Thursday, January 21, 2016

Back to Basics

I am reminded by a friend that establishing some common ground for discussion is an important part of the political process.  As we become enmeshed in the details of partisan campaigning it is easy to lose sight of the fact that not everyone has seen the same information about the issues.  Establishing context is a vital preliminary step to a productive exchange of views.  Here is my context:

What this chart from the work of Piketty and Saez illustrates is the share of national income that has been allocated to the top earning ten percent of the U.S. population between 1917 and 2012.  From 1942 to 1980 inequality in income distribution remained at an historic low level.  Beginning about 1980 the share of income going to the upper ten percent began to shoot upward like a rocket.

Looking at that chart, there are two obvious questions to be asked of politicians seeking to lead the country forward:

1. Why and how did the scenario portrayed by the chart take place?

2.  What needs to be done to reverse the direction of that graph line to move the country toward a fairer distribution of financial benefits?

My perception from listening to the presidential candidates is that Bernie Sanders has made the clearest analysis of the why and how, and he has made proposals for countering the soaring inequality that address the issues the analysis has identified.  The thirty second sound bites that are the building blocks of tv debates do not offer the opportunity examine the factual underpinnings of allegations, but I tend to believe Bernie's version of things because he has avoided acceptance of the compromising financial contributions from the 10% which all the other candidates in the race have succumbed to.


Jim Grey said...

Even though I lean conservative, I agree with you that having so much wealth concentrated in so few people is a problem. I'm not sure whether any of my fellow conservatives will agree with me; I haven't talked to any of them about it. But it seems clear to me that this condition results in a weakened, shrinking middle class, and in a huge gulf between haves and have-nots. Even my cursory understanding of history tells me that this is a genuine Bad Thing, that creates seeds for discontent and even revolution.

But the minute you talk about "income inequality" to a conservative, s/he will react negatively and start thinking "socialism! no!"

I would like to see this discussion reframed in terms of restoring fair and equitable economic opportunity for all. That word opportunity is key, as from where I sit a core unspoken value of conservatism is that anyone should have equal opportunity. One could argue all day long whether conservatives actually play that out in their actions, but I believe it to be a value nonetheless. I think it is hard to argue that the lower and middle classes have lost economic opportunity since the Reagan years.

Mike said...

I am having a hard time reconciling your first and last sentences. I guess I may not fully understand what you mean by "economic opportunity".

Jim Grey said...

Sorry Mike, I left out a pesky "not." I think it is *not* hard (i.e., it is easy) to argue that the lower and middle classes have lost economic opportunity. I am deliberately using "economic opportunity" vaguely.

Mike said...

Thanks for that clarification. One of the irritating aspects of the Blogger interface is that it does not allow editing of comments after posting.