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Income Inequality in the United States

This graph shows national levels of income inequality, versus national wealth:

The GINI index of income inequality is the vertical axis. Higher nations are more unequal. Gross domestic product per capita is the horizontal axis. Wealthier nations are to the right.

In the less wealthy nations, to the left on the graph, inequality can be of any sort, high, low or middle.

In the wealthier nations, to the right on the graph, inequality is low. Except for the United States and Singapore.

The United States, by policy, is doing something very wrong, to get its high inequality. It's not that we don't do anything to bring our level down. It's that government policy supports and drives concentration of wealth.

Income inequality is a central issue of our time. Income Inequality Kos will bring you all the best diaries about income inequality, in an easy to follow place.

Primary Group Function

Income Inequality Kos works pretty simple. The group is built around:

  • Publishing, of diaries about income inequality, by group members.
  • Republishing, of other people's diaries about income inequality, whenever they are posted.
  • A little bit of Group Messaging, to keep the group organized.

Other Group Functions

DK4 allows collaborative drafting and writing of diaries. We'll put together some reference diaries, for our own use in diary writing, and as generally helpful material.  

  • A graphics library diary.

    Income inequality diaries can use a lot of graphs. Some of these we reuse often. It would be nice to have graphs collected together in one place, to save the trouble of hunting around for them every time you want to use one.

  • A reference diary, outlining academic papers, media articles, and blog posts about the subject.

We can consider the question of a weekly or other regular group diary. If a regular gathering is wanted, it might be something like a weekly wrapup diary, listing what has been posted, and serving as a place for general discussion.

Group Permissions Model

You need to be at least BlogEditor to publish or republish diaries, for a group. You also need to be Editor to see all group messages.

Group Member can put diaries on the group queue, but can't get them out.

Because Income Inequality Kos is built around publishing (by anyone in the group that wants to), republishing (by anyone in the group that wants to), and a little bit of group messaging glue, a BlogEditor role is pretty much necessary for contributing to how the group works.

Everyone is now BlogAdmin in Income Inequality Kos. This permissions model is different than what many groups do. The role is just a matter of administrative convenience. BlogAdmin is so group members can send out invites to others, if they wish. The role doesn't come with any responsibilities beyond that.

Who Would Want to be a Member of the Group?

  • Diarists who write about income inequality, concentration of wealth, and related issues.
  • Readers of income inequality diaries, who are willing to republish the diaries for the group from time to time. See Republishing for Groups for a guide on how republishing works.

    The level of commitment and effort for being in the group is intended to be light, but steady. When you see a good diary about income inequality, republish it.

Who Would Want to Follow the Group?

Everyone. Pretty much everyone at Daily Kos should want to follow the group.

Income inequality is a central political and social issue of our time. Many of the best Daily Kos writers have some focus on it. Awareness of the issue is growing.

We are only five days into DK4. And check out our blog view, already.

Originally posted to Income Inequality Kos on Thu Feb 17, 2011 at 06:00 PM PST.

Also republished by Inherent Human Rights.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Already on board. Glad to see this diary. n/t (12+ / 0-)

    Don't tell me what you believe. Tell me what you do and I'll tell you what you believe.

    by Meteor Blades on Thu Feb 17, 2011 at 06:15:37 PM PST

  •  Awright, I've got the republishing thing down. (9+ / 0-)

    I'm still having a problem publishing my own stuff under the group heading. I had a problem publishing to my local group this morning.

  •  republishing (7+ / 0-)

    Nice to have the various diaries on the subject make their way to the group. A great reference page.

    t&r'd Garrett.

    The brilliant, liberal voice of Sam Seder is back! mp3 play, live stream, i-Tunes.

    by OLinda on Thu Feb 17, 2011 at 06:21:41 PM PST

  •  Well (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Garrett, blueoregon, Azazello, DawnN

    what causes Singapore's income inequality?

    People panic too much on this site.

    by thematt523 on Thu Feb 17, 2011 at 06:23:07 PM PST

      •  Okay (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Garrett, Azazello, DawnN

        makes sense. But fixing it won't be as easy as you think. It's hard to solve an issue when so many people differ on what causes it.

