Fairness & the Economy

Few experts dispute the fact that economic inequality in the United States has increased dramatically in recent decades, especially under the Bush administration. Americans are harder working and more productive than ever, yet the rewards for that productivity flow into the pockets of fewer and fewer people. That is a political as well as an economic problem.

Those at the very top of the nation’s economic ladder have seen their income climb exponentially over the last twenty-five years. Top corporate executives now earn three hundred times the average wage of their employees. According to the Economist (June 15), that’s a tenfold increase for management since the 1970s. There is nothing inevitable about this development. European executives, for example, are not nearly as extravagantly compensated. In no advanced nation is the gap between rich and poor greater than it is in the United States.

The concentration of wealth is reaching Gilded Age proportions while the nation’s indebtedness soars. Since 1980, the Economist reports, the highest-earning 1 percent of Americans has doubled its share of the nation’s aggregate income, the top tenth of 1 percent has tripled its share, and the top one-hundredth of 1 percent has quadrupled its piece of the pie. At the same time, as Paul Krugman points out in the New York Times (September 8), the federal tax rate for that richest .01 percent of earners has fallen...

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