Matt Miller - The Archives

Inequality riddles
The Washington Post, January 15, 2014

We're poised this year for an extended debate on inequality in which the arguments will be entirely predictable. It'll be a national version of a game I used to play with friends when we were younger, in which if you looked at the headline and author of an op-ed in a major paper, you could pretty much recite the piece without reading it. As a foe of the extreme inequality that's corroding our democracy and weakening our economy, and a fan of boosting both the minimum wage and the earned income tax credit, I'm sometimes as guilty as the next pundit of this kind of laziness.

But the truth is that inequality has nuances that defy easy categorization. So before we all retreat to the comfort of our talking points, consider two of my favorite inequality riddles.

The first concerns a nagging question that people who fret about inequality ought to ask: If things are as awful as we think they are, why hasn't there been a broader revolt?

Yes, we had Occupy Wall Street two years ago, and fast-food workers have staged one-day strikes across the country more recently, but these protests feel more like angry gestures instead of a sustained uprising against a system that's rigged. With half of all jobs paying less than $35,000 a year, the wealthiest 400 Americans holding more assets than the bottom 150 million combined and the top sliver of earners enjoying nearly all the gains from growth in recent years, why have most Americans done