THE BLOG
12/17/2013 11:17 pm ET | Updated Feb 16, 2014

Economic Inequality: When Is Enough Enough?

Mark Williamson via Getty Images

"[A]s long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world's problems or, for that matter, to any problems." - Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 2013

While economic disparities plague all of the nations across the planet, nowhere are these disparities more extreme than in the United States (Weeks, 2007), and so I ask, when is enough enough?

When the income inequality between the upper one percent of earners in the U.S. and the lower 99 percent has been the widest since the great depression of the late 1920s (Wiseman, 2013), when is enough enough?

When the compensation of corporate CEOs has risen an astounding 725 percent between 1978 and 2011 while the average workers' salaries have increased a mere 5.7 percent over the same period, and when today's official minimum wage of $7.25 per hour equals $3.00 less, accounting for inflation, compared to the minimum wage in 1968, when is enough enough?

When the top financial rewards went to only 400 people, increasing their income between 1992 and 2007 by 392 percent while their average tax rate fell by 37 percent (Gibson & Perot, 2011), when these same 400 people accumulated more wealth than the lower 50 percent of the U.S. population combined (Kertscher & Borowski, 2011), and when corporate profits have reached unprecedented heights, though the wages and benefits of the vast majority of workers either stagnated or diminished when accounting for inflation (Mishel & Shierholz, 2013), then when is enough enough?

When a few individual families own 20, or 30, or 40, or more fast food franchises while paying their workers less than a living wage, as 26 percent of fast food employees are parents raising children, and 68 percent are the major wage earners for their families, and many of our people go hungry as Congress fights to eliminate the food stamp safety net, when is enough enough?

When a McDonald's employee must work the equivalent of 930 years to match the salary that the CEO makes in a single year, when is enough enough?

When a family purchases two, or three, or four, or five, or even six homes that they occasionally visit depending on their current mood like the rest of us choose which pair of underwear to don for the day, and many of our people, including youth, go homeless, when is enough enough?

When our elected officials in Washington, D.C., respond merely to the demands of the upper income groups and discount lower socioeconomic income brackets (Gentilviso, 2013), then when is enough enough?

When the mammoth economic inequities rooted in a pervasive corporate culture place profits over people and revenues over the environment, then when is enough enough?

As the corporate sector increasingly dictates economic policy through the purchasing and ownership of politicians at the expense of the people of our country, a corporate culture that eliminates workers' health care and collective bargaining rights, one that promotes and maintains workplace inequalities based on race, nationality, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and disability, one that forecloses our homes through scurrilous business practices, and one that holds students hostage to loan structures that jeopardizes their futures, then when is enough enough?

When the military-industrial complex marches to the beat of industry, when an educational system based on standardization and allegiance to corporate needs, and a prison-industrial complex that perpetuates the racial and socioeconomic class inequities pervasive throughout the society, then when is enough enough?

When corporations grab government bailouts with impunity while doling out exorbitant bonuses for executives, and when these same executives pay lower tax rates than their secretaries, then when is enough enough?

When in 2011, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan spoke (R-Wis.), at The American Spectator's Robert L. Bartley Gala Dinner, referenced the "30 percent" who desire the welfare state to take care of them and continued saying, "Before too long we could become a society where the net majority of Americans are takers, not makers," we must all ask, when is enough of this demonization of the working poor enough?

So, what I advocate to narrow the gaps is a governmental single-payer quality universal health care system, which includes safe and reasonably-priced prescription and over-the-counter drug therapies.

I advocate for our country to protect and enhance our Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid safety nets.

I advocate for the further nationalization of our parks, forests, mountains, rivers, streams, shores, and off-shore waters, rather than allocating increased corporate mining, drilling, and timber rights.

I advocate for free and quality education, not only through grade 12 but throughout higher education and after, for everyone who desires and works to achieve their fullest potential.

I advocate for a government-sponsored program that guarantees our seniors a retirement system that ensures a high quality of life free from economic burdens.

I advocate for the rights of workers to organize and to collectively bargain for better wages and working conditions.

I advocate for the elimination of workplace and larger societal inequalities based on race, nationality, citizenship status, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disability, socioeconomic standing, religion, and other social identities.

I advocate for everyone a guaranteed comfortable and secure place to live, and governmental policies that actually prevent a banking system that forecloses people's homes through scurrilous business practices.

I advocate for severe restrictions on the political process to prevent mammoth contributions by individuals and corporations to buy and own politicians and to influence public policy, while locking out individuals and groups unable to amass large political funds.

I challenge a military-industrial complex that marches to the beat of industry, and a prison-industrial complex that perpetuates the racial and socioeconomic class inequities pervasive throughout the society.

I advocate for a true progressive tax structure where everyone pays their fair share, one that inhibits massive inequities in the overwhelming accumulation of wealth by the top income brackets.

Most basically, I advocate for effective restrictions on the so-called "free market" economic system that enables the creation and enhancement of mega monopolies, outsourcing of jobs, manufacture of defective products, and inhibition in the development of clean renewable energy technologies.

Even before the Cold War and the so-called "McCarthy Period" (named after former Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy), individuals and groups on the political and theocratic right have flung the term "socialist" from their metaphoric sling shots into the faces of their political opponents to discredit their characters and dismiss their political ideas and policies, and to sway the electorate toward a conservative agenda. This continues to this very day as evidenced by the tea party's representations of President Obama, various other Democratic politicians, and even against the great Nelson Mandela.

As destructive and as freedom-killing as the right would have us believe, according to the World English Dictionary, socialism involves "a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole," where each of us has a stake and advances in the success of our collective economy.

Maybe if more of us challenged the widening and inhumane inequities, where each of us understood that we all have a stake and advance in the success of our collective economy, then enough would definitely and finally be enough!

References:

Gentilviso, C. (2013). Senate represents the wealthy first: Study. The Huffington Post, August 21.

Gilson, D., & Perot, C. (2011). It's the inequality, stupid. In Mother Jones, March/April.

Kertscher, T, & Borowski, G. (2011). The truth-o-meter says: True - Michael Moore says 400 Americans have more wealth than half of all Americans combined. PolitiFact, March 10.

Mishel, L, & Shierholz, H. (2013). A decade of flat wages. Economic Policy Institute. August 21.

Weeks, J. (2007). Inequality trends in some developed OECD countries. In J. K. S. & J. Baudot (Eds.), Flat world, big gaps. New York: ZED Books, pp. 159-174).

Wiseman, P. (2013). Richest 1 percent earn biggest share since '20s. Associated Press, September 10.