Why Liberals Hate Inequality

Last week, Jonah Goldberg wondered why Republicans are doing so well at the local and state level but striking out at the federal level of politics.  His answer to the question is simple: state and local government is about nuts and bolts; the federal government is all about religion.

Our presidents, Republican and Democrat alike, talk about their "visions" for America, as if being a president requires you to impose some quasi-religious vision on the country.

But the Democrats are simply better at talking about government in spiritual terms. Indeed, such testifying is Obama's one indisputable gift. They talk about the federal government doing things we'd want God to do if God dabbled in public policy.

Here is reason good enough for President Jefferson to call for a "wall of separation" between church and state: to keep the vision thing a safe distance away from government and its enforcement officers.  Because, as I like to say, government is force, and it is always a good idea to keep that in mind as soon as someone starts talking about "the children" or "inequality."

Yes, inequality: that's how liberals are justifying their expansion of government these days.  That's what President Obama was talking about in his Osawatomie speech in December 2011, and that's what Alan Krueger, CEA chairman, was talking about a month later in his "Great Gatsby Curve" speech on inequality.

We've all heard plenty from our liberal friends on the subject of inequality, so we know that the New York Times and NPR must devote a lot of bandwidth to the subject.  What exactly does Krueger, academic, labor economist, and Obama administration deep thinker, think is the problem?  Here is how he presented the inequality problem in his speech.

  • Since "the 1970s income has grown more for families at the top of the income distribution."
  • The "median household saw a decline in real income in the 2000s."
  • The "top 1% of families saw a 278 percent increase in their real after-tax income from 1979 to 2007, while the middle 60% had an increase of less than 40 percent."

Here is Krueger's judgment on the cause of this increase in inequality, based on his own poll of economists, in declining order of importance.

  • Skill-based technical change, and a "slowdown in the growth of the supply of relatively highly educated workers in the US."
  • "Other and unknown factors."
  • Globalization. Some have benefited, "but other workers have been left behind by globalization."
  • Union membership has declined, and union membership raises the wages of the lower middle class "so they can make it into the middle class."
  • "Tax changes in the early 2000s benefited the very wealthy by much more than other taxpayers," and only three countries "have tax systems that reduce inequality by less than the U.S."

So the obvious thing to do is implement ObamaCare, keep the economic recovery going, curb "excessive risk-taking" in the financial sector, and pass the Buffett Rule.

Do you see what is missing in all this?  It is so obvious that it is comical.  Krueger and his polled economists say absolutely nothing about the possible effects of the administrative welfare state on inequality.  Ya think?

When blogging about this last week I rolled off the following possible causes of recent inequality without even thinking: government entitlements.  The collapse of the lower-income family.  The retreat of lower-income men from work and marriage.  The penal marginal tax rates on the working poor as they increase work effort.  The credentialization of the workplace.  The meddling of government in the credit system.  Immigration.  "Off the books" work.  How come Krueger and his tame economists didn't mention any of that?

I think their mistake indicates a blind spot for our educated ruling class.  People like Alan Krueger and the nation's economists are modern Puritans.  They think that everyone is like them and regards work, or rather career, as a "calling."  We modern Puritans have even persuaded high-class women to abandon their pre-modern roles as lovers and carers and drudges to become corporate career girls breaking through glass ceilings.

But could it be that a significant minority of Americans, perhaps the bottom 47 percent, aren't really into the neo-Puritan thing?  Perhaps they would rather enjoy the free stuff rather than increase their work effort.

Over at usgovernmentspending.com we have a page on entitlement spending.  Did you know that entitlement spending doubled from 5 percent of GDP to 10 percent of GDP in the decade 1965 to 1975 just before inequality went all wrong? 

But all of this is beside the point.  Reality doesn't matter.  What matters is finding a justification for more government force.

Right now, the liberals are all agreed that "inequality" requires more government.  In ten years, they will come up with something else. 

Christopher Chantrill (mailto:chrischantrill@gmail.com) is a frequent contributor to American Thinker.  See his usgovernmentspending.com and also usgovernmentdebt.us.  At americanmanifesto.org he is blogging and writing An American Manifesto: Life After Liberalism.

