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'Scourge of growing inequality is having a huge toll,' says Ford Foundation president

Max Zahn
Reporter

Americans are split nearly down the middle on the question of whether to impeach President Donald Trump — combine that divide with daily partisan combat on social media and record audiences for cable news. Polarization is as real as it is cliche.

In a newly released interview, Ford Foundation President Darren Walker said wealth inequality is partly to blame for the division, adding that his organization generally favors political leaders who seek to bridge that gap.

“In this country today, there is no doubt, irrespective of who is president, that the scourge of growing inequality is having a huge toll,” says Walker, who declined to comment directly on Trump.

“It is part of the reason why we are an increasingly divided nation, because people who work hard, play by the rules, find themselves feeling as though they are being left behind,” he tells Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer.

Walker listed attributes of political leaders that make it less likely for economic inequality to deepen under their watch.

“Ideally, we want to have an administration, wherever we work in the world, that believes in justice and fairness and equity,” says Walker, whose recently released book “From Generosity to Justice” is available free in e-book or audiobook form.

The income gap between the richest and poorest American households is wider than it’s been in 50 years, according to a Census Bureau report released in September. Moreover, income inequality in the U.S. was “significantly higher” in 2018 than it was in 2017, the report found.

Philip Alston, a United Nations special rapporteur on poverty, wrote last May that Trump’s “aggressively regressive redistributive policies” have “overwhelmingly benefited the wealthy and worsened inequality.” Last October, Moody’s Investors Service found that Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act had exacerbated wealth inequality, as reported by Yahoo Finance’s Rick Newman.

Trump and his allies disagree, arguing that his 2017 tax cut spurred economic growth and slashed the unemployment rate. Wage growth picked up earlier this year, after sluggish increases for the bulk of the decade’s economic expansion. In October, the unemployment rate ticked up to 3.6% from 3.5%, which had been the lowest rate since December 1969.

For his part, Walker says the country is enduring “growing inequality” under “a capitalism that favors the wealthy.”

Walker made the comments during a conversation that aired in an episode of Yahoo Finance’s “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.

A native of rural Texas, Walker made it on Wall Street as a banker for the Union Bank of Switzerland — but he left it behind to volunteer full-time at an elementary school in Harlem. Eventually, he shifted to philanthropy, working at the Rockefeller Foundation and then the Ford Foundation, where he has served as president since 2013.

Ford Foundation President Darren Walker appears on Influencers with Andy Serwer.

Walker — the head of an organization founded in 1936 with a gift from Henry Ford’s son Edsel Ford — is “committed to capitalism,” he says.

But he takes fault with the current version of our economic system, which in his view has worsened inequality.

“The problem is we have a kind of capitalism that is distorting the potential of capitalism to deliver benefits for more people,” Walker tells Serwer. “So we have designed a form of capitalism that over-indexes for higher income people.”

Walker invoked a period of broad economic prosperity that transpired last century, which many historians date to the first few decades after World War II.

“That made our form of capitalism the envy of the world,” he says. “What we're seeing today does not make America the envy of the world.”

Max Zahn is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Find him on twitter @MaxZahn_.

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