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Fri Jan 24, 2014, 08:42 AM

A Congress Of the Wealthy, By the Wealthy, and For the Wealthy


A Congress Of the Wealthy, By the Wealthy, and For the Wealthy
by Richard Eskow | January 22, 2014 - 10:40am

When the President of the United States delivers his State of the Union message next week, he’ll be speaking to the wealthiest Congress in history. What does it mean for a representative democracy when most of its representatives are insulated from the real-world economic experiences of its citizens?

A new report from Open Secrets shows that, for the first time, the average member of Congress is worth more than $1 million. It’s hard to say how much more, because the House has adopted the Senate’s less stringent financial reporting requirements, but most representatives are, as they used to say back home, “pretty well fixed.” More than half of them are worth more than $1 million, according to Open Secrets.

Some members of Congress aren’t wealthy, of course. But if the President sticks with his recent theme of inequality next week, he’ll be doing it in front of an audience that has disproportionately benefited from the very phenomenon he’ll be describing. Some reports say that the president may ask for an extension of unemployment benefits, too. If so, he’ll be proposing it to a room full of people who are unlikely to ever feel unemployment’s anguish and terror themselves.

To be sure, we have probably never been represented by an economic cross-section of the population. Ever since the first Continental Congress, our deliberative bodies have been made up of citizens who were wealthier than the average. But several things have changed since Paul Revere (himself a pretty prosperous industrialist) made his famous ride. For one thing, wealth inequality today is at record highs. The GINI co-efficient, which measures the maldistribution of wealth, has soared in the last 50 years. Inequality in the United States is among the highest among developed nations.

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