What do we do with Inequality and what does that mean to You? Repost from 2013: It Hasn’t Improved

  2. Blog post on What do we do with Inequality and what does that mean to You?This is the first of an ongoing series, with some dialogue and comment, we hope. It is are that we will take an extended passage from a journal and launch a discussion series based on this. But I encountered a rare passage from an author in MONTHLY REVIEW (not always the most vivid of progressive publications) that I found so compelling that I want the first “cut” to speak for itself.

  3. Imagine at a very practical level, what it is like to “grow up with advantages” in modern America—and without them. See how this passage captures that, and drawing implications should follow. Our source is from Michael Yates in the March 12, 2012 issue of MR, pp. 9-10 in an Article entitled “The Great Inequality,” … he quotes at length from his own book, Naming the System: Inequality and Work in the Global Economy (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2012) pp.58-59… (Yates is co-editor of Monthly Review and an economist, formerly of the U. of Pennsylvania): In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where I lived for many years, there is an extraordinarily wealthy family, the Hillman’s, with a net worth of several billion dollars.

  4. One of their homes, along once fashionable Fifth Avenue, is a gorgeous mansion on a magnificent piece of property. About three miles east of this residence is the Homewood section of the city, whose mean streets have been made famous by the writer John Edgar Wideman. On North Lang Street there is a row of three connected apartments. One of the end apartments has been abandoned to the elements to the rodents and drug users. This is gang territory, and if you are African-American, you do not go there wearing the wrong colors. Poverty, deep and grinding, in rampant on this street and in this neighborhood, which has one of the nation’s highest infant mortality rates. Consider two children, one born in the Hillman house and another in the North Lang Street apartment. In the former there are two rich and influential parents. In the latter there is a single mother working nights with three small children.

  5. Let us ask some basic questions. Which mother will have the best health care, with regular visits to the doctor, medicine if needed and a healthy diet? Which child is more likely to have a normal birth weight? Which child is likely to get adequate health care and have good healthcare in early childhood? If the poor child does not have these things, who will return to this child the brain cells lost as a consequence? Which child is more likely to suffer the ill effects of lead poisoning? Which child is more likely to have an older sibling, just 12 years old, be responsible for him when the mother is working at night? Who will be fed cookies for supper and be entertained by an old television set? If the two children get ill in the middle of the night, which one will be more likely to make it to the emergency room in time? Which child will start school speaking standard English, wearing new clothes, and having someone at home to make sure the homework gets done? Which child will travel, and which will barely make it out of the neighborhood?

  6.  As the two children grow up, what sort of people will they meet? Which will be more likely to meet persons who could be useful to them when seeking admission to college or looking for a job or trying to find funding for a business venture? Which will be more likely to be hit by a stray bullet fired in a war over drug turf? Which will go to the better school? Which will have access to books, magazines, newspapers, and computers in the home? Which one will wear worn-out clothes? 

  7. Which will be embarrassed because his clothes smell? Which will be more likely to have caring teachers who work in well equipped and safe schools? Which will be afraid to tell the teacher that he does not have crayons and colored paper at home? Which will learn the grammar and the syntax of the rich? Which child will join a gang? Abuse drugs? Commit a crime? Be harassed by the police because he is black? When these two children face the labor market, which will be more productive?


    To ask these questions is to answer them. And when we considered that the poor child in the United States is better off than two thirds of the world’s population, we must consider that most of the world’s people live in a condition of deprivation so extreme that they must be considered to have almost no opportunities at all. They are almost as condemned as a person on death row in a Texas prison.



    Strong words? Yes. Mr. Yates would not back down from a single one of them, nor would we. Please let us know what You think.

39 thoughts on “What do we do with Inequality and what does that mean to You? Repost from 2013: It Hasn’t Improved

  1. This is an issue I care about as well. My advice to anyone who is not aware of the high price we ALL pay when inequality trends in the wrong direction is to read the excellent book, “The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger.” The data gathering was international and is a quantitative defense of the philosophical argument. Thanks for this post, we need more like this.


      • I hear you, but if you have time, a little more info on the 50% who do not pay taxes? Source? It may be that a large % at the bottom are making less and less to tax! Try this: 1% of Americans hold 20% of the wealth, 10% hold 40%, bottom 50%: 13%. Should we increase taxes on this bottom group?


