The Strange Death of Domestic Policy

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), July 29, 2011 | Go to article overview
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The Strange Death of Domestic Policy

This week the fiscal crisis was momentarily interrupted for a public service announcement.

The Pew Research Center issued a report showing that the racial disparity in net worth -- the wealth gap in America -- is growing. People of every background saw their assets decline during the Great Recession, but the liquidation was faster among African-Americans and Hispanics.

This is hardly surprising. Lower-income groups have more of their wealth concentrated in homeownership; higher-income Americans are more diversified in their assets. The housing collapse took a disproportionate toll on minority wealth.

Current economic distress is compounding a long-term problem. In the absence of assets, unemployment can lead to dramatic downward mobility. And the consequences accelerate over time, since wealth is often used to purchase quality education for children, a source of upward mobility.

This kind of problem is the reason liberals were created. At its best, liberalism has been about something more than making a progressive tax code slightly more progressive. It brought equal opportunity to the forefront of American politics -- Robert Kennedy drawing attention to Appalachia, Sargent Shriver founding Head Start, Bill Clinton expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit. "We can perhaps remember," said RFK, "if only for a time, that those who live with us are our brothers; that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek, as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness."

Few liberals talk like that today. Conservatives, however, also have a contribution to make in addressing the wealth disparity, intended or not. They are the only ones currently calling attention to a massive structural problem that will make serious social policy nearly impossible in the future.

The trajectory of American debt, by nearly universal admission, is unsustainable.

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