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Ron Radosh

The new domestic issue of choice for the Left in America is “income inequality.” When New York Mayor Bill de Blasio went to the White House to meet with President Obama, he told the press the topic they discussed was the great gap in income between the wealthy and the rest of America.

It is true that wages have been stagnant, and that the wages of the average worker have not risen as fast as the pay scale of corporation CEOs, and have not kept up with increasing inflation over the years. Yet, it is also true that even the poor are better off than their counterparts were decades ago, and that compared to the poor in other countries, the poor in America seem actually wealthy. We are way past the time period, still existing as LBJ began “the War on Poverty,” when those in rural poverty especially had no roads leading to where they lived, and had no indoor plumbing or electricity.

The question is how one should deal with the issue. The Left and self-proclaimed “progressives” — actually social-democrats, democratic socialists, Marxists, and leftover Communists — have one answer: redistribute the wealth and tax the rich. Of course, those who make that proposal always seem to favor redistributing everyone else’s wealth while not touching their own — especially if it’s private property they own, including their homes.

Every time the New York Times mentions Mayor Bill de Blasio’s home, two row houses worth over $1.1 million each, they refer to it as a modest dwelling. Ira Stoll, writing in Reason, quips that since many Americans can’t even afford one such home, “if de Blasio really wants to ‘put an end’ to economic inequality, he should sell both houses and distribute the proceeds to everyone else.” Or, perhaps he should invite 20 poor families to take over one of the units, properly collectivizing the units, as was the case in the Soviet Union of the 1920s and 1930s.

The truth is that the mayor and those like him would never consider such a step. After all, whatever they did to make a living allowed them to buy such a property, and they have no intention to let anyone, especially a politician, take it from them. That is why it becomes so important for leftist editors, like those at the Times, to describe the de Blasio units as “modest,” so that people will ignore the price tag and think that only a Donald Trump has truly immodest homes.

Actually, in the old “really-existing socialist regimes” of the past, or ones like Cuba today, the apparatchiks all lived in either newly built or old mansions confiscated from the wealthy. When the Sandinistas beloved by Comrade de Blasio took over Nicaragua in the 1970s, one of the first things Commandante Daniel Ortega did was confiscate a home of a wealthy Managua businessman and move in to the compound with his wife and family and assorted bodyguards. That move alone tells you about the great “option for the poor” the Nicaraguan Marxists believed in. How could you guarantee that the movement’s leaders would stay on course with the revolution unless they got something for their effort, while their countrymen remained steeped in poverty?

The real issue, which Stoll remarks they probably comprehend, at least on a subliminal level, is that “what’s really troubling isn’t inequality of outcome, it’s inequality of opportunity” — or the real issue of poverty becoming harder and harder to escape.

Just like the apparatchiks of the socialist regimes, the wealthy — including those who most yell about the injustices of income inequality — take very expensive vacations. They don’t opt for a day trip close to home or stay at a Holiday Inn a few days near a crowded public beach. Nor do they decide to give what they planned to spend on a luxury trip to the poor, so they could all have a vacation instead of staying at home the week or two they are off from work.

We know that these folks are hypocritical, and hope that no one will call them on their personal behavior. When they say that all their goals could be covered by higher taxes on the rich, they probably also realize that even if they raised the tax rate phenomenally for the truly wealthy, the amount they would raise would not cover any of the expenses for all the programs they support. Eventually, the category of “rich” will be lowered to those who earn, let’s say, $150,000 yearly in a big city, in which living expenses are so high and mortgages and rents also outrageously so. Such an income for a family of four puts one squarely in the mid ranges of the middle class.

They still believe that if inequality exists, redistributing the wealth is the only way to address the question. It reminds me of a cartoon I saw decades ago in The New Yorker, in which a king announces to the crowd that he wants an educated populace, so he’s awarding every subject a Ph.D. What the socialists who seek to make policy want is the equivalent: create equality by essentially making everyone more poor, so no one will have enough to go around.

Writing in USA Today, Jonah Goldberg describes well how the Left sees the issue:

As a broad generalization, liberals see income as a public good that is distributed, like crayons in a kindergarten class. If so-and-so didn’t get his or her fair share of income, it’s because someone or something — government, the system — didn’t distribute income properly. To the extent conservatives see income inequality as a problem, it is as an indication of more concrete problems. If the poor and middle class are falling behind the wealthy, it might be a sign of declining or stagnating wages or lackluster job creation. In other words, liberals tend to see income inequality as the disease, and conservatives tend to see it as a symptom.

Leftists also believe that because conservatives don’t agree with their analysis of how to deal with the real issues, conservatives are evil and don’t care about the poor and those not well-to-do. They tend to demonize them as Scrooges who care only for themselves, which they believe is proved when they don’t favor redistributionist policies. That is why the New York City public advocate Letitia James, as Goldberg accurately notes, held hands as she spoke with a 12-year-old girl made famous in a Times series as an example of the stark nature of poverty in the city. As Goldberg puts it, that was James’ way of highlighting “the Dickensian nature of the city.”

As for the girl profiled in the Times story, Dasani Coates, Kay S. Hymowitz writes in City Journal that her plight is not an example of income inequality, but rather “a beautifully reported but muddled revival of decades-long evasions about underclass poverty.” The girl’s mother was herself the daughter of a welfare-dependent drug addict. She has six children herself from three different fathers, and is a drug user who has been arrested numerous times. Moreover, she never had a job. The father, of course, is absent from the household. Being a leftist, the reporter who wrote the story admitted that she did not want to be part of a “politics of blame.”

To translate that, the reporter, Andrea Elliott, preferred to blame impersonal structural forces. As Hymowitz goes on to show — and everyone must read her truly brilliant analysis — the reporter simply stacks the books to try to prove that there was nothing Dasani’s mother could do, since even if she got work, it would not provide her enough to live on. And — you guessed it — the reporter says young Dasani’s problems are the result of — “inequality.” Hymowitz nails it:

In the progressive mind, there is only one kind of poverty. It is always an impersonal force wrought by capitalism, with no way out that doesn’t involve massive government help. Progressives blame lack of compassion — and the city’s failure to provide more services — for tragedies like Dasani’s, but they’re mistaken. … The shelter did not cause her mother’s drug problems, violent temper, or indifference to her children’s development and education. Living in an apartment, Dasani will still be late for school because she’s busy feeding and clothing her seven siblings while her jobless parents nod off on methadone.

We used to call the plight of those like Dasani Coates’ parents a result of “the culture of poverty,” but that is a concept not popular today. To the Left, using that term means “blaming the victim,” and we all know the culprit is capitalism, the greed of the wealthy, and the failure to take their wealth and throw it at the poor.

The Democrats may think this is the ticket for winning the House and Senate in the coming mid-term elections, but they might take pause before counting their supposed coming victory. I think the American public sees through the ruse of the new class warfare favored by the “progressives.” After all, there are far too many examples of the result in nations that tried that path before. And we all know the outcome.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
"Income equality" is a classic issue of communes and communists and has probably been debated since cave man days. Overall, full income equality is an extreme idea and hard (impossible) to support intellectually at least since Adam Smith. HOWEVER the current crop of "conservatives" is at least as tone-deaf and hypocritical and just plain STUPID about it as are the "liberals", and in exactly the opposite way. No matter how it comes about, by crime or virtue (or some combination thereof) some levels of inequality are dangerous to any democratic system. Just as some systems of *relieving* the problem are probably dangerous to the democratic, capitalist system as well. There are some bad trends in income distribution and if the conservatives just keep trying to excuse it, they will lose, big.

It is already difficult in the year 2014 to find anything like the middle class of say 1964. I don't know where we're going, but it's probably not back to 1964, either. There is a LOT of political capital at stake here and I hope the democrats don't end up with 100% of it.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
You're mistaking cause and effect. The economy wasn't stronger in the 50s because "income was distributed unusually broadly." Rather, it was the reverse - people had more money because the economy was strong. There were more good jobs to be had. The government didn't have to confiscate rich people's money and hand it out to the poor in order to make everything "fair."
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Excessive income inequality restrains economic growth -- for everyone. This is not controversial among economists.

Just in America, the periods of greatest growth have come when income was distributed unusually broadly (eg. the 1950s). The periods of greatest economic calamity have come when income was unusually concentrated at the top (see the Great Depressions/Recession). And this pattern is repeated with monotonous regularity in the international economic data.

We learn from history, or we repeat it.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (30)
All Comments   (30)
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I've posted this before, but it really is the one argument that needs to be put to the left whenever they raise this issue (or any issue, really, that involves more state control of people). I pose it in the form of a college graduation exam because so many of the left's arguments are completely sophomoric.

Final exam for liberal-arts graduation

• What's the maximum permissible level of economic inequality in society, expressed as a ratio of the lowest income to the highest income?

