“The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.” As a young man growing up in a conservative home in the ‘90s, I must have heard this cliché thrown around by liberals a thousand times. I really never gave it much thought. Even though my family often toed the poverty line, we worked hard to be self-sufficient and never accept government aid. To me, income inequality was just a talking point used to attack hard-working business people, and a way to prime voters for the goodies the Democrats planned to buy votes with next election cycle: free health care, free education, food stamps, welfare, etc. Trickle-down economics made sense to me, and I could see how government policies that benefited business would also help the working-class folks who relied on those businesses for jobs, products, and services.
But now, four administrations later, I’m starting to see wage and income gaps in a very different way. A new report is showing that income inequality is accelerating in the US, and that the top-down economic policies of the last couple decades are helping shape a new type of corporate oligarchy that has become as much of a threat to our republican government as any of the liberal policies proffered by the Democrats.
For years now, it has been documented that major donors have a habit of giving to both major parties, ensuring that they retain political access and a favored status no matter who wins the election. It should be clear to everyone who witnessed the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac catastrophe of 2008 that government interference with business can spell disaster for the private sector, but the rabbit hole goes much deeper than many are willing to admit.
Ever wonder why so many health and pharmaceutical companies came out in support of Obamacare before the ink was even dry? Easy. They knew it was going to increase their profit to the tune of 35 billion dollars and effectively require people to pay more for their products. These companies knew exactly what the law would do, and lobbied for it – even worked with the White House to help fund its promotion. Ever wonder why banking giants donated huge sums of money to the Obama campaign, despite the fact that his agenda has been driven by demonizing Wall St. and building a cage of regulations around the financial industry? Easy. Increased regulation does not threaten gigantic banks, who can easily absorb the costs, but they do drive the smaller competition out of business – allowing large financiers to increase prices and diminish service with little risk. Wonder why unemployment and small business growth are stagnant, even though the stock market continues to roll at historic highs, flush with cash? Easy. Wall Street, along with Washington DC, is losing touch with normal American businesses and families, as they can now count on quantitative easing and government subsidies to keep the profits rolling in.
The business sector can no longer be considered a reliable ally in the fight against government expansion. In fact, most of the major players seem to have decided with regard to government, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” The age of the bailouts announced to business magnates all over the country that politicians are among the best investments a company can make, backed by the full faith and credit of the American taxpayer.
And it is exactly this unholy alliance of business and government, that presents a grave threat to our Republic. The age of instant communication has allowed major moneyed interests to dominate the airwaves with their messaging and undercut real, limited-government candidates across the board – with the blessing of both the Democrats and establishment Republicans. “Pro-business” is now just a cover for crony capitalism – a catchphrase that politicians use to mask tax breaks and exclusions for their favored corporate donors.
Now I’m completely in favor of tax breaks, but for everyone – not just those riding the political gravy train and trading campaign donations for influence.
And that’s why I think that income inequality has become a major problem that has to be addressed by both sides of the political aisle. It’s no longer just about social mobility, it’s now about stopping the sociopolitical environment of the United States from becoming a self-sustaining oligarchy, immune to any accountability from the American public: a system in which the lines between business and government are so blurred that the voices and votes of normal Americans are consistently drowned out by those who alone can afford to spread their message to the populace.
The resistance to this rising 21st Century monopoly has been mostly limited to internet and social media, which is something of a double-edged sword, as shown in the Arab Spring revolutions: it allows for the free flow of information, but can be effectively shut down with the flip of a switch in the event that a government feels threatened. Even here in the US, we have seen repeated attempts to allow for censorship of the internet, as well as frequent changes to social media algorithms that many have speculated could be used for political ends.
Both ends of the spectrum see the danger of this centralization of power – the left sees the threat from big business and the right sees it from big government. But in the end, if we allow the influence-peddling and kickbacks to continue, there will soon be precious little difference between the two.
Ultimately, income inequality is not a question of status, but of opportunity. And that opportunity is shrinking drastically, as taxes and regulations rapidly shift wealth from the middle class to the top and the bottom, widening the disparity and highlighting the chasm between the two. Historically, the elimination of the middle class leads nations down a very dark road, resulting in either economic fascism or violent revolution, as the Haves and the Have Nots prepare to have it out to see who gets to have it all.
Neither is a road we want to take. Funneling money to the poor hasn’t helped. FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s War on Poverty have done nothing to increase the opportunity of low-income Americans. Funneling money to the rich hasn’t helped either. The legacy of Reagan’s trickle-down policies has not been an expanded middle class and more competition, but a reduced number of mega-corporations that have now become part of the Washington machine themselves – creatures of welfare every bit as much as much as the folks waiting in line for their EBT cards.
The solution isn’t more government, but less. George W. Bush’s compassionate conservatism isn’t cutting it for poor and middle class America. It’s time that conservatives start addressing economic inequality in the one way we haven’t tried yet in my generation – letting people keep what they have earned, and not what others have earned. If we fail to present a vision of economic liberty and free market opportunity for all, we can’t be surprised when people keep turning to the ruling class for scraps from the taxpayers’ table.
Income inequality isn’t a left and right issue anymore. It’s not even a rich and poor issue. It’s a fight between those who benefit from the growth of government, and those who are threatened by it.
I’m a conservative, and I care about economic inequality – not because I feel that anyone deserves a handout at the expense of another, but because I recognize that government can only give what it first takes away. I fear that our government is currently taking from those who have little, to give to those who have much, all for the supposed good of those who have none.
The balance of power in our nation is tipping in favor of a new breed of American aristocrat, courted by both parties, and it’s time for conservatives to stick up for the little guy again – because the little guy is us.