Republican Denialism and the Ugly Truth About Income Inequality

yacht-landscape-billion-oxfamWe just witnessed the birthday of Martin Luther King and we saw further evidence of the continued Republican inability to deal with the reality of his message and what that message means in the face of continued inequality.

Gallup is reporting that “Two out of three Americans are dissatisfied with the way income and wealth are currently distributed in the U.S. This includes three-fourths of Democrats and 54% of Republicans.”

Thanks to the Occupy Movement, we’re all familiar by now with the concept of the 99 percent and the 1 percent. And the diagram below, which appeared in The Atlantic, quite clearly explains the source of this dissatisfaction:

cbpp income inequality 2011

This is a big deal. Bloomberg reported on January 16 that, “The widening divide in incomes between the poor and rich poses the most likely threat to the global economy over the next decade, according to the World Economic Forum,” which is a bunch of rich people at a posh resort talking about poor people.

But how can people be unhappy with something Fox News insists does not exist?

Media Matters explains that,

Fox News personalities have repeatedly attempted to downplay income inequality, claiming that it doesn’t exist, that it is unfixable, or that it’s a distraction from other issues. Nevertheless, the network still blamed the widening income gap on President Obama and what one Fox reporter called “Obamanomics.”

Media Matters provides a helpful sampling of Fox News’ “fair and balanced” reporting on the subject:

Fox pundits have repeatedly dismissed concerns over growing income inequality in the United States. Fox correspondent Doug McKelway once claimed it was merely “class resentment,” that exists because “some people are better, smarter, harder-working, or luckier than others.” Bill O’Reilly called it “bull.” When the network has acknowledged income inequality, its contributors have claimed that there is “no way” growing inequality is “going to be stopped,” that attempting to reverse it will result in “chronic unemployment,” and that the Obama administration’s focus on closing the income gap is merely a “distraction.”

Resentment. Distraction. So does it exist, or doesn’t it?

Conservative pundit David Brooks, as Wonkette explained last week, “has decided to take on the topic of income inequality, and has concluded that 1) income inequality is not actually a problem, and 2) if it were, we shouldn’t solve it by giving poor people more money, and also 3) the growing income of the 1% has nothing to do with the shrinking incomes of the rest of us.”

If giving poor people more money doesn’t help (as bizarre an argument as has ever been advanced – Robert Reich, writing at HuffPo, calls it “utter ignorance”), neither does this sort of verbal diarrhea. In fact, studies show that giving poor people money does help.

President Barack Obama clearly feels such a thing as income inequality exists. As Media Matters goes on to explain,

In December 2013, President Obama declared that reversing the widening gap in income inequality — the distribution of economic gains to a small percentage of the population, which, in this case, favors the very wealthy — is “the defining challenge of our time,” and began unveiling a legislative agenda aimed at addressing that trend.

So the defining challenge of our time doesn’t exist, Fox News insists, but if it does, it’s Obama’s fault.

But as Paul Krugman explained in The New York Times in September of 2012,

And now, having prevented Mr. Obama from implementing any of his policies, those same Republicans are pointing to disappointing job numbers and declaring that the president’s policies have failed.

Think of it as a two-part strategy. First, obstruct any and all efforts to strengthen the economy, then exploit the economy’s weakness for political gain. If this strategy sounds cynical, that’s because it is.


[T]he reality [is] that for most of Mr. Obama’s time in office U.S. fiscal policy has been defined not by the president’s plans but by Republican stonewalling.

On Monday, Fox News tried to sweep away the controversy by appealing to the status quo and employing some highly questionable logic in explaining to us What Obama doesn’t get about income inequality:

Disparities between rich and poor are as ancient as civilization, but in modern democracies, this condition is exacerbated by globalization and technologies that drive it.

Conservatives seem to have a difficult time with the concept that the vast majority of the nation’s wealth in concentrated in the hands of the very few. And it’s not just the United States. As The LA Times reported Monday, “The 85 richest people on Earth now have the same amount of wealth as the bottom half of the global population, the Oxfam report says.

The bottom half of the population — about 3.5 billion people — account for about $1.7 trillion, or about 0.7% of the world’s wealth, according to the Oxfam report, titled “Working for the Few.”

That’s the same amount of wealth attributed to the world’s 85 richest people.

But if the United States is not alone, it is a major mover in this trend in income redistribution. Reports The LA Times:

Oxfam said the United States has led a worldwide growth in wealth concentration.

The percentage of income held by the richest 1% in the U.S. has grown nearly 150% from 1980 through 2012. That small elite has received 95% of wealth created since 2009, after the financial crisis, while the bottom 90% of Americans have become poorer, Oxfam said.

