By now it’s not news that inequality has been on the rise for decades in the U.S. Yet it can be hard to appreciate just how bad extensive inequality is for a society, in just about every way you can imagine – economically, politically, culturally, emotionally, and yes, physically/healthwise – especially a society like ours that relies heavily on the unifying belief in “equal opportunity.” Inequality is not simply unequal income and wealth; it spells unequal opportunities for education, work, social and political engagement, physical and mental health – and as such corrodes the glue of a democratic, consensus-based society.
That’s where a book like Joseph Stiglitz’s latest, “The Price of Inequality,” comes in. If you’re not familiar with the work of Nobel laureate and Columbia University business school professor Stiglitz, get this book; it’s a page-turner, really. And because it’s about fact, not fantasy, it might well scare you more than a Stephen King novel. (No time to plough through another “must-read” text? Check out Stiglitz talking about the book on Youtube – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=olKOPrRqdH4. It’ll be 15 minutes well spent.)
Though politically and economically charged, inequality is not a classic left-right, Democrat-Republican issue. The question of how much inquality a “good society” can tolerate is as old as Aristotle. Democratic and Republican adminstrations alike have their fingerprints all over our current condition of growing poverty at the bottom, wealth concentration at the top, and falling wages in the middle. Perhaps that’s why, despite the virtual blood-battle to champion the plight of the “middle class,” no candidate wants to address the issue head-on.