by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of American Reporter Correspondents
February 6, 2014
ECONOMIC INEQUALITY CAN NO LONGER BE IGNORED
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The global charity Oxfam came out with a report late last month that confirmed what many people in the world already know to be so: We are living in a world where economic inequality has worsened over the last 30 years.
The report, written by Ricardo Fuentes-Nieva and Nick Galasso and timed to coincide with the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, sounded the alarm that economic inequality is "a major risk to human progress, impacting social stability within countries and threatening security on a global scale."
It offered these statistics to illustrate how bad it is:
As Pope Francis recently observed, "inequality is the root of social ills" and "no solution will be found for the world's problems or, for that matter, to any problems" unless the world rejects "the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation."
So, how did we get to this point?
"Disparities in wealth and income result from 'political capture,' in which the wealthy use their economic power to make sure the rules bend to favor the rich, often to the detriment of everyone else," according to the report. "The consequences include the erosion of democratic governance, the pulling apart of social cohesion, and the vanishing of equal opportunities for all. ... Instead of moving forward together, people are increasingly separated by economic and political power, inevitably heightening social tensions and increasing the risk of societal breakdown."
That's why economic inequality is the world's No. 1 geopolitical risk, and as long as the 1 percent has a stranglehold on governments around the world, we will see current conditions worsen to the point where rage, violence, and revolution become inevitable.
It doesn't have to be that way, and the solutions are simple. Progressive taxation, improved public services, increased social welfare spending, an increase in the minimum wage, strengthened worker rights, and public policy that represents the 99 percent, rather than the 1 percent, are the obvious cure.
Here at home, the Republicans that have brought Congress to a standstill think that they will reap political gains in November if they can keep the economy as it is now, and pin the blame on Democrats.
But more and more people are learning the real score.
About 55 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 60 have experienced at least one year in poverty (defined as $23,492 for a family of four) or near poverty (below 150 percent of the poverty line). Half of all American children have at some point during their childhoods relied on food stamps. Sixty-five percent of working-class families live from paycheck to paycheck.
Economic inequality is not an abstraction to millions of Americans. It is as real as the rent check that's due, the medical condition they can't afford to treat, or the empty pantry in the kitchen.
And it has become more and more clear, as millions of Americans are struggling to make up the ground they've lost since the 2007-08 recession, that if members of Congress are too timid or too much in the pockets of the wealthy to provide a way forward, they will be replaced in 2014.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, in accepting his party's presidential nomination in 1932, said that "economic laws are not made by nature. They are made by human beings."
No natural economic state requires that we must have a world where 85 people have as much wealth as 3.5 billion people. And the solutions for creating a more just, more fair, and more equitable economy are easily doable.
But President Obama isn't going to do it, nor will most of the current crop of Members of Congress and the Senate. It will be up to the people to create the political will to build an economy worthy of a healthy democracy.
AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an M.P.A. from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and is an award-winning journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.