Published November 23, 2011
Imagine it’s 1621 in Plymouth and, instead of the Pilgrims and the Indians gathering for the First Thanksgiving, it’s conservatives and liberals. They are sitting down to share their harvests happily and express gratitude for survival.
In truth, they’d be fighting over who brought more and who ate more. Those who didn’t get a drumstick would shatter the idyllic scene with shrieking charges of “Turkey Inequality” and wails for “my fair share.”
I jest to make a point. The point being that, 390 years after the first symbol of gratitude created by Europeans on this continent, Americans are locked in a bitter conflict of ingratitude. The tug-of-war over the turkey wishbone is now a polarizing class struggle.
The dividing line is the loaded phrase “income inequality.” It’s all about who eats and who pays.
On one level, income inequality is real, and growing. Yet as a bedrock and urgent political issue, it’s pure hokum, cooked up in the socialist faculty lounges and the back rooms where the government unions pull the strings of puppet pols. The aim is to hijack emotions and grow the government pie so favored voters get a bigger slice.
It has surprisingly wide appeal. People from the vagabonds playing drums in Zuccotti Park to the billionaire mayor of New York who rousted them, Michael Bloomberg, say income inequality is a big problem.
Color me skeptical. I see the raging battle as little more than a ploy to get into other people’s wallets.
Even on paper, the movement won’t do anything to help the huge middle class, which is losing ground and deserves help.
Instead, the focus on income inequality serves only the ideological prejudices and political aims of proponents, while throwing more obstacles in front of growth and job creation.
Start with the assumptions behind “income inequality.” The pairing of words is a triumph of feelings over facts because any inequality, in the coded conversations of liberals, is always a bad thing. Inequality of incomes is then a very bad thing.
The words also reveal the goal: income equality. That would be utopia.
Ah, but how to get there from here, and what does it cost? In the literature and speeches, the only answers offered are massive tax hikes and more entitlements to spread the wealth around. That redistribution is also couched in code: stimulus, investment, compassion, fairness.
The fuzzy gambit is easily undressed in two ways. First, the only thing “equal” in America is the guarantee of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Opportunity is equal, outcomes are not.
Of course, we mitigate the differences in outcomes and provide for the common good through a limited redistribution. The hand of government takes from one to give to another, while, naturally, skimming for itself.
But that illustrates the real problem — redistribution doesn’t expand wealth, it only shuffles it. And it exacts a price on the future. Around the world and throughout history, higher levels of redistribution have led to lower levels of growth.
As economist David Malpass, writing on Forbes.com, put it, “The policy issue is whether our goal as a society should be higher incomes for all or less disparity between incomes — countries almost never achieve both.”
That’s the rub, and a warning against class warfare. Having given up on the meaning of America, which is about expanding opportunity and liberty for everyone, income equalizers are pitting Americans against each other in a fight certain to make losers of us all.