Table of Contents
Detroit, once a booming industrial city, has had a prolonged decline as corporate CEOs outsourced manufacturing. The city has 70,000 abandoned buildings. It is the largest US city to file for bankruptcy. Between 2001 and 2018, the growing trade deficit with China has cost the U.S. 3.7 million jobs, impacting every state.
People live in these tents on the K Street NE underpass in the capital of the wealthiest nation in history. 6,380 DC residents and 580,000 Americans experience homelessness on any given day. So “tent cities” or homeless encampments are widespread throughout the U.S., on streets, in tunnels, and wooded areas.
THE BRONX, NYC
New York City, the financial capital of the U.S., is home to 65 billionaires and over 380,000 millionaires. It was the world’s wealthiest city in 2019, while nearly one in four people in the Bronx (a NYC borough, population 1.44 million) and one in five people in the city overall (population 8.8 million) lived in poverty.
More Signs of Dark Times Keep Coming
One-third to one-half of US adolescents have engaged in intentional self-injury, including cutting, burning, breaking bones, ingesting toxic substances, and interfering with the healing of wounds.
40% of all registered voters and 67% of Republican registered voters do not trust the United States’ election system.
Increased frequency and intensity of hot weather extremes on land and in the ocean, heavy precipitation events, drought and resulting wildfire have caused substantial impacts, some irreversible, to ecosystems, people, and infrastructure.
62% say the “parties do such a poor job representing the American people that a third party is needed.”
Average home price to median household income ratio in 1998 was 4.1, in 2022, it is 8.0, a 95% increase. One reason: 18.4% of U.S. homes were purchased by investment companies in the fourth quarter of 2021.
21% of homeless are children. Their lack of housing stability and high mobility rates negatively impact education, and physical and mental health. Lifelong harm to the children will result.
Accounting for lower economic productivity, increased health and crime costs, and increased costs resulting from child homelessness yields a child poverty cost of $1.03 trillion per year.
If we had a well-functioning media system, our social decline trends would not exist.
The way a media system is controlled and financially supported is central to any society. In authoritarian societies, those in power invariably dominate the media to maintain their rule. Control the means of widespread communication of ideas and information, and you largely control the political structure and broader social structure of the society. The biggest problem facing all who seek a more just society is media that do not express well, or at all, injustices that exist and policies to remedy them to the majority of the population. Media reform is interdependent with political and broader social reform. They will rise or fall together.
Media System Dysfunction
Five massive corporate conglomerates now control most of what we read, watch, and hear through the media. The graph below displays the media conglomerate consolidation trend from 1983 to 2014, along with that of wealth concentration. That the trends are nearly parallel suggests what in fact exists, some degree of a causal relationship.
Media concentration’s measure is the number of corporations that controlled most of the content of magazines, books, news feeds, newspapers, movies, radio, television, and music in the U.S. From 1983 to 2004 that number fell from 50 to five. The graph’s wealth concentration measure is the percentage of the wealthiest 0.1%’s wealth that the least wealthy 50% had.
Media and Wealth Concentration, 1980-2004
In 1983, the bottom 50% had 2.1%, and the top 0.1% had 8% of all household wealth, so the poorest 50%’s combined wealth was 26.3% of the wealthiest 0.1%’s wealth. The grotesque inequality in 1983 should have been remedied by public policy. Instead, the wealth concentration trend followed that of the media. By 2004, the bottom 50% had 1.1%, and the top 0.1% had 14.6% of all household wealth. So, as you can see on the graph, the bottom 50% had just 7.6% of the top 0.1%’s wealth.
The five conglomerates—Time Warner, Disney, Murdoch’s News Corporation, Bertelsmann of Germany, and Viacom—now controlling most of our media content are increasingly responsible for deciding what information is shared not just in the U.S. but also around the world.
Mass Media Controlled by Elites Serves Elites
Above all else, corporations’ major owners and managers direct the corporations they own and control to serve their interests. For media companies, this involves avoiding programming that may rouse large numbers of people to demand public policies that would diminish their wealth and power. Media elites, like other elites, want a deregulated and low tax environment for themselves to enable their wealth and power to continue to grow. So, the media concentration trend supported that of wealth.
Media consolidation enabled top industry managers to restrict large numbers of people’s access to content justifying a more progressive tax system, better regulations and public services, and other public policies that would create a more egalitarian society.
The profit boom over the last few decades enabled media concentration because it supplied large media, like companies in other industries, with the resources to buy smaller ones. The acquisitions resulted in economies of scale and other advantages that further increased profits. The trend for media is part of the general consolidation trend of corporate ownership and control, which is a primary driver of increasing economic inequalities.
Besides enabling the consolidation trend, booming profits increased the stock prices of the increasing large companies, which made major stock owners and top managers much wealthier. And dysfunctional corporate governance rules enabled top managers to extract massive compensations from the increasing large corporate revenue stream.
As the deregulated environment led to massive media conglomerates, control became less localized, and the gaps grew in personal connection, wealth, and life experiences between the controllers and consumers of media content.
Large news organizations not owned by the “big five” have major owners and top managers with fundamentally the same interests as those of the “big five.” Fifteen billionaires own some of the other major news media companies. Their common interests are also expressed by smaller media companies whose agendas are determined mainly by what they consume from the corporate media conglomerates. As a result, voters have not been exposed to the spectrum of views and information needed to choose a government that serves majority interests.
Our Media System Is Extraordinarily Dysfunctional
In the early twentieth century, the media system far better served our nation. Every medium to large city had five or more competing newspapers with a broad range of politics, right, center, and left, so at least one would focus on economic injustice issues. Diverse media are also important because the United States is a large and diverse country, with an extraordinary number of local self-governments. Local governments function best with a locally controlled media whose community integrated managers are not selected or influenced by a remote corporate conglomerate.
A Corporate Elite and the Rest Of Us Live a World Apart
The extremely wealthy corporate conglomerate managers and major owners live isolated from most experiences and concerns of the average American—in enclaves of privilege so extreme they live essentially in different societies within ours. Some live in “Richistan,” where citizens have armies of staff, multiple jets, yachts, and 30,000 square foot mansions.) They are interested in maintaining and increasing their wealth and privilege, not significant social advancement to a just economy and functioning democracy.
In 2019, the median pay of CEOs of the eight largest media companies was $37.6 million, according to company reports. It would take about 940 years for a typical worker to earn that much. But these CEOs’ pay is actually far larger; the $37.6 million ignores stock holdings. Netflix’s CEO Reed Hastings’s stock is worth $4.1 billion and has appreciated $1.1 billion just between January and May 2020 — dwarfing the $38.6 million he received in 2019 compensation. The typical worker would need to work 27,500 years to earn $1.1 billion.
2020 presidential candidate, Michael Bloomberg, is the majority owner of Bloomberg L.P., which has extensive media enterprises. They include a news wire service (Bloomberg News), a global television network (Bloomberg Television), websites, radio stations (Bloomberg Radio), two magazines: Bloomberg Businessweek and Bloomberg Markets and newsletters. Bloomberg increased his wealth by $7 billion to $55 billion between April and September 2020. The typical worker would need to work 175,000 years to earn $7 billion.
Elites’ Dominate Their Media Hierarchies
Unlike the wealthy major owners and managers of our mass media corporations, the average reporter is embedded in the reality of the general population’s lifestyle and concerns. So, without pressures that are sometimes subtle, sometimes not, transmitted from upper management and owners, report content on inequality and poverty would be much more common. Selection processes for editors, middle and lower-level managers, commentators, and reporters are also responsible for the biased news content.
After succeeding in a selection process ensuring they are not too philosophically misaligned, lower-level people involved in programming decisions can’t disagree with superiors often. Even when it does not lead to dismissal, it negatively impacts career advancement. Conscious self-censorship eventually becomes unnecessary because rewards and punishments designed to induce conformity socialize people into the existing system. Reporters and editors often start seeing things as superiors do because their careers are at stake. Lifelong social conditioning before corporate media employment also causes many to view issues as their superior do.
The same biases against appropriate levels of report content on economic and political system dysfunction and injustices, and policy solution debates, exist in the owners and managers of major advertiser corporations. Besides through wealthy class common interests, advertisers motivate programming that focuses on attracting and not offending high-income people most able to buy their products.
Also playing a role in mass media’s programming decisions that disserve most of us is our elite-dominated political system. If persons from the media want access to political leaders, they must not be too offensive to elites’ interests in their reporting, or access will be cut off.
Elites Limit the Internet’s Potential
The Internet has the potential to be a liberating force from corporate-owned media, and to a relatively minor degree, it has been. But over time, even online news sites joined radio, television, newspapers, and magazines as properties of the small handful of media conglomerates. The 100 largest media companies own 80 percent of the top 20 online news sites. Time Warner owns two of the most visited sites: CNN.com and AOL News, and Gannett, the twelfth largest media company, owns USAToday.com and many local online (and print) newspapers.
To some degree, YouTube has had a democratizing influence on the media. But it too has diminished the power of progressive public voices by demonetizing them on their platform with no good reason. Many progressives have been arbitrarily demonetized on the YouTube monopoly platform, destroying their livelihood. Youtubers are powerless against the YouTube overlords who mostly ignore their complaints.
The range of the debate on issues throughout media and society is mainly determined by the large corporations controlling most information flow. That information flow has resulted in a lack of awareness among most Americans of the immense resources that corporate elites control. Some have wealth beyond many Americans’ imagination.
One Manifestation Of Media Dysfunction:
Widespread Ignorance On Inequality
The chart shows how extreme our nation’s wealth inequality is and how far it is from most Americans’ ideals and awareness. It is based on data from polls performed in a study by Harvard and Duke University researchers and wealth statistics in 2010. (Since 2010, inequality has increased significantly) The bottom bar, labeled “ideal,” represents what most people believe would be the ideal wealth distribution—different colors represent the five quintiles (fifths of the population).
As you can see, the average American believes some wealth inequality is justified; people who contribute more to the country’s welfare deserve more than an average amount of the country’s wealth. In their view, those in the bottom quintile, on average, contribute less and therefore deserve less. (However, as I show in The New Enlightenment and Amazon as Metaphor, wealth and degree of societal contribution are disconnected, most extremely at the far ends of the wealth distribution)
The graph’s bottom bar shows that a representative sample of Americans judge that the bottom wealth quintile deserve about half of what they would have if wealth were distributed equally into each quintile or about 10% instead of 20% of the country’s wealth. And they judged the top quintile should have about 60% more than what they would have if wealth were distributed equally into each quintile (about 32% instead of 20%).
The middle “Estimated” bar shows Americans’ average estimate of wealth’s actual distribution. It expresses awareness that inequality is far more extreme than is considered ideal. They estimated the bottom 20% has only about 2% of the country’s wealth—one-fifth of what would be ideal, and the top 20% have almost double what they consider ideal.
The top bar results from actual wealth distribution data. It seems there has been an error because only three quintiles are showing, so two quintiles are missing. There is no error. The bottom two quintiles’ wealth are negative or too small to appear on the chart.
The 400 richest Americans own as much wealth as America’s bottom 64 percent, nearly two-thirds of the nation’s households, combined. The 614 U.S. billionaire’s total wealth in 2020 is $3.61 trillion, about the GDP of Germany, the largest economy in Europe.
