"Takin' Care Of Business":

What it means depends a whole lot on who says it.

A new organization is needed that will do two things:

1. provide training to ordinary citizens on the ins-and-outs of running for and serving in public office (this would not only identify potential candidates but help to train staff members for campaigns and officeholders); * and,
2. more crucially, grant subsidies to working people so that they can afford to seek office (an income cutoff of $250K would make 98% of the population eligible for some degree of help, depending on circumstances).

It is nearly impossible for a salaried person -- or a person bearing the burden of responsibilities (for children or elderly parents, for example) -- to expend without assistance the time and resources demanded by public service. The result is that we have a system of governance in which most elected officials are remote by reason of economic advantage from the people they purport to represent.

Take Congress. (Please.)

According to Capital Hill's Roll Call, Members of Congress had a collective net worth of more than $2 billion in 2010, quite a different sum than you could put together from 535 Americans chosen at random.

Not to pick on Democrats, but with a median net value of $878,500 in 2010 the self-described defenders of the middle class were worth more than nine times the typical American household (most of these figures are drawn from reporting on CNN). Twenty-one congressional Democrats have average assets of more than $10 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (Barack Obama's average net worth of $7.3 million is nothing to sneeze at either, especially when compared to the median household net worth in America, which in 2009 was $96,000).

Republicans are a little richer, but not by much. Their median net is $957,500 on average and 35 of them have assets totaling more than $10 million. **

That's net worth: congresspersons' $174,000 salary also blows away the median household income of $49,445 for 2010 -- for most people, being elected to Congress would result in a healthy jump in income. And members' net worth has been on the rise since 2004, unlike ordinary Americans, who have seen their wealth decline (the center's figures don't even include a primary home when calculating net worth for politicians, but the Census, in calculating net worth for average Americans, includes all real estate assets, meaning the divide between the people and their representatives is even more pronounced than it appears).

Dishearteningly though not surprisingly, less than 2% of the Congress comes from the working class, a figure that's stayed constant for the last century.

There's no reason not to think that similar disparities exist at every level of government.

This is not to say that it might not be easier for a wealthy person to be an effective advocate for the interests of poor, working and middle class Americans than for a camel, say, to pass through the eye of a needle. But it's pretty clear that in the aggregate, elected officials inhabit a rarified economic environment that at the least makes it more difficult to keep the struggles of ordinary folks in perspective. It seems obvious that politicians from the working and middle classes will be more likely to concentrate on bread-and-butter domestic economic issues than will people whose principal domestic issue is whether the help all have their green cards.

It will take more than training and funding average Americans to make representative government more democratic. We need publicly financed elections, controls on media access, weekend voting, and so on. In the meantime, the suggestion I made many years ago that that the only political reform we really need is to limit the income of every elected official to the level of the average person he or she represents is still a pretty good one.

* Organizations Right and Left already exist that offer assistance and training to people who have decided to run for office. But what's needed is a national network of training centers, possibly operated through existing organizations like churches and labor unions, that broadens its appeal to include people who are just beginning to entertain the idea of service in government.

** You are permitted a moment to savor the irony that the $448 million fortune of the richest rep, Darrell Issa, is built on vehicle anti-theft devices.

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