FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Tale of Two Classes

by SAM PIZZIGATI

Peter Edelman has battled poverty for nearly half a century — first as a top aide to Senator Robert Kennedy, later as a state and federal official, and currently as a key figure at a widely respected law and public policy center in Washington.

Over his years in and out of government, Edelman has probably earned as much respect as anyone in our nation’s public policy community. Back in 1996, he did something few high-ranking federal officials ever do. He resigned in protest when President Bill Clinton signed a law that Edelman could not support in good conscience.

Edelman, then an assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, publicly warned that the “welfare reform” that Clinton signed into law would be devastating for the nation’s most vulnerable children. He turned out to be right. The number of children living in deep poverty — kids in families making under half the official poverty threshold — rose 70 percent from 1995 to 2005, and 30 percent more by 2010.

America’s elected leaders didn’t listen to Edelman in 1996. Now they have another chance. Edelman, currently a co-director at the Georgetown University Law Center, has just released a new book  — So Rich, So Poor — that aims “to look anew at why it is so hard to end American poverty.”

You get the feeling from this candid new book that Edelman would be astonished if our elected leaders actually paid attention to his poverty-fighting prescriptions. So Rich, So Poor seems to address a different audience: the millions of decent Americans, from across the political spectrum, who share his outrage about our continuing deep poverty.

These Americans have a special reason for paying close attention to Edelman’s new book. The author, one of the nation’s most committed experts on poverty, has changed his mind — not about poverty and the poor, but about wealth and the rich.

“I used to believe,” Edelman writes in his new book, “that the debate over wealth distribution should be conducted separately from the poverty debate, in order to minimize the attacks on antipoverty advocates for engaging in ‘class warfare.’ But now we literally cannot afford to separate the two issues.”

Why? The “economic and political power of those at the top,” Edelman explains, is “making it virtually impossible to find the resources to do more at the bottom.”

Figuring out how we can achieve a more equal distribution of income and wealth has become, Edelman advises, “the 64-gazillion-dollar question.”

“The only way we will improve the lot of the poor, stabilize the middle class, and protect our democracy,” he notes, “is by requiring the rich to pay more of the cost of governing the country that enables their huge accretion of wealth.”

What about those antipoverty activists and analysts who still yearn to keep poverty — the absence of wealth — separate from the concentration of wealth? Many of these folks, Edelman notes, argue that the rich as a group have no reason to oppose efforts to help end poverty.

Edelman’s response? “More than anything else,” he observes, the wealthy “want low taxes,” and they know the taxes on their sky-high incomes will rise if government ever starts spending money to really help people in need.

“The wealth and income of the top 1 percent grows at the expense of everyone else,” Edelman sums up in So Rich, So Poor. “Money breeds power, and power breeds more money. It is a truly vicious cycle.”

Only average Americans have the wherewithal to end this cycle. Middle- and low-income Americans need to join in common cause. If they don’t, Edelman bluntly adds, “we are cooked.”

Sam Pizzigati is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC, editor of the journal Too Much and author of The Rich Don’t Always Win, Seven Stories Press, New York, forthcoming 2012.

This column is distributed by OtherWords.

 

Sam Pizzigati writes on inequality for the Institute for Policy Studies. His latest book is The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970 (Seven Stories Press). 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
April 28, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Slandering Populism: a Chilling Media Habit
Andrew Levine
Why I Fear and Loathe Trump Even More Now Than On Election Day
Jeffrey St. Clair
Mountain of Tears: the Vanishing Glaciers of the Pacific Northwest
Philippe Marlière
The Neoliberal or the Fascist? What Should French Progressives Do?
Conn Hallinan
America’s New Nuclear Missile Endangers the World
Peter Linebaugh
Omnia Sunt Communia: May Day 2017
Vijay Prashad
Reckless in the White House
Brian Cloughley
Who Benefits From Prolonged Warfare?
Kathy Kelly
The Shame of Killing Innocent People
Ron Jacobs
Hate Speech as Free Speech: How Does That Work, Exactly?
Andre Vltchek
Middle Eastern Surgeon Speaks About “Ecology of War”
Matt Rubenstein
Which Witch Hunt? Liberal Disanalogies
Sami Awad - Yoav Litvin - Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb
Never Give Up: Nonviolent Civilian Resistance, Healing and Active Hope in the Holyland
Pete Dolack
Tribunal Finds Monsanto an Abuser of Human Rights and Environment
Christopher Ketcham
The Coyote Hunt
Mike Whitney
Putin’s New World Order
Ramzy Baroud
Palestinian, Jewish Voices Must Jointly Challenge Israel’s Past
Ralph Nader
Trump’s 100 Days of Rage and Rapacity
Harvey Wasserman
Marine Le Pen Is a Fascist—Not a ‘Right-Wing Populist,’ Which Is a Contradiction in Terms
William Hawes
World War Whatever
John Stanton
War With North Korea: No Joke
Jim Goodman
NAFTA Needs to be Replaced, Not Renegotiated
Murray Dobbin
What is the Antidote to Trumpism?
Louis Proyect
Left Power in an Age of Capitalist Decay
Medea Benjamin
Women Beware: Saudi Arabia Charged with Shaping Global Standards for Women’s Equality
Rev. William Alberts
Selling Spiritual Care
Peter Lee
Invasion of the Pretty People, Kamala Harris Edition
Cal Winslow
A Special Obscenity: “Guernica” Today
Binoy Kampmark
Turkey’s Kurdish Agenda
Guillermo R. Gil
The Senator Visits Río Piedras
Jeff Mackler
Mumia Abu-Jamal Fights for a New Trial and Freedom 
Cesar Chelala
The Responsibility of Rich Countries in Yemen’s Crisis
Leslie Watson Malachi
Women’s Health is on the Chopping Block, Again
Basav Sen
The Coal Industry is a Job Killer
Judith Bello
Rojava, a Popular Imperial Project
Robert Koehler
A Public Plan for Peace
Sam Pizzigati
The Insider Who Blew the Whistle on Corporate Greed
Nyla Ali Khan
There Has to be a Way Out of the Labyrinth
Michael J. Sainato
Trump Scales Back Antiquities Act, Which Helped to Create National Parks
Stu Harrison
Under Duterte, Filipino Youth Struggle for Real Change
Martin Billheimer
Balm for Goat’s Milk
Stephen Martin
Spooky Cookies and Algorithmic Steps Dystopian
Michael Doliner
Thank You Note
Charles R. Larson
Review: Gregor Hens’ “Nicotine”
David Yearsley
Handel’s Executioner
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail