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Roger Haglund, Moorhead, Published October 13 2012

Letter: The rich stacked the deck

In the past three decades, we have seen a massive shift of wealth from the middle class to the top 1 percent. Forbes magazine reports that the top 1 percent now control 43 percent of the wealth in the nation; the next 4 percent control an additional 29 percent.

American workers have increased productivity by 80 percent, but their incomes have stagnated or declined. How did this happen? Can anything be done to restore a balance of power? Some economists, such as Steven Kaplan of the University of Chicago, contend that massive income inequality is the inevitable result of economic growth. Others, such as Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson in their book “Winner-Take-All Politics,” show that the huge wealth transfer resulted from changes in government policy orchestrated by the rich.

In 1971, attorney Lewis Powell wrote a memo for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce asserting that “the American economic system is under broad attack” because the government was passing laws to protect the environment, consumers and workers. He said businesses needed to “assiduously cultivate political power and use it aggressively” to get a bigger slice of the pie. The chamber and other conservatives took his advice and began a long-term plan to elect candidates and to build a powerful array of institutions to sway public opinion and change government policies. Organizations such as the Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute were formed to shift public opinion in a conservative direction. The American Legislative Exchange Council was formed and today writes “model legislation” for 1,000 bills a year.

Thousands of lobbyists were hired to create tax loopholes and gut laws regulating corporations. Cooperative politicians, both Republicans and Democrats, were rewarded with generous campaign contributions. Conservative judges were appointed who would favor business interests (e.g., the Citizens United decision allowing corporations to make unlimited donations to campaigns).

Claiming that the mainstream media was biased, Fox News was created to provide viewers with their “fair and balanced” version of the news. Right-wing commentators dominate talk radio. In 1994, Newt Gingrich sent a memo titled “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control” to House Republicans. Frank Luntz was hired as a public relations consultant to convert people to conservatism by creating phrases that appealed to emotion rather than logic – for example, calling the estate tax a “death tax.” ALEC-inspired voter ID laws were passed to discourage voting by some groups that typically vote for Democrats.

Notice that the shift to super-rich privilege was not the inevitable result of globalization or new technology; it is the result of the wealthy using their money to hijack our political system. The United States was in a similar position about a century ago, which culminated in the Great Depression. Through the efforts of many people and over several decades, democracy triumphed, and we had a period of prosperity for most Americans until about 1980.

The question for us today is: Do you want to live in a plutocracy or will we work to rebuild a democracy that serves the interests of all Americans?