Last Monday I promised a follow-up to Ask Little, and You Will Be Rewarded: Part One. The object of examination was a progressive platform originating in the political apparatus of New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio on the theme of reducing inequality. My interest is in considering what I take to be yawning substantive oversights in the platform.
I should repeat that I’m happy to see BdB breaking his own lance for this line of discussion, and others signing on. I don’t see anything in the list that I don’t like. What’s on point here is what is missing.
Lists like this are potentially endless, so I want to make clear I am not trying to edit at the margins. The frame is reducing inequality, so other good things, like eviscerating the defense budget, are not on point in this context.
If we’re talking about money, and aren’t we always, inequality could be reduced to tightening the distribution of income. This is not limited to raising the floor and lowering the ceiling, but to, for instance, reducing the distance between those at the 40th percentile and the 60th. I’d also note that the latter does not imply reducing the incomes of everybody above the median, though some haircuts will certainly be in order.
It is useful to start with the extremes, meaning floors and ceilings. On floors, the inevitable dilemma is that some people who aren’t working cannot. This will always be the case, not least in our current, slow-growth economy. I speak of the victims of welfare reform, those who fall through the holes of the safety net and never recover. Single persons without children, who are eligible for little in the way of public assistance. Those rotting away in barren institutional warehouses, the deinstitutionalized, the homeless.
Jesus would be interested in these people, even if our Christian loudmouths are not. What about our friends in the Big Apple? Not so much, I’m afraid. The two exceptions are references to supporting education, not prisons, and universal pre-K. The first is more of a cliché than a proposal, while the latter is very important but not immediately relevant to the least of thine. (And just to be difficult, some investment in prisons will be necessary to assist in the reintegration of our huge incarcerated population into society. Interestingly, Hillary Clinton’s recent speech on mass incarceration had more bite than this platform.) In 2012, there were more than 11 million below half the poverty line, mostly adult and mostly non-hispanic white. Maybe it’s time to re-racialize poverty.
Between 1995 and 2005, while overall child poverty declined significantly, the safety net became less effective at protecting children from deep poverty. The share of children living in deep poverty rose from 2.1 percent in 1995 to 3.0 percent in 2005.
The elephant in the room here is the dismal travesty of welfare reform, in which some Democrats remain invested. Who will speak of transforming the infernal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant into a national guaranteed income for those without independent means or access to Social Security?
All the huffing and puffing about economic growth, jobs, public investment, and liberal yadda yadda yadda is not relevant to this end of the income spectrum. It would be nice if such people were not trapped in a political ghetto, considered indefensible and beyond help.
I understand the politics look to be somewhere between difficult and impossible. We need some political genius to weigh in; the least we could expect is some reference to the plight of the forgotten by the hip progressives of New York City.
When I began writing this, I thought I would wrap it up in a second post. But it turns out I’m just getting started. Stay tuned.