No True Social Justice Without Economic Justice A listener calls in to discuss integrating social and economic politics... This clip from the Majority Report, live M-F at 12 noon EST and via daily podcast at ...
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Economic Justice "Now!!!"
Income Inequality" bah, humbug!
Think about it. Mass media is lying to us again. The Issue that enrages us is called, "Economic Injustice". "Income Inequality" is a misleading tag, a red herring barely worthy of discussion. The issue demanding debate, education and redress is called, "Economic Injustice". Nobody argues that incomes should all be equal. How absurd! We are saying income and wealth should be distributed justly, in a manner we all find fair and reasonable. We are enraged because our social and political economic systems have become Un-Just, Un-Fair and Un-Reasonable. Income inequality, and even inequality itself, has nothing to do with it.
Let's get this right, folks. The issue never really was income inequality. That phrase is a deliberate attempt to mislead us into wrong-minded argumentation. The issue is economic injustice -- it always has been and it always will be.
You might ask, why bother making this distinction between "income inequality" and "economic injustice"? It is because words matter, phrases matter. What we write and what is written in mass media will remain with us far longer than we will be alive. And words which need to bear the heavy burden of carrying ideas into the future need to be chosen carefully, methodically, and precisely. Although it is true that an excessive amount of income inequality is appalling, yet the quality which enrages us is not the inequality itself but rather the "economic injustice" which it represents. Nobody is saying all incomes should be equalized. That would be ridiculous and is much too easy a thing to refute.
We witness daily, the members of uber-wealthy families earning staggeringly large incomes passively from investments and inheritance. Those who earn wages through actual sweat and toil cannot realistically hope to attain even a fraction of these exorbitant amounts. Why should we view that social result with anything more than utter disdain? Do families who seized lands in prior generations by force and coercion have an ethically legitimate claim to the power they inherit today? Many of us think not. It is, instead, anthropological evidence of the injustice built into our present system. We find ourselves staring in bewilderment, perhaps feeling further insulted as mass media callously tries to coerce us into believing that we will be fairly rewarded by our hard work. The indignant perpetuation of this Horatio Alger myth merely provides reason to distrust the media and piles even higher upon our already angst-ridden consciences a further disabling kind of cognitive dissonance.
So, how do we who are dissatisfied try to innovate a solution? How do we address the rage rising up inside as we learn just how much economic power the top of the food chain possesses versus how little the majority of us are left with? Here's how. We must frame the discourse differently. We must point out the myriad injustices which reside within the present system, and explain that income inequality is only one of those thousand jagged points which tear at us all. We need to describe the present political economic situation in a way which emotionally communicates the angst felt by a large percentage of the citizenry -- this nagging, feeling of hopelessness and despondency which is tied up with the lack of reasonableness, fairness and justice which underlies the current system. We need to examine the grossly distorted patterns left behind as goods and services are unreasonably distributed amongst the privileged classes of citizens in our social and political economy.
As a form of analysis, let us break down the phrase, "income inequality". Firstly, there is "income" which is one particular way to convey money from one entity to another. Most people associate "income" with wages because most people make their livelihood earning wages at a job. Trading personal time for money at a job is the predominant means by which an employer transfers life-giving money to an employee -- much as in feudal times, a master might have distributed daily bread to those who worked the land. Next we have "inequality" which is the state of not being equal. Everyone knows there is no such thing as perfect equality. Everything and everyone is different and unique. This renders "inequality" a very imprecise term, if not downright meaningless. The underlying issue not equal or unequal, as the phrase would suggest, but it is a qualitative one -- the degree of separation between parts which are known to be unequal. Specifically regarding incomes, which as we said are mostly received as wages, we are talking about the size of the divide between those who get large and those who get small salaries. The debate about this must be framed by what is fair and reasonable in terms of the economics of the divergent salaries, and I think there is ample evidence these days to illuminate the fact that most of us find this divide unreasonable and unjust.
Those who defend the status quo center their arguments vehemently around the idea that reducing income inequality will squash the desire to innovate. They assert that capitalism has an uncanny ability to stimulate material innovation, and it it does so by providing lucrative income opportunities to deserving citizens. Many, if not most of these incentives take the form of large salaries with ancillary benefits. There is undoubtedly, a small benefit to society which this kind of planned inequality brings, but it is certainly not the only way to stimulate innovation. It is a mole-hill of a point which is constantly raised to form a mountain of half-truths.
But, the larger roots of the angst we feel will not be found by studying the Gini Coefficient which is used by statisticians to measure the gaps between salaries. This is because the wealthiest individuals who enjoy the most privilege and the most power, usually get their income from inherited or gifted wealth. The funds they receive are a mixture of incomes, earnings, gains and assets transferred to them by interest-bearing notes, capital gains realized from equity sales, dividends received from claims of equity, real estate rents, royalties and many other passive forms of fund creation . Although some may work at a job, the lion's share of their wealth is reliant upon moneys which have long been dormant, parked in banks, stored up in exotic financial instruments, vested in artwork and real estate, or collectible cars and antique collections; and, of course, also represented by their shares in equity of various commercial firms, their stocks, bonds and other claims of ownership which empower them economically and have served as the basis of their family's power through multiple generations.
That any one of us should have incomes equal to theirs is an absurd notion, but the underlying question of economic injustice must answer why do they have these kinds of incomes? What makes it reasonable for them to enjoy profound ownership claims over all sorts of things while most folks have no ownership claims at all? Why has our economic system generated a society virtually guaranteeing their continuing status as leading citizens who will dictate their will through power structures based on ownership claims? Has this been a just economic process, or have others been left out in the cold for too long awaiting redress? Are there any democratic principles being served, or has our economic system superimposed upon us a new kind of aristocracy?
Our indignation rises, not because Mr CEO earns a million bucks while we earn only 30 thousand but because we can sense the sheer injustice in the disproportional share of wealth which accrues to him and his descendants year after year. A reasonable person is hard-pressed to find a satisfyingly fair explanation for such wealth distribution. If hard work and toil are to be respected and rewarded, then why doesn't the sanitation worker earn a privileged lifestyle? And if telephone calls, meetings, lunches, and rounds of golf are to be the reward for those who excel at analytical thinking, then why are engineers and professors found several levels down, well below the jet-setting lifestyles of executives?
There is now a well-founded distrust in the fairness of our economic system of rewards and punishments and it begs for a national or even global discussion of what fairly constitutes economic justice. Much of our rule of law is based upon a "reasonable man" approach towards fairness, and much of our social and political economic landscape no longer can be justified by reasonable man arguments. In fact, most reasonable people would agree that the system has become largely unfair, unjust and unreasonable.
There are so many of us who feel that the system is rigged, and it is time for major reform if not for outright non-violent revolution.