Friday, December 16, 2011

The Political New Math: 6 > 100,000,000

In the interests of full disclosure so that my readers will know exactly where I am coming from: I despise Walmart and haven’t set foot in one in over a decade. I’m not a big fan of many large American corporations, of course, but Walmart is on a very short list along with McDonalds of nationwide retail chains I will not patronize under any circumstances.

The reason for my boycott of Walmart is that beyond my sheer disgust with the ugly stores, the low employee wages and crappy merchandise made in China, I have seen with my own eyes the destruction the company helped wreak upon the formerly vibrant downtown business district of my hometown. As recently as the 1980s, you could still go downtown in Freeport, Illinois, and shop at locally owned businesses along the two-block pedestrian mall, and then grab a bite to eat or take in a movie, all without returning to your car. I even worked as a sales clerk for a little mom-and-pop unfinished furniture store along the pedestrian mall for about a year when I was in college. Okay, so it wasn’t exactly a Norman Rockwell painting, but my job was far more pleasant than being a clerk at a big box store.

Then around 1990, Walmart built a store on the outer edges of the city, and today downtown Freeport is a ghost town full of empty store fronts, cracked pavement and no hope for the future. It is a pattern that has been repeated all over the country, and the fact that there has been so little protest, even among those whose towns have been blighted by this menace, just shows how sick our consumerist society has become.

There were national retail chains before the rise of Walmart, of course, but none ever operated with the ruthless efficiency, disregard for the common good and sheer cold-bloodedness of the Monster from Bentonville, Arkansas. A common phrase among peak oilers and others outraged about Wall Street abuses these days is, “privatize the profits and socialize the losses.” Well, that’s been Walmart’s corporate strategy from the beginning. It is a perfect corporate psychopath of the kind that makes the Citizens United Supreme Court decision ruling that corporations have the same “free speech” rights as citizens and ability to donate to campaigns such a hideous abomination sounding the final death knell of American representative democracy.

All of which brings me to a recent story that was highlighted the other day by Dave Cohen of the outstanding Decline of the Empire blog. I urge you to read Dave’s post in its entirety, but I just wanted to highlight this little tidbit:
Upon closer inspection, the Forbes list reveals that six Waltons—all children (one daughter-in-law) of Sam or James “Bud” Walton the founders of Wal-Mart—were on the list. The combined worth of the Walton six was $69.7 billion in 2007—which equated to the total wealth of the entire bottom thirty percent!

BTW the new 2011 Forbes 400 has the inherited worth of these six Waltons at $93 billion.
You read that right. The six Walmart heirs collectively control as much wealth as do the bottom 30% of the U.S. population, which amounts to approximately 100,000,000 people. And because corporate campaign cash completely dominates America’s electoral system nowadays, a trend that was permanently locked into place by the aforementioned Citizens United decision, that effectively means that our new “one dollar-one vote” reality has placed at least as much political power in the hands of those six individuals as possessed collectively by the 100,000,000. But it is actually worse than that. Presumably, the 100,000,000 use nearly all of what little resources they do have just to survive. Which doesn’t leave a whole lot of money left to donate to campaigns, assuming the impossible—that they could ever unify into a cohesive political block. In comparison to this, control by the “1%” looks downright egalitarian.

So effectively, this political "new math” in modern America is that 6 people have more power and influence over our so-called “leaders” than do 100,000,000. Some might scoff at that last sentence and say that surely no politician would ever risk standing in opposition to so many voters on behalf of so few. To which I would assert that only means they haven’t been paying attention to how the 6 having been using their influence, as reported by Think Progress:
Not only have the Waltons gathered a fortune equal to that of the bottom third of the country, but they spend it lobbying to cut their own taxes. For years, the Waltons have been supporting efforts to cut the estate tax, the tax levied on inheritance. Conservatives intent on cutting this tax — which they’ve brilliantly dubbed the “death tax” — led to President Obama agreeing to a “compromise” last year that lowered the rate and increased the tax-free exemption, giving a senseless tax break to extremely wealthy families.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, “for the 1 percent of the population with the highest income, average real after-tax household income grew by 275 percent between 1979 and 2007,” while it grew by just 18 percent for the bottom 20 percent of the income scale. In a given year, the richest ten percent of the country takes home about one quarter of total income. But Congress still saw fit last year to give a tax break to the very richest families, who have collected fortunes that dwarf anything the rest of the country will ever see.
And there you have modern day America in a nutshell: government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. Where if you don’t have at least a six figure check you can drop in campaign coffers of the politicians, you have no influence and no ability to effect change. This sad state of affairs is what lies at the very heart of the motivations of the Occupy movement. So the next time you hear some dimwit criticize the protesters for “not having a message,” you can show them the facts above and reply that this is all they should really need to know.

