Is there a ruling class in the United States?


THERE’S ONE KEY FACT OF LIFE in the United States that neither George W. Bush nor Al Gore is going to mention in the presidential campaign--not in the debates, not in stump speeches and probably not even in conversation with the closest of their fellow millionaires.


That fact is the identity of who really rules America. The national mythology insists there is no ruling class in the United States, and that a democratic majority of all the people is in charge of our society and state. Myths aside, it’s not hard to determine who actually rules the proverbial roost. Just identify what group holds and deals the serious money, the kind of money that doesn’t merely talk but roars commands--all the way from the assembly line to the highest levels of power.


According to the latest figures published by the federal government’s Survey of Consumer Finances, the richest 1% of the population possess over 40% of the total national wealth. Other figures show that the combined net worth of these households, which amounts to $10 trillion, is greater than the wealth held by the bottom 95% of the people in our country. The top 4% just behind the top 1% possess another 21% of the national wealth. This top 5% is a class that rules because its money lubricates the wheels of the economic system and the attendant social, political and cultural apparatus, and also identifies, nurtures and sustains those leaders who control the major corporations and, of course, the government.


The last 25 years have been good to the richest 1%, which doubled its share of the national wealth since the mid-1970s. Contributing to this process have been a series of tax breaks, deceptive loopholes and corporate welfare benefits that would astonish the bottom 90% if they ever found out.


There’s a lot of talk about “people’s capitalism” today because so many workers have pension plans invested in mutual fund stocks and securities, not to mention the new internet investors, and because there are millions of businesses. The fact is that the top 1% own over half the stocks, over 60% of the securities and about two-thirds of business assets. The next 4% own much of the rest.


The top 10% of the people are doing well, but from there on down the picture changes. The working class, which includes the bulk of the population, has been losing steadily for over 20 years, with the average standard of living dropping around 10% or more as the rich got outrageously richer. Weekly wages for workers adjusted for inflation average 12% lower than in 1973, even as labor hours have increased markedly and productivity keeps jumping to new highs. Unemployment is falling to record lows, but that’s because low-low-wage jobs are being created at a far greater rate than mid-wage jobs. The bottom 40% of the people lost about 80% of its tiny net worth between the mid-’80s and mid-’90s. The bottom 25% get poverty level wages, resulting in an estimated 36 million Americans who do not have access to adequate food. More than 30 million American kids are very poor. More than 40 million citizens don’t have medical insurance. Of course the plight of African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and other minorities is the worst of all, and women workers still get cheated out of 30% of the wages they should take home.


The Clinton-Gore solution to the growing gap in income between the very rich and poor in America is to cut welfare, to make it harder to obtain food stamps and to build more prisons and hire more cops. Bush’s solution appears to be a big tax cut for the wealthy, to privatize Social Security, and to build more prisons and hire more cops. In recent weeks Gore has projected a pseudo-populist facade, but his record shows he is as much in liege to the ruling class as his newly “compassionate” opponent.


It’s turning out to be a zero-sum game, this economic system of ours. The more riches that fall into the hands of the few, the less that accumulate in the hands of the many. Money--and the grossly disproportionate acquisition thereof through competition and profit--may not be the root of all evil, but it’s certainly the root of our system. They teach us this in school, as though it’s a virtue. What they don’t teach is that the possession of enormous wealth by a small minority--while a great majority, the working class, is just scraping by and many are in a free-fall to destitution--constitutes a class system wherein the minority rules due to the extraordinary power of its bloated assets.


Gore tinkers with the concept of social class by occasionally referring to the euphemism, “working families” (thereby reducing the majority of our people to powerless nuclear units), but he generally joins Bush in speaking of the “middle class.” This term implies the existence of an “upper” and “lower” way out there in the inconsequential fringe, but such inconvenient categories are rarely mentioned since just about everyone--undoubtedly including the millionaire candidates themselves--has been homogenized into the Great American Middle Class in order to obfuscate just who is responsible for taking the bread off the table of the working class. Anyway, we’re told, the “upper” class is composed of people who work hard and are lucky, and the “lower” class consists of those who are lazy and deserve their fate--so envy the one, despise the other, keep on buying lottery tickets and vote for the Democrat or Republican of your choice.


A trillion dollars is a million million dollars. Then multiply by 10. That’s what the top 1% has in its assets account. That kind of money doesn’t languish in vaults, doing nothing. It is invested in a process that ultimately determines economic, social and political outcomes on a mega-scale. It is long past time to mention the unmentionable and to interject into the political system the reality that those who control these trillions, and their hangers-on, rule America. And they will continue ruling until the working class of our country puts a stop to it.


(Prepared by Jack A. Smith for the Mid-Hudson National People’s Campaign)