WINNER TAKE ALL POLITICS
The super-rich become richer and richer at the expense of the middle class
By Lutz Lichtenberger
[This summary of the political book “Winner Take All Politics” by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson published 7/11/2011 is translated from the German on the Internet, http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/das-politische-buch-winner-take-all-politics-us-superreiche-werden-immer-reicher-auf-kosten-der-mittelklasse-1.1118614.
Lutz Lichtenberger works for the German monthly “The Atlantic Times” in Berlin.]
[Since Ronald Reagan’s term in office, the assets of the US have been systematically and massively redistributed from bottom to top. US political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson call this a “thirty-year war” in their powerful, myth-destroying book “Winner Take All Politics.”]
Government buildings are in a state of siege. Thousands of protesters sing, drum and whistle. Representatives of the regime are yelled at and their houses watched. Supporters from all over the country donate food and money and show their solidarity. On the telephone, the governor talks with a super-rich supporter about whether troublemakers should be hired to mix among the people.
The scenes come from Madison, not Tunisia, Egypt or Libya. Madison is the capitol of Wisconsin where public workers, teachers and union members rebel against a law that cuts their salaries and limits collective bargaining.
The caller to Governor Scott Walker was not the real David Koch, the big businessman and main sponsor of the right-wing populist Tea Party movement but a voice-imitator from Buffalo named Ian Murphy. He spoke on the phone to the real Walker. When the counterfeit Koch proposed sending paid obstructionists among the protesting union members, Walker said he would consider that.
Meanwhile the demonstrators have long left the government buildings. Last March, a judge in Wisconsin temporarily stopped Walker’s law.
The real story goes beyond the events in Wisconsin. More is involved than the latest skirmish in Barack Obama’s presidency, a consequence of the great recession in the US or a new round in the American cultural battle between the conservative heartland and the liberal coastal states.
In their powerful myth-destroying book “Winner Take All Politics,” the political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson call this a “thirty-year war.” This war is more than a cultural battle. Money, influence and power are involved, a massive redistribution from bottom to top – from the middle class to the super-rich.
Hacker and Pierson are intent on scholarly rigor. They try to take the winds from the sails of all possible objections. Their book is neither rabble-rousing nor shrill. Rather the statistics and the political constellations, power relations and business methods are uncovered in a down-to-earth style.
Between 1979 and 2005, 20 percent of all income growth in the US went to 0.1 percent of the top earners, the 300,000 richest Americans. The lower 60 percent, 180 million people, had to be content with 13.5 percent (after taxes). The tiny top group now has an annual income of a trillion dollars, .1 million per person. In 1974 they earned one million on average (counting inflation). Their share in the national income amounted to 2.7 percent at that time. Today their share is 12.3 percent.
STANDARD EXPLANATIONS ARE ONLY LEGENDS
For their statistical study, Hacker from Yale University and Pierson from Berkeley, California analyzed a vast number of studies and statistics. They try to unmask the standard explanations for income differences as legends. Under the empirical magnifier, the references to globalization, technical development or missing graduation diplomas lose considerable significance for the great money shift.
The consequences of this policy appear in Wisconsin these days. In 2009, unions in the US lost a tenth of their members. For the first time in history, there are more union members in public service tan in private enterprise. The political-industrial complex now wages war against this group. On the political plane, this is the Republican Party drifting to the right and all too often supported by democratic deviationists who cannot resist the temptation. The temptation is massive money, the three billion dollars spent annually by lobbyists. That is only the official amount.
At the end of the 19th century, the legendary campaign manager Mark Hanna said there are two important things in politics. “The first is money and I’ve forgotten the second.” Hacker and Pierson forget nothing, run through all the tax reforms of the past 30 years and are astonished again and again. The considerable preferential treatments first become visible in their collective effect when the richest income classes are seen under the microscope. “It is as though the government had developed an economic- and monetary policy that follows the principles of smart bombs. These bombs are filled with great masses of money for chosen recipients.”
The political scientists describe how hosts of lobbyists weaken, block or completely destroy the bills. These battles take place beyond the general public. The devil is in the details, the billions of dollars in taxes, health reform and environmental legislation. Vicious methods are carried out in the battle against unions. In the 1970s firms began to use legal loopholes to avoid union mergers. Since then, attempts at adjusting industrial relations laws to the changed economic framing conditions were blocked again and again.
The antiquated system of the Senate – every US state sends two members regardless of the number of inhabitants – ensures that 17 percent of the population can constitute the majority in the second chamber of Congress. Even smaller minorities can block bills through obscure procedural rules or delay votes until the lights go out through the so-called filibuster – endless speeches. To that end, a senator once read from the New York telephone book.
In many variants, Hacker and Pierson document the end of a policy of public interest, the ignorance and disinterest of broad sectors of voters, the unscrupulous enrichment techniques of lobbyists and the cold-bloodedness of politicians. At the end only the vague hope remains that the dislocation brought about by political decisions can be changed. “Change we can believe in.” Barack Obama should also consider this.