(Left to right) Gillian White, Beth Ann Bovino, Kunal Kapoor and Starsky Wilson discuss wealth inequalities during the Aspen Ideas Festival on the campus of the Aspen Institute on Wednesday, June 30, 2021.
Dan Bayer / Courtesy photo

It’s fitting that a conversation about creating more wealth for everyone takes place in Aspen, nearly 16 months after the start of a pandemic that has widened the wealth gap even further, moderator Gillian White said Wednesday morning at the Aspen Ideas Festival.

“I think it’s really important that we have it here, right now, in this place,” said White, who is the editor of The Atlantic. “We’re going to be talking about wealth, wealth creation and wealth inequality, and again I think Aspen is such an important place to start this conversation.”

Aspen is a place where this inequality has been studied extensively. Ida Rademacher, who presented the panel, heads the Aspen Institute’s financial security program which focuses on wealth inequality and economic inclusion; Morningstar CEO Kunal Kapoor, one of Wednesday’s panelists, worked with the institute on research into the extent of the widening wealth gap during the pandemic.

(Interestingly, Aspen itself is a place of what a sociologist calls “impossible math,”A paradox of super-wealth and middle class in an increasingly expensive city.)

So what about the answer to that “how much” question? A lot, Kapoor said.

“This is very important precisely because of what we have said: that many people who have access to markets feel even better than before the start of the pandemic, and those who do not have even more difficulties” , did he declare.

The assumption that everyone has this access – or even the knowledge to use that access – is “one of the mistakes that has always been made in financial services,” Kapoor said.

“If I were to ask everyone in this room if they had access to financial markets or participated in financial markets… everyone in this room would probably raise their hands, and I think what has been shown so far , that’s if you were going to different settings, with different groups of people, the answer could be very different, ”Kapoor said.

A little bit of wealth and asset allocation is natural in a market economy, according to panelist Beth Ann Bovino, chief economist in the United States and managing director of S&P Global Ratings.

“It makes us work harder, it makes us invest in ourselves and in our people and our children in order to have a better life,” said Bovino. “However, when it gets a lot larger, (which) is what we have,… we see that the majority of participants in the US are left behind. It means we lose their productivity, they lose their income. and their wealth, and we end up seeing that crumble. “

It’s not exactly late-breaking news for most people who have been tuned in for the past year and a half, White noted at the start of the panel.

“I don’t think there is anyone who looks at the news or pays close attention to it who hasn’t heard the word ‘wealth inequality’ and heard about the widening gap,” White said. .

“There were so many ways this happened,” she said, from those who could save more by spending more time at home to those who had to continue working in frontline jobs. to those who have suffered job loss related to the pandemic.

There is also the wealth gap that existed long before the start of the pandemic, the panel noted – a wealth gap that is in many ways linked to structural racism and a racial wealth gap that stems not only from income. but also assets and inherited wealth.

“We need to start having a serious dialogue on income and asset building strategies that are common to all,” said Reverend Dr Starsky Wilson, one of Wednesday’s panelists and President and CEO of Children’s Defense. Fund in Washington. “It means we have to talk about the fact that, you know, there are people who are descended from people who are 250 years ahead of building assets over me.

“A supportive commitment” from government structures could help, Wilson said.

Kapoor mentioned “baby bonds,” an idea proposed to help close the racial wealth gap that involves providing government-issued bonds at birth, scaled according to family assets. Universal Basic Income could also be a policy choice that moves things in the right direction, Wilson suggested.

“At the macro level, we see that wealth and income inequality impact America’s future and we see it reflected in American children. We have come to a point of intersection between the well-being of children, between inequalities, as we see them economically, and the issue and the conversation about racial justice, ”Wilson said. “We’re getting to this conversation that we’re having today, so we’re starting to see the impacts on what families can provide for their children. “

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