Timothy Noah on the History and Future of America's Income Inequality

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The severity of income inequality in the United States may have been relatively little known before making national headlines this past year, whether through the protests of Occupy Wall Street, President Obama's calls for the so-called Buffett Rule or dismissals of the whole conversation as a marker of class warfare. But income inequality is not new to the United States. And in his new book "The Great Divergence: America's Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do About It," Timothy Noah explores the history of wealth disparity in this country, and looks into its possible futures.

Here's an excerpt from the introduction to "The Great Divergence":

During the past 33 years the difference in America between being rich and being middle class became much more pronounced. People with high incomes consumed an ever-larger share of the nation’s total income, while people in the middle saw their share shrink. For most of this time the phenomenon attracted little attention from the general public and the press because it occurred in increments over one third of a century. During the previous five decades—from the early 1930s through most of the 1970s—the precise opposite had occurred. The share of the nation’s income that went to the wealthy had either shrunk or remained stable. At the first signs, during the early 1980s, that this was no longer happening, economists figured they were witnessing a fluke, an inexplicable but temporary phenomenon, or perhaps an artifact of faulty statistics. But they weren’t. A democratization of incomes that Americans had long taken for granted as a happy fact of modern life was reversing itself.


Timothy Noah

Produced by:

Ben Gottlieb

Comments [2]

Angel from Miami, FL

No one here is asking for a European style financial structure. It sorta works for Europe because they spent two millenia expanding and collapsing and causing mayhem inbetween. They need the break.

However, I do know Americans don't want to return to pre-War USA when guys like Vanderbilt and Rockerfeller became giants by paying workers a pittance and fixing the system so that few could make enough to become shareholders or not end up in the poor house. That US was actually lagging behind the industrialized world. Only when we created a middle class did we have enough people who became invested in making this country the leader it is today. That wasn't made by a few executives, it was made by workers, stakeholders.

There's no such thing as "lift yourself by your own bootstraps". It's physically and metaphorically impossible. All the rich men today were assisted by richer folks AND the government. A little secret, rich folks don't have good ideas. Inventions come from necessity and the rich aren't in "need" of anything.

Apr. 24 2012 10:38 AM

Anyone care to look at the demographics of Europe and the lack of children being born each year? Does that upward mobility last more than one generation as the state feeds off itself as the money runs out?

After the patronizing "entrenched American theology" comment, how about an inquiry about the shrinking population of Europe and those upwardly mobile children who will be supporting a massive geriatric population with the tensions on their southern border in the 21st Century without the US as the main economic superpower?

Considering that the US Congress controls the spending, does it really matter what party occupies The White House? Is that "striking difference" a factor in the "data driven" partisanship?

Apr. 24 2012 10:09 AM

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