      • The notion that half the population do not pay taxes is completely false. Something like 50% do not end up paying FEDERAL INCOME TAXES. That’s because they make less than $30k per year. Everyone with a job, though, however poorly paid, still pays FICA taxes. Beyond that–and this even hits people who work in the black market, nearly everyone pays sales taxes, gasoline taxes, cigarette and alcohol taxes … On top of this, everyone pays property taxes — either directly or through rent. So saying half the population “doesn’t have any skin in the game” is either mistaken, or an outright lie.

        As for the “Robin Hood” libel … Everybody should have a right to basic sustenance — food, shelter, education and health care. Those who do not have this right do not live in a just society. When people have these basic necessities taken care of individuals have actual freedom, and are able to work, improve themselves and be productive members of society. And it’s not Robin Hood, because no one is taking from the rich to give to the poor. Everyone is working within the framework and social contract of a just society. The rich are no less rich, but the whole society is much, much richer as a result in investing in itself.


      • Well there you go, Bert. I could not have said it better. It is amazing the degree to which people are in denial about 21st C. “fundamentals.” Hey, Social
        Darwinism is Over! Sort of like the Inquisition. We may use survival of the fittest and life is not fair tags to rationalize a world we feel we cannot control, or perhaps do not want to. But the very point of this blog and Book is to advocate relentless small improvements at the margins rather than waiting for some big seismic shift to occur (say 1929). Obamacare is already widening health coverage and reducing costs. But it seems to corkscrew its way into the guilty, delusional core of those who think “Euro nanny-stating” is the big threat. NO. The big threat is the ever widening rich poor gap. MANTRA: 1 % OWN 20% OF WEALTH, 10% OWN 40%, (the other nine percent of the top ten should be a little annoyed); 50% own 13 %. Sources: Robert Reich, BEYOND OUTRAGE, the ECONOMIST, etc.http://www.google.lv/search?q=distribution+of+wealth+in+the+us&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=qXbrUcrUJMS44ASpw4CYAQ&ved=0CEAQsAQ&biw=1366&bih=552#facrc=_&imgrc=H6CDAqmPLgIaLM%3A%3BSfV4DbG0qq0r4M%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fmedia.theunderstatement.com%252F005_B_us_wealth_distribution.png%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Ftheunderstatement.com%252Fpost%252F3999331289%252Fus-wealth-distribution-visualized%3B461%3B693


      • It’s not true that 50% pay not taxes. If they have a job they DO pay FICA taxes, those that go toward Social Security and Medicare, on 100% of their earnings. They also pay sales taxes on everything they buy. If they own a car, they pay taxes on that. It’s only income tax, the only progressive tax, that some people don’t have to pay if their income is too low. This comes NOWHERE near to being the tax break that the rich enjoy.


  2. To people who believe in the legacy of progressivism, the New Deal, and the Great Society, it seems a commonplace that America has on the whole been moving in the wrong direction since the 1970’s.But why has this happened? Why has inequality widened and poverty increased?

    The failures of liberalism are part of the story; the business counterattack against the Great Society has also contributed; the successful tactics of Reagan and company, talk radio and economic globalization have each played a role in the upsurge of conservatism in recent decades. Most important of all has been the impact of the far-reaching changes in American society which have bewildered and antagonized many, particularly within the white working class.

    It seems to me that the best hope for a renewal of liberal reform are the recent voter trends that show a pronounced tendency to vote Democratic among young people, women, and the foreign born. Obama’s succeeded in combining these elements with overwhelming support from blacks a
    solid majority among Hispanics, and a minority of about 40% of white voters. But will Obama’s coalition of 2008 and 2012 prove durable?


    • I will quote Winston Churchill . . .“Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy: whereas the virtue of socialism is that it stands for the equal sharing of misery.”


      • In order to have a “great society” everyone needs to have some skin in the game. Unfortunately somehow there are those who feel that certain people should get a pass on having any skin in the game. Because some make poor choices does not mean those that did not should have to pay for their poor choices. Not to mention the political advantages of keeping people poor, uneducated and on welfare, in some cases, for three generations. It is more difficult to control an educated person but so easy to lead the ignorant.


      • I was in Norway in January. A modified socialism. They did not seem to miserable: national health care, bridges and roads that are not crumbling, prenatal care on demand, housing (nice) for single poor folk. And the well off are OK too. And there is actually a middle class thriving! Equal sharing of misery? It is interesting that if you take the USA national optimism and respect for government during the New Deal and post New Deal years of 1935-1970 (with the possible distraction of violent wars), it looks pretty strong compared with the 21st C. so far.


