“We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both,” Associate Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said decades ago during another period of pronounced inequality in America.
Echoing the concern of the Harvard Law School (HLS) graduate, over the past 30 years myriad forces have battered the United States’ legendary reputation as the world’s “land of opportunity.”
The 2008 global economic meltdown that eventually bailed out Wall Street financiers but left ordinary citizens to fend for themselves trained a spotlight on the unfairness of fiscal inequality. The issue gained traction during the Occupy Wall Street protest movement in 2011 and during the successful U.S. Senate campaign of former HLS Professor Elizabeth Warren in 2012.
What was once viewed as a fringe political issue is now at the heart of the angry, populist rhetoric of the 2016 presidential campaign. Personified by outsider candidates Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, economic inequality has resonated with broad swaths of nervous voters on both the left and right.