Economic Inequality & Politics in The United States

Economic growth without social progress lets the great majority of the people remain in poverty, while a privileged few reap the benefits of rising abundance.
— John F. Kennedy

“Economic growth without social progress lets the great majority of the people remain in poverty, while a privileged few reap the benefits of rising abundance”.  These words were spoken by President Kennedy when he was requesting Congressional appropriations for the Inter-American Fund for Social Progress and for Reconstruction in Chile, but yet today his words remain even more relevant today as economic inequality in the United States threatens to dismantle the prosperous and competitive advantage that the United States enjoys over other nations.  

The United States indubitably has one of the world’s strongest economies in nearly every aspect.  The US has the largest GDP for an individual country, enjoys a competitive advantage in regards to the US Dollar, and is currently negotiating a trade deal with Congress that would encompass nearly 60% of the world’s entire trade.  The United States is the world’s largest free market economy (excluding the European Union) with a gross domestic product of 16.77 trillion, and yet… the United States is unable to distribute its income equally among its $318.9 million citizens.  The United States has the fourth highest measure of income inequality, trailing only to Russia, Ukraine, and Lebanon.  Income inequality is an economic measure translating to the net differences between the wealthiest and the poorest individuals in a country.  Doesn’t that seem a bit strange?  

If you’re anything like me, you must be thinking, this can’t be… America, the Great?  What about our democracy? During President Obama’s 2014 State of the Union Address he declared that the top 1% in the United States owned more than the bottom 90% in the United States.  In a free market economy, there are traditionally winners and losers due to the typical nature of capitalism, however the gap has widened exponentially in the United States.  President Obama understands this, and has called on Congress to raise the Federal minimum wage from $7.25 to at least $10 per hour.  Congress has refused to act, so several States have increased the minimum wage for themselves.  If the minimum wage was adjusted properly for inflation, economist have determined that the minimum wage should actually be $22 per hour.  That’s more than triple the current minimum wage….  Does the US still sound like a democracy?

In 2010, the Supreme Court of the United States decided that individual corporations will be treated like people and that super PACs will be treated more valuable than people.  Since then, corporations and individual PAC (political action campaigns) and Super PACS (independent-expenditure only committees) influence our political elections for both republicans and democrats.  Individuals can only give $2700 to candidates during the general election, but Super PACs can raise funds from individuals, corporations, unions, and other groups without a limit on the donation size for ads.  The most notable of these being the Koch brothers, who have donated more than $100 million to conservative free-market and advocacy organizations.  The Supreme Court Justices supporting this stated that ruling against corporations would violate the first amendment in regards to freedom of speech.  The Freedom of speech was so important to our founding fathers that they listed this first in our constitution. It actually causes one to ponder… what would our founding fathers of this nation think?  

How would George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the other leaders who formed our country feel about the intersection of money and politics?  Our founding fathers believed that the power corporations should be limited and prevented corporations from influencing elections and public policy.  At the beginning of our nation corporations were given a temporary status, unable to own stock in other corporations, eliminated if they violated their rights, and were banned from contributing funds to a political candidate.  

Does America still feel like a democracy? A democracy in nature typically utilizes elected representatives to assert the opinions of the whole population.  Princeton University recently released a study that concluded that the United States functioned more like an oligarchy than a democracy citing that elites and interest groups influence government more than the role of average citizens.  America is undoubtedly a prosperous nation for the wealthy, but every citizen will have to articulate their definition of a democracy by utilizing their fundamental right to vote and elect political representatives they believe embody their meaning of the American dream.