As income inequality in America has grown over the last 30 years (for a detailed account of how this has happened, click here or see Hacker and Pierson’s “Winner Take All Politics”), the prevailing sentiment is that such income inequality is inevitable– the result of globalization, or the ultimately fair and benevolent outcome of competitive markets at work. Hacker and Pierson challenge the prevailing sentiment in their book; the “Occupy” crowd is challenging the prevailing sentiment by protesting.
My personal interest is not to see Wall Street come crashing down (I’m too much on the “winner” side– by luck, not skill– to hope for that); nor am I interested in the equality of economic outcomes (people who are uncommonly creative or industrious ought to be rewarded)– but I am interested in the good of American democracy and the long-term viability– if not flourishing– of American society. Too much income inequality skews the democratic process (as moneyed interests buy disproportionate influence); a government too far removed from the needs of the many leaks the legitimacy it needs, in order to maintain the political stability that fosters creativity and innovation in the longer term. While income inequality can be socially useful, too much income inequality creates a braking effect, as economic insecurity and its resulting anxieties erode the trust, confidence, and hope of all but the few at the top, and those connected to them.
Parallels have been drawn between the “Occupy” crowd and the Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. These comparisons should not be overdrawn; still, one virtue is shared by these movements at their best: the virtue of hope. The God of the Older and Newer Testaments is a God who continually works surprising and life-affirming new beginnings for people who have labored in a world where the future is no different than the monotonous, enervating present. Hope, in this God, opens possibilities for a different future.
It would be irresponsible and foolish for anyone to say what, if anything, God is doing in Egypt, in Tunisia, or on Wall Street. God reveals Herself in Her own good time. The hope, then, is that in the fullness of time– when the account is made– we can say that we chose life: life shared and life generous; life in abundant and life unafraid– life with creative possibilities for all.