In a recent interview with The Nation, Peter B. Edelman, a longtime champion of fighting American poverty, lamented the lack of outrage over the growing gap between the wealthy and everyone else. Edelman, a Georgetown University law school professor and ACS Board member, notes that more than 19 million people in the U.S. live in extreme poverty, but that the government continues to protect the wealthy from contributing to the betterment of society.
Columbia University Business School Professor Joseph E. Stiglitz examines the matter further in an article for Vanity Fair, concluding that the nation’s wealthiest actively work to protect their lifestyles, while the nation suffers.
The professor detailing the growing economic inequality also believes that eventually a sense of outrage and demand for change are unavoidable.
Stiglitz notes, “While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall.” He continues, “All the growth in recent decades – and more – has gone to those at the top. In terms of income equality, America lags behind any country in the old, ossified Europe that President George W. Bush used to deride. Among our closest counterparts are Russia with its oligarchs and Iran.”
A strong reason for the growing economic inequality, Stiglitz writes, is the power of the top 1 percent. Essentially, he says that the top 1 percent want it this way.
The more divided a society becomes in terms of wealth; the more reluctant the wealthy become to spend money on common needs. The rich don’t need to rely on government for parks or education or medical care or personal security—they can buy all these things for themselves. In the process, they become more distant from ordinary people, losing whatever empathy they may once have had. They also worry about strong government—one that could use its powers to adjust the balance, take some of their wealth, and invest it for the common good. The top 1 percent may complain about the kind of government we have in America, but in truth they like it just fine: too gridlocked to re-distribute, too divided to do anything but lower taxes.
In “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%,” Stiglitz notes downfalls of societies where economic inequality had too long been ignored and where a deep sense of anger eventually produced change.
The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Too late.