      • The “50% who pay no taxes” lie (which right wingers who ought to know better, love to bleat) refers to Federal income tax. The right-wing sheep don’t ever admit that sales taxes, Federal gasoline taxes and so on, weigh disproportionatly on that “50% who don’t, really, pay no taxes”.
        Are you any wiser, Jorge, than your puppet masters? Just because Willard Romney lies, do you suppose that you are entitled to lie as well? Is that your idea of morality?
        Where did you learn your “values”, sir? In a right-wing church?
        And of course, Winston Churchill, in this case, was wrong. Does that also entitle you to repeat his bigoted errors?
        There’s something wrong with you, Jorge. Your lack of integrity is worrisome. I hope that you’re not a citizen, and a voter.


  3. I sympathize with the plight of the disadvantaged, I have been one of them. I dropped out of high school, lived on food stamps, and got my education paid for by federal grants and social security supplemental security income. These subsidies were not an accident. I had to figure out how to get where I wanted to be. I did drugs, lived in crime riddled neighborhoods, and had to cope with poverty and ignorance all around me, but I got out, I overcame the disadvantages I faced.

    Yes I’m white but that doesn’t make the disadvantages any less real or difficult to overcome. One of the first things that I learned when I was on my own was that very few people care what happens to anyone, and I praise those who do. I was lucky enough to have two women who saw potential in me and helped me navigate the maze of government programs to get an education so that I could work and support myself.

    A big part of becoming successful is learning from your mistakes and trying not to make them again. Some people learn, some don’t. I’m not saying that it is any person’s fault that they were born into poverty, and I’m not saying that anyone can find their way out, but some do. I believe in and support cradle-to-grave social safety net programs and free education for every citizen who wants to get one, but that is not the world we currently live in for the most part, and certainly not here in the United States.

    I believe this is one reason we have so much violence in this country, we have created a system that forces people to compete on an uneven playing field and we expect the disadvantaged to play by the same rules as those with the upper hand. The result is like trying to dam the Colorado river with a beaver dam, it doesn’t take long for the pressure to build and the dam to be washed away, or in the case of civil interaction for the rules to be swept aside once the disadvantaged realize they can even the odds with a gun or violence.

    On the other hand every person born into poverty and disadvantage does have a choice to make, accept your condition or change it. This doesn’t mean that it will be easy, some will choose to break the rules, some will live within the system, and some will find a way to bend the rules to their advantage. Some will change their fate, some won’t. I certainly believe that we ought to do everything within our power to help those who want to change their fate, but they do have to choose to change it.

    The reality is that those with money and power do not want to give any advantage to those who do not already possess it. This is the natural law of capitalism and competition. When we are all forced to compete on the same playing field but with two sets of rules, one for the advantaged, one for those without advantage, eventually someone is going to break through and find a way to overcome the home field advantage. The response of the home team will likely be to bribe the officials. Sad to say capitalism just doesn’t respect whiners, losers, or those who play by the rules. Conflict is at the heart of the capitalist system and we shouldn’t be surprised that it crushes those who can’t keep up, advantaged or not.

    If we are serious about changing the situation for those who are disadvantaged it is going to take a major shift away from the capitalist system of competition to a more social system of cooperation.Not something those with power and money want to see implemented simply because they will lose their advantage. It is an age old tug of war. The only thing the disadvantaged have going for themselves is that there are WAY more average folks than rich ones.


    • John~
      This is a dazzling and highly personal covering of a lot of ground about our present situation. I think some of the very wealthy and power really do want to do some good. Surely they are the exception. And a dose of guilt or consciousness of luck as well as being “self made” (Bloomberg, Buffett, Gates) does wonders. More later….


    • Shift away from capitalism? To what. Your idea of what is fair and how much of my accomplishments you feel that I should turn over to those whom you choose. Disadvantaged and rich are relative terms.
      I wish i had Gates overview of the world and access to his advantages.

      Why don’t you go take some from him and give it to me.

      I suspect that if you are truly human, you will distribute among those “you” consider disadvantaged, after taking a little to help “you” distribute the next equalizing “advantage largess”.

      Your logic is heartfelt, but history proves it wrong. POLITICS is what’s good for me and my friends. And the same goes for you. You just don’t (or won’t) see it.

      The government of the US was about Personal freedoms to “peruse”, and not be obstructed by others or the government. It was created in a revolution to fight Tyranny. It has morphed into a highly restrictive set of equalizer rules to stop abuses from others to others, and as a net result grown to become a great restricter of the same.


  4. As someone who once lived in the depraved area and no longer does let me give you first hand experience to answer your questions.

    Of course to ask the questions is to answer them that is obvious. But all throughout your thread it reeks of total ignorance in considering the very individual decisions that go into generational poverty and ignorance.

