What’s Wrong With Inequality – the word?

Ban inequality – the word, the naked word, from our political rhetoric.

Inequality is everywhere around us in the media sphere as well as in our day-to-day conversations. Amongst progressive folk one can drop the word like an F bomb and summon up agreeable outrage in one’s interlocutors without saying anything further. Perhaps mention the one percent or, for extra effect, the 10th of one percent. No need to mention what population is being discussed or any further details. The rest of the argument is filled in, or not, through the ellipsis imagined by both parties.

Here is the problem with inequality – the word. It arouses outrage without touching on the facts of who is being screwed in what manner to whose benefit, real and psychological. It is generally assumed that we must be talking about black and brown people? Or is that just in the author’s world?

The word lacks specificity to such a degree that it does not allow for any path to reduce its pernicious effects. After all we are not talking about an inequality created somewhat arbitrarily by nature – some people are born tall and others short. No, the inequalities we are talking about are man made  (yes that is one of the inequalities – men run the world). A specific group of people arranged the world to their specific benefit and screwed others in the doing. Lets call out those who did the arranging and specify the benefits they gain, almost always to the detriment of others.

Lets take income inequality for example. In the US the rich and corporations, through their well greased lackeys in the Democratic and Republican parties re-arranged the US economy, starting in the late 1970s. First, they ended union bargaining power and brought about a 40+ year period during which there were effectively no real pay raises for people in the middle and working classes.1 The rich (the top 10% of the population) and corporations got to keep all of the gains in an economy that doubled in size2. Second, they changed the economy from one where competition amongst firms was fairly robust to one in which in virtually every sector 3 or 4 firms dominate. Monopoly power and its effects are the key characteristic  of the economy. Once again the rich and corporations have benefited while wannabe capitalists have withered. The rate of new business formation has fallen by 50% in the last two decades.3

What to do.?

Break up the monopolies in every sector including the banking sector. End gambling and dark money in the financial sector. Make it easier to organize unions to give the working class and middle class some leverage. Institute a living wage – not the inadequate minimum wage. In my county in upstate NY the MIT Living Wage Calculator describes a family of 2 adults and one child having a poverty wage at $12.60 (the current minimum wage here is $11.80) while a living wage would $$27.83.4 Make sure the rich and corporations pay taxes proportional to their income. End the gig economy and its avoidance of corporate responsibilities to employees.


  1. https://www.epi.org/productivity-pay-gap/ accessed 11.26.2021
  2. https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/A939RX0Q048SBEA accessed 11.26.2021
  3. Amy Klobuchar and Nan McNamara, Antitrust: Taking on Monopoly Power from the Gilded Age to the Digital Age, 2021, p. 219
  4. https://livingwage.mit.edu/counties/36021 accessed 11.26.2021