Disparity plagues life in the 'other America'

The rich in the United States are more than privileged. Their life expectancy is at least five years more than that of the poor. Department of Health and Human Services data shows rich Americans live for 79.2 years as against 74.7 years the poor live.

Russell Sage Foundation says, only eight per cent of the poor Americans have access to higher education (four-year degree). In sharp contrast to this, 55 per cent of the rich Americans receive the same standard of education. And this sordid story of abject inequality doesn't end here. In fact, it is just the beginning.

The story of America's inequality is not just about "income inequality. It's lifespan inequality. And education inequality. And declining economic growth." One in every four children under the age of six in the world's richest country comes from food insecure families. This scenario is marginally better among the Latinos. Among the Hispanics the figure is one out of every three children.

On a recent CNNMoney panel on inequality Berkeley Professor and former US Labour Secretary Robert Reich said that four hundred richest people in the United States have more wealth than the bottom 150 million put together. And this is indeed obnoxious as the US inequality is fast racing towards a tipping point.

For the past four decades this inequality has been growing. And according to a BBC report, the pre-tax incomes of the top one per cent of the US households rose 19.6 per cent compared to a one per cent increase for the rest of Americans.

Today, in the United States there exists yet another country which, way back in 1962, Michael Harrington aptly describes as The Other America. It was the title of a book he wrote and over the years it has become an oft quoted expression to describe the nation's
widening inequality.

Chilling poverty and cynical discriminations, then prevalent in the United States, drove Harrington to call for immediate measures from the government to address inequality. "In morality and in justice, every citizen should be committed to abolishing the other America, for it is intolerable that the richest nation in human history should allow such needless suffering."

If the disparity then was agonising it has now become severe. The Unequal State of America, a Reuters report series was unequivocal in blaming the government for the scourge's growth and sustenance.

The federal government has emerged as one of the most potent factors behind the rise in income inequality in the United States — especially in the nation's capital. Income is increasingly being redistributed up, not just down, through tax cuts and to a growing upper class of contractors, lobbyists and lawyers.

The American fat cat has been getting fatter and the federal government turned the other way as the median class emaciated. Global Research findings paint an appalling picture of disparity prevailing in the United States today.

It is twice as bad as in ancient Rome, worse than it was in Tsarist Russia, Gilded Age America, modern Egypt, Tunisia or Yemen, many banana republics in Latin America, and worse than experienced by slaves in 1774 colonial America. It is even worse than in any other developed nation.

We admit egalitarianism is utopia. Equality isn't a very healthy trend, especially in context of modern socio-economic scenario.

Inequality, on the contrary, in a limited scale is very healthy, good for any economy. It promotes and encourages entrepreneurship, innovations and hard work, creates incentives to take risks and opens new vistas to walk up the ladder.

But in its prevailing magnitude and dimension in the United States, the disparity today is turning into a serious challenge — both politically and economically. Anger among America's ninety nine per cent is turning into fury and this was noticed when Larry Summers felt compelled to opt out of his race for chairmanship of the Federal Reserve.

Common Americans did not want Larry Summers in that position even though he is considered a brilliant and a foremost progressive economist in the country. Larry's fatal flaw is that he is seen being too soft on fat cats of Wall Street.

Democrats accept the disparity but they do not have any solution in sight to address the blight. Their responses have been clichéd. They "tend to turn to bromide leftist solutions, either a higher minimum wage or another rise in tax rates on the rich." So far, they have not explored what should have been explored long back — creation of more opportunities for the commons.

The Republicans, as abhorrent as they can be, simply deny that there is inequality in America. Republican Senator Rand Paul claims that poor are, in fact, getting rich. We perhaps could not have aspired for a better example of an utter retard.

We admit that this expanding disparity will not lead to any political upheaval like Arab Spring in the United States. Neither do we foresee any possibility of any other kind of radical changes taking place in American politics.

But we foresee some subtle changes which will probably redefine American polity and democracy in long term, which Don Peck, an author and Deputy Managing Editor of The Atlantic says, a cultural bifurcation. Over the next generation or two, class divides in the United States could eventually grow so wide as to become unbridgeable.

The author is the Opinion Editor of Times of Oman.


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