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Nichols writes: "If the US Senate really is the world's greatest deliberative body, it ought to consider consequential questions. That does not happen often in a Senate where trivia tends too frequently to triumph over issues of substance."

Sen. Bernie Sanders at a markup meeting of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, 03/21/13. (photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Sen. Bernie Sanders at a markup meeting of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, 03/21/13. (photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Bernie Sanders Asks Fed Chair Whether the US Is an Oligarchy

By John Nichols, The Nation

09 May 14


f the US Senate really is the world’s greatest deliberative body, it ought to consider consequential questions. That does not happen often in a Senate where trivia tends too frequently to triumph over issues of substance. But Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, raised what might just be the most substantial issue of all Wednesday, at a Joint Economic Committee hearing where Federal Reserve board chair Janet Yellen was testifying.

The senator began with the facts: “In the US today, the top 1 percent own about 38 percent of the financial wealth of America. The bottom 60 percent own 2.3 percent. One family, the Walton family, is worth over $140 billion; that’s more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of the American people. In recent years, we have seen a huge increase in the number of millionaires and billionaires, while we continue to have the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world. Despite, as many of my Republican friends talk about ‘the oppressive Obama economic policies,’ in the last year Charles and David Koch struggled under these policies and their wealth increased by $12 billion in one year. In terms of income, 95 percent of new income generated in this country in the last year went to the top 1 percent.“

Sanders then introduced an academic study, by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, that concludes, “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

That sounds like an oligarchy.

So Sanders asked Yellen: “In your judgment, given the enormous power held by the billionaire class and their political representatives, are we still a capitalist democracy or have we gone over to an oligarchic form of society in which incredible enormous economic and political power now rests with the billionaire class?”

Yellen did not answer “yes.” But she did say, “There’s no question that we’ve had a trend toward growing inequality and I personally find it a very worrisome trend that deserves the attention of policy makers.”

She also expressed concern that trends toward growing inequality “can shape [and] determine the ability of different groups to participate equally in a democracy and have grave effects on social stability over time.”

Sanders asked another question, as well: “There comes a point where the billionaire class has so much political power, where the Koch brothers are now because of Citizens United able to buy and sell politicians; they have so much political power, at what point is that reversible?”

The senator did not press Yellen for an answer to that question. And her responses to inquiries about Republican proposals to cut the estate tax and otherwise steer wealth upward suggested that the Fed chair believes Congress has policymaking duties in this regard.

Ultimately, questions about oligarchy come back to politics, something Sanders well understands. He’s been arguing that core question regarding the concentration of economic and political power need to be addressed not just by politicians but by voters—with choices made in 2014 and 2016. As he explained recently, “[This] country faces more serious problems than at any time since the Great Depression, and there is a horrendous lack of serious political discourse or ideas out there that can address these crises, and that somebody has got to represent the working-class and the middle-class of this country in standing up to the big-money interests who have so much power over the economic and political life of this country.”

The issues are so consequential, Sanders says, that he is thinking about mounting a presidential campaign that would ask the American people whether they want to live in an oligarchic form of society. your social media marketing partner


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+9 # tswhiskers 2014-05-09 14:23
It's high time both Hillary and Bernie either **** or get off the pot. It's no more than 11/2 yrs. to the 2016 election. They've been THINKING about running for a long time. I still think we could do better with a more liberal candidate than Hillary, but I'll vote for her if she runs. The 2016 run will be at least as contentious as the 2012 was, if not more so. Surely it wouldn't hurt to get an early start and hopeful get rid of any dark or dirty histories ASAP. One would think Hillary has been thoroughly vetted but the Reps. are bulldogs when it comes to creating scandals from little or nothing and keeping them alive as long as they can. Surely the Dems. can make even more hay by touting the Rep. platform for the next administration (there isn't one) and the GOP alternative to the ACA (again, there isn't one). Short of cutting taxes on the top few percent, destroying Roe v. Wade and continuing to destroy our constitutional right to vote state by state, what EXACTLY do the Reps. have to run on? And are Rep. voters really so stupid as to fall for so politically bankrupt an institution as the GOP has become? The sad thing is, maybe they are.
+14 # PeacefulGarden 2014-05-09 16:20
Dear Mr. Sanders,

