To research and write this paper I first defined what I meant by the wealth gap. As opposed to income, wealth is the assets minus the debts an individual has. Therefore when I refer to the rich or the poor I define them as people with either a vast amount of assets or very little assets. I also lumped lower income individuals and families with the poor since most lower income families do not have very many assets. Since there are many different opinions and claims about the wealth gap I decided to focus this paper on the social game of the two main claims Americans listen to and discuss.
One of Loskes main points in Thinking about Social Problems is to see Social Problems as a game. “The social problems game is a set of activities (social problems work) and players who compete, and there are competitions and strategies for wining. The metaphor of social problems game is good because it draws attention to power and politics”(2003: Loseke 20). One of the best examples of comparing a social problem to this game metaphor is the social problem of the Wealth Gap. This exemplifies a game because there are two sides, both with many different players, making different claims about the Wealth Gap.
These two sides “compete” over political offices in order to make their claims known and put into action. There are strategies of how these two sides make their claims and the main purpose of this social problem game is to see who has the power to influence society through politics. Claims Being Made Different groups of people make different types of claims when it comes to the wealth gap in America. Loseke says, “people create meaning because meaning is not inherent in objects”(2003: Loseke 25).
These different groups of people try to create meaning out of the wealth gap because these meanings reflect their values and beliefs of how the world should work. Loseke says that the motive behind these claims-makers is that, “they believe a condition exists that offends their moral values so much that they must work to resolve it. ” (2003:Loseke 33) In the social problem of the Wealth Gap, there are two main different claims-makers that are very motivated to change a condition about the wealth gap.
At the 2012 State of the Union Address, president Obama told the American people in reference to the widening wealth gap, The defining issue of our time is how to keep that promise alive. No challenge is more urgent. No debate is more important. We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well while a growing number of Americans barely get by, or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules. (Obama Speech)
President Obama represents the first main portion of claims-makers that believes the wealth gap represents a social problem because there is a fundamental unfairness in the way the economy works. On the opposite side, Mitt Romeny represents the other main portion of claims-maker that believe the wealth gap is not a social problem because the large amount of money the top earners in America have represents a “reward for hard work and business savvy – the very qualities the nation itself needs, they say, to get the economy going again. (Trumbull) This group believes that the wealth gap is not a social problem but rather that it represents who is working hard and who deserves what. Culturle Feeling Rules Both of these claims-maker groups use cultural feeling rules to show why the wealth gap is or is not a social problem. Loseke says that “Claim-makers must motivate audience members to evaluate a condition as intolerable, and one way to do this is by constructing conditions as violating cultural themes…(general beliefs about how the world should work)”(2003: Loseke 66)
People claiming that the wealth gap is a social problem use the cultural theme that everyone is entitled to the pursuit of happiness. In a recent article Jeffery Sachs said: America fought for independence to secure the inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness, but today happiness seems out of reach to tens of millions of Americans. One reason is obvious. The income and wealth measures refer to averages, while inequality of income and wealth has reached all-time highs in our country. Wealth may be soaring, but since the top 1% of wealthy households have more net worth than the bottom 90% its not surprising that not everybody is thrilled.
As the top 0. 01% of households (about 14,000) receives more income than the poorest 25 million households, can we be surprised that the mood today is not over the top? (Sachs) President Obama said in a speech, “I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level, to make sure that everybody’s got a shot. ”(Reinhardt) Obama and Saches represent the claims-makers that believe there must be a redistribution of wealth. They are implying that the wealth gap is so great that the lower income people can not compete with the richer side because the rich have more opportunities.
This violates Americas cultural theme that everyone deserves the right to the pursuit of happiness because the rich take up so much opportunities that they hinder the poor in that pursuit of happiness. People claiming that the wealth gap is not a social problem use the cultural theme that one deserves the fruit of their labor. In a recent speech, Mitt Romney claimed: I believe in a merit nation, an opportunity nation where people by virtue of their education, their hard work and risk taking and their dreams – may be a little luck – could achieve great things(Luhby)
Mitt Romney, like many other claims-makers who do not believe the wealth gap is a social problem, believes that what people earn is dependent on how hard they work and how much time they put into their financial investments. In a article on the Foundry Salim Futh writes For reasons of basic morality, democratic governments should respect individual property rights as much as possible while meeting their constitutional obligations. (Furth)
Since America has a cultural theme that believes everyone is entitled to the things they own, it would violate this cultural theme to redistribute the wealth gap by taking away from an individual more than is necessary Typifications and Examples Since both sides of this debate use different violation of cultural themes in the social problem of the wealth gap, both sides also use different typifying examples. Loseke says that typifying social problems encourages audience members to believe the claims of claims-makers because “audience members tend to take such typifying stories as specifying the conditions at hand. (2003:Loseke 33) While these stories may not be applicable to all the victims or villains in a social problem, claims-makers, on both side of the wealth problem debate, use these stories to show what is right with their policies and what is wrong with the opposing sides policies. The group that supports Obama tries to typify the people on the higher end of the wealth gap as those who have done very well by either inheriting large amounts of money or being born into a wealthy family that could afford education to make that person successful.
They also claim that these wealthy people are being given special treatment by the government. They say that this is unfair because the rich are already so successful that they don’t need the government’s help. They claim that these special privileges the wealthy get from the government also hurt people on the lower side of the wealth gap because the lower income families don’t get the same advantages, and sometimes the wealthier people use these government advantages to hurt those in lower income brackets.
In the YouTube video “The One Percent”, Jamie Johnson shows how the government treatment of the sugar industry, and the Fanjul family, is an example of this typification. He begins by pointing out the fact that American tax-payers guarantee a price of 22 cents for a pound of sugar while the rest of the world buys sugar at 7 cents a pound. He then says that the governments sugar program sets import quotas and a guarantee that the government will buy any surplus. This limits the amount of foreign sugar allowed in the U. S. , which means, companies have to buy sugar from U.
