For the last decade many articles have appeared in numerous newspapers and there have also been many comments made on TV about the disparity in salaries, increasing exponentially for the rich and wages being essentially static or barely going up for everyone else; that the economic upper class’s incomes have risen significantly while everyone one else’s have stayed largely frozen. This has been not just within the United States but also in the entire industrial world. If this continues throughout this century all these nations could end up at some point becoming autocracies with a small percentage of the population, the rich, ruling everyone else, and ruling them for their own benefit.
We could, in a sense, be going back in time to when the European states were ruled by autocrats, that is rule by the nobility. The nobility in the United States today are the very rich, the upper ten percent and the assorted companies and corporations that they control.
It is interesting to note that the United States in the post-Civil War period, from 1865 until the early 20th Century underwent a rapid industrial growth, essentially the Industrial Revolution. A number of small businessmen became multi-millionaires. This was the period of the “robber barons:” Rockefeller, Carnegie, Mellon, J.P. Morgan and many others; the so-called “400.” They had their hands in both the states and federal legislatures, freely using bribery, having or not having laws passed that benefited themselves. The Senate, which at that time was elected by the state legislatures, was considered a millionaire’s club, each major company, through bribery or otherwise, having its own man in that body. The U.S. was then largely ruled by the wealthy upper mercantile class for their own benefit.
What changed this was the Progressive Movement and the muckrakers. Initially there had been no laws regulating industry or urban growth. No regulations about employment of women and children, the length of the working day, safety rules at worksites, employer responsibility or sanitary or any other conditions in the rapidly growing cities. This was the time of the growth of urban centers from small towns to megalopolis.
The nation had gone from a rural country with relatively small cities to a society of giant urban areas and factories. Everything by the owners of industry was aimed at profit, nothing else seemed to matter. Wages were low, hours were long for six days a week, women and children worked these hours and days, slums abounded in these new cities, in many cases sanitary conditions were non-existent, and overall misery and disease abounded, particularly in summer seasons.
Gradually over several decades, up until World War I, laws and regulations were gradually passed regulating slum conditions, factory employment, and food production. The many monopolies and oligopolies were mostly broken up and became regulated by the government. Autocratic control by the wealthy became limited. The Constitution was amended and the Senate became elected directly by the voters.
It should be noted the every single health and safety law was passed because of abuses. The ages and hours for working children and women became limited, safety rules were introduced into both the factories and slum housing making the owners responsible for mishaps, and working hours became eventually limited to 40 and days to five. The list goes on and on.
By 1914 the United States had become mostly an urban nation. We had a small upper class, a growing middle class and a large lower class. The upper class, the autocrats still exercised a large amount of influence in the running of the country.
Today we are again in a period of autocratic growth with the wealthy getting richer and everyone else’s income being frozen or shrinking in the face of a very slow inflation. For the last decade or more compensation for executives and successful entrepreneurs have at least doubled or trebled while wages for middle class workers have remained static or shrunk. For the lower class, essentially unskilled worker the minimum wage has remained at $7.25 an hour for the last seven years. CEO’s salaries are in the millions while at the bottom of the economic scale a worker takes home $290 before withholdings.
Inflation has generally been below 2%; but over a decade that is well over a 10% increase in the cost of living. The result is that even though most people are earning as much or slightly more than they did earlier the money is buying a lot less. It cost considerably more to live in terms of food, housing, and transportation. This has actually caused a slowing down of the GDP. People buy less because they have less.
While people like the Koch Brothers of Kansas, whose holdings mostly in the oil industry is over 41 billion dollars each, spend well over 200 million dollars a year on causes enhancing their businesses and their far-right beliefs. They are just two of a host of billionaires or corporations that are spending billions each year to sensitize the public to their largely self-interested causes.
Through the use of money the billionaires and their Republican allies by limiting the voting franchise, particularly to Blacks, Latinos, college students, and other minorities in states where the Republicans control the governorship and legislatures they have been able to successfully espouse their agendas.
In Texas for the 2014 Midterm Election the Republican legislature and the Republican governor have been able to require certain types of identification that many registered poor Blacks and Hispanics do not have. There is a cost to getting these IDs which according to a Supreme Court Justice is tantamount to paying a pole tax in order to vote. This excluded over 500,000 registered Democrats, about six percent of the voting population, from being able to cast their ballot in the November Midterm Election.
The candidates to the governorships and state and federal legislatures need endless amounts of money to both run their campaigns and stay in office. It is in this fashion that the wealthy gain and maintain control of the government. The Koch Brothers, for example, who control oil pipe lines, oil refining, and oil wells, have themselves and through legislators they have funded and control, attempted to get laws passed making use of the green energies illegal. They seem to see the nation as existing for their benefit.
It is into this milieu that the wealthy have and are gaining more and more control over Congress and the means of communication. Millions of dollars are coming into important state elections which strongly help determine who the governors and senators will be, what initiatives and referendums will pass. The Republicans feel they will retain, with the current gerrymandering of electoral districts, control of the House of Representatives and that they will also gain control of the Senate by adding six additional Republican Senators. The origins of much of this out of state money does not have to be disclosed. This has happened.
What we are seeing is an ever-rising level of autocratic control of our government. What we are moving toward is a concept of: Even though all men are created equal, some Men are created ever more equal than the rest. This has been the result of the 2014 Midterm Election. Will it continue in 2016, the next Presidential Election?