Founded by Drew Pearson 1932
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
WASHINGTON – We know the Pope is Catholic, but some conservatives aren’t sure he’s a capitalist, not that the two necessarily go together. In recent days, Pope Francis has questioned what he calls “unbridled capitalism,” and some Vatican watchers wonder what this means together with his apparent wish to return the Catholic Church to its roots as an advocate for the poor.
He says the greatest problem with capitalism is the disparity of wealth between the haves and the have-nots. He’s right, and that’s not a radical view. Examples abound every day of the widening gap, some laughable, some ludicrous. It’s as though we’ve returned to the days of the Robber Barons, when there were diamonds in the champagne glasses, and party guests had to rummage through their cake to see if they scored a precious jewel.
Today’s excesses of wealth boggle the mind. Phil Knight, co-founder of Nike, has donated over a $100 million dollars to the University of Oregon football team, making it the single most pampered team in the league with locker rooms so plush they could double as a spa. Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens similarly showers money on the University of Oklahoma football team, his alma mater, where he is celebrated for his generosity.
The intent here is not to single out these two men for an inappropriate use of their wealth. Both are well known for their philanthropic efforts and give to a variety of good causes. They are not abusing their wealth, but they are symbolic of an entire class of billionaires relatively new to the scene and reminiscent of an earlier era in American life, when the Robber Barons stood atop the pyramid of wealth.
We’ve seen a hollowing out of the middle class, and when people are asked in various surveys what they think the problem is, they respond that the game is rigged against them, and they’re right. The extraordinary wealth being created by and for a small slice of the population is accomplished in tandem with the political system, which favors the Phil Knights and T. Boone Pickens of the world, people with the means to curry favor and buy influence.
It’s not a new saying, and it’s a cliché, that we have the best Congress money can buy. People with money have the most skin in the game on Capitol Hill. Like the Robber Barons before them, they are battling for monopolies, to crush the opposition, to create an uneven playing field for their benefit.
The Citizens United decision in 2010 opened the floodgates where moneyed interests, from big corporations to single individuals like Las Vegas tycoon Sheldon Adelson, can pour money into political ads and fund their favored candidates with almost no restraint.
It took the Pope to speak out and recognize what is happening as a real danger, and now it’s up to the political system to respond as it did in the early 1900’s when progressive reformer Teddy Roosevelt emerged to take on the big banks and moneyed interests of his day to enforce anti-trust legislation.
There is an opening today in our political discourse, and for an enterprising politician, to pick up on what the Pope has said and campaign on a platform of reform. If the problems created by the disparity in wealth aren’t addressed, there will be social disruption consequences. The lid can’t be kept on the simmering resentment forever.
The most optimistic scenario is a modern progressive era with a rise of the reformers like we witnessed early in the last century. It will take a movement and creative leaders who understand how taxation, fairness, the rise of the Robber Barons, the depressed minimum wage – how it all ties together. After all, unbridled capitalism is not capitalism at all. It’s a rigged playing field.
© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND