By Jerome Grossman
We pride ourselves as the prime purveyors of equality, the distinguishing characteristic of Democracy. More than a century ago, in 1879, Matthew Arnold reminded us that “Inequality has the natural and necessary effect, under the present circumstances, of materializing our upper class, vulgarizing our middle class, and brutalizing our lower class.”
The Wall Street Journal tells us that “The gap between the winners and losers in the US is growing…… that even excluding capital gains, 75% of the pretax income growth (in years 2002 – 2006) went to the best-off 1% of American families.”
Harvard Magazine features a study entitled “Unequal America, the growing gap”, relating inequality of income to the US decrease in life expectancy in absolute terms and in comparison to other nations. Harvard University, with its endowment of some $35 billion, is surely expert in inequality
Warren Buffett, patron saint of American capitalism, repeatedly expresses his personal guilt at the injustice of his secretary paying her income tax at a rate much higher than he pays on his billion-dollar income. Does this astute collector of insurance companies’ sense a potential revolt of the 99% against the one percent, remembering 1789, 1917, and 1948?
We are currently engaged in a great political battle to determine the direction of our great nation. But the basic question about fair distribution of the economic benefits of our enormously wealthy society is not being seriously addressed. How does inequality affect our national health, our rate of crime, our pursuit of happiness, our level of education, our economic productivity? And above all, what does it portend for the future of our prized Democracy.
When some Americans earn billions, their taxes, their fair share of the cost of maintaining our society-must rise dramatically. When some Americans earn less than a poverty wage, their benefits must rise dramatically. In a stable society in which the rich can enjoy their wealth, in which all will have sufficient benefits to motivate support for that society, some form of redistribution of income will be necessary. But we may not have to put a camel through the eye of a needle to accomplish this.
The candidates for the presidency must address these basic questions. Their supporters must demand answers. Inequality is a crisis for Democracy and the political process is the way to a solution.