“Never try to “fight fire with fire. That may sound poetic, but as any firefighter can tell you, you fight fire with water.”
I have been thinking about this statement from one of my favorite readers as I come to grips with the state of America these days. I feel as though we’re on fire, and the fire is inequality. America’s fire has been burning for centuries. The masses are becoming poorer thanks to our tech revolution, bad trade policies, corrupt trickle down economic plans, and terrible politics. We voters often see the end results of inequality, but we miss the root causes of the problem.
One of our nation’s biggest problems is our zero-sum thinking, a mindset where one person’s gain has to be another’s loss. Nearly every voter in some form or fashion believes in order for them to have something they think they are entitled to, it has to be taken from somewhere or someone else. That’s how inequality happens my friends. Inequality is a fire that needs to be extinguished.
So Many Questions, So Few Logical Answers
Sharing is caring. Why is it so hard for people of means to give up something to help those less fortunate? I don’t mean something we won’t really miss like donating food to the food bank, donating small amounts of money to charity, or panhandlers, or giving to a go fund me account for someone who is ill. I’m talking about people of means who have kids who attend nice schools in affluent communities who don’t want their kids to attend their schools and don’t want nice schools built in the communities of poorer students. Why don’t we want to pay people living wages? Why do we worry more about the wealthy business owner subsidized by the government and local municipalities more than we do our struggling neighbors who are left paying an unfair share of their wages in taxes and fees?
Our attitudes and understanding about equality are controlled by our government, and it’s time we extinguish those wrong thought processes. Continuing to so the same thing and expecting different results is insanity. We all are being cheated to help make a few people rich. Not only is inequality unfair, it prevents us from enjoying secure and sustainable livelihoods. Inequality prevents us from fulfilling our potential and deciding our future.
The Everyday Ways We Contribute to Inequality
It’s time to get rid of our genteel mindset about income and economic inequality. Screw pushing towards economic equality, we need to kick and scream our way there, and we need to teach people the ins and outs of business to make it make sense to the common man. The super rich are always protesting about paying higher taxes preventing us from getting ahead. I like to call them tax cheats. The thing that’s crazy is the large numbers of poor and working-class people who support this mindset because they desire to be wealthy one day too. What they do not realize is that being rich in America is like a college kid being drafted into the NFL or NBA each year.
There are a few spots each year for the NFL (256) and NBA (60) drafts, and about 480,000 NCAA athletes each year playing collegiate sports competing for those professional sporting spots. Each year there are 73,557 college football players, and 35,460 college basketball players. As you can see, everyone can’t be a rich professional athlete. The rest go to work envying those who made it. Of those who make it, some of those athletes won’t make it beyond the first year, helping to make room for the next crew of superstar athletes the following year. Getting rich works the same way. So does inequality.
Income inequality works the same way. There aren’t enough slots in the world for all of us to become uber wealthy. It’s an exclusive club and most wealthy people keep the spots for family, close friends, and business associates in their social circles. And if you don’t inherit your wealth, you must exploit people to become rich. The rich don’t really want poor and working-class folks eating away at their opportunities to amass more wealth. Every year, a few people get a break and make it, but many more of us just keep working for the rich people. Even if we don’t work for Richey Rich pants, we’re forced to buy from them because they own/produce most of the stuff we need and even more of the stuff we want.
The very rich exploits us, and our government gives them the money, incentives, and the covering to further exploit us.
For instance, take Walmart. Walmart is terrible for communities, but most people don’t realize it. They run small mom and pop shops out of business because Walmart has us all addicted to getting the lowest prices, even though a lot of their prices aren’t lower than local grocers. And even if they are, the way they got those lower prices are unethical and pro-inequality. Nearly fifty percent of Walmart goods come from overseas suppliers. Buying overseas takes away jobs from American jobs in favor of cutting costs and hurts poor people overseas working for pennies on the dollar trying to meet Walmart’s demand for stuff to sell to consumers. Does this sound fair to Americans, the people who made Walmart the octopus it is today? No, it doesn’t.
And about those poor workers making stuff for us to consume.
Back in 2012, a fire in a factory which made garments for Walmart killed 111 people. Another fire at a different garment factory in 1990 killed 32. There has also been several lawsuits against the company because of their illegal practices, including a class-action lawsuit from 2010 alleging one woman worked seven days a week, from 7:45am to 10pm without a day off for six months. This woman barely had enough time to take care of herself. She spent every waking hour she had making stuff for Walmart. If you are one of the people who believes Walmart did nothing wrong here, then you are a part of my problem with America’s zero-sum thinking. We Americans have become so pro business (capitalists), we’ve become anti-humanity and anti-equality. Are businesses so important they are worth a man’s life?
Is it okay to work a man or woman seven days a week for 12–14 hours a day, making it impossible for them to take care of their families, and rest their poor bodies? Nope. Is getting a cheap shirt, a pair of jeans, or cheap pork worth Walmart’s race to remain one of the richest corporations in the world? I say no, but I’m not sure many of my fellow Americans really give a damn. Supporting stores with scrupulous exploitative business practices like Walmart is co-signing inequality. You say you’re buying groceries; I say you’re enabling inequality right in your backyard.
