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Is Growing Inequality Inevitable?

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Of course growing inequality is not inevitable. Robert Kuttner:

But can we ever get that back? Of course we can—the obstacles are political, not economic.

We could have much higher minimum wages. We could stop the union-bashing. We could restore a brand of globalization that promotes rather than undermines national social standards. We could invest massively in a green transition, modeled on the World War II mobilization that reduced unemployment from 14 percent to 2 percent in two years and produced tens of millions of good jobs.

As technology replaces human work, we could also give everyone a share of that new production, the way the Alaska Permanent Fund gives all Alaskans a share of that state’s oil revenues. Any advances created with the help of government—from subsidy of biomedical research to free-riding on the internet—could be subject to a share-the-wealth levy. Author Peter Barnes is the inspiration for this idea.

Is this broad vision crazy? It is far less crazy than the folly of supply-side economics that is back in fashion, which will only make America more needlessly unequal.

As Kuttner points out, this is a question of political power, not some sort of inevitable force in the economy. In the New Gilded Age, corporations have torn down most of the limitations to their wealth that were erected between the 1930s and 1970s to create a more equitable society. They are now seeking to eliminate the last of those barriers (and largely will in the next 4 years) and repeal much of the Progressive Era as well. These are grim times indeed. But they are not inevitable. The obstacles we have to overcome to turn this tide are certainly no greater than those of workers a century ago. But we have to commit to this fight to do it. A more robust Democratic Party leading an actual fight would help but we are a long ways from that. And the loss of class consciousness, even among the white working class toward other members of the white working class (racism has usually trumped class consciousness across races of course) certainly makes this harder. But it is not impossible. It will however probably be one of the critical struggles of our remaining lives.

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