More specifically, the authors claim “the current crisis is merely the latest in a long struggle rooted in the interplay of American democracy and American capitalism.”

Winner-Take-All Politics
Winner-Take-All Politics:
How Washington Made the Rich Richer—And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class
, By Jacob S. Hacker & Paul Pierson. Published by Simon & Schuster.

This interplay in its current form has led to more lip service and less actual commitment to our democratic ideals, and more blind allegiance to the pursuit of wealth regardless of the cost to society as a whole.

By now, only the most ignorant of us can have missed the constant flow of credible analysis and reports that trace and document the massive transfer of wealth that has occurred in the past 30 years—to levels unseen since the late 1920s and the eve of the Great Depression.

As the top 1% of Americans saw their wealth increase by phenomenal percentages, the wages and household incomes for the majority of Americans virtually has been flat. The mix of money and politics is nothing new, but the degree that it occurs today would have Mark Hanna blushing like a Victorian virgin.

Writing in a recent issue of the New York Times, Columbia University professor and author Jeffrey Sachs reported, “Both Parties have joined in crippling the government in response to the demands of their wealthy campaign contributors, who above all else insist on keeping low tax rates on capital gains, top incomes, estates, and corporate profits.

"Corporate taxes as a share of national income are at the lowest levels in recent history. Rich households take home the greatest share of income since the Great Depression. Twice before in American history, powerful corporate interests dominated Washington and brought America to a state of unacceptable inequality, instability, and corruption. Both times a social and political movement arose to restore democracy and shared prosperity.”

The two eras referred to by Sachs were the Gilded Age of the late 19th Century and the Roaring ‘20s of the early 20th Century. Hacker and Pierson explain how we unraveled the reforms that followed those two eras to get to where we are today.

Next: Gradual but great corruption

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