When the constitution of the US was drafted, the founders wrote it with the fear of having an overly powerful central government, largely due to their colonial experience. With this in mind, the Articles of Confederation was first drafted, which later became the constitution. Within the Constitution, the two most important features addressed were separation of powers and federalism. Separation of powers was intended to be separate institutions sharing powers, or a horizontal dispersion of power. The three branches, executive, legislative, and judiciary, were each designed to be able to check the other two branches and to balance each other, so that no single branch could be a dominating force. These three branches are outlined in Articles I-III of the constitution and serve as one of the most important check and balance in our government system.
The second key feature of the US Constitution was federalism, a vertical separation of powers. Federalism is the idea of having a national government, along with individual state governments. While anti-federalists preferred having a more powerful state government and being free any sort of centralized government, but this conflict was eventually solved when the federalists added the Bill of Rights into the Constitution, freeing the people from tyrannical government and protecting their basic rights.
The idea of federalism goes hand in hand with the separation of powers. Within the national government, its powers are separated into expressed and implied powers. State governments power can be described as reserved powers. If something is not delegated by the Constitution, or prohibited from the states within the Constitution, then it is reserved for the states and for the people. These separations of powers, although not always clearly interpreted, provide state and national governments the ability to check and balance one another, so that no one branch or area becomes all powerful.
The founding of our Constitution and the history of our nation’s government are crucial when unboxing the issue of income inequality. There is no question that the wealth in this country is unequally distributed, but almost all Americans today are completely unaware of what this level of inequality truly looks like. From the Youtube video we watched in class we learned that citizens today are severely optimistic about how the wealth is divided. When asked what they think the distribution should look like, and then what the distribution actually looks like, the American people had no idea that the top 20 percent share over 80 percent of the nation’s wealth, with the majority of that among the top 1 percent.
The people of this country, both Democrat and Republican, agree that this distribution of wealth is far from ideal. However, our two major political parties cannot come to a consensus about the actual cause of this inequality. Though we have not reached an agreement on this issue, social and economic mobility as well of pluralism and how power and influence is distributed play a major role in our present day economic crisis. Today, it is critical to consider the interests and agendas of those with the most power and influence over our nation’s economy and government.
Though these present day influences play a major role in the wealth inequality, the structure of our government, as outlined in the Constitution, as well as the history of our political process are also key components when addressing this topic. One key component of our nation’s history is our tax system. While America has mostly progressive taxes, taxes on wages are not in line with income. Our country’s taxes do generally increase with income, but there are caps on how much the percentage can increase. Our tax system was ideal when it was drafted, but over the years it has become a leading factor in wealth inequality, with no clear solution.
Another component is the structure of congress. Congress was intentionally constructed to be mostly unresponsive to public opinion and with diffuse accountability. This has lead to a “stickiness” in government and an overall unsatisfied citizen population, particularly among the working class. While diffuse accountability, and a slow-moving policy process is a key characteristic of our system of Congress, it has enabled those in power to pursue their own interests and to shift the distribution of wealth unequally. Our country also has pursued many nonunionized workforces, which can lead to a drain on our nation’s economy due to high healthcare costs and comparatively lower wages.
While there is no clear cause to pinpoint when discussing this issue, the history of our nation is something that should always be taken into account. While our country has developed a functioning, efficient government system that has lasted us over 200 years, the construction of our branches of government, our Constitution, taxing system, and lack of social mobility have been driving forces in our current state of income inequality.
Another hot topic in government and politics right now is entitlement reform and social policy. As a nation, we must address how to meet the welfare needs of our population as well as distinguish between government and individual responsibilities. Housing, healthcare, and income, in particular Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, are the main topics debated; raising questions about how much the government is responsible for ensuring these, and whether or not these are entitlements. Social Security and Medicare are the largest social welfare programs, with nearly universal coverage, and an indisputable effect on our economy, paid for with each citizen’s tax dollars.
