[Rushtalk] Inequality has warped the minds of America's rich

John A. Quayle blueoval57 at verizon.net
Sat Feb 15 22:43:45 MST 2014


Saturday, Feb 15, 2014 08:00 AM EST

Robert Reich: Inequality has warped the minds of America’s rich




The former labor secretary on why our country's 
wealthy won't pay anything close to the tax rate of 40 years ago

<http://www.salon.com/writer/robert_reich/>Robert 
Reich, ROBERTREICH.org Follow
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Topics: 
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<http://www.salon.com/topic/1_percent>1 percent, 
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<http://www.salon.com/topic/poor>poor, 
<http://www.salon.com/topic/income_inequality>Income 
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Robert Reich: Inequality has warped the minds of America's rich
Robert Reich
This originally appeared on <http://robertreich.org/>Robert Reich's blog.

America has a serious “We” problem ­ as in “Why should we pay for them?”

The question is popping up all over the place. It 
underlies the debate over extending unemployment 
benefits to the long-term unemployed and providing food stamps to the poor.

It’s found in the resistance of some young and 
healthy people to being required to buy health 
insurance in order to help pay for people with preexisting health problems.

It can be heard among the residents of upscale 
neighborhoods who don’t want their tax dollars 
going to the inhabitants of poorer neighborhoods nearby.

The pronouns “we” and “they” are the most 
important of all political words. They demarcate 
who’s within the sphere of mutual responsibility, 
and who’s not. Someone within that sphere who’s 
needy is one of “us” ­ an extension of our 
family, friends, community, tribe – and deserving 
of help. But needy people outside that sphere are 
“them,” presumed undeserving unless proved otherwise.

The central political question faced by any 
nation or group is where the borders of this 
sphere of mutual responsibility are drawn.

Why in recent years have so many middle-class and 
wealthy Americans pulled the borders in closer?

The middle-class and wealthy citizens of East 
Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana, for example, are 
trying to secede from the school district they 
now share with poorer residents of town, and set 
up their 
<http://theadvocate.com/home/7715080-125/study-brs-fiscal-future-grim>own 
district funded by property taxes from their higher-valued homes.

Similar efforts are underway in Memphis, Atlanta, 
and Dallas. Over the past two years, two wealthy 
suburbs of Birmingham, Alabama, have left the 
countywide school system in order to set up their own.

Elsewhere, upscale school districts are voting 
down state plans to raise their taxes in order to 
provide more money to poor districts, as they did recently in Colorado.

“Why should we pay for them?” is also 
reverberating in wealthy places like Oakland 
County, Michigan, that border devastatingly poor places like Detroit.

“Now, all of a sudden, they’re having problems 
and they want to give part of the responsibility 
to the suburbs?” 
<http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2014/01/27/140127fa_fact_williams%20%20%20>says 
L. Brooks Paterson, the Oakland County executive. 
“They’re not gonna talk me into being the good 
guy. ‘Pick up your share?’ Ha ha.”

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But had the official boundary been drawn 
differently so that it encompassed both Oakland 
County and Detroit – say, to create a Greater 
Detroit region – the two places would form a “we” 
whose problems Oakland’s more affluent citizens 
would have some responsibility to address.

What’s going on?

One obvious explanation involves race. Detroit is 
mostly black; Oakland County, mostly white. The 
secessionist school districts in the South are 
almost entirely white; the neighborhoods they’re leaving behind, mostly black.

But racisim has been with us from the start. 
Although some southern school districts are 
seceding in the wake of the ending of 
court-ordered desegregation, race alone can’t 
explain the broader national pattern. According 
to Census Bureau numbers, 
<http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/02/poverty-in-america-is-mainstream/?_r=0>two-thirds 
of Americans below the poverty line at any given 
point identify themselves as white.

Another culprit is the increasing economic stress 
felt by most middle-class Americans. Median 
household incomes are dropping and over 
three-quarters of Americans report they’re living paycheck to paycheck.

It’s easier to be generous and expansive about 
the sphere of ”we” when incomes are rising and 
future prospects seem even better, as during the 
first three decades after World War II when 
America declared war on poverty and expanded 
civil rights. But since the late 1970s, as most 
paychecks have flattened or declined, adjusted 
for inflation, many in the stressed middle no longer want to pay for “them.”

Yet this doesn’t explain why so many wealthy 
America’s are also exiting. They’ve never been 
richer. Surely they can afford a larger “we.” But 
most of today’s rich adamantly refuse to pay 
anything close to the tax rate America’s wealthy accepted forty years ago.

Perhaps it’s because, as inequality has widened 
and class divisions have hardened, America’s 
wealthy no longer have any idea how the other half lives.

Being rich in today’s America means not having to 
come across anyone who isn’t. Exclusive prep 
schools, elite colleges, private jets, gated 
communities, tony resorts, symphony halls and 
opera houses, and vacation homes in the Hamptons 
and other exclusive vacation sites all insulate them from the rabble.

America’s wealthy increasingly inhabit a 
different country from the one “they” inhabit, 
and America’s less fortunate seem as foreign as 
do the needy inhabitants of another country.

The first step in widening the sphere of “we” is 
to break down the barriers ­ not just of race, 
but also, increasingly, of class, and of 
geographical segregation by income ­ that are 
pushing “we Americans” further and further apart.

Robert Reich, one of the nation’s leading experts 
on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s 
Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School 
of Public Policy at the University of California 
at Berkeley. He has served in three national 
administrations, most recently as secretary of 
labor under President Bill Clinton. Time Magazine 
has named him one of the ten most effective 
cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has 
written 13 books, including his latest 
best-seller, “Aftershock: The Next Economy and 
America’s Future;” “The Work of Nations,” which 
has been translated into 22 languages; and his 
newest, an e-book, “Beyond Outrage.” His 
syndicated columns, television appearances, and 
public radio commentaries reach millions of 
people each week. He is also a founding editor of 
the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of 
the citizen’s group Common Cause. His new movie 
"Inequality for All" is in Theaters. His 
widely-read blog can be found at 
<http://www.robertreich.org/>www.robertreich.org.
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