Confronting Inequality – Paul Krugman (Summary)

613 words | 3 page(s)

Krugman’s text “Confronting Inequality” identifies a growing inequality on the economic level that has increased, the author argues, during the course of his lifetime. Thus, whereas during his youth, Krugman describes the United States as a “relatively equal middle-class society”, what has transpired is that “the lion’s share of economic growth in America over the past thirty years has gone to a small, wealthy minority.” Krugman finds this to be a disturbing trend and considers issues of inequality and class conflict as fundamental themes that should concern the average American. This is not only because the average American is affected by this economic inequality, but, furthermore, this has clear negative social effects, engendering a society that is split along class lines and thus where there is a radical distinction and misrepresentation between the haves and the have nots. In other words, such inequality creates a society where social justice, social mobility and other common aims are no longer a reality.

In her piece “Up Against Wal-Mart”, Karen Olsson demonstrates the poor treatment of workers by one of the U.S.’s foremost employers, the Wal-Mart corporation. In Olsson’s text, the reader is confronted with the systematic attempts by Wal-Mart management to undermine worker’s rights. Hence, the formation of unions has been discouraged, overtime has gone unpaid and low wages characterize the Wal-Mart policy towards its workers. This is all the more problematic because “given its staggering size and rapid expansion, Wal-Mart increasingly sets the standard for wages and benefits throughout the U.S. economy.” Wal-Mart’s poor treatment of workers thus affects all workers in the U.S. economy, as Olsson convincingly argues in her article, thus making it all the more important to oppose Wal-Mart’s employee policies.

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In Draut’s piece the author looks at the debilitating economic conditions of the U.S. college student. Above all, the high cost of college and the debts the majority of students must take simply to attend college has essentially rendered college students slaves to the system, This has been a deliberate policy which targets the economically weaker in society, as Draut argues when she compares the loans of students to the loans of banks: “How can the government justify charging students nearly 7 percent while it charges the banks nothing and can itself borrow for less than nothing?” It thus becomes necessary to “occupy college”, in so far as the higher education itself is constituted by a systematic injustice, which renders students debt slaves because of education policy.

In all these three pieces, the reader confronts the fundamental problems that capitalism and the free-market economic system create. In the first article, the growing class difference is identified by the author. In the second text, the emphasis on employers’ rights over employees rights shows how capitalism is an exploitative system. In the third text, the dual problem that college students must pay for their higher education and also must pay credit shows that the primary emphasis of capitalism is for the elite class to earn profit at the expense of the common good. The common thread of these three articles is thus that there is a fundamental social injustice at the heart of capitalism, as demonstrated by the different forms of inequality it has spawned. However, at the same time, the solution is therefore not a reform of capitalism, but a radical systematic change, to the extent that goals of social justice and equality cannot be realized through the system itself, since the system is structured to benefit the oligarchic classes. Without such a radical change, inequality and exploitation will continue to increase throughout society, as these three articles skillfully argue.

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