Becoming comfortably numb to income inequality
By Matthew Goldstein and Jennifer Ablan
About a year ago, Nobel Prize-winning liberal economist Joseph Stiglitz made a surprise appearance at the Occupy Wall Street camp site in Zuccotti Park, giving a speech to rally the protestors and support their causes of bringing attention to the economic divide between the 1 percent and everyone else in the U.S.
Today, the protestors in lower Manhattan have all but disappeared with the attention on Occupy Wall Street gone along with it.
Stiglitz said the effort wasn’t for nothing, however.
“I think Occupy Wall Street served a function in that it brought to the attention of the American public two things…the distortion of our economy and inequality,” Stiglitz told Reuters TV this week in a wide ranging interview (led by Jenn) at Columbia University, where his a professor. Stiglitz said the protests helped serve notice that while a small group of Americans are doing far better than the other 99 percent, “we all have to get together” for the country to truly prosper.
The thing is, it makes you wonder if one reason OWS couldn’t keep up the momentum is that people know what the problem is but just aren’t sure much can be done about it. In other words, it’s hard to keep protesting something—in this case, inequality—if you’ve come to accept it as the way things are just going to be.
And if it is the case that a growing number of Americans simply see income inequality as part of the New Normal, that could have long-term ramifications for how we all see each other as a nation, says Stiglitz.
“We are paying a very high price for this inequality,” said Stiglitz. “The U.S. has become the advanced industrial country with the least equality of opportunity and that is very different from our self-image—the American Dream.”
Noting that success in the U.S. is more dependent on income than in many other industrialized countries, he said: “We are not using one of our most important assets–our human capital … and that means we are weakening our economy.”
For Jenn’s full interview with Stiglitz click here.