    If the young children in the poor areas continue to have more sex outside marriage, continue to have more children outside marriage, and continue to reject the values of their grand parents then their communities will forever be difficult – at best – to get out of in good shape.

    More money is not the answer. More education is not the answer (because unfortunately unlike in my day our education system no longer teaches the three R’s … but rather social engineering which only goes towards a less hopeful world) More Government is not the answer since the more Government has grown there has not been anywhere near the commensurate rise in living standards among the poor.

    What we need is 1) family values 2) national values (we cannot farm out all the jobs overseas … reduce the supply of well paying jobs … and somehow pay for our elderly all at the same time.) We need an America first attitude for jobs and the reduction of poverty in this country … which btw, made headway in the 50’s and 60’s. 3) we need opportunity for people to rise up (see my rant in #2) 4) we need a return of personal and individual accountability and responsibility 5) MOST OF ALL we need God back … the God we kicked out of our nation some 50 years ago (How could anyone not see the direct connection to the condition of our society at all levels?)


    • During the era of the War on Poverty, poverty was reduced by about fifty percent. It is asinine to simply say (as the right wing bleats) “liberal policies failed”. Poverty is increasing, now that the right wing has eroded all of the various anti-poverty programs, and of course one never hears right-wingers complaining about their own failure.
      The political right wing of today is still what it has always been: a coalition to benefit the rich at the expense of their fellow citizens, not a coalition to benefit the people. Its supporters rely so heavily on lying about their record and about the records of their opposition, simply because the truth is not their friend.


  5. Sorry this may be true, but getting over it is not my personal solution. Yes, get over it and then get your butt the hell in gear to do something constructive for yourself or somebody else and respect those (government And private!) who are earnestly trying to do the same. I mean Everybody, not just you, Phillip. And yes, one can profitably start with “life is not fair.”


    BINARY ECONOMICS. Amazon Books.

    Man was not created to fail. God stored up ALL the solutions to man’s problems BEFORE the foundations of this earth were put in place.


  7. The notion of inequality was created for the sole purpose of justifying the taking of that which does not belong to you.

    It’s unsuitable for one to outright confiscate the property of another. But if one confiscates the property of another by claiming he’s trying to right the wrongs of “inequality,” then not only does it become acceptable in the eyes of many, but he who is doing the confiscating is seen as being noble and virtuous.

    The concept of “inequality” is senseless, with no rational or logical basis. To debate it is to simply lend credence to a ruse.


  8. I am a person that was subject to the pitfalls of life, but did not fall victim! I don’t want and did not receive charity, food stamps or any government provided program until I left the service and utilized the GI bill. I never desired for someone else to subsidize my progress through life and would not now force someone who has struggled to achieve success to support those unwilling to sacrifice for success. I know this does not apply to all, because some are born into great wealth, and some stuck in the peril of poverty, but we are all in possession of abilities to rise out of bad circumstance….especially when living in the US where opportunity is so available. No one has to fall to drug use, that is a poor excuse for failure and tenacity will prevail, as we all witness with the current rise in socialism! We should never fail to the point of depending on the government to subsidize or force excess tax of labor on one to the other within society! Equal justice under the law limits the disparity of taxation, but does not equally distribute wealth. The Constitution does not dictate equal wealth but equal protection, as even the poor will not be victimized by the government. That should not be changed to victimize those that have found success.


    • David,
      This is thought provoking and I hope others will react. A few questions: 1. what about people who Didn’t struggle, particularly, to achieve success– I mean most of us struggle– but many successful folk (less than half) were handed a whole lot from their family fortunes, born with silver spoons so to speak; and what about those who have worked very hard but, because of a combination of luck, or color, or gender, or circumstance simply were not able to provide for their own needs or those who depended upon them?,
      2. Opportunity in the USA is indeed available, but did you read the piece on opportunity as experienced by a wealthy Pittsburgh youth v. that of a child of a single parent in a run down ghetto?, does the latter deserve a leg-up, help from somewhere, or is it all just about the luck of the draw?,
      3. can you think of some names of people or categories of people who have been “victimized,” having found success? do you mean here high taxes?

