Are Tolerance and Inequality Linked?

A professor asks why the rich are getting richer while racial and gender barriers are falling.

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Doors opened, but a wealth gap persists. (Thinkstock)

We're in a weird place in American history, with income inequality growing while many barriers historically faced by marginalized groups have fallen. Why are the rich getting richer at a time when minorities, women and gay people are accepted more than ever in the American mainstream? And why is it that one black man can become president of the United States while so many other black men can't even get a job?

Columbia University professor Alexander Stille's op-ed this Sunday in the New York Times, "The Paradox of the New Elite," explores that conundrum.

It’s a puzzle: one dispossessed group after another -- blacks, women, Hispanics and gays -- has been gradually accepted in the United States, granted equal rights and brought into the mainstream.

At the same time, in economic terms, the United States has gone from being a comparatively egalitarian society to one of the most unequal democracies in the world.

The two shifts are each huge and hugely important: one shows a steady march toward democratic inclusion, the other toward a tolerance of economic stratification that would have been unthinkable a generation ago ...

Could America's lost enthusiasm for income redistribution and progressive taxation be in part a reaction to sharing resources with traditionally excluded groups?

Source: the New York Times.

Stille also delves into the popularly held notion that people should -- and do -- succeed solely on the merits of their achievements rather than because of their race or gender. Does that actually make people more tolerant of economic inequality because they wrongly believe that those who succeed deserve to, and those who don't succeed are undeserving (to wit: Herman Cain's "If you don't have a job and you're not rich, blame yourself!" comment)?

Read more at the New York Times.

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