To Mishel and Steinbaum, technology isn’t causing inequality; it’s political factors like the weaknesses of unions, the way minimum wages haven’t kept track with cost of living increases, and a series of tax cuts benefiting both the rich or people making income from investments rather than wages. Examples include lower tax rates for capital income compared to wage income and President Bush’s 2003 dividend tax cut, which exempted corporations from taxes on the money they pay shareholders and increased corporate profits. Those profits, which are passed on to a company’s owners, have risen in direct proportion to decreases in employee compensation; wages now make up a falling share of gross national product as a result.
In reality, inequality is like a snowflake quilt: it’s a bunch of things patched together, but it’s also different for everyone. A family in Memphis may have issues for a wholly different reason than a family in Spokane, and vice versa. (And same in Antwerp vs. Cuzco, for example.) It’s hard to generalize because feelings of inequality — or true bank account notions of inequality — often happen at the familial level, not the “bunch-of-academics-sitting-around-and-talking” level.
(BTW: Had this convo briefly with my wife this morning. What if an university somewhere eventually decided to buy IBM’s Watson and use that for research opportunities and even teaching? What if academics become automated? HA!)
Still, I think the bottom of the pull quote above has a lot of validity. Essentially:
- We stopped valuing labor (decline of unions?)
- We started deeply valuing what you own (like process, baby!)
- Poor/middle-class people tend to work and maybe own a couple of things
- Rich people tend to own a lot of things
- If we value what you own, obviously inequality is going to exacerbate