An excellent video about income inequality went viral last week. It is worth a watch and a re-watch.
The animated graph in the second half is fantastic and could be an amazing tool for helping people see and understand how outrageous the wealth gap has become in America. When you do watch, share, and discuss this video and the issue, do not fall into the trap of using the term “inequality.” Here’s why.
I know it is easier and quicker just to say “inequality.” But in this case brevity is doing a disservice to your argument. It leaves you open to the charge that since you are against inequality, therefore you want equality. This flawed rebuttal is quite catchy and is used by the right to easily tie any critique of inequality to Communism, Socialism, Nazism, and general puppy-kickingism. It could go something like this.
Plutocrat Toady: I keep hearing people complaining about “inequality.” I don’t like the sound of that. It’s like they want us all to be equal, to have the same amount of money. I do OK, but I don’t want the government to force me to give some of my money so they can redistribute it to some lazy poor people. Do you?
Innocent, yet simple working class person: Not really.
Plutocrat Toady: It sounds like socialism to me, and do you know who used to call themselves “socialist”?
Innocent, yet simple working class person: Who?
Plutocrat Toady: The USSR communist Russians and Hitler’s Nazis. I don’t want America to be taken over by those guys. Do you?
Innocent, yet simple working class person: No way, man!
Plutocrat Toady: Next, they’ll force your daughter to go out with one of those poor people that took your money. What do you think about that redistribution?
Innocent, yet simple working class person: Starting to really piss me off.
Plutocrat Toady: And since we’re all equal together now, they are going to make us all start speaking Spanish, right?
Innocent, yet simple working class person: Ay Dios Mio! … uh, I mean, screw those guys. I’ll keep my inequality thank you very much. Keep your government hands off my Medicare!
“You want to force everybody to be equal.” The claim is absurd, but it plays on someone’s fear of government tyranny and fear of people that are different. Anything that taps into those fears is a great tool to divide the majority (i.e. everyone who is not Crazy Rich) and generate support for the status quo.
If you want to save capitalism from itself, one should pre-emptively rebut this argument by choosing to add one extra word in front of every reference to inequality. You could use “extreme,” or “massive,” or “ridiculous,” or even “ungodly.” Those that are appalled by the implication of forcing everyone to be equal may agree that it is possible for inequality to go too far. Many can understand that sometimes freedom needs limits. They won’t say that the Second Amendment give individuals the right to own nuclear weapons.
The trap has been set that if you complain about “inequality,” the reactionaries on the right (yet not everybody on the right) will regurgitate an oversimplified and intentionally misleading spin that at “you are trying to force us all to be equal. You are a communist/socialist. You want the government to redistribute wealth. You want the government to take money from people and give it to poorer people.” They want to scare you into thinking all efforts to remedy this extreme inequality — a form of rabid capitalism not healthy rational capitalism — involves taking money from everyday “working class” Americans and giving it to the poor. They want to recast it as a black-and-white issue, that the choice is equality or inequality.
Letting those at the top grab as much of the pie as they want and can is killing the American dream. It’s already reached the point where you are much more likely to achieve the American dream outside of America.
Social mobility is the core of the American Dream. Note that having high mobility does not require perfect equality. That would actually be silly. In fact, social mobility requires inequality and it goes beyond just the idea of keeping up with the Joneses. I hope to be unequal with myself, doing better in the future than I am today. People want to be able to improve their status over time.
For today, know this. I don’t care about inequality; I’m outraged at extreme inequality. Simplify this debate and we all lose.