There’s plenty of information available detailing America’s troubling economic inequality; just recently, for example, Salon Magazine ran an article highlighting numbers that showed “America’s busted priorities” and their contribution to that widening gap. They presented the numbers in a variety of ways, but the summary tells the tale:
The following are averages, which are skewed in the case of tax breaks and investment income, as a result of the excessive takings of the .1% and the .01%. Details of the calculations can be found here.
$8,600 for each of the Safety Net recipients
$14,600 for each of the Social Security recipients
$27,333 for each of the Pension recipients
$54,740 for each of the Teachers
$200,000 for each of the Tax Break recipients among the richest 1%
$500,000 for each of the Investment Income recipients among the richest 1%
The super-rich feel they deserve all the tax breaks and the accumulation of wealth from the productivity of others. This is the true threat of entitlement.
A recent investigative report from the New York Times confirms the suspicion that Salon’s numbers are not the result of inadvertence or accident. The subhead pretty much says it all: “The very richest are able to quietly shape tax policy that will allow them to shield billions in income.”
These numbers tell an important story, but they don’t tell the whole story: economic inequality both leads to–and results from–other kinds of inequality. It’s a vicious cycle.
Less affluent neighborhoods are less safe. Schools attended by poorer children have fewer resources and poorer results. Friends and relatives of poor Americans are unlikely to benefit from the networking that the more affluent use to find job opportunities. Access to quality healthcare remains unequal even after Obamacare.
Actually, what is even more troubling than these persistent inequities has been the hysterical resistance to Obamacare’s very modest effort to extend health care to poorer Americans. A substantial portion of the public has responded to the Affordable Care Act with hostility and a truly unhinged animus. The assault has not focused upon reasoned concerns about aspects of the law; instead, opponents have indignantly rejected the very suggestion that access to healthcare might be a human right, or at the very least, a primary good that government should provide.
It isn’t only efforts to equalize access to healthcare that have met with hostility. Increasingly, we see substantial support for unequal rights in other areas:
Americans place a higher priority on preserving the religious freedom of Christians than for other faith groups, ranking Muslims as the least deserving of the protections, according to a new survey.
Solid majorities said it was extremely or very important for the U.S. to uphold religious freedom in general. However, the percentages varied dramatically when respondents were asked about specific faith traditions, according to a poll by The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
This reluctance to understand that rights are different from privileges—this inability to understand that no one really has rights if government gets to decide who gets them and who doesn’t—reminded me of Nat Hentoff’s 1992 book “Free Speech for Me, But Not for Thee.” If there is one area in which equality is supremely important, it’s equality before the law–and contrary to what too many Americans seem to believe, equality is not a zero-sum game.
There’s a significant “chicken and egg” component to these various manifestations of inequality—which comes first, economic deprivation or reduced social efficacy? We may not be able to answer that question, but surely we can figure out a way to break the cycle.