Can you say “income inequality”?

Ezra Klein reports on the Boehner speech to the Wall Street crowd last night, and makes the key observation that it’s unclear whether the no-tax-hike vow means no elimination of “tax expenditures.” Those include the tax breaks that the lobbyists sneak into legislation at 2 in the morning. Some tax breaks are quitet dear to me — you know by now that my entire year, emotionally, spiritually, hormonally, is built around the exquisite moment I take my big fat mortgage interest deduction. Yeeeesssssss.....

Here’s what I don’t understand: Why does not one talk about income inequality?

Is that some kind of socialist code phrase? If we bring that up, are we going to be accused of hating the rich? I mean, I do sort of resent the rich, I admit, but not nearly as much as I resent the young. [Disclosure: I actually AM rich, or at least affluent, by most statistical measures. But thanks to college tuitions I’m in that special category known as the Affluent Poor. I still hunt compulsively for the parking meter that might have a few minutes on it. That’s me on the streetcorner holding the Will Turn Phrase For Food sign.]

I’m just wondering why the conversation never seems to touch on the fact that, steadily, and inexorably, the vast majority of Americans are seeing their slice of the national pie get smaller. The conservative argument is that the slice is actually getting larger, in absolute terms, because the whole pie is expanding, and that any complaints about what the rich are getting is pure envy. But I think it’s a reasonable statement to say that one of this country’s great strengths is its large and productive middle class, and that national policy should be shaped to help the vast majority of people and not just those at the fortunate 95th percentile and beyond.

Let’s go to the numbers.

According to this Federal Reserve document, every single economic stratum below the 95th percentile of income has seen its net worth go down as a percentage of the nation’s total wealth (the survey covers a period from 1989 to 2007).

In 1989, the wealthiest 5 percent of the population owned 54.2 percent of the wealth in the U.S. By 2007, that figure had risen to 60.4 percent.

As fiscal policy is shaped, the leaders of the country are going to have to figure out where our resources are. And it doesn’t seem that it should be that difficult of a search.

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."

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