        Obviously, tax cuts for wealthy people is one. But it's not obviously the only cause. The trend started in the mid 70s, years before Reagan.

        People panic too much on this site.

        by thematt523 on Thu Feb 17, 2011 at 06:43:35 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  How you know what I think ? (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Garrett, vigilant meerkat, jfromga, DawnN

          Politics is always, and everywhere, about money. I know when the Class War started and how. Our job is to explain it to others. We, liberals, should be winning elections 90 to 10. We don't because the average guy doesn't get it.

          •  Well (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            we don't win by that much. We never have, and never will. It's not possible to do that in a democracy. Even winning a constant majority over 10 years is an achievement.

            Many people are not liberals. Some people who call themselves moderate or even conservative are actually liberal, but many people don't care about income inequality.

            So let me get this straight: if we just had a better message, all political science would just cease to explain anything, and Democrats would dominate its opponent in a two-party system, no matter what? The Democrats would become a political force stronger than any political force in human history?

            People panic too much on this site.

            by thematt523 on Thu Feb 17, 2011 at 07:03:54 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Many people (4+ / 0-)

              don't care about inequality. But large majorities do.  Most believe we are far more equal than we are, and despite that support greater equality.  

              Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

              by David Kaib on Thu Feb 17, 2011 at 07:07:45 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Okay (0+ / 0-)

                but we have to stop acting like there is a simple solution to this problem.

                People panic too much on this site.

                by thematt523 on Thu Feb 17, 2011 at 07:10:52 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Why? (5+ / 0-)

                  Policy wise, it's pretty easy. We need only look to our own history to fix it. Those who don't want to address inequality make it seem more difficult than it is.  

                  Politically, we need to avoid that.  People throw up their hands when they think things are too difficult to achieve.  Many of the things that need to be done enjoy widespread support.

                  Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

                  by David Kaib on Thu Feb 17, 2011 at 07:19:38 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Well (0+ / 0-)

                    What can we do? It's foolish to think that the exact solutions used back then will work now.

                    Tell me, what exactly would we do?

                    People panic too much on this site.

                    by thematt523 on Thu Feb 17, 2011 at 08:37:39 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  A few things (5+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      Garrett, Hawksana, Blueiz, geomoo, Azazello

                      1) Raise the minimum wage

                      2) Insist on a living wage for government contractors or other companies that rely on significant government subsidies (like airport hotels). This, and number one, can be done by states or the federal government.

                      3) Keep the interest rate low (i.e. don't raise it to prevent full employment or to avoid the supposed natural rate of unemployment.)

                      4) Enforce union rights among federal contractors who are not covered by federal labor law (Obama can do this by executive order).

                      5) Make the tax code more progressive.

                      6) Change tax code incentives to reward work, rather than speculation.

                      7) Use a financial transactions tax to put the act as an automatic stabilizer.

                      8) Enforce union rights among state workers and everyone else not not covered under federal labor law (for example, agricultural workers).

                      9) Increase (rather then decrease) government spending when facade with recession and unemployment.  

                      For starters. Note that I've named things that can be done at the state, federal, and local level, and by statute, executive order or by the Fed.  Basically, wherever there is an opportunity, there are solutions.

                      I don't understand your claim that history provides no guide.  But that doesn't matter, since cross country comparisons also show how these things would work.

                      Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

                      by David Kaib on Thu Feb 17, 2011 at 09:43:03 PM PST

                      [ Parent ]

                •  We have to stop acting.. (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

         it's a "problem" to be "solved".  It's a battle to be won.

            •  OK, here's my take. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              Nobody wants political power for its own sake. There may be such things as megalomaniacs, who seek power just to have power, but they are very rare. People want political power because they want to live better than their fellows. It was ever thus. The ancient Greeks understood it, as did our Founding Fathers. Politics is a struggle between The Many and the Few, always and everywhere. It's about money.

        •  Wasn't US just as Unequal in the late 1920s? (5+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          emal, ferallike, geomoo, Azazello, David Kaib

          And President Roosevelt and other Dems used fiscal policy to enable the growth of a prosperous middle-class.

          And the US isn't going to achieve less inequality taxing a junior investment banker's salary at a 85% clip.

          Rather, you need to go after the money.  You need to have the Buffets and Ellisons pay their fair share.

