Friday, October 16, 2015

Counterpoint: Sanders and Clinton present vastly different views on economic inequality and what to do about it

Here's the take from the New Republic's Elizabeth Bruenig.

... what Clinton suggested in place of a more expansive welfare state illuminates another difference between her politics and Sanders’. Where Sanders tended to focus on inequality and inequality-reducing policies, Clinton focused heavily on increasing opportunity, repeatedly expressing a desire that all Americans be able to realize their "God-given talents," as she and her husband have. "I have spent a very long time—my entire adult life—looking for ways to even the odds to help people have a chance to get ahead, and, in particular, to find the ways for each child to live up to his or her God-given potential," Clinton said in her opening remarks, revisiting the idea throughout the debate.

The difference between the two approaches has expansive implications for the American left. A pro-equality platform aims to universalize benefits, so that all people really do have the option to enjoy the same social goods, including education, gainful employment, and family life. An opportunity-focused approach neither intends to reduce inequality per se nor has a clear political apparatus with which to do so. Instead, opportunity-increasing politics aim to increase social mobility without necessarily altering how many people will end up on the top and bottom respectively. The individuals might change, in other words, but the absolute number of destitute versus fabulously wealthy can remain virtually the same.

For Sanders, American inequality and its attendant lack of universal benefits is a disgrace on the international stage. For Clinton, America is essentially a well-outfitted country that has slumped on its principles when it comes to equality of opportunity and the extension of provisional benefits to the extremely destitute. The two different visions of America suggest two very different approaches to inequality, one aggressive and inspired by international successes, the other subtle and based in a long-running narrative about American grit. Whichever narrative emerges as dominant as the primary wears on will help determine the direction of the American left, for better or worse.

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