By Shaina Spector
Abraham Lincoln, who once called America’s political system a “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” would be shocked to discover that it has transformed into a compilation of lobbying, unfair policymaking, and corruption. Despite Lincoln’s hopes for a land where politicians would devote themselves to the common good, George Washington’s astounding net worth of $525 million (in today’s dollars) and ownership of over 300 slaves may show that our nation was built on a concept that represents anything but that. Other individuals with extreme wealth have been elected to office ever since that time long ago, making it likely that low-income individuals feel that any efforts for removing income inequality in America are going, going, gone; such inequality is the very foundation of the system and, ironically, under this social hierarchy determined by wealth and status, America was able to become the greatest and longest standing democracy in the world. Thus, many may wonder what the problem is with the wealthy controlling the political system. Well, there is none. Unless, of course, they are using the system in pursuit of their own interests and infringe on the rights of those economically beneath them. As reflected in Madison’s Dilemma, part of human nature involves being self-interested. Therefore, when the wealthy are not only the citizens of the nation, but the ones who guide it, then the system is inevitably in their favor. Additionally, with their wealth, they are able to control the media and, consequently, citizens’ perceptions of government.
Due to their wealth disparity, legislators fail to accurately represent American citizens, resulting in their inability to make decisions appropriately on their behalf. To provide insight into the wealth of Congressional members, it is interesting to note that only 1% of the country’s population is comprised of millionaires; however, a whopping 58% of Congress is a part of this 1%. When such a large portion of that 1% are concentrated in the White House and the rest is dispersed throughout the country, it is difficult to say that they are representing most Americans. Additionally, Congress’ self-voted salaries are four times the amount of an average American household and their freshman class has a worth of $533 million, equivalent to the value of 10,000 American citizens. With numbers like these, it is no surprise that Congress members never want to leave their positions of power, and lucky for them, they do not have to since they have no term limits. In the Constitution, the Framers predicted that the legislative branch would be the most powerful branch, but the issue that arises is that members of Congress are promoting the same partial decision-making that those Constitution writers feared would occur in the executive branch. A major reason for this is the lobbying. Lobbying is an act protected by First Amendment rights and is not inherently bad, but it does sometimes impact policy negatively.
Take General Electric, for example. They are the country’s largest corporation and biggest lobbying company. They spend almost $40 million in lobbying expenditures. Accusations are often made about a connection between their extensive lobbying and the favors they receive from Congress. They are guilty of lobbying in exchange for tax breaks, making their tax burden so minimal that they end up spending more on lobbying than they do on taxes. Furthermore, in 2011, they spent millions of dollars lobbying after the House stated that it would stop funding the corporation’s jet, Their lobbying worked to their benefit, as it helped them to achieve $26 billion in profits and a net tax benefit of more than $4 billion.
Lobbyists hired by corporations use the government to their advantage, and political candidates often make average Americans feel that they can do the same. Politicians do so by touching upon one’s desire to achieve the American Dream. This idea was quite apparent in Barack Obama’s campaign, as he stole the hearts of many by chanting his “Yes we can” mantra to make all Americans feel that they could pursue happiness and prosperity under his presidency. In this way, citizens will vote for politicians who they believe they can depend on, despite the fact that meeting the expectations of these citizens is virtually an impossible task for a single individual to do. Because it is so difficult to make a perfect nation, the government conditions citizens to be obedient. The system longs for citizens who are intelligent enough to work efficiently, thereby spurring economic growth, but ignorant enough to accept the injustice thrust upon them. Citizens of the lower class feel that they cannot, and need not, fix the system because they are willing to accept anything that they can get, in the hope that it brings them closer to fulfilling that Dream. Corporations depend on this concept because it is what keeps the lower class working for minimal wages and gives them more money, which provides funds for politicians as a result.
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a study that found that wealthier people are more likely to act unethically than those with considerably less money. The participants who were wealthy confessed that they would lie when making negotiations and would cheat to win a prize. This reflects how, while those with a considerable amount of wealth have power, they sometimes achieve this power wrongfully and at the expense of those below them. The wealth of politicians is not in itself a crime, and is more likely a sign of their success, but the injustice that it contributes to their policy-making is what makes it a threat to the country’s democracy, and what transforms the governing body into a “moneycracy” at its finest.