A recent Op-Ed in the New York Times proposed a solution to the vexing tax-revenue problem based on taxing wealth rather than income. This scheme has another advantage; it would also help combat the growing wealth inequality. Wealth inequality is worsening and is becoming an all-consuming political, moral, and social issue. It is threatening everything from our future economic prospects to our basic democratic values.
Wealth inequality is dividing our one United States into two Americas: one that is rich and in control and one that is poor and helpless. The two Americas exist in increasingly separate spheres and barely know each other. The rich don't use the same schools, don't frequent the same restaurants, don't attend the same social functions, don't support similar causes, and don't use the same modes of transportation or shop at the same stores. They live on a higher plane and have an easier and more enjoyable life, different in many ways from the more demanding and stressful lives of most Americans. The rich populate the Congress and other government hierarchies. They write the laws and establish the rules for the rest of us to follow while largely unfamiliar with our lives and the challenges we face. This was made clear during the last presidential election where Mr. Romney was visibly out of touch with the lives of the great majority of the American people.
The worst effect of wealth inequality is that it is self-perpetuating. The children of the rich grow up in better environments. They live, for the most part, in two-parent homes, get better nutrition, and receive better health care. They grow up healthier both physically and psychologically and are, in many ways, better suited to life in today's society. In addition, the rich send their children to the better universities, which are now beyond the reach of most high school graduates. Children of the rich will form the bulk of our political and economic leadership. That reality reflects the common dictum: "he who has the gold makes the rules". The children of the poor, on the other hand, are usually born in mostly single-parent homes and end up either uneducated or undereducated. As only few of them graduate from the better schools and universities, most end up in the lower echelons of society and repeat the lives of their parents' steeped in poverty and hopelessness. The chasm between the two groups continues to grow and is now almost unbridgeable.
To preserve our future, however, we must interrupt the growing and destructive cycle of wealth inequality. There have been many suggestions on how to address this problem in the short term, primarily through progressive taxation. In the long term, however, level of education holds the key. At a minimum, the level of education of those belonging to the lower-wealth classes must be raised significantly. Measures should be taken to ensure that more of the lower-wealth classes get the higher-quality education now available mostly to the wealthy. Equalizing educational opportunities should start at the very earliest stages of education. A federally imposed uniform educational system must be the law of the entire United States. Every American should have an equal right to the same high-quality education no matter where he or she lives and how rich their families are. In addition, the degree of wealth should be inversely proportional to the ability to get into the better universities. Other developed nations could serve as an example to the United States. In France, for example, president Hollande wants to outlaw homework since it gives students from rich families with more educated parents a greater chance at improvement than the children of the poor. From the educational point of view, the 'United States is like a hodgepodge of 50 uncoordinated state standards, most woefully inadequate. Educationally, it is time we grew up into one country.
Many will object to this approach since combining schools from different states into one colossal federal system would do a disservice to our federal system of government. The richer states, and even the richer counties within certain states as in the state of New York for example, will oppose consolidation of school districts. Yet, we do have federal systems that cover our national common interests such as military defense against external threats. No one complains about that. Equalizing educational opportunities ensures our common defense against our most prominent internal threat. It could also help us against a serious future external threat: that of being outcompeted and overcome by better-educated and more competent global competitors. If we don't act, we would be relegated, as a nation, to a second-class global citizen.
To be clear, this proposal is radically different from the class-based or need-blind admission strategies used to equalize the educational opportunities and being promoted for admission to our better universities. What is proposed here is a law, or set of laws, to be enacted by Congress and enforced by all schools and universities. It should stipulate that the poor have the greater chance at better education than the already rich. It addresses a problem critical to the future of the United States as a country and as a free society. The real purpose here is not only to increase the proportion of the poor in the better universities, but also to balance the ratio of the poor to the rich in controlling positions in the three branches of the government and to heal the fissure that is dividing the country. It addresses a problem critical to the future of the United States as a country and as a free society.
Many readers will find this proposal draconian, undemocratic, and more socialistic than could be acceptable in the United States. This comes from the relative unawareness by Americans of the dangers of the growing wealth inequality. This issue is so detrimental to the future of the United States that it must be addressed decisively sooner rather than later. We need to stimulate altruism in the American people to positively push for greater wealth equality not only to help the poor among us but also to help us all towards a better future. Perhaps religion can also help in this regard.
Educating the poor is to give them a better chance at future economic parity. This approach is the more peaceful way to mitigate the growing wealth inequality and its looming destructive effects. It is far more peaceful than the alternative: revolution by the lower-wealth classes demanding more rights. We have already seen the beginning of a simmering revolution in the Occupy Wall Street movement, which was treated by our security agencies as a terrorist activity. Similar but more aggressive activities could be wider in scope with far more destructive consequences that would threaten us all. The signs are already here.