          The US needs a graduated wealth tax targeting HHs with net worth over 50M, starting at 1%, with the Buffets and Ellisons of the US contributing 8% of their net worth each year.

          Some Kossacks say that Buffet would simply leave the country (even if he did, he's still have to pay the wealth tax, assuming it was enacted, for five years after he renounced US citizenship).  I say BS.

          I once had a client in Monterrey, Mexico, who bought a sizable stake in a Cuban telco.  The State Department informed him that if he didn't divest his interest within six months, neither he nor his dependents would be allowed ingress into the US.

          He sold his stake.

          Learn about Centrist Economics, learn about Robert Rubin's Hamilton Project.

          by PatriciaVa on Thu Feb 17, 2011 at 07:00:40 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  If you hear Kossacks or anyone else for that (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            matter say

            that Buffet would simply leave the country (even if he did, he's still have to pay the wealth tax, assuming it was enacted, for five years after he renounced US citizenship).

            please stuff this up their noses with my blessings:

            Multi-billionaire Warren Buffett has been complaining for years that his taxes are too low. Last June, he said at a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton that he was taxed at only 17.7% last year on his $46 million in income, while his secretary paid 30% of her $60,000.

            NBC's Tom Brokaw recently interviewed Buffett, "whose approach doesn't make him very popular with his fellow billionaires."

            "The taxation system has tilted toward the rich and away from the middle class in the last 10 years," Buffett, the nation's third richest man, told Brokaw. Buffett said he did an informal survey of federal taxes paid by his own office staff, and the average was 32.9%, compared to his 17.7%.

            "There wasn't anybody in the office, from the receptionists on, that paid as low a tax rate," Buffett stated, noting that "I have no tax planning, I don't have an accountant, I don't have tax shelters."

            "It's not right," one of Buffett's receptionist's told Brokaw.

            Billionaire Buffett still complaining his taxes are too low

            Buffet is one of the good guys who wants to pay his fair share and anyone who claims otherwise doesn't know their a$$ from a hole in the ground.

            Good for you for saying BS to that claim.

            The beatings will continue until morale improves. ********************************* -8.50, -6.92

            by ferallike on Fri Feb 18, 2011 at 04:54:27 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Garrett, OLinda, ferallike, geomoo

    "Such is the irresistible nature of truth that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing." - Thomas Paine

    by blueoregon on Thu Feb 17, 2011 at 06:40:33 PM PST

  •  Dems should eschew Regressive Taxes (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Garrett, OLinda, geomoo, David Kaib

    So, why did the CT Governor today propose a panoply of regressive taxes...

    Unlike Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey or Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, he's said he'll raise taxes. Mr. Malloy has signaled the move for months. While he was a gubernatorial candidate in a heated battle for the office, he refused to say he wouldn't increase taxes.

    The proposed tax hikes—which would account for more than 40% of Mr. Malloy's effort to fill the budget hole—include income, sales, gas, cigarette and alcohol taxes.

    Especially the cigarette tax.  So many working class voters, many of them barely getting by, and the Dems continue to increase their tax burden.

    If cigarettes are that bad, why not make the illegal.

    And if they're not, let's tax them at the same rate you tax other items.

    And the carbon tax or  CapAndTrade...  Are Dems not aware of the regressive nature of those taxes?  Then why do they insist on them.  In Palo Alto, very Democratic and arguably the most affluent town in the US, only 21% of households have opted to pay more for renewable energy.


    So why do Dems want to force renewable energy on the working poor, making them pay a significant tax in the process?

    Learn about Centrist Economics, learn about Robert Rubin's Hamilton Project.

    by PatriciaVa on Thu Feb 17, 2011 at 06:44:29 PM PST

    •  What are "centrist" economics ? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      •  So I once admired Rob Rubin..... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ferallike, Azazello

        ...and I haven't yet changed my sig.  

        As for centrist, I don't like the term, "Liberal", and like "Progressive" just slightly more.

        I believe that words matter, and the public is more likely to take a "centrist" seriously than a "partisan".

        I also believe that to the extent possible, the Dems should always describe themselves as belonging to the "center-left", thereby leaving the "right" to the GOP.  

