But instead of concentrating on how much wealth, investments and savings people at the higher-income scale have accumulated, we should be focusing on how to open up opportunities for wealth creation among those at the median-income level or below. There are a number of ways to help workers save, invest and earn more income. Here are a few:
Stop taxing the interest on ordinary savings (outside of IRAs and other tax-free methods), and start offering paycheck mechanisms for workers to save more. One proposal sitting on the back burners in Congress would establish automatic savings accounts that small businesses would offer to any worker they hire. The money would be automatically withheld, as employers do now for payroll taxes, and deposited into a special tax-free account that each employee would own and take with them whenever they change jobs.
Notably, the idea of establishing universal IRA-style savings accounts for all workers cuts across ideological lines. Both the conservative Heritage Foundation and the liberal Brookings Institution are jointly promoting the idea. It is estimated that tens of millions of workers who now save nothing would see their automatic savings accounts grow substantially over their working lives, helping to narrow the wealth and income gap.
The reason wealthier people are wealthy is because they own stocks and bonds. More Americans below the median-income levels can own stocks and bonds, too, if we let them put a small portion of their Social Security withholding into personal-investment accounts, as President Bush has proposed.
Here's another idea being pushed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney:
Abolish the capital-gains tax on stocks and dividends for people in the bottom tax brackets to encourage them to invest and keep more of their gains.
Actually, the capital-gains tax should be abolished for everyone because it has been achieved with money that was already taxed as income, but that faces huge political obstacles from the pro-tax, anti-growth Democrats in Congress. But I'll bet even Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel, the chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, would support Romney's plan for his Harlem, N.Y., constituents.
Many, if not most, American workers are doing well in this economy. But there are too many who aren't because of tax and regulatory obstacles to higher rates of economic expansion, job growth and savings needed to create wealth and boost incomes.
The next great worker-reform movement will demand that we tear down these obstacles to those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder.