News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Opinion

December 21, 2013

THOMAS L. STEIGER: Individualist culture at root of income gap attitudes

TERRE HAUTE — Why don’t Americans think that growing income inequality (as well as the growing gaping disparity in wealth) is a very big problem for us? The United States is certainly exceptional when it comes to the actual levels of income inequality and public concern for it. Across the other advanced economies, as the ratio of the top 20 percent income to the bottom 20 percent income increases, public concern about income inequality grows as well. (We are number one in having the greatest inequality as measured this way among the advanced economies).

It is not because Americans are unaware of growing inequality. Polls consistently show that Americans believe that the rich are getting richer and the poor getting poorer and that the rich are doing better while the rest of us, especially the middle class, are struggling. Nevertheless, it’s not viewed as a very big problem.

Pope Francis is popular in the U.S., attributed to, in part, his personal actions regarding the poor and his pronouncements about growing income and wealth inequality. Of course, liberals like him better than do conservatives; a solid majority of U.S. Catholics like him. President Obama is making speeches about the growing economic inequality in the U.S. (Personally, I’d like to see him volunteer one day a month at Habitat for Humanity instead of golfing with Wall Street types.) It seems disjointed to me that on the one hand, these kinds of messages ring true with Americans but, on the other, they don’t see our growing inequality as a very serious problem.

Why?

Some conservatives suggest that relative inequality is not what Americans care about, rather it is “absolute well-being.” In short, the argument goes that our poor are rich compared to the poor from other countries. However, one can argue that the poor in other advanced economies are better off than our poor, why don’t other advanced countries, with considerably less inequality than we experience in the U.S., see inequality as a very big problem? Why don’t those other countries focus on absolute well-being, too? What evidence is there that our poor are knowledgeable about the poor in other countries? Despite the obvious weaknesses with this explanation, it points in the right direction. It’s about “me,” not “us.”

The American ideology of individualism contrasts sharply with the more “collectivist” orientations of the rest of the globe. In short, an individualist culture extols the interests of the individual over the larger group, while a collectivist culture extols the group over the individual.

Protestant European countries are more individualist oriented while Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa are more collectivist. The American belief system has evolved to a point where there is considerable hostility to collectivist approaches, even to the point where some Americans object to how insurance works.

The historically strong and growing individualist cultural orientation of Americans, I think, goes a long way in explaining why Americans don’t see the growing economic inequality in the United States as a big problem, because we look out for ourselves and really don’t care (much) about others, even those in similar economic situations as ourselves.    

This growing hostility to collective approaches is shown in a variety of things. Labor unions, which  unquestionably have done more for working people than any other organization, are now viewed, even by a third of union families, as doing more harm than good. That all across the U.S., municipalities have scaled back virtually all public services, even first responders, who used to be untouchable when it came to any kind of cutbacks.

The “crisis” with education demonstrates this all too well, as our once vaunted public education system is being privatized from kindergarten all the way through graduate school with individuals racking up major debt because education is viewed less a public good than as a private good. Even the declining significance of religion in the U.S. fits with the growing imbalance of individualism over collectivism since one thing all religions hold true is this: There is something larger than me that I am a part.

Pope Francis, being a Latin American, comes from a society with a more collectivist orientation than what Americans are accustomed. Indeed, among Americans, Catholics tend toward a more collectivist orientation than do American Protestants. To some conservative Americans, who extoll individualism more so than liberal Americans, no wonder Pope Francis sounds “foreign” or “Marxist.”

Help the poor? The individualist responds, “No, let them help themselves. ‘We’ will provide a privately run prison cell for those who won’t.”

Thomas L. Steiger is a professor of sociology and director of the Center for Student Research and Creativity at Indiana State University. Email thomas.steiger@indstate.edu.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Opinion
  • wefight.jpg Feeling carried: Filmmaker captures late uncle’s walk through illness and into ‘whatever is next’

    Paul Fleschner sensed a remarkable strength as he filmed his beloved uncle one final time.

    July 12, 2014 2 Photos

  • EDITORIAL: Dysfunctional relationship with schools chief doesn’t bode well for potential Pence presidency

    A window to the future may be unfolding in Indiana.

    July 12, 2014

  • Readers’ Forum: July 13, 2014

    • Telling the truth about smoking
    • Larger energy bills on the way, thanks to EPA
    • Embrace the compassion, not self-righteousness
    • Wondering about country’s leaders
    • New amendments have hurt country

    July 12, 2014

  • FLASHPOINT: EPA proposal will have little impact on environment, but could hurt coal industry

    I recently signed on as an original co-sponsor to a bipartisan bill led by one of my Democrat colleagues from West Virginia that would stop the newly released Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations on existing coal-generated power plants.