Income Inequality Is Also Extreme and Most People Know Little of Its Extent
Wealth disparities result from and contribute to income disparities, which are also immense and growing, with the average American having little understanding of its grotesque proportions. A 2016 survey revealed that the typical American estimates that CEO pay of the Fortune 500 companies averages $1 million, about 8% of what it was, $12.2 million. The typical American would limit CEO pay to no more than six times that of the average worker, which was 2.9% of 2016’s pay multiple, 210.
Performance bonuses, stock options, and exorbitant salaries are tax-deductible, so taxpayers subsidize the CEO pay gap. And CEOs routinely receive bonuses even when they fail to hit the productivity targets that were supposed to trigger them. How does this happen? CEOs often determine their compensation, either directly or indirectly, through allied board members. Also, dozens of the largest American corporations routinely set performance targets for huge bonuses so low that they’re virtually meaningless.
Media “pundits” often express the view that American voters care little about inequality. Although polling data proves otherwise, most care far less than they would if they knew how extreme it is and knew of the injustices on which it is founded.
More Details on Our Mass Media's Priorities
Among the most important qualities of a society are how its economic system divides the society’s economic product among its members and how large the economic product is. So extreme economic inequality is news of the utmost importance because it directly relates to the first quality and indirectly relates to the second. When economic disparities are extreme, there’s a depressing effect on economic activity resulting from the depressed purchasing power of large numbers of people.
So why are facts regarding our huge economic divide not reported or given little prominence relative to much less important news? And why are policy solutions not prominently debated?
If media reports created widespread awareness of how extreme economic inequality is and of the injustices and dysfunctions involved in it, more robust redistributive policies and reforms of our economic system would be motivated by public pressure. Today’s public policy rests instead on a foundation of ignorance—the public has little idea what our society is really like.
For example, in 2018, a Federal Reserve survey found that over one-fifth of adults could not pay all of their month’s bills in full. What would members of this group put on the front page or present as a lead story if they were in control? It would often differ substantially from what is chosen by current management.
They would certainly have stated this survey result in a front-page headline or lead story, with details and analysis on why this level of hardship exists even though the country, as a whole and on a per capita basis, is extremely wealthy, wealthier than ever. On other days, they would likely include the FED’s finding that four in 10 adults would either not be able to pay an unexpected expense of $400 or would need to pay it by selling something or borrowing money. This is an improvement from half of adults in 2013 being ill-prepared for such an expense.
If median income Americans not selected by or influenced by elites determined media content, they would also have included the FED’s finding that over one-fourth of adults skipped necessary medical care in 2017 due to being unable to afford the cost. And they would have included a Gallup poll finding that 34 million adults know someone who died because they could not afford the cost of treatment. Instead, media pundits and some politicians told us the state of our economy was excellent.
Most Americans would prioritize mass media report topics very differently than existing media managers do. Common content would include detailed proposals from various sources to make our economic system both more just and more able to generate national prosperity
Our Mass Media Does Not Meet Existing Demand For More Socially Significant Content
People read and listen to the news to learn information of importance to society and their lives, so the demand exists for content describing symptoms of severe economic system dysfunction and injustices and ways our economic system could meet their ideals. The supply has not been forthcoming to meet the demand because media content is bounded by a corporate structure dominated by elites. When content exposes severe economic hardships experienced by many tens of millions of Americans, it is given inappropriately little prominence and repetition. The reports lack any expression of urgency to correct the injustices. Coverage dissipates with no fundamental solutions reported. The systemic character of the injustices is consistently ignored.
More Facts On Extreme Inequality Too Few Americans Know
If median income Americans determined media content, they would also include headlines and lead stories on the report that the six heirs of Walmart have wealth over $215 billion. $215 billion is also the combined wealth of the 40% least wealthy American households or 51.5 million households.[i] The Walmart heirs did nothing extraordinary for the $215 billion except win “the womb lottery.”
We are at the beginning of the largest intergenerational transfer of wealth in history. Based on 2011 data, a 2014 study by the Boston College Center on Wealth and Philanthropy projected that $36 trillion will be passed down to heirs from 2007 to 2061. However, the wealth of the super-wealthy has boomed since 2011. Just between March and December 2020, U.S. Billionaires gained over $1 trillion. That the country is forming an enduring aristocracy is a story of major importance. Inherited wealth will create a new aristocracy whose unprecedented wealth will be translated into power, while tens of millions of Americans can’t meet basic needs.
A “living wage” for two working adults with two children (a typical family) is the wage to meet basic needs for food, childcare, health insurance, housing, transportation, clothing, and personal care items. It varies based on locality, and in 2017 it averaged $16.07 per hour, more than double the $7.25 national minimum wage and more than about 40% of Americans were paid. As a result, 11.8% of American households were food insecure, 551,000 Americans were homeless, and one-fourth of adults did not get needed medical care.
According to government census statistics, 10.5% of Americans lived in poverty in 2019, but this number does not accurately measure the extent of severe economic hardship because the official poverty level income is far below one to meet basic needs. A more appropriate definition of the poverty level is that below which people do not meet their basic needs. In a 2017 poll, nearly 40% of adults reported that they or their families had trouble meeting at least one basic need for food, health care, housing, or utilities. And the meeting basic needs requirement may also be inadequate. Not being in poverty should mean you have a reasonable degree of economic security. Such a degree does not exist in seventy-eight percent of Americans who live paycheck to paycheck—if they miss one paycheck, they can’t pay all their bills.
[i] Wealth of 40% least wealthy households based on 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF), CSV extract data
An Example of Commonly Heard Media Propaganda:
Free College Tuition Is Impractically Expensive
If we didn’t have an elite-dominated media, most Americans would know free college tuition is easily affordable for our wealthy nation, as the following facts regarding just the wealthiest 400 Americans shows.
The Top 400’s Wealth
From 1987 to 2013, for people with wealth as extreme as the top 400, the average growth rate per year of their investments’ value was about 6.4%, which applied to their $4.5 trillion total in wealth in 2021 yields $288 billion per year. $288 billion is over double the $139.7 billion in tuition and fees paid by all students in both non-profit private and public four-year colleges in 2017 (most recent data available). If they paid all students tuition and fees, they would have $148 billion remaining.
In 2020, when the pandemic massively increased the number of Americans barely able or unable to meet their food needs, the SNAP (Food Stamp) $89.5 billion budget helped 41.8 million of them survive. If, in addition to paying all students tuition and fees, the top 400 also paid for all SNAP food assistance, they would have $58.8 billion remaining.
After all these hugely significant contributions to our society, each of the 400 billionaires would have remaining in wealth gains an amount still obscenely large, $147 million. These would be gains on 2021’s average wealth of each, $11.3 billion, which grows exponentially.
The vast wealth of the 400 wealthiest and many hundreds of other super-wealthy people is far beyond any amount they can use to support lifestyles of historic extravagance. Our society is generating immense wealth, yet tens of millions of Americans think it impractical to offer free college tuition because it is too expensive. Why do they believe this? Our mass media and to a significant extent our educational institutions are dominated by elites who use these institutions to misinform us and divert attention from facts they don’t want us to know. We are propagandized to serve elites’ narrow interest to minimize their requirements to support the society mainly responsible for their wealth. (The dominating importance of social resources in wealth creation I describe in Part 4.)
Instead of college education being free, we are withdrawing public support for it, and college loan debt now totals $1.5 trillion. This debt is a significant drag on economic performance and burden on millions of people. And since the most important economic resources are human, the detrimental effect of financial barriers to education on economic performance will be enduring.
The question for the top 400 and others in a super-wealthy elite is: How much is enough and justifiable? But even more important, the rest of us must answer this question since its answer affects all of us in an ostensibly democratic society.
If we appropriately taxed a small elite’s vast wealth, we can radically beneficially advance our society.
 6.4% return from Capital in the 21st Century, pg. 435, Table 12.1, Thomas Piketty, Growth rate of top global wealth holders, top 400’s wealth from https://www.forbes.com/forbes-400/#4b2c59b37e2f
Our Social Decline Will Continue if We Allow Mass Media to be Controlled by Elites
Almost everyone should be aware of all the conditions I’ve described; instead, few are. Considering that they are all highly socially significant, media managers make coverage decisions using other criteria. If elites’ influence on media content did not exist, these conditions likely would not exist because media would emphasize the injustices and generate sufficient public pressure to correct them.
The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism found that in 52 major mainstream news outlets, 0.2% of news space was devoted to coverage of the topics of inequality or poverty. A study of 2012 campaign reports found that only 17 of 10,489 stories addressed poverty (0.16%). What could be more worthy of media emphasis than the facts that about one in five Americans were food insecure, the total wealth of the poorest 40% was negative, and over one-seventh of Americans lived below the official poverty line, causing widespread harm beyond the poor? As a result of the dysfunction of other aspects of our political system, most candidates and holders of public office also had little of significance to say on these issues, but this is not an excuse for the media not covering them. Essential media functions include informing the public on major social problems and questioning candidates and representatives on how they plan to solve them.
Philip Bennett—a media insider who has been managing editor of PBS’s “Frontline” public affairs series and The Washington Post—accurately stated the media coverage problem on our extreme economic and political divide: It is “not receiving the kind of sustained, imaginative, aggressive coverage that it deserves.” … “There are basic questions about the way the country is today that aren’t being addressed by the journalistic institutions …”
A Well-Informed Citizenry Will Demand Major Social Advancements
If the root causes of social problems and systemic advancement proposals to solve them were widely discussed in mass media, the likelihood of sufficient agreement on how to create a fundamentally more just society would be high. We would move to systems that would create the far more democratic and egalitarian outcomes most of us want. Instead, mass media content often pollutes our social environment with diversionary, distorted, and shallow content.
Since the root of our media system’s dysfunction is the ownership and management structure of media corporations, the structure must be reformed, enabling the solving of other major social problems. In The New Enlightenment, I propose we institute a license renewal requirement for worker-ownership and control of air media companies, and support it with loans, grants, tax benefits, and subsidies.
The New Enlightenment details a practically implementable program that, if instituted, would transform our elite-dominated economy into one where worker-owned and controlled businesses perform most of the economic activity of the United States. The program would require $143 billion per year in federal funds, insignificant relative to the revolutionary advancement that would result. Private banks, credit unions reformed for the purpose, and local governments are incentivized to provide the additional needed funds. I include more robust supports for transforming media, not just air media, companies because of their essential role in our political system.
Media enterprise ownership and control by their workers will eliminate the media content selection biases resulting from elites owning and managing all our most influential media. The public policies I detail will create a new and vigorous media culture more responsive and accountable to the majority. Furthermore, media corporations so organized will be prominent models to emulate, helping to advance our economy to one dominated by business enterprises of this superior form.
Most of the information on the media’s role in the 2016 election is excerpted from the manuscript of my forthcoming book, Amazon as Metaphor
An Example of Mass Media Bias that
Radically Altered the Course of History:
The 2016 Presidential Democratic Primary Election Coverage
Mass media bias serving elites was blatant and highly significant during the 2016 primary and general election campaigns. I will focus on the primary campaign here (in Amazon as Metaphor I also discuss the media biases in the general election campaign). With unbiased media, Bernie Sanders would likely have been elected president of the United States in 2016.
