As Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz said: “[T]he extent to which the global economy and polity can be shaped in accord with our values and interests will depend, to a large extent, on how well our economic and political system is performing for most citizens.”
Given increasing evidence that the system is performing much better for wealthier citizens than for poorer ones, the US’ soft power seems bound to erode substantially.
Reducing inequality will require long-term, comprehensive solutions, such as fiscal-policy reforms that reward public investment in health and education without adding disincentives to an already cumbersome tax code. However, pursuing such measures requires significant political will, which the US seems to be lacking.
Indeed, given political paralysis at the national level, initiating a constructive debate about an issue as divisive and consequential as inequality will depend largely on the American public.
If more people recognized the constraints that inequality places on their future prospects, they would be likely to press policymakers to confront it. This would not only benefit the US; it would have a positive impact on global governance.
Americans have long prided themselves on their country’s status as the land of opportunity, a destination that people have endured immeasurable adversity to reach. A public-education campaign aimed at highlighting the challenges that inequality poses to the very foundation of this reputation is a low-risk first step toward reviving the US’ promise.
Carol Graham is Leo Pasvolsky senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and College Park professor at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy.
Copyright: Project Syndicate/Global Economic Symposium