Bernard Sanders on oligarchy, from the Congressional Record Feb. 10, 1994

Bernard Sanders on oligarchy
comments taken from the congressional record of Feb. 10, 1994
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From: JOHN W. CONOVER < EL-JWC@NICH-NSUNET.NICH.EDU >
To: Forum for the Discussion of Politics < POLITICS@UCF1VM.BITNET >
Date: Thu, 24 Feb 1994 16:25:03 CST
Subject: Congressional Record excerpt - Bernard Sanders
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United States Representative Bernard Sanders
From the Congressional Record, Feb. 10, 1994:

Mr. Speaker, as the only Independent in the U.S. Congress, I have the responsibility to raise issues that my Democratic and Republican colleagues choose not to deal with. Let me briefly touch upon three issues of enormous consequence which, while ignored in Congress, must be addressed by the American people.

The U.S. is, increasingly, an oligarchy. The richest 1% of our population now owns 37% of the wealth, more than the bottom 90% of the people. The CEO's of the Forbes 500 corporations earn 157 times more than their average worker, and the gap between rich and poor is wider than anytime since the 1920's. From '83 to '89, 55% of the increase in family wealth accrued to the richest half of 1% of families, while the lower-middle and bottom wealth classes lost over $250 billion worth of wealth.

But oligarchy refers not just to the unfair distribution of wealth, but to the fact that the decisions which shape our consciousness and affect our lives are made by a very small and powerful group of people.

The mass media, tv, radio, newspapers, magazines, book publishers, movie and video companies, for example, is largely controlled by a few multinational corporations who determine the news and programming which we see, hear, and read -- and ultimately, what we believe. While violence, scandal, horror, sports, and Rush Limbaugh are given much attention, we are provided with virtually no deep analysis of the problems facing working people, or possible solutions to these problems.

Economic decisions which wreck the lives of millions of American families are made by a handful of CEO's. While these corporate leaders bemoan the breakdown of morality and law and order, they close down profitable companies, cut wages and benefits, deny retired workers their pensions and transport our jobs to third world countries. American workers, who have often given decades of their lives to these companies, have absolutely no say as to what happens to them on the job. They are powerless and expendable -- which is what oligarchy is all about.

The U.S. is becoming a Third World economy. The standard of living of the average American worker continues to decline. The real wages of American production workers have dropped by 20% in the last 20 years, as millions of decent paying jobs disappear. The new jobs that are being created are largely temporary, part time, low wage, and with few benefits.

20 years ago, the U.S. led the world in terms of the wages and benefits our workers received. Today, we are in 12th place. Our wages, health care, vacation time, parental leave, and educatinal opportunity lag behind much of the industrialized world. On the other hand, much of our economic and social life is more and more resembling that of the desperate third world.

22% of our children live in poverty. 5 million kids go hungry. Some 2 million Americans now lack permanent shelter or sleep out on the streets -- many of them mentally ill and 1 in 10 American families now puts food on the table only with the aid of food stamps. Tens of millions more survive, on bare subsistence, from paycheck to paycheck.

In more and more abandoned neighborhoods in America, a lack of jobs, income, education and hope have created an extraordinary climate of savagery and violence which more than equals that of many communities in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

The suffering and desperation in the Third World which we have distantly observed is now coming home as we become a Third World economy.

The simple fact is that the majority of Americans, and the vast majority of poor and working people, no longer believe that their Government is relevant to their lives. They understand very clearly that real power rests with a wealthy elite, and that voting for tweedle-dee or tweedle-dum is not going to change that reality or improve their lives.

If democracy is going to survive in this country, tens of millions of poor and working people are going to have to see the connection between their economic condition and the political process. They must vote not for the lesser of two evils, but for jobs, income, health care, and the dignity to which they, as human beings, are entitled. Only when that occurs will American democracy become revitalized.