George Washington Was Worth $525 Million and the 1 Percent Still Rules America Today

Does the 1% control our government? As Todd Phillips’ article on the Huffington Post makes clear, he thinks it does. Further, he thinks the 99% is too dumb and too overwhelmed to figure out what to do about it; he has an axe to grind.

The short answer is: YES. Rich people have controlled the United States’ government ever since it was created, in 1789. In today’s dollars, George Washington was worth about $525 million; John Adams, about $19 million; Thomas Jefferson, $212 million and James Madison, $101 million. Total net worth of our first 4 presidents: $857 million. Just because it’s a fun fact to know and tell: the total net worth of President Obama and his three predecessors in office: $86 million.

Phillips’ article is worthwhile in that it explains both the complexity of our government and the perennial difficulty – faced by the Framers and still in force – of an electorate ill-equipped to comprehend every detail of every bit of legislative and diplomatic nicety required to maneuver the ship of state through the dangerous waters in which she sails.

The Framers of the Constitution attempted to solve the issue through representative government with a bicameral legislature: the lower house to be a closer representation of the will and temper of the populace at large. The upper house was intended to be more deliberative and more representative of the “educated” or “nuanced” viewpoints. It hasn’t always worked out that way but by and large, up until the recent introduction of enormous and unaccounted-for sums of money into the electoral process, it did work.

The way politics functions is through special interests, as Phillips points out. Special interests can be anything: Big Oil or Big Banking of course, but also People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, NARAL, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, or a group of your neighbors who want the potholes on your street filled.

People who are passionate about an issue: animal welfare, a woman’s right to choose, finding a cure for breast cancer, filling potholes, get together and do their thing. They raise awareness; they sponsor events to raise money in order to do … what? To donate to politicians who support their cause.

Now, suppose you are running for a seat in your state legislature and the group who wants the potholes filled gets in touch with you. By golly, they’re in your district and you’re for fixing the potholes too, so you reach an agreement and they give you money for your campaign. So do the Susan G. Komen people and so does the CEO of the company in your district that dumps PCPs (which might cause breast cancer). Hmmm…better think about that when the time comes to vote on that tax break for the company. Why? The CEO gave you more money but there are 3500 Komen supporters in your district and they vote. Do you want to be re-elected or not?

And that is the secret to the 1% conundrum: there are more of us than there are of them. America still operates on the principle of One Person, One Vote, so the CEO’s vote isn’t “worth” any more than any other individual’s vote. Put all together, however, the Komen supporters and the pothole supporters make a sizeable constituency.

To be continued.