Wineke: Wealth Disparity Is Eroding Social Compact

By Bill Wineke Special to Channel 3000

If I were a rich man, I think I’d be getting pretty worried about what’s going on around the country these days.

The reason is that rich men — and rich women, too — have been doing pretty well for the past few years. Virtually the entire increase in national income build since the presidency of Ronald Reagan has gone to the very top income layers of society.

Taxes paid by the very wealthy are at the lowest rate since the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower. I’m not quite sure what that means, but if I were rich, I’d like to maintain it.

Pay for corporate CEOs is increasing — by about 23 percent on average last year, according to statistics released over the weekend. Meanwhile, pay for working slugs is stagnating, and has been stagnating for decades.

And, in state after state where Republican politicians have won power, they are using that power to undermine the clout of labor unions, to destroy the labor unions if at all possible.

Recent Supreme Court rulings make it legal for the richest corporate and union organizations to contribute vast sums to politicians — and the very rich are using that ability to elect the politicians who are destroying the unions.

So, you’d think I would be happy to be a rich man today.

And, while I assure you I most certainly would be happy to be a rich man today, I would also see some clouds on the horizon.

Because those political minions who have been doing my bidding so faithfully seem to be unable to stop while they — and I — are ahead.

In Minnesota, for example, the state is shut down. The parks are closed. People can’t obtain driver’s licenses; the work of government is stopped.

Why? Well, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who keeps bragging about his ability to balance budgets and keep taxes down, left Minnesota with a $5 billion debt. The new governor wants to balance that budget by cutting spending on the poor and raising some taxes on the very rich. The legislature responded by refusing any tax increases whatever and, now, the state is not operating.

Nationally, the country needs to increase its debt limit to stay in business. President Obama and the Democrats have offered to cut spending by a lot more than most of their Democratic supporters think is reasonable, but they have insisted on some tax increases for the rich. Republicans walked out of the negotiations.

If the Democrats persist in demanding tax increases, they will let the nation run out of money, Republicans say.

If I were rich, that would worry me.

Because, if I were smart enough to be rich, I would also be smart enough to figure out that, at some point, the worms would turn. I would be smart enough to figure out that the nation can’t just keep cutting spending that benefits the poor and middle class in order to protect my wealth as a rich guy.

At some point, I would worry, little people would get tired of seeing their kids go to bad schools so that I might have an easier time sending my kids to private schools. At some point, I would worry that the little people might not want to see their Medicare and Social Security benefits eroded so that my tax rates could be lowered.

You see, our society operates under an unwritten social compact that says we accept the fact that those at the top of the income scale lead lives of lavish privilege so long as we understand that the rest of us are guaranteed decent schools, nice parks and a modicum of old-age security.

That social compact is being eroded and, now, we see signs at rallies arguing “Tax the rich.”

If I were rich, I’d be worried about that.