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The Times, They Are a Changin’

Research & Commentary
July 09, 2015

by Larry Checco

Regardless of where you stand on the issues, there’s no denying that change is in the air.

By Larry Checco

What do Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders, a bevy of Republicans running for President, and a handful of changesroadsignbillionaires all have in common?

In their own ways, they are each pushing the critical issue of income and wealth inequality onto center stage.

Warren got the snowball rolling down the hill with her “the game is rigged” epithet. The issue is now gaining ever-greater momentum with Sanders’ “enough is enough” stump-speech slogan as he runs for president—and as his poll ratings continue to rise.

To avoid the avalanche, a number of top-tier conservative presidential candidates also appear to have wealth inequality on their radar screens (although it should come as no surprise that they blame inequality on the current administration).

Here are some examples:

  • Ted Cruz (R-Tex): “It is true that the top 1 percent are doing great under Barack Obama. Today, the top 1 percent earn a higher share of our national income than any year since 1928,”
  • Rand Paul (R-Ky): “Income inequality has worsened under this administration. And tonight (in his 2015 State of the Union address), President Obama offers more of the same policies — policies that have allowed the poor to get poorer and the rich to get richer.”
  • Former Florida governor, Jeb Bush: “While the last eight years have been pretty good ones for top earners, they’ve been a lost decade for the rest of America.”
  • Even former presidential candidate Mitt Romney seems to have had a change of heart: “Under President Obama, the rich have gotten richer, income inequality has gotten worse and there are more people in poverty than ever before.”

Think and say what you will, it’s a far cry from “makers and takers.” Or that 47 percent of Americans “pay no income tax” and don’t take “personal responsibility…for their lives.”

But all of this change of heart, if that’s what it can be called, goes further than politicians running for office.

The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) is a prominent right-leaning Washington think tank and bastion of supply-side economics from which many conservative politicians take their cues. Last month, AEI’s president, Arthur C. Brooks, stated in an interview “That our new market is poverty. We need to craft a poverty-reduction program from the right, where we’ve been missing in action.”

Granted, progressives and conservatives come at reducing income and wealth inequality from vastly different political and philosophical points of view. But to resolve an issue, it must first be acknowledged.

And it appears that that acknowledgement is even beginning to come from a small sector of the economy that one would least expect—billionaires!

Recently, The New York Times published an article that quoted billionaires saying things like income inequality is “unfair and it is not sustainable.” Say what, Mr. Billionaire!

Prime among this out-spoken group of heretics to their class is Nick Hanauer, a tech billionaire from Seattle. Last summer Hanauer wrote a polemic for Politico in which he said to the planet’s “zillionaires”: “I have a message for my fellow filthy rich, for all of us who live in our gated bubble worlds: Wake up, people. It won’t last.”

Hanauer’s TED Talk, titled Beware Fellow Plutocrats, the Pitchforks are Coming (https://www.ted.com/talks/nick_hanauer_beware_fellow_plutocrats_the_pitchforks_are_coming?language=en) is a must-watch video.

So 99 percenters, take heart.

A couple of years ago, who would have thought that a $15/hr. minimum wage—more than twice that of the current federal law—would even be on the burner. Today, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles already have passed $15 minimum wage laws, and other cities are in the process of raising theirs.

Not to go too far afield, but to make a point, a few years ago who would have ever thought that same-sex marriage would be legal nationwide? Or that 16 million more Americans would have access to medical care? Or that South Carolina would be voting to take down the Confederate flag? Or that there would be a pope advocating to stop global warming?

Regardless of where you stand on any of the above, there’s no denying that change is in the air.

But change doesn’t come from thin air. It takes people committed to causes they believe in to make these kinds of changes happen, people standing at the top of the mountain with that first fistful of snow.

Larry Checco is the president of Checco Communications and a columnist for Accountability Central, where he writes on economics, politics, and income inequality. He holds a degree in Economics from Syracuse University and an MA in Journalism and Public Affairs from American University.

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