Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer attacked attempts to reduce income equality as only exacerbating economic growth and unemployment. But leading economists have supported government efforts to address inequality, calling it a paramount issue facing the country.
On the November 18 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly and Krauthammer met ostensibly to discuss rising economic inequality in the United States. Their conversation, however, quickly devolved into standard attacks against the efficacy of policies aimed at reducing inequality and building economic security. Citing a report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), O'Reilly highlighted the "astounding" income gains of the top 1 percent of earners from 1979 to 2007 before turning to blame President Obama for failing to address growing inequality during his administration. Krauthammer joined the chorus, blaming President Obama's expressed concern with reducing economic inequality for actually driving unequal economic growth during his time in office [emphasis added]:
O'REILLY: President Obama promotes income equality, but during his time in office the rich are getting richer and the median income for working Americans has actually gone down. Joining us now from Washington, Charles Krauthammer. So why is this happening?
KRAUTHAMMER: It's happening because there is low economic growth. It's what Kennedy said; a rising economic tide lifts all boats. If you're obsessed with equality, as they are in Europe, what you end up with is chronic unemployment.
Krauthammer's claim that efforts to reduce economic inequality have an adverse effect on the economy is patently false. Economist Robert Reich has argued for decades that economic inequality "is bad for everyone," including the very wealthy, because it reduces economic growth potential.
Reich is not alone among noted economists championing policies that reduce inequality as a means to spur economic growth.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller recently told the Associated Press that "rising inequality in the United States and elsewhere in the world" is "[t]he most important problem that we are facing today." Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman agrees; reducing economic inequality should be a primary policy goal in the United States. In a column titled "Rich Man's Recovery", Krugman argued that the continued concentration of wealth among the very wealthy "undermine[s] all the values that define America." Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz encouraged politicians to address economic inequality in 2013 as a means of unleashing a robust and sustainable economic recovery. Recently, Stiglitz has stated that "inequality is a choice."
Krauthammer and O'Reilly aren't entirely wrong: a lack of economic growth is leading to a widening gap between the rich and poor. However, their prescription that the economy would recover if only the president would give up his crusade to lift the poor out of poverty contradicts arguments from leading professional economists.
Krauthammer went on to forward right-wing media tropes regarding the inherent value of lower taxation and reduced regulation. This premise, that "conservative" economic principles are the key to spreading prosperity to all Americans, is particularly puzzling given the aforementioned CBO report. The study, which O'Reilly featured to open the segment, covers three decades of economic growth in which Republican presidential administrations led national policy decisions for 20 of 30 years. Republican presidents were overwhelmingly at the helm of policy discussions during a period that O'Reilly stated as witnessing "astounding" gains for the wealthy. Yet, somehow, it is President Obama who deserves blame for economic inequality in America today.
The right-wing media's predilection with advancing the mantra of lower taxes for the wealthy and reduced regulations for corporations consistently ignores that years of such policies have failed to build shared economic prosperity. The right-wing media have no interest in the growing body of economic literature concerning best practices that could both reduce inequality and spur economic growth.