Peter Mathews’ ‘Dollar Democracy’ offers roadmap for Social and Economic Justice

examiner.com (book review originally printed by examiner.com)
by Bryon Delear
September 10, 2014: Updated 11/3/2014

In many ways our current economic paradigm is driven by wealth; wealth of resources, wealth of knowledge and so forth. The accumulation has been abundant as evidenced by the first Green Revolution which accelerated the rapid population growth of our species. In 1800, we were at one billion people. Starting in the 1940s, increases in agricultural productivity helped continue the upward curve with some end-of-century projections now standing at more than 10 billion souls. Only an overabundance of resources could support such exponential expansion—but in a world where democracy and notions of equality have also risen to unparalleled heights over the last two centuries, wealth, and in particular material wealth, has yet to be democratized in any substantive way. In fact, the gap between the rich and poor is growing.
     This is one of the many points driven home by college professor Peter Mathews in his new book, Dollar Democracy: With Liberty and Justice for Some. It’s not a novel argument, but Dollar Democracy does not claim to field a spate of innovations. Mathews’ book is a compendium of evidences and cases covering the historical background of how America’s experiment in democracy has been subverted to largely serve select interests. In a phrase, Big Money.
     Big Money rules the roost in Washington D.C. by steering legislators around by nose rings made of campaign contributions. Mathews, a former candidate himself, does not equivocate on the matter.

“Rich individuals and corporations hire lobbyists to walk into the offices of Congresspersons to whom they donated, and ask them to vote in favor of their corporate interests against the public interest.”

Veteran legislators serving the status quo might even get an honorary gold nose ring for their wound-up, toy robot loyalty—which is usually expressed by a punch-drunk dance of obfuscation whenever the topic of inequity is broached. Political theorist Noam Chomsky explains that often what is not discussed is really a symptom of these monied interests pulling the puppet strings.
     “One of the ways you control what people think,” says Chomsky, “is by creating the illusion that there’s a debate going on, but making sure that that debate stays within very narrow margins. Namely, you have to make sure that both sides in the debate accept certain assumptions, and those assumptions turn out to be the propaganda system. As long as everyone accepts the propaganda system, then you can have a debate.”
     The propaganda is served up by the mainstream media, which basically acts as the PR-arm of Big Money. Indeed, it’s this narrow field of debate that in many cases works to dilute the voice of everyday Americans with the greatest threat to democracy, perhaps, being the issues held in common by the two major political parties rather than the trivial issues of debate that separate them. For some, this may be hard to conceive of initially because the light-and-sound show we all almost constantly bathe in has been designed to accentuate conflict and debate as the chief means of capturing high ratings and advertising revenue—again, Big Money calling the shots to the point of, as Mathews describes, “selling out the American dream.” It’s a condition that reminds one of the infamous mantra from All The President’s Men—”follow the money”—a useful truism to diagnose what ills society in general.

Mathews explains, “The problem is that only the top 1% can afford to pay and get to play. The rest of America, the bottom 99%, can’t afford to pay and don’t get to play in the game of politics which effects many aspects of our lives: access to good jobs, quality affordable education, adequate health care, good roads and clean efficient public transit, safe neighborhood, good parks and recreation, public libraries, dependable infrastructure, after school academic and arts programs, and leisure time, such as guaranteed paid vacations, to spen with our children, families, and friends.”


Mathews laments the fact that the political machinery has been hijacked by special interests and has been manipulated into subservience to Wall Street. Shouldn’t policy be based primarily on its merits? Why can’t we have a robust debate where all Americans can be heard with at least some level of parity? These kinds of questions have been asked by reformers throughout the ages, and when certain conditions emerge, fundamental reform is a necessity—or else revolution becomes inevitable. If self-determination is a vaunted American ideal, surely much of the population, effectively silenced and suffering the conditions of wage slavery, has been closeted out of the “American dream.” Dollar Democracy delivers a progressive point of view which makes the case for political inclusion, not exclusion.
     The book also lays out charts and tables which show the structural imbalance instigated by Big Money… Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Insurance, Big Defense, Big Pharma—big, big, big. A Christ-like motif emerges which is woven throughout the fabric of progressivism: shouldn’t the least among us have a say? —that this is the spirit of democracy and equality, but in a world where wealth equals food, water, transportation, health care, education, access to power, the inequity we are beset with is staggering. Wealth amassed by a handful of people equals the wealth of half the nation and recent studies confirm the political bias that this engenders.

