Monday, December 16, 2013
The Right's War to Defend Inequality
As inequality is finally becoming a hot topic in American discourse, it is generating the predictable pushback from the Right. Visit a few web sites and you'll find the same predictable talking points. The punditry is building the same straw men out of the same lies.
One tactic is to denounce those who demand action against inequality as socialists, communists, rabid Marxists. This is a dark conspiracy by the people who elected that Kenyan radical as the country's president.
Then denounce the poor. Portray them as bums who are too lazy to work and are just looking for handouts from ordinary, hardworking, middle class Americans.
Equate wealth disparity with merit, the American Dream and democracy itself. Greed is good and ever more greed is even better. Never even hint that the deck may be stacked.
Once you have all those straw men set up, it's time for the coup de grace. Bait and switch. Change the narrative from inequality to equality. Contend that those against inequality are actually demanding equality. It's all about giving the bum exactly what the hard working guy has from toiling at his two or three jobs.
You've gone from an argument about the top 1% or 10% to a narrative about the bottom half and you've made the merely hard pressed fearful and hostile toward the truly impoverished. You've divided the precariat and turned it against itself.
Paul Krugman weighs in on inequality today and explains why it truly is, "the defining challenge of our time." Also in today's NYT, Columbia prof Shamus Kahn argues that Americans need to realize
"We are not all in this together."
This leaves us with two lessons. The first is that just as political alliances brought us out of our golden age, they can also return us to it. This will not be easy. The nation has often come together in response to shared threats, but a political project like this is tougher. Those who want the lion’s share of the national wealth will threaten to leave our shores. Let them. There are plenty of civic-minded members of the elite who recognize that absent major changes, our future is clear: more and more for the richest and a society where the mass of the citizenry idles. This is democracy in decline.
The second lesson is harder. We are not in this together. We need to get back to what made America great, when the many and not the few were winning. To do so we must stop conflating moral arguments with economic ones. Instead of operating under the fiction that we will all benefit from a proposed change in economic direction, let’s be honest. If a few of us are better off, then many are not. If many are better off, then the few will be constrained. Which world would you rather live in? To me the answer is obvious.
Can ordinary Americans rise to the challenge? Can they reclaim what is rightfully theirs?