Wealth (In)Equality

There has been much debate over the nature of wealth inequality, which is the simple fact that some have more resources than others.  For some folks, wealth inequality is viewed as a good thing.  After all, someone needs to create jobs.  And what incentive do people have to work hard if gaining greater access to resources just doesn’t happen, if no one is the rich person?  And why shouldn’t people be able to keep their money?  For other folks, wealth inequality is a bad thing.  After all, the rich folks aren’t using all that money strictly for necessities while others could really use some help getting to those necessities.  It doesn’t harm them appreciably to have less wealth and it helps others a great deal.  Why should some suffer and some live in the lap of luxury when all could be provided for adequately?

I think that folks on both sides of the issue have some fair questions.  True wealth equality, particularly mandated by the state, creates an obvious problem.  It removes a key incentive for people to work hard, to reach their potential, to achieve excellence.  While it would be fantastic if people were so dedicated to their trade that excellence alone was their goal and they were content to live on whatever could be allotted to them, that just doesn’t happen for most people.  For a few people like me, it might.  But I recognize that I am hardly in the middle of most bell curves and generalizing from my experience would be problematic.  Most people work hard to provide for themselves and their families, not out of a sense of duty to their artistic calling or the like.  I know because I’ve done a wide variety of jobs, and I rarely meet people who do the job because they love it.

Vast wealth inequality also removes a key incentive for people to work hard, to reach their potential, to achieve excellence.  When the definition of wealth is that of a soaring, gigantic wealth, then it seems unattainable and fewer people will be inclined to reach for it because the odds of attaining it are low no matter how hard you work.  It’s more efficient for them to languish in mediocrity.  In addition, when the number of people in poverty increases and the average income decreases for those in poverty, that starts to make it difficult for people to do what it takes to attain better incomes.  Attaining a better income might require internet access to search for jobs, transportation to go to the interviews, or moving costs to get to their new job in another state.  If people don’t have the financial wherewithal to do those things because their current job is only part-time or pays a very low wage that won’t keep up with the living expenses in their city or town, they often get discouraged and feel trapped.  I know because I’ve worked with and supervised many people in those low-paying positions.

The better situation lies somewhere in between the extremes of true wealth equality and vast wealth inequality.  We need wealth inequality to motivate the risk-taking and hard work necessary for a successful economy, but not so much wealth inequality that we have a few landed gentry and a large population of serfs while the middle class is driven to extinction.  Unsurprisingly, those likely to end up being the landed gentry are more likely to be okay with lots of serfs.  Also unsurprisingly, those likely to end up being serfs are more likely to be okay with government-mandated wealth redistribution.

So what causes the vast wealth inequality?  If you listen to liberals, the excesses of corporate executives and greed of the very wealthy is largely to blame.  While it is true that some executives and other wealthy individuals are greedy, soulless pretenders to humanity, many are also quite generous with their wealth and engage in a great deal of philanthropy.  I’ve known both types in my day.  If you listen to conservatives, the welfare kings and queens and those too lazy to work are largely to blame.  While it is true that some people are content to sit on welfare or unemployment as long as possible and scrape by on the work of others, many workers are also quite industrious married or single parents working two jobs to make ends meet for their family or young people working to fund their education.  I’ve known both types in my day.  In essence, both liberals and conservatives have a point in that both callous greed on the part of some of the “haves” and laziness on the part of some of the “have nots” are helping to generate an increase in wealth inequality.

So what’s the solution?  Conservatives suggest easing the tax burden on the wealthy investors, the owners of much of the capital.  That might actually work if all the investors were willing to take the risks that come with job creation in an economy like this.  Not that I blame the investors for engaging in perfectly normal and healthy risk aversion, but most of them are not creating jobs all willy-nilly, and increasing the amount of money they keep isn’t going to change their risk aversion strategies in most cases under current circumstances.  Liberals suggest increasing the tax burden on the wealthy to help fund the welfare programs.  That might actually work, but for the most part, those who can get jobs and want them have a job (albeit perhaps not exactly what they want or need), and those who can’t or won’t get a job probably aren’t just going to randomly change their situations or minds, respectively.  Like the plan of the conservatives, the plan of the liberals wouldn’t get much accomplished by itself.  Both plans might have more efficacy if we weren’t so far in debt and dealing with global economic instability while also facing generational trends that cause a serious drop in the cultural value of hard work and a massive number of older folks collecting Social Security benefits among other fiscal issues.