The New York Times reported in October 2012 that, “Income inequality has soared to the highest levels since the Great Depression.”

This is not class warfare, however, this redistributing of wealth so that the few rich have it all and everyone else has nothing. And this IS a redistribution of wealth, as the Oxfam report makes clear:

The share of wealth owned by the richest 1% since 1980 expanded in all but two of the 26 nations tracked by researchers in the World Top Incomes Database.

Yet Republicans are determined that we understand that taking wealth away from everyone else and concentrating it in the hands of a few is not class warfare. But any attempt to change how this wealth is distributed, such as giving some of that wealth back to the 99% IS class warfare.

Even while crying class warfare, Republicans like to insist, as does Fox News, that there is no problem and that people are happy with what they have.

This is nothing new, unfortunately. Conservatives, married to the preservation of the status quo, seem to think that everybody else likes the status quo too. “Capitalist evangelist” Wayne Allen Root opined on Fox News last week that Americans have historically not had any problems with income inequality and that despite this inequality, America became an economic powerhouse. Why mess with the status quo?

These are, unsurprisingly, the same attitudes expressed by conservatives like Edmund Burke about the French Revolution, where income inequality led to the beheading of the king of France. Burke made the same mistake conservatives make today, that most are content to have less.

For Burke, a conservative, people were not really unhappy but for a few radicals whom he called “insects of the hour”:

Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle, repose beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field, that of course they are many in number; or that, after all, they are other than the little shrivelled, meagre, hopping, though loud and troublesome insects of the hour.

The starving, abused poor of 21st century America, no less than the starving, abused peasants of 18th century France, are, to conservative minds, nothing more than “the loud and troublesome insects of the hour.” Revolution and change are, no surprise, the enemy of what conservatives think of as “liberty.”

Conservatives, guardians of the status quo, hate change, of course. For example, Fox News said on Monday that, “High talk about social justice, widening economic opportunities, and income redistribution makes liberal politicians media darlings and wins elections, but such demagoguery does little to fill the belly of the poor.”

Needless to say, the “free enterprise marketplace” that has created this income inequality in the first place, isn’t going to put food in anyone’s belly. Writing at Forbes on Monday, Ralph Benko believes that Republicans have the advantage in the income inequality debate but somehow fails to mention that Republicans have failed to give us even one piece of job creation legislation. And don’t be fooled by some recent Republican rhetoric in favor of minimum wage hikes. In fact, Republican legislation seems determined to take food out of those bellies. If the GOP has an anti-poverty agenda, it seems to be to make poor people go away by just dying already.

If the GOP has an agenda at all, it is focused on opposition to Obama; at this point, if they can’t beat him politically, they seem to be willing – in the time honored fashion of lynching the black man – to kill him instead. It is hard to see how that will help the economy, or create jobs, or feed the poor.

But as the Gallup poll clearly shows, Americans are not happy to have less. They are not happy that a few people have it all while they have nothing. This is not natural and it is not only dangerous for people, it is dangerous for the body politic and for the health of the nation, and by extension, the world. Everyone is better off – including the rich – when everybody gets a piece of the pie. Let’s face it: the 1 percent can’t run the country by themselves if the 99 percent are dead through starvation and disease.

Pope Francis spoke out yesterday via address read by Cardinal Peter Turkson at the World Economic Forum against “an economy of exclusion and inequality.” See, even the Pope says so. Not the anti-capitalist message Republicans want to hear. Worse yet for the status quo set, “An unfettered devotion to market economics” is, said the Pope, a “new tyranny.”

Everyone seems to notice there is a problem except Republicans, who steadfastly close their eyes to radical things like facts.

Clearly, conservatives have not put a lot of thought into this subject. As Robert Reich said in speaking of David Brooks, “conservative thinker” is an oxymoron and the facts prove him right. If people don’t get paid enough to live (they call it a “living wage” for a reason) people will not only be able to buy enough food to eat but they won’t be able to buy all that crap Walmart sells, and then where will rich folks like the Waltons be? They need customers, and their customer base is not the 1 percent. Let’s face it: San Francisco 49ers head coach John Harbaugh can’t buy enough pleated khaki pants to keep Walmart afloat on his own.

America, and the world, need a return to a time when income inequality was low; we do not need to skip over that period to the Gilded Age, a time when it was high, as we have done. The American people are not grasshoppers or annoying insects calling for attention. They are people with real problems, problems exacerbated by the widening gap between the rich and the poor. It is time for the rich to wake up and realize they are driving America – and the world – into a non-sustainable future. There may be guillotines in their future, but as the poor and starving know, there are worse things than guillotines.

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