It’s a week for missing Paul Wellstone. The two-term U.S. senator’s plane fell out of the sky over Eveleth 10 years ago this week, depriving the nation of a rapidly emerging voice for economic and social justice – and depriving many Minnesotans of a friend.
In the years since, many Democratic politicians have invoked Wellstone’s memory and even mimicked his standard lines about the need for policies that work for working people, not just the people who employ them.
But few have taken to heart an issue I’d guess Wellstone would have owned this year – rising income inequality in America.
The stats are jaw-dropping. In 2011, the earnings gap between rich and poor Americans was the widest it’s been since the late 1920s – and there are people still around to report what ensued then. The top 10 percent of U.S. earners net half of the country’s income. University of California-Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez reported earlier this year that in 2010, the top 1 percent of U.S. earners took home 93 percent of the entire nation’s income growth. An International Monetary Fund study says widening income inequality in the U.S. is slowing and stunting growth. .
Those numbers have been the stuff of economics journals and business-page stories, but too seldom topics for campaign discussion. Were Wellstone still revving up crowds, that wouldn’t be so – at least not in Minnesota.
And the fellow who served with him in the U.S. Senate, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, might not have so much trouble selling his proposal to increase income taxes on the state’s top earners.