The Year In Inequality: Lots Of Words, Where's Action?

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Above photo: More than two years after its big splash, the vocabulary of Occupy Wall Street began to resonate.Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Pope Francis and President Obama contributed talk, but 2013 brought little tangible movement on economic injustice

Occupy Wall Street began more than two years ago with a bang as loud as a thousand bongo drums. It essentially vanished from the public eye a few months later when New York police cordoned off Zuccotti Park and forcibly removed its new occupants under the cover of night and a media blackout.

But despite its quick end two years ago, the conversation Occupy started is just beginning to gain traction in the United States.

OWS members may no longer be on street corners, but the movement’s vocabulary of economic injustice, previously common only on college campuses, has become more accessible to a wide variety of Americans.

This year, as the disparity between rich and poor continued to grow to levels not seen since 1928, the nation’s new consciousness about the economy allowed income inequality to take hold of the country’s conscience.

Indeed, 2013 was the year of thinking and talking about income inequality.

As judged by how frequently we search Google, Americans’ curiosity about income inequality has been high since Occupy started in 2011, but recently spiked beyond 2011’s levels — and the conversation extended well beyond the Internet.

Perhaps the poster-boy of this new worldwide focus is Pope Francis, who made a habit of creating headlines with pot-stirring statements on wealth and inequality, which often sound more like the teachings of a Marxist college professor than the sermons of a contemporary religious leader.

“…Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world,” Pope Francis wrote in his apostolic exhortation. “This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”

The pope has denied being a full-fledged communist but said he has nothing against them.

Regardless of his card-carrying status, Pope Francis struck a nerve in 2013.  Some 64 percent of people polled recently by Public Policy Polling said the pope was the right choice for Time Magazine’s Person of the Year award.

And he wasn’t the only leader that captured the zeitgeist on inequality.

New York City Mayor-elect Bill De Blasio coasted through the election, winning by wide margins not only against a Republican, but against more well-established, more moderate Democratic rivals. His campaign framed New York as “tale of two cities,” and De Blasio promised his main priority would be addressing the growing wealth gap.

President Barack Obama also ramped up his rhetoric on the issue, calling inequality “the defining issue of our time,” in a speech earlier in December.

The year also saw thousands protesting outside Walmarts and fast-food restaurants for better pay, and a higher minimum wage in cities across the country.

But 2013 wasn’t only the year of inequality because of rhetoric and protests. Much like Occupy Wall Street was a response to the financial crisis of 2008, the surge in speech surrounding inequality in 2013 can been seen as response to the unequal conditions many Americans face.

In other words, the concept of inequality was so popular in 2013, because 2013 was a year of near-unprecedented income inequality.

This year, there were revelations that median wages have remained flat for 10 years, that corporations continued to receive record-breaking tax breaks, that CEO pay has risen astronomically in the past few decades, and that the bottom and top income brackets continue togrow further apart.

While there were some minor policy changes passed that could help lessen that gap — such as many local minimum-wage campaigns; there were many, such as repeated cuts to food stamps andunemployment benefits, that seem to promise to widen the chasm further.

But the conversation has begun and if 2013 was a year of public awareness about income inequality, maybe 2014 will be the year something is done about it.

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  • Terry Cooper

    Lip service is just more BS., and another way to try to keep the masses under control. So, Obama and the Pope have stated the fucking obvious. However, the obvious seemed to fly right by them for a long time before they said a word. Talk is tiresome without action that supports that talk. So, unless and until the yappers get up off their asses and put some teeth in what they say, then they can fuck off.

    • Richard_Cottingham

      I agree with all you say. How do we build on the
      growing awareness of the problem to bring about the needed actions?

      • Terry Cooper

        Well, thanks to sites like this and some others, more people are becoming aware. There are groups like Move To Amend, etc. Of course, there is a Socialist Party, but it has not been very visible, and there would probably be an OMG! the Commies are coming reaction if they were to become more visible. However, I think it’s important to point out to people that unless they are one of the 1% ourselves, then they are already at least half way to being Socialist, or should be if we are going to protect ourselves from the guerilla warfare the 1% has been waging for decades. Have you read the memo that was written by Justice Lewis Powell for the Chamber of Commerce in ’71? Also read “Presidential Puppetry” by Andre Kreig. He puts things in historical perspective, and shows the things that were done to bring about the changes we have seen that have been so detrimental for the 99%, including the fact that the control and power of the 1% has rolled from one administration to the next. ON a personal level, I suppose we can try to hold peoples’ feet to the fire by talking about this kind to thing to everybody we know. Send them info they can pass on to others. Most people are too trying to keep their heads above water now to spend a lot of time reading. I live in a TP stronghold, and Instead of trying to convince people to be more liberal, I try to convince them to take the blinders off as I have and take a damned good look at their own candidates, and even the true ideology of the biggest funders for the TP, the KOchs. Once they see that am not trying to beat them over the head with the differences in our ideologies, then they do start to listen. I tell them l that we are all being bamboozled and our beliefs are being used against us as a means to divide us and make us more vulnerable to the 1% complete takeover. Everybody knows something is wrong, but for most of us it to the fact that the 1% declared war on us long ago. It takes a lot of reading and research to catch up t that fact, and how it has been done fro most of us. So, just keep plugging.

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