One of the most important trends in America over the last three decades is the rise of extreme inequality: The wealth gap between the "1%" and the "99%" is now higher than it has been in 70 years, since the latter half of the 1920s.
In connection with this, argues MSNBC host and author Chris Hayes in a new book called Twilight Of The Elites, America has become a self-perpetuating aristocracy, in which the small percentage of Americans who benefit from the power and wealth imbalance do what they need to do to ensure that they and their friends and families cling to power.
Importantly, this new aristocracy crosses racial and gender lines--it's not the "old white boy" network of prior generations.
But it's just as insidious in terms of removing the meritocracy that is part and parcel of the now-rare "American Dream" and replacing it with what amounts to an old-world aristocracy. Even President Barack Obama, Hayes argues, succumbed to this trend when he gained power. Although his own story represents the epitome of the old American dream, Obama's policies now seem designed to preserve the power of the elites, a class in which he is now firmly entrenched.
So how do we fix this?
In Hayes' view, we should start by raising taxes on high incomes and raising the minimum wage.
Back in the 1950s, 60s. and 70s, Hayes notes, the country's highest tax brackets were vastly higher, and this helped produce not only a more equal society, but--contrary to popular wisdom--one in which American business thrived. The business strength was a result of the strong middle class, which collectively represented vast purchasing power.
Hayes doesn't think we should raise taxes back to the levels of that golden era, but he does argue for raising them. Hiking the top income tax bracket to 50%, for example, would help fix the inequality problem without removing all incentive for Americans to build businesses and earn lots of money.
At the same time, Hayes argues, we should raise the national minimum wage to $12, which will put a lot more money (and spending power) in the hands of the lower-middle class. This, in turn, will help all American businesses, because it will give American consumers more money to spend.