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

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 04, 2015
Vincent J. Roscigno
University Bureaucracy as Organized Crime
Paul Street
Bernie Sanders’ Top Five Race Problems: the Whiteness of Nominal Socialism
Herbert Dyer, Jr.
Is White Supremacy a Mental Disorder?
Ramzy Baroud
The Palestinian Bubble and the Burning of Toddler, Ali Dawabsha
Pepe Escobar
Reshuffling Eurasia’s Energy Deck — Iran, China and Pipelineistan
L. Michael Hager
The Battle Over BDS
Eric Draitser
Puerto Rico: Troubled Commonwealth or Debt Colony?
Colin Todhunter
Hypnotic Trance in Delhi: Monsanto, GMOs and the Looting of India’s Agriculture
Benjamin Willis
The New Cubanologos: What’s in a Word?
Matt Peppe
60 Minutes Provides Platform for US Military
Binoy Kampmark
The Turkish Mission: Reining in the Kurds
Eoin Higgins
Teaching Lessons of White Supremacy in Prime-Time: Blackrifice in the Post-Apocalyptic World of the CW’s The 100
Gary Corseri
Gaza: Our Child’s Shattered Face in the Mirror
Robert Dodge
The Nuclear World at 70
Paula Bach
Exit the Euro? Polemic with Greek Economist Costas Lapavitsas
August 03, 2015
Jack Dresser
The Case of Alison Weir: Two Palestinian Solidarity Organizations Borrow from Joe McCarthy’s Playbook
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Atomic Era Turns 70, as Nuclear Hazards Endure
Nelson Valdes
An Internet Legend: the Pope, Fidel and the Black President
Robert Hunziker
The Perfectly Nasty Ocean Storm
Ahmad Moussa
Incinerating Palestinian Children
Greg Felton
Greece Succumbs to Imperialist Banksterism
Binoy Kampmark
Stalling the Trans-Pacific Partnership: the Failure of the Hawai’i Talks
Ted Rall
My Letter to Nick Goldberg of the LA Times
Mark Weisbrot
New Greek Bailout Increases the Possibility of Grexit
Jose Martinez
Black/Hispanic/Women: a Leadership Crisis
Victor Grossman
German Know-Nothings Today
Patrick Walker
We’re Not Sandernistas: Reinventing the Wheels of Bernie’s Bandwagon
Norman Pollack
Moral Consequences of War: America’s Hegemonic Thirst
Ralph Nader
Republicans Support Massive Tax Evasion by Starving IRS Budget
Alexander Reid Ross
Colonial Pride and the Killing of Cecil the Lion
Suhayb Ahmed
What’s Happening in Britain: Jeremy Corbyn and the Future of the Labour Party
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas: Into the Void
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington