while driving their kids to piano lessons:
The ‘Merit-Based Society’
In a speech in Washington in December, Romney described his ideal society:In a merit-based society, people achieve success and rewards through hard work, education, risk taking, and even a little luck. The founders considered this principle to be one endowed by our Creator, and called it the ‘pursuit of happiness.’ We call it opportunity, or we call it the freedom to choose our course in life....The rise of meritocratic competition as the preeminent means of social stratification in America has been hailed as a welcome advance because it replaced a society dominated by an upper class dependent on inherited wealth and status. The transition to meritocracy has, however, had unintended consequences. ...
Over the past two decades, newly minted corporate titans have used political power to minimize taxation on their principal sources of income, winning preferential rates on capital gains and dividends — and have nearly eliminated taxation on the intergenerational transfer of wealth, brilliantly exploiting the term “death tax.”
One industry in particular — the financial sector — has used its power to gain an enormous advantage at public expense persuading the government to dismantle much of the federal regulatory structure. The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, a 10-member bipartisan panel appointed in 2009 by congressional leaders of both parties, reported in January 2011 that “from 1997 to 2008, the financial sector expended $2.7 billion in reported federal lobbying expenses; individuals and political action committees in the sector made more that $1 billion in campaign contributions” to achieve what the commission described as “deregulation redux.”
Campaign contributions are among the most important weapons deployed by new corporate elites. The finance industry, for example, has given more money, $19 million, to the Romney campaign than any other sector, quadrupling its nearest competitor, real estate, which contributed 4.8 million.
...the use of campaign contributions by those who have become wealthy in an “opportunity society” to protect predatory practices can be seen in recent donations by payday loan and auto-title lending companies, which are often located near military bases. Bloomberg Businessweek reported a surge in contributions from these firms to Romney’s super PAC, Restore Our Future, from mid-January through the end of February 2012. The contributions followed Romney’s denunciation on January 4th of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — which is preparing to regulate the payday loan industry and other “non-bank” lenders — as “perhaps the most powerful and unaccountable bureaucracy in the history of our nation.”
One payday loan company, Advance America, gave the super PAC $25,000. ...In Alabama, a $500 loan carries an $87.50 fee, which must be paid off at the next payday. This translates into an annual interest rate of 456.25 percent, according to the firm’s web site. In Texas, a $500 loan carries a $102.27 fee, or an annual interest rate of 533.30 percent.
Martin Gilens, a political scientist at Princeton, conducted a study of the relative influence of voters at the top, middle and bottom of the income distribution over policy decisions made by elected officials.Policy outcomes are more strongly related to the preferences of the well off than those of the poor or the middle class. But the extent of this “representational inequality” is staggering: when preferences of low or middle income Americans diverge from those of the affluent, there is virtually no relationship between policy outcomes and the desires of these less advantaged groups. In contrast, affluent Americans’ preferences exhibit a substantial relationship with policy outcomes whether their preferences are shared by lower income groups or not.Campaign contributions, according to Gilens, are highly correlated with the leverage of the affluent over policy.
Not only would Romney’s tax, regulatory and spending proposals reinforce the leverage over public policy now exercised by the affluent, but he would leave untouched the post-Citizens United campaign finance regime that gives corporations, unions and billionaires unlimited opportunities to shape election outcomes.
Nor would Romney reform the Washington lobbying community that now amounts to a fourth branch of government, staffed by former Senators, Congressmen and executive branch officials, who work for clients equipped to pay fees of $200,000 or more a year.
The overwhelming majority of the $3.3 billion spent annually on lobbying goes to preserve and expand the market-distorting corporate “rents” granted by Congress and the executive branch, ranging from agribusiness subsidies to an array of special breaks that allow companies like G.E. to pay little or no federal tax.
Romney has no incentive to initiate reform — he is a major beneficiary of the system as it is.