How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

What to do about income inequality

Growing income inequality and its ramifications was, according to various studies; a key issue for many voters in the 2016 presidential campaign.

The Trump campaign mined the data and determined that large swatches of white blue-collar working-class voters, without a college degree in the rust belt, were shaken to their core and were fearful about the fate of their children and grandchildren. These voters flocked to Donald Trump and have remained with him through thick and thin.

They were angry about being disregarded as their wages stagnated for decades. It is a group that in a recent study by Nobel Prize winner Angus Deaton and his wife Anne Case was found to have had an alarming spike between 1999 and 2013 in their mortality rate as their dreams of the good life vanished for themselves and their children

The study identifies various factors -- such as suicides, drug and alcohol addiction and increased occurrence of cirrhosis of the liver - as drivers of increased mortality rates. It did not attempt to explain what may have caused these factors to rise. Among the possible explanations are the staggering increase in use of painkillers and opioid drugs. This epidemic has transcended our cities and spread to both suburban and rural areas, where it is pervasive.

The data documents that the consequences of continued income inequality are even more devastating than imaged. Real costly solutions are needed to address the deep-seated economic problems faced by less-educated, less-tech skilled American workers who have suffered deeply due to accelerated automation. Instead what we have is a President who lowers the tax rate for the rich and powerful and who appeals to our darkest impulses - racism, bigotry, homophobia and xenophobia.

The Republican tax plan was pitched by House Speaker Paul Ryan as "providing real [tax] relief for people in the middle - and people who are also striving to get there." Instead, it slashed taxes for corporations by $1 trillion in its first ten years, radically cut taxes for those with large family fortunes, and is replete with tax loopholes favoring the connected. It did not address the most egregious aspects of corporate cronyism, special provisions of the tax code that allow private equity and hedge fund partners, among the wealthiest financiers on Wall Street, to pay the lower capital gains tax rather than the ordinary income tax rate, on large portions of their income.

Warren Buffett, one of the world's wealthiest people, pays federal taxes on 19% of his income because the bulk of it comes from unearned income on dividends and capital gains; his employees at Berkshire Hathaway pay around 33% federal taxes on their income. "How is this fair?" Buffet asked, "Regarding how little he pays in taxes compared to his employees. "How can this be right?" He added" "There's class warfare, all right, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning." Martin Luther King Jr. was on the mark when he said succinctly: "This country has socialism for the rich and rugged individualism for the poor."

The primary reason the system is rigged in favor of corporations and wealthy people is because the rich finance the campaigns of our elected representatives. As former Delaware Senator Ted Kauffman said at a lecture at Eagelton Institute of Politics it is "an unethical system even though we can't always find an explicit quid pro quo."

What is so mind-bogging is that the same folks who are obsessed with government wasting money on social welfare programs are generally oblivious to the fact the rich manipulate the rules of the game for their own advantage in the form of a tax code that is replete with tax loopholes, subsidies, depletion allowances and incentives that favor them.

There are only two ways to address the system's unresponsiveness to growing income inequality. You can either reduce the role that money plays in our election through public financing of elections or increase voter turnout in the United States. Unfortunately in light of the Supreme Court's ruling in the Citizen United Case, you can't do it by restricting campaign spending by corporations and other private groups.

An alternative approach is to try and spur anemic voter turnout nationwide and in New Jersey (39% turnout in the November election for Governor).

We could make voting made much easier by allowing online voting or by eliminating various barriers to voting that don't exist elsewhere in other countries, e.g., the disenfranchisement of felony. I realize that these efforts are anathema to most Republicans and the likelihood of bringing about these kinds of changes is minimal. For this reason, I'd recommend a different tactic that steals an idea from the charitable sector, which publicly recognizes donors, in their annual reports to encourage others to give.

I'd suggest we share whether you voted or not with your neighbors. Based on a pilot study of 180,000 households in Michigan in 2006, this shamming approach yielded dramatic increase in voter turnout. I think it's worth a try, since various studies have found that policies would change dramatically if significantly more people voted in our elections.