(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Writing Contest Co-Winner

We’re delighted to announce the winners of The Nation’s eighth annual Student Writing Contest. This year we asked students to answer this question in 800 words: It’s clear that the political system in the US isn’t working for many. If you had to pick one root cause underlying our broken politics, what would it be and why? We received close to 700 submissions from high school and college students in forty-two states. We chose one college and one high school winner and ten finalists total. The winners are Jim Nichols (no relation to The Nation’s John Nichols), an undergraduate at Georgia State University; and Julia Di, a senior at Richard Montgomery High School in Darnestown, Maryland, and Bryn Grunwald, a recent graduate of the Peak to Peak Charter in Boulder, Colorado, who were co-winners in the high school category. The three winners receive cash awards of $1,000 and the finalists $200 each. All receive Nation subscriptions. Read all the winning essays here.   —The Editors

Some would call the government of the United States of America a failure. It is partisan, inefficient, unresponsive to the needs and desires of the people it is meant to serve.

American is purported to have a government by the people, for the people, of the people. But instead it is a business by lobbyists, for corporations, of CEOs and highly paid lawyers. The innate problem with the government of the United States is that it is designed to protect the plutocracy, the reign of the wealthy, and it does this, in part, through the prodigious numbers of businessmen and lawyers included in the ranks of the legislatures. Too much money is what poisons the system. Often, politicians will join or start companies of their own after they leave office and then use their new wealth to influence their old friends in Congress. The system is rigged to allow for ruling by the plutocrats instead of by the people.

Money is the root of all corruption, and the high concentration of it in the hands of a few is what led to the Great Depression, following the decade-long party of the Roaring Twenties, and the most recent crash form which we still haven't recovered. The current salary of a rank and file member of the House or the Congress is approximately $175,000 with generous benefits, as pensions and health plans. It is incredibly difficult for a highly-paid person, surrounded by people who make lots of money, to understand how it feels to support a family on incomes much lower than what they bring home. The median income of an America is approximately $50,500, far lower than that of the average member of the Congress or the House.

A part of this high inequality and its effects on the average American is shown through the tax system. No one likes paying taxes, but over the last fifty years tax rates for the wealthy have gone down considerably, at the same time as their average income has risen dramatically. The Reaganomics “trickle-down” theory has long been disproven  – money in the hands of the wealthy tends to create stagnation. As wealthy as the top might be, even the .1 percent cannot spend enough to keep the economy going. The economy is not built off gold toilet seats and stock speculation alone – it is built by people who buy shampoo and dog food, Applebee’s lunches and Safeway cookies. It’s kept going by people going on a week-long vacation to Disneyworld with their five year old and college students paying for their textbooks. It grows by regular people replacing their old van with a new Prius, getting mortgages and the latest iPhone.

While the rich can help support, jumpstart and enhance the economy, it is ordinary people that help keep it running smoothly. Often, many of the politicians in Congress, surrounded by the trappings of wealth and opulence, have trouble recognizing the inequality and the danger of plutocracy for what it is. Without a fair and effective tax system, there are few ways for the federal government to pay back the debt, invest in education or public works and infrastructure.

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With the majority of the wealth in the pockets of a few, there is little opportunity to develop those necessary faucets of daily life. And few politicians have any understanding of the effect such concentrations have for those at the bottom, for the lowest earning people in the United States, and therefore pay little consideration to that when drafting new laws and dealing with lobbyists. It is very hard for politicians to comprehend something of which they have no experience  – namely, the effects of poverty and the massive inequality the government supports through legislation and too-low income taxes.

The United States is virtually the most unequal country in the world, ahead of only Russia, Ukraine and Lebanon, according to Credit Suisse. For a more efficient, fairer, more responsive government, the focus must be taken away from the wealthy and due consideration must be paid to the plight of those in the lowest income bracket.  Effectively addressing this country's vast inequality is the only way to repair this country's broken politics.