Wednesday, December 02, 2009

inequality as u.s. policy since 1979

Post Autistic Economics Review | Since the end of the 1970s, the United States has seen a dramatic increase in economic inequality. While the United States has long been among the most unequal of the world’s rich economies, the economic and social upheaval that began in the 1970s was a striking departure from the movement toward greater equality that began in the Great Depression, continued through World War II, and was a central feature of the first 30 years of the postwar period.

Despite the magnitude of the rise in inequality, the political discourse in the United States refers only obliquely to these developments. The public debate generally acknowledges neither the scale of the increase in inequality nor, except in the most superficial way, the causes of this sudden and sustained turn of events.

This short essay seeks to provide an alternative view of the postwar period in the United States, particularly of the last three decades. My argument is that the high and rising inequality in the United States is the direct result of a set of policies designed first and foremost to increase inequality. These policies, in turn, have their roots in a significant shift in political power against workers and in favor of their employers, a shift that began in the 1970s and continues through today.

The first section of the paper briefly documents the size of the rise in U.S. inequality and puts this change into historical context. The second section sketches an explanation for rising inequality, one that differs from the deeply rooted, but poorly articulated vision that lurks just below the surface of polite political discourse in the United States. The final section focuses on an important part of inequality in the United States that does not receive the attention it deserves.