Income inequality isn’t left or right

Opinions

By Karlee Robinson

Income inequality is continually increasing, and the historic inevitability of this trend leaves little promise for personal financial control. The redundant conversation on income inequality directs attention down avenues of liberal activism. Resistance groups such as “Indivisible” provide example of integrating the previously polarized differences of left- and right-wing movements.

In a democracy, accountability falls in the hands of the governed. I say accountability in regards to pressing the agenda the public most desperately needs: prioritizing according to majority opinion. French economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, in their 2001 seminal research paper “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” discovered the conditions of income inequality have existed at “Great Gatsby” levels since 1913, posing influence on income inequality today.

In 2015, New York Times journalist Paul Krugman wrote in summary of Piketty, “The fall and rise of the one percent turns out to be closely correlated with the fall and rise of political polarization.” With the one percent exponentially gaining economic control, their political and social agency also increases, leading to the polarization Krugman described. Our nation’s wealth is under the control of a select few, not the majority involved in its accumulation. There’s nothing stopping our country’s control from becoming monopolized by the wealthy.

There’s belief that Trump won the 2016 election with a wave of votes from working-class Americans. Some even interpret Trump’s election as a rebellion against Republican elites. And while there’s truth to this statement — Trump supporters, largely comprised of Republicans, were indeed unhappy with our economy — there’s greater impact in acknowledgment of the fragility of Trump’s believed working-class supporters.

In a national NBC News SurveyMonkey Weekly Election Tracking Poll conducted online from Mar. 7 through Mar. 13, 2016, Trump supporters making over $100,000 per year almost equaled those making less than $50,000. Trump received equal support from both the richest and poorest Americans.  Our country’s control is already becoming monopolized by the wealthy.

Krugman believed that “the most important contribution of ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ was precisely its suggestion that since then a rising share of after-tax profits in national income has indeed set us on the path back to a rentier society, in which the rich live off inherited wealth.”

After-tax profits tell investors the percentage of money a company earns per dollar of revenue; meaning, the dollar amount that companies are earning per revenue is increasing, perpetuating the conditions of an economy functioning through a body of individuals living on income from property or investments. This takes control away from individual economic status, because people are born into an economic status whose potential is largely defined by decisions made by older relatives.

Journalist Sarah Leonard, in a New York Times article published Oct. 20, 2017, echoes Piketty’s theories that income inequality’s ceaseless inflation is “pulling democracy apart at the seams [as] no one but the rich feels represented.” The pace and direction of our income inequality is headed towards the same underrepresentation democracy strives to avoid. Our economy opposes a cornerstone of U.S. government: equal opportunity.

Where some may argue the one percent merely exercised their opportunity to rise to their economic status, I ask you to take a closer look at the capitalist system. It takes money to make money, so opportunity exponentially increases for those who are already at an advantage.

According to data collected by Piketty and Saez through the Census Bureau, the average income for the top 0.01 percent of households increased 322 percent, while the average income of the bottom 90 percent increased only 0.03 percent between 1980 and 2015. Understanding the exponential dynamic of our systemized progress, the opportunities of those at a disadvantage similarly decrease, potentially, into nonexistence.

That doesn’t go to say that a level of incentive isn’t necessary in productivity, or that successful people didn’t earn or deserve their success. More importantly, we need to develop a system of checks and balances, specifically in regards to our nation’s wealth. Ways of doing this include wage reallocation and directing funding towards education (with the interest of investing in public intellect). As our nation progresses intellectually, the learning curve for engaging in the work force increases. Therefore, to maintain equal opportunity in this sense, we need to provide the public with access to the tools that have become necessary in adequately contributing to society: education.

Now that we’ve identified our lingering income inequality, it’s time we consider how to change it. Leonard suggests, “To win meaningful victories, the resistance needs to look beyond the White House or even Congress, and toward solutions that attack inequality and injustice at its roots. That will require not just energy and money but also listening to and working with activists who have been resisting since long before Mr. Trump arrived on the political scene and who might have opinions far to the left of the Democratic Party.”

An example of this leadership is the resistance group “Indivisible,” whose mission “is to fuel a progressive grassroots network of local groups to resist the Trump Agenda,” as stated on their website. “Indivisible” was founded by former liberal congressional staffers and adopted “Tea Party” tactics — local and defensive approaches to social and political reformation.

We’ve been overwhelmed with numerous protest movements — voiced from the left — such as Occupy, “Black Lives Matter” and immigrant rights campaigns since the financial crisis in 2008. Where these movements focus on issues of minoritization and representation, they prove liberal efforts can match the vigor of right-wing movements, like those exemplified by the Tea Party.

As I say this, I need stress the importance of avoiding political polarization. It is not my intention to adversely compare left- and right-wing movements. Collaboration through differences is essential to thorough social and political reform. To do this, expression’s playing field needs to be equalled, which is why I’m encouraging liberals to learn from their conservative neighbors. I would say the same to conservatives.

“But the resistance can’t just adopt the symbols and language of revolutionaries,” Leonard explains. “It has to involve the whole package — including radical leadership and ideas.” We clearly have the whole package, we need only keep this momentum in motion.

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