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Talking About Income Inequality

There’s a lot of public dialogue about income inequality these days.

In a new memo, Topos principals consider the best approach to building public understanding on addressing this economic issue in light of their recently released research on building support for job quality policies like paid time off and higher minimum wages.

A dramatic rise in references to income inequality  – among leaders, journalists and advocates, and disseminated in all media – suggests that influential individuals feel the climate has changed in ways that make an inequality discussion more palatable than it has been in the past.

Since 2008, the economy has changed and the Occupy movement made headlines, so can we assume that earlier cautions no longer apply?

We should be very careful about assuming that is true – partly because the challenges discussed in the 2008 paper mostly arise from fundamental cultural perspectives and cognitive tendencies, that don’t change quickly, if ever.

The Pew Center conducts a regular survey of American values and in a recent report, the Center’s founding director Andrew Kohut and his co-author conclude that there’s been no real shift in public opinion about economic inequality despite the fact that there’s been more media attention to the issue since the Occupy movement and the 2012 election.

Overall, our goal is to help see people see the bigger picture – of what is happening, how it is happening, who is affected, etc. With this in mind, we may be better off not using the word inequality as a leading idea, and using other words for now.

Debate Season: The Olympics of Framing

We’re excited about debate season! Yes, we’re political and policy communication nerds — and this is like the Olympics of framing.

Kennedy and Nixon Debate 1960

 

This year’s debates are sure to offer some great lessons in contrasting frames.  In fact, the winner of any debate is likely to be the candidate who more compellingly frames the fundamental issues.

 

For example, look at the competing visions of the American Experience that each candidate outlined in his convention speech:

Individual Freedom, Individual Success 

That very optimism is uniquely American.

 

It is what brought us to America. We are a nation of immigrants. We are the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the ones who wanted a better life, the driven ones, the ones who woke up at night hearing that voice telling them that life in that place called America could be better.

 

They came not just in pursuit of the riches of this world but for the richness of this life. Freedom. Freedom of religion. Freedom to speak their mind.

 

Freedom to build a life. And yes, freedom to build a business. With their own hands.

 

This is the essence of the American experience.  

Mitt Romney    

 

Shared Responsibility, Shared Success 

But we also believe in something called citizenship, a word at the very heart of our founding, at the very essence of our democracy; the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another, and to future generations.

 

We believe that when a CEO pays his autoworkers enough to buy the cars that they build, the whole company does better.

 

We believe that when a family can no longer be tricked into signing a mortgage they can’t afford, that family is protected, but so is the value of other people’s homes, and so is the entire economy…

 

As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government. That’s what we believe.

Barack Obama

 

The debate frame clashes are likely to be even more obvious since the candidates will be seeking to highlight contrasts.

During the October 3rd debate we’ll be watching for framing moments — watch this space for some thoughts about the most interesting ones. (Want to share your thoughts? We’ll be on Twitter and Facebook for the debate!)
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