The House supports Income Equality as an End in itself

  • February 5, 2013 · 7:00 PM
  • Commonwealth Club - Boardroom

President Obama recently delivered his Inaugural address at the ceremonial swearing-in at the U.S. Capitol during the 57th Presidential Inauguration. The centerpiece of his 18-minute address was a call for greater economic equality, with the president saying that “For we, the people, understand our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it." The president further noted: "We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few." and "We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American, she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own."

The issue of income inequality is increasingly dividing our country. Those who consider inequality a great evil afflicting our society point out that today, more than ever, the rich are becoming richer, the middle class is shrinking, and the poorer seem stuck. In our increasingly stratified society, privilege begets privileges and the rest are locked out. Because of the inherent advantages the rich enjoy, it is often not possible for the less fortunate to simply work hard and move their way up the economic ladder.

On the other side, there are those who think perhaps the issue of inequality has been overblown: people need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and not obsess about the lives of rich people. Plus, governmental attempts to redistribute income will only mess up the dynamism of our economy – creating, maybe, a more “equal” society– but also a poorer one. Inequality of outcome isn't so bad as long as there's a safety net and there’s still equality of opportunity.

What do you think? Should becoming more equal, income-wise, be a government policy goal? Is a more equal society a happier society? Why? Why not?

Join us at the next SFDebate to explore and debate this question. Note that there is a $5 fee charged by the Commonwealth club for non-members to the club.

If you are interested in speaking for or against the motion or want to moderate, just email event organizer - Deborah – and let her know.

Join or login to comment.

  • Peter

    Instead of arguing that income equality is good in itself, the speaker for the motion chose to argue against corporate influence on gov't policy, which has led to more income inequality. The opposing speaker said that income inequality is a natural result of advanced civilization and free markets, which have given us all many benefits from new technologies, lower prices, etc., and policies favoring income equality would discourage these. A lot of participants said they didn't quite understand the motion: is it about equal wages for everyone? Some saw current gov't policies (such as in finance) as promoting income INequality, so promoting equality would be a nice change. Others argued that policies intended to promote income equality just don't work. Some said public discussion of inequality makes low-income people needlessly unhappy, causing social unrest & should be avoided. Beginning vote: 6 yea, 5 nay, 4 abstain. End vote (including speakers & moderator): 9 yea, 5 nay, 4 abstain.

    March 30, 2013

  • Jeffrey F.

    Meetup great as usual. Check out this article, just came in now about China and income equlity:

    February 6, 2013

  • Starchild

    I'm not quite sure what the resolution is suggesting. Is it suggesting that all incomes should be precisely equal? Or simply that it would be a good thing if incomes were somewhat more equal than they are now?

    Then of course there is the question of how to get there. Just because something may be desirable -- getting little Johnny to clean up his room, for example -- it does not follow that the end in question should be a *government goal*. But the topic description seems to suggest that the only way to increase income equality is via government action.

    1 · February 4, 2013

    • Deborah B.

      The topic is meant to be somewhat loosely defined this time. However, how one feels about equality as an end in itself will probably have some bearing on how much equality should be a target of government policy (especially what degree of equality one thinks is desirable).

      February 4, 2013

  • Christian M.

    Javier, You and I have some disconnects. I would like to see if we have enough common ground to have a meaningful debate. Can we agree on any goals? What goals do you advocate? One goal I advocate is the elimination of poverty without sacrificing people’s dignity. If you want to continue this discussion in more detail I would suggest doing it by e-mail. My email is [masked].

    January 30, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      That's responsive to EBT vs cash, yes, but healthcare is the gigantic elephant in the room here, and the argument doesn't work *at all* for that. Private insurance companies have vast administrative bureaucracies that decide who gets what; indeed, that's what they *are*. And in practice, in the USA, private insurance typically involves *more* bureaucracy and administration than, eg, Medicare or the VA hospitals, precisely because there's such a strong financial incentive to create a maze of rules and guidelines whose existence then allows expensive claims to be denied, etc. Not to mention the bureaucracy involved in marketing, enrollment, and so on. Anyway, Meetup notifications of these comments often ends up piling up in folks' inboxes, so I'll stop here, saying only that while I think it's very much worth discussing a UBI, I worry that foregrounding this particular plan would be a distraction from the main issue. See everyone next week.

      1 · January 30, 2013

    • Christian M.

      Javier, I think I was not clear. I do not want to get rid of Social Security, I want to expand it. Every adult would collect a Social Security payment not just old people.

      January 31, 2013

  • Christian M.

    The "strong" would pay about a trillion more than they pay now. The "weak" would get about a trillion more than they get now. What's not to like?

    January 29, 2013

    • Christian M.

      I would say a trillion a year and the elimination of poverty is a pretty big step.

      January 29, 2013

  • Christian M.

    Javier: Consider how the arithmetic works. In 2009 the total personal income in the US was $14 trillion. The federal government collected $1 trillion in personal income taxes. That is an average rate of 7%. It is suggested to make the official tax rate 18%. But, you cause the average tax rate and the official tax rate to be the same by eliminating all the deductions. So the government is going to collect $1.5 trillion more in personal income tax and most of that increase would come from our more affluent citizens. The simple effect is that the rich will end up paying more than twice as much money to the federal government that they did before. The folks in the bottom 50% come out ahead because of the $13,628 payment they get from the feds. The folks in the middle come out about even. Those at the top pay a lot more.

    January 29, 2013

  • Christian M.

    The questions should be: How do we eliminate poverty without creating a bureaucracy that is deciding who is worthy of receiving money and who is not? How do we eliminate the disincentives to work? How do we pay for it? My suggestion is that we provide equal unconditional federal Social Security payments for all adults administered by the current and relatively tiny Social Security Administration. Every adult gets $13,628 each year. Except for the seriously handicapped, poverty is wiped out.

    The $3 trillion per year cost? Eliminate all existing federal welfare related programs and change the federal personal income tax to a simple flat universal 18% rate with no deductions. The arithmetic works. The effect is a universal flat tax rate that is very progressive. The affluent bear the net cost of the program.

    This payment is different from welfare or unemployment as it is paid out to everyone. The beauty is that there is no stigma. It is not lost by working.

    January 28, 2013

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