The starting point, I believe, in reducing economic and social inequality in the United States–indeed, around the world–is ceasing to accept it.
And that requires recognizing its true, human-created nature.
Joseph Stiglitz emphasizes in The Price of Inequality that our divides are far from inevitable. Instead, they are the predictable consequence of the failure of the systems we have put in place, and our failure to fix them when they deliver outcomes like what we see before us.
Evidence from nations that have reversed their inequality and are moving in the right direction–Stiglitz cites Brazil–and from those that deliberately chose a path of greater equity–most of Europe, recent retrenchment notwithstanding, affirms this truth:
It doesn’t have to be like this.
And, here, again, my kids’ instinctual reaction should be a lesson for us.
They know what we have lulled ourselves into forgetting.
It is completely ridiculous that some have so little in a land of so much.
They find it absolutely bizarre, for example, that some people are homeless when there are empty houses that banks are trying to get rid of. Forget rules about foreclosure and the principle of the profit motive. To them, people needing house plus house needing people equals problem solved.
They are astounded that there is a pay gap for men and women who do the same job. They say–and they are right–that that doesn’t make any sense.
They don’t understand why you get paid so much more money to run a company, usually, than to teach school, when, as Sam astutely observes, “Being my teacher seems like it’s a pretty hard job.”
They don’t understand why we don’t create systems that end poverty, if we could. They don’t know why some people are worse off than they used to be, while others are making much more. They don’t know why some people are allowed to keep so much–Sam read, somewhere, that the 6 heirs of Wal-Mart have the same wealth as the bottom 30% of the population (yes, I know, he’s an unusual 7-year-old), and the kids all thought he was making that up.
It’s as though, with the adult acceptance of the world as it is peeled away, they can see what we should not ignore:
It is really, really strange how we tolerate a system with so many clear losers.
They remind us how we look, living in this madness as though everything was normal.
And they should inspire us to do better.