Is America caught between democratic inclusion and economic stratification?

Here is an interesting discussion topic: America’s ability to weave/meld new people groups into the democratic process seems inversely related to America’s ability to have more economic equality.

It’s a puzzle: one dispossessed group after another — blacks, women, Hispanics and gays — has been gradually accepted in the United States, granted equal rights and brought into the mainstream.

At the same time, in economic terms, the United States has gone from being a comparatively egalitarian society to one of the most unequal democracies in the world…

European countries have done a better job of protecting workers’ salaries and rights but have been reluctant to extend the benefits of their generous welfare state to new immigrants who look and act differently from them. Could America’s lost enthusiasm for income redistribution and progressive taxation be in part a reaction to sharing resources with traditionally excluded groups?

“I do think there is a trade-off between inclusion and equality,” said Gary Becker, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago and a Nobel laureate. “I think if you are a German worker you are better off than your American equivalent, but if you are an immigrant, you are better off in the U.S.”

I often bring this up in my introduction to sociology course: while the United States has a less than pretty racial and discriminatory history (and there is still much to do), the scale of inclusion in the United States (in a country of roughly 310 million people) is remarkable, particularly compared to some of the issues European countries face.

In the end, does this have to be a zero sum game? Is there a country in the world that has successfully done both of these things? Is there a system that can accomplish both?

And getting into the territory of values and morality, which of these outcomes is more worthwhile if you could only have one?

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