Taxing the Rich Isn’t Enough: Family Dynasties in America

My family has been wealthy for hundreds of years – with a lot of government help along the way.

My ancestors had a plantation with slaves, which began with a royal land grant. Their state government went to war to protect their “right” to make money from slavery. The family’s wealth and influence was setback during Reconstruction, but was quickly recovered through political power gained during the white supremacist takeover of state government post-Reconstruction.

In the early 20th century, ancestors on both sides of my family made fortunes off industrial ventures that were capitalized from their county’s wealth, which was generated by the slavery-replacing sharecropper debt-peonage system. They were extremely anti-union in their management of every business they ran/run and the state government made their anti-working-class bias the law of the land by passing “right to work” laws. Their political connections and wealth won them a regulated monopoly in a growth industry for the 40 years following WWII. For generations, the children in my family received inexpensive educations at flagship publicly funded universities (when those institutions were limited to serving wealthy white males). Today, many of my family members are still heavily involved in government as politicians, judges, lobbyists, and campaign fundraisers. And they are still in business, mostly as corporate lawyers or investors making money by having money – income which the government charitably taxes at only 15%!

To be clear, my family members are generally well-meaning, god-fearing people who work very hard. Most of them believe that the family’s long prosperity has been won fair and square through hard work – unaware of or forgetting the many leg-ups the family has received from government along the way. But while family members have worked and do work extremely hard, that doesn’t mean they’ve earned their wealth. Millions of people work long hours their whole lives and never get out of being working poor. I doubt that could be the case if everyone was the beneficiary of government land grants, was given ownership of a regulated monopoly, and was wealthy enough from those ventures that they could just make money from having money. I doubt it would be possible for people to work long hours their whole lives and still be poor if government did not side with the owning class so often when working people call for a living wage, safe working conditions, or healthcare.

The fact that political and financial family dynasties like my family’s can persist for centuries is not good for America. These dynasties do not persist in spite of our governments (a well-perpetuated myth). They persist with the help of elected office holders at every turn! For example, the Pennsylvania state police only came into existence when wealthy mill and mine owners looked to elected officials to help them put down workers striking for safer working conditions and slightly better pay.

Nearly every great American mining, forestry and agribusiness fortune was made possible by taxpayer money spent expelling Native Americans and fighting the British, French and Spanish! Elected officials created the great private railway fortunes by granting millions of acres of land for right-of-ways that are still the back-bone of rail line monopolies to this day! The list goes on.

Taxing us One Percenters more is important, very important, because we get way more than our fair share of services and leg-ups from government. But it is not enough.
Working and middle class people need to win the majority of public offices in our governments before our governments are going to stop subsidizing the 1% and become fully responsive to the needs of the 99%. The majority of office holders in too many of our elected bodies are owning-class (meaning they earn enough income from assets that working isn’t a requirement for paying their basic bills). Many people know that high profile bodies, like our US Senate, are full of millionaires. But smaller elected bodies, such as town councils, are often populated with a disproportionate share of large landowners, wealthy business owners and high-earning professionals.

We can’t expect owning-class office holders to vote against what they perceive as their own best interest. And, we can’t be surprised when they exercise the powers of their political office on behalf of other owning class people – whether that be calling out the police to disband non-violent protests outside corporate offices or voting for bailouts that only help the wealthy. Thus, we need people in office who want to use the government’s power and money for lifting everyone up.

Please, 99 Percenters, get people from your communities to run for office. Every office. Each election cycle, go find out what offices are coming up for election and find someone to run for every single office, from the most humble local position to national ones. Make it a slate of candidates. Your slate doesn’t need to be made up of experts. Candidates can get plenty of governance training while gearing up for the campaign, while campaigning and on arrival in office. Get people on appointed committees like your local board of elections so that tampering of the election process can be stopped/exposed. And, of course, get people registered to vote and out to the polls on election day – but make sure you’ve gotten your candidates on the ballot first!

If my family’s story sounds like an anomaly to you, it is probably only because it is highly uncomfortable/unusual for anyone to come out and tell the truth about their family’s wealth. Because I’ve been educated (debt free) in private schools alongside kids from other wealthy families, I know dozens such stories. For an in-depth look at another such story, check out the documentary Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North. My family’s story is not an anomaly.

P.S. Why am I making this post anonymously? Because my story is my family’s story. Since I can’t tell my story without telling my family’s story and my family wouldn’t want their story “out there” in such blunt and unflattering terms, I don’t want to identify myself and thus identify them.

1 Response

  1. Planck

    Local county, state, and national parties decide who runs in elections at every level. They hand out the talking points and party lines. They give money to buy advertising when they want a candidate to win. They also politicize judgeships. Starting new parties is also made difficult by these types of families because of state laws requiring petitions. The fact is, these families have the money and as long as elections are allowed to take private money, the ones with private money will own party committees and elections.

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