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An “Egalitarian” Responds

by Paul Bass | Nov 14, 2011 5:06 pm

(8) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Campaign 2012

U.S. Senate hopeful Chris Murphy brought a question to New Haven—one that we’ll be hearing often in the next year, in Connecticut, and around the country.

Murphy summarized the question this way: “Whether we’re going to have a middle class or not” in America.

Then he offered a longer version, one to which Democratic and Republican candidates for federal office can give genuinely different responses: What’s the best way for government to close the inequality gap?

Murphy gave his answer at length to two dozen students gathered in Yale’s Dwight Hall last Thursday evening. He expects to keep fielding the question over and over as he runs for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Joe Lieberman. He expects his opponents to keep fielding it. He expects candidates for Senate and Congress all across the U.S. to keep fielding it in the 2012 campaign season, which now begins in earnest in Connecticut.

“That will be the defining argument,” Murphy told the students, as he paced back and forth nonstop in front of a dormant fireplace during a 45-minute campaign stop before the Yale College Democrats. “I’m happy to have it.”

The open Senate seat has already attracted a field of prominent candidates mounting energetic campaigns. Linda McMahon (who ran for the state’s other seat two years ago) and former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays are vying for the Republican nomination. Besides Murphy, the Democratic field includes former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz and state Sen. William Tong.

“I think we’re making a fundamental choice in the policies that we set and the tax rates that we write and the investments that we choose to make or not make as to whether we’re going to recede into a world where we have 5 percent haves and 95 percent have-nots,” Murphy said in his New Haven visit. He noted that inflation-adjusted real income has stayed flat for 99 percent of U.S. families over the past 40 years, while the top 1 percent’s has risen 300 percent. He noted that the country’s richest 400 families have more wealth than the bottom 100 million.

“I don’t begrudge those 400 people. They didn’t steal the money. They played by the rules,” insisted the clean-cut Congressman from Connecticut’s Fifth District. “I want more people” to have the opportunity to make a better living by “revising the tax code” (raising taxes on the wealthy) in order to make government “investments” in education, infrastructure (roads, bridges, mass transit), and emerging industries.

Republican candidates for federal office have repeatedly argued that the government needs to lessen regulation on business and cut taxes in order to free up money for the private sector to create jobs.

Meanwhile, an influential conservative magazine, the Weekly Standard, is urging Republican candidates to take a bolder position on inequality rather than cede the argument to the Democrats by accepting the premises of the Occupy Wall Street movement (which Murphy praised Thursday night for raising important issues” and, he said he hopes, “remind[ing] Democrats who we should be fighting for”). To the Standard, the question isn’t how government should go about reducing inequality, but rather whether it should.

A Standard editorial in the issue out the same week as Murphy’s visit argued: “The way out is to reject the assumption that government’s purpose is to redress inequalities of income. Inequalities of condition are a fact of life. Some people will always be poorer than others. So too, human altruism will always seek to alleviate the suffering of the destitute. There is a place for reasonable and prudent actions to improve well-being. But that does not mean the entire structure of our polity should be designed to achieve an egalitarian ideal. Such a goal is fantastic, utopian even, and one would think that the trillions of dollars the United States has spent in vain over the last 50 years to promote ‘equality as a fact and equality as a result’ would give the egalitarians pause.”

Paul Bass Photo Murphy was asked about that argument. (Click on the play arrow at the top of this story to watch him respond.) He insisted he doesn’t seek to “confiscate” wealth or redistribute it. Rather, he said, he supports creating “wealth generators.” He argued that history (the post World War II era) shows that building infrastructure and boosting schools and enabling more people to attend college leads to millions of new jobs—in the private sector.

He called it a myth that government growth has led to recession. The government spends about the same percentage of the gross domestic product that it did in 1980, he said. What has changed: tax rates are at a 60-year-low.

“There are more people living in poverty today than ever before. There are more children going to bed hungry,” Murphy said. “Yeah, we’re always going to have the poverty. We’re always going to have the poorest 10 percent of Americans. But it’s not the case that we can’t have less people that are poor …. ... Listen. Trickle-down economics, which is the essential backbone of their tax theory ... has been debunked. .. If there was a correlation between the amount of regulation you have and the strength of your middle class, Sub-Saharan Africa would have the strongest middle class in the world. Our regulatory system has ... built our middle class. It hasn’t weakened it.”

