Here’s a test for code language recognition skills: When you hear complaints of “income inequality,” do you hear “some people make too much money?”
If so, you pass the test. You are hearing precisely what the alarmists want you to hear, and to think. It is the attempt to paint wealth as a problem in need of a solution, as if our economy is some zero-sum game in which money at the top has calcified to the detriment of those at the bottom.
This is the first step in the game of persuasion that leads inevitably to income redistribution. Whether it is a punitive taxation scale or a government health care plan thick with subsidies, the efforts against income inequality are inevitably linked to solutions that drain from the top for allotment to the bottom.
As in “marriage equality,” the term itself presupposes an attempt to liken things that are by their nature not alike. In a nation where the rich are very rich and the poor are very poor, the necessary question is: How did they get that way?
If the rich are rich because of ill-gotten gains, corruption or hoarding by some evil aristocracy, and if the poor are poor because of victimization from the top economic strata, then you have a sinister slicing of the economic pie.
But in a free-market society with equality of opportunity (which is not a guarantee of equal result), our place on the socioeconomic ladder is mostly a function of our behaviors and market conditions.
Millions of Americans have escaped poverty to reach the middle class. Millions more in the middle class have improved their station, sometimes to the point of reaching the maligned “1 percent.”
Examine that 1 percent and you will see actions and choices that got them there. The converse is too often true in the bottom percentiles. There are behaviors that will make people poor and keep them that way, from sloth and drug use to overreliance on government beneficence. Of the good, hardworking souls trying to better themselves, not one is obstructed by the mere presence of millionaires.
In fact, it is the wealthy who are likely to open the businesses and create the jobs that will help the lower quintiles climb the ladder. The assault on income inequality is designed to stigmatize America’s top earners (and plunder them) without regard to a changing economy.
Past decades provided an economy with untold millions of jobs for workers with lower skill levels. The advent of technology and the sprouting of the information age eroded many of those positions but opened up countless avenues for greater income at the middle- and upper-income levels.
What is needed in the 21st century is not more whining about haves and have-nots. We need an economy that invites growth with pro-business policies and moves us toward fuller employment, providing more springboards from which more workers can ascend. Losing that job-strangling minimum wage would be a good start.
Getting out of poverty requires hard work. Helping people out of poverty involves realizing that income disparity does not mean you have too many at the top, it means you have too many at the bottom. They are aided by initiatives that create jobs and opportunity in the near term. Then it’s up to them to move upward.
Derisive envy toward top earners does not give one poverty-level worker a job or put one meal in front of his family. It is easy to shower the poor with wealth pilfered from layers above. The solution to divergent income levels is to leave the top alone and let those below enjoy the growth and liberty of free markets to fuel their climb.
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