Discussions increase support for policies to reduce inequality
For Leslie McCall of the CUNY Graduate Center, elitist policies do not correspond to public preferences and the public needs to be informed of the extent of economic and social inequalities
By Heitor Shimizu, in New York | Agência FAPESP – The sharp increase in economic inequality throughout the world has led to important discussions about how to respond to the issue. In the United States, the subject has gained visibility during the two most recent presidential elections in 2012 and 2016. Among analysts, there are those who do not consider it important that the gap between the rich and everyone else is constantly increasing. For them, what is important is economic opportunity along with good jobs and prospects for upward mobility.
Leslie McCall (photo), a professor of sociology and political science at the CUNY Graduate Center and associate director of the Stone Center on Socio-Economic Inequality, believes this view is mistaken. According to her, when Americans are informed about the increase in economic inequality, they become more skeptical about the existence of economic opportunity and more favorable to policies that redistribute income and compensation.
McCall holds that informing the public about the extent of economic inequality, or simply raising the subject, may result in increased support for policies aimed at reducing the problem. The researcher was one of the speakers at FAPESP Week New York, held November 26-28, 2018 at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY).
"Elitist policies do not correspond to public preferences. Inequality is a relatively new economic and political issue among elites, and discussions and political-economic solutions proffered on the topic are still divided. This can be seen in speeches by both Donald Trump [Republican, President of the United States] as well as Bernie Sanders [Democrat, Senator from the state of Vermont]," she said.
According to McCall, a civil rights model for redistribution could fill that void, with a "focus on equalizing outcomes in order to equalize opportunities in both education and the labor market."
The author of The Undeserving Rich: American Beliefs about Inequality, Opportunity, and Redistribution (2013) and Complex Inequality: Gender, Class, and Race in the New Economy (2001), who recently joined CUNY from Northwestern University, is one of the leading experts on economic inequality in the United States.
One of the objectives of her research group at CUNY is to "expand the analysis of public support for solutions to perceived problems of inequality to include unconventional forms of redistribution and, especially, of policies for improving opportunities."
McCall told Agência FAPESP that her group works by analyzing large volumes of data obtained by companies that specialize in surveys and public opinion. The researchers study public opinion regarding inequality, opportunity and related economic and political issues; current salary trends and inequality in family income; and patterns of intersectional inequalities.
McCall took part in FAPESP Week New York by presenting her findings during the session on "Social Inequality." The session also included presentations by Miles Corak of the Graduate Center on "Intergenerational mobility between and within Canada and the United States"; by Eliseu Savério Sposito of São Paulo State University (Unesp) who addressed the topic "Inequalities in middle cities: segregation, self-segregation and socio-spatial fragmentations"; and by Sérgio Adorno of the Center for the Study of Violence – one of the FAPESP-funded Research, Innovation and Dissemination Centers (RIDCs) – who presented the study "Building democracy daily: human rights, violence and institutional trust."