[Bobby] Tolbert agrees with Piketty—and the majority of American voters—about taxing the wealthy to spread assistance and opportunity to the poor and working class.
But Tolbert argues for something that Piketty and most of the academic and political debate about inequality seem to miss—that the nature of our economy, the rules of the game that currently incentivize unequal distribution, will never change unless the people making those rules, the people seated at the tables of power, change as well. In other words, as long as economic policy decisions are made by Wall Street and their proxies (see, e.g., Treasury Secretaries Robert Rubin, Henry Paulson and Timothy Geithner) then Thomas Piketty’s ideas won’t be included in the discussion, let alone Bobby Tolbert’s.
“We need a new political system,” Tolbert said, “one that takes money out and puts people in.” Yes, that means campaign finance reform and reducing the barriers to voting, rather than increasing them. That would help get more everyday Americans into positions of power. But Tolbert’s vision also includes participatory budgeting in which communities, not special interests, set the government funding agenda—which is already happening in New York. And it means people’s organizations commanding and being given equal input with business interests and the rich in the smoke-filled rooms where policy deals are cut. It means that when the Federal Reserve is weighing interest rates and the Senate Budget Committee is evaluating banking regulations, they should as a matter of habit meet with economists and CEOs and the everyday Americans whom their decisions affect most.