image A Rising Issue in a Plummeting Nation

Grady MacMillan

What is the United States? Is it really the land of the free and the home of the brave? Is it really a democracy or a republic? An oligarchy is defined as a form of government in which all power is vested in a dominant class or clique; government by the few (Dictionary.com). If you asked an American on the street if this definition could be used to describe the United States government, they would most likely disagree. Sadly, in the United States, our citizens are too focused on the few things that “make America great” like gun rights and state versus federal laws. Our citizens aren’t focused enough on the many negative topics that are shied away from, which makes them not well rounded citizens.

Breaking away from only focusing on the positives is difficult, infact it seems as if expanding the hidden truth easier than diminishing it. What is this hidden truth? The rich of this country trample over the poor as they please. Many have said it in a scholarly and more poetic fashion, but I believe this is the most basic way to say it. As of 2014, the wealthiest 1% of this country controlled a whopping 40% of the country’s wealth while the bottom 80% only controls 7% (Boyer). A research study done on 55 countries showed that America being the wealthiest country, also had the largest wealth gap. That means that we have the most amount of wealth for the least amount of people (Sherman). If we weren’t as powerful and wealthy of a country, the task of bridging this wealth gap may be easier. Just because the task is difficult, does not change that it is morally wrong to not try and fix one of our country’s biggest and growing problems.

The graph above shows the growing wealth gap not only in the United States, but the whole world.
The graph above shows the growing wealth gap not only in the United States, but the whole world.

Fixing this task has been proved to be no easy feat, especially because the rich are controlling the everyday person. If we want to truly be a country boasting democracy, money cannot affect policy makers. When policy makers vote one way or another based on who with money is showing support, the never ending cycle of wealth equalling power never ends. When a politician speaks publicly the content is usually filtered by money. Whether the issue seems important or not, money always tends to intervene with politics. The example of measure 92 in Oregon which tried to put labels on all GMO products is a good example of how money can influence decision making. Fundraising for voting no on measure 92 more than doubled those in favor of measure 92. Much of this funding came from the east coast, and nearly all of it was from big time corporations. Monsanto Company, a company known for its production of GMO-filled products along with companies like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Kellogg donated to the opposition of measure 92. 100% of the opposition’s fundraising came from out of state on an in state issue (Friesen). This example only proves how corporations many support daily are using their money for power.

Locations where fundraising took place for Oregon measure 92. The green is donations in support of measure 92 and the purple is opposing measure 92.
Locations where fundraising took place for Oregon measure 92. The green is donations in support of measure 92 and the purple is opposing measure 92.

I thought in this country everyone had an equal and fair opportunity? As I’ve grown up I’ve started to hear this less and less, as our country grows farther and farther apart. Education is key in making much needed change, but it is difficult when our students are being outperformed by students in other countries. How can we make the argument that we are the brightest and the strongest when the next generation who holds our fate is losing? (Ryan) Education in the classroom won’t be the only step our country needs to take to cut the wealth gap. Sweden, a country known for top notch education and equality, has the second largest gap between the rich and poor (Forbes). This raises the question as to what education needs to be done outside the classroom to better this country. Book smarts won’t solve all our problems because we need to make our next generation politically aware (Ryan). Earlier in the semester, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, resonated with me as a symbol for the average American person. Youth in particular are not educated on “boring” topics that tend to actually be really interesting such as, wealth gap, gentrification, and even subjects as simple as how our government functions. Without an educated next generation, our society will prove yet again that we aren’t above this wealth gap. Letting politicians being puppeteered by corporations tell us what is “right for the people” isn’t getting us anywhere. Whether you are 10 or 50, it is never too late to become an active and educated citizen.
This class has taught me both how important being an active citizen is, and how to be an active citizen. It isn’t enough to retain these political skills, they need to be put into use. If I’ve learned anything, it is that in the political world it is the effort that counts. Speaking on an issue or going and talking to your state representative could be the first step to inspiring a person or starting a conversation. Examples of movements like Occupy Wall Street that expand discussion around issues like wealth inequality, prove that lazy citizens result terrible governments and active citizens create productive governments. A lot of citizens say they are happy or unhappy with our government, but they don’t really know why. This class had helped me formulate an opinion on a range of political issues through taking action. Without a class like this I would feel a bit more lost as the presidential elections arrive especially because there is no government class required in the state of Oregon (Oregon Department of Education). As us high schoolers get older it becomes more of our duty to impact the world for the better and it starts here.

Works Cited
Bailey, Michael. “The Two Sides of Money in Politics: A Synthesis and Framework.” Election Law Journal 3.4 (2004): 653-69. Mary Ann Liebert Inc., 2004. Web.

Boyer, David. “Obama to Use State of the Union as Opening Salvo in 2014 Midterms.” Washington Times. The Washington Times, 26 Jan. 2014. Web. 28 Jan. 2016.

“Diploma – Credit Requirements – Oregon Department of Education.”Diploma – Credit Requirements – Oregon Department of Education. Oregon Department of Education, n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2016.

Friesen, Mark. “2014 Oregon GMO Measure Fundraising.” OregonLive.com. The Oregonian, 6 Nov. 2014. Web.

Ryan, Julia. “American Schools vs. the World.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 3 Dec. 2013. Web. 28 Jan. 2016.

Sherman, Erik. “America Is the Richest, and Most Unequal, Country.”Fortune America Is the Richest and Most Unequal Country Comments. N.p., 30 Sept. 2015. Web. 28 Jan. 2016.

“Wealth Inequality in the United States.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web.28 Jan.2016.

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2 comments

  1. Very rare post Grady, I’m happy you took the time to educate the people about wealth inequality in America. Question: Why do we as a nation (and globe) prefer capitalism for our economic model? Is it because capitalism is objectively the best economic model, or it just because we are so prone to materialism and wanting to build status? What’s going on here?

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    • While I think measure 92 rightfully failed (almost everything we eat is genetically modified in some way), there is no denying the effect that money had on the issue. Another thing that you hit the nail on the head with is the necessity of equality of opportunity. Money can have a huge effect on the opportunities that people have and it is only right that we try to mitigate that gap.

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