Global Ethics Corner: Occupy Wall Street: Does Rising Income Inequality Threaten American Democracy?

Oct 14, 2011

Does rising income inequality pose a threat to American democracy? This question has long been taboo in American politics. Yet as "Occupy Wall Street" spreads across the United States, the political consequences of income inequality are grabbing headlines as never before.

Does rising income inequality pose a threat to American democracy?

This question has long been taboo in American politics. Yet as "Occupy Wall Street" spreads across the United States, the political consequences of income inequality are grabbing headlines as never before.

The income gap in the U.S. has risen steadily since the 1970s. Today, it's the highest in the developed world.

The statistics are daunting: 1 percent of Americans account for a quarter of the nation's wealth. And while the nation's rich have gotten richer, the poor have gotten poorer. Today, one in six Americans lives in poverty.

Many of those occupying Wall Street argue that mounting income inequality threatens our democracy.

They warn that as America's middle class dwindles, its ability to affect political change shrinks. Recent cuts to education, healthcare, and other public services only diminish opportunities for those without independent wealth.

Critics of "Occupy Wall Street" have denounced such claims as class warfare. They have labeled protestors as Communists, populists, and anti-American. The key to success in America lies in individuals' resolve to rise above difficult circumstances. Governments, they say, should play no role in this.

But protestors counter that without access to equal education and health care, the majority of Americans just can't compete with the wealthy. Cuts to basic services only lessen their chances for political participation. In this sense, income inequality may not be a question of just economic fairness, but of democratic values.

Which raises the question: When does income inequality become political inequality?

By Marlene Spoerri

For more information see

Timothy Noah, "The United States of Inequality," Slate Magazine, September 3, 2011

Sabrina Tavernise, "Soaring Poverty Casts Spotlight on 'Lost Decade'," The New York Times, September 13, 2011

Photo Credits in Order of Appearance:

Carl Loven
David Shankbone
alan taylor
JJesús DQ
SamPac
David Shankbone
Caroline Schiff Photography
Adam Jones
Howard Brier
Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jon Husman/U.S. Navy
Columbia City Blog
C. G. P. Grey

You may also like

JUN 4, 2021 Podcast

The Doorstep: Press Freedom & Foreign Policy Panel, with Stephen J. Adler & Carlos Martínez de la Serna

Advocating for press freedom around the globe has long been a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy. The Trump administration changed the rules, but what ...

Civil rights and union leaders, including Martin Luther King, Jr., march on Washington, DC, August 1963. <br>CREDIT: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:March_on_washington_Aug_28_1963.jpg">	U.S. National Archives and Records Administration/Public Domain.</a>

OCT 5, 2020 Podcast

Protests in Perspective: Lessons from the Past, with Michael Canham & Adom Getachew

In this "Protests in Perspective" webinar, moderated by Williams University's Professor Neil Roberts, South African government official Michael Canham, and University of Chicago's Professor Adom ...

Hungary's President Orbán in Helsinki, November 2018. CREDIT: <a href=https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:EPP_Helsinki_Congress_in_Finland,_7-8_November_2018_(45053885904).jpg>European People's Party (CC)</a>.

MAR 31, 2020 Article

Hungary and the Values Test

In the wake of the Hungarian parliament's vote to allow the executive to rule by decree, Senior Fellow Nikolas Gvosdev reflects on the call by ...