Wednesday, March 27, 2019th on the Westchester On the Level Internet Radio Broadcast from 10-12Noon EDT
Computer access to Wednesday’s broadcast “Live” or “On Demand” is accomplished via this hyperlink … http://tobtr.com/s/11248857
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Income Inequality is the Real Threat to Democracy By Oren M. Levin Waldman
We often hear the political left talk about the Republican attacks on our democracy. First of all democracy is under attack because the Electoral College made Trump president despite Hillary Clinton having more of the popular vote. Then when Trump attacks the mainstream media and calls them out for “fake news” we are told that is an assault on the First Amendment and freedom of the press. Well, the country was never founded as a democracy; it was founded as a republic. And most presidents feel they have received unfair coverage from the press.
The real threat to democracy is in the rise in income inequality that the political class diverts attention from with its deepening engagement in identity politics. Rising income inequality not only reflects the disappearance of the middle class, but without a middle there is a serious danger that those who have most of the wealth will be able to control the political system as well.
Democratic theory assumes a society of free, equal, and autonomous individuals. Although equality means different things to different people, it at a minimum requires that all individuals have equal standing. This means that each individual is equal before the law, has the same vote as other individuals, the same right to express one’s self in the political sphere, and perhaps most importantly the same potential to influence what government does, even if they opt not to exercise that potential. All citizens, then, have the same access to governing institutions. Within this theoretical construct, which may also characterize American democracy, money is supposed to be irrelevant to one’s standing. Both the rich and the poor are equal before government.
A strong democracy requires a broad middle class, which means that income is more evenly distributed, or at least that it be a bell-curve distribution, whereby few people occupy the extremes at the top and the bottom, and the majority falls in the middle. A democracy that requires the maintenance of a middle class also requires economic development. Economic development is important because it results in the generation of a broader middle class in which there is relative equality of condition among its members.
Moreover, it establishes the foundation for individuals to function economically in a way that leads to their independence, or at least function in a manner where they are less likely to be dominated. But it also requires the maintenance of a middle class in order that the gap between the top and the bottom not be so wide that it leads to potential social unrest. To say that there cannot be wide disparities in wealth and income is to say that some measure of equality is essential.
It is worth noting that the Framers of the U.S. Constitution were sufficiently concerned about extremes in wealth that they designed a set of institutions to check not only the tendency of the masses to redistribute wealth, but the tendency of the wealthy to use their position to dominate the masses who were not wealthy.
Law professor Ganeresh Sitaraman has argued that the American constitution, particularly separation of powers, was predicated on the assumption that the constitution needed to be a middle class constitution. It rests on the presence of a middle class, and that this middle class will remain dominant. Separation of powers is about preventing oppression, especially preventing private actors from oppressing and dominating us. When a society is deeply divided along lines of wealth and income, the threat is that one social group might capture all the parts of government — all the branches of government — that are supposed to check each other, and that this group will use government to oppress the other social groups.
Rising inequality can certainly threaten democracy because of the potential for social strife and potential revolution if nothing is done. But the threat we are seeing now is more pernicious largely because of its subtlety. Unequal distribution of wealth and income can adversely affect individuals’ ability to participate in the democratic process on the same footing as equals. This, then, leads to procedural inequality to the extent that those lacking in wealth and income may not enjoy the same access to political and policy officials as those who possess wealth and income may enjoy. With greater concentration of wealth at the top, those at the top are in a better position to use their wealth toward the attainment of their political and other ideological objectives. This means that the democratic state is no longer treating its citizens as though they were on an equal footing.
Already we have a system that is non-responsive to those who aren’t affluent. Various studies make it clear that members of Congress tend to be more responsive to those who are affluent than those in the lower and middle classes. This is essentially the question of access. Members are routinely more responsive to the opinions of affluent constituents than of the middle class. Republicans in Congress, for instance, have been found to be about twice as responsive as Democrats to the views of higher income. While senators are consistently responsive to the views of affluent constituents, they are entirely unresponsive to the views of low income constituents. Although this would suggest that a more equal distribution would result in greater responsiveness, it demonstrates the absence of real democracy when there is no responsiveness.
The issue of money in politics has been around for some time now, but the disappearance of the middle class coupled with the non-re sponsiveness of members of Congress to those without, means that the wealthy are better positioned to get policies that favor them and effectively result in those at the bottom of the distribution being dominated.
The increasing polarization in the nation between the extreme right and extreme left clearly reflects the disappearance of the middle class and what has often been referred to as the median voter. Neither extreme is very democratic as we have seen in the unwillingness to work together, compromise and find consensus. In a diverse society, that is what democracy requires.
It is the increased polarization arising from a changing economy that has left many behind and political elites that would rather engage in identity politics than address the economic issues that seriously threatens democracy. But what do the elites do? They talk about how the right threatens democracy. They who are wealthy have no interest in parting with their wealth and privileged positions. So they continue to engage in the politics of diversion.
Is it any wonder why politicians who espouse socialism are gaining traction among millennials? They don’t see a future for themselves where they are better off than their parents. This new reality is a consequence of rising inequality. And because the political class who are part of the elite don’t have any real answers, they continue to default to identity politics.
Restoring the Middle Class through Wage / Oren M. Levin-Waldman / Palgrave MacMillan
This book makes the case for minimum wage as a way to improve well-being of middle-income workers, reduce income inequality, and enhance democracy….
Minimum Wage: A Reference Handbook / ABC – CLIO
The Minimum Wage: A Reference Handbook By Oren M. Levin-Waldman. As of 2014, the minimum wage in Seattle is $15 an hour — double the federal minimum wage.
“Wage Policy, Income Distribution, and Democratic Theory” By Oren M. Levin-Waldman
Dr. Oren M. Levin-Waldman, Ph.D., Professor at the Graduate School for Public Affairs and Administration at Metropolitan College of New York, Research Scholar at the Binzagr Institute for Sustainable Prosperity, as well as faculty member in the Milano School for International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy at the New School. Direct email to: email@example.com