On Friday, our legislators restored FAA funding to air traffic control towers. By Monday, frequent high-flyers were soaring unimpeded while the lesser people remain grounded in their economic gulags.
A group of Northwestern University researchers recently sat down with some 80 Chicago-area multimillionaires to find out just what else they expect from the politicians they purchase. The results are both exhaustive and exhausting, both predictable and surprising. For example, the revelation that only the tiny minority at the pinnacle of the wealth distribution pile pretend concern about Duh Deficit and yammer away for austerity is old news. Regardless of party affiliation, rich people tend to be fiscally conservative. Wealthy Democrats differ from wealthy Republicans mainly on social issues, such as reproductive rights and gay rights. (That's probably why millionaire faux liberals like the Clintons are falling all over themselves to Tweet their joy at the coming-out party of a millionaire gay basketball player while simultaneously ignoring Sequester cruelty to poor people.)
-- Only 16% of the millionaires surveyed think climate change is "very important."
-- More than 80% of the ultra-rich Chicagoans are self-described political junkies, spending at least five days a week "attending" to political issues. A full two-thirds give money to political campaigns. Twenty percent bundle large sums of money for politicians.
-- Half the Windy City multimillionaires report enjoying regular face-to-face contact with their representatives, and are on a first name basis with such heavyweights as Mayor "Rahm" and "David" (former Obama adviser Axelrod).
-- Compared with a dozen spending priorities of the general population, the wealthy respondents favor increased government investment in only three: infrastructure, scientific research and education. In contrast to two-thirds of the public at large, only one third of rich people favor a Medicare for All national health insurance program. The rich favor spending less money on the SNAP (food stamp) program.
--While the majority of wealthy people are fully aware that income disparity is getting worse, only 19% believe the government should be responsible for providing jobs to the unemployed (as opposed to 68% of the general public). Less than half favor raising the minimum wage. Less than half think it is the government's job to see that nobody goes without food, clothing and shelter. While favoring cutting, rather than expanding, Social Security, the majority of the rich would not be averse to raising the current FICA contribution cap.
--The Chicago millionaires surveyed tend to favor teacher merit pay and charter schools. Only 35% think the federal government should spend whatever is necessary to ensure that all children get a quality education. Asked if it is the responsibility of the government to make sure that minority children get the same educational opportunities as white children, "even if it means you will have to pay more in taxes", only slightly more than half replied in the affirmative.
--While most wealthy people intellectually accept Keynesian economics (the government should run a deficit during times of recession and war), they paradoxically still prioritize cutting rather than spending. So much for the debunking of Reinhart-Rogoff.
-- Surprisingly, two-thirds of the wealthy and the general public alike favor progressive taxation. But paradoxically once again, the rich are adamantly opposed to actual income redistribution -- despite their intellectual awareness of the hazards of extreme income disparity. No amount of education can overcome that deep, ingrained greed. They're willing to pay taxes as long as those taxes go to pay for programs valuable to them. (safe highways for their Bimmers, safe buildings for their coddled bods, public money for charter schools, scientific research to cure their future diseases.)
-- The richer the plutocrat, the less he or she favors government regulations. The study's authors conclude:
The data show a significant tendency for wealthier respondents to take positions more toward the “cut back”than toward the “expand” end of this index. Each additional $10 million in wealth corresponded to a drop of nearly half a point on the 10-point scale. There was also a tendency for the wealthiest respondents to tilt even more than the less wealthy toward cutting back Social Security. ... If a similar or stronger tendency carries through to the highest levels of wealth in the United States as a whole, and if the wealthiest Americans wield especially large amounts of political power, this finding may help explain why cutting these popular programs has remained on the political agenda.The influence of the rich and the donor class also explains why neither party gives a rat's patootie about campaign finance reform. Wealth begets power begets more wealth begets more power, ad infinitum. President Obama himself long ago abandoned any pretense of caring about the issue, despite constant pressure from public policy groups. From today's Washington Post:
But for many former allies, Obama’s decision to convert his campaign operation into a political advocacy group with unlimited funding was the final straw.
“The president has engaged in uncharted waters that open the door to influence,” said Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer, a longtime activist who describes Organizing for Action as “a precedent that other federal officeholders are likely to follow.”The article notes that Obama has failed to fill vacancies on the Federal Elections Commission and even failed to replace his former counsel for ethics and government reform, a position he created during the early hope-and-change phase of his administration, and which lasted about as long as his plans to close Gitmo. That door to influence? It's not only been open for a long time, it's flown off its hinges.
Ergo, the continuation of austerian policies and a Democratic president's continued desire for a Grand Bargain of social safety net cuts despite their terrible tolls on the economy and the health of ordinary people. Read the entire Northwestern report linked above, and marvel at how the selfish preferences of his rich Chicago backers uncannily mirror those in his budget. (the exception to the rule is in defense spending. Chicago millionaires want the Pentagon budget slashed right along with the Medicare budget. Except for the General Dynamics Crown Family, those war profits must not be trickling down to the Windy City!)
"Let me tell you about the very rich," wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald. "They are different from you and me."
Yeah, replied Ernest Hemingway. "They have more money."