Obama Suffers from Compulsive State Aggrandizing Disorder
As a matter of principle I am loath to treat political behavior from a medical perspective. But, there comes a time when the evidence is so overwhelming that a medical framework is appropriate. To wit, I have concluded that President Obama suffers from what a psychoanalyst might call "Compulsive State Aggrandizing Disorder" or CSAD for short. Though slow in arriving, this diagnosis was indisputable when I read about the president's recent New York Times interview. In a nutshell, CSAD is a condition whereby everything is twisted so as to justify expanding government regardless of the risks, costs, or likelihood of success. The parallel is compulsive alcoholism or drug addiction -- the addict refused to stop even when it is obvious that the addiction is the path to ruin.
In this interview, Obama expounded about the dangers of growing economic inequality which, said the president, would exacerbate racial tensions, boost unemployment, hinder economic growth, shrink the middle class and indirectly limit the discussion of such pressing issues as trade, climate, and immigration.
It is easy to dismiss these ruminations as off-the-cuff babble from a frustrated president. Wrong. Pushing economic inequality on to the public agenda will only embolden others suffering from CSAD to ramp up their efforts and, make no mistake, they will discover even more alleged horrific consequences of economic inequality and demand billions of dollars of government expansion. Past manifestations of CSAD include pushing government to solve "dangerous" race-related gaps, invisible glass ceilings, and the absence of diversity.
Is CSAD curable? Probably not in its advanced stages (sorry about that, Mr. President) but it can be prevented from infecting millions of others. The preemptive public health measure first requires understanding "economic inequality" and its irrelevance to racial tension, stagnant economic, and other assumed national ills.
Begin with the simple observation that if economic equality is your paramount value, relocates to a primitive tribe in New Guinea or the Amazon rain forest. Here the distance between the richest and the poorest is minimal -- nobody has much of anything. But, even modest economic growth brings gaps between rich and poor, and ironically, the largest occur in poor kleptocratic Third World nations where small elites live lavishly while millions exist on a dollar a day (South Africa leads the world in inequality).
In other words, economic inequality is a ubiquitous factor of life, worldwide, across all societies (save the most primitive tribes) and calling it a "problem to be addressed" is vacuous nonsense. A condition is not necessarily "a problem."
A little research will also show that as the historical improvement in the world's economy is associated with rising inequality and, more to the point, as the bottom grows richer, inequality increases, not decreases.
Moreover, the president's link between inequality and its alleged unwelcome consequences is a collection of non sequiturs and, more importantly, bereft of any scientific evidence. If the stock market crashed and hundreds of multimillionaires were wiped out, would more good jobs suddenly appear? Would race relations improve?
But suppose inequality is a problem, what Mr. President is the dangerous level of inequality? There's an old adage from pharmacology -- toxicity is in the dosage -- and speaking as a social scientist, I have never seen an analysis that specifies a given level of economic inequality (measured by the Gini coefficient) as akin to, say, toxic levels of mercury in water. In fact, I doubt that this "dangerous" level could ever be specified given the innumerable measurement obstacles. For example, do we include food stamps, subsidized housing and multiple other government-supplied benefits when calculating the income of today's poor? Do we look only at income without examining assets? Perhaps Mr. Obama has solved these formidable quandaries, but I doubt it.
It is also true that economic inequality explodes when extraordinary levels of skill must be rewarded. No doubt, the best hunter in New Guinea may bring in twice as much as an inept hunter, but in a modern economy, this ratio of rewards may be a thousand to one, if not more. This pattern is most obvious in professional sports where those at the very pinnacle earn extraordinary amounts and as competition heats up, salaries climb sharply. For example, in the 1984/5 season the top NBA salary was $3.6 million; by 2010/2011 with new competition from European leagues and more TV revenue, the top earner made $58 million that one year while a "poor" journeyman could only expect a million or so (see here). Talk about economic inequality!
This pattern certainly applies to corporate America where a talented CEO can add hundreds of millions to the company's bottom line. What would happen if a firm's board of directors announced that it would forbid its top executives from earning more than 10 times the salary of its lowest paid employee so as to stop the unraveling of American society so bemoaned by president Obama? Bizarre, and a recipe for bankruptcy. What talented CEO would accept, say, $150,000 when those in comparable positions elsewhere earned several million?
But, let's suppose this quest for leveling incomes took root, and these radical egalitarians captured Washington in 2016? What's the menu? Tax the rich at 90% or otherwise try to confiscate wealth? Raise the minimum wage to $20 per hour with corresponding increases for those currently above the minimum wage? Or how about sending those barely scraping by in high school to community colleges to have a career, not just a low-pay job?
Ironically, if implemented, these measures would work, but not as Obama envisions! Specifically, they would bring an economic collapse which, in turn, means greater equality. It would be a jail break of the most talented -- "overpaid" NBA stars fleeing to Europe while U.S. firms relocated corporate headquarters to Monaco. Yes, the McDonald's starting salary would be a government mandated $24.00 an hour, but only one hamburger flipper would be needed -- each morning she would turn on the machine that automatically manufacture the entire menu, collected the money and then made change.
Here's the reality, Mr. President: capitalist competition puts a premium on skill, and with the increased demand for extraordinary skill, pay skyrockets. Yes, inequality increases, but economic competition pushed by highly paid, super-talented CEO's brings economic gains for everyone.
Of course there would be an exception to this new Great Depression -- government jobs by the tens of thousands. Imposing equality is no small task, especially in a society happy to reward top talent. Now thousands of Washington monitors, armed with thousands of microregulations must be on the lookout for CEO's who get paid under the table, let alone star athletes going home with suitcases of cash. But, our economic collapse aside, a retired President Obama will be happy, and as he will tell you, America is now better off than in the bad old days when inequality ripped apart America's social fabric.
We must find a treatment for CSAD and might I suggest that a million person Washington march for a cure. It may take a lifetime, but we have no choice. In the meantime, perhaps some "Get Well Soon" cards to the White House might help.