Just ran across two eye-popping numbers that speak volumes about our country's direction. $22.6 million and $1.1 trillion.
The first comes from the national Institute on Money in State Politics, which issued a report this week showing that the 20 richest Americans and their companies donated $22.6 million from 2005 through 2008 to influence state-level elections. That number doesn't even begin to account for what they spent on federal elections.
The second has to do with the redistribution of wealth in America. Looking at IRS data and calculating the percentage of total income for each income class, you can see how dramatically the middle class's share of the nation's income has declined and how the percentage claimed by the wealthiest in our society has skyrocketed. In fact, from 2001 to 2007 more than $1.1 trillion in income was shifted from people who make less than $100,000 to people who make more than $100,000. The people at the very top really cleaned up, as almost a third (29%) of that $1.1 trillion income transfer over the six-year period went to those making $10 million or more.
The second number is no accident or coincidence. It happened by design. It is the result of a whole series of public policy decisions made in places like Washington and Madison. And those decisions have everything to do with numbers like the first.
Ayn Rand and her 53-year-old novel Atlas Shrugged and its money-is-everything, greed-is-good ethos are in fashion these days. The book's title refers of course to the titan in Greek mythology who held up the heavens on his shoulders and went on to serve as Rand's metaphor for captains of industry and men of means who she claimed are responsible for society's productivity.
When the Atlases of Rand's mind felt put-upon and overburdened, they shrugged and shut down the engine of the world, leading to the collapse of civilization. The moral of the story was, as Rand wrote, "Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction."
Well, if modern-day Atlases are doing any shrugging, it's only because they are so unrepentant for their rape and plunder.
And what has the embrace of Rand's vision as national policy and the realization of her dream world done for us? Our economy has plunged off a cliff. Millions saw their jobs shipped overseas. Even more saw life savings vanish almost overnight. Home foreclosures are epidemic. Our natural environment has been badly damaged, threatening the health of both our planet and the people who inhabit it. Families are more stressed than ever. Our culture has grown more violent.
You know, not a single new state university campus has been created in Wisconsin since 1968. But since 1994, our state has built eight new prisons and purchased a ninth that was built by a private company on speculation, added hundreds of beds to existing correctional facilities and shipped inmates to five different states to deal with overcrowding. We got tired of investing in success, and started paying more and more for failure.
There is only one way out of the mess that's been made. And it involves doing something about those two eye-popping numbers.