Slate's Timothy Noah is doing a multi-week feature on income inequality. The blogosphere, particularly the left-leaning portion, is taking note. Noah starts out at a point many liberals have been hammering for years: income inequality today is greater than in parts of the famously stratified Gilded Age. Toward the end of that era, "the richest 1 percent accounted for 18 percent of the nation's income. Today, the richest 1 percent account for 24 percent of the nation's income." Noah's multi-part series is dedicated to exploring why this is the case: "few ... experts have much idea how to reverse the trend," he explains, "because almost no one can agree about what's causing it." Noah reviews the work of experts to explain why "the Great Divergence [of income from the 1970s through the present day] can't be blamed on either race or gender" any more than it can be blamed on immigration; even economists working specifically on the subject admit immigration can only account for a tiny portion of the problem.
unearths some interesting new facts. He shows, for example, that women
have "to a remarkable degree, absented themselves" from the Great
Divergence, and highlights numbers suggesting "that women's
relative gains in the workplace are not solely a
You've-Come-a-Long-Way-Baby triumph of the feminist movement and
individual pluck. They also reflect downward mobility among men." This finding could shed light on the debates about women's income and the "End of Men." Here's how commentators are responding:
We Are a Banana Republic "Best takeaway from today's installment," writes David Kurtz at left-leaning Talking Points Memo: "Income distribution in the United States is more unequal than in Guyana, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, and roughly on par with Uruguay, Argentina, and Ecuador."
- Our Unfortunate Belief in Social Mobility Americablog's Chris Ryan focuses on Noah's point that Americans may not be as concerned with income inequality because "there is still the widespread belief that the US is the land of opportunity even though it's no longer at the top or even near the top of the list of countries where this is possible." Ryan argues that this same belief that "because we're Americans, we have the best" came up on the health care debate: "some hold firm to the belief that the US has the best health care system in the world."
- Top Marginal Tax Rates, complains The Guardian's Michael Tomasky, are the problem.
The evidence couldn't be clearer. Income inequality shrank or remained stable at tolerable levels in the 1930s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and again (a little) in the 90s. That's five decades. Democrats were making policy in four of them. In the other one, the Republican president was an economic moderate who'd embraced the New Deal and did nothing to lower top marginal tax rates.
In the 1920s, 70s, 80s, and 2000's, income inequality increased. Republicans in charge in every decade, except for the Carter four-year stretch. Could this really be an 80-year coincidence?
- This Simultaneously Complex and Facile Debate Law professor and blogger Ann Althouse wryly summarizes the series: "Timothy Noah wrings his hands and puzzles over the perplexing problem that he, himself, answers with astonishing ease." She points to his ready answer of "belief in social mobility" to explain why Americans aren't as bothered by "income disparity."*
*Edited for clarity
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.