Bob Herbert’s career as a columnist for the New York Times spanned nearly 18 years, during which he devoted much of his column space to issues of poverty and wealth inequality in the United States. His final op-ed for the Times appeared on Saturday.
Herbert used his last lines to call the war in Libya a scandalous misplacement of American priorities, considering the state of the economy:
Limitless greed, unrestrained corporate power and a ferocious addiction to foreign oil have led us to an era of perpetual war and economic decline… As the Economic Policy Institute has reported, the richest 10 percent of Americans received an unconscionable 100 percent of the average income growth in the years 2000 to 2007, the most recent extended period of economic expansion.
It didn’t use to be this way, Herbert writes: “Through much of the post-World War II era, income distribution was far more equitable, with the top 10 percent of families accounting for just a third of average income growth, and the bottom 90 percent receiving two-thirds.”
Instead of “pouring shiploads of cash into yet another war,” Herbert suggests we take a closer look at the seeds this wealth inequality may be sowing at home. “This inequality,” writes Herbert, “is a world-class recipe for social unrest. Downward mobility is an ever-shortening fuse leading to profound consequences.”
The Times is rightfully regretful about Herbert’s departure; he was one of the few voices so committed to and consistent in his message. Herbert signs off at the end of his column by announcing he is “off to write a book and expand my efforts on behalf of working people, the poor and others who are struggling in our society.” No doubt we will be hearing from him soon.