Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Where Are You on the Income Disparity Discussion?

Recently, there has been quite a bit of discussion about income distribution (more specifically, income disparity or inequality) in the United States. The basic argument is this. Too much of our collective wealth is in the hands of too few of us, and its not good for us either as individuals or as a Country. Progressives argue that "the 1%" has the deck tilted clearly in their favor and that the lower income earners often have various obstructions in their way. Conservatives sometimes feel this isn't even an issue. People who are highly successful and wealthy haven't usually been handed their success and these same people often do the heavy lifting when it comes to paying taxes. Something that the poorest Americans typically don't do, especially when it comes to income taxes.

Regardless of your position on this subject, I think this video is well done and worth a moment of our time:

Here is a link to the actual Harvard study referenced in the video. (H/T to T. Dickinson...)

My personal opinion is that the lower earners, say the bottom 5-10% should be doing better. I'm not just suggesting a handout, but the proper mix of improved education, community health, higher entry level wages, etc. could go a ways toward elevating this population. Likewise, the highest earning group I think, can be asked to do without many of the tax write-offs, exemptions and in some cases governmental subsidies that have made their fantastic success possible.

We shouldn't look at either extreme with contempt. That serves no one. In most cases, the poor would prefer not to be that way, but in many, many cases, have been in the wrong place at the wrong time and considering socio-economic realities, will have a difficult time rising up from the poverty/low-income life they know. The baby born today in the ghetto does not have the same opportunities a baby born into wealth enjoy. While America often prides itself on equal opportunity for all, its a standard we've yet to reach.

Likewise, to look at the wealthiest is wrong-minded as well. In many cases, the wealth has been inherited, but in more, its been built by an enterprising person who was able to combine resources, effort, and opportunity in a highly successful way. Rarely have these people done it entirely on their own. No doubt some public/governmental resources have impacted their path to success along the way. No one succeeds or fails in a vacuum, I say. There is personal responsibility to be expected from all of us. The person who schemes in order to abuse food stamps or housing assistance owns their behavior, as does the person who schemes in order to abuse investments or other financial transactions.

The notion that we as a Country should do more to help the poor lift themselves higher up in our society does not automatically equate with Socialism. The notion that the most successful/wealthy among us are greedy bastards with no conscience is foolish. The demonization of both groups is a sideshow/strawman that does nothing to advance the discussion or help anyone.


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