Inequality has emerged as a major economic issue in the United States and beyond.
Sharp increases in the share of income going to the top 1 percent of earners, a rising share of income going to profits, stagnant real wages, and a rising gap between productivity growth and growth in median family income are all valid causes for concern. A generation ago, it could have been plausibly asserted that the economy’s overall growth rate was the dominant determinant of growth in middle-class incomes and progress in reducing poverty. This is no longer plausible. The United States may well be on the way to becoming a Downton Abbey economy.
So concern about inequality and its concomitants is warranted. Issues associated with an increasingly unequal distribution of economic rewards will likely be with us long after the cyclical conditions have normalized and budget deficits finally addressed.
Those who condemn President Barack Obama’s concern about inequality as “tearing down the wealthy” and un-American populism have, to put it politely, limited historical perspective. Consider a sampling of past presidential rhetoric.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, talking about the financial industry in his first Inaugural Address in 1933, said “Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion …. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision and when there is no vision the people perish.”