In the final month of polls, from May 6, 2016 to June 5, 2016, in a head-to-head match-up of Sanders with Trump, Sanders beat Trump in the average of all polls taken by 10.4 points. Over the same period, Clinton outpolled Trump by only a 1.5-point average. In the poll that mattered most, the official vote, although she lost in the Electoral College, Clinton won 4.5% more votes than Trump. Considering Sanders much stronger showing in the May and June polls, he would likely have beat Trump by an amount sufficient for an Electoral College victory. Of course, his relative strength in May and June is only an indicator of likelihood, not certainty that he would have been a stronger nominee. But this final polling period for Sanders was well into the campaign, so most people polled based their judgment on a level of information that would not likely have changed significantly by November. If it did, it would have changed in Sanders’s favor since he would have had more time to overcome the media biases against him.
Biased Media Coverage Motives
Sanders’ Historic Rise
When Sanders announced his candidacy for president on April 30, 2015, he was virtually unknown among American voters. A CNN poll put him 64 percentage points behind Hillary Clinton. But his obviously sincere concern for the economic hardships faced by low-and middle-income working Americans, based on a decades-long public service record and the policies he proposed to address their plight, eventually got voters’ attention, despite little mass media exposure.
By July 2015, Sanders consistently drew much larger crowds than any of the other candidates, as the chart below shows (source). (Mainly students compelled to attend Cruz’s campaign launch at “Liberty” University composed his large crowd size shown in the chart.)
Sanders Crowd Sizes Compared to Other Candidates Largest Crowd Size Through Mid-July 2015
In the months after July 2015, Trump’s crowd size increased, but so did Sanders’. On August 10, 2015, Sanders drew a very extraordinary 27,500 people to his Los Angeles rally.
Media exposure in the six months before the primary is generally a good predictor of success in the primary. In this early stage of the campaign for the presidency, money spent by candidates is less important because they have far less of it than they can have later based on their performance in this period. But Sanders had little mass media attention. Mainly alternative media, social media, and other grassroots communications resulted in Sanders’ unprecedented rise.
One of the most important political stories in a hundred years was Sanders’ 60-point rise in the polls. Campaign money from corporations and the wealthy has almost always been required for national public office campaigns, and always so for the very expensive campaigns for the presidency. Without it, candidates generally have no hope of winning election. That Sanders had no money from corporations and the wealthy yet came as close as he did to winning the presidency was of historic significance. In response to his rise, both the degree and character of his mass media coverage were inappropriate.
Surpressing a Historic Rise
Normally, a come-from-behind story, especially one based on conditions of historic importance, would attract much positive media attention. But from the beginning, mass media biased their reports against Sanders. An influential group of elites, including mass media elites, opposed the policies in Sanders’ platform far more strongly than those in Clinton’s platform, which they disfavored relative to Trump’s.
The New York Times and The Washington Post in the period between when Sanders announced his presidential campaign until just before the first votes were cast in the Democratic Primary each had eight front-page articles on Sanders.[i] These newspapers are arguably the most extensive and important sources for political news in the nation, The New York Times commonly considered “liberal,” The Washington Post, “moderate”—almost meaningless labels that obscure their reporting biases favoring elites.
Since Sanders was virtually unknown before his campaign announcement, the media introduced him to national audiences. The coverage of Sanders in these newspapers was crucial because T.V. news nearly ignored him in 2015. He got only 20 minutes of coverage in total on NBC, ABC, and CBS, while Trump got 327 minutes. Apparently, The Times and The Post judged these front-page articles to contain the most significant information for voters to know about Sanders. The dominant theme was Sanders is outside the mainstream.
[i] Some of the following Washington Post and New York Times’ articles analysis is based on the analysis in Marginalizing Progressives? Newspaper Coverage Of Bernie Sanders In The ‘Invisible Primary’: A Critical Discourse Analysis, Anu K. Lannen, Master’s Thesis Spring 2017. A list of the article titles with dates is on page 31.
An Analysis of The Washington Post’s Coverage
The most commonly used adjective used in The Washington Post articles to describe Sanders was “socialist,” a word with such a wide variety of meanings attributed to it, it has almost lost its usefulness. The Post articles referred to Sanders as a “socialist” a very extraordinary 29 times and used the word “socialism” an additional 10 times when it mentioned Sanders’ beliefs. “Mayor” was the second most comon descriptor of Sanders; The Post used it 12 times, which also marginalized Sanders. He was last mayor of Burlington, VT in 1990, where he was accurately known as accepting socialism as a superior way to organize society. But he ran for mayor as an independent, and a prominent Republican in town said he improved government efficiency and “put a lot of modern accounting practices and money-management practices into place that are good Republican business practices … And he has surrounded himself with some very talented, vigorous people.” The Post did not mention this, and instead stated in a July 26, 2015 article entitled “Sanders is in with the enemy, some old allies say,” that he has “… alienated some on the left, at times, by acting like a mayor instead of a socialist,” absurdly implying being a socialist and mayor are mutually exclusive.
Sanders said in 1976, “I myself don’t use the word socialism…because people have been brainwashed into thinking socialism automatically means slave-labor camps, dictatorship and lack of freedom of speech.” He prefers the label, “progressive” and has had no party affiliation since 1979 or has been an “independent.” Sanders ran for president as a Democrat because if he ran as an independent it would have substantially reduced his chances of succeeding and he caucuses with Democrats in the Senate. Media biases and election laws make it nearly impossible for anyone but a candidate from our two major parties to win the presidency. He would have received almost no media attention.
Since 1990, Sanders served eight terms in the House of Representatives and was a Senator for eight years at the time of The Washington Post front-page articles, yet “senator” was used in reference to him only seven times and “congressman” once in all of them. The Post wrote in these articles that Sanders is an “ex-hippie, septuagenarian socialist from the liberal reaches of Vermont,” “from the leftist fringe,” a “far-left independent” as mayor, and currently a “lonely leftist” in the Senate.
An Analysis of The New York Times' Coverage
The Times articles included the word “socialist” in reference to Sanders 10 times in its eight front-page articles and mayor and senator 20 times each. The Times uses the preferred word of Sanders to describe himself, “progressive,” only two times. Like The Post, the articles framed Sanders on the fringes. For example, The Times first article on May 29, 2015, “Sanders Lures a Certain Age of Voters: His,” expressed that Sanders’ main interest is in serving people in his age group, and that group is the one most attracted to his campaign when nothing could be further from the truth. To support this narrative, the article states, “At a campaign rally in Vermont on Tuesday and at three events in New Hampshire, including a town hall-style gathering in Portsmouth that drew roughly 600 people, older voters made up a sizable minority of the crowds.” But older voters make up a sizable minority of the American people, and the article offers no evidence the crowd did not reflect the demographics of America. According to a Harvard Institute of Politics Spring 2016 poll, Sanders was the most popular candidate in America among 18 to 29-year-olds.
Just the titles of the next three Times front-page articles show its intention to leave readers with an “outsider” view of Sanders: “Outsider Went Mainstream, but Message Changed Little,” “Sanders Resembles, to a Point, a Vermont Firebrand in 2004,” and “Sanders Fights Portrait of Him on the Fringes.” The fifth front-page article on August 21, 2015, “Sanders Draws Big Crowds to His ‘Revolution’ “ states, “Mr. Sanders, who came up in radical left politics, … has always had a sweepingly macro, if not entirely Marxist, critique of America.”
Critical Issues Sanders Addressed Mass Media Mostly Ignored
The New York Times and Washington Post offer little mention and no details on the injustices that Sanders emphasized or his policies to address them. For example, the words “poverty” or “inequality” never occurred in The Post articles. “Poverty” appeared only three times in The Times articles and “inequality” only five times with no details except in one instance where The Times states, “Over the span of his mayoralty, the number of families living in poverty grew—to 798 in 1990 from 563 in 1980, an increase of 42 percent.”
Let’s assume the accuracy of The Times statistics, and by families, it means households. In 1980, Burlington had 14,300 households, so it had a poverty rate of 3.9%. In 1990, it had 14,900 households, so a poverty rate of 5.4%.[i] The national poverty rate also increased over this period and was 13.5% in 1990. Perhaps the additional 235 households in poverty resulted from more than that number moving to Burlington because they knew they had a better chance of getting out of poverty than in most other cities since the national average poverty rate was 152% higher.
Sanders mayoralty began in 1981, and he won reelection each time he ran by a wider margin. After moving on to a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1990, his economic development director won the mayor’s race. Sander’s allies ran the city for all but two of the next 31 years. As a result of Sanders nine years as mayor and his allies influence in most of the subsequent 31 years, the city’s largest housing development is resident-owned; its largest supermarket is a consumer-owned cooperative; one of its largest private employers is worker-owned, and most of its people-oriented waterfront is publicly owned. Also, its publicly owned utility was the first American utility to run entirely on renewable resources. Burlington is widely heralded as an environmentally friendly, lively, and livable city with a thriving economy. Its May 2018 jobless rate was 2.3%, one of the lowest in the country. The media ignored the important role Bernie Sanders and the coalition he formed had in advancing the quality of life in Burlington.
[i] https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/burlingtoncityvermont Since number of household statistics in Burlington in 1980 and 1990 were not available, I used population statistics and the average number of households per person in 2017 to approximate them. https://www.burlingtonvt.gov/CityCouncil/Redistricting-Population-Changes
Socialist as a Scare Word
To people who lived through the Cold War with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and for many other people, socialist is a “scare” word. The USSR was a totalitarian state with a centralized economy, and Americans feared it as a threatening military rival. School children were trained to see it as an existential threat to them and the United States. They had periodic drills to hide under their desks as preparation for a possible USSR nuclear weapons assault, and the government encouraged communities or individual families to build bomb shelters for the same reason. We now see these preparations as absurd, but at the time, little was known about radioactive fallout, and nuclear winter. Many government officials believed that the main danger from a nuclear bomb was from the blast causing flying glass and other debris, and the heat.
Many views exist on what socialism means. But there is wide agreement on an essential characteristic: Socialism is a way of organizing society so that the means of production are democratically controlled. Some socialists believe a democratically elected national government should be the controlling entity. Others judge that socialism is a system where the workers in each economic enterprise democratically control it. But they also favor democratically determined governmental regulations on these enterprises. Also, the definition commonly includes the democratic distribution of what is produced, instead of through markets. However, the “democratic socialist” label now is most often applied to societies with the following characteristics:
- An economy with capitalist enterprises in a market system where workers have substantial bargaining power mediated by the state.
- Although private, non-worker owned businesses predominate, significant state ownership of companies also exist.
- A democratically elected government uses the tax system to acquire a sufficient amount of the economic value created by society to ensure that everyone’s basic needs are met.
Although sharing qualities of socialism, societies with the above characteristics are more appropriately called social democracies. Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Finland are social democracies. Sanders’ praise of them and FDR, and his platform indicates his presidency would have moved the country toward social democracy.
