The 99 percent movement protests are going global as more and more people seek to register their frustration with corporate greed and injust economic policies. Preferential tax treatment has helped drive the U.S. to its worst level of income inequality since the Great Depression, with the nation ranking more unequal than the Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, and Pakistan. Since 1979, “the gaps in after-tax income between the richest 1 percent of Americans and the middle and poorest fifths of the country more than tripled.”
America’s recognition of the indisputable level of inequality is forcing Republicans to back away from their condescending treatment of the “Occupy” protesters. Once concerned about these “growing mobs,” House Majority Eric Cantor (R-VA) is making an about-face. Today on Fox News Sunday, he told host Chris Wallace that the president and Republicans “agree that there is too much income disparity in this country.” Pointing to the public’s “complaint” about the unfair economic playing field, he insisted that Congress should rely on America’s wealthy “to take care of income disparity”:
CANTOR: We know in this country there is a complaint on the folks on the top end of the income scale that they make too much and folks on the end don’t make enough. We need to encourage those on the top income scale to create more jobs. We are about income mobility and that’s what we should be focused on to take care of the income disparity.
Relying solely on the wealthy to reduce income inequality seems woefully out of touch with reality. Numerous corporations are sitting on enormous profit, paying more to their CEOs than in taxes. Last year, CEO salaries increased by 27 percent while private worker wages increased by only 2 percent. This pattern will hardly help address the disparity.
What’s more, any concern that Cantor and Republican lawmakers have about income inequality seems to be about maintaining it. Cantor voted to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, tax cuts that “actually increased economic inequality by delivering more than half of their benefits in 2010 to the top 10 percent of earners, who make over $170,000 a year. In fact, 38 percent of the dollar benefits went to the top 1 percent of earners.” He champions (and co-sponsored) a reduction in the capital gains tax, another policy that helps drive income inequality.
These are just a few of the many positions — including promoting tax increases on the middle class while protecting the preferential treatment of the wealthy — that have driven the disparity he suddenly seems to care about. There’s no question that inequality is in need of attention, as increasing income inequality effectively suffocates economic growth. But if Cantor is serious about addressing this issue, he’ll have to change nearly all his policies to do it.