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Income Inequality, American Apathy

Google "was Occupy Wall Street successful" and you get millions of results. The answer depends on metrics. Was the goal of #Occupy to spur a discussion about income inequity -- no small thing -- or shine a light on perfidy of the banks? Both were undeniable outgrowths of the movement. What didn't happen, and what Occupy wasn't quite able to accomplish, was a significant shift in public's opinion about the class disparity.

That, at least, is one way to interpret a recent Gallup poll:

The optimistic take: That the Randian view -- of the wealthy, superior producer  -- has not set the world on fire. With job growth stagnant, and wages that don't keep pace with inflation, it's a stretch to see the residents of the upper tax brackets (the people most likely to sign a paycheck) as a boon to the country. The pessimistic view, which I hold, is that the widening chasm between the rich and poor doesn't, for some reason, appear to bother people very much. To wit, what Tim Noah calls "the great divergence":

Thirty years ago, CEOs of America's largest businesses earned an estimated 42 times as much as their average employee. These days, that number has jumped to more than 200 times as much, by many counts.

We're feeling this close to home, too. Our beloved lawmakers in New York, hardly a bastion of conservative principles, lack the votes to hike the state's minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25 an hour. Against such a grim backdrop, the constancy of the Gallup results -- the entrenched willingness to accept an increasingly two-classed system -- are a bit vexing. As the pollster observes, hope springs eternal:

Nearly 30 percent of Gallup's respondents (most of whom are on the younger side) believe it is at least "somewhat likely" they will one day be among the moneyed. It doesn't much matter that what constitutes rich isn't specified; at the very least, one assumes, it's a great deal more than our current monthly paycheck. It is disconcerting that such a large percentage of the population has such a pie-in-the-sky view of the future. It's a mindset, perhaps, that enables wise people to willingly yoke themselves to a trillion dollars in studen debt, on the presumption that one day it will disappear or even be manageable. (The recent New York Times story on student debt thoroughly punctures this idea.) Instead, we should probably acknowledge that we're almost certain to end up in the fleshy part of the wealth bell curve -- that massive space between the rich and poor -- and live our lives accordingly. Otherwise, we may be in for a rude awakening.