December 30, 2010

How Much Economic Inequality Can the American People Endure?

A New Year's Resolution for the Rich by Sam Harris

This article reminds me of when the US economy almost collapsed in 2009.  Many conservatives said:  "Let it collapse, no bailouts. It will only make the US stronger."  I can only conclude they were either ignorant of or could care less about the social consequences the ensuing 30% or higher unemployment rate would have had.

Had we let it collapse, robbery, mugging, burglary and other crimes commited by the those who would have been most severely affected would have increased proportionate to increased unemployment.  Wealthy conservatives, turning to their most favored responses to such social upheavals, would have called for more police, harsher laws, longer jail sentences, more prisons, more prayer, more secure gated communities, more residential security systems, more personal handguns.  These responses would not have been sufficient for a national catastrophe of this magnitude.  Had the economy collapsed and these measures been implemented, "freedom" would have disappeared from the land of the free and the home of the brave.  A police state of marshall law would have become the American norm, at least until law and order were restored and the economy recovered, if it ever did.  One can easily imagine under such circumstances our new reassuring national slogan becoming:  In God, Money and Force We Trust.  Not exactly the American dream or dream of America most of us have in mind....

More troubling is the fact that the societal impact of skyrocketing crime following such an economic collapse does not take into account the short and long-term economic and psychological damage that would have been done to millions of families and children; and the further hardening of the "political ideology and culture wars" that have already frayed and degraded the fabric of American society.

We might be able to dig ourselves out from the national debt caused by the bailouts and other government spending on the economy but I have my doubts our society and culture would ever recover or become as great as before had the government done nothing.  "Just how much inequality can free people endure?," Harris asks.  I am grateful the Obama administration acted to avert such a national crisis and chose not to find out the answer to this question.  Here are some excerpts from Harris' article on what more can be done to address economic inequality in America:

"We now live in a country in which the bottom 40 percent (120 million people) owns just 0.3 percent of the wealth. Data of this kind make one feel that one is participating in a vast psychological experiment: Just how much inequality can free people endure?"
---
"There is not a person on earth who chose his genome, or the country of his birth, or the political and economic conditions that prevailed at moments crucial to his progress.  ...  And yet devotees of self-reliance rail against those who would receive entitlements of various sorts - health care, education, etc. - while feeling unselfconsciously entitled to their relative good fortune. Yes, we must encourage people to work to the best of their abilities and discourage free riders wherever we can--but it seems only decent at this moment to admit how much luck is required to succeed at anything in this life. Those who have been especially lucky--the smart, well-connected, and rich--should count their blessings, and then share some of these blessings with the rest of society."

1 comment:

Kevin Graham said...

Jim,
I see you have been busy, some good new post.
Let me read some more and see if
I can get the brain cells to coperate with a comment.
Thanks for your effort.
Kevin

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