Friday, November 26, 2010

America's plutocracy

Why are the US Houses of Congress so unrepresentative of America's people, and so eager to ignore the issues (such as jobs and healthcare) which matter to them? Simple: because they're all rich. Almost half of the US's elected representatives are millionaires, compared to just 1% in the overall population. 55 of them - 10% - are worth more than US$10 million. And this doesn't include the value of their homes, which would inflate things even more.

This isn't a question of Republicans vs Democrats. Its a bipartisan plutocracy. But the result is that the US's "House of Representatives" isn't - it represents only a narrow slice of people at the very top. They're just not in the same boat as the people they purport to represent. Which explains why they're so obsessed with top-end tax cuts (which they benefit from) while refusing to roll over unemployment benefits (which they cannot imagine themselves or anyone they know ever using, even in the worst recession in 70 years).

It would be interesting to see similar statistics for New Zealand; unfortunately our declarations of pecuniary interests are designed to obscure rather than cast light. But I suspect that we're nowhere near as bad. We have higher social mobility, fewer intergenerational political dynasties, and a flatter social structure which means that the wealthy lead largely the same sorts of lives as the rest of us. Our MPs are drawn from us, and largely in the same boat. The high pay of MPs puts them in the top 3% of income earners, but that happens after they've been elected. Which means the barriers grow up in office rather than existing from the start.