The House Has Gone Democratic. Can the House Now Go Bold?

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Tony Maxwell, a retired African-American naval officer, was trying — without much success — to get his Jacksonville, Florida neighbor to go with him to the mid-term election polls and vote. The young neighbor, a high-school-dropout, had no interest in taking the ride.

“Voting,” the young man declared, “doesn’t change anything.”

That world-weary attitude suits some Americans — those who sit atop our deeply unequal economy — just fine. These affluents don’t want things to change. They’ve worked too hard to rig a set of structures and policies that keep their wealth safe and growing, at everyone else’s expense.

Now Democrats, thanks to Tuesday’s mid-terms, have a comfortable working majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. Can these Democrats use this newly won majority to reach that dispirited young man in Jacksonville? That all depends — on their eagerness to think big and bold, on their willingness to challenge the concentrated wealth and power that’s keeping things from changing.

Any such challenge, of course, will not actually produce significant new legislation in the immediate future. Democrats may have the House come January, but conservative Republicans will still control the Senate and have a like-minded pal in the White House. Over the next two years, getting any big and bold new legislation into law will be next to impossible.

But just pushing for such legislation could point us — and move us — in a positive direction. Just holding hearings on legislation that takes on our economic powers-that-be, just encouraging rallies on this legislation and taking floor votes on it, would send all of America the empowering message that meaningful change can conceivably happen.

This sort of aggressive and progressive pushing would, to be sure, represent a major break with the Democratic Party’s recent past. The various congressional majorities Democrats have won over the last few decades have typically shied away from anything that smacks of big and bold. The reforms these majorities have championed have often been overly complicated and cautious — and deeply compromised by a fear of annoying potential Democratic Party deep-pocket donors.

That fear may be easing. A number of leading Democrats with eyes on the 2020 presidential election — and the increasing size of the party’s progressive activist base — have over the past year advanced proposals that could help spark real change in who owns and runs America.

Sam Pizzigati edits Too Much, the online weekly on excess and inequality. He is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. Last year, he played an active role on the team that generated The Nation magazine special issue on extreme inequality. That issue recently won the 2009 Hillman Prize for magazine journalism. Pizzigati’s latest book, Greed and Good: Understanding and Overcoming the Inequality that Limits Our Lives (Apex Press, 2004), won an “outstanding title” of the year ranking from the American Library Association’s Choice book review journal.

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

America’s Wealthy: Ever Eager to Pay Their Taxes!

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Why do many of the wealthiest people in America oppose a “wealth tax,” an annual levy on grand fortune? Could their distaste reflect a simple reluctance to pay their fair tax share? Oh no, JPMorganChase CEO Jamie Dimon recently told the Business Roundtable: “I know a lot of wealthy people who would be happy to pay more in taxes; they just think it’ll be wasted and be given to interest groups and stuff like that.” Could Dimon have in mind the interest group he knows best, Wall Street? In the 2008 financial crisis, federal bailouts kept the banking industry from imploding. JPMorgan alone, notes the ProPublica Bailout Tracker, collected $25 billion worth of federal largesse, an act of generosity that’s helped Dimon lock down a $1.5-billion personal fortune. Under the Elizabeth Warren wealth tax plan, Dimon would pay an annual 3 percent tax on that much net worth. Fortunes between $1 billion and $2.5 billion would face a 5 percent annual tax under the Bernie Sanders plan.

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No Such Thing as Good Greed

No Such Thing as Good Greed