Op-ed: Fixing the income gap

Wednesday, July 20, 2016 - 6:42pm

Bernie Sanders ran his campaign with the issue of income inequality at its forefront, bringing to attention an issue that many Americans had previously known little about, including myself. I have learned that there is remarkable income inequality in the United States and it has been increasing at a dangerously fast rate in recent years. Of course, in any capitalist economic system there is bound to be a certain degree of income inequality. That does not mean that one should desire or accept the astronomical income gap between the rich and the poor that exists in the United States today. Many Americans tolerate income inequality because they are strong believers in the “American Dream” — that they one day will be a member of the one percent class. This dream, however, is far from reality for most people. Because many individuals tend to be overconfident in their mobility and equality of opportunity, they accept income inequality as a necessary means to a lucrative end. This false presumption, however, can be dangerous.With money comes influence and political power. If income inequality continues to grow, a very small segment of our society will control our nation’s wealth and prosperity, and such a result is contrary to the underlying principles upon which our democratic society is based.

In “The Great Divergence, journalist Timothy Noah discusses how factors such as government policy, tax policy, technological advancements, shifts in education, decline in labor unions and chief executive salaries all contribute to the rise of income inequality in the United States. There are, however, practical solutions to mitigate this rising trend. James Russell, in his book “Double Standard, argues that income inequality can greatly be reduced by taking into account the following considerations. First, the combined effects of redistributive social programs and progressive taxation can result in the reduction of income inequality. An increase in the minimum wage would also help alleviate the income gap, provided that top incomes do not simultaneously increase by an even greater amount. Finally, programs which improve our education system and health system provide for a stronger family economic unit which in turn should reduce income inequality.  

Underlying all of these programs is the idea that a society in which all of the people are invested is far better for all than a society in which only a select group of people are invested. For any of the foregoing programs to be successful, our society, as a whole, must be educated and must come to the realization that the rampant growth of income inequality in the United States should not be revered as the result of equal opportunity and upward mobility, but rather must be tempered in order to ensure that equal opportunity and upward mobility continue to be available to future generations of our society.

Though Bernie Sanders will not be the Democratic nominee, the success of his campaign has forced Hillary Clinton to become more progressive, especially on the issue of income inequality. As we head into the Democratic National Convention in the upcoming week, Clinton must follow Sanders’ lead by continuing this important conversation and fighting for policies that reduce the income gap.  She must, in her words, create “an economy that works for everyone.”