The income chasm between middle class America and the richest Americans has grown enormously over the past 50 years. Few would dispute that. Harold Meyerson lays out the stats.
From 1947 through 1973, according to the Economic Policy Institute’s State of Working America report, released this week, the incomes of the poorest 20 percent of Americans rose 117 percent, while the middle 20 percent saw a rise of 104 percent and the wealthiest 20 percent a rise of 89 percent. From 1973 through 2000, however, the income of the bottom fifth increased by a scant 9 percent, the middle fifth by 23 percent and the richest fifth by 62 percent. Since 2000, the concentration of income gains at the very top has grown only more pronounced. The share of income going to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, which was less than 10 percent in the early ’70s, reached 23.5 percent in 2007 – the highest level on record save for 1928. (Note: Both years preceded epic crashes.)
No doubt conservatives don’t think this is a problem. And they are given a pass by progressives, who decry the income gap but don’t put the question to conservatives—Why? Meyerson and others have offered some reasons—the demise of labor unions, globalization and financial schemes that add nothing to the economy but line the pockets of the few. All perhaps true, but why don’t progressives keep hammering the GOP with actually two questions:
Why do you think this is happening? Give them a chance to explain the phenomenon. By forcing a explanation, there’s a good chance progressives will get fodder for a strong counter-narrative to the second question:
Do conservatives think this income gap is a good thing?
One book I’m almost finished relates. It’s The Soul of Capitalism by William Greider. But rather than explain the gap, the book is really more about the book’s subtitle, “Opening Paths to a Moral Economy.” I’ll have more on it in another post.
Another waiting to be read promises to offer another reason. It’s Perfectly Legal: The Convert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich—and Cheat Everybody Else by David Cay Johnston, a former New York Times tax reporter. This has always intuitively made sense to me. The folks who love to hail free enterprise ignore the fact the problem is not free enterprise versus a planned economy. It’s whether our free enterprise is really fair enterprise. Or are the rules, including tax rules, slanted to favor the wealthy?
Still, if progressives would demand answers from conservatives re why our economy increasingly seems to help only the few, they could set the foundation for the “free and fair narrative” that I think Americans would respond to.