Where's the Money?; Our View; Recognizing ' the Defining Issue of Our Time.'; OPINION

St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), January 27, 2013 | Go to article overview
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Where's the Money?; Our View; Recognizing ' the Defining Issue of Our Time.'; OPINION


In last weeks parliamentary elections in Israel, the biggest surprise was the showing of the Yesh Atid party headed by a handsome and charismatic former television journalist named Yair Lapid.

Centrist candidates from Yesh Atid won 19 of 120 seats, enough to make the party a force that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will have to deal with. And while interest in Israeli politics in the United States tends to focus on security issues, Mr. Lapids campaign slogan, Wheres the money? focused on a domestic issue: income inequality.

This is the big question asked by Israels middle class, the same sector on whose behalf I am going into politics, he wrote in a newspaper column as he kicked off his campaign. Wheres the money? Why is it that the productive sector, which pays taxes, fulfills its obligations, performs reserve duty and carries the entire country on its back, doesnt see the money?

Wheres the money? would be an excellent slogan for President Barack Obama to adopt, too. The trouble would be in making it more than a slogan.

Mr. Obama already has called income inequality the defining issue of our time. He did so in December 2011 in a widely praised speech in Osawatomie, Kan., where he claimed Theodore Roosevelts mantle of progressivism. He repeated his assertion a month later in his State of the Union speech. His re-election campaign dealt consistently with the theme of too few haves and too many have-nots.

In his inaugural address Monday, the president said, We, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it. We believe that Americas prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class.

Mr. Obama is a pragmatist. He will take what he can get from a divided Congress. In 2010, that meant extending the Bush tax cuts for two years. On New Years Day, that meant a tax increase on the top 0.7 percent of taxpayers, not the top 2 percent.

But now what? Where does he go from here on the defining issue of our time? Wheres the money?

The latest Internal Revenue Service wage data are from 2011. An analysis released last week by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute shows that wages for the top 1 percent of wage-earners fell during 2007, early in the recession. But they recovered nicely, growing by 8.2 percent from 2009 through 2011.

Wage-earners between the 90th and 99th percentile also saw their paychecks recover. But those in the bottom 90 percent saw wages fall by 1.2 percent in 2009-2011.

In 2007, the top 1 percent of wage-earners took home 14.1 percent of all wages. In 2009, their share decreased to 12.2 percent. By the end of 2011, their share had recovered to 13.1 percent.

Meanwhile, the bottom 90 percent took home just 61.2 percent of all wages in 2011, about the same share as in 2007.

This is just paycheck revenue.

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