Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Who really runs this country?

If you ask most Americans, they'd probably say big corporations. It's easy to see why they'd think this. Every time a law is being debated that affects corporate interests, the corporations pour millions into lobbying to make sure the law conforms with their interests. It's what makes the headlines.

But the reality is that the middle class runs this country. Need proof? What are the most deadly programs to touch? What are the most difficult tax breaks to rescind? Those that benefit the middle class. Politicians can't cut Social Security. They can't get rid of the mortgage interest deduction. When they run for office, they'll never say they'll raise taxes on the middle class. But they'll sure promise to raise taxes on the rich. They'll also promise all kinds of new restrictions on business.

Criminal justice is Exhibit B. Compare the crimes that the poor are most likely to commit to crimes the middle class are most likely to commit. The crack/powder cocaine discrepancy is the most well known example, but there are others. Traffic laws come to mind, especially DUI. Despite the crackdown on drunk driving since MADD started raising public awareness, you'll still get a relative slap on the wrist for driving drunk, considering how serious the crime is when you think about it objectively. That's because it's mostly middle class males that drive drunk and by God, we can't have middle class people going to jail! Jails are for poor folks!

If you follow Congress pretty closely like I do, you'll notice that whenever a law is passed, it is tailored to exempt the middle class whenever possible. If it's a law directed at business, they'll stress that the business must have X number of employees, otherwise they are exempt. Even if the law does apply to everyone, the enforcement tends to be strictly against larger businesses, and almost never against individuals. For example, if you pay an illegal alien to mow your lawn or even to be a babysitter, no one is coming after you. But if you're a company and you don't get proof they are legally eligible to work, it's a $10,000 fine. And in practice, smaller businesses are almost never audited by the government.

Proposed cap and trade laws to stop global warming are another example. Every proposal involves making business pay all the costs wherever possible, even though consumers account for far more emissions than businesses. The Presidential candidates all agree that consumers must be shielded from the costs of anti-global warming legislation.

The different reactions to the housing bubble and high gas prices are another example. Selling a house for 5 times what you paid for it just being a smart investor. Selling gas for 10% more than you paid for it is gouging. That's simply because most middle class people are homeowners, but few middle class people are CEOs of oil companies, or even gas station owners. Politicians would never in a million years seek to investigate collusion between neighbors, which has happened a lot in recent years, where neighbors coordinate their pricing strategies. But with zero evidence of price fixing or collusion by gas stations or oil companies, multiple investigations are launched. Because the middle class is angry.

The reality is that the middle class is protected by it's numbers. The voters are mostly middle class, so politicians fear the middle class. The rich are protected by their money. They can protect themselves from adverse legislation by lobbying. Which they do so much because it's actually pretty easy for politicians to attempt to go after the rich. The reason for the perception that the rich and corporations run things is because almost all legislation is directed at them and they defend themselves against it. But if they really ran things like the middle class does, they wouldn't have to defend themselves from such legislation to begin with.

The only people who have no defense against adverse legislation are the poor. And they get the screws put to them on a regular basis. Laws directed mainly at the poor tend to be harsh, often disproportionate to the transgressions. Politicians don't give a second thought to taxes that mainly fall on the poor.

As someone who is middle class now but still lives the poor lifestyle in some ways, I experience small slights every day, and the law does very little to uphold my rights. I ride a bike and nearly get run over, I'm told by cops to be more careful even though the driver broke the law and I didn't(of course I do need to ride very defensively, but the cops should enforce the law, not lecture the law abiding just because they are less important politically). I bought some chicken strips and sat outside the grocery store to eat since I don't have a car and I didn't want to have to nuke them when I got home. A cop told me I should go because "it looks weird for someone to be sitting there eating". And since a cop can order anyone to leave for any reason(another law directed mainly at the poor), I had to do it.

Middle class society has decided that not only are middle class values the only thing that is "normal", but also the only thing that is legal. And Congress and state legislatures have followed the middle class's wishes. It's illegal to sit in front of a store and eat. Car drivers own the road. You can sell a house for an unlimited profit, but you can't sell gas for an unlimited profit. You can hire illegal aliens, but the local Wal-mart better not. Camping in a forest is wonderful, sleeping on a park bench is distasteful.

Evangelical Christians have been complaining for years that they are an oppressed majority somehow. Middle class people have also claimed to be "under assault" and oppressed by wealthy people and corporations trying to screw them on one side, and poor people trying to rob them and marry their daughters on the other side. In reality, they run things and they need to quit whining.