Every year, social democracies rank at the top of the U.N.’s World Happiness Report. At least for the last three years, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Finland were among the top ten. In 2018, in ranked order, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Switzerland were in the top five positions of the 156 countries ranked. All the top ten share many of the qualities of social democracies. The U.S. is number 19. The six variables incorporated in the happiness score are national income per capita, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust, and generosity.
Of all social democracies, Norway has the largest percentage of non-agricultural employees in state-owned businesses, 9.6%. Also, Norway’s national government owns 37% of its publicly listed companies and controls some non-listed large companies such as Statkraft, a power generator, which, if listed, would be the third-biggest company on its stock market. State-owned businesses in social democracies are mainly in the following industries: electricity and gas, transportation, telecoms, and other utilities.
The U.N. also creates a similar “human development index” for 189 countries that aggregates measures of life expectancy, mean of years of schooling, and national income per capita. Social democracies are consistently in the top ten as well.
Sanders’ Social Democratic Agenda
After decades of relentless propaganda against the policies characterizing social democracies, it would not be surprising if a majority of Americans place a politician who wants to institute them outside the mainstream. But polls consistently showed Americans ranked Sanders with a very high favorable/unfavorable ratio and even as the most popular politician in America.[i]
Sanders’ proposals were the primary reason for his high favorability ratings, but his lifelong consistency in serving his ideals was influential because it indicated a level of honesty and incorruptibility not commonly seen in politicians. Here are some policy proposals he emphasized during the 2016 presidential campaign with polling data showing he was well within the mainstream, not outside of it as the mass media expressed:
- Make tuition free at public colleges and universities: A September 2017 Morning Consult and Politico poll found 63% of Americans support this policy. Even the Republican support oppose ratio was 47/45. An August 2018 Reuters-Ipsos poll found 61% approval.
- Institute higher taxes on corporations: Gallup polls consistently show by about a three to one ratio that Americans believe corporations pay too little in taxes on their profits.
- Institute higher taxes on high incomes: Gallup polls consistently show by over a two-to-one ratio that Americans believe upper-income people pay too little in taxes.
- Guarantee health care as a right of citizenship by enacting a Medicare for all single-payer health care system: A June through July 2018 Reuters-Ipsos poll found that 1% of voters favor, 20.6% oppose, the policy. Before completing my list showing Sanders in the mainstream, let’s take a look at the significance of this one:
One-third of Americans cannot adequately access needed health care because of high costs, including many of those with health insurance. And 10.2% of the non-elderly population is entirely uninsured. 44% of Americans didn’t see a physician last year when they were sick or injured because they could not afford the cost. Thirty-four million adults know someone who died because they could not afford the cost of treatment. People who could afford the cost sent a significant amount of their health care dollars to CEOs at the nation’s largest insurance companies, who earned $342.6 million in 2017. The highest-paid executive, UnitedHealth Group CEO David Wichmann received total compensation of $83.2 million, over 1,400 times that of the average employee.
A 2018 study comparing health system costs of 11 high-income countries in 2016 found that we spent 17.8% of GDP while the other ten countries spent 10.8% of GDP on health care. If these same percentages existed in 2018, this amounted to $1.44 trillion in excess costs. Despite these massive health care expenditures, life expectancy and the percent of Americans with health care coverage was the lowest of the 11 countries. Far higher health insurance-related administrative costs and pharmaceutical costs are the main drivers of the difference between the U.S. and other countries’ health system costs.
An extensive analysis by the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), the University of Massachusetts-Amherst released in a November 2018 report showed Medicare for All would reduce health care costs by $310 billion per year while covering all Americans and eliminating deductibles and copayments. It would also expand current Medicare coverage to include prescription drugs, dental, vision and hearing aids. At the high-end, they estimate that overall demand for health care services will rise by about 12% through Medicare for All, but costs would fall by about 19% relative to the existing system. The researchers determined that the most significant sources of cost-saving will be in the areas of 1) administration (9.0% savings in total system costs); 2) pharmaceutical pricing (5.9% savings in system costs); and 3) establishing uniform Medicare rates for hospitals, physicians, and clinics (2.8% savings in system costs).
- Increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour by 2020: The Pew Research Center found that 58% of Americans favor an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour and 41% oppose it.
- Expand Social Security by lifting the cap on taxable income above $250,000: A Lake Research Partners poll found that 73% of voters favor increasing Social Security benefits, including 57% who strongly favor, while just 19% oppose it. 74% of voters favor lifting the cap on taxable income, 61% strongly favor it.
- Reverse trade policies like NAFTA: A 2018 YouGov poll found 20% more Americans believe leaving NAFTA would be beneficial than not beneficial.
- Enact a universal prekindergarten program: A September 2014 Gallup poll found about 70% of Americans support this policy, 28% oppose. A First Five Years Fund’s 2017 national poll found making quality early-childhood education more affordable is supported by 97% of Democrats, 85% of independents and 82% of Republicans.
- Invest $1 trillion over five years toward rebuilding our crumbling roads, bridges, railways, airports, public transit systems, ports, dams, wastewater plants, and on other infrastructure needs. A Monmouth University poll found 62% of Americans believe the federal government is not spending enough on transportation infrastructure projects in their local area, compared to just 19% who say the feds are spending enough. No poll exists on the amount Americans want to spend on infrastructure improvements, but the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates $2.0 trillion in needs. Failing to make this investment will result in $3.9 trillion in losses to the U.S. GDP and 2.5 million lost American jobs by 2025.
- Break up huge financial institutions so that they are no longer too big to fail: A January 2015 poll by the Progressive Change Institute showed 58% of Americans support breaking up the big banks.
- Get Big Money Out of Politics: A June 2016 Ipsos poll found 78% of respondents saying we need sweeping new laws to reduce the influence of money in politics.
- Fight climate change, including with a carbon tax: A June 2017 Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found 53% say climate change is an extremely or very important issue. A carbon tax is supported by 50% of Americans, according to a poll by the National Opinion Research Center – Associated Press.
Impose a financial transactions tax: A January 2013 poll conducted by Hart Research found 62% of respondents approved, 34% strongly approved
[i] https://www.businessinsider.com/most-popular-politician-in-the-us-bernie-sanders-fox-news-poll-2017-3, https://morningconsult.com/2018/07/25/americas-most-and-least-popular-senators-2/, https://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/other/sanders_favorableunfavorable-5263.html, https://elections.huffingtonpost.com/pollster/bernie-sanders-favorable-rating
Sanders’ and Clinton’s Platform Comparison
Clinton’s platform included some of these or similar proposals, but on most of them Trump either stated opposition or almost certainly would have if asked; therefore, he was farthest from the mainstream. For example, he opposed a minimum wage increase, and he appointed Larry Kudlow as the director of the White House’s National Economic Council, who said “…a federal minimum wage is a terrible idea” and increasing it would be “silly.”
The most significant differences between the Clinton and Sanders platform were Clinton, unlike Sanders:
- Would not have instituted Medicare for All and would have instead expand the Affordable Care Act and let people over 55 years old buy into Medicare.
- Would have spend only $275 billion in five years to rebuild our infrastructure;
- Clinton said she would have advocated for a $12 per hour minimum wage, although the “Jobs and Wages” page of her campaign website does not mention raising the minimum wage.
- Did not explicitly support lifting the cap on taxable income above $250,000, but her website stated she would consider “including options to tax some of their (high-income people) income above the current Social Security cap.”
- Makes no mention of reversing trade policies like NAFTA on her website.
- Would not break up huge financial institutions so they are no longer too big to fail.
- Makes no website mention of financial transactions tax but said she supported one on “high-frequency trading” while giving no details. Sanders detailed a financial transactions tax proposal.
Clinton said she would put her husband ‘in charge’ of the economy. Her husband’s administration’s deregulation of the financial sector was largely responsible for the financial crisis, and its trade deals were responsible for the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs.
Trump Was Farthest from the Mainstream
The only policies Trump, Sanders, and the majority of Americans agreed on of the many policies Sanders proposed was to invest a substantial amount in infrastructure (though Trump offered no specifics, unlike Sanders) and reverse trade policies like NAFTA. Trump’s tax cuts resulted in massive deficits, despite claims they would pay for themselves by generating increased revenue from faster economic growth. When Trump began his term in 2017, government debt was $14.4 trillion. By September 2019, it was $22.7 trillion—$8.3 trillion or 58% higher.[i] Under the tax reform Trump signed, the national debt’s increase accelerated and would have risen with no end in sight, so he did not act on his infrastructure investment promise.
For the candidate platform information, I viewed the Sanders and Clinton 2016 campaign websites in January 2019 when Trumps’ campaign website no longer existed, making it difficult to know what his platform was. Using the “Wayback Machine,” where archived webpages are stored, I found on his October 8, 2016 archived “Economy” page vague promises with no details such as “create 25 million new jobs over the next decade… a pro-growth tax plan, a new modern regulatory framework, an America-First trade policy.” Also, on the page was a list of undesirable economic conditions under “Key Issues” with no content on how he would deal with them.
The “pro-growth” tax plan he has instituted includes an income tax cut where the top quintile got 65.3%, the lowest quintile got 1%, and the top 1% got 20.5% of the tax reduction in 2018. In 2027, the distributional effects even more extremely serve economic elites. Trump’s “pro-growth tax plan” transfers money with higher taxes on the bottom three qualities to the top quintile. Effectively, the top quintile gets 107.3% of the “benefits” of his “tax plan.” If Trump were sincerely interested in pro-growth tax policy, all the tax reduction would have gone to the bottom three quintiles. This would have had the greatest positive effect on the demand for goods and services. Instead, he best served himself and other economic elites.
The corporate mass media reported that the candidate most in the mainstream was most out of it, and their campaign coverage put the candidate most out of the mainstream into the presidency.
[i] The national debt is still a problem, N. Gregory Mankiw, New York Times, 6/30/19, https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/GFDEBTN
Dysfunction In Our Educational Institutions
Through mass media and educational institutions, elites have succeeded in establishing a national ethos that facilitates their continuing rise in wealth and power. The ethos: people should be praised and respected to the degree they are successful in gaining personal wealth, and government is an inefficient economic actor because it does not have the profit motive. As a result, as Ronald Reagan put it, “the government is the problem” If he said a government dominated by elites is the problem he would have been correct.
Indoctrinating University Students
Indoctrinating university students, especially those at top institutions who are most likely to become future leaders is a high priority for right-wing operatives working to further entrench an American aristocracy. Student indoctrination is on one front in their class war. “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning,” Warren Buffett, one of the richest men in the world, admitted. Class war is the most commonly used term for the phenomenon, but since one side has been exerting very little force to defend itself, class assault is a more appropriate term.
The Olin Foundation
In 1953, the Olin Foundation initiated a massive campaign integral to the assault. Within the limited existence its founder desired for the organization, it spent nearly $200 million on a program to orient American higher education to the political right. As one of its managers described it, they set up “beachheads” at “the most influential schools in order to gain the greatest leverage.” Institutes were established, programs formed, and professors and students were funded for research and writings to promote “conservative” causes.
