Is Democracy Compatible With Concentration of Wealth to The Few?

Local scholars weigh in By Michael Monasky Graduating high school seniors competed for college scholarships Sunday night in the eighth...

Local scholars weigh in

By Michael Monasky

Graduating high school seniors competed for college scholarships Sunday night in the eighth annual essay contest sponsored by the Sacramento chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR). The essay topic was a statement attributed to Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both.”

Elissa Niccum is a student at Mira Loma High School and hopes to study biomedical engineering. She gave a comprehensive historical analysis of the problem posed by Brandeis.

Niccum compared the times he lived in-those of robber barons, child labor, women's suffrage, unsafe working conditions, and the great gap in wealth and wages-with the relatively recent Reagan Revolution, which, between 1980 and 2010 saw the greatest growth in concentration of wealth for the nation's richest and wage stagnation for everyone else.

Lark Trumbly, a senior at C.K. McClatchy High School, critiqued democracy. She compared the standard definition of one person-one vote, to who has real control over wealth and policy.

Trumbly declared an inherent incompatibility between the concentration of wealth and a democratic society. She cited Reagan-era Assembly Speaker and State Treasurer Jesse “Big Daddy” Unruh, whose cynical “Money is the mother's milk of politics” defined the long-term nature of the problem.

Moosa Zaidi attends Granite Bay High School said that freedom of speech has an inequitable distribution to the wealthy as a “booming megaphone”, and a “whisper” to the rest of us. “Democracy requires the free flow of ideas,” he declared, and that flow is choked off by those who control our media, who see speech as private property. He cited the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and its propensity to allow huge media ownership mergers and conglomerations of power.

A panel of five judges chose the top three of the ten finalists. One judge, former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, asked a particularly perplexing question of one finalist, who cited the US Supreme Court decision, Citizen's United versus the Federal Communications Commission. Reynoso asked: why is this decision such a danger, now, when such concentrations of wealth have a long historical legacy?

To her credit, Tiffany Chan, a C.K. McClatchy High School student, answered that money should be regulated. The question remains: is money speech, or is it property? The court decision has made it equivalent to speech. Many still think of money as only property.

PSR distributed $15,000 in scholarships to the ten finalists this year, and has given over $70,000 in its history of essay competitions. The International PSR is the 1985 recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace. More information can be found at

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