Trickle-down economics worked — for the wealthy
Over the last few decades, incomes have become disproportionately unequal. Large amounts of wealth are hoarded by the 1%, with trickle-down economics failing to provide shared gains we were promised. The average employee makes a small fraction of their executive counterparts.
We know America has terrible income and oligarchic-level wealth inequities. We know that Citizen’s United and other lobbying efforts make the wealthier voices louder.
As the rich get richer and poor get poorer (or stay poor), a rigidity formed. Lower income populations largely stay in lower income towns, jobs, and levels of education. Meanwhile, higher-income populations largely stay in gated neighborhoods, choose what education options are available via economic and geographic means, and enter higher-income vocational networks (i.e., “Hey, your dad helped me get this job!”).
But honestly, we already knew this information. What we fail to grasp is how income inequality shapes us psychologically — the wealthy and impoverished, alike. This level of economic stratification is decades in the making, but we are just beginning to see how this affects well-being and treatment of others. With huge differences in wealth and declining social-class mobility, an income-empathy gap has developed.
Income and wealthy inequality led to an empathy gap
Empathy is defined as the “ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” This feeling can occur with pets, family members, and even fictional characters from favorite novels. Empathy is built, maintained, and formed by our experiences in life. These feelings motivate us to volunteer at soup kitchens, donate to charities, and serve each other. The least empathic among us are traditionally called violent and/or antisocial, as they do not exhibit or understand the pain they cause to another (i.e., terrorists).
As incomes diverged and wealth generation stagnated for lower-income populations, this income-empathy gap widened. People in higher incomes now struggle to empathize and provide for lower-income groups. Propagated on every medium, statements by the fortunate few and privileged sound like this:
Poor people are poor because:
- “…they buy iPhones and eat out too much.”
- “…have too many children.”
- “…make terrible life choices.”
- “…they are lazy.”
Trust me, the list goes on, but it’s the same mythical vitriol — over and over again. I needn’t perpetuate and propagate these economic mad libs any further. While some may be lazy, frequent iPhone buyers, these messages typecast and discriminate — they’re only used to harm. The voices are judgmental and painful to those in lower-income populations. They’re pejorative and denigrating, and exemplify a true lack of empathy for someone suffering economically.
Poverty shaming doesn’t solve the problem
We know that negative voices can harm others, and yet we keep doing it. For instance, individuals with obesity and weight concerns frequently hear similar messages, which are fail to provide empathy:
- “Lose the weight fatty!”
- “Have you thought about putting down the Cokes?!”
- “You’re so fat!”
- “Thought about going on a diet any time soon?!”
The research suggests that when you fat shame, individuals don’t suddenly lose weight. In fact, they may gain more. Potentially, income and wealth shaming may do the same thing; thus, making it more difficult for an economically disenfranchised individual from making better choices.
Okay, so shaming doesn’t work, and yet privileged people are using these same tactics with lower-income populations. Why then must a well-off person denigrate, disable, hurt, harm, and verbally accost another? What motivates someone to yell flagrant economic “advice” to someone already struggling to make ends meet? How could they actually help another in need?
Unfortunately, these answers all trace back to the income-empathy gap. After decades of growing social-class stratification, income inequality, and wealth gaps, we are a country in need. But ironically we don’t need more wealth. Instead, America needs more empathy.
To steal and modify a line from Uncle Ben of Spiderman, “With great wealth comes great responsibility.” The economically well-off and privileged have a tremendous opportunity to help those disenfranchised — even beyond charitable giving. It starts with being able to reach out your hand to support another.
How to truly help impoverished and disenfranchised
If you’re wealthy, you may be upset that there are homeless people sitting outside your favorite restaurant. Just know that yelling at that individual to “get a job” won’t ever help as much as providing tax revenue for mental health services, job training and placement offices, and drug and alcohol treatment centers. Just know that typecasting a “ghetto” or “lower-income neighborhood” as a bunch of hoodlums will never help as much as serving that community’s churches, food banks, and schools.
Potentially (and hopefully), if our income-empathy gap closes, so to will the income and wealth gaps. We have a terrific opportunity to change the status quo and shed these antiquated ideals for something better.
We live in a great, prosperous nation that was created for us all — the present person and future immigrant. By closing these gaps, we will all benefit.