Between 1990 and 2001, 56 of the 88 Olin supported fellows at just an Olin Harvard program went on to teach at the University of Chicago, Cornell, Dartmouth, Georgetown, Harvard, MIT, Penn, and Yale where the Olin Foundation also funded programs. Many others became public figures in government, think tanks, and the media. In 2001, $39 million from all sources in scholarships, including $16 million for students at Harvard, Yale, and the University of Chicago, were available to support the career development of students supporting corporations’ agendas for reducing their taxes and regulations.
By the end of the Olin Foundation’s existence in 2005, it supported 11 separate programs just at Harvard burnishing the foundation’s name and ideas. Harvard’s and any university’s prestige should be based on excellence in the unbiased pursuit of truth. Instead, the best-endowed and one of the most prestigious of American universities allowed an outside ideological group to build “beachheads” because the project was marketed and funded well. Likely, a philosophically aligned Harvard management also played a role.
The Olin Foundation’s Campaign Was Multipronged
Also, the Olin Foundation provided about $185 million to many right-wing “think tanks,” including the American Enterprise Institute, the Manhattan Institute, the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy, the Heritage Foundation, the Hoover Institution, and crucial start-up funds for the Federalist Society, an organization for conservative law students founded in 1982.
The Federalist Society grew into a highly influential professional network of 42,000 right-leaning lawyers, with 150 law-school campus chapters and about 75 lawyers’ groups nationally with $5.5 million from the Olin Foundation and large donations from Richard Scaife, the Kochs, and other wealthy “conservatives.” [conservative does not mean they want to conserve the ideals of our nation’s Founders] All the conservative justices on the Supreme Court are members. Trump selected most of his nominees to the federal courts from recommendations by leaders of the Federalist Society.
Federalist Society members also include former Vice President Dick Cheney, the former Attorneys General Edwin Meese and John Ashcroft, and numerous members of the federal bench placed before the Trump presidency. Its president, Eugene B. Meyer, son of a founding editor of the philosophically aligned National Review (an influential semimonthly magazine), acknowledged that without Olin funding, “it possibly wouldn’t exist at all.” The Olin Foundation also financed the “Collegiate Network,” a string of right-wing newspapers on America’s college campuses.
The Bradley Foundation
After the Olin Foundation dissolved in 2005, its manager moved on to the even more influential Bradley Foundation. With $835 million in assets as of June 2016, the Bradley Foundation is as large as the three Koch family foundations combined. Yet it receives much less attention as a significant funder of “free-market” (meaning let private power freely dominate our society with no regulation, taxes, or government programs) causes. Its grants have funded 600 graduate and postgraduate fellowships—many of the same programs at colleges and universities that Olin supported—right-wing think tanks, conservative journals, and its own publishing house, Encounter Books.
A Right-Wing Network
Some of the other organizations in a network that serve the interests of corporations and the wealthy include the Cato Institute, the Hudson Institute, the Manhattan Institute, Citizens for a Sound Economy, the National Center for Policy Analysis, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Free Congress Foundation, Accuracy in Academe, and the Business Roundtable. These organizations support the writing, publication, and promotion of books, magazine articles, reports, newsletters, op-ed pieces, and papers in scholarly journals that advocate for little government regulation and taxation. Their work influences and often dominates public issue discussion, including in educational institutions. There work also often determines public policy.
The Mythical Liberal Bias
Conservatives claim their efforts on campus are to counter existing liberal bias. The concerted drumbeat from right-wing publications for donations to combat the campus left has been ongoing for decades. They point to studies showing a slight tendency for university faculty to be characterized as “liberal.” But this tendency is not the result of an intentional, organized effort to create it. Professors reflect the demographic from which they come: Highly educated people with advanced degrees tend to be liberal. Higher education has a liberalizing effect on social and political views, especially on openness to racial and cultural diversity. It also engenders respect for science.
Self-identified conservatives and registered Republicans routinely take positions that ignore scientific evidence. They reject evolutionary theory, the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change, and commonly rejected public-health guidelines on Covid-19. For decades, conservatives demanded that public schools give equal time to creationism, a position contrary to the evidence and consistently rejected by U.S. courts. Some suggest we need to give equal time to climate-change denial at all educational levels. Apparently, it’s “liberal” to accept facts, so faculty tends to be liberal but have been pressured by “conservatives” to give equal weight to propaganda.
Sometimes comedians are perceptive philosophers, as Stephan Colbert was when he stated, “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.”
Marxism is the longest-standing and most developed critique of capitalism, yet it is rare that a university economics department has any coursework mentioning it; almost none provide even one class devoted to explaining and analyzing it. This would not be true if there were a bias to the left on campuses.
More Successful Biasing Work on the Right
The right’s highly organized and well-funded campaigns to bias higher education include distributing free copies of National Review and Human Events on campuses, placing books published by the conservative publisher Henry Regnery in college libraries, and promoting conservative student organizations on the Manion Forum.
The Charles Koch Foundation, which gives tens of millions a year, is among the most prominent funder of right-wing causes on campuses, hundreds of them. Mostly it funds economics programs, often with provisions that teachings align with “libertarian” or “conservative” economic principles. Many right-wing donors give funds with the explicit aim of advocating these same principles in teaching and research. These principles can be distilled down to one essential one: the free reign of private power is a societal ideal. Their funded research typically concludes that government regulations and programs are harmful, including those that help tens of millions of Americans access health care and have a livable income, including retirement income.
More on the Campaigns’ Purpose
An analysis of hundreds of private documents, emails, and audio recordings—along with interviews with more than 75 college officials, professors, students, and others—has shown that Koch brothers’ spending on higher education has been part of their broader campaign to infuse politics and government with“conservative” economic or “free-market” principles. Koch-funded schools’ research and programs support Koch-backed nonprofit organizations’ advocacy for political candidates and causes. Translating grassroots indoctrination into political system action is the aim of all the billions flowing into schools from the right.
Through 2015, The Koch Foundations gave $50 million to a campus in the Koch system where their influence is most dominant: George Mason University and its Mercatus Center. The number of senior positions in the Trump administration filled with GMU associated people is evidence of the influence of the school and its donors. Andrew Wheeler, who was Trump’s administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, opposed environmental regulations and received his MBA from GMU. Brian Blasé, who was the special assistant to President Trump on healthcare policy, is a former senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center. Neomi Rao, who was the chief administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and was nominated by the president to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in late 2018, is a former law professor at the GMU’s Antonin Scalia Law School. Daniel Simmons, Trump’s assistant secretary in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, was a research fellow at Mercatus. These GMU alumni with connections to the Kochs played prominent roles in enacting the Trump administration’s deregulatory agenda.
The Distorters of the Educational Process
The Kochs and the other major players in the “philanthropy” game have succeeded in using current systems to extract massive amounts of money from society. The systems that enabled them to take much of the value produced by other people they want to be maintained or altered to advantage them further. People for whom our “capitalist” system has failed do not have the money to fund institutes or endow university department chairs.
Other examples of wealthy donors and their foundations biasing university programs to the right and supporting right-wing faculty are The Walgreen Foundation, Smith-Richardson Foundation, and the Scaife Family Foundations.
No remotely similar efforts to the robust and orchestrated ones on the right to bias university education exist or are even possible on the left.
Student Debt Bondage and Other Traps
One aspect of the successful implementation of the neoliberal (let the market rule everything) agenda has been the withdrawal of public financial support of post-secondary education. The resulting massive student debt eliminates the possibility for many students to follow their inclination to work in an area where pay is little, such as providing social services and other public sector work. To pay the loans, they instead must aim for high-paying careers in areas they find dull and of little social value.
Massive student debts are among the reasons Wall Street and a few elite management consulting firms such as McKinsey & Company or Bain are enabled to divert the aspirations and capabilities of top students from elite colleges. Thirty-one percent of graduating Harvard seniors take finance or management consulting jobs for their high pay and apparent status, mainly created by the intense competition for the jobs. Few take the jobs because they desire the work involved. Over 90% of the students who take them want the job to be temporary.
The massive amounts of money available to Wall Street firms and elite management consulting firms allow them to corrupt almost any institution or person to their advantage. The firms compete by biding up the price they pay elite schools to be “platinum” members of their career services programs. Winners of this competition get the best tables at campus career fairs, access to students’ email in-boxes, entrée to the most impressive banquet rooms for holding information sessions and receptions, and space and scheduled times to hold one-on-one interviews, among other goods and services to facilate their recruitment.
Wall Street and management consulting firms are motivated to offer exorbitant pay to elite college students and high fees to their colleges for recruitment services because their clients are impressed by the colleges’ status or “brand equity.” Students from other colleges would be equally capable of doing the required work.
The Recruitment Process at "Elite" Colleges
The recruitment process at elite colleges interferes significantly with students’ education. From sophomore year on, in September, January, and February, students going through recruitment are “part-time students, full-time recruiting” according to students interviewed by The Washington Monthly. Instead of focusing on their coursework, they spend much of their time in the career services offices and at the employer’s place of business doing a long series of interviews. One student described the experience of many:
“You do maybe one interview onsite [at the university], two interviews onsite, maybe one phone interview, and then they fly you out to New York, and that takes up a lot of time. I mean it’s great. You get airplane miles, you get paid for your hotel, they’re treating you like royalty. You get great meals, you get reimbursed, everything like that. But the thing is that you miss so much class. There are kids who are literally flying down to New York three times a week for three different interviews. It’s nuts. And it’s really stressful. It’s really competitive.”
Only a dysfunctional, inferior, not “elite” institution would allow its students’ education to be significantly harmed by the corrupting influence of corporate money. It is appalling that the label “elite” continues to be applied to such institutions. These “elite” universities could easily require that on-campus recruiting be done only at the end of semesters in the junior and senior year and not do any interviewing that requires travel until between semesters or after the academic year.
Cultivating Obedient, Unquestioning Citizens in K- 12 Schools
On the K-12 level, biases to support our elite-dominated social structure also exists. Students are not taught the value of questioning authority, cultivating compassion and a desire for creating a just society and solidarity with others. They are not given the freedom to explore areas of their interests. They are conditioned to obey authority, accept that official accounts of events are correct and that the large media corporations are reliable sources of information, that personal material gain is praiseworthy, and to compete with others. Serious social problems are the results.
After over twelve thousand hours in classrooms, few students, including the most successful, question the structure of our political and economic systems despite glaring dysfunctions and injustices. Considering the energy, commitment, and quality of so many of the people working in the schools, forces outside of them that determine the educational system’s structure must mainly be at fault. Among the destructive aspects of the design is an emphasis on standardized testing, and so “teaching to the test.”
Teachers focus on getting students to memorize tested facts to raise their students’ average test scores on which their salary and even job is often based. In many cases, teachers have cheated by changing their students’ answers on tests to raise scores. And in a competitive environment with other teachers, they are disincentivized to collaborate or share successful teaching methods.
The rote drills involved in “teaching to the test” have been shown to be a poor way to have students learn. From 1997 though 1999, in a study involving 400 Chicago classrooms in 19 elementary schools on the effectiveness of teaching methods, researchers investigated student gains on standardized tests. They found rote drills are destructive to students’ motivation to learn and actually result in lower test scores than methods that stimulate student interest in the curriculum’s subjects.
