David Hogg blames a specific group of people for the problems of the world today and wants voters to “reject” them: Wealthy People.
Hogg is a student activist and survivor of the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Like most high school seniors, Hogg has taken up political activism with the kind of confident certitude of much older, more experience people. During an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Hogg expressed his hopes for how people in his generation will vote come the midterm elections in November.
Hogg says young voters represent a coming “shift in America…that when wealthier people are running, younger people are starting to think: ‘Why would these people want to fix the world that, quite frankly, a lot of us think that they messed up?’” If this bit of speculation proves true, it would mark a stark contrast to just two years ago when a garish, reality-television billionaire won the highest office in the land. The most important job a voter has is to be informed, so is Hogg right? Have wealthy Americans “messed up” the country? The answer, like everything about America, is complicated.
America the Free or America the Oligarchy?
After the election of President Barack Obama in 2008, a grassroots movement on the right rose up in response to the Democratic electoral success. This time around it is the GOP who holds the White House and both chambers of the Congress, and the Tea Party of the left can be found among a new “wing” of the Democratic party. United by the failed candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders, progressives believe something all of our grandmothers told us once: Money is the root of all evil. They claim that America functions as an oligarchy where moneyed interests dictate the actions of government officials.
This is a fair debate to have, and one any free-market republic should have often. However, it’s not accurate to say that America is an oligarchy. In 2014, a study saying just that made headlines. Its findings are often treated as gospel by those who perennially feel failed by the system. Yet, three follow-up studies found that America doesn’t actually work that way. If anything, the middle class gets their way most of the time. However, their interests align with the very wealthy in eight out of ten situations. So, those on the lower income levels don’t often see their interests represented in government. Just not for the reason they think.
The World Is Actually Better Off Than It’s Ever Been
As a survivor of a very specific tragedy, it’s no wonder that Hogg feels as if his government failed him. In fact, there are countless issues that are all very important and deserve the good-faith effort of the public and private sector to solve. However, the world today is better off than its ever been in history, well at least the humans living in it are. Thanks to technology and social media, we are able to learn about more tragedies than we ever have before. This can make it seem like only bad things are happening, but that’s just not true. In fact, we live in a time of technological and economic expansion unlike any other in human history.
Since 1950, the percentage of people on the planet Earth living in extreme poverty has gone down around 40 percent. Industrialization and the technology economy has created opportunities in places where there weren’t many decades ago. Also, more humans are cheating death than ever before. Thanks to medical advancement, many we now take for granted, people are living longer and healthier lives. War is always horrible, but today they are less deadly. So, from this point of view the world isn’t messed up at all. Even when it comes to large-scale problems like climate change and the world’s reliance on fossil fuels, new technologies promise to solve those problems for us.
How the Wealthy Can Influence Politics
Throughout American history, most of those who’ve held elected office at the state or federal level are people of means. In the case of presidents from Thomas Jefferson to Richard Nixon to President Trump. However, outside of actually running as a candidate, wealthy political donors play an outsized role in driving political messaging. The result of a Supreme Court ruling from a 2010 case known as Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission undid limits on political spending. The court ruled that money is tantamount to speech, so political action committees funded by private donors could effectively campaign for their preferred candidates. They didn't have to reveal whose money it was, but they can't interact directly with campaigns. Though there are plenty of loopholes.
Democrats and Republicans both have these wealth patrons, as they’ve become the targets of political scorn in recent years. Those who typically cheerlead for Republicans in the media tend to denigrate the donations of billionaire George Soros. Meanwhile those on the left take aim at people like Peter Thiel or Charles and David Koch. There is no question that all such political donors get some sort of return on their investment, but is it really worth it? As petty and silly as politics becomes in America, do your duty and vote, but maybe there are better ways to use wealth to influence public policy.
Take Direct Action Through Charity or Philanthropy
Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and many other of the wealthiest titans of industry today have pledged to donate the vast majority of their fortunes to their philanthropic legacy. Because of the tone and tenor of politics, even acts like this seem suspicious. However, they are often best way to ensure both that causes you care about are addressed and that the progress lives on past you. No one remembers who Dale Carnegie's or Andrew Mellon’s House Representatives or Senators were. However, their names live on at the institutions of learning, museums, and libraries that bear their names. Of course, you don’t have to be Dale Carnegie to win friends and influence people.
Instead of dumping your wealth into some politician’s campaign coffers, perhaps you can find a way to apply it to fix a problem. Whether it’s something as simple as donating to the local library or something like renovating a dilapidated park, you can make the world a better place one problem at a time. In fact, this could better the public perception of people of means in the post-2008 financial crisis America. It would mean that you become a part of your larger community rather than standing above it. Making sure that everyone has a chance to better themselves and their communities is what keeps America great.
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