Inequality is not a “gap;” rather, it throws the economy “off kilter”

inequality scalesIn this article from Salon, communications researcher Anat Shenker-Osorio praises the growing attention to inequality but suggests one major change to how we communicate about it. Anat’s research shows that talking about inequality as a barrier, rather than a gap, is far more effective. Here’s an excerpt from her piece on why this is the case:

“Gap” may be short and easy to say, but it’s not persuasive. It suggests that the meteoric rise of a few people’s net worth has nothing to do with the insecurity meted out on the majority. As if, to paraphrase, “the rich and poor inhabit different economic universes.” This belies reality and basic arithmetic. It’s no coincidence that during the first two years of our economic upswing, while 93 percent of Americans had their household net worth cut by 4 percent, that remaining lucky 7 percent increased theirs by 28 percent. The money from the raise you didn’t get or your 401K that contracted didn’t disappear — somebody took it.

Further, the actual “gap” isn’t between the rich and the poor as we most commonly describe it. It’s between a handful of billionaires and the rest of us. At this point, it’s not just a 1 percent but a tiny fraction thereof that’s boarded personal jets to get miles away from their fellow Americans. But as much as they distance themselves and turn a blind eye, the economic devastation they create is real. There’s no canyon grand enough for them to separate themselves from the mess they’ve wrought not just on the have-nots but on the global economy.


On what works better, Anat suggests language that implies the broader economic harms of inequality:

This indicates that language like “destabilized” as well as “off kilter,” “out of whack” and so on is a more effective way to frame the problem. We need to underscore that we live in a single, connected, financial system that’s now completely off balance and thus can’t be expected to fly straight, much less pick up speed. No matter how much the rich wall off in their enclaves, we harm our cause when implying there are multiple self-contained economies. It’s time to insist that a handful of people having so much throws the entire system off course.

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