Income Inequality in USA Neither Inevitable nor Desirable
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
In the conclusion of a series on the growing gap between the rich and the rest of us in the US, economist Joseph Stiglitz lays out the case that this is the result of political choices, not a natural outcome of capitalism and free markets. In fact, what we have in the US is a corporatist state where the rich are protected from risk (and their earnings are protected in overseas accounts) and everyone else pays–either through taxpayer bailouts of banks or loss of jobs and homes.
Our economy, our democracy and our society have paid for these gross inequities. The true test of an economy is not how much wealth its princes can accumulate in tax havens, but how well off the typical citizen is — even more so in America where our self-image is rooted in our claim to be the great middle-class society. But median incomes are lower than they were a quarter-century ago. Growth has gone to the very, very top, whose share has almost quadrupled since 1980.
Retreat into reactionary politics and know-nothingism is one symptom of widespread economic uncertainty. Witness the rise of anti-immigrant parties in Europe and the persistent and angry Tea Party in the US. Or the retreat into superstition accompanied by a denial of science and rationality (57% of US believes that religion can answer all or most of today’s problems–Gallop Politics.) Progress on key environmentally-rooted crises is difficult when so many deny the conceptual basis needed to understand and respond appropriately. This is reflected in the low level of concern for even civilization-threatening trends like climate change.
Stiglitz concludes, “Widening and deepening inequality is not driven by immutable economic laws, but by laws we have written ourselves.”