The rich, the middle class and the poor. These so-called “titles” are defining Americans today. What is income inequality and why is it a problem? Income inequality is the extent to which income is distributed in a population. In the United States, that gap between the poor and the rich has expanded immensely over the past ten years. Income inequality is a constantly debated topic today with different opinions and solutions; economists, writers, and politicians all have different views. For example, Paul Krugman and Robert Reich have different opinions than Maura Pennington. As people of different social status, religion, and political preferences view inequality differently, the solution is vastly different amongst these groups. This paper will explain how Krugman, Reich, and Pennington extend, qualify, and complicate each other’s claims and arguments about income inequality.
The three authors all have a specific target group in mind and each of these authors write or speak in a specific way to get these audiences to follow their views and solutions about income inequality. Paul Krugman in, “Confronting Inequality_”_ a chapter in his book _The Conscience of a Liberal,_ says that income inequality is not a problem until it becomes social inequality. His audience is more educated the common person; he writes in a very scholarly way and gives complex solutions to a complex issue. Robert Reich in the documentary film _Inequality for All,_ directed by Jacob Kornbluth, says that income inequality is a problem because the gap is getting bigger. Reich’s audience is comparable to the common person because in his film he uses colorful graphs and representations to make his point clear and easy to understand. While these two people agree about inequality, Maura Pennington, a contributor for _Forbes,_ writes that when dealing with “wealth” inequality it is not a problem.
Pennington’s article was published in _Forbes,_ a predominately known magazine made for the rich by the rich, which makes it clear why the article is against socialism and pro-capitalism and directed at the rich; whereas Krugman and Reich are college professors. Krugman and Reich believe income inequality is a serious issue and to abolish it we need to tax the rich and encourage labor unions to raise minimum wage. In contrast, Pennington believes the only way to decrease income inequality is for the have-nots become do-somethings. The context behind these arguments is what drove each author to view income inequality differently and similarly at the same time.
Reich extends Krugman’s arguments throughout the documentary by taking his argument and elaborating further_._ The main claim Krugman makes is that income inequality is only a problem when it turns into social inequality. He says, “the fact is that vast income inequality inevitably brings vast social inequality in its train” (Krugman 589). Income inequality is affecting the way people live, and not just the poor, but the middle class as well. Krugman writes about middle class families “taking on more mortgage debt” because they want their kids to be in good school districts (590). He further explains that social inequality is the way a person interacts with other people.
Reich agrees with Krugman by giving examples of people from different social statuses. Each person or family he interviews all come from different incomes and prove to have a different social status because of their income differences. Reich makes a stronger argument because he uses more information and direct quotes from people to help his claim. The importance of both their arguments is that income inequality leads to social inequality and the gap between the richest and the poorest is getting bigger.
Krugman also extends Reich’s arguments. Reich says in his film that the rich are funding politicians, proving the rich have a substantial influence in politics and the way our government is run. Krugman furthers this argument by adding a specific example of how money is changing politician’s views. The head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Charles Schumet, opposed eliminating the tax break on the rich because “his position was driven by the large sums hedge funds” that the rich were giving to his campaign (Krugman, 593). Krugman later says the reason our government is so corrupt is because of the inequality of our income distribution (594). Krugman’s argument was stronger because he added more valuable information to Reich’s argument. The extension of Reich’s argument was effective in creating a larger reason to believe income inequality is detrimental and needs to be reduced.
Not only does Krugman extend Reich’s arguments, he also qualifies them Qualifying is important when discussing a controversial topic, because it allows readers to see different viewpoints authors have on the same subject. Reich says the solution to income inequality will be education, which will be the “saving grace” we so desperately need. While this may be true, Krugman believes there are other factors that play into the solution. Krugman qualifies Reich’s argument by stating education increases mobility, but it helps to have parents who are higher up in the social ladder.
Essentially, Krugman is saying that yes, education does help to the solve income inequality crisis, but it is not solely what will break the boarders of inequality. However, Krugman does state the solution could be “moral suasion [because it] was effective in the past, and could be so again” (602). Krugman again proves to be more successful in his argument because he has a more logical solution. While both authors believe inequality is a problem and needs to be fixed, they have different solutions to the problem.
Pennington, being more conservative, agrees with one of Krugman’s claims but takes it a different way making the claim preferable to the rich. Krugman says, “Revitalizing unions should be a key progressive goal” to diminish inequality (601). He is explaining that we need organizations that will help the people and help them to be happy and affluent. Pennington does agree that we need to “establish stable institutions to empower people to be free and productive and they will prosper” (1). However, she believes unlike Krugman there is more than just this. She later writes, “Redistribution of a static supply of resources accomplishes nothing and makes no one richer” (Pennington 1). In addition to what Krugman writes, she agrees we need institutions, but not institutions that are going to give the poor money the rich have made.
Pennington and Reich are in disagreement about the one-percent of Americans wealth. Reich says in his film “the top 400 people in the United States have more wealth than half of the US population.” His entire film is about how the distribution of wealth is so corrupt and it is bad for society. Pennington says “I was thrilled at the sight of it because that percentile of people is not constant … It belongs to a free class of people that continuously shifts and grows. Forbes wouldn’t publish its 400 list annually were it identical year after year” (2). She believes that the top 400 people are actually beneficial to society and do not have a negative effect on societies distribution of wealth. It is difficult to determine who was more effective in their argument, because people of different political orientations will agree with different authors. Pennington and Reich complicate each other’s argument because of the different political views and life experiences they have had.
Pennington also complicates one of Krugman’s arguments. He writes, “A surtax on that income [the 1%] would yield a significant amount of revenue, which could be used to help a lot of people” (Krugman 598). Krugman believes that if we tax the richest one-percent of Americans we can use that revenue to help the lower and middle class, essentially helping everyone, in a way that is similar to socialism. Pennington has the complete opposite view about taxation on the rich and socialism. She says, “Socialism is economic insanity… [and] capitalism is not the enemy” (Pennington 3,4). Pennington’s view on the necessity for Americans to survive is skewed in a way that is incomprehensible to anyone that is not of that “one-percent.” Pennington complicates Krugman’s argument because her view on social economics is different than his.
Overall, Krugman proved to have the most successful argument. He had a sufficient amount of sub claims to support his overall main claim. He backed these claims up with statistical evidence as well making him overall, the most convincing author. Pennington was the least successful of the authors because she did not have solid claims; all her claims were mostly opinions and not hard facts. I believe the central issue of income inequality is the lack of taxation on the rich. These so-called “tax breaks” only let the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. If we have more of a socialistic society, everyone in general will be a lot happier and there would be no income inequality, but rather income equality. The United States has the most unequal distribution of wealth in the world. This is sickening to me, and something has to be done; but nothing will be done because the rich want to stay rich and the rich control all the politicians. In the end, income inequality is a demanding issue, which is being discussed among scholars, economists, and politicians.
_Inequality For All._ Dir. Jacob Kornbluth. Perf. Robert Reich. 72 Production, 2013. Documentary.
Krugman, Paul R. “Confronting Inequality.” _The Conscience of a Liberal_. New York: W.W. Norton, 2007. 586-605. Print.
Pennington, Maura. “To Fix Income Inequality, The Have-Nots Must Become The Do-Somethings.” _Forbes_. Forbes Magazine, 08 Mar. 2013. Web. 22 Apr. 2014. .
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