At a town hall meeting in New Hampshire, at least two members of the audience challenged Mitt Romney on the morality of America’s economic system and of the trickle-down theory of economics. Romney defended the concept that corporations are people and asked which country in the world has higher incomes than the United States.
And depending upon what measure one uses and which web site on consults, that list also includes the territory of Bermuda, the dependency of Jersey, Equatorial Guinea, United Arab Emirates, Norway and Switzerland.
It is true that the United States has the most powerful economy measured by Gross Domestic Product — nearly $15 trillion. China is number two with $10 trillion. But if we measure per capita income, the United States falls to number three behind Norway and Switzerland. (Norway: $43,400 Switzerland: $40, 680 U.S. $37,870)
According to the web site WiseGeek, Luxembourg has the highest income per capita in the world. It says:
“There are two main ways in which one can determine which country has the highest income per capita. One can look at the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at its purchasing power parity (PPP), or one can look at what is called nominal GDP. Although different assessments and different methods reach different conclusions for every spot below the top, it is mostly undisputed that the country with the highest income per capita, by any measure, is Luxembourg.”
However, per capita income does not help us to see the problem of income inequality. When Romney answered the question posed by the member of #Occupy regarding the proposition that corporations are people, he said that corporate profits go to people. Yes, but corporate profits mainly go to shareholders who are disproportionately members of the one percent.
Retirement plans notwithstanding, most stocks and bonds are owned by the top ten percent of American households. G. William Domhoff of the University of California at Santa Cruz writes:
“In terms of financial wealth, the top one percent of households have 38.3% of all privately held stock, 60.6% of financial securities, and 62.4% of business equity. The top 10% have 80% to 90% of stocks, bonds, trust funds, and business equity, and over 75% of non-home real estate.”
The Asian-American woman who said that the trickle-down economy is not trickling down to her tin cup is correct. The #Occupy representative is correct. Corporations may be collections of people, but they benefit only a few people.
In terms of income inequality, the United States ranks near the bottom. According to The Atlantic, “Income inequality is more severe in the U.S. than it is in nearly all of West Africa, North Africa, Europe and Asia. We’re on par with some of the world’s most troubled countries, and not far from the perpetual conflict zones of Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa.”
Mitt Romney likes to talk about American exceptionalism, and has recently taken to quoting “America the Beautiful” on the campaign trail. But, for the nearly one in two Americans living either near poverty or living in poverty, for the 50 million American without health insurance who will be covered under the Affordable Care Act when it goes into full effect in 2014, for American children who are homeless and too often hungry, he ought to quote the prayer in the second verse — “America! America! God mend thine every flaw, Confirm thy soul in self control, Thy liberty in law.”
Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at JustPeaceTheory.com. She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.
[**The God's Politics blog seeks to run a variety of opinions on important issues of faith, politics, and culture. Unlike pieces by Jim Wallis and Sojourners staff, other opinions expressed on this blog do not necessarily represent the position of Sojourners.**]