An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll recently asked, "Which concerns you more: the income gap between the wealthiest Americans and the rest of the country, or middle and working class Americans not being able to get ahead financially?" If you understand how the economy works, that isn't just the wrong question. It's probably a meaningless one.
As the 2016 election approaches, the debate among the intelligentsia appears like it will center around the question of inequality. While income is distributed unequally in the country, what few people know is how much more unequally wealth, financial assets and inheritances are distributed. As the chart below shows, income is only part of the problem.
The myth of fluid upward mobility blinds us to how stacked our system has become against the aspirations of the less well-off, thereby enabling an elite to capture every larger shares of income, wealth, privilege, and control over government while those below receive relatively smaller shares, face fewer opportunities, and command increasingly less control.
American politicians and their brain trusts are trying to figure out how to talk about poverty and inequality in the United States without resorting to truth-concealing euphemism. This is a humbling experience for a country that prides itself on social mobility: admitting that previous efforts have stalled, that inequality has worsened and is damaging our national cohesion.