“The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing  business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.” ~ Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens by Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University. 

Clearly, we’re due for a gargantuan political enema and Mathews offers several real world solutions to help flush out the corruption.

 
Separation of ‘Buck’ and State
Just as much as the Separation of Church and State promotes religious freedom and works to eliminate prejudices and bigotry by supporting minority views, a new axiomatic ideal that contends with Big Money is needed. This axiomatic ideal must be made into law to elevate popular opinion and reassign control of our democracy to the people. One might call this the “Separation of ‘Buck’ and State.” The Separation of ‘Buck’ and State is an ethical wall built between our private and public institutions to get the corrupting influence of money out of our corridors of power.
     The current number of efforts and groups dedicated to this goal are legion. But these myriad movements toward fundamental campaign reform have one thing in common: they are all faced with confronting the weight, leverage, and control that makes up the very lifeblood of the global economy, and here it is again… Big Money. And Big Money pushes back hard. The disparity in power makes most efforts at reform look like “tilting at windmills.”
 
So what are we to do?
Mathews, a 30-year Professor of Political Science and former U.S. House candidate, opens Dollar Democracy with a quote from one of his heroes:

“Politics is not about power. Politics is not about money. Politics is not about winning for the sake of winning. Politics is about the improvement of people’s lives.” ~ U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone.


Indeed this is what politics should be about, but it’s not. What is needed is a plan to get it that way. Dollar Democracy offers a concrete roadmap for social and economic justice by going after root causes.
 
Clean Money is an incremental step towards the “Separation of ‘Buck’ and State,” or what Mathews calls a “Real Democracy.” Clean Money provides an alternative funding path for candidates for office. A candidate can declare that they are “running clean,” and after proving they have wide support among constituents (relatively speaking), the Clean Money candidate receives public financing for their campaign operations. Imagine that, a publicly supported campaign for public office. Seems obvious huh?
     Clean Money legislation has been initiated in several states but can’t seem to gain traction nationally because the gatekeepers are Congress itself. They are the masters of the current “pay to play” system and only give lip service to public financing of campaigns. Evidently, the cure for the political plague of Big Money is going to have to doctored in by the people.
 
Rise of Big Money and Corporate Personhood
Dollar Democracy documents corporate-sponsored Supreme Court rulings over the last century that have created the monster. Several legal abominations have been parasitically grafted onto Lady Liberty; one is, money isn’t “property” per se, it’s really Free Speech. Translation? Some people can buy a lot more Free Speech than others. So much so, that, as stated earlier, Big Money dominates the airwaves, the debate, and policies concocted in D.C.
     Another legal abomination is something called “Corporate Personhood” which grants the rights of Free Speech, religion, etc. to corporations. Problem is, this introduces into society an eternal “super-citizen” that, for example, can invest in 1000 candidates, buy 1000 homes, where you or I would be fortunate to own just one (home, that is, not owning a candidate, that’s what Big Money does).
     The most poignant distillation of Corporate Personhood I’ve ever heard was written by Jan Edwards and Molly Morgan in their 2004 paper, Abolish Corporate Personhood:

“Slavery is the legal fiction that a person is property. Corporate Personhood is the legal fiction that property is a person.”


