The "Pursuit of Happiness" Means a Job

It’s guaranteed for all of us by the Declaration of Independence. While ‘happiness’ is a vague word, the unhappiness caused by extreme economic inequality has been clearly demonstrated by Richard Wilkinson and others, as it leads to increases in homicide, obesity, drug use, mental illness, anxiety, teenage pregnancies, and the high school dropout rate. People need employment to function safely and comfortably as a part of society.

That’s why we should tax the very rich. It’s not socialism. It’s as American as the Declaration of Independence.

Instead we stubbornly support a “free market” system that allows a financial expert to make enough money to pay the salaries of 50,000 police officers.

Police departments are shrinking, schools are being closed, teachers laid off, educational programs cut. The media would have us believe that everyone is suffering. But the latest Merrill Lynch-Capgemini “world wealth” report found that in North America last year, the number of rich (millionaires and multi-millionaires) rose 17 percent and their wealth grew 18 percent to almost $11 trillion.

Thirty years ago, when Reagan took office, the richest 1% of America took ONE of every fifteen income dollars. Now they take THREE of every fifteen income dollars. They’ve TRIPLED their cut of America’s income pie. That’s a TRILLION extra dollars a year.

Free-market supporters say the rich will re-invest in industry, providing benefits for all. They said this in 1980. The current level of inequality is equivalent to that of the Great Depression.

The military, meanwhile, is still fighting the Cold War. Our military expenditures equal that of the rest of the world combined. When Iraq and Afghanistan war spending is added to the regular budget amount, it’s close to a TRILLION dollars a year.

Howard Zinn wrote about the elite 1% of Americans that dominate the other 99% in economic and political power. Based on data from the Internal Revenue Service, the Census Bureau, and the Congressional Budget Office, it seems that it’s more of a 1%-9%-90% split, with the middle 9% representing the well-to-do upper-middle-class.

The 90% say we should blame the government and the immigrants.

The 9% say leave the rich alone, and blame the government and the immigrants.

The 1% don’t say anything.

It’s certainly easy to blame the immigrants. The people struggling to survive don’t have security forces protecting their estates, or lawyers researching their legal rights. The immigrants can be our common enemy, our foreign menace.

But they’re not responsible for the lost jobs. Fareed Zakaria notes in Newsweek that the 500 largest non-financial companies are sitting on $1.8 trillion in uninvested cash. Those trillions, along with the lightly taxed trillions of the ultra-rich and the trillions of the bloated military, could provide millions of jobs repairing our infrastructure and finding energy alternatives.

Those trillions could pursue happiness for a lot of Americans.

Paul Buchheit teaches at DePaul University. He can be reached at: