Economy Equity

The Greatest Scandal Afflicting Our Nation Today: Inequality

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A few years ago, I read a wonderful book titled “The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger” by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. I strongly recommend it to you.

Their thesis is that the societies with the greatest equality are happier and healthier. As inequality grows, so do social problems that cost huge amounts of money to address. But nothing succeeds like equality. That is not to say that societies need to have everyone with exactly the same amount of everything. But that societies should aim to reduce inequality of income and wealth to the greatest extent possible. In 1960, the average CEO made 50 times the wages of the average worker. Today, the average CEO makes 271 times the wages of the average worker.

The concentration of wealth in the hands of a tiny number of people erodes the foundations of our society. It creates grievance, rage, depression, poor health, poor schooling, stagnant opportunity, overuse of drugs, addiction, suicide, and a sense of hopelessness. As inequality grows, our optimism about our society and its future declines.

Consider this:

The wealthiest 1 percent of American households own 40 percent of the country’s wealth, according to a new paper by economist Edward N. Wolff. That share is higher than it has been at any point since at least 1962, according to Wolff’s data, which comes from the federal Survey of Consumer Finances.

From 2013, the share of wealth owned by the 1 percent shot up by nearly three percentage points. Wealth owned by the bottom 90 percent, meanwhile, fell over the same period. Today, the top 1 percent of households own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined. That gap, between the ultrawealthy and everyone else, has only become wider in the past several decades.

The tax bill just passed by the Republicans in Congress without a single Democratic votes will deepen that inequality.

It will provide windfall gains for corporations and real estate investors (like Donald Trump).

The Republicans say the tax cuts for the top 1% and for corporations will create jobs and raise wages. But when the Washington Post polled the nation’s 20 largest corporations, most of them said they planned to pay dividends to investors.

A commentary in Fortune magazine said that corporate tax cuts were likelier to benefit shareholders than workers.

Some argue that corporate tax cuts lead to wage and job growth because they encourage corporations to invest in additional capital. But if companies are unwilling to invest in today’s environment—with extraordinarily high after-tax corporate profits and low interest rates—it is unlikely they will do so after a corporate tax cut.

Evidence from 2004, when a repatriation holiday allowed corporations to bring back overseas profits at a lower rate, provides a good case study. The 15 companies that brought the most profits back to the U.S. used them to buy back shares instead of boosting investment, and actually ended up cutting jobs and slightly lowering their research and development spending.

The tax cut does nothing to enhance income equality or wealth equality. It is simply getting worse.

The persistence of poverty in the United States directly affects schools. About half the children in the U.S. public schools qualify for free or reduced price lunch. Poverty is the most significant cause of poor academic performance. Children who are poor are less likely to have good medical care, good nutrition, and live in a safe neighborhood in a good home.

If we want to make America great again, we should revive the goals of the New Deal. A society where people are free from want and fear.

This is not a good Christmas present.

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