The study involved nearly 2,000 classroom assignments, which were scored based their type. The assignments that called for “authentic intellectual work” from students — applying basic skills and knowledge to solve new problems; expressing ideas and solutions using elaborated communication; and producing work related to the real world beyond the classroom were found to be the most effective teaching method. Students required to apply “the basics” — vocabulary words, facts, algorithms — to complete tasks that go beyond answering multiple-choice questions performed 20% better on standardized tests. School exercises that students view as having little value beyond school and are designed only to document their competence at performing the exercise are destructive.
The Creativity Decline in Children
The increase in standardized testing since 1990 shifted the emphasis in schools toward drill exercises and rote learning and contributed to a decline in creativity in children. The high-stakes testing environment also led to the elimination of content areas and activities, including electives, the arts, enrichment and gifted programs, foreign language, and recess time (playtime). All these changes negatively impacted creative thinking development. When their creative needs are not met, students often become underachievers and are more likely to drop out.
A study published in the Creativity Research Journal found that since 1990 creative thinking scores on the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT)—the most commonly used measure of creative thinking—have significantly decreased. The study found that since 1990, “children have become less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle.”
Creativity is stimulated by problem finding. Students provide more creative responses to their self-generated problems than to presented problems. Instead of just providing problems, schools need to teach problem finding to help reverse the decline of creative thinking.
Corporate Advertisers in Public Schools
Corporate advertisers in public schools are a large and growing presence. Corporations are highly motivated to market in schools because the marketed products have an implicit endorsement by the school.
Corporations bombard students with ads in a captive environment because it is profitable to incorporate students into the consumer culture and bias them to choose their products. The corporate presence in schools necessarily undermines their essential civic function to promote the general welfare.
Channel One was a particularly effective marketing tool program from 1990 to 2018 when it ended its operations due to growing outrage over its business model. Children were forced to watch twelve minutes of a program that included two minutes of commercials during class time in exchange for televisions, video equipment, and satellite wiring. By the year 2000, eight million students in twelve thousand schools had seen Channel One programming, reaching more than 40 percent of the nation’s teenagers. Channel One charged companies $200,000 per thirty-second advertising spot (comparable to rates on network television). A Channel One executive explained the “success” of the program:
“The biggest selling point to advertisers [is that] we are forcing
kids to watch two minutes of commercials. The advertiser
gets a group of kids who cannot go to the bathroom, who
cannot change the station, who cannot listen to their mother
yell in the background, who cannot be playing Nintendo, who
cannot have their headsets on.”
Advertising encourages people to want and to satisfy their desires for things. Particularly in our times when environmental constraints are clear, a fundamental purpose of education is to stimulate critical thinking on desires for material things, and to restrain them. Well educated people are socially conscious, good citizens whose work is motivated by more than money to consume things. Work should be about contributing to society.
Manipulative Incentive Programs
Another very effective marking ploy in schools are corporations’ incentive programs. For example, Pizza Hut’s “Book It” program gives children a free pizza for reading a certain number of books. The program has reached tens of millions of students and has been hugely profitable for Pizza Hut. Since students are too young to go to the restaurant alone to redeem their free pizza, adults accompany them, which results in an average family bill of $16.50 per visit. Proponents contend that the program encourages students to read. But the program removes the intrinsic value of reading and coerces families to eat at Pizza Hut. Students should be encouraged to read by providing material they are interested in reading.
Corporate-Produced Educational Materials
Corporate advertising in schools has detrimental social consequences, but the more pernicious infiltration of corporate-produced content into educational materials is also advancing. There are over two hundred examples of corporate-sponsored educational materials. Hershey’s Chocolate and McDonald’s provide lesson plans on nutrition. A video made by Exxon provides information on the effects of oil spills, and an environmental curriculum from Proctor & Gamble explains why disposable diapers are good for the earth are among the examples.
A study conducted by the Consumers Union found that “almost 80 percent [of corporate-sponsored educational materials] contained biased or incomplete information or promoted a viewpoint that favored consumption of a sponsor’s product or service or a position that favored a company or its economic agenda.” Such one-sided curricula with hidden ideological agenda that is not analyzed or questioned influences students every day.
Taxes and the Public Should Support And Determine the Course of Public Education, not Corporations or the Whims of Billionaires
The most extreme beneficiaries of the neoliberal agenda are strong supporters of the privatization of public schools. The Zuckerberg’s donated $100 million, which is small compared to the three biggest foundations: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, formed by Microsoft founder Bill Gates; the Walton Family Foundation, established by Walmart founder Sam Walton; and the Broad Foundation, created by SunAmerica and K.B. Home founder Eli Broad. These three foundations have donated several billion dollars towards the privatization of public schools.
The Gates Foundation has been the largest spender on education. The Foundation since 2001 has contributed more than $6 billion toward reshaping American schools, including nearly $300 million on the Common Core State Standards Initiative. The Gates Foundation spending on education has directly influenced how trillions of taxpayer dollars have been spent. Many of the education initiatives Gates supported failed or were of negative or questionable value.
Corporations and business leaders support education reform strategies in accordance with their own interests and their own experience in acquiring huge fortunes in a competitive, deregulated environment based on financial incentives. The spending of billionaires on education is removing democracy from an essential social function. If the public does not like their education agenda, they cannot vote them out of office. They do not face any risk of significant repercussions should their reform efforts prove to be unsuccessful.
The image below shows the only kind of negative repercussion billionaires sometimes have when they determine failed public policy.
An embarrassing, hypothetical 2023 Bill Gates interview
Creating a Multigenerational Underclass
Our school funding method that heavily relies on local government taxes has resulted in wealthy districts having much better-funded schools and a multigenerational underclass that serves elites’ interests. Underfunding low-income area schools serves elites in two ways: It minimizes their taxes, and it provides a large pool of poorly educated workers with no options but to accept low pay for work requiring little skill to perform, such as stocking a Walmart shelf or packing an Amazon box. Or even worse, they must accept dangerous jobs, where they are told what to do regardless of their input on how to mitigate the danger.
America’s Trust Crash
As the graph shows, over the years inequality increased, Americans’ confidence in the governmental institution designed to be most responsive to the will of the people declined. Congress’s approval rating is part of a long-term decline in trust in all our fundamental institutions, and our fellow citizens
If most Americans knew that three Supreme Court decisions—Buckley v. Valeo, (1976), Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, (2010), and McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, (2014)—resulted in unlimited personal and corporate wealth’s massive corruption of our political system, confidence levels would be lower than this graph shows.
As our public education system declines, which the graph below indicates it is, so will our political and economic systems.
Our School Funding System is Designed For Unequal Opportunities and Extreme Economic Inequalities
Low-income parents have good reason to lose confidence in a public school system where over a third of their school’s funds come from local property taxes and almost half from local sources. As a result, wealthy school districts sometimes spend triple per student than high poverty districts just a few miles away. In addition to the other destructive effects of poverty, this spending gap results in low-income students, on average, performing at three to four years behind the highest-income students. This achievement gap has been this large for over four decades.
We have lost sight of our “equal opportunity for all” ideal. Education quality disparities will continue to support our low intergenerational social mobility, and its decline. Long-term solutions to the problem must involve advancements in our political and economic systems whose defects are the fundamental causes of the problem.
A banking system is needed to provide a safe place for funds and as a means to devote those funds to productive uses. The graph below shows we are losing confidence in our banking system.
More Evidence On Alarming Declines In Trust In Our Basic Institutions
Since 2000, the Edelman organization, a global public relations firm, has produced an annual Trust Barometer Global Report. Over 33,000 respondents in 28 countries participated between October 28 and November 20, 2017 in Edelman’s survey for its 2018 report. The reports include a survey results index that measures trust in four basic institutions: government, media, business, and NGO’s in the surveyed countries. Edelman’s 2018 report shows the index for the U.S. dropping the most by far.
Edelman polls people in two categories. One labeled “Informed Public” met the following four criteria: ages 25-64, college-educated, in top 25% of household income per age group in each market, report significant media consumption and engagement in business news. Their other category, “General Population,” includes everyone over 18 years old. The graph summarizes Edelman’s 2018 report’s results for the U.S.:
Trust in our fundamental institutions has dropped dramatically both in the general population and the informed public, the steepest decline in one year ever measured for any country. Between 2017 and 2018, in our informed public, the trust level in our four basic institutions on average dropped from 68.5% to 45%, a 34% decline. In our general population, the trust level of our four basic institutions, on average, dropped from 52.5% to 43%, an 18% decline.
The General Social Survey, the major periodic assessment to monitor societal change, found that the percentage of Americans who believe other people can generally be trusted fell from 44% in 1980 to 32% in 2006, the lowest level ever recorded by the survey.
An IMF study found “robust evidence” that “inequality lowers an individual’s sense of trust in others…There has been a sharp decline in the extent to which individuals trust one another, and other social capital indicators, over the past forty years in the United States.”
The international comparison graph below shows interpersonal trust tends to decrease with increasing income inequality using 2007 data. Because trust in the U.S. declined more than the other graphed countries since then, we would now be closer to or below the graph’s trend line.
Inequality and Crime
Crimes tend to be more common and serious in high inequality countries. These two charts from the Economist magazine show the tendency among regions and countries for assaults and thefts to rise substantially with more inequality. (source)
Over the decades within the U.S. that inequality boomed, so did our incarceration rate. It is now the highest in the world, five times the OECD average. Villanova University sociologists determined that if the mass incarceration trend had not occurred, the poverty rate would be 20% lower. Mass incarceration we normally associate with brutal tyrannies and widespread oppression.
Despite extensive mass media coverage of some of our many mass shootings, little public discussion exists on fundamental causes. A comparison to the country with the largest number of guns per capita in Europe, Switzerland, suggests some. As the graph below shows, Switzerland has about half the U.S.’s number of guns, but only one-tenth as many homicides per capita. Reforming our gun laws will help but will not solve the problem of gun violence caused by cultural factors associated with extreme economic inequality. These factors include high poverty, incarceration, food insecurity, and homelessness rates; poor quality of K-12 education in low-income areas; extreme access disparities to health care and a college education; and a political system that ignores the preferences of the majority of the population. These problems either do not exist or are much less severe in Switzerland. When people are treated like their lives don’t matter, they are more likely to treat others like their lives don’t matter, sometimes violently. Our gun violence rates are symptoms of fundamental social problems that require solutions.
US & Switzerland: Gun Ownership & Homicides
United States & Switzerland: Comparison of Some Social Conditions
Inequality and Health
As the following graph shows, U.S. life expectancy is low compared to other OECD nations, and it has been declining since 2015. Japan’s average lifespan is 84.8, while America’s is equal to Cuba’s, 78.9, even though our GDP per capita is 7.4 times Cuba’s. Our low and declining life expectancy is not just related to a lower percentage of the population who can access health care, high obesity rates, the opioid epidemic, and high gun violence, alcohol abuse, and suicide rates, but also a diverse list of organ system diseases. A Virginia Commonwealth University study found increases in death rates since the 1990s in people aged 25 to 64 years across 35 causes of death.
