Monday, December 23, 2013
Winners and Losers
Income inequality has been getting worse for a long time, and it's not merely by accident. Actions taken by the federal government, orchestrated and demanded by those who pay for our representatives, have caused the majority of the inequality to happen and get worse.
As I noted in a previous post, economists point to mass income inequality as a reason for economic slow-down. Those at the top bankroll elected officials, who then de-regulate the markets, roll back safety net programs, cut taxes on the wealthy, and tilt the game in their favor.
A pervasive feeling among the working and working-middle classes is that there is no such thing as upward mobility, that in the world of winners and losers, they are perpetual losers. Like the football team that goes 1-15 on the season, they just can't seem to get a break.
And really, the game is stacked against them. With money protected as free speech, those with more of it inherently have more "free speech" than other people, meaning they can exercise it more. And the longer the manipulation by money on politics goes on, the greater the distortion. For decades, tax cuts and deregulation have helped the wealthy reach previously unheard of levels of oppulence, while the rest of the nation has seen their relative incomes drop.
We have all seen the consequences of these actions. When the housing bubble burst (a bubble that was made possible by deregulation), the wealthy and the big businesses got bailouts and financial life-preservers from the government, even while the economy was in freefall and shedding hundreds of thousands of jobs a month. People were being pressed into poverty by the millions. Then, at the exact same time, there was a renewed campaign to cut social programs, deregulate, and further cut the taxes of the wealthy.
All of this flies in the face of the "American Dream" which says that if you work hard enough and long enough, you'll be successful. When the odds are stacked against you from the beginning, that chance doesn't seem to exist. I don't believe that everyone should be equal because not everyone is. Some are smarter, some are harder-working, some are not. But everyone should be given an equal chance at the beginning. Money shouldn't be able to buy you success, while lack of it dooms you to failure. A child should not have their potential limited because of the economic position of their parents.
There will always be winners and losers in a Capitalist system, or in any system. That is how the world works. But we should strive to make sure that the winners don't win everything, and that the losers don't lose everything. When people are a car accident or medical emergency away from bankruptcy, when families have to choose whether to buy food or pay bills, and when a skilled worker has to settle for a low-paying job because they can't find work, there is something wrong.
I hope that we will see a slowdown in the overall income inequality in our country, and that a balancing act takes place. If more people make more money, and enter the middle class, and start spending, and make themselves into a powerhouse for the economy, we will see things turn around. And the more influence a group has over the nation's direction and fortunes, the more influence they have over its government. If the middle class starts becoming the focus of Washington again, maybe we'll see more work being done to support them or, at least, curb the out-of-control growth of the wealthy.