Post originally appeared at WalkerViewPoints on 12/26/17.
How do you feel when you walk through the Business Class section of the airplane on your way to crowded and uncomfortable coach seating, while privileged customers are sipping their free champagne? Do you wonder for a moment how their wealth was obtained, whether every one of them gained it fairly, without privilege of birth?
I venture to suggest that most of us do have such moments, considering there is so much opportunity for monied interests (corporate and individual) to influence legislation with unlimited advertising, lobbying, and tax free “think tanks” that create justifications for legislators who cater more to their wealthy constituents than to the poor. Yet, despite this being a truth known to many Americans, politicians pivot to discussions of opportunity, and calls to work hard to ascend to the ranks of those benefiting from the influence wealth buys.
It’s very tiring to hear politicians on the right (some even on the left) say, “Americans don’t care about inequality. They only care about opportunity.”
The implication is that we should celebrate being a country where one can achieve great wealth, and we don’t want to do anything to disturb that opportunity–just try to create more of that, so anyone can “make it big.” Certainly don’t tax the wealthy more… That might reduce their incentive to keep creating jobs, and I’m planning to be wealthy someday, so I don’t want to create obstacles that would further tax me at that time.
It turns out this is a popular theme, since Americans have a long standing commitment to independence–the idea that anyone can make it on his own if he just works hard enough. The last place we want help from is the government, which is far too wasteful and inefficient. So, we’re headed the other direction–tax the rich less and reduce government more.
But there are serious problems with this set of beliefs. First, studies show that mobility has declined dramatically in parallel to the increase in inequality, all since Reagan.
And, there are many of us who do care about inequality. Why do we care? If everything was gained not only legally, but also fairly, the problem of inequality would be lessened. There would still be work to be done, but it would not be as enormously exacerbated by pushes at the federal level to weaken the political power of the non-rich. Through rulings like Citizens United v. FEC, corporations and those connected to corporations have gained the ear of their representatives by outspending the masses. The Supreme Court ruled this is legal, but legality is not the ultimate determinant of fairness.
In order to accurately assess how much Americans care about inequality, we must first address in what ways and how clearly can the average citizen make their concerns known to their representatives, and if those concerns are weighted equally to that of wealthier constituents. We need to provide a great deal more transparency about the legislative and taxing decisions–who is benefited and why? And, we need to make a commitment to fairness in such decisions.
I don’t like to hear that the American people don’t care about inequality. Inequality matters. Who asked me? I care, and I’d venture that the majority of citizens do too, save those who benefit from rampant inequality.