by Chris Theodore
In 2011, the Congressional Budget Office issued a report with staggering significance. They reported that for three decades—from 1981 to 2011— income of 90% of Americans stagnated and for most of the 90%, declined. This is all the more remarkable because total US economic output grew enormously over this period. But most of the 90% of Americans who put their shoulder to the wheel to create that extra output saw their income decline. Robert Wade of The London School of Economics says that during this 30-year period, there was an annual $1.5 trillion upward redistribution from the bottom 90% of Americans to the top 1%, which was promoted by government leaders in the context of a stable democracy and occurred with the consent of the people.
Before asking how this could happen, it’s good to remember the meaning of these statistics and the people behind them, including the human suffering and the destruction of families from economic loss and devastation. If we attach the sleepless nights of those who are represented by those numbers, or the ripping apart of families from divorce as a result of poverty, and the children scarred from witnessing these things, we are more aware of the real significance of these numbers. How could anyone pull off an upward redistribution of such scale in a country of people who are the most productive, best educated and most heavily-armed on earth? In a working democracy, where people hold power on how they are governed, public opinion is government because it is the manifestation of public will. We grow up believing that for people to experience the best possible government and enjoy freedom and prosperity, government must be a manifestation of our will. And our will and opinion is shaped by the information we receive— so it is understood the information we receive is vital to the functioning of our democracy.
What is less understood is how much control over public opinion— and thus government and policy— a handful of persons have been able to amass over the last thirty years which has destroyed the vitality of our national discourse, created radio extremists who divide and conquer the middle class, and which leads to a nation giving consent or unaware of things like upward redistributions of $1.5 trillion annually to 1% of Americans.
In 1981, fifty companies controlled 90% of American media, which meant fifty unelected CEOs wielded control-- through shaping public opinion and public will-- of the governing of our nation. By 2011 this concentration of power and its destructiveness to the integrity of our democracy grew ever more concentrated . The fifty companies were consolidated into six enormous companies— GE, News Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner, CBS— with unprecedented control over Americans’ judgement, including control of 13 of the top 20 news websites, and earned together $275 billion in 2010.
Is it a coincidence that 90% of Americans achieved no income growth or declined in income over the same three decades that these six companies consolidated economic power and control of informaton in the US? What was the responsibility of these media companies to the American people over these 30 years? Given the fact that during this period of tremendous growth for these information companies millions of Americans lost their homes, families disintegrated from divorce, and millions became homeless, people from every political party should reassess the role of these six media companies in manufacturing their consent. Behind commentators with $300,000 wardrobes and their winning, warm smiles it would appear as if the unspoken strategy for thirty years been to distract and misinform Americans while they are stripped of economic power.
We believe that every moment the country does not have a nationwide information source free of the influence of these six companies is a moment in which people are at the mercy of a machine which churned out distraction and misinformation during a thirty year period of decline for 90% of Americans. Every moment the country has an independent, nationwide information source free of the influence of these six companies is a moment in which the the truth can illuminate what is wrong within our system, and help everyone— not only a few— realize the dream of America.