So it’s imperative that we get this turned around. Mathews endorses a effort led by former Green Party presidential candidate David Cobb called “Move to Amend.” Move to Amend’s “We The People” 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution would “void Corporate Personhood and declare that Money Is Not Speech as understood by the 1st Amendment.” They have amassed hundreds of thousands of signatures in support of this effort and have introduced legislation.
There is one noteworthy tool for rebooting our political system not mentioned in Mathews’ book. The Article V Convention, which I’ve written about at length, is a method for change that is gaining in popularity. Essentially, when our Constitution was crafted, the Founders anticipated the eventual rise of a Federal government unwilling or unable to pass reforms that have wide support. In short, Congress is directed by the Constitution to convene a “convention for proposing amendments” should 2/3rds of the state legislatures apply for one. Over 700 applications have been sent in from 49 states (only 34 need apply), and yet, they’ve never been “counted” by Congress, so no convention. Yet.
     Dan Marks of ArticleV.org has formally asked Congress for an official count of the state applications, and Congress is, of course, trying to slow walk the request. Their fear is that if they really count the applications (which is their implicit duty), it will only confirm Congress’s dereliction over the last century. America should have had her first convention as early as 1911 as research by FOAVC co-founder Bill Walker has shown and is displayed on FOAVC’s website. Of course Congress would rather retain their unconstitutional monopoly over the power to propose amendments. So, much like public financing of campaigns, some occasional lip service is offered without any real recognition of this sacred right that’s never been allowed to see the light of day.
     There are “Fiver” activists from both the right and left supporting the Article V Convention who are trying to get past the polarizing issues of debate and work together. Things like Corporate Personhood and Money as Speech could be debated on the left, while a Balanced Budget Amendment could be debated on the right. Any ideas approved by the convention must go to the states before they’re added to our constitution—75% of the states then must agree which would eliminate anything radical. Overly partisan amendments would be nonstarters.
     The fact that the opportunity exists for everyday Americans to become more fully engaged and grab the reins of control from a cynical, professional political class is exciting and hopeful. Power back to the people. Or maybe, power to the people in ways never seen before. Meanwhile, Congress continues to violate the direct language of the Constitution by NOT counting the applications for a convention. They would rather us all go away and not bother them while they work. But as Dollar Democracy intones, it is self-evident who they’re working for, and it’s not us.
     With help from tireless activists like Peter Mathews who have been on the front lines for decades and do not show any signs of wavering, movements like Clean Money, Move to Amend, Friends of the Article V Convention, Convention of the States, Lawrence Lessig’s Mayday PAC, Cenk Ungur’s Wolf PAC, and countless others, will help pave the way for much-needed reforms. One thing’s for sure, we’re going to have to keep bothering them, especially while they work. Press in, check out Dollar Democracy, and join the fray.

Reviewers statement: A copy of Dollar Democracy: With Liberty and Justice for Some’ was provided by publicist Ilene Proctor, and the author, Peter Mathews, was interviewed by phone.

 

Restore Democracy, American Dream with The 28th Amendment

By Peter Mathews

A new CNN/ORC poll indicates that 59% of adult Americans believe that the American Dream is impossible for most to achieve, an increase from 54% in 2006. Also, 63% feel that most American children will be worse off than their parents. Among older Americans, 70% feel this. I have to agree, especially if California and the U.S. continue on the current path. Here’s some historical perspective:

The 1886 Southern Pacific Railroad v. Santa Clara County U.S. Supreme Court decision stated that the corporation is a natural person protected by the Bill of Rights and the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision, the Supreme Court stated that money is equivalent to speech. These two seminal decisions gave the modern day American/multinational corporation a preponderance of power over the American people and small businesses. These decisions have led to the weakening of American democracy and the American middle class. The court was wrong in both cases:  corporations, unlike human persons, do not breathe, eat, sleep, have emotions, a conscience, or any other human attributes; also, money is not speech. It is a megaphone that can amplify speech for the well-funded candidate, while drowning out the speech of the lesser funded candidate.

Building on these two decisions, and others, the Supreme Court, in the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, gave corporations, labor unions, and other organizations the ability to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, including their own, to “independently” support or oppose candidates and issues.  Even before this decision, American politicians were raising hundreds of millions of dollars from wealthy special interests to pay for their expensive campaigns. Once in office, they voted primarily in the interests of their wealthy donors. These donors are overwhelmingly millionaires, billionaires, and  big businesses, not small businesses or average Americans. The Citizens United decision allowed big corporations, labor unions, and some non-profits, to spend even more money supporting or opposing candidates, than the candidates themselves. This “Dollar Democracy”, as I call it in my new book, has bought liberty and justice for some, mostly the top 1%, and a deteriorating American Dream for average Americans and small businesses.

Because most members of Congress and our State Legislatures have been bought and controlled by their wealthy donors, they have voted for: corporate tax loopholes, corporate welfare, outsourcing of well-paying middle-class jobs, and unfair advantages for big businesses against small businesses, although small businesses hire 70% of American workers. They’ve also voted for cuts to education and for environmental deregulation, endangering our children’s futures and our health.