S. sugar producers and that raises the price. Also, if there is too much sugar in the U. S. , the government will buy it at a high price. Since the Fanjul family is the major grower of sugar, the U. S. government has basically subsidized the Fanjul’s sugar and made that family very rich. (Johnson) Because “Members of the Fanjul family contribute to both Democrats and Republicans, many of whom are members of the House and Senate agriculture committees”(Bennet), the Fanjul family has been ably to influence government officials to keep these sugar programs alive which in urn helps the Fanjul family get richer. On the flip side of the wealth gap Johnson shows how the Fanjul family (who benefits from the government) hurts lower class people. The towns where they base their businesses sink low into poverty because of a government exception in immigration laws. Because the Fanjul family needed cheep labor, foreign workers were imported on special work visas. When government officials came to make sure these workers were being paid properly they found many violations of workers being underpaid.
Even though these workers knew they were being underpaid, there was nothing they could do about it. Johnson shows how these people were hurt by the Fanjul family and that even though many of these people were really talented, the only way any of them came out of poverty was through the small chance of them getting into the NFL(Johnson). This is a typifying example of how rich people, the Fanjul family, become richer off of special government programs while the lower class people are oppressed by them.
The rich then take advantage of the poor and these lower class people are hurt unjustly by the way the American economic system works, and have no way of fighting back. Those opposing the claims that the wealth gap is a social problem try to typify people as deserving of what they have. They typify the rich as being people who deserve what they have because they have worked hard and have taken great risks to get to where they are. They also say that these rich people have not harmed lower income people but have rather helped them by creating jobs and or cheaper goods to buy.
On the other hand they typify lower income people as being people who deserve what they have because they have not worked as hard, and the risks that they have taken have not paid off because they did not put in enough time. An example of how conservatives try to typify the rich is through ted Ted Cruz’s family. In a speech Cruz says: Fifty-five years ago, when my dad was a penniless teenage immigrant, thank God some well-meaning bureaucrat didn’t put his arm around him and say let me take care of you. Let me give you a government check and make you dependent on government.
And by the way, don’t bother?learning English. That would have been the most destructive thing anyone could have done. Instead, my parents worked together to start a small business, to provide for their family and to chart their own future. (Cruz) Cruz’s family typifies the conservative view of business owners because they created a business by themselves through their own hard work. They show that the success and money owned by the Cruz family is earned from their hard work. Defining Claims-Makers and Audience Members
When looking at the different claims makers of the wealth gap it is important to know who audience members are and who the claims-makers are. As President Obama said on the Daily Show “The stakes on this could not be bigger…and there is no excuse not to vote. ”(Obama Interview) President Obama is saying that the people who vote are the people who will determine what actions will be done about the issues (including the Wealth Gap) because they are the ones electing politicians into office, and these politicians will eventually be the ones to pass legislation on these social problems (including the wealth gap).
So in this social problem game, the audience members are the voters, and the claims-makers are the politicians or the people who want to see these politicians elected. Hierarchy of Claims-Makers In the social problem game of the wealth gap there are some claims-makers that are believed and there are others that we dismiss. The claims “we actually hear and take seriously typically are made by the kinds of people audience members are prone to believe. ”(2003: Loseke 36) While audience members are most prone to believe scientists as claims-makers, there are not many scientists making claims about the wealth gap.
Loseke says that if scientists are not at the top of the hierarchy of claims then “professionals might be at the top”(2003: Loseke 36). These professionals of the wealth gap are usually politicians running for office. These politicians describe themselves as experts of the social problem of the wealth gap because they have a plan of what to do. To distinguish which of these “experts” (politicians) are at the top of the hierarchy there is a lot to say about the likeability of a politician.
In an article, Lederan describes a good politician (which is also one of the main claims-makers of the wealth gap): A likable politician is someone who gets along with others, is relatable, trustworthy, and can make tough decisions. This last one often precludes a politician from worrying about being likable. At the end of the day, there’s no question that likability has a (whole) lot to do with winning elections(Lederman) If the audience members believe that an individual politician is likeably they assume that the politician can be trusted to know what they are claiming about the wealth gap.
Likeability is an important factor in the hierarchy of the claims-makers in the social problem game the wealth gap as shown by the vas number of polls predicting the likeability of a candidate. With a variety of titles like “President Obama trounces likeability” (Mak) and “Mitt Romney Narrows Gaps on the Likeability and Appearing Presidential: Reuters Poll”(Debendetti) one can see just how much the media talks about the likeability of a candidate and thus the substance of their claims about the wealth gap. Who Is Winning
In this social problem game we can see which claims-makers are higher up on the hierarchy list than others, and which side of this debate of the wealth gap is winning, based on elections. As a general statement most Democrats are in favor of abolishing or fixing the wealth gap and support “minimum wages and progressive taxation”(Democrat vs Republican). Most Republicans on the other hand believe there is nothing wrong with the wealth gap and believe “taxes shouldn’t be increased for anyone (including the wealthy) and that wages should be set by the free market. (Democrat vs Republican) If we believe these statements are true for every politician that identifies themselves as a Republican or Democrat we can see that Democratic part is winning this debate on what to do about the wealth gap because they hold a majority of Senate seats elected as well as the fact that the president is Democratic and believes the wealth gap must be changed.
However the winners and losers of this social problem game might change in 2012 depending on the outcome of the presidential election. It could be President Obama, who believes the wealth gap is a social problem, or Mitt Romney, who believes the wealth gap is not a social problem.