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Are we a Nation Divided and Polarized?

Posted in Politics and Justice by EloiSVM42 on July 5, 2017

Are we a Nation Divided and Polarized?

(Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

The notion that we are divided is misunderstood. Like Siamese twins, we are bound together. We move forward or backward, happy or unhappy together.

We may be divided, in the sense that great numbers of us have very different opinions on many important issues. We may think the people holding differing opinions from us are misguided or even barking mad, but there is nothing in the Constitution that says how our opinions must be distributed.

I will tell you what we are, though. We are extremely unequal, and both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution have a great deal to say about that.

There is great inequality in our wealth and income, and it has been getting much worse since about 1980. When eight people in American possess as much wealth as the bottom 50% of our entire population, it takes no brilliant economist or social scientist to see that something is seriously, seriously wrong. We are very near the point when history suggests countries are likely to experience revolution or collapse.

According to Thomas Piketty, the world’s foremost authority on wealth and income, the best long-term solution to income inequality is “diffusion of knowledge,” by which he means education.

But our education is itself extremely unequal. Wealthy students frequently end up in good private schools, but most of us go to public schools, which can vary in quality greatly, frequently along already existing income and racial lines, which is self-perpetuating.

What’s most disappointing regarding education is that many states have been starving education budgets for years. It’s almost as if some state leaders want to hold people in their unequal place by denying “diffusion of knowledge” to them. We elect these leaders. We can elect others with more positive priorities regarding education.

We’re all familiar with the inequality in our justice and penal systems. Minorities are disproportionately imprisoned. The problems are partly due to the education deficit, but also to unequal administration of justice. Again, this inequity is correctable.

Voting is unequal. Our “one person one vote” Constitutional guarantee is ignored and abused constantly, which is utterly inconsistent with our democracy. Some politicians scheme to deny the vote to those who might vote differently than they (the politicians, not the voters) desire.

A poster child of voting inequality is the Electoral College, a result of our Founding Fathers’ hedging their bet on the common man. After all, their new government was an experiment as yet untried.

The results, however, have been extremely mixed in the 21st Century. So far, it has given us our first black president by popular vote, and two presidents – one a disaster and the other trending that way – who lost the popular vote, but won in the Electoral College.

President is the only truly national office. It is the only office that can, and should be determined by a total national vote, with no intersession.

The election of U.S. Senators, though reformed over time, is grossly unequal today. Every state gets two of them, regardless of size. Our four largest states – California, New York, Florida and Texas – comprise a third of our population. Our four smallest states contain less than one percent. But each group has eight senators. This distribution of senators may have made some sense when the Constitution was written, when our population was 95% rural agrarian, but it is inexcusably unequal today.

Montana and Wyoming, for extreme examples, don’t have enough population to justify a single Representative. Each has one only because at least one is mandatory. Yet each has two Senators. As there are many more states with small to middling populations relative to small ones, rural populations are remarkably over-represented.

This was a compromise made at the creation, and I suspect it would be very hard to change any time soon, for the very reason it is a problem. It favors a lot of small population states, but impedes the will of the majority of the population. That’s not what representative democracy is supposed to do.

The U.S. House of Representative is more, well, representative, but it is susceptible to a particularly odious form of inequality – gerrymandering. This ploy warps voter representation willfully and radically. Both major parties are complicit in it, and the job should be taken from their hands.

Job opportunities are certainly unequal. Though the official unemployment number is low at present, many people, particularly those with less education, are disproportionately unemployed, and many people with or without some education are underemployed. Everyone’s wages have been stagnant for years. This is the crux of the sleep of reason that brought forth the monster that is Donald Trump (my opinion).

Now, here are a couple of very inconvenient truths that must be looked at head on if we are to correct inequality in the broader sense:

Globalization is a thing, and it will not change. So called sovereign state boundaries cannot prohibit it, and its overall thrust is too good for us to want it to stop, even if that were possible. The opposite of globalization is tribalism, a retrenchment into smaller, insular enclaves, which only breed greater fear and suspicion of “the other.” Tribalism is a hidebound, narrow minded way to live. Look at Afghanistan, Pakistan and place like that. No wonder people want to come here from such places.

Technology will go where it can go. As technology improves, it will be applied. This includes in the workplace, which means it will compete for more and more jobs successfully, reducing the demand for human workers to do them. Technology has replaced many, many more jobs than globalization.

Other jobs will be created, good ones, but not in the same numbers, and requiring more skills and training. If it were easy, anybody could do it, which means the easy jobs will go to the person willing to do it the cheapest…until he or she is replaced by a machine.

Access to higher paying jobs is not available to everyone equally, due to, let’s face it, intelligence, aptitude, training and prejudice. Many decent paying jobs required less education in the past, so more people were able to get a good job without as much of it. But those times have changed.

I can empathize with those who find themselves out of a job because the jobs left them, and we must do more to try to help them. People today need more education and/or training – technical education of some sort and support until they are able to up their game.

Others are simply not capable of competing at the current level of job complexity and competition. As Ron White said, “You can’t fix stupid.”

This period of a more competitive labor market and stagnant wages begs for more progressive thinking to deal with than we have been giving it thus far. It’s time to think about how to equalize income to at least an acceptable standard of living. There is no excuse for the income disparity we have today, and it is inexcusable to have Americans below the poverty line with so much wealth available.

How do we afford this, you ask? I’ll tell you how:

  1. By thinking about wealth and income more generously and compassionately and equally, not greedily. Our tax system should look almost the exact opposite of what it is today, with high taxes on the rich, a tax on wealth and extremely high inheritance taxes.
  2. By inverting our investment priorities toward education and away from a grossly too expensive military.
  3. By reforming our justice system so that the penalty for the same crimes are not only equal, but do not doom convicts to a life sentence-stifled opportunities and prospects denied.

Lest you think this rational addressing of inequality will be easy, consider where we are today – how greedy we have become, how punitive and how much we have downgraded and degraded education.

And lest you think that should such reforms be enacted all our problems would be solved, consider the new ones that these reforms would evoke, regarding population control, immigration policy, assisted suicide, and yes, death panels. (Spoiler alert: these things will happen anyway.)

Not everything is ever going to be exactly equal, nor should we want them to be. Mountains v. oceans, deserts v. tropics, cities v. towns. These and every other aspect of culture result in diversity that enriches us.  But the inequalities in education, income and justice are pernicious, and ludicrously beneath the richest, strongest and among the bests nations on earth.

 

 

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