Life Expectancy International Comparison
Life Expectancy and National Income
An international comparison in 2009 showed life expectancy is positively correlated with national income per person until it reaches about $25,000 per person, beyond which no significant correlation between income per capita and lifespan exists. What matters most is poverty reduction. Apparently, at about $25,000 average income per person, poverty is reduced sufficiently that further economic growth changes it too little to matter, until $40,000 average income per person. Beyond $40,000, a slightly negative correlation exists between income per capita and lifespan. Several possible explanations exist for this: As incomes rise above $40,000, the use of automobiles rises, physical activity decreases, and alcohol and tobacco use and obesity-creating calorie consumption increases. Also, some high-income countries have high inequality, which has destructive social consequences. The psychological stressors associated with these consequences are largely responsible for our nation’s low life expectancy.
We have an average income per person of $53,100 in 2018 dollars or $60,500 in 2009 dollars, substantially more than needed for long average lifespans. We need more equality, which is positively correlated with lifespan, even if it reduces our national income. And increased lifespan is linked to improved lives.
The following graph shows all countries with populations over 10 million that had both life expectancy and Gini measures of income inequality in the CIA’s World Factbook. The Excel generated trendline shows the negative correlation between inequality and life expectancy.
Life Expectancy and Income Inequality
Health Care Access and Life Expectancy
Our low average life expectancy also results from our relatively low percentage of people covered by health insurance.
Percent of Population Covered by Health Insurance, OECD Nations
43% of low-income adults and a third of all U.S. adults reported unmet health care needs in 2016. Yale researchers found that the lack of affordable health care results in the death of over 68,500 Americans per year.
Elites' Roles in Our Dysfunctional Health Care System
Our population’s low percentage covered by health insurance is related to our high economic inequality. The people at the top exert their extraordinary capacity to influence our political system to reduce the social safety net, including the public support of health care, to decrease their taxes. They have succeeded in both reducing the social safety net and, as the following graph shows, in lowering their taxes. Our low health care access rate also results from the high costs of a poorly regulated, privatized health care system—also an elite-dominated political system outcome.
Top Income Tax Rate, 1932-2018
Inequality Generates Status Anxiety, Harming Health
A significant cause of inequality’s health consequences is status anxiety, or social evaluative threat, a pervasive, potent stressor. It increases in societies as social groups diverge in income and wealth. A study published in 1998 suggested that the loss of life in the U.S. from income inequality was the equivalent of the combined loss of life due to lung cancer, diabetes, motor-vehicle accidents, HIV-related causes, suicide, and homicide. Disparities today are significantly larger than in 1998, so even more harmful. Wide economic disparities exacerbate status competition and cause stress, which can lead to poor health outcomes. Lower socio-economic groups in more equal countries sometimes have better health and longer lives than those in higher socio-economic groups in more unequal countries.
The chart below shows that when tasks have a “social evaluative threat” component or whose performance other people could judge negatively, the stress hormone cortisol increase is three times larger than when other types of stressful tasks are performed. UCLA’s researchers based the chart on the results of 208 psychological laboratory stressor studies published in 187 journal articles involving 6,153 people.
What kind of stressful tasks raise stress hormones most?
The stressors included tasks typically used in stress reactivity research, such as cognitive tasks, public speaking tasks, marital conflict interactions, noise exposure, and emotionally provocative films). Tasks with a social evaluative threat component stimulated both a larger and longer stress hormone response. The researchers found no relationship between increases in subjective distress in response to the stressors and cortisol changes. This result is contrary to the widely held assumption that “stress” is one-dimensional or that physiological responses, including cortisol elevations, are proportional to its felt intensity. Tasks where lack of a valued attribute—such as intelligence or competence—or possession of an undesired quality could be revealed, leading to the loss of social esteem, respect, or social status most strongly activate stress hormone responses.
The strong correlation between homicide rate and inequality also indicates the power of status anxiety and its connection to inequality. Disrespect, loss of face, and humiliation, or a threat to status are the most common triggers of homicide.
Animal studies have also shown threats to social status in dominance hierarchies elicit stress hormone activation. Low status on animal social hierarchies is associated with elevated cortisol. Studies in primates have found that chronic, uncontrollable social threats resulting from subordinate status can lead to decreased lymphocyte counts, high cholesterol levels, and atherosclerosis.
Social Evaluative Threat and the Health of Populations
The graph below is from a study report that assessed the level of status anxiety or “social evaluative threat” within national populations as a function of income decile. It shows that the perception of social evaluative threat or status anxiety is higher for all income groups the wider the top-to-bottom income gap is in a country—high inequality also harms the rich.
In any one country, the poor suffer the most from status anxiety. But as you can see, in high inequality countries, the richest suffer from this stressor to about the same degree as the poorest in low inequality countries.
Status Anxiety Across Income Deciles for High, Medium, and Low Inequality Countries
The study involved a cross-national survey of 34,430 individuals in 31 European countries. The researchers measured status anxiety based on the following survey question: “Some people look down on me because of my job situation or income.” Respondents agreed or disagreed on a scale from 1 to 5.
Since the status anxiety stressor affects entire populations, even if the effects are small, they are highly significant. Inequalities in health in developed societies mainly reflect the psychological consequences of social comparisons rather than the direct effects of material living standards.
Another Stressor in High Inequality Societies:
Another cause of stress in high inequality societies is the much higher spending at the top of the income distribution because this motivates families in the upper-middle-class to spend more than they otherwise would. This “expenditure cascade” to “keep up” with wealthier families advances to the bottom of the income scale, requiring more work, more borrowing, so more stressful lives.
Personality Effects of Extreme Inequality
The study of epigenetics reveals genes relevant to health may be expressed differently in an environment where trust, cooperation, reciprocity, and empathy exist compared to a “dog eat dog” environment, where everyone fends for themselves, and there is little trust in other people. Hormonal and other metabolic responses vary between these different social environments, which could alter gene expression.[i]
Genes that play a role in personality traits could be involved, making aggressive, low empathy, or antisocial personalities more common as a result of high inequality environments enhancing the expression of associated genes, in addition to these environments’ direct effects on personality. Psychopathology, for example, has a genetic component, and environmental influences are essential in determining whether and to what degree these genes are expressed. But once expressed, psychopathology is difficult to treat. And the associated destructive behaviors may be hard to change not only in the individual but also in offspring. An epigenetic change can be passed on for a few generations. So, the effects of our extreme inequality may be more destructive and enduring than most of us imagined, making solving the problem even more urgent.
[i] The Inner Level, Richard Wilkinson, Kate Pickett, 2019, pgs. 144-147
Inequality And Mental Illness
Inequality breeds stress, anxiety, and lack of trust, and as a result, mental illness rates tend to rise rapidly as inequality increases, as the research results graph below shows. The U.S. has over three times the rate of the lowest inequality country studied, Japan. The study authors’ data came from the World Health Organization’s World Mental Health Survey and similar surveys. Depression and anxiety were the most commonly reported mental illnesses. However, psychotic symptoms, schizophrenia, and narcissistic traits are also more common in more unequal countries. The World Health Organization estimates that depression alone affects 350 million people worldwide. Better mental health in more equal societies is partly attributed to more involvement with social networks that involve reciprocity, trust, and cooperation.[i]
[i] The Inner Level, Richard Wilkinson, Kate Pickett, pgs. 44-5, 52-3
Suicide rate is a particularly shocking mental health-related statistic. In 2018, 48,344 Americans died by suicide, and there were an estimated 1,400,000 suicide attempts. Suicide rates rise with measures of inequality. A study found that an increase of $2 in the national minimum wage could have prevented more than 57,000 suicides between 1990 and 2015. There is an invisible epidemic of suicide using a broader definition of it, which includes drug overdose and alcoholic liver disease that every year takes about 158,000 lives. The United States has opioid overdose death rates more than twice those of any other country.
Possibly the most alarming studies (links to three examples of alarming study reports, 1, 2, 3 ) on the state of our society have found that 17% to 47% of -adolescents in the U.S. have intentionally harmed themselves. Some children as young as seven years old self-harm by cutting, scratching, and burning themselves, pulling out their hair, bruising themselves, and deliberately breaking their bones. (See The Inner Level, Richard Wilkinson, Kate Pickett, pg. 57)
Inequality’s Harmfulness Is Pervasive
Researchers comparing developed countries health and social problems found they are more varied and serious as inequality rises. The following is a graph of income inequality with the researchers index that combines measures of life expectancy, infant mortality, homicides, imprisonment, teenage births, trust, obesity, mental illness—including drug & alcohol addiction, and social mobility that clearly shows a correlation. The researcher found no correlation between national income per capita and health & social problems [i]
[i] The Inner Level, Richard Wilkinson, Kate Pickett data is available at https://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/spirit-level
Economic System Atrocities
Tens of Millions of Americans Have Insecure Housing
For the lowest income quintile (25.6 million households), average annual income declined from $14,498 in 2000 to $13,258 in 2017, an 8.6% decline, while average rents rose 73.3%. The bottom quintile’s rent averages 56% of their income. This share of income is almost double the 30% limit considered affordable according to HUD guidelines. In 2018, rent as a percentage of income for all households was 43.6% or 45% above the affordable limit. A single person earning the minimum wage full-time can’t afford a one-bedroom apartment anywhere in the country.
From 2009 to 2014, landlord net profit margins more than quadrupled, from 3.15% to 13.08%. Most renters do not want to direct the fruits of their labor to a landlord; they prefer to own their residence. Instead, to live in their homes, they labor for the profit of others—their landlords. This relationship is not very dissimilar to the one between feudalism’s serfs and lords.
The bottom 20th income percentile has an average savings of $800. The next 20th percentile’s average savings is $2,100. So, after an unexpected expense or after a job loss, millions of Americans have then had to deal with the trauma of homelessness.
In 2017, the average annual single-coverage and the average annual family-coverage medical insurance deductible was $1,808 and $3,396, respectively. Tens of millions of Americans have less savings than their health insurance deductible. So those who get a serious illness, including those classified as middle-class, must choose between paying their medical or housing bills.
Evictions Are Common
The little or no savings of tens of millions of Americans inevitably results in massive numbers of evictions. Princeton University’s Eviction Lab created the first national database of court eviction records in the United States and has nearly 83 million eviction-related court records from 2000 to 2016. The database does not include the many de facto evictions where landlords raise the rent by amounts large enough to force tenants to leave their homes. The 83 million also excludes cases where landlords, instead of filing a court case, bribe tenants to go with a small payment and a promise not to put an eviction on their record. As most renters know, an eviction record can make it difficult to find decent housing.
From 2010 to 2016, a period after the financial crisis created recession, landlords filed, on average, 2.4 million eviction cases and evicted 939 thousand tenants per year. As a result, many people were also expelled from their community, and children had to switch schools. Evicted families regularly lose their possessions, which are piled on the sidewalk or placed in storage. They can reclaim stored possessions if they pay a fee commonly too high for them to pay. Studies also show that the stressful and drawn-out process of being forcibly expelled from their home causes people to make mistakes at work and lose their job. Poverty causes eviction, and eviction causes and exacerbates poverty.
The Costs of Housing Instability and Poverty
The stress-induced by persistent housing instability and poverty can harm children’s and adults’ physical and emotional health. Besides stress-induced harm, high housing costs harm physical health through its effects on diet. Families with affordable housing spend $151 more on food a month than families with housing costs over 50% of income.
