Starting around 1980, American society began to undergo a series of deep shifts. Deregulation, weakened antitrust enforcement, and technological changes led to increasing concentration of industry and finance. Money began to play a larger and more corrupting role in politics. America fell behind other nations in education, in infrastructure, and in the performance of many of its major industries. Inequality increased. As a result of these and other changes, America was turning into a rigged game—a society that denies opportunity to those who are not born into wealthy families, one that resembles a third-world dictatorship more than an advanced democracy.
The “Occupy Wall Street” protests that began in New York in September 2011, and then rapidly spread around America and the world, were initially somewhat unclear in their goals. But the protesters were deeply right about one thing: over the last thirty years, the United States has been taken over by an amoral financial oligarchy, and the American dream of opportunity, education, and upward mobility is now largely confined to the top few percent of the population. Federal policy is increasingly dictated by the wealthy, by the financial sector, and by powerful (though sometimes badly mismanaged) industries such as telecommunications, health care, automobiles, and energy. These policies are implemented and praised by these groups’ willing servants, namely the increasingly bought-and-paid-for leadership of America’s political parties, academia, and lobbying industry.
If allowed to continue, this process will turn the United States into a declining, unfair society with an impoverished, angry, uneducated population under the control of a small, ultrawealthy elite. Such a society would be not only immoral but also eventually unstable, dangerously ripe for religious and political extremism.