Last week I sent a paltry sum to the folks organizing the Occupy Wall Street protests. My reasoning is that the American public needs to raise their awareness of income inequality because…
1. Income equality in the USA ranks near the bottom when compared to the rest of the world – the gap between the rich and the poor in the USA rivals that of any country in the world. While I understand this fact in and of itself is proof of nothing, it’s interesting.
2. Over the last 10 years, real wages in the USA have grown about 4%. That’s less than real wages grew between 1929 and 1939 (you know, the decade that bracketed the Great Depression). Compare that to the growth in income of America’s wealthiest households over the last 30 years
3. Inevitably, income inequality leads to an imbalance in the political process. In my opinion, one need look no further than the actions of the Republican party regarding the extension of the Bush tax cuts in December, 2010. Democrats and President Obama wanted to cancel the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest American households, citing the need to balance the national budget. Republicans, citing their philosophical beliefs, refused to accept legislation that raised taxes on the rich.
Yet when you look at public opinion polls from that time period, it seems that the majority of Americans opposed extending tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. (CNN said “two thirds” opposed the extension, Bloomberg put it at 60%). While public opinion polls aren’t “proof” of a disconnect, I remember wondering to myself why the Republican leadership weren’t willing to raise taxes on households earning more than $1 million per year. To my eye, this was the party protecting the rich.
4. Historically, rampant income inequality leads to revolution. It might sound extreme, but can anyone honestly argue that the American income gap could continue to grow at the same pace without some sort of violent revolution occuring eventually? For the sake of our children and the long-term tability of our country, we’ve got to get a handle on the gap between the super-rich and the poor and do something about it.
While I don’t blame Wall Street for the economy – I think that’s far too simplistic – I do see Wall Street as a great example of the income inequality problem. Wealthy people are able to leverage the stock market to make money during this recession while poor people hope for things to “pick up.” It’s not fair, and while fairness is promised to no one, I think it’s high time the people making their fortunes on Wall Street had to sweat a little.
I also don’t like the fact that the Occupy Wall Street movement is being co-opted by liberal extremists. I’d like to see this movement stay focused on America’s income inequality problem, with my hope being that everyone – rich and poor – would recognize the importance of keeping things in balance.