Put inequality atop the agenda

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The presenter at the Town Hall South lecture series, Zanny Minton Beddoes, gave an over-the-moon talk Dec. 3. As an editor for The Economist, she took her audience around the world, in explaining the state and interconnectivity of the international economy. Being British and working for a British publication, she could step back from the myopic view of the American press and place world economic events in context.

Minton Beddoes ended her lecture by explaining the social forces she believes will shape the future and gave us this acronym: “Dead drunk under the influence.” This stands for debt, demographics, unemployment and inequality.

She believes that debt is not an immediate problem for the large western nations, including the United States, but remains the scourge of Southern Europe. On demographics and aging populations, she reminded the audience that more elderly Asians are in diapers than are infants. On unemployment, she believes the number of young unemployed in Southern Europe and the Middle East could easily lead to political instability.

It was Minton Beddoes’ comments on inequality that most interested me. She believes this may be the greatest problem facing our country. She presented statistical evidence that the United States has regressed back to the Gilded Age of the robber barons when it comes to income inequality. She is concerned that America’s urban areas will be divide between the “haves” in walled off splendor and the “have-nots” with substandard housing, education and social programs.

Coincidentally, the day after the above lecture was given, President Obama made inequality a major focal point for the remainder of his term in office. He gave a speech that the rapidly growing deficit of opportunity is a bigger threat than the budget deficit.

Hopefully the Republican Party will not seize on this policy initiative to call the president a socialist or worse. His words echo the recent views of Pope Francis and other world leaders and could form the basis for political resolve on both sides of the political aisle. In this holiday season, how could anyone disagree that each child who goes to bed hungry or is denied a good education or the elderly homeless person who dies from exposure is a more important story than the stock market results?

The President has placed inequality at the front of the news cycle. Now is the time to press ahead and to propose positive policy initiatives.

Gary Stout


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