FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Defining Inequality Down

by DAVID GREEN

Since the recession of 2008, it has become increasingly apparent that for the past four decades the majority of the American population has gotten a raw economic deal. Computer applications and internet technology have made accessible raw data from the Census, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and other government, academic, and think tank sources. These data, honestly conveyed by such liberal think tanks as the Economic Policy Institute and the Center for Economic and Policy Research, provide not just debatable but incontrovertible evidence of class warfare, stagnant wages, increasing inequality and poverty, a transformed and diminished middle class, and an outlandishly wealthy ownership class, especially among financiers. In addition, they find that government policies aid and abet all of the above. At bottom, virtually all of the income and wealth gains resulting from the increased productivity of all workers have accrued to the upper quintile of families, and disproportionately to the one percent or even fewer.

In the midst of hardcore justifications of the wonders and ultimate justice of capitalism and entrepreneurship, one finds—more interestingly, I think—softcore and “centrist” analysis, rationalization, and ultimately denial of the long-term implications of neoliberal policies. These analyses originate from several data sources, including the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and the Pew Economic Mobility Project. In passing I recommend a much-needed critique by Salvatore Babones of the Michigan/Pew findings.

In the mainstream media, the Brookings Institution has been a primary transmitter and ideological shaper of such data, through the policy pronouncements of Isabel Sawhill and Ron Haskins and its somewhat perversely named “Center on Children and Families.” The fact that both have academic pedigrees and some measure of liberal respectability does not diminish their trivialization of fundamental issues and their rationalizations for policies that can only perpetuate long-term trends, with dire consequences for the less privileged. In the tradition of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, they continue to use social science to blame the victims of our rigged economic system.

Their primary tactic is to ignore the trends mentioned above and to focus on the allegedly persistent consensus of Americans that economic opportunity and mobility—the “American Dream”—is valued more than a broadly egalitarian society. On this basis, massive accumulations of wealth by very few are of literally no interest in comparison to data on marginal intergenerational economic mobility and the behaviors required to maintain or achieve middle class status—regardless of the increasingly tenuous conditions of that status, which also are of no interest. Moreover, mimicking the tactics of the more avowedly conservative Heritage Foundation, Haskins egregiously argues that economic inequality itself is over-stated: “The seemingly straightforward story of income inequality therefore turns out not to be so simple. It is a tale of subtle hues, not stark contrasts, and some of the most basic claims thrown around in the media turn out to be rather dubious.”

On a practical level, Haskins and Sawhill focus on the relationship between formal education and economic outcomes, regardless of slow economic growth, low-paying jobs, and growing student debt, and regardless of the intractable reality that more schooling for more people cannot possibly in and of itself address the structural nature of poverty in relation to our economy, or the stagnation and struggles of the middle class.

In relation to this emphasis on education, young people are advised by Sawhill on how to best avoid staying or becoming poor:

“In later research, Ron Haskins and I learned that if individuals do just three things—finish high school, work full time and marry before they have children—their chances of being poor drop from 15 percent to 2 percent. Mitt Romney has cited this research on the campaign trail, but these issues transcend presidential politics. Stronger public support for single-parent families—such as subsidies or tax credits for child care, and the earned-income tax credit — is needed, but no government program is likely to reduce child poverty as much as bringing back marriage as the preferable way of raising children.

“The government has a limited role to play. It can support local programs and nonprofit organizations working to reduce early, unwed childbearing through teen-pregnancy prevention efforts, family planning, greater opportunities for disadvantaged youth or programs to encourage responsible relationships.

“But in the end, Dan Quayle was right. Unless the media, parents and other influential leaders celebrate marriage as the best environment for raising children, the new trend—bringing up baby alone—may be irreversible.”

Ultimately, what these “centrist” social policy analysts have to offer is not only denial and rationalization of economic inequality in an “opportunity society,” but patronizing lectures about responsibility to those who bear the brunt of our collective unwillingness to face poverty and eliminate it. Moreover, they haven’t a word to say about the responsibility of those who benefit most handsomely from the desperate status quo and the misery of others.

Why do conservatives need Charles Murray and Thomas Sowell when they’ve got Sawhill and Haskins?

David Green lives in Urbana, IL. He can be reached at: davidgreen50@gmail.com.

COMING IN SEPTEMBER

A Special Memorial Issue of CounterPunch

Featuring recollections of Alexander Cockburn from Jeffrey St. Clair, Peter Linebaugh, Paul Craig Roberts, Noam Chomsky, Mike Whitney, Doug Peacock, Perry Anderson, Becky Grant, Dennis Kucinich, Michael Neumann, Susannah Hecht, P. Sainath, Ben Tripp, Alison Weir, James Ridgeway, JoAnn Wypijewski, John Strausbaugh, Pierre Sprey, Carolyn Cooke, Conn Hallinan, James Wolcott, Laura Flanders, Ken Silverstein, Tariq Ali and many others …

Subscribe to CounterPunch Today to Reserve Your Copy

David Green lives in Champaign, IL and can be reached at davidgreen50@gmail.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

August 29, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary and the Clinton Foundation: Exemplars of America’s Political Rot
Patrick Timmons
Dildos on Campus, Gun in the Library: the New York Times and the Texas Gun War
Jack Rasmus
Bernie Sanders ‘OR’ Revolution: a Statement or a Question?
Richard Moser
Strategic Choreography and Inside/Outside Organizers
Nigel Clarke
President Obama’s “Now Watch This Drive” Moment
Robert Fisk
Iraq’s Willing Executioners
Wahid Azal
The Banality of Evil and the Ivory Tower Masterminds of the 1953 Coup d’Etat in Iran
Farzana Versey
Romancing the Activist
Frances Madeson
Meet the Geronimos: Apache Leader’s Descendants Talk About Living With the Legacy
Nauman Sadiq
The War on Terror and the Carter Doctrine
Lawrence Wittner
Does the Democratic Party Have a Progressive Platform–and Does It Matter?
Marjorie Cohn
Death to the Death Penalty in California
Winslow Myers
Asking the Right Questions
Rivera Sun
The Sane Candidate: Which Representatives Will End the Endless Wars?
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia District Attorney Hammered for Hypocrisy
Binoy Kampmark
Banning Burkinis: the Politics of Beachwear
Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail