December 19th, 2013
11:13 PM ET

The ‘defining challenge’ of helping the poor

By Fareed Zakaria

The super-rich have grown worldwide, but the United States is at the head of the pack. This is because of factors structural (globalization and technology help superstars; large and liquid financial markets make the rich richer) and political (lower tax rates and the political influence of the financial sector). The United States has all of these factors — technological innovation, global reach and huge capital markets but also tax cuts, deregulation, a powerful financial industry ­— so it’s not that surprising that it has experienced the biggest rise in the super-rich. The current Journal of Economic Perspectives has an excellent set of essays on this .

Reviving the middle class is clearly the most important challenge, involving the most people. It’s also the hardest and, having begun 40 years ago, is proving to be one without an enduring solution. There is strong evidence that rising inequality is crowding out the middle class. But there is also a powerful story to be told about how technology, globalization and declining American education and skills have contributed to the stagnation of wages for the median worker.

Would higher taxes on the rich create a more dynamic middle class? Perhaps, but it’s not clear exactly how. It’s also worth noting that the U.S. tax system — which relies mostly on income taxes — is more progressive than European systems that raise a much greater percentage of their revenue from sales taxes. The top 10 percent of American earners pay about 70 percent of all federal income taxesIn New York City, the top 1 percent pay almost 45 percent of the city’s income taxes.

Read the Washington Post column

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Topics: Inequality

soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. ✠RZ✠

    Zak, these stats and figures seem misleading. How about we continue from 500,000 using OVERALL GROSS personal income (salary, stock options, etc) and go upwards in increments of 1,000,000 to let's say 10,000,000 ?

    December 20, 2013 at 1:40 am |
    • j. von hettlingen

      Indeed, when wealth gap gets bigger, mediocrity suffers. Politicians do what they can to save the middle-class, as they are their potent voters.

      December 21, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
  2. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    My prediction of the levels of income in my country was just rejected, probably not by a computer.

    December 20, 2013 at 6:54 am |
  3. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    I wrote, "...prediction of the evolution of the levels of income..."

    December 20, 2013 at 6:57 am |
  4. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    The middle class needed an adjustment for global compe#!#ion.

    December 20, 2013 at 7:02 am |
  5. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    The poor will survive. They will be helped by the charity of taxation, and therefore by the kindness of strangers, to remain poor.

    December 20, 2013 at 7:08 am |
  6. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    The rich will always be with us. That is good.

    December 20, 2013 at 7:11 am |
  7. joe anon 1

    the so far successful challenge is to make the poor poorer and to have the middle class join them.

    December 20, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
  8. chrissy

    How condescending! The poor will survive? Now @ Joey, you just know that i would find that distasteful lol.

    December 25, 2013 at 7:06 pm |

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