I saw an allegedly uber-eye-opening short video a while back convincing us of astronomical economic disparity. It doesn’t really explain anything or give any solution, just a picture made to shock, like a documentary on the vastness of space.
Now if it had talked about quality of life and social mobility — the real issues — THEN it would be meaningful instead of just playing on emotion.
The reason I separate disparity from poverty is because statistically the relationship between disparity and various poverty indices is the opposite of what the OWS crowd assumes. The more wealth in a society, the more there is to concentrate. But instead we have the constant unconscious assumption that the concentration of wealth somehow causes or allows poverty for someone else, when in fact the opposite is true.
It only “feels” unfair because we aren’t looking at what the numbers MEAN, where the bottom 10% of a society with huge “disparity” is better off in every way than almost everyone in a society with high economic “equality”.
Crazy? No, a reality according to current UN statistics (the link takes you to a site that enables you to create your own charts based on a plethora of international data). There are of course correlations between education and poverty as well as prosperity and economic freedom, but there’s no one vector or chart that gives us “the” answer.
The point is that disparity is the wrong target, and people not “against” concentrated wealth are not “for” poverty or oppression because not everyone accepts the idea one means the other. It just means we recognize changing the world doesn’t mean fudging the score after the game but promoting and protecting opportunity for all.
The video implies all of this means an uneven playing field, stacked deck, etc., but the numbers themselves do nothing to show that.
Solutions Good and Bad
If I had one wish for us to resolve issues of “unfairness” it wouldn’t be replacing one kind of unfairness with another, or rally some senseless class war that inevitably ends in political oppression with everyone in misery. It would be to break the paradigm of wealth versus poverty and redefine social justice to ALLOW people to be rich and poor (relatively) so long as — through ubiquitous education, free market opportunity, and universal access to capital — individual choice itself is what is protected.
In the meantime, we’ll keep stealing from the rich and giving to the poor instead of improving our education system and defining the boundary between economic liberty and license for businesses. That’s why the bumper sticker du jour of “disparity” irritates me so. It’s like we gave up caring if people play fair or learn to play well, and just assume everyone should end up with the same score anyway. Not the most noble or thoughtful of goals.
On the other hand, I’m not suggesting going cold turkey on tax dollars for the poor, and I agree that it’s not a truly level playing field. However, it’s all the fashion — but not statistically honest — to simply say “the rich get Much richer and the poor and middle class get poorer”. Socialists and other such types have been waiting decades for a time where they could use that line again.
In the long term, that is simply not true. Recently the wealthiest brackets lost ground. But the real misinterpretation of statistics is that people are seen as making more or less when disparity stats only represent shifting proportionate to each other. The people in the lower percentiles are often earning more than their counterparts years ago. All boats rise with the tide, as this is not a zero-sum game.
Currently, the top 1/3 of the middle class is moving upward and 2/3 downward. THAT bothers me because it says something is seriously wrong (and I blame it on corporatism on one end and welfare statism on the other). Apart from the recession, the poor are NOT getting poorer, and only some rich are getting richer (not that this should be seen as wrong). But more people are out of work and in the words of one OWS protester “someone’s gotta pay”. It’s a revenge mentality.
But I have to address the tax issue: The rich already pay a HUGELY disproportionate progressive rate. It’s criminal, especially on top of all the philanthropy. So how would paying twice as much do anything? We know mathematically that if we confiscated every penny from the top 1% it wouldn’t close the budget gap. In other words, even if it were vaguely ethical to do so, it is of little value or arguably would make it worse for everyone. I call it admitting failure to bring people up so we resort to tear others down.
Here’s the truth people don’t get: You can make people poor by taking away money, but you can’t make them rich by giving it to them.
Consider that nearly all lottery winners are bankrupt and in debt within two years. But you’re not talking about that. You’re talking about civic investment, right? High fives all around for that.
So, do we need the rich’s money to do this to “make it fair”? I suggest, just maybe, NO.
If you look at per capita spending across school districts, the results are rarely correlated to expenditures; if you look at food stamps, you see vast numbers of people who buy overpriced junk and pawn the rest of their card for buying other things. If my wife and I had an equivalent sized family’s benefits, we could feed the whole damn neighborhood. Therefore the problem isn’t not enough on the benefit card — there is too much already — but lack of food education.
In fact, I cannot think of a single poverty issue that has ever been solved with “more money” — otherwise we would have solved it years ago. Perpetuated or made worse, yes, but not solved. If we shifted our social services budgets to INFRASTRUCTURE, such as community food projects, job skill education, and entreprenurial gateways, we wouldn’t need the amounts spent over and over on band-aid approaches. And much of this means government supporting private and community initiatives, even getting out of the way.
There are SO many things we can do on a FRACTION of government budgets to nearly eliminate and not merely sustain poverty and at-risk groups. Some of these are already showing success, mostly in other countries where there’s no beaurocratic complexities. Pretending we can pickpocket a few more pennies from the resident billionaires and feel better about ourselves for feeling it might help? I’d rather have wholesale systemic reform instead of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
Where I’m Coming From
If my perspective seems foreign, it may be because my position of government and business has evolved from them balancing each other out (“stepping in”) to seeing that bigger government makes a lucrative business out of every problem without the intention of solving it.
If you look at the sectors that failed or are in shambles — finance, mortgages, health care — they are already the most highly regulated industries in history. And people will insist more regulation is the solution when a dysfunctional relationship between government and business was always the problem.
What people do not realize is that nearly every bill put before Congress is written by the exact same people who will be most affected by it. Oil, prisons, military contracts, banking cartels, HMOs, you name it. They have euphemistic names that imply a fix when they are made specifically to create loopholes or funnel more money (that ends up in part back into campaign coffers).
So if the government decided to spend $1 Trillion on poverty or hunger or education, the same people would be getting richer, including the ones who pass the laws, and by the time we realize it’s another total sham, they’ll blame it on the other party or the guys before them with an apologetic “oops!” and a promise to spend twice as much the next time, and the next, because THIS time they know what will work.
We can’t solve the problem because we don’t accept what the problem really is, ignoring what are the causes of poverty as well as the consequences of well-intended but wrong-minded solutions.