This article originally appeared in NPR
The economist Tyler Cowen was on our program the other day. He’d written a book about income inequality. And he argued, based on his analysis, that it’s really inevitable, it’s going to get worse, and the thing for public officials to do is to adapt to it rather than try to change it.
Well, I don’t accept that. America is, always [has] been, at its best when everybody who’s willing to work hard has a chance to succeed. There is no doubt that these trends are powerful and they’re global. I mean, we’re seeing the same trends in Scandinavian countries that historically were — prided themselves on great equality. We’ve seen it magnified in less developed countries and emerging markets. So these are global trends that we’re going to have to fight against.
But if we are educating a workforce that has the skills they need to compete, if we have a tax system that is fair and not rewarding those who can afford high-priced accountants and lawyers, if we are rebuilding our infrastructure in this country, not only to make us more competitive but because those create jobs that can’t be exported, if we are increasing a minimum wage so that it is reflective of the same purchasing power that existed many years ago, if we’re creating more ladders of opportunity for people who are locked in neighborhoods that have been abandoned and small towns where factories have closed — if we do those things, then we can lessen the impact of these broader market forces.
But what is true is that globalization and technology are a mixed bag. On the one hand, they create a situation in which consumer goods are cheap and they create a situation in which we can have access to goods and services that we would never have had before. On the other hand, it does create a situation in which a lot of the jobs that are created are at the very top, high-skilled, you know, creative work that can’t be replicated, or at the bottom, low-skilled jobs. What we don’t have are those jobs in the middle that we have to really focus on building, because we can outcompete anybody when we have smart policies.