Just to drive a stake through the heart of any future political ambition I might someday have, I’ve decided to create the most unAmerican list of things I can think of, a list of things money should not be able to buy a person. I call this list unAmerican because there are far too many in this country, and one entire political party that is currently backed by the Supreme Court, who clearly feels there pretty much shouldn’t be any limits on what money can do for a person. I, however, in the name of justice, fairness and in the belief that it makes for a much better society, believe certain limits are needed.
A Better Public Education – The way America funds its public schools is at the heart of institutional inequality in our society. Public schools in America draw their funding from their local tax base. This means that when a school is surrounded by million dollars homes, it gets a lot more funding than a school that’s surrounded by $500 dollar a month rental properties. I’ll refrain from accusing any group of purposely putting this system in place to create a permanent underclass of people who grow up in poor neighborhoods, go to poorly funded schools and end up getting poor paying jobs that keep them in their poor neighborhoods, and simply point out that America is one of the only three developed nations that spends more money on educating rich students than poor. I have no problem with rich people being able to use their money to pay for the best private education money can by. It’s what I would do if I were rich and had kids. However, I do have a problem with government giving students from wealthy families better schools simple because they’re rich.
Government – The very impressive members of the current Supreme Court, the same court that recently ruled racism doesn’t exist anymore, also said money doesn’t corrupt our politicians. If you took any random group of 9 Americans and asked them that same question, you’d never have a group where the majority feels the same, but somehow 5 of the 9 “smartest” legal minds in the country see no problem with allowing unlimited campaign contributions to politicians from wealthy individuals and corporations (see Citizens United ruling). They call it free speech and seemingly have no interest in the fact that money is the only speech politicians can hear or care about. Money buys access, access gives you influence and influence gets you favorable laws and regulations. Congress now literally passes bills written by wealthy contributors. Call me crazy, but I don’t think this is how a democracy should work.
Empty Apartments in Big Cities – As someone who has just moved back to America after living in the second largest city in the world, Seoul, South Korea, for six years, the price of apartments and rent in major cities in this country has blown my mind. In Seoul, 800 dollars a month got me a two bedroom right in the heart of the city. In cities like NY, DC, San Fran, Miami, Chicago, I could go on, it won’t buy me a closet to sleep in. The irony of this is the people who can’t afford to live in cities, have to move way outside of them and then pay to get into them for work. Meanwhile, there has been more and more reporting on how major cities around the world are becoming the playground for the world’s elite. They are buying up massive apartments in NY, Toronto, Hong Kong and London to use during their brief visits. One report out of NYC said that up to 50% of the luxury apartments in Midtown were sitting empty. These apartments represent huge square footage and them being empty in a city that has a massive housing shortage is unquestionably pushing up the price of rent for everyone else. The beauty of this is that it increases the property value for the people who are creating waste. Obviously, being able to buy the property you want is huge perk of being rich and one that I am not opposed to. I am, however, opposed to waste. So what’s the middle ground on this? Taxes. I say tax the hell out of waste. If a large apartment in a city with a housing shortage is sitting empty, make the owner pay a large tax and use that revenue to fund affordable housing. This also needs to be done because the local government is likely missing out in income tax since the owners of these properties likely just come for vacations.
Access to the Ivies and Other Elite Schools – While wealth in America all but guarantees access to better public education, that doesn’t always mean Jr makes the most of it. However, where Jr fails to take advantage of the opportunities his parents’ wealthy has already provided, his parents’ wealth can still open the doors to America’s top universities for him. In the face of ever increasing competition to get into these schools, arguments against Affirmative Actions and the need to cap the number of Asian students have all been hotly debated topics when it comes to how to improve access to these schools. However, the real interlopers and the truly over-represented segment of society at these schools are mediocre rich kids who get in on affirmative action for the wealthy aka legacy admissions. Ten to 25% of students admitted to top schools in this country get in because their parents went there. Why does this matter, well, a fun fact one of my law school professors loved to tell was that when lawyers and judges are asked to rank the top law schools in the country, Princeton, an Ivy, is consistently rated among the top five. What’s the problem with that? Well, Princeton doesn’t have a law school. Reputation means that much in this country.
Different Treatment by the Legal System – Rich or poor, everyone should receive justice in this country, but, not surprisingly, it is much easier to get justice if you’re rich. Public Defenders, the lawyers the government gives to poor people who cannot afford an attorney, are often over worked and under funded. The importance of being able to afford you’re own attorney is seen in the conviction rates where the income of a person can fairly be said to be a predictor of a how likely someone is to go to jail or how much time they’ll do. Still, it is one thing for a person with money to be able to afford a good lawyer, it is quite another for the criminal justice system to treat someone differently because they’re rich. See Paris Hilton being released from jail early because she didn’t like it and, much more alarmingly, a judge in Texas accepting a lawyers claim of “affluenza” and allowing a teen who drove drunk and killed four people to go to rehab instead of jail because he was so rich he had never learned he couldn’t do things. Things like get drunk and kill people.
Organs – OK, not even America allows the rich to buy organs, but if you ever want to know how far some people are willing to go in allowing the rich to do whatever they want, then know that this is a serious discussion in some circles. The idea is that since people have two kidneys and two lungs, and some rich people need them, they should be able to work out a deal. Of course, a market like this would be a one way street: wealthy people buying body parts from poor people. But in a libertarian utopia, there would be no problem with that. “Sure, the person selling their organs would have lifetime limitations on what they could do that they could never fully appreciate before giving up their body part. And sure, economic desperation or shortsighted greed are basically the only things that could drive someone to sell a body part to a stranger, but there shouldn’t be any limitations on what a person can buy with money,” they would argue if they were honest. What people are willing to do for money can never be allowed to determine what people should be able to buy with money.
Water – This might sound far fetched, but it’s becoming a bigger and bigger issue. As California’s epic drought is making clear, water is something we cannot take for granted. That said, we’re already seeing where big companies are being given priority to water over regular people. In California, water restrictions have only been placed on residents. Meanwhile, big farms, which use about 80% of the states water, have no restrictions, as yet. Even better, companies like Nestle are still taking water from wells in California to bottle and sell at a profit. And if you don’t think companies and the rich will ever try to horde water or make a profit from it even in dyer circumstances, remember that Nestle’s former CEO and now the chairman of the largest food product manufacturer in the world has already stated he doesn’t believe access to clean water is a human right. We’re also seeing in cities like Detroit and Baltimore that governments will cut off water to citizens who don’t pay their bills, but not companies that are similarly delinquent.