Sunday, July 8, 2012

Class War?: What Americans Really Think about Economic Inequality, by Benjamin I. Page, Lawrence R. Jacobs

University of Chicago Press, ISBN 9780226644554, April 2009

Page and Jacobs argue that there is, in fact, no "class war" brewing in America--that in fact a philosophically conservative American public, in a natural fidelity to fundamental American values of hard work, independence, basic fairness, and equality of opportunity, broadly favors some pragmatically "liberal" government policies. Those policies include public education, progressive taxation, food stamps, and other economic support programs that make it possible for the poor to maintain themselves and those born into poor families to have a genuine opportunity to achieve better lives. Merely saying, "you can do it if you work hard enough," is not enough. For our egalitarian values to mean anything, they have to be backed up by access to the tools that a talented and determined young person can really use to achieve success.

This won't be a welcome message to everyone. We have some politicians who are deeply invested in the idea that the rich resent taxation, and that the middle class resent any money spent on the poor. Page and Jacobs questioned that, and decided to dig into the question in the most pragmatic possible way: looking at, and analyzing, polls on social and economic issues conducted over the last seventy years, plus a new, large-scale, comprehensive poll, on the same questions, using the same wording. What they found is startling: We are not divided on party lines, or economic lines, or social class lines, or geographic lines. In both major parties, all economic classes, and every region of the country, Americans favor both individualism and self-reliance, as well as public intervention to make the "playing field" fair enough to give everyone a real opportunity for success if they work at it. Across economic, geographic, and ideological lines, most Americans support a higher minimum wage, improved public education, wider access to health insurance coverage, and the use of tax dollars to fund these programs. Why? Because you don't have a realistic, fair shot at success, no matter how hard you're willing to work, if you can't get a decent education, or if you can't get medical care when you're sick, or if working full-time at a minimum wage job doesn't provide you the security and stability to save, get more education or training, and take that next step up the ladder.


I received a free electronic copy of this book from the publisher.

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