The cataclysm in Japan pushed it off the front page, but last Friday was a landmark day in America as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed into law a controversial bill restricting the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions.
There's been a lot of talk, here and elsewhere, about whether the standoff in Wisconsin was about pure economics or partisan politics. (See: Wisconsin Lt. Gov: This Is About Balancing the Budget, Not Political Payback)
"It's pretty clear there's an agenda nationwide: Republican governors backed by the Koch Brothers [and] extreme right wing money want to crush the unions," says Columbia Professor Jeffrey Sachs. "The public is against it, but public opinion doesn't count much in this country these days." (Editor's note: The Koch Brothers have denied our repeated requests for an interview.)
But Sachs says the "real story" is much bigger than Wisconsin: It's about stagnant wages of public and private sector workers alike, and the increasing and increasingly pernicious role of big money in politics.
The following statistics speak to Sachs' first point:
- Since 1973, the median take home pay of full-time workers is virtually unchanged on an inflation-adjusted basis.
- The top 11,000 households in America have more income than the bottom 25 million.
- Since 1976, 58% of real income growth has gone to the top 1% of Americans.
"We've reached the greatest income [and] wealth inequality in history," Sachs says. "This is a new 'Robber Baron' era, of course."
And just like the titans of industry in 19th century America, "the people at the top buy the politicians," he laments. "All of them - all parties. Everyone is in the hands of the super wealthy." (See: D.C. Disconnect: Congress Represents Big Interests, Not YOUR Interests, Sachs Says)
Decrying a "shocking game that got out of hand," Sachs notes President Obama is seeking to raise $1 billion for his presumed reelection bid. "He's not going to get it from poor people, he's going to get it from rich people," Sachs says. "So when push comes to shove and rich people say 'we want our taxes cut', that's what happened."