Frustrating, isn’t it. The rich get richer while the poor get poorer, and there doesn’t seem to be a thing we can do about it. Or is there?
Do you know how to eat an elephant? And, no, I’m not changing the subject. As strange as that may seem, it isn’t an irrelevant question. You’ve got to tackle a big task bite by bite, or to put it another way, one small slice at a time. So the question is, where do you start?
Step 1: Understand the problem. That doesn’t mean you have to become an expert on inequality, but it is important to know why growing inequality is a problem and what changes in our financial and political systems have allowed this to happen. An interesting and easily read book that provides a good feel for the issues is Chuck Collins’ 99 to 1: How Wealth Inequality is Wrecking the World and What We Can Do About It. He makes it clear this isn’t a problem confined to America, though he focuses on its impact on us. His details illustrate how the growing divide between the 1% and the 99% has nibbled away–or perhaps I should say gobbled up–the American dream.
Saying, “I can’t do anything about this problem. It’s too big. I’m just one person, and one person can’t make a difference” won’t cut it. Just ask the people who started the Occupy Wall Street movement. As it says in the book’s preface, Occupy Wall Street “contributed to a huge shift in the conversation with the ‘We are the 99 Percent’ movement.” Do not underestimate the importance of the awareness they created.
Step 2: Pick an area to focus on. Collins suggests a number of changes that can help mitigate increasing inequality, listed under three categories. Number one is Rule changes that raise the floor, for example, ensuring the minimum wage is a living wage. And if you wonder why it is so hard to live on a minimum wage, check out Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. She spent a full year trying to live on minimum wage, and the insights she provides introduce you to aspects of the problem you would never have imagined if you hadn’t experienced them yourself.
Under Collins’ second category, Rule changes that level the playing field, he includes “Invest in Education.” He quotes World Bank economist Branko Milanovic as saying, “Widespread education has become the secret to growth. … And broadly accessible education is difficult to achieve unless a society has a relatively even income distribution.” That explains a lot.
Finally, Collins’ third category is Rule changes that break up wealth and power. That category includes “Tax the 1%.” That is something many responsible and fair-minded members of the 1% have been urging Congress to do, with the most verbal being Warren Buffett who has made a big point of the fact his secretary is taxed at a higher rate than he is. Buffett and his secretary even made a delightful, short video about it for the Berkshire Hathaway annual stockholder meeting a couple of years ago.
Step 3: Go for it. Whether you are a member of the 99% or the 1%, your world will be a better place when wealth inequality is sent packing. So what are you going to put in its suitcase?
By, Judy Osgood