Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Bring Back The Balance of Powers

(Founding) Fathers Know Best
By Nick Paleologos

Utah Senator Mike Lee, best known for playing Mini-Me to Senator Ted Cruz’s Dr. Evil, has just written a new book called, “Our Lost Constitution.” In case you find the title ambiguous, the sub-title removes all doubt: “The Willful Subversion of America’s Founding Document.” His thesis, a familiar far right refrain, is that if we could just stick to what the Founders intended, America would be a much better country. I second that motion.

Once upon a time, during a sweltering summer in Philadelphia, a bunch of guys who later became known as the Founding Fathers hammered out a brand new system of government. The constitution they wrote is a Rube Goldberg contraption--chock full of checks and balances--because they all shared one immutable conviction: Too much power in too few hands will always be abused. That is what they believed.

The Founders were so paranoid about the concentration of power that they gave equal leverage to three separate and distinct branches of government as the only practical way they could think of to guarantee the stated goals of their ambitious enterprise: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all citizens in the new country. And even then, they weren’t completely certain. Upon leaving the constitutional convention, Benjamin Franklin was famously cornered by local citizens eager to find out what kind of government the delegates had created. “A republic,” Franklin replied, “if you can keep it.”

The Founders had absolutely no faith in mankind left to its own devices. They did not believe in the essential goodness of human nature. On the contrary, from their eighteenth century perch the history of “civilization” was not a pretty picture. Stretching back in time as far as they could see was an ugly and unbroken chain of greed, corruption, cruelty and oppression. Even in the empire they left behind, power was concentrated in the hands of a wealthy self-perpetuating minority doing what they do best: treating everybody else badly. The British Crown seemed to exist only to preserve and protect the plutocracy.

The notion that fairness, justice and prosperity would trickle down from a benevolent few at the top of society’s pyramid was an utterly laughable concept to our Founding Fathers.  Why then do you suppose conservatives like Mike Lee, who worship at the Founders’ altar of separation of powers when it comes to government, abandon the principle when it comes to business? 

Apparently for Mike Lee, somewhere along the road from Washington to Wall Street human nature (as the Founders understood it) does a complete one-eighty. Because today’s Tea Party enthusiasts see absolutely no need for a balance of power between labor and capital. Instead they proudly and relentlessly assert that capital actually deserves better treatment than labor--a favored position in law.

As surely as night follows day they insist, lower taxes (and higher profits) targeted exclusively for the rich will inevitably result in higher wages for everybody else. Because when the rich get richer, they become nicer people. Labor doesn’t need leverage. If the 99% simply work harder, become more productive, and generate more profits, they will most assuredly enjoy the fruits of their labor--courtesy of that grateful one percent at the top. Over the past several decades, this theory has been put to the test in America. And the results have been disastrous.

SOURCE: Park Avenue - Money, Power and the American Dream (2012) directed by Alex Gibney

Source: Former US Labor Secretary, Robert Reich

Since 1980, productivity has shot through the roof while average wages remained flat as a pancake. American workers created heaping piles of wealth. They just didn’t get any of it. Why? Because it turns out the Founders were right. Bad things also happen when too much money is concentrated in too few hands. In this case, the rich kept it all for themselves and then used it to buy control of a government that was originally created to protect the many from the tyranny of a few.

The Founders would indeed be horrified at the “willful subversion” of the balance of powers principle. But not the one Mike Lee's talking about, the other one. The balance of power between labor and capital in a country in which the wealthiest 1% pay lower income tax rates and lower social security tax rates than everybody else; where CEO’s are paid 300 times more than the average worker (up from 20 times more in 1965); where the minimum wage (adjusted for inflation) is actually lower today than it was in 1968; and where unions are being legislated out of existence.

 “When the day comes, when the wealth of the nation will be in the hands of a few, then we must…re-adjust the laws of the nation to the changed conditions.”

That’s not Elizabeth Warren talking. It’s James Madison.