Reflection on income inequality

If there is one thing that every American can agree on it is that a fundamental part of our nation’s culture is money. The accumulation of wealth is the heart of the “American Dream,” and many like to think of our capitalist economy as the perfect vehicle to achieve that dream. Well, what if our economic system isn’t as perfect as so many think it is?

There has been a lot of debate in the last few years about the distribution of wealth in the United States and if our current economic system truly is equitable in offering opportunities and incentives to all Americans. I was confronted with a video documentary that showed the current distribution of wealth in the United States, and it got me thinking about just how substantially unequal our society has become. It’s understandable to argue that having a class system offers incentive for the lower classes to work hard and elevate themselves to the upper classes. Indeed, our culture has reinforced the idea that hard work only comes from the desire to make more money. However, when you look at the disadvantages leveled upon the poor in America, or even the middle class, in comparison to the opportunities granted to the wealthy, you start to realize just how far ahead the upper class is, as well as how far behind the lower classes are.

Socialism has been manufactured into a word of tyranny by the conservative right, but like feminism, gay rights, black civil rights, immigration reform, and everything else radical conservatives have demonized, there are benefits in studying the values within socialism. No, this does not mean you have to become a Marxist revolutionary, but the idea within Socialist thinking that people should be offered even playing fields and the same opportunities as one another seems rather logical to me. If I am a professor at Loras and I decide to start 80 percent of my class at zero points, give 15 percent of my students 25 extra credit points, hand 50 extra credit points to 4 percent of my students, and leave a whopping 500 extra credit points to the remaining 1 percent, I doubt I’d be employed for very long.

The reason for my termination would be that I was ignoring the intelligence, work ethic and abilities of my students and simply giving a small percentage the ability to do substantially better than everyone else, regardless of whether they earned it or not.

The immediate retaliatory response for this argument is that those who are rich worked hard and made their way to the top. Although this might be true in some cases, I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of millionaires and billionaires did not start off in poverty. Being born into a rich or even middle-class family puts an individual on a playing field far above those born into poor households. This is the problem of income inequality. If the poor are not given adequate means of attaining good schooling, healthy lifestyles and job opportunity, they become locked into their social class. The same could be said for the middle class. The absence of social mobility is the primary reason we need to re-analyze how we want wealth to be distributed in our country.

Click here and watch this video for a better idea of just how skewed our wealth distribution has become.

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