Balanced Inequality05 Feb 2016
Americans as a whole, when asked where their patriotism stems from, begin to cite values such as freedom, independence, and the ability to pursuit “the American Dream.” In the fifties that might have meant a house, a car, a television, a well supported family, and vacation once in a while. That simple notion has since evolved into the sentiment that if we (as Americans) worked hard, we can achieve whatever we set out too. Coincidentally, those dreams usually involve extravagant residences, a frivolous and luxurious lifestyle, and even more wealth than we already have. Yet, the reality of our economy and its zero-sum game begin to hit when taking a look at what the unilateral pursuit has done to the people of the same nation that allowed it to be as such. The byproducts are corporations which are forced to provide more for relatively less, catering to a consumer base which unequivocally pursuits the best deal. In turn, these corporations are pushed into depriving that same consumer the opportunity to create his own wealth as was previously available. Those same corporations are now built of people who will do anything to keep our system as is, even if it requires breaking down our system of governance and undoing a centuries worth of economic progress. In essence, these dreams and disasters are rooted within inequality, which has become less about the difference in the income and wealth of our citizens but rather the certain discrepancy in access that distribution has created. As critical as American freedoms are to the integrity and values of our nation, we have to question our practices once they begin to disable our citizens from what the vast majority would consider basic rights for the modern American; the opportunity to work for a steady job which provides for respectable food, housing, and education.
Establishments cannot exist without some justification, and the current one does so on very dated ones. The most obvious are that everyone has a fair chance at “having it all”, America is a country of opportunity, and that we live in a government that equally represents each of us. Then the problem becomes to stem to the belief that things are the way they are without flexibility to change, where the
“rising economic inequality is the inevitable fate of countries that don’t choose something worse” (Graham 2016).
Interestingly enough, this opinion stems from people, much like Paul Graham, who come from a place where it is hard to see how the nation as a whole is doing. It’s easy to preach that things are fine the way they are when you’ve lived in a bubble. A bubble where you’ve made your wealth benefiting from your connections that were provided from inherited wealth and claiming to be creating jobs and growing the economy by dumping money into people who already come from favorable positions. Even when people like Graham choose to look outside their sphere, they see from a jaded lens. So through that lens, they see that the poor are disabled because
“not that they are getting paid too little for the hours they work. It is that they are not working full time or at all” (Brooks 2014).
What Brooks and Graham lose in their pictures is a causality for why
“they are not working full time or at all.” It comes from stories like Natalie Ford, whose whole family lost jobs when Whirlpool decided to move its manufacturing facilities to Mexico due to labor regulation and cost. (Greenhouse 2010).
It comes from factors like “walmartization”, where retail workers are abuse, undervalued, and often cheated of pay and benefits through unpaid overtime and firings to save benefit money. Since these industries have made up the body of the middle class, and with the disappearance of better situations, the same people are forced to consume and support the same institutions that continue to abuse them. Likewise, the people left with purchasing power, like Graham, Brooks, and the anyone wealthier than the middle class continue to support such practices because it allows them to consume more and reap more wealth (Equity, Trading, etc.). Consumer interest is wealth and power, but when it’s placed in a direction that drives more and more people to poverty, it’s time to reconsider our values.
So why aren’t people looking at the government to change what can be easily be seen as misconduct under the what this country values? People don’t trust the American government! Amongst first world nations, America struggles in terms of voter turnout for regional elections. People feel that the government has cheated them, and they are overpowered by the people who have put them in their current situation in terms of political influence. (Reich, 2008). They’re right! Yet, they have to power to change that situation. Reform in campaign donations, lobby hiring practices and non-monetary bribing, and corrupt practices in legislature creation, the common American has a fairer shot at what most US citizens believe they deserve (life, liberty, pursuit of happiness). This start through participation in the same local elections most people seem to cast away. Yet, what’s clear for the educated isn’t necessarily as transparent to those who weren’t privileged to have a fair education. Rather than address these issues in their government, these same people aren’t aware of what needs to be done or just too busy making sure there is something on the dinner table tomorrow night. If people aren’t given the chance to be vocal, it’s not fair to expect them to be! It’s transparent then that a huge chunk of our country no longer has access to a fair education, or often times even acceptable nutrition and shelter. They are unequal citizens because they have no access to the values we hold dear.
Then it’s fairly clear that there’s a problem. That problem isn’t that the vast majority of our country is completely uninvolved from our political system. It isn’t that purchasing power has been so polarized our current retail economy (even at a corporate level) has become unattainable for the vast majority of American businesses. It isn’t that almost half our country as of right now has no access to what we as Americans consider basic citizen rights. The most apparent problem is that as aware people are slowly becoming, they feel there is nothing they can do about it. As goes with addiction, the first step is recognizing there is a problem, but the second is acknowledging that approaching the issue is something that needs to be done. Americans live under a government that they no longer believe in, work for people who they blame for having reduced their potential and robbed them of accessibility, and then go on to owe similar or often time worse people for the rest of their lives. It’s also easy to see why people feel the way they do. Yet, the reality is Americans can make major, but hard, changes that not only empower them to redirect the dynamic in their favor, but re-value their worth in our socio-economic and political system. It requires Americans to recognize they are addicted. Addicted to hoarding undervalued goods that will only come back to reduce their status in that same market. Addicted to consuming dangerous financial products that only increase the wealth of the already rich by preying on the dreams of those who happen to have less than them. Addicted to leaving political decision to those who don’t care for them, pleading ignorance in the face of disaster, and refusing to go beyond blaming those who they believed have wronged them. The reality is that the system isn’t broken, it’ll just break if we let it. Americans can achieve this “Balanced Inequality” the country as a whole can agree on, only if they choose to take the action to cut that addiction.