Having reviewed the shocking extent of economic inequality in our world (8 men have as much wealth as the bottom 3.6 billion people!) and the reasons it’s a problem (unjust, inefficient, undemocratic, unhealthy etc.) it’s time to examine some possible solutions. Caveat emptor: conservatives will be enraged by these suggestions, which basically boil down to tax, regulate and redistribute – aka “big government.” Well, what did you expect? Conservative “neoliberal” economic policies (cut taxes on the wealthy and corporations, maximize shareholder value and CEO pay, freeze wages and kill labor unions etc.) are largely responsible for the vast increase in inequality since the late 1970s – my entire adult life. In a world where a few rich men and large corporations control more resources than most countries, what force except democratic government can check and restrain the power of the plutocrats?
There are many steps toward creating a more “human economy,” based on the welfare of the bottom 99% of the world’s population, especially the majority poor. They include, in no particular order:
- Set concrete targets & guidelines to reduce inequality so that the top 10% receives no more than 40% of national income – a level a little higher than Western Europe (37%), but lower than USA/Canada (47%) and Brazil/India (55%). Given the high residual inequality, this is hardly “socialism.”
- Increase taxes on the wealthiest individuals and corporations and use the revenue to fully fund health, education and social programs designed to increase opportunity for all, especially the lower 50%.
- Close tax loopholes and offshore tax havens, where the rich currently stash over $7 trillion in ill gotten gains, depriving the poor of desperately needed tax revenue for health, welfare and income support. This will probably require an international tax agreement and a global tax body (like the World Trade Organization) to enforce.
- Institute or increase wealth taxes (one of my favorite ideas), including property, inheritance, capital gains and levees on great fortunes (say over $10 million). Redistribute the revenue to underpaid workers who produced the surplus in the first place, by providing a living (not minimum) wage for all workers, especially women, who are universally underpaid.
- Redesign business models away from shareholder maximization and CEO excess to more worker oriented forms, such as cooperatives, employee ownership, fair trade and profit sharing.
- Cap CEO pay at 20X that of an average worker. Prohibit dividends, bonuses, stock buyouts and other giveaways to the rich until all workers receive a living wage, arrived at through democratic deliberation and expert analysis for that region.
- Promote and protect labor unions and other civil society groups working to increase wages, improve working conditions and increase educational and occupational opportunities for the bottom 80% of the population.
Quite a list, and it’s only partial. Of course all these suggestions will meet with hysterical resistance from the monied and corporate elite and their shills in both political parties. We currently have one major party (Republican) whose bedrock belief is redistribution from the middle and working classes to the top 10% – witness the current “tax reform” fiasco, 80% of which benefits the wealthy and corporations rather than the “forgotten Americans” Trump hoodwinked into voting for him. The Democratic party seems focused on preserving existing programs and regaining power, without a coherent vision of a more just society. The Sanders wing offers some hope, but hasn’t been able to cohere into an organized, pragmatic force with reasonable plans that don’t bankrupt the Treasury more than our current, irresponsible fiscal course.
Public opinion is on our side, if weakly. The Oxfam survey in Post #1 indicates that 2/3 to 3/4 of people worldwide believe inequality is too high and an urgent problem that governments should directly address. Yet very few people organize around or vote on these issues, believing (with much justification) they have little chance to be addressed in a stacked game rigged by the elites for their benefit. In our political system an intense minority can easily thwart a lukewarm majority – witness the NRA’s stranglehold on gun legislation, despite the mass shootings that occur with shocking regularity. The vast majority of Americans support universal background checks and eliminating the sale of military assault weapons, but do these prevail? Nooooooo!
The key seems to be in mobilizing an active, intense minority that pushes for a more fair, just and sane economy. This is tough because there is no single, identifiable group (like women, gays, African Americans etc.) who can claim special suffering from economic inequality, with an intense group interest in reversing it. People will fight mightily to advance the rights and interests of themselves and their groups. Mobilizing the masses around the “common good” is a much harder affair.
Efforts must be made, in education and organizing, to tie people’s economic plight directly to inequality and demonstrate concretely how they’d be better off under a fairer distribution. A real social movement must emerge – with leaders and specific policy demands – to demand these changes. It must go well beyond the adolescent rebellion of the Occupy movement, which lacked plan and purpose. It’s a tall order and seemingly thankless task, though invaluable for the health and well being of our people and planet in the long run. I have little to lose and nothing better to do, so I’m willing to take a shot. Will anyone join and help me, or is there someone I should join and help?