Why Worry about Income Inequality?   1 comment

I’m not rich by Alaska standards. I make less than the median Alaska income. That means I’m wealthier than 99% of the world’s inhabitants.

Image result for image of a snap recipient indulgenceIs that unfair? Hmm ….

Well, I can tell you that living at less than the median Alaska income presents challenges for my family. We aren’t as rich as some of our neighbors. There’s a man in this town who makes millions of dollars a year.

Is that unfair? Hmm ….

If I were to make somewhat less … let’s say so I’m in the 1% worldwide, I couldn’t afford to live in Alaska. So if you took the income of the people who live here and distributed it to all the “poor” people in the world, what would happen? People in Alaska would starve and freeze without shelter or fuel.

Would that be fair? Hmm ….

I make a whole lot more money and live in a nicer home than my working class parents did.

Is that fair? Hmm ….

My parents were always able to feed me. My mother’s parents, at the height of the Depression, struggled with that.

Is it fair that I grew up without going hungry, but my mom got rickets as a child? Hmm ….

So, then I think about all the “poor” people in the US who own cars, live in nice apartments, are able to buy food with SNAP benefits, and afford $100 a month smart phones, but they don’t actually work for their living.

Is that fair? Hmm ….

We have to careful not to confuse income inequality and poverty. Standards of living are increasing, albeit unequally, in most of the world. Developing countries are particularly benefiting handsomely from declining barriers to trade and movement of capital. That’s why inequality between countries is actually shrinking. As for inequality within countries, enrichment at the top has not caused mass impoverishment.

The market economy is not a zero-sum game, where someone’s gain must come at someone else’s expense. “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer” is a synopsis of the socialist critique of the market system, implying the perceived inevitability of what Marx called the Law of Increasing Poverty.

But, guess what? It’s a myth unsupported by empirical evidence. Absent government interference in the marketplace, the poor in most developing nations are gaining ground even as those at the top end of the income spectrum are also amassing greater fortunes. Poverty is reducing all across the world.

So what difference does it make if  your neighbor has a million dollars he won’t share with you if you’re making a real income far in excess of your basic needs?

Oh, right, fairness …. It’s not fair. Why can’t he give up some of it so I can be even richer?

Maybe because I didn’t earn it, but also maybe because he’s going to take that money and provide a job that will someday make my kid far wealthier than I ever hoped to be. But if I rob him of that money he earned, he won’t create that job because: a) without resources nobody can create jobs, and b) why should the victim feel beholden to the one who robbed him?

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One response to “Why Worry about Income Inequality?

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  1. Great article!

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