Part I: The Basics of Inequality (Op-Ed)

Laws can limit corruption and exploitation, but currently our laws don’t. When Obama said, “Change we can believe in,” and Trump said, “Drain the Swamp”, many Americans were thinking of the same barrier to our pursuit of happiness.

What do Occupy Wall St., the Tea Party, job-creating small businesses, minimum-wage retail workers, family farms and public employees all have in common? A shared problem. This problem is only hard to identify when we try to pick out individuals to blame. The true issue is a common struggle against the same systemic economic problem. This problem is made of laws and common practices.

The Economic Policy Institute found that typical CEO pay is 271 times that of the average worker.

In contrast, by all historical accounts, Golden Age pirates generally abided the rule that a captain wouldn’t make more than 2 times the base sailor’s wage. It should be noted that most of these ultra-wealthy, who are getting what we’ve worked for, are not genius innovators. They’re just over-glorified managers; making over 200 times more than your average local manager. Even if we establish that the work of some is worth more than the work of others, we still have to ask — how much more is their work worth? While it can be argued that their jobs can’t be done by everyone, the ratio of income still exceeds the ratio of their usefulness to society compared to others.

When adjusting for inflation, both average and minimum income have not risen since 1980 (including the middle class). In that same period, the corporate share of profit has risen dramatically and the US economy has almost doubled. The ultra-wealthy aren’t just taking the cream off the top, they’re taking the bread we baked out of the baskets we weaved.

Less than a dozen old laws, that are currently reversed, would overcome this abstract problem if reinstated.

We could easily and all at once make government smaller and increase social services, take care of our Vets, lower taxes and provide everyone with the quality of life we need to then focus on other social issues. We just need to demand and reformat corporate regulation. One cause, one nation. It’s the one thing we can unite on.

Once we overcome this shared problem, we can go back to debating things like immigration, abortion and gay marriage. And, if we can improve the economic playing field, we won’t need drastic taxes — wealth will be distributed more justly in the first place.

These executives and large shareholders play by completely different rules.

While corporations can declare bankruptcy, homeowners and students aren’t able to do so. When banks hit that point, they got bailed out by the government while their top hitters stayed rich with our money.

We have to stop treating this behavior as normal or unavoidable. Of course we don’t condone it; but we let our government respond with new and specific loopholes, rather than truly punishing and preventing it, and teaching the larger lesson. When will we acknowledge, as a country, that corporate and banker behavior is part of the same aggressively antisocial behavior pattern.

Corporate Welfare in the form of subsidies, tax breaks and credits is at $100bn per year, well over what we spent on education. Of that, $20bn goes to agricultural subsidies, the majority to big corporations. Then $4bn per year goes to Big Oil. Even major innovation funded at Google, which is the current hub of our future technological infrastructure, only costs 1/16th of what Big Oil gets, less than 1% of corporate subsidies total. How is it that the top corporate brass in Big Pharma, Oil, Agriculture, Industry and consumer production have such exceedingly high income and lower taxes, while our taxes are going into their companies?

Most of us would agree that they should at least invest that money in making those companies more productive; which in turn would lead to better pay for all, greater efficiency and possibly innovation.

All of these deeply connected problems are made worse by executive tax avoidance on money that’s spent, earned and used within our borders. For example, Pfizer, Verizon and Apple all report losses in the US, but spent billions on lobbying and campaign contributions.

However, we shouldn’t need to debate raising or lowering taxes. If the rules of finance, pay scale and small shareholder representation were repaired, we wouldn’t need such high taxes in the first place.

When offshoring corporations got the chance to repatriate the money in 2004, and only pay a 5% tax, it resulted in hundreds of thousands of jobs lost. It did not create jobs, because there are no financial or labor laws that force reinvestment or prevent them from firing workers to increase their own dividends. From the start, our country set out to ensure that those who pay taxes are represented. Currently, it’s the barely-taxed and wealthiest who control our representatives.

How we measure any other issue is by how it affects our quality of life.

Which boils down to where the money is and why. Because, we exchange it for our time and energy, which becomes what we do for money and where we spend it.

It is not our lowest common denominator, but our highest. Money is food, water, life.

We need to change laws and practices; set aside our other political differences or reasons for believing in them, just for now. We can certainly come up with a few very simple demands that are common to us all. Even nontraditional options out there: social enterprise, cooperatives and fair trade; are first-world alternatives that will never be enough. We have one option. Wield the power of so many people that it can’t be matched; to make sure the ultra-wealthy play by the same rules. We can’t do that if we’re busy debating other issues. A family might fight over politics or social issues, or exile a black sheep. Still, a family works together to make sure there’s a house to fight in and get kicked out of. (Not that mortgage practices or banks make it any easier…)

… Bonus: check out this useful theory.

You can read the next installment in this series at Medium.