Why There's No Outcry Over Economic Inequality (Photo: Shehan Peruma)
by Robert B. Reich
People ask me all the time why we don't have a revolution in America, or at least a major wave of reform similar to that of the Progressive Era or the New Deal or the Great Society.
Middle incomes are sinking, the ranks of the poor are swelling, almost all the economic gains are going to the top, and big money is corrupting our democracy. So why isn't there more of a ruckus?
The answer is complex, but three reasons stand out.
First, the working class is paralyzed with fear it will lose the jobs and wages it already has.
In earlier decades, the working class fomented reform. The labor movement led the charge for a minimum wage, 40-hour workweek, unemployment insurance and
No longer. Working people don't dare. The share of working-age Americans holding jobs is now lower than at any time in the last three decades, and 76 percent of them are living paycheck to paycheck.
No one has any job security. The last thing they want to do is make a fuss and risk losing the little they have. Besides, their major means of organizing and protecting themselves -- labor unions -- have been decimated. Four decades ago more than a third of private-sector workers were unionized. Now, fewer than 7 percent belong to a union.
Second, students don't dare rock the boat.
In prior decades students were a major force for social change. They played an active role in the Civil Rights movement, the Free Speech movement and against the Vietnam War. But today's students don't want to make a ruckus. They're laden with debt. Since 1999, student debt has increased more than 500 percent, yet the average starting salary for graduates has dropped 10 percent, adjusted for inflation. Student debts can't be canceled in bankruptcy. A default brings penalties and ruins a credit rating.
To make matters worse, the job market for new graduates remains lousy. Which is why record numbers are still living at home. Reformers and revolutionaries don't look forward to living with mom and dad or worrying about credit ratings and job recommendations.
Third and finally, the American public has become so cynical about government that many no longer think reform is possible.
When asked if they believe government will do the right thing most of the time, fewer than 20 percent of Americans agree. Fifty years ago, when that question was first asked on standard surveys, more than 75 percent agreed.
It's hard to get people worked up to change society or even to change a few laws when they don't believe government can possibly work.
Was all this the result of a giant conspiracy among right-wing Republicans, corporate executives and
It's more likely they and others simply allowed all this to unfold, like a giant wet blanket over the outrage and indignation most Americans feel but don't express.
Change is coming anyway. We cannot abide an ever-greater share of the nation's income and wealth going to the top while median household incomes continue to drop, one out of five of our children living in dire poverty, and big money taking over our democracy.
At some point, working people, students and the broad public will have had enough. They will reclaim our economy and our democracy. This has been the central lesson of American history.
Reform is less risky than revolution, but the longer we wait, the more likely it will be the latter.
- Standard of Living Perceptions at 10 Year High
- Who Can We Trust To Measure Poverty?
- Minimum Wage Industries
- The iPhone Price Index
- Pros & Cons of the Gig Economy
- Calling Working People of All Colors
- Exploding Inequality is Killing Democracy
- Reducing Inequality in the Trump Era
- Obama's Legacy: Growth, Debt & Employment
- Only 5 Countries Have A Bigger GDP Than California
- Global Political Economy
- How The Global Millionaire Club Is Changing
- Plenty of Dough in Online Food Delivery
- The Most Expensive Metro Areas to Live In
- Cities With the Lowest Gas Prices
- The Cost of a Beer: Then and Now
- The Cost of a Cup of Coffee: Then and Now
- Cities Where Coffee Costs the Most
- America's Decreasing Fertility Rate Could Spell Economic Trouble
- The Least Affordable Places for Single Parents
- How the Cost of a Movie Ticket Has Changed Over Time
- The Cost of a Trip to the Emergency Room Since 1940
- Gagging on the Gig Economy
- How Falling Oil Prices Have Changed the Economy
- The Economics of Brexit
- Making China Great Again
- States with the Lowest Unemployment Rates
- Oil's Downfall Aided by Rise of Fracking
- Counties Where Medicare Spends the Most per Patient
- Inequality Will Get Worse Until There's a Revolution
- States with the Highest Unemployment Rates
- The Richest Banks
- Cost Of a Car Since 1967
- Cost of Car Insurance In Every State
- The Most Fuel Efficient Cars
- Zombie Ideas and the Death of Ethics in Economics
- What Really Caused the Eurozone Crisis?
- Is GDP Over?
- Pay Fair or Pay Up
- Global Capitalism's Latest Crisis
- Gross National Happiness Catches On
- The Cutting Edge of Waste
- Subsidizing the Idle Rich While Poor Kids Go Hungry
- Lending Dreams
- Venture Capitalists Rule the World
- National Debt Over $18 Trillion
- Will ECB Quantitative Easing Work?
- NYC Mayor for Pay at $13 an Hour
- U.S. Banks Pass Stress Test
- Vanguard's 2015 Global Economic Outlook
- Wal-Mart Does Something Right
- The Perils of America's Hard-Charging Capitalism
- Freedom Summer II
- Economy Looking Up, But Politics Stuck in Neutral
- Money and Morality: The Parallel Between Energy and Slavery
- The Four Biggest Right-Wing Lies About Inequality
- Proposal to Keep CEO Pay in Check
- Antitrust Laws Potentially Useful in New Gilded Age
- If We Raise Minimum Wage, Why Stop at $10 an Hour?
- The 'You're Paid What You're Worth' Myth
- The Great U-turn
- 'The Grapes of Wrath' Resonates 75 Years Later
- International Money Is International Politics
- The New Politics of International Currencies
- The Real Job Killers: Lousy Jobs, Lousy Wages
- Take Tax Compromise with a Grain of Salt
- WhatsApp Deal Shines Light on Our Economic Problems
- Why Did We Forget Important Economic Lessons?
- Why There's No Outcry Over Economic Inequality
- The Year of the Great Wealth Redistribution
- Fear is Why Workers Vote Against Their Economic Self-Interest
- Free the Keystone XL Pipeline, Mr. President
- Gender Pay Equity: Yeah, It's Still A Problem
- Income 'Inequality'
- Why the Right Should Support Boosting Minimum Wage, Too
- Coming to Grips with Rise of the Machines
- Detroit's Decline Did Not Have to Happen
- The Roaring Twenties Are Back
- Predistribute the Wealth
- Global Shipping Contends with Oversupply Problems
- Runaway CEO Pay Gets a Free Pass
- Exceptionally Mediocre on a Global Scale
- A More Perfect Union
- Economic Strategy for Better Jobs, Not Just Higher Profits
- Fast-food Workers Echo Occupy Spirit
- Inside the Superstar Economy of America's Big Thinkers
- The Real Economy: The Weather is Still Stormy
- Family Values and the New Economy
- The Nation-State and the Global Corporation
- A Good-Paying Job More Effective than a Lecture
- The Rich Life or the Good Life?
- The Economic Elephant in the Room: Widening Inequality
Article: Copyright © 2016, Tribune Content Agency.
Economy: "Why There's No Outcry Over Economic Inequality"