Is NE the NME?
May 28, 2014

Is Inequality the Enemy?

An article on that subject, Why conservatives would rather address poverty than inequality by Robert Reich (Detroit Free Press, Jan 29, 2014) includes this particularly offensive paragraph:

Conservatives would rather talk about poverty than inequality because they can then characterize the poor as "them" -- people who are different than most of us, who have brought their problems onto themselves, who lack self-discipline or adequate motivation. Accordingly, any attempt to alleviate poverty requires that "they" change their ways.
I love it. Characterizing conservatives as "them" because "they" supposedly characterize the poor as "them." Let me get this out of the way: A fair number of people are poor because they are messed up people living messed up lives. Damn right "they" have to change "their" ways if "they" want better lives. One characteristic many messed up people share is: "they" never want to get over "their" bullshit. Instead, "they" want society to give "them" what "they" need so "they" can keep on wallowing in "their" stupidity.

At the same time, a fair number of people are poor because of bad luck, bad economy, a bad mistake or two, lack of opportunity, illness. ". . . the movie never ends. It goes on and on," in the words of a popular song. I recognize the human issues here. I take them into account in my political philosophizing and my commentaries on public policy. I am hugely offended that a super big shot, wealthy individual like Robert Reich wishes to characterize me as miserly, mean-spirited and generally ignorant. Mr. Reich, when you are partying with your elite friends, just take a little glance and make sure I'm not behind you when you are serving yourself from the punch bowl.... There may be something other than servility under my clean, starched, white waiter's uniform.

Anyway. Direct assistance to people in need isn't necessarily a bad idea. We can't always judge who is worthy and who is not. We can discuss public policies that discourage or encourage behaviors associated with poverty. Endless benefits for single mothers with no strings attached -- bad policy. Discouragement of marriage -- bad policy.

We can discuss policies that affect the general environment poor people find themselves in. Mass immigration -- very bad policy. Lax law enforcement -- very bad policy -- puts the law-abiding poor at the mercy of criminals. Erratic public transportation -- bad -- poor people have trouble getting to jobs or school. Etc. Etc.

Reich writes, "When 95% of the economic gains since the start of the recovery go to the richest 1%, something is fundamentally wrong." I agree, but I want a detailed breakdown. How do we slice up that 95%? I want something like this:

% of pop % of gains
1% 95%
.1% 85%
.01% 75%
.001% 65%

I don't know what the actual numbers are. I'm simply illustrating the fallacy of bitching about the "top 1%." I really do imagine that the top .001% are all good friends with Robert Reich. No matter what policies he advocates, those truly few blessed individuals will see their fortunes untouched. However, your local doctor who once saved the life or your child, your local plumber who isn't exactly cheep, but you can count on him to do a good job and your local builder who has hired hundreds of people and built many houses over the last two decades -- these people -- all part of "the 1%" (AND RIGHTLY SO, FOR GOD'S SAKE!) will see significant increases in their taxes, all justified by Robert Reich's campaign to eliminate inequality. Except for himself and his good friends, of course.

Seriously, the dishwasher, the beautician, the guy who mows lawns and I are not obsessed with the fact that we make less than the doctor, the builder or the chief plumber. This is a completely natural inequality.

I think very critically about the group Reich doesn't want me to think about. The top .001%. The people who pull Reich's strings. How is it that they have so much? They haven't fixed my faucet, built my house or saved my child. What are they doing to the rest of us? Where does this kind of thinking take us?

I am not a conservative, I'm a right-wing progressive. The top leadership of the Republican Party is not "conservative". They make conservative-sounding noises from time to time, they fool a lot of people, but they do not operate on any coherent political philosophy. They are amoral tools of, not "the 1%", but of the ultra-wealthy, the top .001%. Just like the leadership of the Democratic Party. Just like Robert Reich.

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Addendum, Jan. 30, 2015:

There was another op-ed by Reich in this morning's Detroit Free Press: Wall Street's threat to the American middle class, Robert B. Reich, Tribune Content Agency, January 30, 2015. I'm not in the mood for extensive commentary, but it was a good article and, obviously, I was wrong in some of my previous comments.

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