Well, gentle readers, I last wrote about inequality—at least as a main subject—on February 22. I labeled the post Inequality – Part 1, which signaled a Part 2, at least. I also dropped a footnote about an upcoming post about how we can’t stay focused on anything for long enough to do anything about anything.
Ten weeks have passed. I didn’t get to Part 2 until now, and I certainly haven’t stayed focused on the issue. Yes, much has happened since 2/22. Some of it is spine-tinglingly scary, like the notion that something could trigger a ground war in Europe a la WWI and WWII. And some of it is just nonsense, like the craziness in Nevada and the craziness circling around Donald Sterling and his orbit.
I’m back with the issue, though, in part because everybody’s talking lately, and because I cannot identify another issue that matters as greatly. (I’m not ignoring climate change; stay tuned!)
In 2007 I wrote A Life at Fifty-Ish, and I rewrote it in 2010, in the form in which you can read it at Mark Rubin Writes. Both versions of the book have a chapter titled On the USA. You’ll find America, the lead essay in the chapter, at Mark Rubin Writes today.
I mention—and posted—what I wrote in 2007 not to quote myself, but because I read America the Shrunken by Frank Bruni earlier today. His excellent piece is on the New York Times website, and it appears in today’s edition of the paper. I was struck when I read Mr. Bruni’s piece that I’d written what he wrote, almost seven years ago. More significantly, though, I was struck by the connection between inequality and failure.
Lately, there’s lots and lots of talk about inequality. Thomas Piketty’s book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century is the No. 1 best seller at Amazon … and sold out. (If you’re part of that crowd that thinks the whole Amazon thing may blow over soon, the book is No. 4 on the New York Times non-fiction hardcover list.)
Salon has posts about inequality here (Welcome to Piketty’s America: Dispatches From an Empire in Decline), here (RIP, the Middle Class: 1946-2013—first posted in September 2013), here (Welcome to the Piketty Revolution: “Capital in the 21st Century” Is a Game-Changer (Even if You Never Read It), and here (The New Gilded Age: A Bigger Con Job Than the First One. Gail Collins wrote It’s Only a Million last week about poor Jeb Bush having a net worth of only $1.3 million. Here’s How Higher Ed Contributes to Inequality from The Atlantic, written by Dana Goldstein. Even The Diane Rehm Show, focused on An Aging Infrastructure and the Need for a New Era in Transportation Policy ended up being a discussion, in significant measure, about the haves and have-nots, and how inequality plays a role in our transportation situation. (Many, many more sources are out there.)
There is another point of view here. The crowd who controls the wealth and thinks that’s a good thing—there are plenty of one-percenters, by the way, who understand the inequality problem—tell us “we’ve got this.” If we would cut their taxes a bit lot more, get rid of those effing regulations that tell them what they must and cannot do, and maybe “build the dang fence” to keep “those people” out, all would be well. In their judgment those rising tides we see—yes, the ones that are already swamping low-lying parts of Florida and may destroy our coastal cities in my daughter’s lifetime—will lift all boats!
Now, lots of people on the right talk about their optimism, patriotism, and lots of other –isms. I’m not buying it! Fundamentally, when your position writes off tens of millions of people, and depends on the notion that “job creators” are the only answer, you’re telling us you lack faith in the ability of others to make their way and succeed. Yes, many people who struggle need a helping hand, but that is often on account of the fact that they never benefited from affirmative action—the legacy kind—that our systems bestow on us. If you believe in a bigger pie, and in human potential and human spirit, you don’t commit yourself to the notion that you’ve got yours, and that if we all lift your ocean liner a bit, our dinghies will rise along with it.
This inequality thing is huge! It explains, in whole or in part, why we lack funding to solve big problems. It explains why we can’t get any traction on climate change. (The one-percenters whose wealth comes from energy and carbon-dependent products have a vested interest in using carbon to power our world. Exxon runs classy ads on Sunday morning talk shows, but it makes its money selling gasoline.) Frankly, I don’t think we survive in any recognizable way if we don’t solve this!
For right now it feels like all we’re doing is talking, and talk is cheap. And maybe inequality is inevitable. But, and for a little while, at least, I’ll take talking about inequality, early and often, over other choices.