Last week, Jonah Goldberg wondered why Republicans are doing so well at the local and state level but striking out at the federal level of politics.  His answer to the question is simple: state and local government is about nuts and bolts; the federal government is all about religion.

Our presidents, Republican and Democrat alike, talk about their "visions" for America, as if being a president requires you to impose some quasi-religious vision on the country.

But the Democrats are simply better at talking about government in spiritual terms. Indeed, such testifying is Obama's one indisputable gift. They talk about the federal government doing things we'd want God to do if God dabbled in public policy.

Here is reason good enough for President Jefferson to call for a "wall of separation" between church and state: to keep the vision thing a safe distance away from government and its enforcement officers.  Because, as I like to say, government is force, and it is always a good idea to keep that in mind as soon as someone starts talking about "the children" or "inequality."

Yes, inequality: that's how liberals are justifying their expansion of government these days.  That's what President Obama was talking about in his Osawatomie speech in December 2011, and that's what Alan Krueger, CEA chairman, was talking about a month later in his "Great Gatsby Curve" speech on inequality.

We've all heard plenty from our liberal friends on the subject of inequality, so we know that the New York Times and NPR must devote a lot of bandwidth to the subject.  What exactly does Krueger, academic, labor economist, and Obama administration deep thinker, think is the problem?  Here is how he presented the inequality problem in his speech.

  • Since "the 1970s income has grown more for families at the top of the income distribution."
  • The "median household saw a decline in real income in the 2000s."
  • The "top 1% of families saw a 278 percent increase in their real after-tax income from 1979 to 2007, while the middle 60% had an increase of less than 40 percent."

Here is Krueger's judgment on the cause of this increase in inequality, based on his own poll of economists, in declining order of importance.

  • Skill-based technical change, and a "slowdown in the growth of the supply of relatively highly educated workers in the US."
  • "Other and unknown factors."
  • Globalization. Some have benefited, "but other workers have been left behind by globalization."
  • Union membership has declined, and union membership raises the wages of the lower middle class "so they can make it into the middle class."
  • "Tax changes in the early 2000s benefited the very wealthy by much more than other taxpayers," and only three countries "have tax systems that reduce inequality by less than the U.S."

So the obvious thing to do is implement ObamaCare, keep the economic recovery going, curb "excessive risk-taking" in the financial sector, and pass the Buffett Rule.

Do you see what is missing in all this?  It is so obvious that it is comical.  Krueger and his polled economists say absolutely nothing about the possible effects of the administrative welfare state on inequality.  Ya think?

When blogging about this last week I rolled off the following possible causes of recent inequality without even thinking: government entitlements.  The collapse of the lower-income family.  The retreat of lower-income men from work and marriage.  The penal marginal tax rates on the working poor as they increase work effort.  The credentialization of the workplace.  The meddling of government in the credit system.  Immigration.  "Off the books" work.  How come Krueger and his tame economists didn't mention any of that?

I think their mistake indicates a blind spot for our educated ruling class.  People like Alan Krueger and the nation's economists are modern Puritans.  They think that everyone is like them and regards work, or rather career, as a "calling."  We modern Puritans have even persuaded high-class women to abandon their pre-modern roles as lovers and carers and drudges to become corporate career girls breaking through glass ceilings.

But could it be that a significant minority of Americans, perhaps the bottom 47 percent, aren't really into the neo-Puritan thing?  Perhaps they would rather enjoy the free stuff rather than increase their work effort.

Over at usgovernmentspending.com we have a page on entitlement spending.  Did you know that entitlement spending doubled from 5 percent of GDP to 10 percent of GDP in the decade 1965 to 1975 just before inequality went all wrong? 

But all of this is beside the point.  Reality doesn't matter.  What matters is finding a justification for more government force.

Right now, the liberals are all agreed that "inequality" requires more government.  In ten years, they will come up with something else. 

Christopher Chantrill (mailto:chrischantrill@gmail.com) is a frequent contributor to American Thinker.  See his usgovernmentspending.com and also usgovernmentdebt.us.  At americanmanifesto.org he is blogging and writing An American Manifesto: Life After Liberalism.