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Of Obama and inequality

 

Those looking for big, sweeping changes from the man soon to be our next president may want to consider the following. 

Writing today in the New York Times Book Review, history professor Alan Brinkley takes note of how the American economy, about 35 years ago, "began to move onto a different path .... it began to concentrate income and wealth in the upper brackets . . .

This was not a product solely, or even primarily, of government policy, but part of a global shift in the ways markets worked. But American public policy through most of the subsequent years not only tolerated, but actively promoted, this growing inequality. Over time, the new concentration of wealth came to be seen by its beneficiaries, and by much of the political world, as a great source of investment and growth; and those who challenged that claim were often accused of “class warfare.”

The progressives who have hitched their wagons to Barack Obama’s star want many things from him. But among the most important of their hopes is for a shift in how wealth and income are distributed. There are many vehicles available for pursuing this goal — tax policy, minimum wage, public support for education and health care, and a wide range of other programs eagerly supported by newly mobilized liberals. But undoing the forces that have created a generation of mounting inequality will not easily give way to incremental solutions. One of the great triumphs of Obama’s campaign and election is that he has made it possible to believe that such accomplishments are within the nation’s reach. One of the great dangers of his victory is that it may have created expectations far beyond what any one man, or even any one nation, can realistically hope to achieve.

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