If the economy is the “number-one issue” in this current election, here at TBA, Barbara Ehrenreich and William Gates, Sr. are arguing that a better way to frame it may be inequality.

In 1982, someone on Forbes’ list of the richest 400 people held an average wealth of $400 million. Today, that figure is $3.9 billion.

As Gates noted–to scattered chuckles from the audience–it’s far past time for Americans to break our committed faith in the link between merit, virtue and wealth. Sheer nonsense, he says. If you’re wealthy, he notes, “a basic reason…is that you were born in America,” benefited from certain public investments, and got lucky upon the way. Which is why when you die, you owe it to your country to pay some of that luck forward.