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Two Disasters that Threaten Our Country

It’s good to remember that, in 2015,  then-president, Barack Obama said, “no challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.” He also said that income inequality is “the defining challenge of our time.” The truth is that no presidential candidate’s platform that doesn’t address both of these issues is going to save us from the disasters that both of these issues can bring.

Other than President Trump, no candidate for the 2020 presidency is likely to ignore or deny climate change. Most will favor rejoining the Paris Accords and the pledges of carbon reduction that go along with them. Some candidates will be even more forceful and promise to implement even stricter goals than those within the Paris Accords, particularly with regard to coal and auto emissions and switching our energy to renewable sources. The bulk of the scientific data indicates that a massive shift in energy sources, reduction of deforestation and increase in methods of reducing carbon and methane emissions plus increasing carbon capture is needed in a very short while if we have any chance at all to mitigate global warming.

Neither climate change goals nor social goals that will bring affordable health care, livable wages for all Americans, affordable college, or adequate housing in our urban neighborhoods are achievable so long as we have growing income and wealth disparity combined with a political system that makes policies based on the interests of big business and the wealthy. 

Income inequality in the United States, is greater than that of any other developed country. In 2018, the top 10% of Americans earned 47% of the total income earned in the U.S. while across Europe, the top 10% earned 37% of their national incomes. In 1980, the figures for the U.S. and Europe were nearly equal. The rapid increase in income disparity in the U.S. has occurred since 1980 when the top 1% earned just over 10% of the national income while the bottom 50% earned just over 20%. In 2018, the numbers were reversed.

In 2017, the average yearly income of the top .1% of the population  was 188 times  the average income of the bottom 90% of the American population ($7 million: $35 thousand). Income gained through wages for the top .1% was 76 time greater than the average wage of the bottom 90%. Recently, the findings with regard to income disparity have been found to apply also to wealth disparity.(defined as net assets minus debt owed by a family) A 2014 paper by Saez and Zucman found that “Wealth concentration has followed a U-shaped evolution over the last 100 years: It was high in the beginning of the twentieth century, fell from 1929 to 1978, and has continuously increased since then. The rise of wealth inequality is almost entirely due to the rise of the top 0.1% wealth share, from 7% in 1979 to 22% in 2012—a level almost as high as in 1929.”

Wages for the bottom 90% of Americans have been essentially stagnant in the U.S. since 1980 (they have increased in Europe, which is one reason for less income disparity in European countries).  On the other hand, wages for the top 10 % and particularly the top .1% of Americans have skyrocketed. As Gillens and Page showed in their 2014 study, these wealthy Americans and the companies they own or work for essentially control governmental policy making in the U.S. through the influence of their lobbyists and campaign contributions to legislators. Dissatisfaction caused by inequality, in the words of economist Gabriel Zucman, “paves the way for demagogues” who  mine the feelings of unfairness and financial misery among those in the bottom 90% to fan the flames of resentment against those in power, either in government or in our economy. 

Not only does the present inequality lead citizens to grasp onto the anger and promises of demagogues, it results in a government that is not responsive to the wishes of the majority of its citizens. So we live in a country that creates angry populist waves of frustration and we have a government that does not address the real problems facing most citizens.

Democrats debate whether to nominate the person most likely to beat President Trump in the next election or the person most likely to address the underlying problems troubling our country. Those problems are climate change and income/wealth inequality. Other genuine problems such as racial inequality (which is magnified by income inequality)* and immigration (which is also magnified by income inequality as those on the lower end of the wage spectrum must compete with low wage earning immigrants, or at least they believe so), are compounded by these two underlying problems. 

President Trump is both a symptom of wealth inequality and a demagogue who has taken advantage of the anger created by it. It’s imperative that he be defeated in 2020, but it’s also imperative that we not elect a new president who is not ready to address both climate change and income/wealth inequality in a major, bold way.

 * The gap between Black and White families in wealth in the U.S. is as great as that between the 1% and the bottom 90%, and that gap is widening at the same pace. In 1983, the median White famly owned $110,116 in wealth (assets minus debts) and the median Black family owned $7,323. White wealth was 15 times greater than Black wealth. In 2016, median White wealth had risen to $146,984, while median Black wealth had dropped to $3,557. In 2016 White wealth was 41 times greater than Black wealth.           


Reader Comments (2)

I find myself in complete agreement with you, Casey. Should we not address these two issues, we will be facing the end of the world as we know it in a dire way.

June 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAnca Vlasopolos

Income inequality is one of the greatest benefits we have in the United States. It creates aspirational motivation and insures that talent, application of effort and ingenuity are rewarded. Legislatively-mandated income equality will simply insure absolute devestation and destitution. This article seems to be ignoring the catastrophic results of socialism in EVERY country these socialist ideals have been instituted. I’ll actually be fine in that scenario, having the weapons, training and resources to survive the destruction being called for but- thank you for seeking to mindlessly create a country where very few other people will have a chance of survival. In short, quit worrying about what other citizens have in excess of you. It’s irrelevant. Poor people have multiple safety nets in this country. I help people receive entitlements everyday. If you truly want to help poor citizens, we need to stop wasting billions of dollars per year on benefits for illegal aliens and channel that money into programs to help our own poor and vulnerable citizenry.

As for climate change, if anyone can show me where climate change anywhere in the past quarter million years has not ultimately benefitted humanity or our ancient progenitors, I’ll be glad to retract my skepticism of this “impending doom.” Despite the ridiculous gesticulations of progressives, the sky is not even close to falling. Take your selective moral outrage and apply it to something that actually matters like saving human lives at the very beginning of their twenty year journey from conception to adulthood. As I’m sure most people internally recognize, deliberately destroying that life anywhere along that continuum of development is murder. Try denying that science. I don’t expect this to survive the censor because the left cannot argue, debate, dialogue or present any evidence other than self-referential, echo-chamber rhetoric.

June 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMark Wheller

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