        Colors matter, too.  That's why I'm pleased that, after 2000, the Dems will forever be associated with the color Blue.  Up until that year, the incumbent party was always Blue on the electoral map.  Not anymore.

        Learn about Centrist Economics, learn about Robert Rubin's Hamilton Project.

        by PatriciaVa on Thu Feb 17, 2011 at 07:15:02 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Happy to follow this series... (6+ / 0-)

    Thanks, Garrett.

    They call him Machete...

    by dclawyer06 on Thu Feb 17, 2011 at 06:48:06 PM PST

  •  this and the political economy group... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Garrett, Lady Libertine

    are two of those I'd have joined at the outset, but I'm going to try and focus on foreign relations.

    Everything's still shaking out here, and most of us are still feeling our way around the site. I still don't see any tags which belong to me, and frankly, I haven't a clue yet how to follow tags here.

    My group is still shaking out as well. DK FRG's ivorybill has an fine diary describing current political conditions in Iraq, especially Kurdistan.

    If I wasn't there, I'd be here, Thanks for picking it up, garret.

    "The cure for bullshit is fieldwork."
    Robert H. Bates, Eaton Professor of the Science of Government, Harvard University.

    by papicek on Thu Feb 17, 2011 at 07:01:41 PM PST

  •  How about GINI index and Congressional polarity... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Garrett, ferallike, Azazello

    ...I could write a diary about how the historical measure of congressional polarity and the US GINI index are remarkably correlated here in the US.

    (-9,-9) pragmatic incrementalist :-P

    by Enterik on Fri Feb 18, 2011 at 07:19:39 AM PST

  •  Inasmuch as wealth=power, this issue is central. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Garrett, Lady Libertine

    If the goal of dailykos is to influence elections, then wealth and income inequality is one of the primary obstacles we face.  Iow, this isn't just a matter of being nice or ethics.

    I definitely want to be in this group.

     Chris Hedges:

    In pondering the answer, it's useful to distinguish between two separate categories of problems we face. The first are the human, economic and ecological disasters that demand immediate action: a grossly inefficient healthcare sector, millions un- or underinsured, 10 percent unemployment, a planet that's warming, soaring personal bankruptcies, 12 million immigrants working in legal limbo, the list goes on. But the deeper problem, the ultimate cause of many of the first-order problems, is the perverse maldistribution of power in the country: too much in too few hands....

    The central and unique paradox of our politics at this moment, however, is that our institutions are so broken, the government so sclerotic and dysfunctional, that in almost all cases, from financial bailouts to health insurance mandates, the easiest means of addressing the first set of problems is to take steps that exacerbate the second.

    Here is a terrific website which has gathered many studies.  The site demonstrates income inequality, wealth inequality, then demonstrates the connection between the two and power.  Professor G. William Domhoff, UC Santa Cruz:   Who Rules America?  Wealth, Income, and Power.

    The web site for Jacob Hacker's book,  The Great Risk Shift  has some data though 2005.

    Here is  xaxnar's excellent diary  on the book by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, The Spirit Level - Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger.   This website  for the book is current.  Excellent source.

     It Could Happen Here , Bruce Judson's blog. [h/t NBBooks]

    Here are  useful graphs  [PDF] from Elizabeth Warren's classic lecture in Berkeley, Middle Class Squeeze:
    Families, Money and Risk

    Here is my summary of Warren's research.  Every statement made herein is factual:

    Warren has found that in one generation, the typical working family has added a second adult to the work force and is more in debt than ever.  Families are spending all of the second income, plus what they would have saved 30 years ago plus adding debt.  Where is the money going?  It is not going to increased spending on consumerism as many like to argue.  Rather, it is going to required fixed expenses of living a decent life--housing, health, taxes, education and necessary transportation.  People are spending a greater percentage of their income on much older, similarly sized, houses than a generation ago.  People are spending more on lower quality health care than a generation ago.  People are spending more on education with a lower chance of their children succeeding than a generation ago.

    And here is my slightly editorialized conclusion:

    The net result is that, compared with a generation ago, Americans are putting more energy into work, spending less time with their children, and living in much higher danger of bankruptcy than ever before.  In other words, America looks more feudal and less free, economically, than just thirty years ago.  We are not caring for our children, we are not providing housing for ourselves, and we are not getting the health care we need.  We are number one in most of the wrong ways.  If these trends are not reversed, our future is bleak.