A comprehensive solution to this dire condition is the We the People (28th) Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, spearheaded by the Move to Amend Coalition made up of hundreds of thousands of individuals and hundreds of member organizations across the United States. This powerful amendment would remove “corporate personhood” and the concept that “money is speech.” This would replace our present day “Dollar Democracy” with True, Real, and Deep Democracy!


Peter Mathews is the author of DOLLAR DEMOCRACY: WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR SOME; HOW TO RECLAIM THE AMERICAN DREAM FOR ALL. He is also a Contributing Partner and Political Analyst on KEIB AM 1150 Radio’s “Head On” talk show from 12 Noon to 2 PM on Saturdays. Visit him at www.epetermathews.com.

We need a ‘living wage’

oc register-2

By PETER MATHEWS / Contributing Writer

The Long Beach City Council recently voted for a “Living Wage” of $13.26 per hour for Long Beach Airport and Convention Center workers, including their retail workers.

Minimum wage has lost 20 percent of purchasing power since 1973, and President Barack Obama recently called for cities across the nation to raise the minimum wage, since Congress will not.

Since 2009, the top 1 percent has captured 93 percent of the new income generated. Since 1973, the rich have gotten richer, the poor have gotten poorer and the American middle class has shrunk by 10 percent.

In 1980, the average CEO was making 40 times the income of the average American worker. Today, the average CEO is making 400 times the income of the average worker. Poverty and hunger have increased significantly among low- and moderate-income Americans.

We must commend the Long Beach City Council for trying to uplift the plight of these specific workers, by guaranteeing them a “living wage.” If minimum wage had kept up with increased worker productivity since the 1970s, it would be $21 per hour. If it had kept up with inflation, it would be $16 per hour. However, such a steep, sudden increase may place an unbearable burden on small business. We know that U.S. small businesses employ two- thirds of American workers.

That’s why the local, state and federal governments must reduce the tax burden on small businesses as they create a living wage or raise minimum wage, for millions of poor and middle-class Americans. Governments must also reduce many of the burdensome, unnecessary, and unproductive regulations on small businesses, while keeping the necessary ones. This approach is the most balanced – the only one that will work to benefit American workers and entrepreneurs.

Two prominent Founders of the United States of America, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton helped establish a “Commercial Republic.” An important part of the business of America was going to be business. Another Founder, Benjamin Franklin, an amazing inventor and business entrepreneur, wanted other Americans to be able to do the same: create new ideas, new products, new services and new jobs so all could prosper.

However, President Abraham Lincoln put the concept of entrepreneurship in perspective when he noted, “Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

Lincoln’s vision, also the vision of Madison, Hamilton and Franklin, was complimentary and gave birth to the American Dream. Without adequately paid workers, the guarantee in the American Declaration of Independence of the Rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness would be empty. Without well-paid workers and a large middle class, there would be no one to help produce and buy the products that guarantee adequate profits for successful business entrepreneurs, and the quality of life for 99 percent of Americans would deteriorate. As will American democracy.

When will our political and corporate leaders of today start re-applying these practical and ethical principles?

The Long Beach City Council has lessened the burden on some workers. It, and other levels of American government, must now act to lighten the burden on other workers and to liberate the genius and energy of small businesses.

Peter Mathews is a full-time political science professor at Cypress College and an adjunct professor of sociology at Long Beach City College.

Dollar Democracy: with Liberty and Justice for Some

Reclaiming the American Dream for All !

by Peter Mathews  (1087 words)

The naked truth has been exposed, and the emperor has no clothes: American Democracy has become Dollar Democracy, where policies made by elected leaders are bought and paid for by campaign contributions from wealthy special interest lobbyists and super rich individuals. In the 2012 federal elections alone, Congressional and Presidential candidates and their supporters raised and spent over $6.2 billion dollars. The bulk of this money came from wealthy individuals and groups: the top one- half of one percent of the U.S. population. As Will Rogers said, “We have the best Congress money can buy.” Rich individuals and corporations hire lobbyists to walk into the offices of Congresspersons to whom they donated, and ask them to vote in favor of their corporate interests against the public interest. As a result, the U.S. Congress and other elected leaders have made decisions that benefit wealthy corporations and super rich individuals, to the detriment of regular Americans such as Breanna Lane, Manny Arroyo, and Frank Greenthaler.