    July 12, 2014

  • RONN MOTT: Troubled history in that place called Iraq

    People are dying, again, in Iraq. And, again, people other than Iraqis will ultimately make the decision about what happens to this ancient land.

    July 11, 2014

  • Editorial: The Bennett ‘settlement’

    It takes a special kind of arrogance to flout ethics laws in the manner which former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett has violated them. Even when he finally admitted his transgressions, he claimed he could have avoided the matter altogether had he just changed the department’s ethics policy before engaging in the troublesome conduct.
    In essence, this was the old “mistakes were made” acknowledgment of wrongdoing. And the real mistake to which Bennett admits was apparently not changing the rules before he violated them. This is a truly Nixonian moment.

    July 10, 2014

  • Readers’ Forum: July 11, 2014

    July 10, 2014

  • Ronn Mott.jpg RONN MOTT: That Old Man River

    I was surprised to learn the people in Cairo are now taking water taxis to avoid the traffic, the confusion and the dangers that are appearing on Cairo, Egypt’s, streets. I mean, I was surprised the people in Cairo, these native Egyptians, were surprised they could take a water taxi and get to where they wanted to go using the Nile River as a highway. So, for the Egyptians living in Cairo, everything old is brand new again.

    July 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • EDITORIAL: A green idea worth pursuing

    It sounds like a blue-ribbon idea.

    July 9, 2014

  • READERS' FORUM: July 10, 2014

    • Herb Faire a great success

    • Appreciation for a ‘lovely angel’

    • Thanks for stirring fireworks show

    July 9, 2014

  • tstribunestar EDITORIAL: Be safe, be responsible

    The Independence Day weekend brought a brief respite in construction work on area roadways. In particular, it provided needed relief to the congested segment of Interstate 70 in Clay County that is undergoing resurfacing this summer.

    July 8, 2014 1 Photo

  • Readers’ Forum: July 9, 2014

    • Don’t eliminate our six-day mail

    • Zamperini death stirs memories

    July 8, 2014

  • RONN MOTT: Black Dog

    We had some excitement around our house the other day and it was not the good kind.
    There was a small dog, black in color with a spiked collar on his neck, and he was the spitting image of a small Doberman. I don’t know if they have miniature Dobermans but this dog could have been a mixed breed that came out looking like a Doberman although smaller.

    July 8, 2014

  • Readers’ Forum: July 8, 2014

    • T-S ignores common decency

    • Lighten up on Donald Sterling

    • Time to reject Dems in Congress

    Fueling the EPA

    July 7, 2014

  • MS. TAKES: Great music is made during all generations

    Number Two son tells us that his 20-year-old son has been listening to “Big Band” music with apparent enjoyment. As if that wasn’t enough of a surprise, I was talking with a young girl, barely out of her teens and she told us that she really wasn’t into rap. She said, “It isn’t really music, it’s just talk.”

    July 7, 2014

  • Readers’ Forum: July 7, 2014

    • The moral issue is major issue

    July 6, 2014

  • tstribunestar Editorial: City financial health demands an open, honest discussion

    Obscured by the recent rift over use of departmental funds in the city of Terre Haute’s budget are serious issues related to our city government’s overall financial health. The answers may be mired in the complexity of municipal finance, but coming to grips with the situation is important to the city’s future.

    July 6, 2014 1 Photo

  • Readers’ Forum: July 6, 2014

    • Coats ignoring climate science

    • Do those mustache posters exist?

    • Utility rate freeze took determination

    • What perversion is next in line?

    • Opinions vary, but voters will decide

    • This preaching must stop — now

    • Golf fundraiser a huge success

    July 6, 2014

  • Flashpoint: State’s lawyer has duty to represent state in marriage lawsuit appeal

    Recent federal court actions that first struck down Indiana’s statute limiting marriage to the traditional definition, and then stayed that order pending appeal, have left many in our state in legal limbo. As the attorney who represents state government and defends its laws, I know this difficult case stirs many people’s deeply held beliefs that touch their lives in very personal ways. Not since my office had to represent the state in lawsuits arising from the State Fair disaster has a dispute been so seemingly impossible to address in a way that the public would accept as being fair to all concerned.

    July 6, 2014

  • Flashpoint: The Supreme Court decision and ‘closely held’ corporations

    The much awaited Supreme Court decision in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby came down this week. The court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the 1993 Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA) does cover “closely held” corporations, even if those corporations are for profit.

