Inequality in America

The Republicans can scream that President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid want to move the country toward a European type socialism all they want while the gap between the rich and poor keeps getting larger.   As many have said (including me), the current AIG bonus debacle seems be symbolize the rich getting richer at the expense of the rest of us. 

Dalton Conley, Acting Dean of Social Sciences at New York University has written in the Nation of March 23 about the Human Development Index (HDI) which shows the United States as Number 15 in the world.  The index “The score consists of three dimensions: health, as measured by life expectancy at birth; access to knowledge, captured by educational enrollment and attainment; and income, as reflected by median earnings for the working-age population. ”

Conley writes

The president’s proposed budget will do much to bring progressivity back to the tax code. Upper-income households–which have gained the most over the past three decades–will contribute around 80 percent of federal revenues, and more modest incomes will finally catch some real tax relief. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Americans have applauded the administration’s move to impose limits on executive compensation by attaching strings to bailout money. The reason is one of basic fairness, of course. But it turns out that limiting the windfalls of the few may actually be good for us all. That’s because there appears to be a relationship in the United States between inequality–which is largely driven by an explosive rise in incomes at the top–and overall levels of human development.

This decline proceeded apace through the Reagan and first Bush administrations, during the go-go Clinton ’90s, and through the regime of George W. Bush. We have slipped in periods of budget deficits and during the largest surplus in US history. So something deeper about the structure of American society is probably responsible.

Of course, there are some pretty good suspects. There is, for example, the issue of nearly 50 million people who don’t have health insurance. There is the fact that college completion rates have been flat since the ’70s despite an increasingly technological economy. And there is the wage stagnation for the bottom half, a problem that has dogged us since the oil shock of 1973. But there is one larger force underlying these trends that has been gaining steam over the past three decades, and that’s income inequality.

So it seems that what the Republicans call “redistribution of wealth” might actually be good for our country.