In a form of “legalized bribery”, many politicians vote for tax cuts, tax loopholes, and corporate subsidies for their wealthy donors. This forces spending cuts in programs that help working Americans and the economy prosper and grow; for example, cuts in funding for small business, infrastructure, health care, teachers, firefighters, police officers, government employees, and research and development of new technologies. Congresspersons are choosing their rich donors over suffering working Americans. Here are some shocking examples:

Breanna Lane, a 22 year old Utah woman loses part of her skull in a tragic auto accident. This is shocking enough. Worse still, the uninsured waitress is kept waiting for four months, with her scalp temporarily sown over the missing part of her skull, because the hospital and Medicaid can not agree on who should pay the bill! After a painful and horrifying four months, she finally receives her surgery to reattach the missing part of her skull.

Manny Arroyo, a 62 year old Nevada man, who worked decades for a large U.S. corporation, and has “full health care coverage”, loses his wife to cancer and is stuck with approximately $10,000 in “co-payments.” This crushing debt is a heavy enough burden on his life. Even more heartbreaking for him is his belief that his wife’s death may have been unnecessary! He believes that if their healthcare providers had not delayed specialized diagnosis and treatment, her brain cancer may have been found and treated before it killed her.

Frank Greenthaler, an uninsured 29 year old California college student and full time worker starts bleeding internally from his intestine. He rushes to the nearest hospital. He waits for three hours before the treatment preparation begins. Barely able to stand, he makes it clear that he does not wish to drown in medical bills. He is kept at the hospital for 5 days and is “temporarily stabilized” by the doctors and nurses. Stabilized but still in serious condition, he is told that he needs to find his way to a Los Angeles county hospital, so that his surgery will be paid for by the county instead of the private hospital! After major surgery and several days at the county hospital, Frank is discharged and is stricken with a $20,000 medical bill from the private hospital. As a working student who can barely make ends meet, he cannot pay the $20,000. This goes on his credit record. The young Californian makes a rapid recovery and is two semesters away from graduating with an engineering degree. Because of his mounting debt, he applies to become a police officer and passes all the tests except the financial credit test. His inability to pay the $20,000 medical bill shatters his dream of becoming a police officer and eventually a forensic psychologist.

As a professor of political science at Cypress College in Southern California, I’ve seen hundreds of students who have had to drop out of college in the last several years because they could not afford the skyrocketing tuition and textbook costs. One of my students in particular discovered his strong interest in the study of politics in my introductory American Government class. His enthusiasm for this subject was sparked by a discovery that politics does not have to be about money and power games, but should be about making a positive difference in the world. His goal became to finish his community college credits, earn his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees in Political Science, become a university professor, and inspire young people to change the world for the better.

The tragedy is that this academically promising young man became side tracked from this meaningful goal. After a semester or two, because of unaffordable education costs, he had to drop out of school and go to work full time to pay for the rising cost of living in Southern California.

In addition, Dollar Democracy has cost us millions of well paying middle class jobs. In a pleasant middle class neighborhood in Long Beach, in which Long Beach City College and a Boeing plant are located, signs of outsourcing are apparent. In recent years, many homes have been put up for sale. Boeing, which, a few years ago, employed 55,000 people, homeowners who earned a solid middle class living, has exported most of it’s jobs and manufacturing to low wage states and low wage countries such as China. Only several thousand jobs are now left here. Policies of Free Trade, not Fair Trade, were imposed by many American political leaders who were influenced by corporate donors, lobbyists, and wealthy investors who benefited from cheap labor found in low wage states and countries.

The above tragic scenarios could have been avoided if American political leaders did not have to rely on the private financing of their campaigns, and private lobbying by wealthy corporate and individual donors. American campaigns and elections must reject this Dollar Democracy and replace it with True Democracy based on Clean Money publicly financed elections as practiced in Maine and several other states. In doing so, our elected leaders will be free to make decisions that benefit the public interest and promote the “General Welfare” as mandated in the preamble of our Constitution. They can then pursue policies of Fair Trade, creating high paying jobs, rebuilding the middle class, a universal health care system that covers every American, and a tuition free public education system from preschool through technical school, trade school, college and university.  ♦

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To find out who is funding the campaigns of members of Congress and other elected officials, visit www.opensecrets.org.

