A teach-in hosted by the UC Berkeley Labor Center Wednesday entitled “Economic Inequality Teach In: Causes, Consequences and Solutions,” featured some of the campus’s prominent economic and political thinkers and social justice activists analyzing the causes and consequences of injustices that continue to exist.
Solutions to growing economic inequality include raising taxes on the wealthy, increasing the income tax subsidy and investing in education starting with early childhood, campus public policy professor and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich said in his keynote speech.
“There needs to be a political force, movements don’t happen overnight,” Reich said. “People in America suffer from attention deficit movement disorder; we expect everything to happen quickly and if we don’t see something happen in six months we say it is not going to happen, which is not true.”
Reich and the other speakers referenced the Occupy Wall Street movement as an instrument of change.
A mixed crowd of local adults, academics, students and professors attended the teach-in and gave generally positive responses to the keynote speakers’ liberal economic ideas.
In his speech, UC Berkeley economics professor and Director of the Center for Equitable Growth Emmanuel Saez said the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans have increased their income by 58 percent between 1993 to 2010, while the bottom 99 percent has only had an income increase of just over 6 percent in the same period.
When the economy started to recover in 2009-10, the increased profit was captured by the 1 percent at the expense of the 99 percent, Saez said.
Sylvia Allegretto, a labor economist and deputy chair of the campus Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics, gave a presentation called “American Dream: Fraying of the Folklore” that refuted the reality of what she characterized as the chief ideals of the American Dream: “rags to riches,” “meritocracy,” the “free market” and “government not being a solution.”
“The reason they call it the American Dream is because you have to be asleep to believe it,” Allegretto said, quoting author George Carlin.
The American Dream helps create the illusion that inequality is just an economic reality of globalization, argued Paul Pierson, the campus John Gross Professor of Political Science.
“The Tea Party rewards and punishes politicians, you have to shift their incentives and that is where the Occupy movement can learn from the Tea Party movement,” Pierson said.
However, Saez said progressive taxation is necessary to bridge the disparity in income in the United States and in a globalized world will require international coordination. This taxation would only become a reality if citizens are convinced that the exuberant incomes of the 1 percent are detrimental to society, he added.
“Get on this train as it emerges from the station, because it is the most important set of issues that we face in our country today,” Reich said about fighting economic inequality.