Monday, February 28, 2011

Steve Kangas Short FAQ on Liberalism: What do liberals believe about income inequality?

Steve Kangas wrote this many years ago. He was prophetic. One in six Americans lives in poverty today and it is getting worse.

Income inequality is substantially correlated to most of society's problems. Two studies -- one by Harvard, the other by Berkeley -- measured income inequality in all 50 states. They found that states with greater income inequality suffered from all of the following problems:

o Higher death rates for all age groups.
o Higher rates of homicide.a
o Higher rates of violent crime.
o Higher costs per person for police protection.
o Higher rates of incarceration.
o Higher rates of unemployment.
o A higher percentage of people receiving income assistance and food stamps.
o More high-school dropouts.
o Less state funds spent per person on education.
o Fewer books per person in the schools.
o Poorer educational performance, including worse reading skills, worse math skills.
o Higher infant mortality rates.
o Higher heart disease.
o Higher cancer rates.
o A greater percentage of people without medical insurance.
o A greater proportion of babies born with low birth weight.
o A greater proportion of the population unable to work because of disabilities.
o A higher proportion of the population using tobacco.a
o A higher proportion of the population being sedentary (inactive).
o Higher costs per-person for medical care.

States with more inequality did not suffer more of these problems simply because they had more poor people; rather, these states witnessed more of these problems in the middle class as well.

This shows that inequality, and not just absolute poverty levels, are linked to social problems. Statistics from Europe -- which enjoys much less inequality, and much fewer health and social problems -- confirm this correlation quite nicely.

Conservatives argue that correlation is not causation, that all these social problems may be causing income inequality.

But the problem with this claim is that fluctuations in income inequality are too rapid, too drastic and too localized to be attributed to sudden changes of character, morals and work ethic in people, especially when they are the same people.

It is much simpler to point to sudden changes in social policy, such as massive tax cuts for the rich and slashing welfare benefits for the poor.

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