The American people want an oligarchy. Why they want this is beyond me and the chorus of readers of this web site. Sadly, this sugar, salt, fat, and processed food eating clump of people just want to eat more sugar, salt, and fat. Then they want to watch a show that requires very little cognitive effort, something with a lot of violence, so they feel in effect, that they are in a safe dream like narrative with Kevin Costner protecting them from the bad guys who are out to destroy Wall Street.

It is dreadful to express this horrible thought about the people of the United States, but this is our current reality. We didn't get to this point by mistake. It took a lot of effort from our government. Isn't there a famous Chinese saying, "Keep their stomachs full and their minds empty and you can keep the peace." Something like that, I think. It is going to take about 100 years to turn this around, possibly 500 years.

How any Republican or Democrat, those who created this mess, gets elected to any office, from school board to president, is the biggest puzzle in my mind.

"Why would any American vote for a Republican or a Democrat?", said with a snarky tone, and snarky music in the background should be your election slogan.

Good luck Mr. Sanders.
+1 # tswhiskers 2014-05-10 09:11
I see you subscribe to the "bread and circuses" theory to sooth the masses. It worked well enough for the Romans and so far, it seems to be working for us too. But I heard an encouraging remark at the primary poll on Tues. A staunch Rep. complained that the Republican Party had left him, that he was the same moderate he'd always been. So maybe....
+24 # dsepeczi 2014-05-09 17:08
Run, Bernie, run !!! Please don't leave Hillary as our best option because the working class really can't survive much longer by choosing the "lesser of two evils". We need someone that will take on the oligarchs, head on !
+3 # Archie1954 2014-05-09 22:19
The US senate is not the greatest deliberative body in the World and actually never has been. That title belongs to a much older and more respected institution, the Mother of all Parliaments.
+14 # Sal Hepatica 2014-05-09 23:02
In the big picture and the long-run,there' s little difference between Democrats and Republicans. Hillary is a hawk and will just mouth platitudes to please the cameras and will set about pleasing the 1%.

I regret voting for Obama, and I won't vote for Hillary or for any "mainstream" political hack.
+9 # bdeja 2014-05-10 08:06
But as horrible as the democrats have been, republicans are sociopathic. They are callous, craven, greedy, and immoral.
+2 # MendoChuck 2014-05-10 12:44
Awesome . . . .
That's two of us.
Are there anymore out there?
+5 # suziemama 2014-05-09 23:18
I hope Senator Bernie Sanders and Dr. Jill Stein will team up and form the GREEN PARTY ticket.... and the sooner the better so we can start organizing now.
+4 # Tigre1 2014-05-10 08:04
Give US the damn bills,, put them on the floor of the Senate, very clear choices, let the sobs vote what their leash-jerkers tell them...we'll do the rest.

Make them prove who they work for. I've been preaching about the Koch dynasty for five years now. Takes a while for congresscreatur es to catch up, I know:

but just give out the simple bills...curb the Kochs and the upper five percent, go on,
bernie, put out LOTS of simple bills like that, let Reid or the floor kill them...we'll take care of the simple-minded sobs.
Legally, too...mostly.
+1 # Yakpsyche 2014-05-10 16:29
"ask the American people whether they want to live in an oligarchic form of society".

That's a good one to ask. Another good one to ask the American people is if American resources should be committed in the attempt to make America the ruler of an empire that dominates the planet.

Of course, if we already have an oligarchy, then whatever the American people say will not matter.
+1 # Buddha 2014-05-14 12:31
The Milquetoast response from Yellen shows that like all the Wall St. insiders, America becoming an Oligarchy is pretty much the system they setup, working as intended.

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