[Answers in Sociology] Chapter 10: Poverty

As part of my BSN program I’m taking a Sociology course. Each week we have to answer questions from each chapter and post them to our online discussion board. I’m reposting some of my answers here if I find them to be insightful or conducive to conversation. Our textbook is You May Ask Yourself: An Introduction to Thinking Like a Sociologist, by Dalton Conley.

CHAPTER 10: Poverty

Why is there such unequal distribution of wealth and income inequality in the United States in comparison to other developed nations of the world? 

I see this as a matter of economics and politics primarily, then an issue of size. The ideals of equality that started this country were all nice and good on paper, but they didn’t stand a chance against money and power. We are a nation built by income inequality right from the start, by people who had or made great fortunes along the development of the country, and the masses that fueled those fortunes or toiled hard due to not having them. We are the country of Vanderbilt, Carnegie, Rockerfeller, Morgan, Ford (Links to an external site.), and now of Gates, Jobs, Trump, etc. We are a country where the rich have always found ways to insert themselves into politics to shape their businesses (I write this during a time when Donald Trump is the lead Republican candidate for President). Gongloff (2013a) writes,

So how did America get so darn great at ratcheting open the chasm between the haves and have-nots? Thank the dynamic duo of Wall Street and Washington, which have been working so well together (Links to an external site.) for the past few decades to make laws that favor banks. […] Studies that have shown the tax code has a big effect on income distribution (Links to an external site.). That’s one way Washington has boosted inequality: By slashing taxes on the rich, for freedom and growth and trickling down on the poor.

Our entire political system is set up to perpetuate this collaboration, and frankly, I don’t think there’s anything any of us can do about it. I also sometimes like to think that the inequality gap we face in the US is a matter of size; we get compared to countries like Germany, France, UK, but we’re talking about vastly different geographical and population sizes. Frankly, the US is too damn big for its own good. Between our large size, and our fractured structure of power (three branches of government, Federal vs state) it’s amazing we get anything done that could benefit the population at large. But the fact of the matter is that we are going to be compared at the country level, and according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED), the US leads the other 33 countries in the organization in income inequality (Links to an external site.). That’s not a #1 place to be proud of.

The machinery is too big. When I was younger I had the zeal of idealism, but not anymore. How I feel these days is best summed up by Gongloff (2013a),

One nifty benefit to having nine metric craptons of money is that you can use it to buy politicians to help you craft the laws you like, particularly those that will help you end up with 10 metric craptons of money. The poor and middle class, meanwhile, just get ever more discouraged about the political system and stop bothering to fight it, increasingly turning the whole process over to the wealthy and the politicians they own.

And yet, a small part of me still hopes one day it will all be better.


Gongloff, M. (2013a). Income inequality gets worse when you slash taxes on the rich: Study. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/28/income-inequality-study_n_3346073.html

Gongloff, M. (2013b). The U.S. has the worst income inequality in the developed world, thanks to Wall Street: Study. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/15/income-inequality-wall-street_n_3762422.html

Shell, E. (2014). How the U.S. compares on income inequality and poverty. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/u-s-compares-income-inequality-poverty/

Wright, D. (2013). Wall Street lobbyist actual author of house Democrats’ letter to weaken investor protections. Retrieved from http://shadowproof.com/2013/08/15/wall-street-lobbyist-actual-author-of-house-democrats-letter-to-weaken-investor-protections/