Children who receive inadequate nutrition are sick more often, suffer growth and developmental impairments, and have lower educational achievement. Washington University sociologists estimated the annual financial costs of childhood poverty in the United States, accounting for the lower economic productivity, increased health and crime costs, and increased costs resulting from child homelessness. The total cost of child poverty is $1.03 trillion per year. For every dollar spent on reducing childhood poverty, the country would save at least seven dollars of the economic costs of poverty. Ensuring everyone has stable, decent housing is a fundamental part of the moral imperative to eliminate poverty’s enormous and extensive costs.
Homelessness in America
In inflation-adjusted dollars, the U.S. GDP per capita is more than quadruple what it was in 1950, so we can easily ensure that everyone meets their basic needs. That we are not doing this and even the extreme deprivation of homelessness is common would normally motivate widespread outrage and demands to address the injustices. It does not, though, for the same reasons we are not solving any major social problem: The rich’s influence on our media, educational institutions, and political system. Using their extraordinary power to bound the debate within all our institutions that discuss and decide on public issues ensures the trends directing increasing wealth and power to them continue.
According to HUD’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report, on average, there were 553,000 homeless Americans per night in January 2018. HUD counts the number of people in homeless shelters, some other forms of transitional housing, and some who are unsheltered.
Our Homelessness Statistics are Inadequate
HUD doesn’t count people who are sleeping on someone’s couch or floor because they can’t afford rent—a number estimated to be 4.4 million in 2017. Nor does it count the people in jails or prisons, mental health or substance abuse centers, or hospitals, who would be homeless if they were not in these facilities.
HUD’s statistic on the number of people in shelters is based on the number shelters report but since many are at capacity, if their capacity declines, HUD assumes homelessness declined. An undercount on the number of people sleeping unsheltered in public places exists because most people sleeping there are highly motivated not to be discovered. Many cities have it a crime to sleep in public places, and parents can have their children taken from them.
According to The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, 3.5 million families and individuals were homeless at some point in 2018. Their estimate also only includes those sleeping in shelters and an undercount of those in public places.
Nearly 1.0 million schoolchildren were living with people outside their families in 2015–2016 because of housing loss or economic hardship. 42,000 schoolchildren were living primarily on the street during the school year.
A Kenya-U.S. Comparison
Housing conditions in Kenya are among the most atrocious in the world. 61% of the urban population lives in slums. In its capital, Nairobi, 60,000 children are homeless. With a child population of 2.4 million, this makes the child homelessness rate 2.5%[i] ; in New Your City, it is 10%. Although those who have a home in Nairobi are likely to have one of a far lower quality than those who have one in NYC, a NYC child is four times as likely not to have a home than a child in the capital of the impoverished country of Kenya. Kenya’s GDP per capita is $3,500; ours is 17 times larger.
A society that values people solely based on market forces is immoral. Isn’t it time we deal with atrocities in our midst?
[i] Based on Kenya’s 53% of population being children (https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Children/Study/RightHealth/KenyaNationalCommissionHR_2.pdf) and Nairobi’s population of 4,556,381.
People in the wealthiest country in history live like this:
San Luis Obispo, Ca
Food bank line on Thanksgiving near Atlanta, GA
Hunger During the Pandemic
November 23, 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, Time Magazine included this picture in an article on food banks struggling to keep up with the booming demand for food assistance. These cars are in line for desperately needed food. A survey between November 25–December 7, 2020 revealed that 27 million households sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat in the prior seven days.
Millions Descend Into Desperation While Billionaires’ Billions Boomed
While millions of Americans were in desperate need, U.S. billionaire’s total wealth grew by over $1 trillion since beginning of pandemic though December 7, 2020 to $4 Trillion. If the billionaires were “burdened” with a tax that left them with “just” the $3 trillion they had before the pandemic, and the over $1 trillion were instead distributed over the 80% lowest income households, each would have received about $10,000. If the over $1 trillion were distributed to the 40% lowest income households, each would have received about $20,000. Either way, food insecurity and these lines would not have existed.
Healthcare in the United States
The U.S. Perpetrates Human Rights Violations On Millions of its Citizens Who Are Ill
The Affordable Care Act, which improved health care access for about 20 Million Americans, nevertheless falls far short of making care either accessible or affordable to millions more. So many people are willing to suffer the indignity of being examined and treated in a place where just a few weeks earlier people saw which cows and pigs would win blue ribbons. This kind of free “Pop-Up Clinic” comes to an area often for just a few days then goes somewhere else, so people have to hope they don’t need healthcare when the clinic is gone.
One study found that patients with cardiovascular disease who reported underusing medications due to cost were 24% more likely to be hospitalized over 2 years, after adjusting for other patient characteristics. Many patients skip or cut doses of critical medicines such as insulin because of a cost ten times what it is in Canada. A November 2019 Gallup poll found that 58 million adults were unable to pay for needed drugs in the prior 12 months. Thirty-four million adults know someone who died after not getting medical treatment of some kind.
A "Convention" of People Needing to See a Doctor
Class War or Class Assault?
We do not want class warfare waged on most of us by an economic elite who are winning. They have captured a hugely disproportionate share of political power and the wealth created by our unprecedentedly productive society, causing harm, injury, and many causalities. Class war is the most commonly used term for the phenomenon, but since one side has been exerting very little force to defend itself, class assault is a more appropriate term.
The public policies I detail in my books The New Enlightenment and Amazon as Metaphor will end the assault and create a just and democratic society if instituted.
Views on Extreme Economic Inequality of National And International Leaders and Scholars From Over 2,000 Years Ago to the Present
“The form of law which I propose would be as follows: In a state which is desirous of being saved from the greatest of all plagues—not faction, but rather distraction—there should exist among the citizens neither extreme poverty nor, again, excessive wealth, for both are productive of great evil . . . Now the legislator should determine what is to be the limit of poverty or of wealth.”
Plato (427-347 BC), philosopher and mathematician in Classical Greece, and the founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. He is widely considered one of the most important figures in the development of western philosophy and science.
“Good government is attainable in those states where there is a large middle class- large enough … to be stronger than both of the other classes…The reasons why democracies are generally more secure and more permanent than oligarchies is the … middle class…. is more numerous and is allowed a larger share in the government than it is in oligarchies”
Aristotle (384—322 BC), one of the most influential philosophers in history, who made contributions to logic, metaphysics, mathematics, physics, biology, botany, ethics, politics, agriculture, medicine, and other fields.
“An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.”
Plutarch (45–120 AD), Ancient Greek Platonist philosopher, historian and prolific author.
“So distribution should undo excess, and each man have enough.”
William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616), English poet, playwright, and actor, regarded by many as the greatest writer in the English language
“The disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect persons of poor and mean condition is the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments.”
“Wherever there is great property there is great inequality. For one very rich man there must be at least five hundred poor, and the affluence of the few supposes the indigence of the many.”
“All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of man-kind.”
People should be taxed “as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the state.” Taxation should “remedy inequality of riches as much as possible, by relieving the poor and burdening the rich.”
Adam Smith (1723-1790), one of the key figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, widely considered to be the father of modern economics. His work was important to many other very influential thinkers including David Ricardo and Karl Marx in the nineteenth century, and John Maynard Keynes and Milton Friedman in the
twentieth. Smith’s “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776)” is one of the most influential books ever written.
“The causes which destroyed the ancient republics were numerous; but in Rome, one principal cause was the vast inequality of fortunes.”
Noah Webster, Jr. (1758-1843) American lexicographer, textbook pioneer, political writer, and prolific author. He has been called the “Father of American Scholarship and Education”. Webster’s name has become synonymous with “dictionary” in the United States. He was one of the Founding Fathers of the nation.
“We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”
Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) U.S. Supreme Court Justice, leader of the Progressive movement, used the law as the instrument for social change. When his family’s finances became secure, he devoted most of his time to public causes. Dubbed the “People’s Lawyer” and the “Robin Hood of the law.” He insisted on serving on cases without pay so that he would be free to address the wider issues involved.
“To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships.”
W. E. B. Du Bois (1868-1963) Co-founder of the NAACP, sociologist, historian, civil rights activist. The first African American to earn a doctorate from Harvard. W.E.B. Du Bois was one of the most important African- American activists during the first half of the 20th century.
“In the long run men inevitably become the victims of their wealth. They adapt their lives and habits to their money, not their money to their lives. It preoccupies their thoughts, creates artificial needs, and draws a curtain between them and the world.”
Herbert Croly (1869 – 1930) an intellectual leader of the Progressive movement of the late nineteenth and early 20the century, political philosopher, co-founder of the magazine The New Republic. His book, The Promise of American Life (1909), was one of the most influential books in American political history, shaping the ideas of many intellectuals and political leaders, including Theodore Roosevelt. It also influenced FDR and the New Deal.
“Now our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality.”
“As long as there is poverty in the world I can never be rich, even if I have a billion dollars. As long as diseases are rampant and millions of people in this world cannot expect to live more than twenty-eight or thirty years, I can never be totally healthy … I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way our world is made. No individual or nation can stand out boasting of being independent. We are interdependent.”
“We have so energetically mastered production that we now must give attention to distribution. Though there have been increases in purchasing power, they have lagged behind increases in production.”
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
“When evil men conspire to preserve an unjust social order, good men must unite to bring about the birth of a society undergirded by justice.”
“Most of us are too poor to have adequate economic power…Necessity will draw us toward the power inherent in the creative uses of politics.”
“Injustice and waste go together and endanger stability.”
Martin Luther King, Jr., (1926-1968) Activist, Humanitarian, and Leader in the African- American Civil Rights Movement, Winner of Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal, and the Nobel Peace Prize
“The most important problem that we are facing now is rising inequality in the United States and elsewhere in the world.”
Robert Shiller, (1946- ) Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, 2013. Sterling Professor of Economics, Yale University, ranked among the 100 most influential economists of the world.
The poor have been sent to the front lines of a federal-budget deficit-reduction war that few other groups were drafted to fight.”
Marian Wright Edelman (1939- ), American activist for the rights of children, president and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund. Contributed to organizing the Poor People’s Campaign of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, helped establish the Head Start program, was the first African American woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar. Awarded the 2000 Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“The rules of the market economy had been written to serve the interests of the ‘one per cent.’”
“…a lot of the inequalities in the United States are not the result of creative activity but of exploitive activity. If you look at the people at the top, what is so striking is that the people who’ve made the most important creative contributions are not there. By that I mean the really foundational things like the computer, the transistor, the laser. …many people at the top are people who made their money out of monopoly — exercising monopoly power or … deficiencies in corporate governance to get a larger share of the corporate revenues for themselves without any regard to the extent to which they have actually contributed to increasing the sustainable well-being of the firm.
Joseph Stigliz (1943- ) Economist and a professor at Columbia University, recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (2001) and the John Bates Clark Medal (1979), former senior vice president and chief economist of the World Bank and is a former member and chairman of the (US president’s) Council of Economic Advisers.
“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”
“Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality, such an economy kills.”
“We are in an age of knowledge and information, which has led to new and often anonymous kinds of power.”
“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”
“The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase; and in the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.”
“The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst