The Fuss over Income Inequality
I’m not a good blogger. I imagine most good bloggers are those who have instant and penetrating insight into everything they read in the news that day, and can do nothing other than to release it into the world lest the pressure grow so great that aneurysms and spontaneous combustion become real risks. Myself, I have no stomach for a lot of political topics, and the topics I do take an interest in typically arrive in a flash, without any particular “current event” to tether or relate it to. Blogging is about interaction, finding and joining a conversation on the great big internet and, if you’re lucky, moving the debate ahead in some meaningful way. It can be impolite to spring a long essay on the impact of Chief Justice John Marshall’s nationalism in 19th century America on a poor reader.
All this is to say, I’ve been wanting to say something about the left’s infatuation with income disparity, and this exchange between the folks at Balloon Juice, on the one hand, and Andrew Sullivan, on the other, seemed a good enough excuse. What follows is stuff that has been rolling around in the old bean for a few weeks.
First, I acknowledge there is some sort of natural law that says that no man can be worth so many times more than the next. This is not true in practical terms, of course, in a world of sophisticated and international markets. But whatever OS God installed on our brains was wired well before the industrial revolution and multi-national corporations and world banks, etc. So we’re left with the reality that no matter how well you make the case that Warren Buffet and Bill Gates and Steve Jobs earned their billions, there will always be something clanging about in defiance in the mind’s basement.
With that said, where is the self-control that should be reigning in that raw nerve that wants to buck against those who have more than us? Why do we continue to grow more petty and jealous rather than less? The problem of ostentation does not exist as it once did. At one time, the lower class lived in literal filth, in such proximity to their own waste that the evidence of their caste was transmitted as much by odor as by appearance. They were exposed to diseases by the vermin that lived among them. The fires used to prepare meals and heat their homes posed a real risk of destroying entire neighborhoods. Likewise, during these times, the wealthy took great pride in advertising their status, generally making a point of drawing attention to the difference between “us” and “them.”
Today, on the other hand, it is hard to tell the difference between the poor and the wealthy. Typically, the poor enjoy indoor plumbing, microwaves, refrigerators, color televisions, and many other accoutrements of 21st century life. The wealthy are difficult to distinguish from the middle class. While the very wealthy will drive expensive cars, they drive them on the same highways as everyone else. To the untrained eye, a suit looks like any other suit. And besides, the wealthy and poor alike enjoy wearing board shorts and flip flops. The gutter debutants and reality tv stars bizarrely have become a sort of symbol of the pop-cultural ties that bind us.
So, perhaps I’m misinformed. But if so, then that’s a point in itself. Without actively searching for it, I come across a lot of fuss made over the “income gap.” But it never seems to be accompanied by any actual particulars about what it is those poor, impoverished indigents are presumed to be lacking. It always seems to be merely in the abstract: there is more inequality; the rich, by certain metrics, are getting richer; and the poor, certain metrics, are getting poorer. And the greedy rich want to keep their money! Don’t they realize we have a government to run? Don’t they realize the poor—the particulars of their impoverishment we’d rather not state, since either they don’t make for very sympathetic facts, or they’re not the sort that can be fixed with government services anyway—are being crushed under the feet of the rich who are waging war on them? By God, let’s dust off the Thirteenth Amendment and get to work!
Perhaps the reason for the dearth of details is because the left knows there is no traction to be made by getting specific. What big spending program would be a good rallying cry to galvanize the fight to empower the poor? The Kansas City School Experiment, which spent tens of billions on inner city schools in a euphoric spree by liberal policy-makers, with no appreciable effects on kids’ education? Are there any other sensible plans for what to do with the money? Or just more pipe dreams? Conservatives reasonably believe there aren’t any good plans demanding the rich cough up another substantial portion of their money, and thus the only plausible explanation for the weeping and gnashing of teeth over “income inequality” has more to do with a plot to soak the rich than anything else.
This is not to suggest, of course, that the debate over whether income inequality is a ripe issue for debate among macro-economists. But that is not the nature of the current raw-nerve debate going on in the blogosphere currently.