Chicago teacher, activist, writer, digital media strategist
I can’t remember in my lifetime any diseases cured or new vaccines developed. I can’t imagine how elated the world must have been when Jonas Salk released the polio vaccine, making the pernicious disease virtually nonexistent in America. Salk was revered not only for his innovation, but for his insistence on releasing the vaccine to the world without a patent, his work being only to serve humanity.
The Left has an opportunity right now. There is a crisis that, using neoliberal policy strategy, we should not “let go to waste.” The crisis is “Affluenza” — the disease that claimed the lives of four innocent people in Texas and can be traced back to the deaths of vast swaths of the population through austerity measures and poverty wages.
“Affluenza” was first coined in a 1997 PBS documentary of the same name. The term became famous this month when 16-year-old Jesse Couch had his sentence for driving drunk and killing four people, injuring two others mitigated from 20 years in prison to 10 years of probation. The judge ruled that Couch was not responsible for his acts because his parents’ immense wealth have cushioned him from understanding that his actions had consequences, he called this affliction of extreme privilege “affluenza.”
This caused outrage in many folks who thought that the teen needed prison time to pay for his actions and possibly rehabilitate him from his disease. However, the criminal justice system has a lousy record in terms of curtailing recidivism and frankly does not address the root cause of this disease, which is massive accumulation of wealth.
If being super rich and living a life free of consequences causes violent acts, we must argue that grotesque wealth is a public health concern. The only real remedy for this problem, which only affects 1% of the population, is to remove the infected mass from those afflicted by means of wealth redistribution.
If there were a disease that afflicts 1% of the population, but 99% of the population sufffer it’s consequences I cannot think of a term better than “crisis.”
We don’t need doctors or medical researchers to fix this crisis; we need tax experts who can design the procedures for wealth-ectomies on 1% of the population. This will not be easy, but this is a crisis that must be remedied before one more 16-year-old rich kid takes the lives of innocent families.
I fear that the bankers who tanked the economy five years ago and sailed off in golden parachutes have an even more extreme strain of affluenza and those are the folks we need to send to triage immediately. Some folks argued that they should be jailed for their actions, but jail does not address the systemic problems that are caused by affluenza, as the Couch’s judge concurred. Tax them to the point where gaming the system no longer yields rewards and we will soon see no more signs of affluenza in their blood streams.
We must end the existence of the 1% to save them.