Defend your choice, showing all assumptions and steps in your calculations.

• Explain how the ratio applies to movie stars, sports & entertainment figures, and other celebrities.

• For extra credit, address these points: Does this target ratio ever change? How does society know when it's time to change it, and in which direction, and by how much? Be explicit.

• Get-an-A-for-the-term question: How would society achieve and maintain your income ratio without causing civil insurrection? Give specific details.

Note: Fuzzy terms such as "fair share" and the like will not be accepted in any answer unless its meaning is exactly specified in numbers.
(show less)
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Um, depends on 'fail'.

If you mean it will fail to solve the problem, that is to be expected.

If you mean (Dem definition) it is designed to enlarge their permanent voting base, it has been working better than expected.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Obama wants to make income inequality the issue of the day after he just came off a $4 million dollar taxpayer paid vacation....hipocracy at it's best.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Tuberculosis cases are on the rise, buy there are not as many cases as there were 50 years ago, and other countries have way more cases of tuberculosis, so lets not worry about it. Ignoring an issue because you cannot see the long term consequences of the problem is approach the right likes to take.

I would also note that plenty of republicans are coming out as saying there is an income gap problem, that needs to be addressed.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think Semper Fi80 had it right on the head in his first comment. Excessive economic inequality does restrain growth. The 50s had a 70% progressive tax ceiling on the rich and the 'middle class' paid significantly less in taxes. The reverse was not true. They had more wealth because the Gov't took comparatively little of it.

The greatest single event that kicked off the new age of income inequality in the US had little to do with liberals. It was the end of the cold war. That event allowed the globalization of industry and hobbled Governments ability to tax as they wished. Corps now had the ability to set up shop in 3rd, 4th, and 5th world countries. If taxes got out of hand, the businesses moved out and suddenly national, state and local Governments all over the western world had to compete to keep their businesses that fear of communism had here-to-fore kept in their borders. The 50s 'good old days' second greatest killer was the insertion of women in to the work force. The work force essentially doubled with the fall of the nuclear family making labor plentiful and therefore cheaper.

I would not wish for either of those 'good old days' killers to come back. I think both progressives have to give up the idea that the rich can be taxed into income equality and conservatives have to stop mourning the loss of the nuclear family even though, clearly, high taxes did not hinder job growth and single parents have a harder life and definitely produce, on average, inferior children. In no way is that meant as an insult. It is simply proven in study after study that, while well adusted children can come from broken homes, on average, the children with mothers and fathers do better.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Something must be done about income inequality, and I'm ready to do my part.

I will quit my job, reducing my income to 0, and President Obama will give me half of his income (from all sources, including things like the fair market value of the housing, transportation, security, etc., provided to him).

That way my income will be equal to his.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Under Marxism economic sacrifice (from each according to his ability) only applies to the so-called bourgeoisie (the hard-working middle class positioned below the Marxists). Marxists themselves do not sacrifice anything - because under Marxism they are more equal than others. Like gods looking down on the little people, Marxists are the not-to-be-equalized equalizers.

37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Income equality" is a classic issue of communes and communists and has probably been debated since cave man days. Overall, full income equality is an extreme idea and hard (impossible) to support intellectually at least since Adam Smith. HOWEVER the current crop of "conservatives" is at least as tone-deaf and hypocritical and just plain STUPID about it as are the "liberals", and in exactly the opposite way. No matter how it comes about, by crime or virtue (or some combination thereof) some levels of inequality are dangerous to any democratic system. Just as some systems of *relieving* the problem are probably dangerous to the democratic, capitalist system as well. There are some bad trends in income distribution and if the conservatives just keep trying to excuse it, they will lose, big.

It is already difficult in the year 2014 to find anything like the middle class of say 1964. I don't know where we're going, but it's probably not back to 1964, either. There is a LOT of political capital at stake here and I hope the democrats don't end up with 100% of it.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
What's with the censorship at PJM these days?
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
I must admit that I share a seething anger about one bit of "income inequality" that has blossomed during and because of the Obama administration. During the last five years one small area of the country has had its prospects so improved and consolidated that the wealthiest counties in the country are almost all now contained within or nearby to it. That area is of course the Washington D.C. beltway. I'm not,however, holding my breath for Barry to get exited about that " income inequality".
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Exactly right. “Income Inequality” is a political incantation and if the left says it enough strong possibilities like another 2010 clobbering will not happen.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
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