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Inequality

What George Will Got Wrong

The growing gap between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else affects much more than the cost of a 50-inch plasma TV.

Blogging Our Great Divide
March 26, 2015

by Betsy Wood

George Will must be spending too much time with one percenters.

His op-ed yesterday in the Washington Post (print version), “Income Inequality is Good,” would make 19th century Social Darwinists beaming proud.

In the first Gilded Age (which Mr. Will thinks was great), the rich blatantly defended extreme inequality by saying it was based in biology. The rich were biologically superior to the poor, who were biologically inferior. This was all just nature’s way of ensuring that society could evolve for the better.

That line of thought didn’t exactly go over well. A populist uprising lasting several decades put the inequality defenders in their place and resulted in a period of wealth redistribution, strong labor unions, record high taxes on the rich, oh and the birth of the middle class.

Until now, I wasn’t sure anyone had matched the Social Darwinists in their unabashed, no-holds-barred celebration of extreme wealth concentration at the top and crumbs for everybody else.

But George Will came pretty close in this column.

Mr. Will manages to defend the first Gilded Age, refer to monopolies as ‘blessings,’ redefine outsourcing of jobs as the best use of talent, and argue that shopping at Walmart is the same thing as workers getting a raise all in the same bizarre, logic-defying column.

And quoting his hero, John Tamney, he writes that “income inequality in a capitalist system is truly beautiful.”

I imagine that today that argument would go over about as well as Social Darwinism did 100 years ago.

The gist of Mr. Will’s argument is that buying things cheaply is the essence of having a good life. Inequality complainers should shut up, he would say, because the talented one percent ensure that the rest of us are able to buy cheap stuff from China.

Will gets just about everything wrong. But the huge point he misses is that there’s more to life than the cost of a 50-inch plasma TV. The growing gap between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else affects our democracy, our public education, our health, the quality of our communities, and even things like levels of trust and happiness in a society.

While the cost of plasma TVs may have gone down, our democracy was corrupted by corporate lobbying and a rich takeover of our political system, full and fair employment for ordinary people was attacked through union-busting, worker misclassification, and wage theft, and tax avoidance by the rich was turned into an art form as local, state, and federal revenues declined leaving less money to pay for public education, parks, highways, infrastructure, financial aid, and other social programs.

As if that weren’t enough, people at the top of the income scale are living longer while those at the bottom are dying earlier. That’s because more affluent areas tend to have more doctors, better preventative care and information, healthier lifestyles, and higher rates of health insurance coverage.

Inequality also negatively impacts more than the poor. Researchers have shown that in deeply unequal societies people across the income spectrum live shorter, unhealthier lives.

Inequality is anything but beautiful.

Dr. Marjorie Wood is the managing editor of Inequality.org and a senior staff member of the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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