Additionally over the years, Walmart has had multiple lawsuits against them for overworking women, putting them in dangerous situations, and for firing women while pregnant. What’s worst, women once accounted for as much as 57 percent of Walmart’s U.S. workforce, and they made almost $1.20 less than their male counterparts. This is the income inequality we support everyday we allow employers like Walmart to exist and thrive in our communities. There is no reason Walmart should still be one of the world’s wealthiest companies. The only reason they are still one of the richest corporations in the world is because we support their businesses showing support of their business unfair practices.
One more nail in Walmart’s coffin illustrating how inequality works. The Walmart Foundation has an initiative to “fight hunger,” while their own employees are starving, spending $300 million in taxpayer money on food stamps each year. This doesn’t include all the other people in America who receive some public assistance or funds from a state or federal entitlement program who shop at Walmart each month using our tax dollars for their survival. Poor people receiving public assistance, seniors and retirees with state and federal pensions go to Walmart to buy their basic needs.
On the back end of the race to income inequality, Walmart receives tax incentives for doing business in local municipalities, and wherever the company builds regional distribution centers, they receive state tax incentives. Then a rich, tax cheating con-artist like President Trump comes along and gives Walmart more money by giving passing the biggest tax cut bill for corporations in the nation’s history, leaving America with a trillion dollar deficit this year alone. We need that tax money to reduce our personal tax liabilities, but ignorant voters keep voting people into office who continue helping people who don’t need a bailout or bootstraps. This backwards thinking harms us in so many ways.
Our local communities could use that money to repair roads, build and maintain schools, increase teacher pay, provide quality healthcare and lower costs, support local public transportation efforts, create mixed-income affordable housing options to reduce homelessness, and create various other local programs and services. Instead, ignorant Americans are pro-business and pro-trickle down, allowing local governments to increase the property taxes of low and middle-income households to pay Walmart for doing business. Walmart is getting over on taxpayers like a fat cat to remain one of the largest businesses in the world, and we consumers are here for it.
What’s wrong with us? We say we are for equality, but our actions say something different.
Does any of this sound fair to you? Billionaires are obstacles to human progress and equality people. We shouldn’t have so many billionaires, and no one should be rewarded for treating human beings so shitty. Our politics of equality and the grassroots efforts of equality do not align. We as consumers, taxpayers, and informed citizens each play a role in ensuring we do our parts in making America is fair. We can’t advocate, protest, march, and write about inequality, then shop at Walmart or other big box stores and online retailers (AMAZON) with similar business principles, fuss at paying a little more for groceries from your local grocery stores, or buying stuff online snatching business from your local community stores. Americans must develop an equality mindset 24–7, not just when a sensational news story comes on.
One way we can fight inequality is by not shopping at Walmart so much. I try not to go at all. I began limiting my inequality footprint because I realized my role in making billionaires. I’m all for people making money, and even becoming wealthy, but not unethically and not at the expense of human decency. If Walmart has run all the mom and pops out of your community, what else can you do to increase your equality foot print? Can you make sure hourly wage earners in the community are paid fairly? That’s easy. Do you know what’s happening at your local big box stores? Are you opposing tax incentives for already wealthy companies coming into your area? Support businesses that take part in fair trade coalitions. There are several ways you can ensure equality is a lifestyle in your local communities.
Equality is a fire that needs to be extinguished, and each of us can be the fire hose spraying the water to put the fire out.
Equality Is the Fire Extinguisher For Inequality
There are many ways consumers and voters can fight inequality. We don’t need new laws or legislation on the books to fight income and economic inequality. We can do things like minding our purses and wallets; be an informed voter; vote responsibly; shop locally when possible; understand local corporate tax incentive decisions and follow the product. Understand where your products come from and learn more about who makes them. Don’t support suppliers who abuse people. Workers shouldn’t be treated as if they are disposable, and we shouldn’t buy from corporations who treat their workers as if they are.
When I see inequality, I don’t just think about the unfairness in America. When I think about inequality, I also see it systemically. I see how we Americans contribute to the inequality of not only ourselves but also our neighbors globally. We have a global economy, and we’ve always had one. With global economies come inequality. Inequality is a part of America’s DNA, and we must do a better job of connecting the dots to avoid doing more harm to people. If a person works and still can’t have a decent life, that’s wrong. Businesses can make huge profits each year without exploiting us, and it’s up to us to force them to be fair. And if they don’t make a profit, who gives a shit? It’s their business and they must assume the risk.
It’s not enough for us to demand corporations to sell fair trade products. We also need to demand America creates national fair trade systems that include independent certifiers who will inspect corporations, producers and traders to ensure they comply with predetermined standards. Prospective community workers and the business should set those standards, as we are the wheels that makes businesses go round. Corporate success depends on our productivity.
Money is at the heart of inequality globally. He who has the money has the power. We have power because we help corporations make the money. We also have the power of our purses and wallets as consumers. We need to learn how to fight inequality using all the tools in our possession. We don’t always need to march, write letters, or use social media to share our disgust with corporate America. Sometimes we just need to be silent and hold on to our money. The millionaire and billionaire classes respect one thing, and it’s money. It’s time we deal with inequality in a way that corporations and governments will respond to. We are the people, and we have the power, but it requires sacrifice.
Let’s use our power and our votes to extinguish economic and income inequality fires for once and for all. What do you do to reduce your inequality footprint? I’ll share my tips below.
This essay was inspired by J.O. Manning. Thank you so much for the inspiration.