The Price Of Inequality: Part 2

In chapters 4-7 of The Price of Inequality, Stigitz concentrates on the importance of inequality, the fragility of democracy, influence and propaganda, and the rule of law.  Here, he continues to utilize sweeping generalities but fails to analyze those generalities in detail.  In fact, he uses some of the same tactics that have been used to characterize propagandists and the “opposition” since WWI.

He admits that unequal societies do not function, citing examples in Latin America in the 20th century, stating that the United States is growing dangerously close to such crises, but he fails to consider the inequality of late 19th and early 20th century United States where strikers, union activists, and protestors were routinely the victims of government-sanctioned violence and murder The refusal to acknowledge the commemoration of the Haymarket Massacre as International Labour Day is just one such an example.

This current inequality is creating reluctance in the wealthy to reinvest causing a further gap between rich and poor, causing corporations to become more apathetic and rely more heavily upon lobbying to receive what they perceive as “fair” treatment.  Lobbyists are not new; they have existed as long as government has.  Government is too bloated and large for an individual member of Congress to actually have time to research each piece of individual legislation.  Walter Lippmann once stated that, “The cleverest and most industrious representative cannot hope to understand a fraction of the bills on which he votes.  The best he can do is specialize on a few bills, and takes somebody’s word on the rest.”1

He elaborates in chapter 5 that democracy is in peril of losing one-man one vote and many voters are disillusioned that their vote does not count.  I would posit that many voters have believed this for decades, which would account for the decline in turnout over several decades.  However, his point about the decreasing trust in government to perform basic functions that ensure that social capital is kept in tact is valid when one considers the bank bailout that accomplished nothing but the lining of bankers’ pockets instead of stimulating our economy.

In chapter 6 he discusses the perception of propaganda as perpetuated by the “other,” explaining that it is a perception of inequality vs. reality and a framing of misperceptions determined by owners of the media.  While the later is true, he fails to acknowledge that this perception of propaganda as the “other” has been present in the United States since the first world war, and unfortunately it has never left, causing us to label the word propaganda as a dirty word.   Glenn Beck famously discussed the influence of Bernays in his show in early 2011 but he failed to separate the word from the propaganda that the word has suffered since its introduction.2

In chapter 5 as well as 7, he discusses democracy and the rule of law. Granted banks are now practicing what our forefathers suffered in debtors prisons and that is a danger that is putting democracy in peril when the law applies to one but does not apply to another.  He protests the extreme forms of freedom of speech that corporations engage in with donations and political speech.  In its extreme, the results can be considered insidious but it has a long history.  He also cites disillusionment in the political process as if voting is the only form of speech, and he ironically fails to acknowledge the first amendment political speech of Occupy Wall Street.  Though many of his arguments are valid, his sweeping generalizations continue to fall short of the mark.

Source:  Stiglitz, J. (2012). The Price Of Inequality [Amazon Kindle version]. New York: W.W. Norton.

1. Lippmann, W. (1997). The Role of Force, Patronage, and Privilege. In Public Opinion (p. 183).

2. Beck, G. (2013, January 13). Who is Edward Bernays? – Glenn Beck. Glenn Beck. Retrieved from http://www.glennbeck.com/2011/01/13/footnotes-research-from-tv-1132011/