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The above Op-Ed is based on a book that Peter Mathews is writing on money, politics, and the American Dream, Dollar Democracy: with Liberty and Justice for Some;  How to Reclaim the American Dream for All

Rich Parent, Poor Parent: Inequality in Long Beach Education‏ by Peter Mathews

[Article published in Amass Magazine, Issue 47, February-March 2013]

An American child’s chance of acquiring a quality education depends more on the parents’ income than on almost anything else, including ethnicity.

A few months ago, I was walking my infant daughter in her stroller in our Long Beach Belmont Heights neighborhood. As I turned the corner, I saw a lemonade stand run by a mother, her children, and their friends. I thought mom was teaching the kids how to become successful entrepreneurs!

Then I read the sign that said, “Lemonade for Fremont Elementary. Please support our fabulous science and computer labs!!” Another sign said, “Thank you Mrs. Phelps for your donations of lemons!!” I wanted to help in a small way, so I bought a couple of glasses of lemonade.

As I sipped the delicious fresh lemonade, the mother at the stand told me that for the last several years, the parents in the Fremont Elementary neighborhood had raised approximately $100,000 annually to help keep the labs open. They had been threatened with closure because of state-wide budget cuts. I wondered how many lemons it takes to raise $100,000 to keep two labs open? Not enough; and that’s why the parents from this affluent neighborhood had to raise and donate their own money; parents such as Keith and Karen Vescial, whose son Evan attends Fremont Elementary. Keith called this “a hybrid form of private/public education.” Keith went on to tell me “in communities that can’t or won’t raise or donate private money, the kids suffer”. Keith corroborated the lemonade mom’s story and said that he got the details at a PTA meeting.

This got me thinking, how many parents in the low-income neighborhoods in the U.S., can raise or donate $100,000 annually to save their school’s science lab, if they even have one? With the median household income in most of these areas lower than the national median of $50,054 per year, I would venture to say, not many of those parents, if any, can. As I walked my sleeping 9 month old daughter back home, it occurred to me, that something had to be done about the lack of resources in low-income neighborhoods.

The differences between low-income neighborhoods and high-income neighborhoods are clear when we compare two Long Beach High Schools, and two Long Beach Elementary Schools. Because Long Beach’s Jordan High School and Wilson High School are both in the LBUSD, they both receive similar levels of per pupil funding. Yet, the majority of Wilson students’ academic achievement levels were much higher than Jordan’s. In this case, the students’ academic achievement rates were correlated with their parents’ income levels. Generally, the higher income levels of Wilson parents produce the social environment which enables their children to do better in school.

Inequality in parental income is a major factor in students’ achievement because more affluent parents can provide all the support outside of school such as parental help with extra academic support including homework, outside tutoring, extra curricular arts and science activities, “academic camps” and well funded PTAs that can spend money as well. Also, higher income families enjoy the benefits of economically secure and physically safe environments, for example, with less crime and gang activity. Most low income parents can not afford these things. Many low income parents, for no fault of their own, do not have resources or time to provide their children with the same rich, supportive learning environment. Many low income parents are forced to work overtime, or hold down two jobs to make ends meet. Until these parents’ incomes are increased, public spending must be increased to make our schools into after hours youth centers to provide their children with a similar, supportive outside-the-classroom learning environment as the children of the wealthy.

