It was early and I hadn’t downed my coffee yet, but for a moment I thought I was reading something important in one of those tightly printed full-page ads that appear from time to time in the The New York Times.
Headlined “Enact the Inform Act,” the ad called on Congress and the president to pass a, quote, “bipartisan bill to reveal the full size and inter-generational consequences of our country’s fiscal imbalance.”
As I said, it was early but my mind was off. Finally, I thought to myself, someone is taking seriously our country’s teetering imbalance.
To consider every piece of legislation from the point of view of its impact on that fundamental crisis; how great would that be?
Like an environmental impact statement, legislators would be forced to study the intergenerational effects of throwing society off kilter.
Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph Stiglitz’s book The Price of Inequality could be assigned. As he reports, of the advanced economies, the United States has some of the worst disparities. The gross domestic product here has nearly doubled in the last twenty-five years, but the benefits have gone to the top—the very, very top. Ninety-five percent of all income gains since 2009 have gone to the top 1 percent, while the typical American worker makes less than he did forty-five years ago.
This imbalance affects social mobility: affluent kids get a kick-start on education, at college and when they’re launched into careers. Edged out from all that, their poorer contemporaries never get a chance to contribute their full potential to our society or our economy.
As wealth congeals at the top, the rich disinvest from everywhere else—they don’t need public services, so they’re reluctant to pay for them—and as our public institutions are starved, so is our democracy, enabling the richest among us to most influence the politicians, and reward them for doing things like cutting taxes and shrinking government.
The intergenerational consequences of all this are macro-economic and monumental—think financialization, the bubble economy, deindustrialization, the crisis in education. It’s also profoundly anti-American: think Paine, think Jefferson. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be glad someone’s finally paying attention.
But then, I hold the paper a little closer. The INFORM Act is not about any of those things. It’s about the deficit. The phony fiscal gap, not the flesh-and-blood one of inequality. The ad is signed by the 1 percent who want to do what? Cut taxes and shrink government. Who else can afford one of those one page ads?
Pity. Sometimes it’s good not to look too closely. Anyone interested in a genuine Inform Act?
The Nation editors write, “After the Shutdown: No Time for Compromise.”