Fighting an Unfair System

The gap between the rich and poor has been growing for decades. Some claim this growing gap is the natural result of smart, hard workers getting what they deserve (fabulous wealth) and lazy, mediocre workers getting what they deserve, too (poverty).

This framing is fundamentally wrong.

Consider, as Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck points out, that Bill Gates’ net worth exceeds 30 years’ worth of the entire collective output of Haiti. Consider further that Gates’ full time job right now is to give away his money. All day, every day — through the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation — the Microsoft founder seeks ways to give away his enormous fortune.

Despite his best efforts, Gates’ treasure continues to rise, not shrink, year after year by more than 10 percent — meaning his $80 billion could become $1 trillion before his 90th birthday. That’s trillion with a T.

This is obviously an extreme example, but it’s illustrative.

Today’s inequality isn’t driven by individual choices, but by an unfair system that enables a few (mostly white) people to become wealthy, while many (mostly non-white) families are unable to build wealth.

The racial component of our growing divide is often overlooked, but it’s a critical part of just how unfair our economic system is. If current trends persist, it would take the average black family 228 years to reach the level of wealth the average white family already has today.

For comparison, George Washington started his presidency 228 years ago. It’s a long time.

If you think the main driver of poverty is lazy takers sitting around rather than working, the solutions to poverty are pretty straightforward: Eliminate public programs that help the poor, so they have to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. That’s essentially the doctrine of the modern Republican Party.

But imploring people to simply work harder ignores the fact that most jobs don’t pay enough to get ahead. The federal minimum wage, $7.25 an hour, isn’t enough to live on in any major city in the country. And half the jobs in the United States pay less than $15 an hour.

Getting an education isn’t a guaranteed pathway out of poverty either. Consider, as New School professor Darrick Hamilton points out, that black college graduates only own about two-thirds the wealth of white high school dropouts.

Creating a more fair and just economy will require solutions at the systemic level, not the individual level. That means acknowledging the unfair starting points we all begin with and taking steps to level the playing field.

One idea for how to do this is through baby bonds, also known as child savings accounts. This would basically start every child with a small savings account at birth, which would appreciate over time and could be used for getting an education or starting a business later on.

A 1992 bill called KidSave, for example, would’ve given $1,000 to each of the 4 million babies born in the United States. That would’ve grown to an estimated $700,000 each by age 65 thanks to the wonder of compounding interest.

Had child savings accounts been established in 1979, the racial wealth gap would be 82 percent lower than it currently is, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The gap within racial groups would likely be smaller, too.

Other systemic ideas include including instituting single-payer healthcare, ending mass incarceration, investing in debt-free higher education, and much more.

To create a more fair and just economy, one first must recognize that the current economic system is deeply unfair and unjust. Then the work to change the system can begin.

More articles by:

Josh Hoxie directs the Project on Opportunity and Taxation at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS-dc.org).

Weekend Edition
March 23, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Roberto J. González
The Mind-Benders: How to Harvest Facebook Data, Brainwash Voters, and Swing Elections
Paul Street
Deplorables II: The Dismal Dems in Stormy Times
Nick Pemberton
The Ghost of Hillary
Andrew Levine
Light at the End of the Tunnel?
Paul de Rooij
Amnesty International: Trumpeting for War… Again
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Coming in Hot
Chuck Gerhart
Sessions Exploits a Flaw to Pursue Execution of Meth Addicts
Robert Fantina
Distractions, Thought Control and Palestine
Hiroyuki Hamada
The Eyes of “Others” for Us All
Robert Hunziker
Is the EPA Hazardous to Your Health?
Stephanie Savell
15 Years After the Iraq Invasion, What Are the Costs?
Aidan O'Brien
Europe is Pregnant 
John Eskow
How Can We Live With All of This Rage?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Was Khe Sanh a Win or a Loss?
Dan Corjescu
The Man Who Should Be Dead
Howard Lisnoff
The Bone Spur in Chief
Brian Cloughley
Hitler and the Poisoning of the British Public
Brett Wilkins
Trump Touts $12.5B Saudi Arms Sale as US Support for Yemen War Literally Fuels Atrocities
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraqi Landscapes: the Path of Martyrs
Brian Saady
The War On Drugs Is Far Deadlier Than Most People Realize
Stephen Cooper
Battling the Death Penalty With James Baldwin
CJ Hopkins
Then They Came for the Globalists
Philip Doe
In Colorado, See How They Run After the Fracking Dollars
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Armed Propaganda
Binoy Kampmark
John Brennan’s Trump Problem
Nate Terani
Donald Trump’s America: Already Hell Enough for This Muslim-American
Steve Early
From Jackson to Richmond: Radical Mayors Leave Their Mark
Jill Richardson
To Believe in Science, You Have to Know How It’s Done
Ralph Nader
Ten Million Americans Could Bring H.R. 676 into Reality Land—Relief for Anxiety, Dread and Fear
Sam Pizzigati
Billionaires Won’t Save the World, Just Look at Elon Musk
Sergio Avila
Don’t Make the Border a Wasteland
Daryan Rezazad
Denial of Climate Change is Not the Problem
Ron Jacobs
Flashing for the Refugees on the Unarmed Road of Flight
Missy Comley Beattie
The Age of Absurdities and Atrocities
George Wuerthner
Isle Royale: Manage for Wilderness Not Wolves
George Payne
Pompeo Should Call the Dogs Off of WikiLeaks
Russell Mokhiber
Study Finds Single Payer Viable in 2018 Elections
Franklin Lamb
Despite Claims, Israel-Hezbollah War is Unlikely
Montana Wilderness Association Dishonors Its Past
Elizabeth “Liz” Hawkins, RN
Nurses Are Calling #TimesUp on Domestic Abuse
Paul Buhle
A Caribbean Giant Passes: Wilson Harris, RIP
Mel Gurtov
A Blank Check for Repression? A Saudi Leader Visits Washington
Seth Sandronsky
Hoop schemes: Sacramento’s corporate bid for an NBA All-Star Game
Louis Proyect
The French Malaise, Now and Then
David Yearsley
Bach and the Erotics of Spring