I don’t think the answer is corporate welfare any more than I think the answer is social welfare because I recognize that the problems are often human problems rather than political problems.  Policy has little power to change the character of a person, which is what needs to change more than anything.  Some folks are content to get by on the grace of charity when they could work for a living, and some folks don’t care who they have to step on to make an extra buck.  Neither of those things is good.  Both corporate greed and worker laziness should be addressed, but for apparent human psychological reasons, people are loathe to change their behavior for the better and quick to rationalize their bad behavior.  And as long as the parties who are in the wrong are willing to justify their lack of virtue by pointing out how the other party is also lacking in virtue, nothing will change.  What we need is for people to come together and agree to improve their behavior rather than focusing on what the other party is doing wrong.  But what are the odds of that happening?  Not good, especially when the leaders of both the major political parties in the U.S. are setting an example of pointing fingers at the other party while not dealing with their own failings.

Perhaps it will happen someday that people will be serious about cultivating virtue and we can have a spectrum of wealth which promotes economic growth.  That’s my vain hope.

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13 Responses to Wealth (In)Equality

  1. quest4god says:

    A good post, and a vain hope indeed.   For anyone to admit that blame rests on himself is a very difficult thing – and rare.   Even rarer would be for another to follow suit, and almost impossible for “people” to decide to do something about  themselves.   But we can hope and some people can change, and I guess that’s the best we can hope for….at least until Someone makes ALL things new.

  2. Doubledb says:

    Excellent Blog!

  3. lanney says:

    I agree.  It seems like 80% of the population has completely abdicated personal responsibility.  I don’t know how we recover from that.

  4. AmorVomnia7 says:

    Agree completely.The oligarchy seems dead-set on dividing the population as much as possible. Makes it easier to loot the people.

  5. Nous_Apeiron says:

    @quest4god@revelife – Well maybe I am a rare person, but I seek to improve myself every day.  It would be nice if that could be a widespread cultural trend.  I’ll keep trying to promote it, because I don’t know when Someone will make all things new.@Doubledb – Many thanks, good sir. @lanney – We can take personal responsibility back via revolution or wait out the generational trends.  Which one would you prefer?@AmorVomnia7 – The divide and conquer mentality really is very present in the strategy of our elected officials.  You can see it very clearly in the politics of race and gender.  But I’m not sure how they’re looting most of us, given that we don’t really have anything left to loot, since most of our assets are essentially on loan.  Can you explain a bit more what you mean by that?

  6. AmorVomnia7 says:

    @Nous_Apeiron – The wealthiest are getting wealthier, and the middle class is disappearing. Such a thing would be less likely to happen if the people weren’t so divided. The wealthiest have a stake in the dividing of the people. I suppose that’s what I really mean by ‘looting’.

  7. Nous_Apeiron says:

    @AmorVomnia7 – Fair enough.  So would you describe the oligarchy as conducting class warfare against the middle class?

  8. quest4god says:

    @Nous_Apeiron – Thanks for your reply to my comment.  It’s good to see that you (and some others) look to improve themselves.  We do have a serious flaw, though.   We tend to make our personal priorities to be more important that the long range solutions (which may involve stagnation or reversal for a time).   Hardly anyone wants to “go backward.”But, as I said in my previous comment, people want to blame someone first, which relieves them of any responsibility and freezes the possibility of mutual sharing of blame, and mutual sacrifice for permanent fixes.   Actually, permanent fixes require that each new addition to society be instructed/indoctrinated, and then to be consistent in his living and philosopy – for a lifetime.You’ve heard of the principle that all things tend toward disintegration.

  9. AmorVomnia7 says:

    @Nous_Apeiron – Yes, I think so. Although instead of the term ‘oligarchy’, I think I’d specifically state who I’m talking about: Politicians, government, bankers and corporations. They all take part in upholding what George Carlin calls “the illusion of choice”: 

    The ‘oligarchy’ just being a product of this illusion of choice. Whoever is in office, they all want more government, more power and more wealth to distribute amongst their friends. This shouldn’t be a shocker. I don’t necessarily find these people horribly unethical (unless I’d also be willing to say such a thing about the working class in this country as well)… I just look at them the same way poor people in 3rd world countries look at us… Mostly with just a baffled “wtf?” look haha. These people are just simply living on an entirely different plane of existence to us. Normal middle class Americans do things that are absolutely stunning to the poor in other countries. From hot dog eating contests to iPhones. We don’t think twice about throwing away that extra food on our plate, just like our ‘elites’ don’t think twice about the money they spend on their 5th yacht. It is what it is. I don’t know why so many ‘conservatives’ are so adamant about defending the rich… Just like I don’t know why so many ‘liberals’ are so adamant about defending the poor in this country. Both groups are wasters to rather tremendous degrees. And in that sense, you hit the nail on the head… They both have to realize where this is true about themselves before we as a people make any progress.That’s just my take on it though.

