Economic Inequality and American Democracy

Increasing economic inequality in America has recently reached its highest levels since the days of the “Roaring ‘ZOS‘K In Page and Jacobs‘ investigative book, titled Class War? It is argued that the wealth distribution among the citizens of the United States has dramatically changed due to three main influences. First, the income gap between the wealthy and poor has been constantly widening since the mid-19705 and as a result, the middle class has been shrinking Secondly, the majority of the country‘s wealth is going into the pockets of the very richest.

Reports show that in 2012 the richest 1% of Americans earned 19% of the country’s entire wealth and the top 10% earned a whopping 482% of the country’s wealth. Lastly, the American “wealth” gap is even larger than the American income gap, meaning the richest citizens not only have a massive portion of the country’s physical money but even more of the country’s valuable assets which include fine art, real estate, etc.

In midst of this widening wage gap, the slowing of occupational mobility, and the disappearance of the American Dream, not only are most citizens of the United States experiencing undeserved consequences, but democracy itself is slipping from America’s grasp. This notion of unstable democracy can best be seen at the very bottom of America’s wealth distribution, where those who are poor understand inequality in all aspects of life. Poor Americans are experiencing times of hardship like never before and a feeling of stagnation with nowhere to go, whether that be seemingly unemployable or just stuck in low-skilled and underpaid jobs Poverty stricken citizens now amount to 46 million Americans who rely on unsatisfactory government assistance and whose hard work is rarely rewarded according to a documentary titled The Line, which helps to reveal America’s terrific poverty problem.

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Another example of the near-impossible conditions faced by those in poverty comes from Barbara Ehrenreich’s ethnographical journal where she places herself into the world of poverty as a scientific experiment. Between long hours, horrible working environments, and underpayment, Ehrenreich was pushed to the point of surrender. Her journal makes it clear that reform is needed especially at the very bottom, as further government subsidy would be a huge step in eventually providing those in poverty with equal opportunities to become successful. However, in Anne Phillips’ Which Equalities Matter? she challenges that “A society premised on citizen equality is poorly served by welfare policies that target the poor as objects of compassion and treat them as a category apart.”6 She then goes on to reject her own statement explaining that this would not be a violation of democracy because if welfare is needed in such an extreme situation then the only real problem is the rich people who are creating the “segregation” of classes to begin with.

Phillips’ egalitarian questioning and solving of this problem best benefits the country as a whole and holds most true to America’s promised democracy, where the government is chosen by and stands behind it’s people. In opposition, those of inegalitarian thought seek rationalizations of America’s economic inequality. Perhaps the most common of all disputes is that “inequality is actually good. Rewarding some much more than others is a necessary feature of market economics since it generates n7 incentives for effort The term “American Dream” derives from an explanation parallel to this one, in that one’s hard work would be rewarded monetarily via the market system and this reward would then provide an incentive to keep working harder and for others to also do the same.

A system of such naturally segregates the hard-working rich, the average and vast middle class, and the slacking poor. Inequality would exist in a healthy and fair manner where mobility to rise or fall in class would be determined by the choices of the citizens. This is what the American Dream was, and it partially defined American democracy, where equality itself was the great equalizer. Unfortunately, the American Dream no longer exists, and therefore this dispute falls short of justification. America is old, its constitution is outdated in many ways, and its traditions such as the American Dream follow a similar trend American‘s are raised with completely different backgrounds, are presented with unique opportunities throughout their lives, and can often be lost in an outdated world where the circumstances surrounding them have greatly helped to determine their destiny. Nothing about this sense of predetermination exemplifies the American Dream or democracyi Another inegalitarian dispute is seen in William Sumner‘s.

What Social Classes Owe To Each Other where he critically says “The man who has done nothing to raise himself above poverty finds that the social doctors flock about him, bringing the capital which they have collected from the other class, and promising him the aid of the State to give him what the other had to work for.”’ Sumner disapproves of this basic welfare system in that it provides an incentive for people to not work or not try hard in life, I would also agree with Sumner while staying true to his words “who has done nothing” and assuming the “man” was mentally and physically capable of doing “something”. However, as was made clear in the documentary.

The Line, it is more common to see hard-working and motivated people in poverty that are stuck in an economy of limited mobility, but who do deserve to live on the other side of the line. Sumner generally thinks that an inegalitarian-based system would be more beneficial as it provides incentives to work hard and a natural class system would be fairly sorted out. However Sumner, and inegalitarians alike, need to incorporate his beliefs into current-day America, where opportunities are rarely “equal” and classes have been carefully molded over decades. In conclusion, through the evidence explained above and through the examined writings of egalitarian- and inegalitarian-minded scholars, it can be seen that America’s recent increase in economic inequality has put the country’s very own democracy in jeopardy. When the Founding Fathers framed the Constitution and signed the Declaration of independence a promise to America and to her people was made, “that all men are created equal.”

The foundation behind this “equality” was the formation of a “representative democracy” which James Madison outlines in his work titled Federalist No. A system of democracy and promises of equality were ideal for America and helped to develop her into the world’s “superpower”, however it has been most clear since the days of the 1960‘s Civil Rights Movement that America’s binding documents have failed to remain true, Martin Luther Kind Jr. makes clear in his I Have a Dream speech that “It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned.“0 Additionally, the American Constitution falls short in it‘s promises of democracy as Robert A. Dahl points out in his work, titled How Democratic Is The American Constitution ?. Dahl questions the Constitution by asking why America should stand by a document that not only is over two hundred years old, but which was even signed by slave owners.

Also, if the American Constitution is a good model for democracy then “why haven‘t other democratic countries copied it?” Dahl asks.“ Questions of this caliber help reveal the fact that the very documents that define and bind America are intrinsically flawed. America is constantly changing yet her founding documents have rarely been adjusted to cope with that change, A cycle like this has led America into years of deep-rooted racial, social, and economic inequality. However, although such unfortunate circumstances have plagued the majority of American people, it can be seen that all types and classes of citizens recognize the extent of the problem and show signs of desired reform Page and Jacobs argue that sufficient evidence in their studies “show that majorities of Americans majorities of Republicans as well as Democrats, and majorities of the affluent as well as middle- and lower-income earners— see economic inequality in the United ” States as having become excessive. It is this type of collective thinking and awareness that has the potential to drive America in a more promising direction. It is up to the American people and government to take steps in reestablishing the democracy that had been set up for failure from the beginning and that has nearly disappeared as a result of the recent economical inequality.

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Economic Inequality and American Democracy. (2023, Mar 10). Retrieved from

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