I suspect a lot of today’s political disconnect comes from a different perception of wealth and poverty. Wealth is good, poverty is bad – ergo the wealthy are good and the poor are bad. Wealthy people made good choices, succeeded, and deserve to enjoy the fruits of their success. Poor people made bad choices, failed, and deserve to suffer the consequences of their failure. Many viewpoints I hear place a much greater emphasis on the potential for corruption from below – the poor taking advantage of government charity – while the wealthy are trusted to bestow their gifts in a benevolent and positive manner.
However, there are studies that show that wealthy people are more selfish and uncooperative than poor people. The simple explanation is that wealthy people can *afford* to be selfish. Poor people find it advantageous to pool their resources, do favors for one another, forge supportive bonds. Society is built on common necessity, not individual achievement. America has been fortunate in its ability to foster a great deal of both and to be able to balance the destabilizing effects of individual power and freedom with the grounding nature of communal support.
And that is the key. There needs to be a balance. Enforced if necessary. Our system of government, as flawed as it is, has an extraordinary system of checks and balances. The forgers of the constitution understood that power is naturally destabilizing. No single branch of the government should have too much. Those making and enforcing laws should be elected and removed by the will of the people – except for the members of the Supreme Court, who should be beyond the promise of election or the threat of being unseated, in the hopes that this would encourage impartiality.
Most of us have quibbles with this system – sometimes one view dominates another, and maybe no one ever really gets what they truly want – but the capacity for non-violent self-correction is beyond anything that has ever existed before.
Too much power is destabilizing. Unions – the foundation of America’s working-class success – are now frowned upon due to their collective bargaining power. They can influence political results by throwing the weight of numbers around. “Do this and our members will vote for you”. But to me this simply sounds like politics. A bunch of people getting together and saying “we want this. Help us make it happen and we will reward you.” The potential for corruption certainly exists, but at least the impact is somewhat diffused by the number of people who both contribute their voices and who benefit from the results. It is also a localized phenomenon, so the repercussions will directly impact the community of which the union members are a part. If they throw their weight behind something bad – “strip the treasury to pay us exorbitantly for work we don’t do” – their community will pay in other ways, and they, or people they know, are likely to suffer. Word may get out and they will be shunned and ostracized – people could choose not to do business with them. If regulations are broken, there could be legal ramifications and punishments.
A properly working society in which all members have a stake and a voice has a clear system of checks and balances. If you have a little stake, and yet have a loud voice, the society is not functioning properly. The louder your individual voice and the less of a stake you hold in the welfare of the community as a whole, the more likely the society is to fail.
The threat of corruption is ever present. It is human nature to work for one’s own benefit. It is the nature of society to prevent one person, or one group from working against the rest of society on their own behalf. Ergo the preservation of *society* is paramount for the benefit of all. I say that an imbalance of power is detrimental to a functioning society. It is not the poor who are a threat to this balance, it is the wealthy who isolate themselves from society with their gated communities, hired security, and private schools who wish only to protect what they have and increase it, and who face no censure or punishment for shaping a political system to do this for them. On the contrary, they are envied and congratulated for their ‘success’.
Checks and balances are *necessary*. The wealthy must give up some of their power on behalf of society in order to keep them from creating a plutocracy which primarily benefits people like them. Those with power must be held responsible and accountable for how they use it. But it is human nature to avoid both, and wealth makes this much easier to do. They must be taxed and those taxes should go towards building and protecting the society of which we are all a part, and whose health affects us all, whether we wish to acknowledge it or not.
Grinding poverty – the kind where decent shelter, proper food, and basic health care are *luxuries*, while it may be the result of bad choices, is more often the result of a broken society. It should not be looked upon as a punishment inflicted upon those who deserve it. Especially when *most* of them are children, who have no voice, but an *enormous* stake in the quality of the society in which they are raised and nurtured.
Being poor is not a crime. People without money are not ‘bad’. Those who work for little or no money – as women did for decades and many continue to do as they take care of homes and children and most of the volunteer efforts in this country – are not ‘failures’. Yes, money is hard to earn. So is respect, and trust, and love. It is a terrible thing when a person is forced to give up one for the other, and perhaps it is worse when – due to the overvaluation of money and the pressure to ‘succeed’ – a person *chooses* to disregard the importance of one in favor of the other.