What is the Point?

This post originally appeared in Walker View Points (1/12/17)

Often I feel I am wasting my time and that of those few who are kind enough to read what I write. I feel we are both missing the point. The questions I want help with are simple: First, do we acknowledge that inequality has risen to an extreme level? If yes, is there acknowledgement that this is a big problem, if it is not moderated?

Common elements of debate miss the essential point:

  • Both major political parties have played into rising inequality.

This is a fair point. The last four decades has seen a historic decline in the “middle class,” a class that both Democrats and Republicans have have ceased to court, fight for, or even talk about. At this time, it doesn’t matter who’s to blame.

  • Many of those same winners in the game are also big philanthropists.

I don’t know whether this is true overall, but I acknowledge the outstanding ones, like the Gates Foundation, which purposefully finds the greatest global problems and eschews giving to universities, churches, and pet projects. However, we must create an overwhelming public demand – a true mandate – for economic policies that serve regular Americans and political process policies that ensure everyone participates fully and equally in our democracy. We can not simply rely on patriotic philanthropy to fulfill the needs of this nation, we must comprehensively imbed it into our very fabric of our critical policies. At this time, it doesn’t help to try to identify the good guys.

  • A supply-side solution is coming–if we can just reduce the taxes further and further on the wealthy, they will take all those “savings” and invest them in jobs creating businesses, and this will solve the jobs problem.

America gave trickle-down economics a true chance. And what really happened was it turned out to be a false premise – the rich were rewarded with the idea they would somehow transfer wealth down, where instead, they just kept it. If a supply-solution was going to happen, it would have happened sometime in the last four decades. Instead we must accept that for all of us to grow, we must all grow at the same time. At this time, debating economic theories doesn’t help move the needle.

In the cacophony of these and other distracting arguments, we must not allow ourselves to miss the forest for the trees. Arguments on each of these points keep us from getting back to the real point and the real question: do we accept that the problem of inequality urgently needs to be moderated?

If so, then let’s bypass all the partisan and economic disputes, and thoughtfully move on to address individual views of practical ways to improve the situation.

For example, many want to remind me of the problems of government, frustrations with government, all the regulations which hamper business. But is the implication of such criticism of government that if government will just “get out of the way,” that somehow, magically, private industry will solve the inequality problem? I don’t think that’s going to work. Capitalism does many things well, but its core is the profit motive.

Travis Kalanick is not motivated to find jobs and protections for the hundreds of thousands of displaced Uber workers if he discovers that self-driving cars can do the job at less expense. In fact, if he did try to do that, the cost of such would sink his company. So, who’s going to try to create solutions for those people, hopefully solutions which are not simply welfare, but ways to help the displaced become productive again? Do we believe that’s simply “up to those now unemployed?” Do we think that as a society we have no obligation or no opportunity to collectively help to improve the situation for our fellow citizens? Can’t we see that doing something collectively to make all that displacement better is going to benefit all of us?

So, I’d like to suggest that perhaps we can agree inequality is a problem, a major problem, and we can start to address solutions, hopefully solutions which are not just a drop in the bucket, but preferably practical, immediate, and comprehensive. What can be done?

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