The income inequality that our nation faces today, along with the state of the economy, and notable population size of the “Baby Boomer” generation are all key components that directly influence America’s need for social reform. However, forces throughout this nation’s history and constitutional government are also driving factors.
Again, our taxing system is one key factor that influences this issue, particularly payroll taxes. The payroll taxes that our government collects are no longer beneficial enough to support our current system of social programs, because of this the nation’s debt is growing more and more. These taxes were originally intended to pay for the social security of the retired population, but over the years the money that has been collected has not been enough to pay the costs.
I discussed political institutions and influences briefly in the first prompt, but I think that Congress, the courts, interest groups, and political parties have had the most effect on policymaking in regard to income inequality.
Congress has had an indirect, but still major impact on our country’s distribution of wealth due to its transparency and diffuse accountability, protection from public opinion, and internal structure. While these aspects of congress were mostly intentional when it was constructed, they can also lead to slow and inefficient government process, as well as a lack of representation and focus on the general public’s interests and wellbeing.
The courts are also a driving factor in today’s wealth inequality. Some of the reasons for this are the judge’s lack of accountability and unclear powers and limits, as well as the ambiguity of the constitution. The Supreme Court also offers lifetime appointment, meaning that in present day society the members of this system not representative of the American population. The roles of court members and possibly the people who are appointed lead to a judicial process where public interest is often not upheld as the primary responsibility.
Political influences are extremely important when considering political situations of today’s society. Nowadays, the general public is notably more aware of the actions of its government. Although much of the information provided to the public may be incomplete or inaccurate, citizens of America today are still generally more informed on the political process and policies than ever before.
Because of this increasing awareness, many political interest groups have arised and the influence of political parties has drastically increased. Interest groups and political parties that play a particular role are those governed by the Economic Elite. These citizens hold the overwhelming majority of the nation’s wealth, so when they form an interest group its main interest will be to continue doing so. Though citizens are much more aware of politics, they are often unaware of an interest group’s agenda or goal, and they tend to be optimistic about the true levels of income inequality and social mobility. This leads to those with the most wealth being able to hold the most influence over the American people, thus leading them to vote for certain policies, laws, national and state government candidates, that will uphold their ultimate interest: maintaining their own wealth.
When discussing entitlement reform, there are also some driving political institutions and influences. The main components contributing to our country’s current social welfare are the president, the bureaucracy, interest groups, and public opinion.
The president plays a crucial role in entitlement reform because they almost always run their campaign with at least some of the focus on entitlements and social programs. This is because presidential candidates know that the retired or close to retiring population are the most likely to be informed on their policies and are the group that votes with their own interests in mind frequently. Presidents have to consider this population when designing social policies, because otherwise they risk losing a big chunk of their votes or public approval.
The bureaucracy is also a key feature of why our current entitlement programs are structured this way. In our nation’s bureaucracy, the majority of those appointed in government, especially within the courts and congress, also have the interests of the retired population in mind. This because they also know who is most likely to vote and have the biggest impact on their chances of reelection and public approval. For this reason, social security is a very politically risky topic to discuss or to make changes to. Whereas social programs that benefit the lower class or impoverished Americans are likely to be more frequently debated and to have more changes made to them. People within the lowest classes of our population are less likely to vote or to have as strong of an impact on a politician’s image, making them easier to target than those who are around retirement age.
Interest groups such as the ARP are a huge influence on this political process as well. Like I mentioned earlier, older people vote and they do so in an organized and impactful way. Forming an interest group like this has strong influence over political decisions, because it provides social security and medicare receivers to come together and ensure their voices are heard. This type of political action is not generally seen by those receiving medicaid or other lower class benefits.
Due to their organized interest groups and growing amount of members, social security and medicare receivers also have a large effect on public opinion. Their opinions are usually more noted by political officials because they are better at getting government attention. Due to the president’s role, the structure of our bureaucracy and to the interest groups formed, public opinion is heavily influenced by those receiving such social welfare programs. This once again makes reform a risky and difficult to solve problem.
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