Posted by: Tim Sweeney | November 23, 2013

Policy Junkie: Income Inequality goes beyond Middle Class Appeal

Tim Sweeney is The Policy Junkie

Tim Sweeney is The Policy Junkie

Politicians across the political spectrum have usually framed at least a part of their campaign message as an appeal to “protecting the the middle class.” And perhaps no politician in recent years has done that as well, or at least as often, as President Obama. (For more on this, check out Collision 2012 by Dan Balz).

Generally, I find these appeals rather perplexing.  I’m not rich and I’m not poor.  Am I middle class? If so, how does being middle class align me politically with other middle class neighbors who burn their leaves, vote against school levies and oppose gay marriage? Candidates should simply address directly the issues I care about rather than attempt to pander to a part of my voter profile.

This approach could be more appealing if it came with an explanation of why a strong middle class is important for the economy and society—particularly if was delivered in a manner more engaging than reading a Paul Samuelson text book. You know, something between pandering and ponderous.

Inequality for All

Inequality for All

Fortunately, there have been some attempts to step into this breach. For instance, Nick Hanauer, in a TED talk, explains how he believes a strong middle class is essential to a healthy capitalist economy. Rich people don’t create jobs, he argues. The middle class with its purchases creates jobs.

The Economic Policy Institute has created a website packed with cute animations and entertaining sounds that seek to demonstrate how income inequality was created and why it is bad. Another video making the Internet rounds simply seeks to demonstrate how income inequality is considerably worse than what we perceive it to be.

I’m looking forward to seeing “Inequality for All” when it comes to my locally owned downtown theater. The movie focuses on Robert Reich, former Secretary of Department of Labor for President Clinton, who also is an economics and public policy professor.

By piecing together recent lecture highlights, illustrated by entertaining B roll and many charts and graphs, Reich addresses the economic squeeze of the middle class in terms that, according to reviews, are easy to understand. Perhaps, more relevant to my sensibility, he argues that the aggregation of wealth negatively affects everyone, regardless of their income or class status.

Reich argues that a more fair distribution of wealth and income is essential to a well-functioning economy. Both Reich and Hanauer contend that its not so much that the rich are incredibly wealthy but rather that they’re not spending enough of it to grow our economy. The notion that taxes on the rich choke off investment pales compared to the direct investment that those in the middle make every day when they burn up their paychecks for food, clothing, gas, furniture, movies, etc. The problem, Reich states, is that as more of our economy’s wealth accumulates at the upper strata, the less it circulates into our economy.

Critics of these income inequality messages pine that these analyses do not include the value transfer associated with public programs such as education, poverty income and food assistance and other human services. An interesting point given how these programs are under siege from those who believe their costs are not worthy of raising taxes on the rich to support.

Both the Economic Policy Institute and Inequality for All website have a call to action that lays out a platform of issues, including raising the minimum wage and a more progressive tax structure.

Sadly, campaign reform only gets a little play on one of the sites.  With the Citizen United decision making it possible for unlimited spending on campaigns, the continued aggregation of wealth has serious consequences to our democracy as well as our economy. I don’t need a simple explanation to make sense out of that one.



  1. I have seen “Inequality For All” and Robert Reich falls short in it.

  2. Bukowski put it best in “Factotum” way back in 1975: “How in the hell can a man enjoy being awakened at 6:30 A.M. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to
    a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked for the opportunity to be grateful to do so?” Right?

  3. Welcome to the dance, Tim. Lot’s to be said about poverty and our slide since the beginning of the century into fantasies of income and race/gender equality and freedom from want for our children. Knowing and living that history I say: “Let’s keep our eye on what we CAN do.” And that is a lot in our little corner if we keep each other informed and speaking/acting on our truth.

  4. Make no mistake, it is class warfare out there and Obama, along with just about every member of Congress, with the exception of Warren, Sanders and Grayson, is not on the side of the voters. These people are shills for the corporations and we need to call them out on their hypocrisy. Unfortunately, the propaganda machine has fooled most into thinking that these people have an interest in helping us out and we keep electing them while saying he/she is better than the other shill and that dog shit is really chocolate custard. Why else would we have NDAA, Obamacare (also known as a billion dollar gift to the insurance industry), a renewed Patriot Act, TPP, NSA, and, by the way in case you missed it, troops in Afghanistan for another couple of years or so. Notice that all of these “programs” provide for enormous money making ventures that redistribute your money from your pocket to the banksters and corporations. Take the time to read Chomsky on Business Elites Are Waging a Brutal Class War on America.

  5. […] striving for improve our content. Whether that is recruiting new guest columnists (see here and here), or spending the time to dig deep into issues (our two year long coverage of the new jail or […]

  6. […] Today’s article combines some recent news with a deeper look at the state of transportation funding in Washington, courtesy of the Policy Junkie. […]

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