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How to Really Rein In the Super Rich


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Thomas Piketty is right—inequality is on the rise. But until Wall Street gets out of Washington, neither the French economist nor regular Americans will be able to shift the status quo

The rules of the game that currently incentivize unequal distribution will never change unless the people making those rules, the people seated at the tables of power, change as well:

Tolbert shared his own story, one only made possible by state-funded HIV medications that are constantly threatened by budget cuts.Tolbert works as a peer health educator but is paid so little that he qualifies for public supports.  Recently, even those few public benefits were taken away because Tolbert transitioned from supportive housing to independent living—a move you would think everyone would be in favor of, but which meant Tolbert’s government health benefits being jeopardized.  He’s currently fighting to have them reinstated.  

“Big corporations and the rich are fine with people like me dying,” said Tolbert.  “The only problem with that is I’m not ready to die.” 

And while for Bobby Tolbert, public supports literally make the difference between life and death, the situation is pretty much as dire for millions of Americans who increasingly rely on food stamps and Medicaid and housing assistance to survive. At the same time our deliberately and aggressively unequal economy has pushed millions more Americans toward poverty and they need more help than ever, conservative corporate elites are pushing for public assistance to be slashed. Tolbert agrees with Piketty — and the majority of American voters — about taxing the wealthy to spread assistance and opportunity to the poor and working class. 

But Tolbert argues for something that Piketty and most of the academic and political debate about inequality seem to miss — that the nature of our economy, the rules of the game that currently incentivize unequal distribution, will never change unless the people making those rules, the people seated at the tables of power, change as well. In other words, as long as economic policy decisions are made by Wall Street and their proxies (see, e.g., Treasury Secretaries Robert Rubin, Henry Paulson and Timothy Geithner) then Thomas Piketty’s ideas won’t be included in the discussion, let alone Bobby Tolbert’s.

What he fails to see is that it's very, very hard to dislodged the entrenched power of the current system.

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