Monday, October 05, 2009
Email Exchange on Economic Inequities and the Corrupting Influence of Money on Congress. I had an email exchange with a political activist here in Newark, sparked by an email from Michael Moore that he passed along. Moore said, in part:
In my new film I speak for the first time in one of my movies about my own spiritual beliefs. * * *I meant to mention the New Testament's statement, attributed to Jesus by Paul, that "the love of money is the root of all evil" (1 Timothy 6:10) but got sidetracked by other things that came to mind. I make up for that oversight now.
Amidst all the Wall Street bad guys and corrupt members of Congress exposed in "Capitalism: A Love Story," I pose a simple question in the movie: "Is capitalism a sin?" I go on to ask, "Would Jesus be a capitalist?" Would he belong to a hedge fund? Would he sell short? Would he approve of a system that has allowed the richest 1% to have more financial wealth than the 95% under them combined?
I have come to believe that there is no getting around the fact that capitalism is opposite everything that Jesus (and Moses and Mohammed and Buddha) taught. All the great religions are clear about one thing: It is evil to take the majority of the pie and leave what's left for everyone to fight over. Jesus said that the rich man would have a very hard time getting into heaven. He told us that we had to be our brother's and sister's keepers and that the riches that did exist were to be divided fairly. He said that if you failed to house the homeless and feed the hungry, you'd have a hard time finding the pin code to the pearly gates.
I guess that's bad news for us Americans. Here's how we define "Blessed Are the Poor": We now have the highest unemployment rate since 1983. There's a foreclosure filing once every 7.5 seconds. 14,000 people every day lose their health insurance.
At the same time, Wall Street bankers ("Blessed Are the Wealthy"?) are amassing more and more loot -- and they do their best to pay little or no income tax (last year Goldman Sachs' tax rate was a mere 1%!). Would Jesus approve of this? If not, why do we let such an evil system continue? It doesn't seem you can call yourself a Capitalist AND a Christian -- because you cannot love your money AND love your neighbor when you are denying your neighbor the ability to see a doctor just so you can have a better bottom line. That's called "immoral" -- and you are committing a sin when you benefit at the expense of others.
What I actually said is this.
THE saddest part of this whole thing is that it is a recent development, historically speaking. We had progressive taxation from the early 20th Century until 1986, and the distribution of wealth was relatively healthy and benign until the Plutocratic Revolution carried off by the Tax Reform Act of 1986 started destroying everything we had built in the way of social democracy. Now people seem to think that what we have today has always been with us, because a third of the population is too young to have known anything else.He replied:
There are fixes, but the corrupting power of money stands in the way of adopting those fixes. For instance, money is king in Congressional elections because the House of Representatives stopped expanding in 1912, and adopted 435 as some kind of magic number of seats that must be preserved forever. So each year, more and more constituents must be served, and every two years more and more voters must be reached. When a Congressional district had 200,000 people, it didn't cost a fortune to reach them. When it has 700,000 people, however, you have to spend a lot on every election because you have to use mass media and mass mailings. You can't meet even a significant proportion of 700,000 people by speaking in high school auditoriums or senior centers. The incumbent has the advantages that come with incumbency, including name recognition, but still spends hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars. Challengers have to spend even more to have any chance of overcoming the advantages of an incumbent. Without equitable public financing and/or spending limits, large districts (and of course Senate races, which are all statewide, are almost all large districts) require vast outlays of money. Getting that money opens people to "campaign-contribution" bribery. The people who buy access and influence don't want public financing that would end their special access and drastically reduce their influence. So we don't get public financing. No public financing leaves Congressmen as beggars from the rich. Beggars can't be choosers as to public policy. They dance with the guy that brung 'em, they do what their funders want them to do, or they lose funding, and possibly their job.
So, to have any realistic hope of massive change, you must EITHER have smaller districts, by fixing the number of CONSTITUENTS (at, say 300,000 per district, the size of Newark), not seats in the House, so election costs to incumbents are so low that they don't have to take bribes and orders from the rich, and costs to challengers are low enuf to permit much more aggressive contesting of seats; OR you must enact fair public financing (none of this "matching funds" crap, which doubles the inequalities between candidates). Either way could free us from the corruption of money that has contorted the system out of all recognition.
Absent the removal of money from the equation, there's really nothing you can do short of assassination to get rid of the bribetakers who hide the bribe nature of the money they get by calling it "campaign contributions".
Christopher Hitchens in a column in London today urged British voters to stay away from the polls next election, because both major (British) parties are arrogant and unresponsive. That's the kind of moronic nonsense we are left with if we don't deal with the structural issues here in the United States. Elections will still be held, even if very few people vote. Smaller numbers produce less representative outcomes. And no one elected will admit that he doesn't have a mandate just because people stay home. Rather, they argue that people who stay home are happy the way things are! Cheers.
Spot-on, with your permission I would like to share this with a friend [who] claims to be an ‘Independent”. He ... and I spar on economics and politics all the time.Naturally I was glad to have him pass that argumentation along. Then I added to it:
By the way, I TWICE had letters published in the NYTimes about expanding the House, decades ago. The second was even illustrated with a cartoon that showed the Capitol dome stretched high; in the version now online, the word "Drawing" substitutes for actual cartoon; I don't see the first letter in early results to a Google search). But nothing has been done. In 1912, the population of the United States was 95.3M, and each year the U.S. grew by about 1.5M. Now the population is 307.2M, and grows by about 2.5M a year. Each Congressional district in 1912 had about 218K constituents; each district today has 706K constituents. People feel they have less power because they DO have less power: each voter today has less than 1/3 the influence on Congress that our grand- or great-grandparents had, and each year our power is diluted further by the refusal of Congress to expand the House. If we had 218,000 constituents per district, we would have to have about 1,400 Representatives, and each Census we would have to add 114 seats. At 500,000, what I advocated in 1990, we'd need 614 [and have to add 50]. At 300,000 per Rep, which would be better than 500,000 in terms of reducing the influence of money, we'd need 1,023 Reps and add 80 after each Census. [Figures have been corrected for 10-year growth of about 25M; originally I unintentionally put in figures for only one-year growth.](The current U.S. military death toll in Iraq, according to the website "Iraq Coalition Casualties", is 4,348 — for Israel.)
Most Members don't attend the floor session at any given time, and the British House of Commons chamber won't fit all 646 of its members (94,600 constituents per rep), so the physical size of the U.S. Capitol must not be used as the standard by which the size of the House is measured. Most of the work of Congress is done in committees, scattered thru Congressional office buildings. More members could reduce the number of committees and subcommittees each must participate in, which would allow each Member to become really expert on one or two matters instead of only passingly well informed about 3, 5, or 6. Members can vote electronically from remote locations, by Intranet and Internet. The idea that the physical size of the Capitol Building should control the number of representatives the electorate gets is really absurd, like freezing the size of your pants at age 18 and requiring you to cram yourself into them for the rest of your life.
I don't care if a joint session of Congress has to be held in a convention center or basketball arena (I saw, in researching this topic today, an organization that advocates an even larger House than I suggest: http://www.thirty-thousand.org/). I care about representative democracy.
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