Keep Your Eyes on the Money: The Wealth Inequities of Current Policy Changes

By Holly Avey

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Let’s talk about wealth inequities. The current presidential administration, including the vice president, the chief of staff, and the emerging cabinet, have more wealth than one-third of Americans combined. Concentrated wealth creates concentrated power. And indications suggest that this particular group of very wealthy individuals may be more likely to act in their own interests than other wealthy leaders in the past.

What is wealth?

The wealthy have different policy priorities.

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This explains findings from another recent study, summarized by Demos, that shows that the wealthy (those with an average annual income of more than $1 million) have different policy priorities than the rest of the public.

Also, anti-immigration sentiments grow when wealth inequities worsen.

“Inequality is largely the result of public policy decisions that reflect undue influence by the wealthy over the U.S. political system.” (Demos)

With this in mind, let’s look at how the president’s policy agenda affects the wealthy vs. low-income communities…

  • On consumer protections in banking and finance—The Dodd-Frank financial reform law was created to regulate and oversee the powers of the financing industry and Wall Street. Among many other elements, it created the independent Consumer Protection Financial Bureau, which, during its five years of existence, has collected $11.7 billion in fines and settlements from large banks and debt relief companies that defrauded their customers. Dodd-Frank also includes a fiduciary rule that requires brokers to offer advice that is in the best interest of their clients, rather than suggesting investments that give the brokers the best commissions. The current administration has announced a rollback on Dodd-Frank, including an executive order that delays implementation of the fiduciary rule.
  • On environmental protections and the energy industry—The president already signed an executive order to dismantle environmental protections. Despite promises that these changes may create new jobs in impoverished areas, a review by the Office of Management and Budget found that EPA regulations have benefited the economy. When environmental regulations are not in place and climate change accelerates, studies also show that those in poverty are the most vulnerable to climate impacts.
  • On public education—The voucher plan proposed by Secretary of Education DeVos is anticipated to exacerbate inequality by diverting money away from public schools to private school options that would more likely benefit children of the wealthy.
  • On the criminalization of immigration (for people of color)—A hardline stance on crime and immigration will have devastating and disproportionate effects on the health and safety of the poor and people of color. Arresting more people and detaining more immigrants would also create a boost for the private prison industry, and stocks for these companies are already showing dramatic increases. Similarly, talk of a border wall with Mexico has caused increases in the stocks of the three companies most likely to construct it.

Promoting and protecting health and equity during these challenging times requires both short- and long-term approaches.

1. Reduce the economic inequality that fuels such a large concentration of civic power in the hands of the wealthy.

2. Reduce the influence of big money in politics.

3. Draw more ordinary people into civic life as a counterbalance to concentrated wealth.

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