Conservative Pundits, Lawmakers Scoff at Talk of Income Inequality

September 23, 2011

by Jeremy Leaming

The yawning gap between the nation’s super wealthy and everyone else is likely the widest it has been since the 1920s. And, as TPM reported recently, Fox’s talking head Brit Hume asked “who cares?”

Obviously many right-wingers do not care. But history is replete, as Columbia University Professor Joseph E. Stiglitz noted earlier this year in a piece for Vanity Fair, with stories of crumbling societies where the wealthy few ignored the plight of the many.

“The top 1 percent,” Stiglitz wrote, “have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing 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.”

So as Hume smirks at the growing inequality gap and his colleague Bill O’Reilly claims the discussion of income inequality annoys him, more and more Americans are catching onto the fact that right-wing economic policies pushed for decades are doing nothing for the country except making a tiny few much wealthier. Our infrastructure is eroding, and numerous states, as noted in this piece by The New York Times, are cutting already meager safety nets for the less fortunate. Such cuts are swelling the ranks of the poor and especially shoving larger numbers of children into poverty. According to an Annie E. Casey Foundation report, cited by The Times, by 2009 “about 2.4 million more children’s families lived below the poverty line than in 200, an increase of 18 percent.”  

The Census Bureau reported earlier this month that the number of people in poverty is at its highest in more than 50 years. Just last year, the Census Bureau reported that another 2.6 million people fell into poverty. A press release announcing the Bureau’s findings, states, “The nation’s official poverty rate in 2010 was 15.1 percent, up from 14.3 percent in 2009 – the third consecutive annual increase in the poverty rate. There were 46.2 million people in poverty in 2010, up from 43.6 million in 2009 – the fourth consecutive annual increase and the largest number in the 52 years of which poverty estimates have been published.”

Beyond irking knee-jerk pundits, talk of economic inequality also elicits typical cries of “class warfare,” from some congressional lawmakers, as The Times’ Paul Krugman writes, noting Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan who bemoaned as “class warfare,” President Obama’s recent comments that the wealthy in the country pay too little in taxes, and that more should be asked of this group.

Krugman dismantles the class warfare rhetoric, writing that “it’s people like Mr. Ryan, who want to exempt the very rich from bearing any of the burden of making our finances sustainable, who are waging class war.”

Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard professor who helped launch the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and is now running for the U.S. Senate, also forcefully countered the right-wing’s take on economic inequality.

Warren (pictured), who detailed her idea for a consumer protection agency at the 2009 ACS National Convention, said earlier this week, “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there, good for you. But I want to be clear, you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers, the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for.”

She continued, “Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea. God bless, keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract, is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”   

As Professor Stiglitz observed, those who “shrug their shoulders” at the nation’s income inequality do so not only with callousness and arrogance, but also with little understanding of the importance of a sound economy to the nation’s health. “An economy in which most citizens are doing worse year after year – an economy like America’s – is not likely to do well over the long haul,” he wrote. And so, capitalism run amok ought to elicit more than smug shrugs from right-wing pundits, and tired class warfare rhetoric from lawmakers.