I’m not sure exactly when the phrase “income inequality” crept into the US political lexicon, but it’s clearly here to stay… at least for a while. You’ve been hearing it a lot these days, from Bill de Blasio and Hillary Clinton to Elizabeth Warren and even the Pope. Never being one to miss a chance to talk about anything except Obamacare, even the President has promised to make the issue his next in a long series of pivots.
Weakened by problems with his health-care initiative, President Obama turned back to the economy last week to rebalance his presidency with a speech about income inequality. He said he would devote much of his remaining time in office to the issue, calling it the “defining challenge of our time.” The bigger issue is how much he can or will do about it…
Obama has talked about the issue before. His advisers can draw a direct line from his speech in Osawatomie, Kan., in December 2011 through the 2012 campaign, when he made middle-class concerns the centerpiece of his message against Mitt Romney. Jon Favreau, one of his former speechwriters, said in an e-mail that those same themes were part of his speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. But he has rarely been as direct or as pointed about the problem as he was at a community center in Southeast Washington last week.
Yes, Barack Obama is jumping on the income inequality bandwagon. He’s even gone so far as to recently say that it threatens the American dream. So is this a problem? Of course it is. No matter where you stand on the political spectrum it’s impossible to deny that there are far too many people among the working class who aren’t earning enough to enjoy the dream of prosperity which America has typically embodied. The real question – and one of the defining schisms between the two major political parties – is what to do about it. But to really wrap our heads around the question it’s important to understand the widely differing approaches supported by liberals and conservatives and the core cause of the problem.
You don’t have to look far to see the “solutions” being pushed by the progressive arm of American politics, and they are plans which tie directly into their definition of what’s wrong with the system in the first place. The problem, to hear them describe it, is that there are a relative handful of greedy rich people who are keeping everyone else down. Their plans to address this situation fall essentially into two basic categories, each involving the guiding hand of a giant, benevolent government. The first prong of this two tine fork is to have the government force employers give everyone a huge pay raise.
But since that won’t do enough to directly punish those sneering, snarling Fat Cats at the top of the ladder, they also want to do more – a lot more – to take away as much money from the highly successful as possible. If we could only manage that, they say, the gulf between High and Low would be significantly closed. This need to punish those who have risen high is demonstrated in the Washington Post article referenced above in a quote from Democrat pollster Geoff Garin.
“There is certainly a very deep feeling of resentment about the privileges that the people at the very top enjoy and that we have a system that is geared to gilding the lily to people at the top, as opposed to rewarding hard work and effort by middle-class and working-class Americans,” he said. “I think there is a deep desire in the country to unstack the deck economically.”
And how do progressives plan to “fix” this portion of the problem? The answer is as old as politics. We’ll simply keep raising taxes on those who have more until equality is achieved.
Conservatives, however, see the situation in different terms, starting with what’s causing the income level disparity in the fist place. There are less people earning enough money to advance and live the American dream to be sure. But it’s because the economy is staggering under poor management. This is not advanced mathematics, folks. We keep producing more people every generation (the US population hasn’t seen an actual decline since the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic), but there are not enough job openings requiring workers to keep up with the supply. Since employers have long lines of people waiting to fill any vacancy, there is no incentive to crank up wages and benefits. It’s simple supply and demand.
If you implement policies which stimulate growth and allow the economy to flourish, demand for workers rises and employers have to compete for the best employees. But if you seek to adjust society yet again by putting the government’s thumb on the scale, you’ll get pretty much more of what we’re seeing today. And that’s because the government is just so darned good at tinkering with the private sector. (See: health care and energy among others.) There is a solution to income inequality, but it’s not in the proposals coming from Obama and company.