For people on the left of the political spectrum, those figures aren’t just disheartening, they demand action, or at least talk — lots and lots of talk. Flip through the TV or radio dial, and you will find no shortage of progressive politicians, journalists and thinkers offering analyses and critiques of the growing wealth gap. The White House, too, has joined in, bringing the populist argument to President Obama’s stump speeches and attack ads. Make no mistake, the income divide is the subtext to the debates over presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s tax returns and time at Bain Capital — and there’s a not whole lot of “sub” to the text.
But even if the left’s concern about growing inequality is justified, not all the arguments against it are created equal. Democrats have been shaking their fists in anger at inequality for years and talking about it in such basic terms as “what is fair” and “what is right.” In his new book, “The Price of Inequality,” Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz does not merely express anger — or rather, he expresses it only to set up a much larger discussion of the problem.
In the process, he does liberal thinkers everywhere an immensely important service: He gives them a trenchant, engaging tool for arguing economics from the left in 2012. Stiglitz, who chaired the Council of Economic Advisers under President Bill Clinton, does much more than point fingers; he discusses consequences. The problem with the current economic path is not — or not just — that it is unfair, it’s that it is unsustainable.
“We are paying a price for our large and growing inequality, and because our inequality is likely to continue to grow — unless we do something — the price we pay is likely to grow too,” Stiglitz writes. “When one interest group holds too much power, it succeeds in getting policies that benefit itself, rather than policies that would benefit society as a whole.”
He then proceeds to outline in chapter and verse what he means, citing specific examples and research from economists, psychologists and social scientists. Inequality undermines people’s faith in government, he says. It undermines worker efficiency and the economy. It even undermines people’s belief in the rule of law.