William T. Evjue, the founder of this paper, nearly every Saturday in his "Hello, Wisconsin" column would ask this question: "The trend toward the concentration of financial, economic, political and military power continues. Are we headed for a dictatorship of wealth?"
He'd then go on to list the dozens of mergers that had taken place during the past week, culling them from the pages of the Wall Street Journal, while expressing alarm that true American competition was biting the dust as more and more wealthy corporations gained more power — power not only in the marketplace, but power to get politicians and lawmakers to do their bidding.
That Mr. Evjue was prescient in warning about a dictatorship of wealth was exemplified earlier this month when the Seattle, Washington, city council voted to repeal a "head tax" it had enacted a few weeks earlier to raise money to help the homeless and build affordable housing in the city.
It's important to note that the state of Washington has no income tax that could help cities like Seattle deal with unexpected social problems, hence the council resorted to the head tax on employees.
City government was no match for Amazon.com, the retailing behemoth that employs some 45,000 people in the city — its headquarters — alone.
When the Seattle council members passed the tax in early May, Amazon abruptly stopped construction on a new campus it is planning for downtown Seattle. The giant firm, whose CEO Jeff Bezos is considered to be the wealthiest man in the world, made it clear that his firm wasn't necessarily wedded to the city.
Joined by other Seattle giants, Starbucks and Vulcan — the investment firm of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen — the corporations generated so much heat on council members that they quickly threw in the towel.
The pity is that the revenues would have gone to ease a major crisis that plagues cities like Seattle, much of it, ironically, brought on by the success of corporations like Amazon. Just as California's Silicon Valley has caused housing shortages in San Francisco and nearby cities, for example, Amazon's higher-paid headquarters employees have gobbled up housing that now has been priced out of the range of workers in other endeavors.
Hence, more people are living on the streets and in cars because they simply can't afford the skyrocketing rents. They've become victims of the tech industry whose leaders have become the John D. Rockefellers and J.P. Morgans of the 21st century.
But when it comes to helping solve the problems they've helped create, perhaps by paying a new tax, most of the profitable corporations play hardball, threatening to reduce the number of employees or even move someplace else where government will meet their demands. Somebody else can pick up the tab, working people most likely.
Notice, though, that these same wealthy corporations are typically in the front of the line when it comes to taking — or more accurately demanding — taxpayer money to help fund projects that are aimed at increasing their own profits and stock prices. We're quite aware of it here in Wisconsin, where $4 billion in subsidies are going to build a plant for another tech giant, Foxconn.
And, of course, Amazon is embarked on a mission to find a city to become home to its second national headquarters. It doesn't want to pay any taxes to Seattle, but you can bet the city that comes up with the biggest taxpayer-financed subsidy will get that headquarters.
That's exactly what's been happening now for decades. Revered corporations like Apple, Microsoft and so many others, rather than paying their fair share of taxes, stashed money away in foreign tax havens to avoid helping fund their government. They'd only bring it back if their tax rates were lowered — another example of corporate bullying to get their way, to which Donald Trump and the Republicans gleefully complied.
You'll see ads sponsored by these behemoths on the Fourth of July, Veterans Day and during other national observances telling viewers what great patriots they are. If they'd pay their fair share of taxes, perhaps we would be able to better fund our veterans hospitals and homes.
Today we're led by a president who is supposedly worth billions, but we haven't a clue whether he, too, has paid the taxes he owes.
Do we need any more proof that indeed we've become a dictatorship of wealth?
Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. email@example.com and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.
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