Jordan High School is located in a low to moderate income area of North Long Beach. Five percent of parents in the area make over $125,000, annually, and 75 percent of students are classified as socio-economically disadvantaged. Wilson High School is located in the middle to high income area of southern Long Beach, 15 percent of parents in this area make over $125,000 annually, and 48 percent of students are classified as socio-economically disadvantaged. This is why, despite the similar per pupil funding level, test scores at Wilson High school far surpass those at Jordan high school. (lbschools.net). Measuring academic performance for 2010-2011 by the percent of students who are proficient or advanced on standardized tests, Jordan’s scores are less than half of Wilson’s: 22% in English/Language Arts, 9% in Math, 23% in Science, and 23% in History/Social Science. In comparison, Wilson’s numbers are 50% in English/Language Arts, 22% in Math, 56% in Science and 49% in History/Social Science. (lbschools.net)

Jordan’s numbers are much lower than Wilson’s in other ways: For every 100 students in 9th grade enrolled in Jordan, 48 go on to graduate four years later, and only 13 pass the courses required to enter the CSU and UC systems. In contrast, for every 100 students in 9th grade enrolled in Wilson, 67 go on to graduate, and 36 pass the courses required. (California Education Opportunity Report, 2011, idea.gseis.ucla.edu/educational-opportunity-report).

The same differences that exist at the high school level also exist at the elementary school level. Fremont Elementary and King Elementary are both in the Long Beach Unified School District and receive similar per pupil funding. Fremont Elementary, which is in the same affluent Belmont Heights area of Long Beach as Wilson High School, produces excellent academic achievement results. Fremont, the school with its own Science and Computer labs now kept open by generous donations from affluent parents, jog-a-thons, and lemonade stands, produces high academic achievement results: in English, Math, and Science, 84 percent, 88 percent, and 88 percent of students scored in the proficient or advanced category, respectively. In contrast, King Elementary, in the same lower-income area of North Long Beach as Jordan High School, produces much lower academic achievement results than Fremont Elementary. King’s achievement results were: in English, Math, and Science, 48 percent, 65 percent, and 41 percent of students score in the proficient or advanced category, respectively. (lbschools.net)

Why are these differences so great? Some would argue that the fault lies with the parents, others would blame the failing economy. The simple fact of the matter is that greater family income and wealth are correlated with greater student academic achievement. That fact has been proven in study upon study.

In a 1966 report to the U.S. Congress, sociologist James S. Coleman found that, regardless of ethnicity or race, students from low income families didn’t perform as well academically as students who’s parents were higher income. Coleman’s findings have been confirmed over and over since then. In 2006, Douglas Harris, a University of Wisconsin economist found that in schools where more than half of the students were low-income, only 1.1 percent of those schools performed at a high level. In schools that were majority middle class, 24.2 percent of those schools met the “high” level standard. That’s a huge difference.

The inequality in parental income and student educational achievement is also great when we compare a wealthy California school district with a less affluent one. Palo Alto Unified School District is one of the most affluent school districts in California. Annually, 48 percent of parents of students in this district make over $125,000, ranking it high on the Neighborhood Affluence Rate, and per pupil funding is approximately $13,376. Compare that to Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD), where parents earn significantly less and the per pupil spending is $8,719. The test scores mirror what is happening in dollars. The average API score in Palo Alto is 925, ranking it in the highest 25 percent of California students. The average API score in Long Beach is 759, ranking it in the next to lowest 25 percent, much lower than Palo Alto. (June 2, 2011, Californiawatch.org).

The numbers are even more staggering at Palo Alto High School. For every 100 students enrolled as 9th graders, 92 graduated, and 92 passed the courses required for admission to CSU and UC. At Gunn High School in Palo Alto the numbers were even higher. For every 100 students enrolled as 9th graders, 96 graduated, and 96 passed the courses required for admission to CSU and UC. (California Education Opportunity Report, 2011).

California generally has very unequal funding among school districts. The State does not equalize this funding difference, which is primarily due to wealthier districts raising more school funding through property taxes.

Low income parents in districts with lower property values have much less school funding than the high property value districts. For example, total per pupil spending is $13,376 in the Palo Alto Unified District, a part of wealthy Silicon Valley. Total per pupil funding is $8,719 in the Long Beach Unified School District, where the property values of homes and businesses are generally lower than Palo Alto’s. Federal funding is the least of the three sources of revenue, and is only three percent of the federal budget. After a $7 billion K-12 funding cut, between 2008 and 2011, California now ranks 49th out of the 50 states in per pupil funding at $8,852, while New York ranks near the top, spending $15,012 per pupil. (edweek.org)

The Great Recession has reduced public spending at many levels of government, including for education. However, the deterioration of our economy didn’t happen in a tunnel and neither did the dismantling of California’s great public education system. The following were the key culprits in this outrageous and pathetic tragedy:

First, the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, which removed billions of dollars from the public education system, was the start of the slippery downward slope that we are on. Ironically, two thirds of Prop 13 tax cuts have gone to big commercial property owners such as Exxon Mobil, Chevron, and Bank of America, while only one third of the tax cuts have gone to home owners. Homeowners need Prop 13 tax cuts and should keep them. Big commercial property owners do not need the tax cuts, and their tax loophole should be closed. This will send billions of badly needed dollars to public education in California.

