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Piketty on Immigration

Why aren’t poor Americans more up-in-arms over rising levels of income inequality?

French economist Thomas Piketty (Credit: Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 4.0)


  • Why aren't poor Americans more up-in-arms over rising levels of income inequality?

No one seriously doubts that income and wealth inequality in the United States have risen dramatically over the past three decades. But one question is why rising inequality isn’t more of an issue among the egalitarian-minded Americans in the bottom parts of that distribution.

The reason why, writes French economist Thomas Piketty in his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, is related to another big issue dominating U.S. politics:

Immigration is the mortar that holds the United States together, the stabilizing force that makes increasingly large inequalities of labor income politically and socially bearable…. For a fair proportion of Americans in the in the bottom 50 percent of income, these inequalities are of secondary importance for the very simple reason that they were born in a less wealthy country and see themselves as being on an upward trajectory.

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Responses to “Piketty on Immigration”

Archived Comments.

  1. On December 2, 2014 at 6:36 am Bob Smith responded with... #

    It’s not just immigrants. Much of American society has been sold on the idea that “anyone can make it” in America, that there is always the chance that you can get rich if you work hard enough. According to this narrative, everyone who doesn’t make has no one but themselves to blame.

  2. On December 2, 2014 at 7:56 am Anne McMenamin responded with... #

    And it’s not just the USA. Australia is in the same situation, which, in some ways, is even more disturbing and puzzling. For a start, Australia has always been a more egalitarian society than the US, with excellent public education, national health service, good social welfare, etc. Secondly, we’ve never had quite the hype about Anyone being able to make it. But, after 30 years of neo-liberalism, we have gone sadly backwards in all these areas, reaching the real bottom of the barrel with our current government – with a Prime Minister who thinks climate change is “crap”. But there is no mass movement for change. There is a lot of mumbling, but overall people (even former activists) seem quiescent – apathetic, alienated, hopeless, whatever.

  3. On December 28, 2014 at 6:26 pm masher responded with... #

    There is plenty of research that shows that multiculturalism creates dysfunctional societies with declining social cohesion. A divided society lacks the ability to organize and it lacks the social cohesion to work towards common goals. In essence, there isn’t a society.

    This is why multiculturalism is so very important to the political elite. The height of the US middle class was in the 1970’s. The middle class was a potent force in US politics and this scared the elite to the core. There were several reactions: trade liberalization and immigration liberalization. Since the 1970’s we have moved towards free trade and liberal immigration and we have seen poverty rise and the middle class steadily decline.