Bonus: My thanks to 1960s pianist/comedian Tom Lehrer, whose song, "New Math," inspired the title of this blog post


  1. Walmart sucks, yes agreed. T shirts and underwear and paper towels you can buy anywhere. Meh.

    But McDonald's? Wait just a minute now....their sausage McMuffin is to-die-for. Geez all over the world I have gobbled down sausage McMuffins and loved every single one of them. In Moscow, in Beijing, in Athens---I love me some sausage McMuffin.

    I draw the line at McBreakfast. They are damn delicious. I remember when Mickey D's in Moscow began to do breakfast and we went to the nearest one (there are more than 40) and bought a whole BAG of McMuffins and scarfed them down thinking we'd died and gone to heaven.


    Choose your battles. McMuffins are sacred ground.


  2. And their benefactor, "Retail genius" Sam Walton, is the kind of ruthless, monomaniacal sociopath held up as a heroic "innovator" by the business establishment, better described as the Cult of Greed.

    Sadder still is how many of the 100,000,000 agree.

    Thank you sir, may I have another?!?!?!?!?!

  3. "So the next time you hear some dimwit criticize the protesters for “not having a message,” you can show them the facts above and reply that this is all they should really need to know."

    Sadly, facts don't have any affect on these blow-hards. They make excuses and proclaim how were the best in the world no matter what you show them. If I show them a chart that plainly states that the United States leads the world in divorce, they push it aside and call me a pessimist. If I show them facts about how much more we spend on defense than the rest of the world, they go into a rant about how great we are. If I talk about our record poverty rate (with facts to back it up), they go off on how lazy those people are. If I show them facts on our sky-high prison population, they puff up their chests and declare how much safer we are for it.

    See, were a great country because a significant number of our people are disposable, poor, and lazy. The Walton's are rich because they work hard. . . I might as well use rainbows and unicorns to make my arguments.

    Honestly, I don't know how much more I can take. I'm about ready to ditch out of this country. I am 1 job loss away from moving out of this country forever.

  4. Mayor's survey:

    Across the 29 cities, 27 percent of the people requiring emergency food assistance did not receive it, the survey found.

    In 86 percent of the cities, food pantries and emergency kitchens had to reduce the quantities of food people could receive per visit or the amount of food offered per meal.

    Just wait as food becomes completely unaffordable for many people. I went to the grocery store this morning intending to get brussels sprouts. FOUR DOLLARS for a little container, lightly packed! We're seeing it worst in fresh produce, because the crops are so damaged. But it's going to show up in dried commodities soon. There will be looting and riots in the cities.

  5. It’s very sad to read what Anonymous 2 wrote about leaving the USA. I have lots and lots of cousins in the US in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Washington State and Montana. For many generations of Irish people when life was shit here the great escape was to head for the USA. For us the USA was the land of opportunity, the place where you could dream big dreams but the dream is over.

    Now I look in despair across the Atlantic and see the strategic global and domestic economic position of the USA is getting worse by the day, but very few americans can even see this. They are still carrying on as if all is well, even throught the sands are rapidly shifting under them. None are so enslaved as those who think themselves free.

    Europe is not immune to this condition but it is happening in a much more extreme way in the USA.

    A variation on fall of the western Roman Empire is being played out again in the USA. I think it was Voltaire who said "history teaches us that history teaches us nothing".

  6. @HueyLewis - indeed, many of the 100,000,000 are just like the cattle thanking the guy for unloading them off the truck at the slaughterhouse.

  7. @iwe - even sadder, I've come to wish that my ancestors had stayed in Germany rather than emigrating to the U.S. in the 19th century. That assumes, of course, that they could have survived the Nazis and two world wars. :(

  8. You have to admit that McDonalds has the best fries
    Walmart has forced the deindustrialization of the USA to take a faster course. It should have been Walmart sucks instead of Kmart sucks in the movie Rainman.