Second, drastic reduction in federal tax rates on the upper incomes of the super rich: under Republican President Eisenhower the rate was 91%; under Republican President Reagan, 28%; and under Democratic President Obama, 39.6%. This brought severe reductions in federal funding for effective social and educational programs such as CETA, Pell Grants, Americorp, Head Start, and after-school academic arts and sports programs that helped keep kids on the path of educational and life success. These cuts have made an already dire situation worse.

Third, since the Reagan right wing agenda of cutting taxes on the rich, immensely increasing defense spending, and severely cutting social programs such as public education, a cultural/ ideological shift has taken place. Because of this shift, and the outsourcing of middle class jobs through Free Trade (instead of Fair Trade), the gap between the rich and poor has grown substantially in the past 30 years. Rich corporate executives are making 400 times the income of the average American worker. In the last three years alone the top 1 percent of Americans captured 93 percent of the total growth in income, according to UC Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saenz. That left only 7 percent of the new income for 99 percent of Americans to share.

Much of Corporate America sees no problem with the increasing gap between rich and poor. Moreover, these Big Businesses feel that the growth in this gap is the natural outcome of their CEO’s hard work, innovation, ingenuity, and the laziness of the rest of America. Their ideology of extreme rugged individualism says that we should each pull ourselves up by our own boot straps! Most of them would argue that they deserve huge tax cuts and corporate subsidies because they, the 1%, are creating jobs for us, the 99%, and we should be grateful to them.

With success in education increasingly determining success in income, we face a dire future as Californians and Americans: the well educated, well heeled upper class will leave in the dust the less educated, deteriorating and desperate, working middle class and working poor. Universal public education, promoted by American educational reformers such as Thomas Jefferson, Horace Mann, Susan B. Anthony, and John Dewey, has served as a force to overcome class barriers. Instead it now appears to be increasing class barriers!

What becomes clearly apparent from the jumble of statistics is that most students from higher-income neighborhoods do far, far better in school than most students from lower-income neighborhoods, as long as the per pupil funding is adequate or high. This sets most of them on the trajectory of high academic achievement in high school, college, university, and strongly positions them for high economic achievement in American society. On the other hand, most students from lower-income neighborhoods tend to have greater obstacles to overcome in their climb up the academic and socio-economic ladder in the United States. It does not and should not have to be this way.

We pride ourselves as being an exemplary democracy, for the rest of the world to follow, a country which provides equal opportunity for all of its children to achieve their full human potential by studying and working hard. In order to live up to this ideal, we must undertake major socio-economic and political reforms. The reforms must include reducing the gap between rich and poor, and rebuilding the middle class by implementing a strongly progressive income tax such as we had from the 1930s until the 1970s; closing unfair corporate tax loopholes and ending corporate welfare; increasing the wages of working Americans by strengthening unions and the right to organize; promoting Fair Trade, not Free Trade policies. By doing the above, as well as eliminating waste in the bloated military defense budget, we will have the revenue to invest in the economy and create jobs, public and private. Also, we can make it a priority to invest in equal educational opportunity for all Americans, preschool through technical, trade school, college, and university.

None of the above will happen in any significant way until the majority of American elected officials are financed through a voluntary, publicly funded campaign system, not through the huge amounts of money donated to them by wealthy special interest lobbyists, and millionaires and billionaires. Clean Money Elections at the Federal level, following the example of states such as Maine, need to be adopted through Federal legislation or a Constitutional Amendment. Then only will we be able to implement a system of educational and social justice, and move from a Dollar Democracy, with liberty and justice for some, to a True Democracy with liberty and justice and equal educational opportunity for all !  ♦

This article was used in whole or in part by the author Peter Mathews in his latest book: “Dollar Democracy”.