Mitt Romney - who is worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $250 million - says discussions about income inequality are "...about envy. I think it's about class warfare."
"I think it's fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and discussions about tax policy and the like," Romney said. "But the president has made this part of his campaign rally. Everywhere he goes we hear him talking about millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street. It's a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach and I think it'll fail."
We ought to be talking about these issues in every venue because, as William Jennings Bryan once said, every great economic question is in reality a great moral question.
It isn't about envy. It is about homeless children and their families sleeping outdoors because of economic policies that benefit the wealthy while those Jesus would have called the "least of these" are left behind. It's about growing hunger in a land of plenty. For Christians and other people of faith, it is a matter of justice.
As the Center for American Progress notes, the increase in income inequality over the last 30 years is equivalent to a $1.1 trillion transfer from the 99% to the 1% every year.
President Obama was right when he said in Kansas last month:
Look at the statistics. In the last few decades, the average income of the top 1 percent has gone up by more than 250 percent to $1.2 million per year. I’m not talking about millionaires, people who have a million dollars. I’m saying people who make a million dollars every single year. For the top one hundredth of 1 percent, the average income is now $27 million per year. The typical CEO who used to earn about 30 times more than his or her worker now earns 110 times more. And yet, over the last decade the incomes of most Americans have actually fallen by about 6 percent.
Now, this kind of inequality -- a level that we haven’t seen since the Great Depression -- hurts us all. When middle-class families can no longer afford to buy the goods and services that businesses are selling, when people are slipping out of the middle class, it drags down the entire economy from top to bottom. America was built on the idea of broad-based prosperity, of strong consumers all across the country. That’s why a CEO like Henry Ford made it his mission to pay his workers enough so that they could buy the cars he made. It’s also why a recent study showed that countries with less inequality tend to have stronger and steadier economic growth over the long run.
Inequality also distorts our democracy. It gives an outsized voice to the few who can afford high-priced lobbyists and unlimited campaign contributions, and it runs the risk of selling out our democracy to the highest bidder. It leaves everyone else rightly suspicious that the system in Washington is rigged against them, that our elected representatives aren’t looking out for the interests of most Americans.
But there’s an even more fundamental issue at stake. This kind of gaping inequality gives lie to the promise that’s at the very heart of America: that this is a place where you can make it if you try. We tell people -- we tell our kids -- that in this country, even if you’re born with nothing, work hard and you can get into the middle class. We tell them that your children will have a chance to do even better than you do.
Mitt Romney doesn't want to have this debate. But without it our nation will continue to falter and our nation fail unless we do and fix the economic system that once produced a strong middle class.