Contrary to the view of Rep. Bill Paxon, we welcome the recent series by Donald Barlett and James Steele. There is a growing realization that wealth and income inequality are important issues about which we need more information. Barlett and Steele blended personal stories of working men and women with information concerning trade laws and statistics that support conclusions of a growing inequality of U.S. income in the new global age.
One special contribution of this journalistic style is to expose a pervasive neoclassical economist myth: that labor is similar to other economic inputs (machinery, energy) and if unplugged from one factory can be easily reshaped and plugged into other jobs and factories for overall economic gain. As Barlett and Steele displayed, presidents and politicians may be convinced that increased exports signify increased U.S. jobs, but they fail to look further into the type of jobs or the wages that are generated and the social costs (of families moving to uncertain new jobs, necessary dual incomes, increased need for public assistance, etc.) of a low-wage economy.
Bill Paxon champions the lower unemployment rate of the United States compared with European nations having traditional trade surpluses, but he somehow fails to remember that German, Swedish and Japanese workers are now paid more than their American counterparts. He also fails to note that these nations all have a comprehensive medical plan, paid day care and family leaves, and that they devote more resources to training and retraining workers for high-skilled, high paid jobs.
Many academicians have established the existence of the growing inequality. The debate now focuses on its causes, such as rising imports, trade laws, the decline of union jobs, higher numbers of unskilled immigrants, a smaller percentage of high-skilled, high-paid jobs, or Reagan-era tax cuts.
Robert Samuelson of Newsweek may argue that consumers own more houses and dishwashers than they did in 1980. But consumer data suggest increased borrowing has paid for these items. Instead, we know that inequality of income and wealth is rising, and we are left to ponder the probable impact upon our democratic system: inequality in access to the government and inequality of power.
Kenneth S. Mernitz Susan M. Davis M. Stephen Pendleton Buffalo State College