| By Holly Avey |
Let’s talk about wealth inequities. The current presidential administration, including the vice president, the chief of staff, and the emerging cabinet, have more wealth than one-third of Americans combined. Concentrated wealth creates concentrated power. And indications suggest that this particular group of very wealthy individuals may be more likely to act in their own interests than other wealthy leaders in the past.
What exactly is wealth? Wealth is all of your assets added together, minus all of your debts. Income is one part of your assets, but some people might also own a house or a car or have a savings account or retirement account that they could sell or cash out for money if they needed to. And if you need to cash out, you can’t really get very far if you’ve got debt following you. You might have debt from credit card bills, hospital bills, college, your mortgage, your car payment, or many other reasons you might take on debt just from trying to survive. And of course some people have a whole lot of wealth, some people have a whole lot of debt, and some people have a lot of both that balances out in various ways.
Research shows that the very wealthy have more difficulty feeling empathy for others and are more likely to attribute their own success to their individual efforts. When they apply that same criteria to those who are in poverty, they are less likely to consider structural or contextual factors that have limited their opportunities, and more likely to blame individuals for their lack of economic success.
This explains findings from another recent study, summarized by Demos, that shows that the wealthy (those with an average annual income of more than $1 million) have different policy priorities than the rest of the public.
Studies show that the greater a society’s economic inequalities, the more people will take an anti-immigration stance. People living in poverty or relative deprivation are inclined to take an anti-immigrant stance when they perceive that their access to scarce resources — such as jobs — is threatened. Wealthier people are also inclined to take an anti-immigrant stance because they fear losing their wealth in the future.
“Inequality is largely the result of public policy decisions that reflect undue influence by the wealthy over the U.S. political system.”
In the short term, many of these changes will create crises in various ways, and it will be important to protect the rights and the needs of those negatively impacted. At the same time, organizations need to join together across sectors in a long-term approach to address the ongoing inequities produced by all policies that benefit the very wealthy at the expense of the poor. The organization Demos has produced a report that explores the dominance of politics by the affluent, and they offer many helpful suggestions to address this problem, which are organized by the following three main points:
1. Reduce the economic inequality that fuels such a large concentration of civic power in the hands of the wealthy.
2. Reduce the influence of big money in politics.
3. Draw more ordinary people into civic life as a counterbalance to concentrated wealth.
It is important to note that the distorted imbalance in wealth I have discussed is focused on the overall differences between the very wealthy and the poor — or even the very wealthy and the rest of us. There are also racial differences in wealth that heavily influence and reflect inequities. Look out for my next post in the coming weeks where I will discuss these racial differences in more detail!