    July 6, 2014

  • RONN MOTT: Learning more about Jefferson

    During this Fourth of July weekend, I’ll be reading John Meacham’s biography of Thomas Jefferson.

    July 4, 2014

  • EDITORIAL: Celebrate your independence

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
    As eloquent and declaratory as that statement is, implementing its principles has been a decades-long pursuit for these United States of America. Our nation, it seems, is the quintessential work in progress, even though what this country has created in terms of a stable, collective society is, let’s face it, pretty darn good.

    July 3, 2014

  • Readers’ Forum: July 4, 2014

    July 3, 2014

  • Ronn Mott.jpg RONN MOTT: The Men Who Made the Country

    The Fourth of July is the day we celebrate our independence from Great Britain. It reminds me of something David Ben-Gurion would say, at a much later date, about British rule: “If you have to have a master, the British are about as good at it as anybody.” Of course, we really don’t need a master.

    July 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • MET 033114 GREG ZOELLER MUG.jpg GREG ZOELLER: State’s lawyer has duty to represent state in marriage lawsuit appeal

    Recent federal court actions that first struck down Indiana’s statute limiting marriage to the traditional definition, and then stayed that order pending appeal, have left many in our state in legal limbo.

    July 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • Readers’ Forum: July 3, 2014

    • Over the top on immigration

    July 2, 2014

  • FLASHPOINT: HIP 2.0 gives consumers better choices

    On Wednesday, the State of Indiana submitted its proposal for the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0 to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

    July 2, 2014

  • Gov. Mike Pence (R, Ind.) MIKE PENCE: HIP 2.0 gives consumers better choices

    Today, the state of Indiana submitted its proposal for the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0 to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
    If approved, the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0 would replace traditional Medicaid for low-income, able-bodied Hoosier adults. Unlike traditional Medicaid, which is government-driven, HIP 2.0 is consumer-driven.

    July 2, 2014 1 Photo

  • Editorial: Texting law serves safety

    July 1 each year marks the day in Indiana when new laws take effect. But rather than focus on new laws today, let’s observe the anniversary of a law that went on the books three years ago this month — the law that barred texting while driving.

    July 1, 2014

  • Readers’ Forum: July 2, 2014

    July 1, 2014

Latest News
TribStar.com Poll
AP Video
Raw: Israel, Gaza Exchange Rocket Fire Raw: Stunning Timelapse of WC Final Host City Joy Fills Streets of Cleveland As LeBron Returns Raw: Militants, Israelis Exchange Rocket Fire Israel Widens Attack As Gaza Death Toll Rises Raw: Airstrike Creates Chaos on Gaza Streets Netherlands Beats Host Brazil 3-0 to Finish 3rd Texas Shooting Suspect Collapses in Court Raw: Airstrike Creates Chaos on Gaza Streets Raw: Sirens Blare Over Jerusalem Proposed Bill to Regulate NY Costumed Characters Diaz and Segel Strip Off for 'Sex Tape' Death Toll Tops 100 As Israel Offense Continues Raw: Rebel Leader Weds in Eastern Ukraine Ana Ortiz on 'Devious Maids' Finale LeBron: Move Back to Cleveland 'Exciting' FIFA Rejects Suarez Appeal Against Biting Ban WH: LeBron's Move a 'Powerful Statement' World Cup Final Pits Argentina Against Germany Arizona Mom of Missing Baby Released From Prison
NDN Video
Cleveland welcomes home LeBron Houston Killer Collapses in Court When Read Capital Murder Charges for Allegedly Killing Family of Six Worst Valet Ever Wrecks $500K Lamborghini Glee Star Becca Tobin's Boyfriend Matt Bendik Found Dead in Hotel Aerial fish restocking in Utah ScarJo Channels Marilyn Monroe Obama Responds to Hecklers on Immigration Tiny Hamsters Who Ate Burritos are Back for a Tiny Hedgehog's Party Watch Kelly Ripa Get Soaked! 'Referee' Hands Out Yellow Cards for Social Faux Pas in NYC 2014 Emmy Nominees: 8 Snub Shockers Emma Watson Is Va-Va-Voom in Valentino 7 Infamous Sports Blowouts Argentina tops Holland in World Cup semifinals News flush: Japanese toilet exhibition making a splash Emmy Nominations: What to Watch For 'Game of Thrones' Leads 66th Emmy Awards Nominations Photographic 'Proof' That LeBron Is Leaving Miami - @TheBuzzeronFOX Elephant Pool Party at The Oregon Zoo Must-See! Berry and Fallon Form Human Hamster Wheel
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
  • -

     

    March 12, 2010

activity