Those seeking political advantage by directing attention at Income Inequality are likely to face unintended consequences. It is one thing to struggle for survival, suspecting the game is rigged, and quite another to have your face rubbed in it. Even the least politically aware citizens will come to understand that it’s not just their problem, a result of bad luck, or not enough education.
As Joseph E. Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize winning economist wrote in a recent NYT op-ed, “… trust is becoming yet another casualty of our country’s staggering inequality: As the gap between Americans widens, the bonds that hold society together weaken. So, too, as more and more people lose faith in a system that seems inexorably stacked against them, and the 1 percent ascend to ever more distant heights, this vital element of our institutions and our way of life is eroding.”
In 1933, in a statement regarding the National Industrial Recovery Act, FDR said, “It seems to me to be equally plain that no business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country.” If, as seems likely, wages don’t rise sufficiently, and sufficiently fast, to allow a greater proportion of Americans to enjoy a safe, decent standard of living, we may witness a growing number of workers sharing FDR’s sentiment. The resulting trouble in Slavelandia may take many forms, some of them far more disruptive to business as usual than last year’s brief job actions by fast food workers.