The Great Debate

Obama’s small steps won’t fix inequality

By Helaine Olen
January 30, 2014

President Barack Obama is taking on the challenge of increasing the United States’ all but stagnant economic mobility.

Obama’s address: Borrowing from Bubba and the Gipper

By David Kusnet
January 29, 2014

Many presidents don’t have the problem of salvaging their second terms because the voters threw them out of office. Among those who win reelection, the successful communicators, such as Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, used many of the techniques that President Barack Obama deployed in his State of the Union Address last night. He is likely to repeat them often this year, which is one that will determine whether his administration is remembered as transformational or transitional.

How do we measure whether Americans are better off than in the past?

By Allison Schrager
January 16, 2014

Are you better off than you were twenty years ago? Probably not relative to very rich people today, but what about relative to you, or to someone your age and position twenty years ago? Income inequality has been called the defining issue of our time. Powerful leaders, from President Obama to Pope Francis, have cited it as evidence that the unfettered capitalism that has enriched the wealthy hasn’t been shared. Of course, there’s a difference between the gains in income being shared evenly, shared a little, or making everyone else poorer. In many ways the average American is much better off than he used to be; in other ways he’s worse off.  But even if we focus on what’s gotten better, we may still need to worry about the future.

Heads, the rich win; tails, the poor lose

By Helaine Olen
December 23, 2013

The rich, to mangle F. Scott Fitzgerald slightly, they rationalize differently than you and me. Whether they succeed or fail, they’ve always got a pseudo-scientific excuse. If they do well, it’s because their habits are better than those of the rest of us peons. If they do badly, it was their upbringing, since wealthy parents too readily substitute lucre for love.

Steven Cohen: The Gilded Age revisited

By Patricia Beard
November 13, 2013

There he is in all his tarnished glory: Steven A. Cohen, arguably the most famous, and infamous, hedge fund manager in the United States. Maybe the world.

Why low social status can be bad for your health

By Maia Szalavitz
October 30, 2013

Inequality is at an all-time high in America. Since the 2008 crash, recent IRS figures show, the wealth of the top 1 percent grew 31 percent while the rest of American incomes grew by less than 1 percent. But although it might appear that income disparities affect only the poor and have primarily an economic impact, dozens of studies now link extreme inequality with poor health and shorter lives, across the entire socioeconomic spectrum.

Obama on King, but in a passive voice

By Jeff Shesol
August 29, 2013

It was a sermon — of sorts.

President Barack Obama’s address at the Lincoln Memorial on Wednesday only rarely echoed the cadence — the preacher’s rhythm — of the speech he was there to commemorate, and could not match its moral force. But this was a sermon all the same.

Trying to raise a family on a fast-food salary

By Christine Owens
August 29, 2013

Fast-food workers in more than 50 cities Thursday are striking for fair pay and the right to form a union — the biggest walkout to hit the industry. This latest round of labor unrest comes 50 years after hundreds of thousands of Americans, led by Martin Luther King Jr., joined the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, demanding not only civil rights, but also good jobs and economic equality.

Fighting discrimination, as inequality grows

By Bill Schneider
August 28, 2013

I grew up in the segregated South. I tell students the story of how, as a young boy, I went with my mother to Bloomberg’s Department Store on High Street in Portsmouth, Virginia. There was a stack of doilies on the ladies’ hat counter and I asked my mother what they were for. She explained that a black woman had to put a doily on her head before trying on a hat, because a white woman would not purchase a hat that had been on a black woman’s head.

The Supreme Court ‘s Gilded Age redux

By Richard White
August 14, 2013

The Supreme Court belongs to the small club whose members seem to assume that saying something makes it so. It deals in precedents — not the same thing as dealing in history. It prefers obiter dicta to the messiness of the past.