The US presidential elections are beginning to gear up, and we hear presidential candidates from the Republican Party trying to convince us that inequality is something that they have are concerned about. Four years after the Occupy Wall Street movement had been quashed by police departments all over the country, the Republican contenders are admitting, and no longer denying that income and wealth inequality is something that we should be concerned about. (99% of all new income goes to the top 1%, the top 0.1% owns nearly as much wealth as the bottom 90%, and the Walton family owns more wealth than the bottom 42% of Americans.) And these pronouncements are happening even though the political establishment has been completely bought by the Koch brothers, who have already pledged to donate nearly 1 billion dollars into the presidential elections next year.
In this post-Citizens United world, we need to ask ourselves whether any of the pronouncements of the Republican contenders about inequality can be taken seriously at all. I would claim that, of course, they can not be taken seriously, and to believe that they have serious proposals to resolve the inequality problem means to fall victim to their politics of delusion.
In a crude sense, one can judge any of the Republican contenders (Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush etc.) by the money that they generate from wealthy donors, who have become increasingly important in a world, where there are no more campaign finance restrictions for very wealthy people. It is not very likely for any of these contenders to speak out against the people, who fund them to become president.
But let us assume that the donors do not influence their views, and that they are really concerned about reducing inequality. We have to judge these presidential contenders based on their campaign promises, not on their heart-wrenching “I feel your pain” stories. Essentially, most contenders claim that the best way to reduce inequality is not to punish the “success” stories, but to encourage job creation. Okay, not bad. But how do you create jobs? Answer: by giving tax breaks to rich people, who will trickle it down to the rest of us.
Now, trickle down theory has been thoroughly discredited, even among economists, but the belief won’t die down that quickly among policymakers, receiving advice from rich people and their close associates in the right-wing think tanks and news media. We can expect that if a Republican becomes elected president, and the Republicans keep their majority in both houses of Congress (which looks increasingly likely) that the current Republican budgets, which currently receive veto threats from the Obama administration, will pass for the most part, if not in entirety.
Progressives have pinned very high hopes on the Obama administration that he would attempt an agenda left-of-center, but we know it does not happen, because the Democratic Party also has to satisfy Wall Street and the big corporations, and they don’t appreciate a progressive agenda, even if that is what most of the country likes to see implemented. Tragically, Hillary Clinton is another one of those center-right, corporate Democrats, who ally with the rich rather than support a progressive agenda. She has made no statement to redress inequality, which would have required her to take shots at her wealthy donors.
For the Republicans, it is altogether a different story: they are a very strong and unified party, at least as far as the fundamental economic principles are concerned. We hear a lot about the Tea Party and the establishment wing fighting against each other, but what usually happens is that the Tea Party wing proposes to slash Medicaid, Medicare and other social programs and give tax breaks to the wealthy and big corporations, and the establishment wing usually goes along with that, though they would not necessarily want the government to shut down over those budget struggles, while the Tea Party wing is more than willing to show brinkmanship on this issue.
It is altogether, therefore, not surprising why the progressive agenda is stalled in Congress, while the right-wing agenda that cuts social programs while giving tax breaks to the rich has significant political clout. Mancur Olson had argued in “The Logic of Collective Action” that interest groups are small, but concentrated and powerful, while the general public is large and diffuse/ weak. The interest group consists of the rich and the powerful, while the general public consist of ordinary people, working people, the unemployed, seniors, children, and any other marginalized group located very far away from the halls of power. The interest groups get their way, and the general public loses out.
In any case, ordinary people should at no point in time be fooled about Republican presidential contenders’ public concern for fighting to reduce inequality. They receive support from the billionaire class, promote a right-wing austerity-for-the-masses agenda, and think they can win the elections by pretending to speak out on behalf of ordinary voters. I sincerely hope that the voters won’t be fooled again.