Originally in American Thinker, March 30, 2011
By Chuck Rogér
Is wealth envy a serious problem in a technologically advanced country like America? Economist Tyler Cowen observes that economic indignation is mostly felt toward:
…the guy down the hall who got a bigger raise … [or toward] the husband of your wife’s sister, because the brand of beer he stocks costs $3 a case more than yours… [Americans] aren’t so bothered by income or wealth inequality at the macro level. Most of us don’t compare ourselves to billionaires.
Amen. Such comparisons serve no positive purpose. Wealth envy does not pervade prosperous societies. In America, wealth envy tends to manifest locally, as Cowen describes. Resentment does, however, bleed onto the national scene through the words and actions of low earners, whose self-reliance is eroded by class warfare preachers bearing the gospel of government dependency.
Progressive preachers probably identify with Chinese President Hu Jintao’s intention to reduce his citizenry’s income gap in order to create a “harmonious society.” The Communist’s sentiment saturates the politics of the Democratic Party.
Not to be outdone by Hu, British Prime Minister David Cameron recently complained that unequal societies rank low as measured by “almost every quality-of-life indicator.” Cameron didn’t mention that the most unequal societies are the ones uglified by the most tyrannical elitists. The tyranny, not the inequality, degrades quality of life. In a society of laws, such as the United States, even the poor live more comfortably than almost everyone in oppressed societies. The truth is that in prosperous cultures, when income gaps increase, high earners’ wealth pours into technological innovations, which raise quality of life for all people.
But truth means little to redistributionists. Class warfare gospel dominates most “when the rich get richer, the poor get poorer” arguments. Multi-billionaire Warren Buffett prescribes confiscatory inheritance taxes designed to humble the superwealthy. French socialist Dominique Strauss-Kahn wants “a new global growth model” because “gaping income gaps threaten social and economic stability.” Barack Obama demonized high earners and faulted America for having “the greatest income inequality since any time since the gilded age.” Progressives in general envision economic justice — indeed, social justice — through forced “fairness” lenses.
Global redistributionists increasingly express concern that “widening economic disparities” and “failings in global governance” pose “global risks[.]“ But none argue coherently as to why income gaps are inherently bad. Really, now, what are the specifics of this phantom “global governance” which teeters on collapse? The reality is that actual global governance would consume wealth through a corrupt global bureaucracy.
Fortunately, global governance is but a pipe dream in the minds of pie-in-the-sky shysters. Witness Al Gore’s call for an industrial carbon emissions tax and “global governance” to redistribute the take. Progressives like Gore and pretend-conservatives like Cameron imagine that such governance could “fairly” redistribute worldwide wealth. Redistributors, whether preaching from Church of Global Warming pulpits or from “income gap” pulpits, are cut from common cloth — silky, upper-crust, collectivist cloth. Any pretense serves as an excuse to establish financial, governmental, or social structures through which fairness ministers could gift to the world the vision of egalitarian perfection that pulses through brilliant ministerial minds.
For several years, equality fanatics have been abandoning the ruse of “lifting people out of poverty.” The fanatics now simply condemn the existence of income inequality. The reason for the shift is that reality has grown less and less friendly to the “lifting” strategy. Wealthier and wealthier people have been funding ever more wondrous, ever more affordable inventions. TVs, stereos, cell phones, computers, and myriad other yesteryear conveniences are current-day fixtures enjoyed by low earners in advanced countries. Anyone denying the attendant boost in quality of life appears foolish. The Economist magazine observes:
…much of the recent hand-wringing about widening inequality is based on sloppy thinking. … Rather than a sweeping assault on inequality itself, policymakers would do better to take on the market distortions that often lie behind the most galling income gaps, and which also impede economic growth.
Americans have grown intimate with “market distortions” since 2008. For years prior, Washington ideologues had waved homeownership “fairness” flags and pressured lenders to issue loans to ridiculously unqualified borrowers. But the resulting, aptly-named “subprime” mortgage crisis was not the only cause of the ensuing economic meltdown. Concerning an out-of-control Wall Street, Tyler Cowen notes:
We probably don’t have any solution to the hazards created by our financial sector, not because plutocrats are preventing our political system from adopting appropriate remedies, but because we don’t know what those remedies are.
Yet try telling politicians with images of societal “harmony” in their eyes that force-feeding beautiful, hypothetical remedies won’t eliminate real, ugly behavioral juju. Try telling politicians whose interventions create lousy economic times that more intervention will guarantee only future lousiness. Both communication attempts would draw blank stares at best, with venom-spewing exhibitions more likely. Thomas Sowell refers to such fairness-mongers, with their fantastical worldviews, as “intellectuals” with the “vision of the anointed.” Ah, progressives.
There is indeed “unfairness” in America. But progressives can never formulate antidotes to human behaviors that have bred unfairness since the dawn of our kind. There is income inequality in America. Yet Americans must not permit progressives to use courts, regulatory schemes, and collectivist education curricula to summon societal “harmony” — a state which humankind has never shown the tiniest capacity to achieve.
America is besieged by a war between visions. Progressives believe that anointed academics and politicians can conceive “solutions” to “underlying causes” of income inequality. Libertarians and conservatives acknowledge the inequality, but these groups identify the underlying cause as hardwired human nature, which guides people to strive, achieve, and therefore earn at different levels.
Income inequality has grown relentlessly as humankind has advanced technologically. Inequality will probably continue to grow. Scowling yet starry-eyed progressives will continue to push political “fixes” for the growth. And through it all, even the least among the citizens of prosperous nations will live better and better lives, generation after generation, thanks to advances financed by human beings at the top end of the “income gap.” What’s a harmony-obsessed fairness-whisperer to do?