Wednesday, October 22, 2008



I've been thinking about equality and inequality lately. The above graph (generated from CIA Factbook data and posted on Wikipedia) represents income disparity by country using the Gini Index from the last 50 years. The fact that income disparity has been rising and that we are on par with China disturbs me. Income begets wealth (usually) and wealth begets wealth which begets sick amounts of wealth forever.

This rising gap between rich and poor is not just a moral issue (although in my mind, this is the more important of the two arguments for greater equality), it's a stability issue. The greater the gap between rich and poor, the less stable a society you have. Now I understand that inequality is an incentive for the poor to work harder to become rich (and they will work exponentially harder than the rich do to stay rich), but if economic mobility is not a reality for the majority of people, which I believe it isn't, then you have a huge French Revolution-like stability problem.

But back to morality. Is it right for the poor, not just in our country, but in the world, to be stuck in this poverty trap? (And it is a trap. I've lived in Brooklyn. I've lived next to the Bronx. I've driven very quickly through terrible parts of Oakland. I've been to places in South Phoenix that I never should have gone to. There is little hope and the likelihood of someone escaping is extremely low. There is no such thing as a level playing field.)

It's not right. It's not just. It's not merciful. It's not charitable.


Denise said...

You're right. But how do we fix it? Live the Law of Consecration? Not possible as a nation -- just like it's not truly possible to legislate morality. Seriously, what's the fix? Surely the tax code needs serious work (did you see the article in the last RD about tax laws?) But, I'd be lying if I said that I thought the "rich" should pay a lot more taxes. Maybe it's because Daniel and I are already paying such a ridiculous amount in taxes already, so I'm jaded. Maybe we need better definitions of rich and poor. I'm not saying "Let them eat cake." I'm just saying "I don't know the fix here."

Bubba the Hutt said...

The problem I have with wealth redistribution is that it inspires mediocrity. Now don't get me wrong, this is a problem, it isn't fair. The poor don't have the same opportunities (and if they do those opportunities are much more difficult to attain) as the rich.

It's a conundrum, how do you balance it out fairly? Some people are perfectly content sitting on the front porch watching the sun rise and doing nothing until it sets. What benefit is there then to give them money from someone who's working 3 jobs and getting no more than 4 hours of sleep each night? How is that fair?

It's simple behaviorism, as defined by Thorndick, Skinner and other early cognitive scientists. As long as they can provide a stimulus--such as I need this, and I need that, and they receive a response, the behavior will continue.*

The question is, how do you enable opportunity to everyone fairly? That is the quintessential American Dream.

*If that science stuff sounds more intelligent than my usual drivel it’s because I pulled it from another conversation I was having with my dad about enabling.

PassTheChips said...

I don't have the answer either. I do know that I'd rather be charitable and be wrong about what that person actually does with the money, than to not be charitable.

John said...

One of my favorite quotes by a man I admire imeasurably:

"It is better to feed ten impostors than to run the risk of turning away one honest petition."

Bubba the Hutt said...

Good point, but how do we know that taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor is fixing anything?

Teach a man to fish.