Gap in wealth grows partly because we keep electing politicians who promise nothing less

One of the biggest questions of the day is: Why do the rich keep getting richer and the middle class keep getting poorer?

This also ranks as the dumbest question of the day, week, month, or year. To anyone who’s been paying attention, it’s obvious why economic inequality in our land is growing:

That’s what we asked for.

For at least 35 years, since the reign of King Ronald the Reagan, our democratic society has waged relentless economic war on the middle class and the poor, giving their share of the pie to the rich and the well-to-do.

It didn’t happen in secret. The Republican Party is built on the reverse Robin Hood principle of taking from the less affluent so the rich can have what they think they need — a word that not coincidentally rhymes with “greed.”

Democrats follow the same principle too, but not as openly. Only they throw more scraps to the “disadvantaged” every once in a while than the GOP.

Look at the evidence: Unions have been demonized and rendered virtually impotent as a countervailing force against corporate power. Lower wages for working stiffs have been the result.

Executive pay, on the other hand, has gone through the roof, while taxes on the rich have been slashed. Meanwhile, middle-class income has remained stagnant or even fallen.

Higher education, traditionally the key that unlocks the door to success for the lower middle class, has become prohibitively expensive. Society’s answer to this has been to saddle students with back-breaking debt in hopes that their new skills will allow them to dig themselves out, eventually.

In any case, the banks make a bundle.

Consider the way the nation responded to the Great Recession.

Red states reacted by slashing the size and cost of government. Workers lost their jobs, benefits were reduced, projects canceled, school budgets decimated. Oh yes, and taxes, particularly those aimed at the rich, were cut.

This, proponents said, would stimulate the economy and create jobs. Happy days would be here again.

In case you haven’t noticed, the plan failed. Kansas, which was especially aggressive in cutting taxes, now faces a $400 million deficit.

The story isn’t much different in Louisiana, a Republican state where the budget shortfall is $1.6 billion.

You might think that having tried a solution that doesn’t work, Republicans might try something new. But they don’t.

They go on, as optimistic as children on Christmas Eve who have no doubt that against all odds Santa just might bring them a pony, with the ragged hope that the best way to create jobs and revive the economy is to cut taxes for the better off. When they can contemplate raising taxes at all, it’s consumption taxes that fall most heavily on the middle and lower classes.

The poster child for this thinking is Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin. To conservatives he’s the St. George who slew the union dragon in his state and is preparing to fight the progressive virus in the nation.

Walker last year signed into law a $541 million tax cut that’s produced a budget deficit of $280 million. But never fear, he has an answer to that.

He’s proposed decreased funding for public schools and the state’s highly regarded university system. The Wisconsin governor also wants to cut public workers’ health benefits and mangle the state parks budget. The proposal is expected to become law next month.

Is it any wonder he’s the golden boy of the Republican hard right and is something of a favorite to become the next GOP nominee for president?

It’s all part of the bill of goods the American public has been sold. It will last until we stop seeing ourselves mainly as consumers. Things could change if we saw ourselves more as workers.

Until that happens, we’ll just be suckers.

Donald Kaul, former Des Moines Register columnist, lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and writes for

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