Growing up, one of my favorite teachers enjoyed repeating that, “you can find a boogie man behind every tree if you look hard enough.” He meant that as a mockery-tinged warning to not fall prey to every supposed evil, slight, and conspiracy that’s used to frighten and/or shame people out of opinions. That quote swoops into my brain every time I hear the left’s shibboleth about income inequality.
Dressing it in the scariest rhetorical costume that they can manage, leftists quiver with giddiness at the opportunity to trot out the boogie man of income inequality. With its kissing cousin of the gender pay gap, income inequality has become a favorite sacred cow within the canon of leftist talking points. Except it’s a scare tactic that only works if people aren’t willing to look behind the luscious tree of actual economic theory for themselves.
Economist Thomas Sowell’s chapter “Productivity and Pay” in his seminal book Basic Economics strips off the scary mask of the non-existent boogie man of income inequality. In the chapter, Sowell writes, “Although people in the top income brackets and the bottom income brackets – ‘the rich’ and ‘the poor,’ as they are often called – may be discussed as if they were different classes of people, often they are in fact the very same people at different stages of their lives.”
Sowell points out that many of those who quote statistics as proof of income inequality falsely “proceed as if they are talking about income differences between classes rather than differences in age brackets.”
Badly paraphrasing Sowell, I recently told a twenty-something year old friend of mine who was struggling financially, “It’s ok. You’re supposed to be poor in your twenties.”
Anecdotally, as a middle-aged man, I’ve seen that truth born out in almost every single one of my friends (there are exceptions, but they’re generally the ones who still smoke a lot of weed – or they’re artists). In fact, several of the loudest town-criers about the evils of income inequality that I know do so from their comfortable upper-middle class existence that they gradually earned as they got older. I once listened to an acquaintance wax eloquent about the evils of income inequality while he was shopping in a high-end craft beer store.
The nonsense from the income inequality Chicken Littles reached a new apex this past week, however. In a study released on June 21, leftists found a new way to spin economic good news into a tale of woe and oppression.
In an Urban Institute study, author Stephen Rose reports that the upper-middle class has risen from just under 13% of the population in 1979 to almost 30% in 2014. Good news, right? I mean, those figures overwhelming illustrate that upward economic mobility has improved. In fact, in the study, Rose concludes that “with the exception of the bottom 6 percent, real income growth occurred throughout the income ladder.”
Well, unfortunately, Stephen Rose wasn’t content to marvel at the beautiful, flowering tree of economic progress. Instead, he made himself so dizzy in an attempt to find a boogie man behind the tree that he was able to convince himself that he’d found an ugly, wart-covered troll with which to scare and incite his fellow leftists.
Strictly adhering to the income inequality talking points, Rose scolds, “Any discussion of inequality that is limited to the 1 percent misses a lot of the picture because it ignores the large inequality between the growing upper middle class and the middle and lower middle classes.”
That boogie man flies in the face of Rose’s own claim that “The main reason for the increase in the upper middle class and rich share of total income was not because of growth in income gaps or change in average incomes but because of the growing size of this group.”
Turning economically positive statistics into a condemnation of income inequality takes a special kind of hubris, or rather, a special kind of ideological commitment. The scariest aspect of all of this is being confronted with the reality that leftists apparently want everyone on the same low economic rung. For them, upward mobility is a sin that should be eradicated. In their brave new world, hard work is rewarded with, well, nothing except contempt. Leftist economics demand that everyone must struggle. Flying in the face of actual economic theory and statistics, success is a sign of elitism and oppression for them. Don’t be cowed into submission by the made-up leftist boogie man; hard work and commitment is rewarded, for now.