Friday, February 9

Whose side are you on?

We are starting a debate in this country about economic inequality, and it is in danger of being hijacked by well-meaning but misguided people.

John Edwards talks about economic inequality a lot, and maybe that's what's pushing this onto the country's agenda. A couple of days ago, NPR did a piece on the pay disparity between NBA players and the men who play in the NBA Developmental League, which is the top domestic minor league. The NPR story was introduced with the observation that Fed chairman Ben Bernanke spoke this week about economic inequality.

Bernanke said that globalization, technological change and a decline in union membership are some of the factors that drive income inequality. He said: "The sources of the decline in union membership are much debated, and certainly long-run structural changes in the economy, such as the decline in manufacturing employment, have played a role."

He didn't mention that government policies have played a vital role.

Steven Pearlstein, writing in the Washington Post, is pleased that, in Ben Bernanke, we might now have "the trustworthy moderator" that we "desperately need."

This is dangerous. Bernanke is not a moderator and he shouldn't be touted as one.

If you go to a Third World country and ask a taxi driver where to dine, don't be surprised if he drives you to the restaurant that his brother-in-law owns, even if the food is bad. Bernanke is that taxi driver, and Pearlstein is the travel writer who tells you to heed the restaurant recommendations of Third World cab drivers. He's naive.

Bernanke is not a disinterested party in discussions about the widening gulf between the haves and have-nots. As chairman of the Federal Reserve, he represents the moneyed interests. If he didn't represent the interests and the values of the rich, he wouldn't have been named chairman of the Fed.

Pearlstein, other journalists, and politicians must not get away with painting Bernanke is an impartial referee. Bernanke, like his predecessor, Alan Greenspan, makes frequent visits to the White House. He is a political operator, just as any other powerful person in Washington is a political operator. That's not meant pejoratively; it's simply a fact.

There is no neutral observer when we debate who gets what. Bernanke is as impartial as Andy Stern, president of the nation's largest union, on this topic.

This debate is going to be resolved by good, old-fashioned politics. If Bernanke is appointed by the media as an impartial referee, then the haves and the have-mores will continue to win.

Everyone is on one side or another. Instead of appointing neutral referees, let's all ask the question: "Whose side are you on?"