It is hard to talk about wealth inequality in this country without raising someone’s ire. No matter how neutral the language you try to use is, someone is either going to feel attacked or out in the cold. If you are currently benefiting, in even the smallest way, from the system as it exists you are likely going to view the discussion as an accusation at best and an attempt to take something from you at worst. If you are not benefiting from the system then you might be reminded of all the ways you are powerless and rather than feeling enabled by the discussion you will be frustrated by impotence, your own and that of those advocating for you.
Talk about it we must, though, because the disparity between rich and poor is greater than it has been since before the Great Depression. It is easy to look at this as a discussion about what is fair, and in part it is true. I cannot for the life of me understand how asking someone who will still live a life of opulence to pay 5 to 10 percent more in taxes is less fair than asking a mother to choose between buying her child’s asthma medicine or paying the rent. Really, though, that is just one aspect, and I am not a big fan of making any public policy around our emotions, even our positive ones.
No we should address the issue because every time, without exception, that wealth inequality stays at the levels it is now one or both of two things occurs: revolution or economic disaster. Neither of those is a comforting prospect. Revolutions rarely serve those they claim to, turning into brutal reigns of terror. The lack of desirability of any outcome with the word “disaster” in it should be self-evident.
We are on the verge of something big. The Occupy movement, while amazing, is really just a sign of it. People are angry and ready to act. Those with their hands on the levers of political power in this country have an option. They can listen to the voices of the frustrated masses, or they can continue on the course we have been on. The latter will not end well for anyone.
The solutions are not simple, but neither are they hopelessly complex. We need a health care system where profit motive is not the driving factor, sending people into crushing debt. Likewise there needs to be super cheap or even free higher education opportunities for those that qualify for the same reason as well as to make sure we have a competent, well-educated work force. We need regulation of the financial industry, doing away with legalized theft and the reckless gambling with other people’s money. Finally, most importantly but hardest of all, we have to get out of this mindset that all government is bad and that money is an end rather than a means.
People have asked me what Occupy is all about. I don’t want to presume to speak for the movement, but I think the above statements, all of them, are a pretty good primer. At the very least they are things we have to seriously think about if we want to avoid some really bad consequences in our relatively near future.