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Thursday, March 31, 2011 06:11 am

Rich get richer with new Congress

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Change is not the same thing as progress. In fact, change can be the exact opposite. It can be regressive, as we’re now learning from – where else? – Congress.

A flock of tea party-infused Republicans has certainly changed the political dynamic there, and exultant GOP leaders are claiming that they are now the voice of “The People.” But most people won’t find themselves represented by this change, much less see it as progress.

That’s because the newcomers in Congress, whether Republican or Democrat, tend to live high up the economic ladder, way out of touch with the people they’re representing. Indeed, 40 percent of newly elected House members are millionaires, as are 60 percent of new senators.

While the great majority of workaday Americans are struggling to make it on about $30,000 a year – and having, at best, puny pensions and iffy health coverage – these incoming lawmakers tend to be sitting pretty on hundreds of thousands of dollars each in accumulated wealth. Their financial reports show them holding extensive personal investments in such outfits as Wall Street banks, oil giants and drug makers.

Their wealth and financial ties might help explain the rush by the new Republican House majority to coddle these very same corporate powers. From gutting EPA’s anti-pollution restrictions on Big Oil to undoing the restraints on Wall Street greed, they’re pushing for a return to the same laissez-fairyland ideology of the past 20 years that got our country in massive messes.

At the same time, they’re out to kill a green-jobs program, bust unions, cut Social Security, defund Head Start and generally stomp on the fingers of working families trying to hold onto the middle class rungs of the economic ladder.

The change in Congress is taking America backward, not forward, for the new majority literally is the voice of millionaires. That’s not progress.

Speaking of wealth, there is one piece of uplifting economic news that’s sure to bolster the millionaire Congress’ solidarity with “The People” – meaning the people who actually count in their world.

Forbes magazine reports that there are 199 more billionaires this year than last. Moreover, the combined wealth of the world’s 1,210 billionaires now totals $4.5 trillion dollars, up by nearly a trillion dollars from a year ago. So, see, the economy is not stuck in the doldrums, as so many party-poopers keep saying.

Also, with an average of $3.7 billion in their bank accounts, you can just bet that these uber-rich folks will be spending like crazy, and you know what that means, don’t you? It means that their vast piles of wealth will soon begin to tinkle down on you and me – just you wait and see!

And wait. And wait. And keep waiting.

Workers in our country have been dramatically increasing their productivity since the highly ballyhooed economic recovery began about 20 months ago, generating billions of dollars in new wealth. Yet wages have stayed stagnant. Practically none of the increased wealth from worker productivity gains has gone to the workers.

Instead, 94 percent of the money has been siphoned off by the corporate powers for such things as fattening profits at a record pace and jacking up CEO pay to exorbitant levels. Also, nearly $2 trillion of the gains have simply been stashed in the corporate vaults, rather than using it for wage hikes or new job creation.

And even the little bit of job creation that is taking place is “bottom heavy” – 40 percent of the jobs lost in the recent economic crash were higher-paying positions, but 49 percent of the new jobs are low-paying.

So we see corporations and billionaires wallowing in fabulous new wealth, while productive workers fall out of the middle class. And our new Congress-members are just fine with that, even pushing a program of more tax breaks and subsidies for the corporate elite, while vehemently opposing efforts to create jobs and advance the middle class. Making the richest people richer is not a recovery – it’s a robbery.  

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.

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