My Turn

Opinion: The U.S. is now an oligarchy


An oligarchy is a government in which a small group exercises control, especially for corrupt and selfish purposes. In 2016 there were 525 billionaires in the U.S. Most, but perhaps not all of these billionaires are the oligarchs running our country. Many of these people have several billion dollars. It is difficult to comprehend how much even one billion dollars is. Here’s an example. Say you earn $50,000 a year and somehow you don’t spend any of it. At this rate, how many years would it take to earn one billion dollars? The answer is 20,000 years! Having a billion dollars while others in this country are homeless and lack health care shows how obscene having this amount of money is.

In 2012 the Citizens United Supreme Court decision opened the flood gates for the wealthy to pour countless amounts of money into the coffers of members of the U.S. Congress. This small clique of ultra-rich Americans now owns our federal and most state governments. They pay enormous sums to make sure their candidates get elected and these candidates do their bidding after the election giving huge tax cuts and huge government contracts to the billionaires’ businesses and industries. The ultra-rich make a handsome return on the political dollars they spend.

The U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1788 and it established a democratic form of government with a President and a Congress elected by the people and a Supreme Court with members appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Sadly, the oligarchs have functionally destroyed our constitutional democracy. But, they are not satisfied with their ever increasing wealth and power. They also want to punish the rest of us. They are against government backed health care for the vast majority of us. They want to do away with the Affordable Care Act (Obama Care) and Medicare. And, many of them want to abolish Social Security which millions of Americans spent years contributing to so they’d have at least some money to live on after retirement.

The oligarchs want to defund public education and abolish regulations which safeguard our air, water, food, and drug quality among others. And, we have a greater proportion of our population in prison than any country in the world. Why? So, it’s a mystery why they want to make the lives of most Americans unsafe and miserable. Is this how they can make themselves feel even better, by dumping on the vast majority of us?

Certainly, there are a few billionaires who give lots of money to their favorite charities and social causes. But, what they give is usually a drop in the bucket compared to their yearly income. And, many of these people have found ways to pay almost no income tax at all. They need to pay their fair share in taxes so that all our citizens can benefit. We spend outrageous sums on the Defense Department and our military has 800 bases all  over the world. For what reason? Who are we afraid of, really? With the wealth which the United States has, we could have the world’s best education and health care systems, yet we lag far behind many less wealthy nations in these areas. Our President and Congress have been very effective in stirring up public concern about our “enemies” around the world whether it is Russia or Iran or North Korea. These trumped up scare tactics (pun intended) have diverted the attention of too many of us from the very real problems we have regarding jobs, global warming, and the deterioration of our infra-structure, among others.

A country controlled by a tiny elite of ultra-rich oligarchs is certainly no democracy no matter what our U.S. constitution says. There can be no democracy when excess money controls our government.

Ferguson is a Taos resident.