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My Point of View: Piling up wealth, like manure, is inefficient in the country

My Point of View by Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

Does capitalism serve society or does society serve capital? After decades of Reagan’s influence and widening economic inequality, we are leaning toward the latter. Our regulatory environment and tax structures are organized to benefit a few at the top most of all, and our social safety net for everybody else is thin.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

The countries with the best social mobility and opportunities for young people are strong social democracies. Hence, the “American Dream” is now easier to achieve in Denmark than in the U.S. This is the price of our increasing economic inequality in the U.S. It’s the logical outcome of entrenching privilege behind the mirage of exceptionalism.

One person who achieved the “American Dream” in Denmark is immigrant businessman Djaffer Shalchil, whose mother cleaned hotels while he studied and worked hard to launch a business. In an interview with Anand Giridharadas, he credits Denmark’s system of child care, education, health care and social services for his ability to flourish as a child and to build a successful business as an adult. He said, “It has always been evident to me, however, that I have not risen all by my own efforts: that I am not a ‘self-made man,’ that the welfare state made me.”

Shalchil thinks that economies must be well-regulated and well-managed to thrive, and monopolies and billionaires should not exist in a healthy market environment. “Wealth is like manure: Spread it, and it makes everything grow; pile it up, and it stinks.”

Albert Lea has strong connections to Scandinavian heritage, including a large contingent of Danish immigrants who arrived in the late 1800s. New Denmark Park is located near downtown at the southern edge of a neighborhood that was once known as New Denmark. The statue of a young Dane seeking better opportunities stands hopefully above a fountain.

The irony a century later is that children growing up in Denmark now have better life chances (more social mobility) than those growing up in the U.S. This was not our fate; this was decades of policy-making that favors the already fortunate.

As most people around here have connections to agriculture in some way, we know intuitively that Shalchil’s manure metaphor makes sense. The nutrient cycle functions best when fertilizer is spread as necessary according to soil conditions and crop requirements. Over or under fertilizing does not produce the best overall yields.

Piling up wealth, like manure, is also inefficient.

Voters know this too, and electing Biden as president by a margin of over 7 million votes has already resulted in the passage of the American Rescue Plan. Biden is not stopping there — he is following up with a robust infrastructure package called the American Jobs Plan. While America is still the richest country on earth, much wealth has accumulated in few hands, and our core infrastructure has been neglected. It is visibly crumbling and falling behind. New investments in all manmade systems that connect us, which is vital for rural areas like ours, will spur economic growth for a generation or more

What is the Republican response to this? A rash of voter suppression bills in Republican-controlled Legislatures in dozens of states. As Sen. Raphael Warnock observed on the Senate floor, “We are witnessing right now a massive and unabashed assault on voting rights and voter access unlike anything we have since the Jim Crow era.”

This is not an accident, this is strategy. Over 40 years ago, the late Paul Weyrich, a conservative activist who co-founded the Heritage Foundation, told a group of Evangelical Christian leaders, “I don’t want everybody to vote. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

To protect voting rights of all American citizens, the U.S. House passed the For The People Act, and a showdown is coming in the Senate. Both of Minnesota’s senators are co-sponsors of the legislation. Amy Klobuchar stated the bill “would fundamentally improve our democracy by protecting voting rights, securing our election system and getting dark money out of our campaign system.”

Stopping dark money by preventing large donors from being able to shield their identities is extremely popular, except perhaps among the small group of nameless donors who don’t want exposure. A few boxes of tissue could dry all their tears.

The majority of voters reject obscene wealth and concentrated power. Democrats do the best job of creating opportunities, reinforcing the middle class and building an economy with widespread prosperity. Republicans’ answer is to lament “cancel culture” while systematically attempting to cancel voting rights.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson is a member of the Freeborn County DFL Party.