In her talk with Thomas Piketty, Senator Elizabeth Warren offers a forceful argument for a progressive American tax system as a way to reduce inequality. As a young person with inherited financial wealth myself, I agree with Senator Warren's proposal.
But the quest for greater economic equality in America must be two-pronged. Politicians and policy-makers must lead the legal charge to make our rules fairer. Meanwhile, the rest of us are charged with changing hearts and minds -- our own and those around us.
If our legislature could somehow succeed in installing a progressive tax system (that's quite an if!), would this be a short- or long-term victory? If we soak the "1 percent" but do nothing to win them over to the cause of making our country more equitable, can that victory really last? I don't think so... and I wonder what a further-alienated 1 percent would do with the massive power they would still wield in an America with progressive taxes.
Yes, Senator Warren... keep fighting to make our tax laws equitable. We will certainly need that in order to level the playing field. But we'll also need to consider leaving behind the popular "99 percent vs. 1 percent" dynamic that gives wealthy people an easy way out of feeling responsible: "Fine...you want to paint me as a greedy scumbag because of my money? Then that's how I'll act. You don't want me anyway!" Labeling someone a monster is the best way to get them to act like a monster.
Instead, let's invite the financially wealthy to once again join the rest of us in building a better society. Let's recognize the wealthy as humans and show them that their own well-being is tied up with the rest of humanity. The demonization that has dominated the national conversation on the political left has succeeded in galvanizing popular movements. Now let's move to the next phase of this American experiment: welcoming the 1% back into the fold.
Read more about how Americans can reframe the wealth debate at Abe's blog, "Risk Something."