On Friday, the decorum and civility of PBS was all that protected Manhattan Institute Fellow and classist conservative Scott Winship from receiving an intellectual policy smack down from former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. During the discussion which focused on income inequality, the two took wildly departing positions on the matter, with Secretary Reich drawing on his extensive professional history with labor economics and income equality matters and Mr. Winship struggling to toe the conservative line that everything would be fine with just a few more tax cuts for the wealthy and corporate elite.
Spring boarding from the question of extending unemployment benefits, which both Reich and Winship agreed should be extended, host Hari Sreenivasan moved directly to the matter of income inequality, asking if such was entirely widespread or focused in the divide between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else. Reich jumped on the question, responding:
Most of the inequality we are seeing and we have experienced in this country for the last 25 to 30 years has been between the very top, that is , the top one-tenth of 1 percent or 1 percent, or maybe 3 percent to 5 percent, depending upon how you measure it, and everybody else. The median household income continues to stagnate, by some measures actually dropping, adjusted for inflation, while the people at the very top, they have got 95 percent of all of the economic gains since the recovery began. And so there’s no question that inequality is widening. But it’s widening primarily between the top and everybody else.
This however was where the two guests diverged, with Winship chiming in:
I don’t think there’s much reason to be concerned about it.
Citing obscure and nameless studies, Winship declared that the poor and working classes are actually doing better than they were in decades past and that whatever growing inequality between they and the top 1% that may exist was hardly a matter to be concerned with, as his studies hadn’t led him to believe any harm had come as a result of such.
This of course is less than surprising, given Winship’s current duties, both as a fellow of the supply side, trickle-down think-tank The Manhattan Institute, as well as a senior adviser to Representative Paul Ryan.
Following the interview, in which Winship held the line that income inequality was no big deal and that social mobility was as robust as it had ever been, Reich lashed out through social media, slamming the out of touch policy analyst and his out of touch views with some hard data and sound argument, posting this to Facebook:
Had the norms of public television as well as civility not stopped me from telling Paul Ryan’s poverty advisor what I really thought, on last night’s PBS NewsHour, I would have said this: “That 1.3 million jobless people are losing their unemployment benefits tomorrow is outrageous, and another sign of of the callous indifference of the Republican Party and its patrons to what’s happening in this country. For you to minimize it — and then to question whether inequality is widening and upward mobility declining in America shows you’re either a fool or a knave. And the fact Paul Ryan has chosen you to develop emerging Republican policies on poverty and inequality is utterly flabbergasting.”
While tempted to agree entirely with Reich on this point, a sad divergence comes about in that it is no longer all that flabbergasting when Republicans seek out and employ the willfully ignorant, especially in regards to advisers focused on matters of economics and poverty. Because without fools and knaves, would the really be the Grand Old Party we know so well?