A recent Gallup Poll demonstrates the point I was making in a recent post arguing that arguments beyond income inequality are necessary to obtain widespread support on economic issues. In the post I argued that the Occupy Wall Street movement needs to stress the actual economic issues rather than getting bogged down in fights over their tactics, and then moved on to the framing of the issue around income inequality:
I also think that “income inequality” is not the right term to use. There always will be, and should be, differences in earning based upon skills and achievement. Many hearing of protests against income inequality misunderstand it to believe the movement, and liberals, oppose such appropriate levels of inequality. It only feeds into the ridiculous view on the right that liberals such as Obama are socialists. Reading the conservative blogs shows the degree of misunderstanding of the issue, with many conservatives finding it to be some sort of contradiction when affluent liberals, and not just the unemployed, show concern over the concentration of wealth by the ultra-wealthy.
The real issue is the considerable increase in income concentration in the top 1 percent (and top one tenth of one percent) in recent years, which has been exacerbated by government policy. Inequality may or may not be acceptable depending upon the specifics, but it is this degree of concentration of the wealth of this nation by a tiny plutocracy which is not. Other points which should be stressed are the decrease in upward mobility and the weakening of the middle class.
Americans typically have no problem with the wealthy, hoping to have the chance to join them. Stressing income inequality does not appeal to many of them. Stressing the fact that it is now harder for those in the middle class to become wealthy than in the past would be a far more compelling argument. Weakening the middle class means that middle class individuals have a far greater chance of winding up among the poor than the wealthy is an important wake-up call about the direction this country is moving in. Ultimately the weakening of the middle class is even harmful to the top 1 percent–a reason why many wealthy individuals have come out in recent weeks to support Democratic policies. They know that the tiny increases in marginal tax rates being proposed will not harm them, and certainly will not reduce job creation.
Gallup found that between 2008 and 2011 less people see America as being divided between haves and have-nots. This includes a drop from 48 percent to 37 percent among independents. Reducing the income gap is not a key priority among independents: “While 72% of Democrats say it is extremely or very important to reduce the income and wealth gap between rich and poor, 43% of independents and 21% of Republicans agree.”Far more independents (82 percent) find policies to expand and grow the economy to be extremely or very important (with another 12 percent finding this somewhat important).
It is not that opposing income inequality and supporting economic growth are mutually exclusive. The unprecedented degree of concentration of wealth in a small group (which is the real issue as opposed to simply inequality) is one of the forces which is destabilizing the economy. In stressing income inequality, the Occupy Wall Street movement fails to obtain the support of many independents who would support policies to strengthen the middle class and expand the economy.