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:
July 27, 2016
Richard Moser
The Party’s Over
M. G. Piety
Smoke and Mirrors in Philadelphia
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Humiliation Games: Notes on the Democratic Convention
Arun Gupta
Bernie Sanders’ Political Revolution Splinters Apart
John Eskow
The Loneliness of the American Leftist
Guillermo R. Gil
A Metaphoric Short Circuit: On Michelle Obama’s Speech at the DNC
Norman Pollack
Sanders, Our Tony Blair: A Defamation of Socialism
Claire Rater, Carol Spiegel and Jim Goodman
Consumers Can Stop the Overuse of Antibiotics on Factory Farms
Guy D. Nave
Make America Great Again?
Sam Husseini
Why Sarah Silverman is a Comedienne
Dave Lindorff
No Crooked Sociopaths in the White House
Dan Bacher
The Hired Gun: Jerry Brown Snags Bruce Babbitt as New Point Man For Delta Tunnels
Peter Lee
Trumputin! And the DNC Leak(s)
David Macaray
Interns Are Exploited and Discriminated Against
Brett Warnke
Storm Clouds Over Philly
Ann Garrison
Rwanda, the Clinton Dynasty, and the Case of Dr. Léopold Munyakazi
Chris Zinda
Snakes of Deseret
July 26, 2016
Andrew Levine
Pillory Hillary Now
Kshama Sawant
A Call to Action: Walk Out from the Democratic National Convention!
Russell Mokhiber
The Rabble Rise Together Against Bernie, Barney, Elizabeth and Hillary
Jeffrey St. Clair
Don’t Cry For Me, DNC: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Angie Beeman
Why Doesn’t Middle America Trust Hillary? She Thinks She’s Better Than Us and We Know It
Paul Street
An Update on the Hate…
Fran Shor
Beyond Trump vs Clinton
Ellen Brown
Japan’s “Helicopter Money” Play: Road to Hyperinflation or Cure for Debt Deflation?
Richard W. Behan
The Banana Republic of America: Democracy Be Damned
Binoy Kampmark
Undermining Bernie Sanders: the DNC Campaign, WikiLeaks and Russia
Arun Gupta
Trickledown Revenge: the Racial Politics of Donald Trump
Sen. Bernard Sanders
What This Election is About: Speech to DNC Convention
David Swanson
DNC Now Less Popular Than Atheism
Linn Washington Jr.
‘Clintonville’ Reflects True Horror of Poverty in US
Deepak Tripathi
Britain in the Doldrums After the Brexit Vote
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Threats: Arbitrary Lines on Political Maps
Robert J. Gould
Proactive Philanthropy: Don’t Wait, Reach Out!
Victor Grossman
Horror and Sorrow in Germany
Nyla Ali Khan
Regionalism, Ethnicity, and Trifurcation: All in the Name of National Integration
Andrew Feinberg
The Good TPP
400 US Academics
Letter to US Government Officials Concerning Recent Events in Turkey
July 25, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
As the Election Turns: Trump the Anti-Neocon, Hillary the New Darling of the Neocons
Ted Rall
Hillary’s Strategy: Snub Liberal Democrats, Move Right to Nab Anti-Trump Republicans
William K. Black
Doubling Down on Wall Street: Hillary and Tim Kaine
Russell Mokhiber
Bernie Delegates Take on Bernie Sanders
Quincy Saul
Resurgent Mexico
Andy Thayer
Letter to a Bernie Activist
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan is Strengthened by the Failed Coup, But Turkey is the Loser
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail