If I were to reduce to a bumper sticker the way the left thinks about the world these days, it would read:
If I were to reduce to a bumper sticker the way the right thinks about the same subject, it would read:
Inequality happens for a reason
This is not a small distinction. For President Obama, inequality is the public policy issue du jour. And like lemmings, left wing editorial writers and bloggers can think of nothing else to write about. But here is something that may surprise you. The most interesting analyses of the problem are on the right, not the left. For the most part, all the left does is deplore. They seem to have no interest in understanding why we have a problem. (I have a theory on that below.)
By contrast, both Charles Murray and Tyler Cowen argue that problematic change is occurring: the middle is disappearing and people are gravitating into the upper and lower strata of society. For Murray the reason is behavioral. For Cowen, it is technological.
It isn't that left-of-center scholars are ignoring these things. Work is being done by economists at the Brookings Institution, for example. But you are more likely to learn of this work in a David Brooks column than in one by Paul Krugman, Nicolas Kristof or Robert Frank — three other New York Times columnists who write about inequality frequently.
Let's start with Murray, who says we are experiencing an ever widening cultural divide. As summarized in a previous post:
Upper-middle class professional types may pretend that they are cultural relativists, accepting of whatever lifestyle their fellow human beings happen to choose. In reality, they live by old fashioned puritan values, however. They get married and stay married. They work hard and work long hours.
Not so for the blue collar, never-got-beyond-high-school class, however. A shocking number aren't even working at all. Many are not getting married in the first place. Of those that get married, the divorce and separation rates are soaring.