Friday, January 22, 2016

Public policy written by the 1% makes the water brown in Flint

As I read the stories of alarm and disgust over the contaminated water in Flint, Michigan, I note that there is a subtext that few in the mainstream media are willing to discuss. The lead poisoning and the brown water are allowed to happen because public policy is written by and for the top 1%. CNN has the gory details on how it got that way, but in sum the state was trying to save money.

What happened in Flint is just part of a larger story of how the wealthy think that what they have just isn't enough. Anything they can do to get more is fair game. Flint is poor town, having been one of the towns hit hardest by the Great Recession. The state was losing tax revenue and needed to find a way to save money, so they sought to save money by changing water sources from the lake, which they were paying for, to a river that is known to be polluted.

They went from the frying pan to the fire.

The lake, which was relatively clean, worked well and it worked well for years. The river was polluted by industrial waste. Who is making that waste? The top 1%. You can bet that the 1% have water softeners and industrial grade filters in their homes to keep the gunk out. They may not even live in Flint and didn't have to deal with brown water in the shower or the bath. And when it came to light that there was lead in the water, I have to wonder if the 1% are just looking to create a captive menial labor pool.

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. But this is not just the United States. This is worldwide. The wealthy can use their influence to write laws that protect their wealth, their business models and their sources for raw materials. They can write laws that permit the pollution without accountability. They can write laws that affect everyone else, but not them. And the rate of concentration of wealth is accelerating.

I heard a few days ago that 62 people own as much wealth as the poorest half of the world. Wait a minute, I wrote an article less than two years ago where I cited that same number as 85 people. The source of this statistic is Oxfam. Now it turns out that in the last five years, that number went from 388 to 62. We also learn that the top 1% in the world own as much as the remaining 99%.

Note to the wealthy: You cannot accumulate wealth like there is no tomorrow, at the expense of everyone else and not expect there to be some anger and resentment over it. Especially when you use your money to influence public policy to favor you. You don't want to be regulated, but it's OK if your industries pollute the water, land and air where you don't happen to live. So you write laws that protect you and call it fair because it's the law.

Note to the wealthy, continued: You accumulate wealth in tax havens and then have the gall to tell us that if we'd just lower taxes, you'd bring all that money back. Then when we do lower taxes, even for a tax holiday, you layoff employees and distribute dividends to your shareholders. I could go on, but the ever accelerating concentration of wealth cannot. And keeping it all isn't going to make you or anyone else any happier.

What we're seeing is that the worldwide decision making process is run by people who are not accountable for their decisions. We saw that with the banking crisis in the United States in 2008. We saw that in the war in Iraq. We're seeing it again in Flint.

Did someone say that the pitchforks are coming?
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