  10. Nous_Apeiron says:

    @quest4god@revelife – I may be rare on this one again, but there are some areas in which I would not mind going backward.  Going back to the cultural value of hard work as being part of child-rearing would be one.  As you very correctly point out, permanent fixes require effective instruction of children.  I probably can’t do much on that front but help to ensure that my goddaughters are well-instructed.I guess the best we can do is to do what small part we can towards healthy integration while watching everything tend toward disintegration.  Ah, the entropy of human affairs.  @AmorVomnia7 – I think you have a very fair take it on it.  Most of us in this country are wasters who participate in the culture of disposable everything.  Thankfully, recycling is growing to be more mainstream, though reusing products is still less common.  I’ve been on a big reusing kick lately, which like most of my kicks, will probably turn into a lifetime habit.  I’m already being called a health nut for my diet and exercise routine, and if I keep going with my sustainability improvements I may be called a treehugger next.  I’m still a bit of a waster right now, but I’m working on it.  What concerns me is that so many folks aren’t even working on it.

  11. quest4god says:

    @Nous_Apeiron – Another thing we haven’t really covered is that the government is the only agency that can enforce its policies by the threat of a gun (or imprisonment).   Government that is really OF the people, BY and FOR the people does not have the power to enforce anything but protection of legitimate rights of those people – and protection from outside forces.Corporate “welfare” (so-called) is nothing more than lessening the stranglehold of the government.   As long as the government is empowered to regulate, tax, and license everything done in this country, that blackmail will continue – to the detriment of all citizens.  Social welfare has become a tool for enslaving the masses eventually, creating an army of supporters who fear losing their sustenance altogether if they fail to support their benefactors.   In each case, those who “benefit” from unearned or unfair advantages become an arm of the already too-strong, not-so-benevolent government.The constitution was designed in recognition of the greed of man and his tendency toward selfishness at others’ expense; but over time, such illegal, immoral concepts such as government “creation of jobs in the private sector” and regulation “for our own good” to protect us from our own ignorance and lack of good judgment has strengthened the stranglehold that government now has.

  12. Nous_Apeiron says:

    @quest4god@revelife – I very much agree with you that an effective monopoly on the use of force exists and our Federal, State, and local governments have it.  I also very much agree with you on the proper role of a government.I’m going to have to disagree with you that corporate welfare is nothing more than lessening the stranglehold of government.  For example, large sums of bailout money given to corporations of the banking and auto manufacturing industry don’t appreciably lessen the stranglehold of government.  Neither do sweetheart deals on loans to favored businesses like Solyndra.As far as regulation, some of it does hurt big business and is very costly to the business, which they ultimately pass along to consumers.  The telecom industry is a great example of how heavy government regulation puts a strain on business.  On the other hand, sometimes regulation also helps them maintain market dominance by making it more difficult for small business owners to compete because the small businesses simply can’t afford to comply with the regulations or pay the fines that large corporations factor into their budget as a minor cost of doing business.  But don’t just take my word for it.  Listen to other pro free market folks who agree.And again, I generally agree with your point about social welfare being used as a political tool to perpetuate the power of governments.  Whether it’s intentional in all cases I don’t know, but it strikes me as dangerous regardless.

  13. quest4god says:

    @Nous_Apeiron – I appreciate your reply (and agreement on certain issues).   When “capitalists” begin to accept money and favors from government they no longer qualify as capitalists – they are money-grubbing interventionalists.   The only way a business can capture huge segments of the market (without unfair tactics) is to do a better promotion  job, produce a better product, or do one or both more efficiently (with less cost to pass on).   Naturally, what people have a difficulty understanding is that every restriction and tax will be reflected in the price in the marketplace.    The trite saying: ‘what goes around, comes around’ applies without fail and quite promptly when rights are abrogated.

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