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posted by: streever on November 14, 2011  5:49pm

I think that there is a logical fallacy in Paul’s opening question (but I don’t lay the blame for it at his feet—it is a question asked by other reporters too).

The fallacy is the Conservatives argument—the fallacy assumes that we give out the opportunity for equality.

We absolutely do not. A poor child who grows up in an economically depressed neighborhood and is worried about being shot does not have the same opportunities that I had growing up in a quiet town.

I don’t have the same opportunities that a middle class child had growing up in a rich suburb.

We don’t—we absolutely do not—have the same opportunities. For Conservatives to pose the question that way shows a serious bias which has flawed their understanding of economics and public policy.

posted by: anon on November 14, 2011  6:10pm

In the 1970s, when income inequality was far lower, a child born into a poor family poverty had a 20% chance of remaining in poverty as an adult.

Today, a child born into a poor family has a 60% chance of remaining in poverty.

Opportunity is nowhere near what it used to be just a few years ago.

The question isn’t about a black or white level of “equality,” it is about whether we currently promote a sense of opportunity for all citizens.

The fact is, if we do not, our entire economy is going to take a major hit.  Students with no opportunity will not study.  Adults with no opportunity will not be happy, healthy or productive.  Look at how our country is doing on the health and education indices worldwide. 

The remedy to our problems is as plain as day.

posted by: iamjh on November 14, 2011  7:22pm

The most relevant and clear correlation statistically as to what has happened to the middle class in this country is between income levels and unionization rates.  Unions are the best, most dependable instrument for helping regulate distribution of wealth between employers and employees.  Higher unionization also links with more equitable tax rates and spending on education and job creation and other government policies that foster middle class growth. 
This can be seen not only historically but in the statistical differences between states with high and low union density.
The erosion of labor laws, plus the absence of any regulation on the export of jobs, even those dependent on tax dollars, has eviscerated the labor movement and led to our current situation.
Workers do not need to be “given” more equity; we can win it ourselves if labor law would untie our hands and take the club away from the boss.

posted by: du Tremblay on November 14, 2011  9:36pm

@ streever - it’s worse than that, it’s a tautological argument, and Bass recreates it faithfully.  And Murphy responds admirably.  Not generally a fanboy, but if he keeps this up, he’ll have no trouble winning.

The question really is not how to get there, the choice is whether we want to have a middle class or not.

posted by: Threefifths on November 14, 2011  10:10pm

Then he offered a longer version, one to which Democratic and Republican candidates for federal office can give genuinely different responses: What’s the best way for government to close the inequality gap?

Give the people the same benfits that the crooked two party system benfit from.


Congress: Trading stock on inside information?
November 13, 2011 4:02 PM


http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7388130n&tag=re1.galleries


He called it a myth that government growth has led to recession. The government spends about the same percentage of the gross domestic product that it did in 1980, he said. What has changed: tax rates are at a 60-year-low

Wake up he is selling snake oil.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ww2JEQXezhA

posted by: Threefifths on November 14, 2011  10:17pm

That will be the defining argument,” Murphy told the students, as he paced back and forth nonstop in front of a dormant fireplace during a 45-minute campaign stop before the Yale College Democrats. “I’m happy to have it.”

I wonder how many of those Yale College Democrats are part of the Order of the Skull and Bones?

posted by: Bill on November 15, 2011  11:53am

He doesn’t explain how raising taxes will create a middle class. Investments in Education and Infrastructure were done in the trillion dollar stimulus package and it did not help the middle class nor the unemployed. It’s more democrat B.S. Raising taxes and government spending will NOT create jobs. Murphy probably hasn’t noticed the economic problems of Greece and Italy. There is a world wide recession as a result of over spending. Thinking the U.S. acting alone can solve this is quite naive.

posted by: Tom Burns on November 15, 2011  11:05pm

You are a breath of fresh air Chris—you have my support and if I can help in any way give me a holler—Tom

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