Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

May 22, 2013

An American tragedy?

By John Wund
Chronicle contributor

CROSSVILLE — I knew a bond trader. Not well, but well enough to pity the man. Money was his only measure of worth. On a good day (if he made a lot of money), he was ecstatic. On a bad one, he was morose. He could be pleasant in conversation at times, but now and then he would appear clueless about the broader range of human experience. Although he was rich (by my standard, at least), there was something shallow and tawdry about his life.

It stands to reason that the accumulation of vast amounts of wealth requires a bit of unhealthy obsession coupled with a general disregard for the rest of society. This is why the public needs to remind the wealthy, every now and then, that their eccentric behavior will only be tolerated if they can demonstrate some value to the rest of us.

According to Pew Research, from 2009 until 2011 (most recent data available), the net worth of the top 8 million U.S. households rose by 28 percent (with most of the increase going to the tippy-tippy top). You might not have noticed this astounding economic boom, though. The rest of us saw a 4 percent decline in net worth. Lately, wealth has been gushing from most of the country up to people like the bond trader.

With their wealth, the richest few control our government. Bribery isn’t new, but it was once illegal. Now, in a SuperPAC, the wealthy can legally spend as much money as they want on political advertising, as long as they don’t directly coordinate with the official campaign (wink,wink).  In 2010, they spent $63 million. In 2012, they raised and spent over ten times as much, and 90 percent of the money (three quarters of a billion bucks) came from only 1,300 players. We know this because SuperPACs are required to disclose their donors.

Dark Money “public interest” organizations spent even more in 2012 and are worse than SuperPACs. They reveal neither how much money they raise nor who donated. By law, however, they can’t be “political.”   Thus, Karl Rove’s “Crossroads GPS” and Tea Party organizations are non-political, according to their IRS filings. Billionaires can donate to these organizations (as well as some new Democratic groups) without fear of disclosure. It’s harder to tell, but billionaires now probably dominate funding in these groups as they do in SuperPACs

The last time the financial elite held such a stranglehold on both the nation’s wealth and its political system was during the “Progressive Era.” Sadly, Progressives saw but failed to break the stranglehold of wealth in the early 1900’s. The Great Depression finally brought the ultra-rich closer to heel, but almost tore the country apart. 

In 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a final, scathing indictment of his characters that represented established wealth in The Great Gatsby.   “They were careless people, …they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness …. and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” 

Our civil society cannot afford to let these careless, shallow, self-centered people run amok again. They have corrupted our representative government, leaving a mess that needs to be mopped up.

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This column represents alternative thoughts to other published columns in the Crossville Chronicle. “We the People” is published each Wednesday. Opinions expressed in “We the People” columns are not necessarily those of the Crossville Chronicle publisher, editor or staff. For more information, contact John Wund, editor, at jwund@frontiernet.net.