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January 25, 2014

Column: Can U.S. lead in solving income inequality?


Oddly, many Americans traditionally have not been worried about the gap between rich and poor, although Mitt Romney found out that you have to be careful how you express your views on this. Nonetheless, there still is a wide belief in the United States that if you work hard and play by the rules, whatever they are now, you, too, can become rich, although the recent attention to the plight of the working poor in fast-food restaurants may be changing that.

The question is what do we do about the growing gap between rich and poor?

The pope thinks capitalism is at fault, but in the United States that idea has as much appeal as a mashed potato sandwich.

Obama is far less radical. Put simply, he wants to change the fact that the richest people in America (such as Romney) pay the lowest tax rates. Obama wants to equalize education opportunity so that the poor have an equal chance of being as well educated as the rich. And he wants to make certain that the poor have the same access to health care as the rich.

Once we all thought like that, except for the robber barons. But not now. Not in this decade. To many, such ideas sound like socialism. Or big government. Or too European to be sanctioned.

One bit of good news is that the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, this month has declared that economic inequality is a serious risk to human progress that will create social instability and threatens global security. This means even the really rich are starting to “get it.”

One would hope that America, which has done so much to show the world how to create prosperity, would lead the way to solving the increasingly serious problem of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986.

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