20 January 2013

Fairness, stupid.

Bill Clinton's campaign strategist famously distilled the 1992 Presidential campaign message to eager staffers into the following three words:
"The economy, stupid".
James Carville
Some 21-years hence, my two-word campaign message is:
"Fairness, stupid."

Alleged Recovery

As someone who entered the US workforce 30 years ago, I have experienced economic recession, economic stagnation, and economic recovery. By economic recovery, I mean alleged economic recovery. I use the modifier alleged because I mean to say, loud and clear:
Each US economic recovery seems to leave more people behind.
We have to ask if this is the kind of society we aspire to be -- a society that leaves people behind.


Fair play is part of my DNA. My father was one of 200,000 telephone workers who walked out in 1968 because AT&T refused a modest wage bump to match cost of living increases. Collective bargaining, at it's essence, is negotiating what is fair. After 18 days, AT&T conceded. Dad got his wage bump. AT&T continued to turn a healthy profit.

My father was a union man with a high school education. He also made a better living than me, sent two sons to college paying cash, and had enough money stuffed in his mattress to enjoy a few years of comfortable retirement.

My father's American Dream scenario will not play out the same way for most of my generation. My economic status has been stagnant or downwardly-mobile since I left graduate school in the late 80s to take my first real job as an engineer. In that engineering job, I had my first (and last) private office.


I have been harping about fairness for so many years, I should apologize to my loved ones. I felt vindicated this morning after reading the Sunday New York Times opinion piece Inequality Is Holding Back The Recovery by Joseph Stiglitz. Joseph Stiglitz is not some tree-hugging, common good do-gooder like me. As it happens, Joseph Stiglitz is a Columbia University professor with serious economics chops.
"Our economy won’t come back strong unless it also becomes more fair."
Joseph Stiglitz, 2001 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economic Science.

Share of Total Income by Income Percentile (Business Insider)

A staggering share of the income in the US now goes to the top 50 percent. The lion's share of income gains over the past 30 years are enjoyed by the top 10% (and especially the top 1%).

All of us know the health of any business is related to the health of its customers. Today's consumers are dangerously leveraged, or broke.

I don't have all the data to support my notions about inequality and fairness, nor do I have the economics chops of Joseph Stiglitz, but I believe in my heart of hearts that income inequality is a huge ball and chain on our short and long-term economic well-being.
"Politicians typically talk about rising inequality and the sluggish recovery as separate phenomena, when they are in fact intertwined. Inequality stifles, restrains and holds back our growth."
Joseph Stiglitz
Inequality leads us down a path of instability. There are too few people enjoying too much of collectively-generated wealth. Obscene wealth accumulation comes at the expense of the common good. It strips many of us of the basic necessities and provides few economic opportunities.

Our Future

It's time to ask what kind of society we want to be. It's time for a national discussion about fairness whether focused on tax policy, education policy, military policy, or our dwindling social safety net.

It's about fairness, stupid.


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