Friday, February 28, 2014

Robert Reich: Inequality Has Warped The Minds Of America’s Rich

Robert Reich considers America's "We" problem — as in “Why should we pay for them?” This stance extends from unemployment benefits to food stamps to helping residents of poorer districts. Racism and middle-class economic stress explain some of the resistance, but what accounts for the refusal of the rich, who alone are doing better than ever? Reich explains that income equality has enabled the wealthy to live completely sheltered from the realities of those who are struggling:

They’ve never been richer. Surely they can afford a larger “we.” But most of today’s rich adamantly refuse to pay anything close to the tax rate America’s wealthy accepted forty years ago.

Perhaps it’s because, as inequality has widened and class divisions have hardened, America’s wealthy no longer have any idea how the other half lives.

Being rich in today’s America means not having to come across anyone who isn’t. Exclusive prep schools, elite colleges, private jets, gated communities, tony resorts, symphony halls and opera houses, and vacation homes in the Hamptons and other exclusive vacation sites all insulate them from the rabble.

America’s wealthy increasingly inhabit a different country from the one “they” inhabit, and America’s less fortunate seem as foreign as do the needy inhabitants of another country.

The first step in widening the sphere of “we” is to break down the barriers — not just of race, but also, increasingly, of class, and of geographical segregation by income — that are pushing “we Americans” further and further apart.


Michael J. Mand said...

It all begins at the elementary school level where the playing field is deliberately kept out of balance by funding through real estate taxes, thus giving the already wealthy a decided advantage even before first grade. The widening gap between rich and poor will not begin to reverse until that corrective measure is taken. But guess who makes the laws.

Jeff Tone said...

Your last point is made in my Oxfam article: "To break this cycle, the report offers a roster of solutions aimed squarely at the privileged class: progressive taxation, an end to tax shelters, a living wage for workers, etc. They're all solid suggestions, with just one problem: many require the wealthy to use their political heft to advocate policies that run counter to their interests. Now there's a riddle waiting for an answer."