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Bernie Sanders: Keeping US From Becoming Oligarchy 'A Struggle We Must Win'

In speech at Brookings Institution, senator says growing wealth gap, high poverty rates, health care crisis signs of country slipping into control of small billionaire class

Senator Bernie Sanders spoke at the Brookings Institution on Monday, February 9. (Photo: AP)

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) gave a speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. on Monday to talk about his proposed recovery program and to address the economic challenges facing the U.S., both at present and in the future, particularly as the wealth gap grows and financial institutions escape accountability.

"[W]e are moving rapidly away from our democratic heritage into an oligarchic form of society," Sanders said. "Today, the most serious problem we face is the grotesque and growing level of wealth and income inequality. This a profound moral issue, this is an economic issue and this is a political issue."

"We need to take a hard look at our trade policies which have resulted in the outsourcing of millions of good paying jobs," he continued. "Since 2001 we have lost more than 60,000 factories in this country, and more than 4.9 million decent-paying manufacturing jobs. We must end our disastrous trade policies (NAFTA, CAFTA, PNTR with China, etc.) which enable corporate America to shut down plants in this country and move to China and other low-wage countries."

His recovery program, An Economic Agenda for America, would invest in infrastructure; turn away from fossil fuels; raise the federal minimum wage; and close the gender wage gap, among other tenets.

"We need to end the race to the bottom and develop trade policies which demand that American corporations create jobs here, and not abroad," Sanders said.

Sanders also spoke about the country's failure to provide for its most vulnerable people."Today, the most serious problem we face is the grotesque and growing level of wealth and income inequality."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders

In addition to high unemployment rates—which become higher when age and race are taken into account—the U.S. has "by far, the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country on earth," Sanders said.

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"In today's highly competitive global economy, millions of Americans are unable to afford the higher education they need in order to get good-paying jobs. Some of our young people have given up the dream of going to college, while others are leaving school deeply in debt."

Reform must also come to the financial sector, Sanders said.

"We must finally address the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior of Wall Street... Their speculation and illegal behavior plunged this country into the worst financial crisis since the 1930s. In my view, Wall Street is too large and powerful to be reformed.  The huge financial institutions must be broken up."

Finally, Sanders said, the U.S. must "join the rest of the industrialized world and recognize that health care is a right of all, and not a privilege."

"Despite the fact that more than 40 million Americans have no health insurance, we spend almost twice as much per capita on health care as any other nation. We need to establish a Medicare-for-all, single-payer system," Sanders said.

Yet those issues highlight only some parts of the "unprecedented struggle that we're engaged in now against the Billionaire Class."

"The real struggle is whether we can prevent this country from moving to an oligarchic form of society in which virtually all economic and political power rests with a handful of billionaires," Sanders concluded. "And that’s a struggle we must win."

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