    Finally, here is an old comment from Papicek which hits the nail on the head:

    to sum it all up...

    This huge economic expansion the leadership (of both parties) was so proud of was almost entirely funded by absorbing the median family's savings and then by sending that family into debt.

    There's your history, writ large.

    Don't believe everything you think.

    by geomoo on Fri Feb 18, 2011 at 12:23:49 PM PST

    •  Two more notes. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Garrett, Lady Libertine

      Most people facing extreme poverty experience shame.  A few have the courage to describe the experience, which most take great pains to hide from their friends and family.  For example, Elizabeth Warren again:

      About 85% of the families that are filing for bankruptcy are hiding it from their own parents, from their siblings, from their best friend, and in some cases, from their own children.

      I hope this site will offer an atmosphere for shining a light not only on the statistics and causes, but also on the human side.  In the couple of instances when a brave kossack has described their experience, many have been moved, many have had their eyes opened.  One of our duties is to hold a mirror up to the human side of this catastrophe.  If we were seeing tent cities on the nightly news, hearing interviews with homeless children, the politics of this issue would change overnight.

      Finally, I have been considering how this issue connects with the Inherent Human Rights group.  Some of us have been discussing it, but I am not satisfied that I understand the connection adequately.  It seems glib to me to simply state that everyone deserves health care or a home to live.  It seems to me that impossible to consider these to be absolute rights, contingent as they are on financial considerations.  Rather, I feel that the crux of the matter has to do with income inequality.  It is my guess that the violation of inherent human rights is tied up in the causes of the inequality--somewhere people have become rich by treading on the rights of others.  I am looking for clarity on this question.  I am still wondering if, for example, Obama's budget to the extent that it is biased against the poor, is an appropriate subject for the IHR group.

      Don't believe everything you think.

      by geomoo on Fri Feb 18, 2011 at 12:33:18 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  There isn't any doubt (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Garrett, geomoo

    that income inequality or the large disparity between the haves and have nots is a serious issue. And this is an excellent diary but is equal income a inherent right?

    The ability for all to earn a decent and equal wage based on their particular skill, whatever their gender, race, religion, etc. is a right but there will always be inequality in income to some degree or another.

    I will Not give up, I will Not give in, I will Not quit!

    by JupiterIslandGirl on Fri Feb 18, 2011 at 04:39:20 PM PST

    •  I agree JupiterIslandGirl. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Garrett, JupiterIslandGirl

      When children are starving while people feed their cats caviar, it feels to me in my gut that some sort of human right is being violated.  But I can't get my head around it rationally.  I think the violation comes along the process of setting up a system in which such inequalities can develop. I'm thinking specifically of the role the U.S. government plays in transferring wealth.  I mean, if our federal taxes are being used to make us poorer--spending money disempower political groups such as progressives and anti-war groups, passing laws which protect corporations and leave individuals vulnerable, allowing corporations access t power that individuals don't enjoy--then I think that the taxation itself is a violation of our rights.  Perhaps it is that taking our money without giving us proportional power as to how it is spent is a violation of our rights.

      I don't know.  I can't quite nail it down the way I would like.

      Don't believe everything you think.

      by geomoo on Fri Feb 18, 2011 at 10:01:23 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I think this is where the answer lies (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Garrett, geomoo
        taking our money without giving us proportional power as to how it is spent is a violation of our rights.

        I will Not give up, I will Not give in, I will Not quit!

        by JupiterIslandGirl on Sat Feb 19, 2011 at 05:25:03 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Geomoo (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          I'm going to back peddle on my response because in theory, we are given proportional power by our right to vote. How we use or don't use that power/ vote is another issue.

          It's not paying taxes that I have a problem with, it's the proportion of taxes an individual pays that I find objectionable. But you can't say it's the inherent right of the rich to pay more. A moral right imo, but not an inherent one.

          I will Not give up, I will Not give in, I will Not quit!

          by JupiterIslandGirl on Sat Feb 19, 2011 at 05:40:02 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

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