      When you speak of the current rise of socialism, to you realize that corporate and personal income taxes were far higher in the 1950s and 1960s than today– for the very rich? Are you aware that the fabulously wealthy qualify for as much or more social security (from the Government) as the modest secretary or school teacher retiring? And that If you pay into social security and retire in 2010, that all of the money you paid into the program between, say, 1960 and 2010 will be used up by the time you are 69 or 70 years old? So after that age, what you are getting is welfare, money redistributed to you from other people. You may have worked hard, but it’s still Welfare after what you put in has been exceeded. You may have served nobly in the military, but the GI Bill is still a form of transfer payment. Sharecroppers, ghetto kids, American Indians, etc. get a bit of welfare, but the programs that help them to not, on a per capita basis, approach the GI bill benefits. I could go on, but…!

      Thanks for writing, feel free to respond.


  9. Some of you have bought the lies of the rich who have purchased the media. You know them.
    We have to assure the fearful around us that the golden rule must be practiced by more of us more of the time. When this, and compassion and a realization that ‘we are ONE’ become the way of life, then the rich will voluntarily give more, without taxes, not the tokenism that exists today. People will help each other as has happened in recent disasters, only on a daily basis, because it feels good. Yes, we need to know the Creator’s Plan for us, so listen, because He/She whispers. Once connected, keep practicing. We are children of the half light, waiting for the dawn of the maturation of mankind, leading to the Most Great Peace. There are several books on these topics I can direct you to, if you wish.


    • Thanks for this interesting perspective, Tom. It is another “way in” to the problems I am talking about. Sorry it took so long to get this post approved. I have been on a whirlwind 4 week trip to Europe. Best, fls


  10. Until I see those people calling for this or that in reference to equality burning their own trash, growing all their own food and harvesting their own game, living off the land etc. then I really feel that this conversation is just usual rhetoric. There will always be the haves and have nots. There will always be those that have more….more payments. The majority of people live threw debt as compared to just 70 years ago. Credit cards for example weren’t even available until the late 70s as a rule. We all live in a false sense of prosperity. As long as the payment can be made we feel we have accomplished something when in reality we are all just a couple payments away from being just like the kid in the slums. Think about it.


  11. Please explain to me why I should get up everyday and work my ass off to give my family a reasonably nice life while other people sit on their ass and feel like they are entitled to the same life that I have earned?? If you can’t support children, don’t have them! Welfare has become a career in this country instead of a leg up! If you are sitting on your ass at home in government housing, waiting for your welfare check to arrive then you don’t get to live like I do! That is just a fact!


  12. What decisions, made by whom, caused the poor child living in poverty with a single mother, cookies for dinner, and a TV for entertainment – to be in that position? What combination of incentives and disincentives – economic, cultural, social, and legal – made those decisions seem like good decisions? If we change those incentives and disincentives, will the decisions change?


    • Refiki,

      You make a superb point here… the background behind the curtain. I just wish you’d elaborate or speculate a bit about how people get into such positions. After the first sentence you become abstract “incentives, disincentives, economic, legal…? We could have a great discussion if I know where you are going with this. fls


  13. Pingback: Dialogue on High Hurdles of Progressive Success | fshiels

  14. and so. life goes on, nothing will improve, until the middle class grows stronger, but with all of the taxes, they never will


  15. Let’s spoil the myth here guys. FICA / Payroll, Sales, Property, etc taxes you name contribute 0.00% to running our country. If you own property, you pay tax on it, buy something? Pay the tax and it hits everyone at the same rate / percentage. Now for income, why do you feel you have a right to more of someone else’s money just because they make more than you? Change the tax code so everyone pays 20% and there is no write-off or exemption – everyone pays the same percentage and everyone contributes to running of our country.

    Stop trying to paint successful people as the problem in the country. If you think we need a system like welfare (i’m not saying we don’t) who do you think pays for it? It doesn’t come from the taxes you name.

    I work for my income and it is MY INCOME, not yours, not the governments. I pay my taxes, what I am required to pay by law; I give to charity, I support my church. But just because you may not make the same doesn’t mean you deserve more of my income.


    • Larry,

      I don’t want any of your income. I work hard too and am glad to pay my fair share of taxes for roads, schools, VA assistance. Do you resent kicking in for any of those things? But I would not presume to shape your attitudes on why rich folks should pay the same (or, as now, less than) as poor ones. Maybe you are responding to another blog or website. You sound like a really generous hardworking person. But please use quotations or please do not put words in my mouth. I am sincerely grateful for your spending even 5 minutes with my website. fls


      • Response was more to earlier comments – i should have quoted them, sorry. I don’t mind paying my fair share, until i see the ongoing waste and addiction to spending that both parties currently struggle with. My resentment is to how the money we contribute is mismanaged.

        Thanks for the note fshiels


  16. Pingback: What do we do with Inequality and what does that mean to You ? | fshiels

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