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Working People Don't Care About Inequality

Working people don't blame their struggles on the system or inequality
[1,026 words]
Kennth Bryant
[January 2023]
It's Not Just Trump Conservatives Are Wrong (Non-Fiction) Donald Trump merely joined a movement that had already become extremist [1,095 words]
Liberals And Capitalism (Essays) Liberals are not against business or markets, but they understand the need for rules and safety nets [610 words]
Race And The Idea Of Individualism (Essays) Talking about society in terms of individualism keeps us from addressing systemic racism [1,240 words]
Working People Don't Care About Inequality
Kennth Bryant

Wage stagnation, decline, wealth, and income inequality don't mean anything to most working-class Americans. Even though it's real people don't blame the system for their struggles. They might say or think anything other than inequality is the problem. Some say life is not fair. Others blame themselves for bad choices or living beyond their means. Maybe somebody is just trying to screw them over. But they rarely consider an unfair and grossly unequal economy. None of this bodes well for the majority's economic wellbeing or freedom so Liberals and leftists need to understand why.

If you spend enough time around working people, especially manual laborers paid by the hour, you quickly realize they don't think about wealth/ income inequality or the lack of living wages. Even if they struggle to make ends meet and worry about retirement people don't see this as a systemic problem. They know their wages aren't keeping pace with inflation, and they would appreciate a raise or bonus. However, they don't blame management, owners, or investors. They certainly don't think capitalism is a problem. For most working people the enemy is not rich people, corporations, or lobbyists. There is no class consciousness in the Marxist sense. For them government is the problem. It interferes, it's inefficient, and helps those who don't work. That's what people say. They view politicians as selfish and dishonest. Bureaucrats like the woman at the Department of Motor Vehicles or the man from the Internal Revenue Service who audits people's taxes are considered lazy and menacing. Working people have a strongly negative reaction to them. People complain about the poor making bad choices and getting welfare like a single parent mom. They can't stand the guy getting a disability check who they think isn't really disabled. People who work hard and pay taxes see both as taking advantage.

Furthermore, people don't want to pay more taxes. Keeping your money and doing what you want is the American way. They don't want rich people to pay more even if they can afford it. It comes off as punishing people for being successful. People say things like, " I wouldn't want them taking my money if I were rich either. " To an extent working people don't have a problem with the wealthy or corporations. At the same time unions have declined. The industrial economy that sustained them is gone. Right leaning Republicans at the state level and the Supreme Court have made it almost impossible for them to organize and collect dues. Even worse is the lack of concern and opposition among working people to organized labor. Workers think unions demand too much and run employers away. Union members are viewed as less productive too. There is also a certain affinity among working class people and small business especially local owners. Working people often start their own businesses. This kind of achievement is a source of pride and encouragement. It's about the " little guy getting ahead" so working people side with them on taxes, unions, and regulation. This kind of individualism is very American. Hard work and doing it yourself leads to success - something you feel good about. Wealth and Income inequality are not the issue here. Rich people and corporations create good paying jobs. Small business people are just trying to get ahead too. Government, taxes, and unions just get in the way of individual freedom for ordinary people.

Wealth and Income inequality are inevitable in a free society. They reflect differences in skill, initiative, and risk. Inequalities reward creativity, innovation, and ambition where people are not interfered with and able to choose. In capitalism people work for others who profit from their labor. But there's often an imbalance of power in that relationship where those who own capital enrich themselves at the expense of fair, living, wages for workers. In this case economic inequalities become too large, and workers are not free like wealthy owners. This has been the case in America for more than four decades now. People see themselves as middle class, yet their wealth, income, status, and political power suggest otherwise. Millions of Americans regardless of race, gender, national origin, or immigration status don't have enough retirement savings, and they have massive credit card debt due to emergencies. They would be financially ruined by a job loss or missed work due to illness. All while they work hard and don't earn enough money.

Changing this system is very difficult for three reasons. First, people don't believe we can or should rely on the democratic process. They see elected officials who are rich, famous, and powerful doing things they don't agree with. Politicians don't make things better. It's hard to believe things can be changed politically. Voters are skeptical of candidates who call for reform too. Second, we have been told the lie that reform is socialism. Government will own and control you and everything else. Regulated markets, welfare, and progressive taxation are falsely portrayed as socialist. People think of the former Soviet Union. It doesn't matter if a Democrat is moderate and business friendly they are labeled leftwing socialist. Fear and hostility appeal to ordinary people already struggling. Third, we don't see the value of shared economic prosperity. Anyone who works hard and plays by the rules should be able to stay in the middle class. Poor people should be able to get into that middle class. There's nothing wrong with being rich either. In an economy where we all are striving the rich can't have all the gains while others live on the margin. Workers and owners alike should benefit from a growing, prosperous, economy.

Decent jobs that pay well make the difference between being poor or middle class. No free and democratic society is possible without that middle class. Right now our economy is too unequal, and nothing will change if working people don't care. It's not about getting rid of capitalism which radical leftists advocate. Conservative claims that intrusive government is trying to control everything and everybody are wrong too. The challenge for liberals is to make a compelling, concrete, case to working people for the need to restore balance.


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December 2022

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