Monday, September 10, 2012

Mobility is good, right?

I have been reading lots of US politics lately.  Generally speaking this means much time spent reading obvious lies and ridiculous statements but occasionally I run into something that really makes me think.  The main thing I think is that the amount of money spent on US elections by the people running for office is absolutely stunning.  6 Billion dollars will be spent on campaigning this year - $20 for every single person living in the US.  While this money is a pretty small sum compared to the US deficit it does put it under a different sort of light - if they simply introduced laws to prevent excessive campaign spending by doing things like outlawing PACs they could find a lot of cash just wasting away to put to good use.

Not that being leader of the US isn't important enough to advertise for, because it is, but there really isn't any benefit to society in letting politicians blow enormous sums in an arms race against each other.  It forces those who are supposed to be focusing on leading into spending their time and energy fundraising and promotes making policies that benefit specific big contributors.  I get that people want the freedom to support their political parties but all that means is that everybody else loses the freedom to have responsible government *unless* they also donate in turn.  Big donations should not be a prerequisite to representation.

I also hear a lot about inequality.  I obviously am a backer of societies with a low Gini coefficient where the super rich don't control such a big portion of the total wealth.  Normally I dismiss right wing arguments supporting wealth disparity as ridiculous but one writer actually made a really good point about the US - their mobility is extremely high.  Europe may have better wealth equality but the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor, much moreso than in the US.  Now, I can't believe that rich people being super powerful but only temporarily is actually a good thing overall but it does have its merits - people being sure that they can make their way up with enough luck, work, and smarts is a great belief for a society to have.  I don't personally want to live in a highly mobile, highly unequal society, but it does have something going for it.

There is, however, a catch.

That idea of the US having high mobility isn't accurate but rather a fabrication that people living there seriously buy into.  Making policies that just let people go and do whatever they want and supporting the rich doesn't in fact make for a socially mobile society at all - rather it means that the rich stay rich.  The US at the moment is actually a society where opportunities to rise up are far fewer than other societies *and* the rich control far more wealth than in other societies.  Clearly there are a few people who really like this situation but for the great majority it is both very much in defiance of the American Dream and also makes life for most of society much worse.

We need to be very careful when we, north of the border, start shifting our policies to emulate those of our very powerful southern neighbour.  The American Dream of anybody being able to make it is a fine one, but unfortunately for the American people the US isn't much good at providing it.  If you want a land of opportunity you tax the crap out of the rich (like France is planning on doing) and let the poor catch up, not the other way around.

1 comment:

  1. Yup. to end corporate personhood (to end ginormous corporate donations and eventually publicly fund elections)