What Democrats get wrong about inequality

It isn't just about fairness. It's about the basic functioning of the economy.

Wage protest
(Image credit: (Scott Olson/Getty Images))

In the traditional rhetoric of American politics, there's a tradeoff between prosperity and fairness. Accept more inequality and we'll get the fast growth that brings about long-term improvements in living standards. Conversely, the argument goes, direct more money down the socioeconomic ladder, and the poor will get a temporary boost, but at the cost of long-term growth. In the postwar years, it was Reagan who most prominently embraced this idea, and whose policy agenda was most dedicated to distributing more income up the income ladder.

Unthinking acceptance of this tradeoff is still common across the political spectrum. Even committed liberals typically frame inequality as an issue of fairness rather than a structural economic problem.

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