Home / Blog / Article


November 30 2011

Who's Causing Inequality? Three answers

Libby Jacobson

Who’s causing income inequality? You, me, and the rest of the 99 percenters are, says Professor Walter Williams. “[T]he millions of ‘99-percenters’ who individually plunk down $8 or $9 to attend a ‘Harry Potter’ movie, $15 to buy a ‘Harry Potter’ novel or $30 to buy a ‘Harry Potter’ Blu-ray Disc are directly responsible for contributing” to the billion dollars of wealth concentrated in the hands of author J.K. Rowling. Similarly, the scores of LeBron James fans who willingly pay $100 for basketball tickets can take the blame for making LeBron one of the best remunerated (and to many Clevelanders, the most-hated) professional athletes around. Even the Walton family, whose revolutionary original business plan has driven the prices of consumer goods down precipitously, can thank the 99 percent for their billions in wealth.

Of course, most people wouldn’t object to talented individuals being rewarded for their genius, creativity, or hard work. The sheer number of iPhones, iPads and Macbooks in the hands of the disaffected liberal 20-something demographic is proof that nobody really believes in socialism anymore, not even the self-proclaimed socialists (don’t worry guys, when I was 14, I thought the word ‘socialist’ sounded subversive and cool, too. You’ll grow out of it). But if virtuous entrepreneurs are entitled to riches, it’s those plutocratic titans of industry and finance who’ve perverted our free enterprise system into a crony-capitalistic boondoggle!

Oh, wait, back up a second. Moderate Left, you can thank yourselves for that one, too. Jason Brennan at Bleeding Heart Libertarians explains:

…Public choice predicted that the government programs you created with the goal of fixing problems would often instead exacerbate those problems. Well, the evidence is in. You were wrong and public choice theory was right. If you have any decency, it is time to admit you were wrong and change. Stop making things worse.

You spent the past fifty years empowering corporations and the most unscrupulous of the rich. You created rampant moral hazard in the financial sector. You created the system that socializes risks but privatizes profit. You created the system that creates a revolving door between Obama’s staff and Goldman Sachs. There’s a reason why Wall Street throws money at Obama. It’s because you, the moderate left, are Wall Street’s biggest supporters. Oh, I know you complain about Wall Street. But your actions speak louder than your words.

A familiar pop-psych definition of insanity is doing the same actions over and over again expecting different results. Is there a better word to describe the desire to continue ceding evermore power to big government in hopes that it will fix the incentive problems of big government? So many events over the last year alone – the Occupy movement, the debt ceiling showdown, the failure of the deficit panel – indicate that it’s time for academics to add a primer course in public choice economics to the curriculum for all political science, economics, and law programs. The students who are going to become so-called experts in the business of policy really need to know this stuff!

Speaking of college, Rick Hess writes at Education Week that the UC Davis student/OWS protesters – the ones who were casually pepper-sprayed by an overzealous police officer just a few weeks ago – appear to have adopted an “if-you-can-beat-em-join-em” mentality:

Since these students don't seem to be volunteering to staff the libraries or cafeterias for free, suggesting any cost-saving strategies (dialing back on campus amenities, anyone?), or otherwise doing their part to help make the budget work, they're just demanding more free stuff from taxpayers. This is of a piece with other Occupy demands that policymakers forgive student loans and raise taxes on the "one percent" (e.g. somebody else). I understand why the Occupiers would prefer to pay less for college, but not why being asked to contribute to the cost of their schooling means anyone is "letting them down." Indeed, as best I can tell, these students are asking policymakers to cut even more deeply elsewhere so that they can be spared the annoyance of reduced services or increased tuition. I'm no expert on social justice but, even so, I don't think that qualifies.

 

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
Follow us