s my title suggests, I present what most Americans don’t know and those who do know are reluctant to acknowledge. One percent of Americans have wealth exceeding that which seventy-five percent of other Americans have. This miniscule minority obviously possesses privileges the vast majority of Americans lack. This one percent has political power thanks to their economic circumstances. Their incredible wealth enables them to contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars to political campaigns of persons running for Congress. Implied in this process is the expectation the elected congresspersons will vote for policies advantageous to those whose financial support they took. This process is crass, but it’s the reality of how our system works. Thus, the one percent have political influence not available to those making less than $100,000 a year.
To illustrate I present my forty-four-year-old son’s circumstances. He teaches in Chester Pennsylvania where the student population is ninety nine percent African-American. He has twenty-six years of teaching experience and earns $60,000 a year. His wife is unable to work because of a recent heart attack and he has two teenage sons. They have a monthly mortgage to pay plus both are still making college loan payments. Obviously, he and his wife are unable to make financial contributions to politicians running for a seat in Congress. Thus, he and his wife are unable to influence politicians to promote policies specifically advantageous to themselves. Likewise, the parents of his students are unable to make financial contributions to politicians running for office and are in circumstances similar to theirs.
I suspect politicians beholden to the superrich aren’t eager to learn about the economic circumstances of those making less than $100,000 a year. Are they aware of the struggle to pay mortgages, health and dental expenses, college tuition costs and, perhaps, financially helping older parents whose social security isn’t adequate for their daily expenses?
I’d like members of Congress to recall Franklin Roosevelt’s message of eighty-six years ago. He said, “The test of our progress is not whether we add to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide for those who have too little.” In President Biden’s first sixty days, Democrats have, to some degree, acknowledged FDR’s challenge. They supported his call for passage of the 1.9 trillion-dollar economic assistance bill. This bill suggests a percolate up economic process as opposed to the Republican “trickle down” economic process.
However, Democrats failed to address the burdensome college tuition debt incurred by my son and daughter-in-law as well as tuition debt incurred by parents of daughters and sons wanting a college education. Senator Sanders wanted college to be free to all who qualified and called for Congress to cancel existing college debts. Of course, his proposals were anathema to Wall Street banking interests. Earlier Wall Street banks had pressured Congress to pass a law prohibiting individuals declaring bankruptcy with regard to tuition debts. No wonder my daughter-in-law and son favored the candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders.
Many see Congress serving the interests of banks, especially those making student loans, big pharma, health insurance companies, and, of course, corporations functioning within the context of the military industrial complex. Taxpayers’ money funds a national budget allocating more than fifty percent for defense. Much of what is spent in the defense budget is welfare to certain corporations. How is money spent for two nuclear submarines able to deter a terrorist attack like that which occurred on September 11, 2001? Money spent to build those submarines only enriches the one percent who own millions of shares in the corporations getting Pentagon contracts to build them. What’s in it for the parents of the students my son teaches in Chester, Pennsylvania? This is an example of the bloated military budget serving the superrich. The military budget’s consequences, and implications, was extensively presented in James McCartney’s book America’s War Machine: Vested Interested, Endless Conflicts, published in 2015.
As for the bloated defense budget, one radical proposal, alluded to by Senator Sanders, would reduce the budget by 15%. This reduction would provide money to pay Medicare for all as well as grant college tuition money to all qualified students. The defense budget would still exceed the combined military budgets of the following countries: Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Russia, and Turkey. This information was presented in the book Red Ink, written by David Wessel, economic editor of the Wall Street Journal.
McCartney also estimates near fifteen percent of the defense budget is for nuclear weapons. Apparently, the U.S. has roughly ten thousand nuclear weapons while China has only five hundred. (Again, U.S. nukes were of no help in the war against Iraq initiated by George W. Bush.) China spends more on manufacturing goods which Walmart buys and sells. China knows, as do our presidents as well, it would only take fifteen missiles, each having twenty times the power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, to instantly end all life on earth. The question is: who’s profiting by the U.S. manufacturing these weapons? It’s not the public-school teachers, like my son, or the parents of the children who attend those schools. Those who profit are the one percent who own millions of shares in the corporations manufacturing those weapons. Their profits obliterate any emotional twinges of conscience.
Philip Reiss taught American History from 1967 to 1999 at the S.U.N.Y. community college in Middletown, NY He also served in the Air Force from 1955 until 1959. He may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stan Levin says
This is an absolutely great essay, Phil.
Proud to know ya’ !
When I grow up I want to be just like you !