We Knew the Post-Gazette Was Left, But Geeze…

We Knew the Post-Gazette Was Left, But Geeze…

While liberals and the poor favored slightly more equal distributions than conservatives and the wealthy, a large majority of every group we surveyed — from the poorest to the richest, from the most conservative to the most liberal — agreed that the current level of wealth inequality was too high and wanted a more equitable distribution of wealth. In fact, Americans reported wanting to live in a country that looks more like Sweden than the United States.

Despite these reservations, our results suggest that policies that increase inequality — those that favor the wealthy, say, or that place a greater burden on the poor — are unlikely to reflect the desires of Americans from across the political and economic spectrum. Rather, they seem to favor policies that involve taking from the rich and giving to the poor.

The Post-Gazette featured an article this morning about a topic that has been bugging me for a while.  They not only made the all-to-common (and I believe false) argument, they took it a step farther.  The issue at hand, the distribution of wealth in the United States.  I have a couple quotes up there, but reading the article is worthwhile.

The essential problem with this article is that the main argument they use to support a “redistribution” of wealth is that most of the people in the United States seem to want it.  In the early 1800s when most of the United States wanted slavery, did that make it right?  Would a poll in 2000 that said most Americans deserve to own their own house have justified the policies that resulted in the mortgage crisis?  Public opinion is certainly relevant, but it should not be the only thing that our country’s leaders consider.

Looking past their short-sighted opinion, why don’t I think a redistribution of wealth would be a good idea in general?

  1. The reason this country is as strong as it is today is because of great men and women who’ve built great wealth.  They’ve built this wealth not only for themselves, but for their customers, their employees and their shareholders.  It also doesn’t stop at wealth; many of these great people have cured diseases, made appliances more affordable or found innovative ways to produce nutritious food.  If you take money from the rich, you takeaway the motivation a promising boy or girl needs to become a great man or woman and you put our country on a course to destruction.
  2. These things are cyclical, there’s no need for the government to get involved.  If the greedy get to greedy, it throws the economy off and the greedy lose money.  The authors point out that the wealth distribution is “as high as its been since the 1920s”.  They skip right along past without pointing out that it wasn’t an act of Congress or a government sponsored “redistribution” that led to the leveling out between then and now.  In fact, the taxes on the rich are significantly higher now then they were back then.
  3. There is an increasingly steep divide between the wealthy and the poor in more then just wealth.  The rich are also facing more hours at the office and more stress then ever before in history.  This (at least in part) justifies the gap.  If we’re to take away money from the top and apply it to the bottom, we’ll need to do the same with the balance of work and stress.  For more on this, I highly recommend either Richard Florida’s The Rise of the Creative Class or Robinson and Godbey’s The Surprising Ways Americans Use Their Time (The former references the latter extensively).

Now don’t get me wrong, I would PREFER a more equal distribution of wealth.  However, I believe that a distribution of wealth is a RESULT of an entire culture.  You can’t change that one aspect without changing the whole culture any more then you could start forcing the entire country to wear a uniform (it is after-all unfair that some people have more style then others) without changing our culture.  That said, I’m in favor of two policies that should bring a smile to those of you offended by my post so far.

  1. I’m for a cap on the amount of money that can be left from one generation to the next.  Being born a billionaire takes away a potentially great person’s motivation to do great things just as surely as taking away money from people who’ve earned it does.
  2. I’m for equal opportunities.  I have mentioned that while the rich enjoy more money they usually also have less time and more stress.  If you are passionate about your work and would relish more stress and less time (I’m talking in part about myself here), you should have as much of an opportunity to be great as anyone else.  That’s regardless of who your parents are, what race you are, what part of the country your born in, etc…

I think making these two adjustments would go a long ways to pointing us towards a more equal wealth distribution without shoving us there so hard that it fundamentally changes our culture.

  • John Hammer

    Jon, I am not a debater. But putting in this phrase: “In the early 1800s when most of the United States wanted slavery, did that make it right?” seems to be a bit of an unfair comparison. That (to me) is a loaded question and using that question weakens your argument.


    • That might be true, but I wanted to use something strong to call out how completely ridiculous it is that someone (as the authors of the PG article did) would support an argument for a particular policy based entirely on whether public opinion believed it to be a good idea. History is littered with examples of people voting themselves things they would later regret. Perhaps Prohibition would have been a better example.

  • John Hammer

    And don’t even get me started on referencing Richard Florida. He is severely overrated:


    • I was simply citing the same source that Florida cites in his book. Florida has something to say in his book about a widening income gap, but the arguments I made here aren’t it.

      As to Florida more generally, I think a lot of what he says makes some sense. However, like any sociological theory, it’s certainly not all encompassing. You simply can’t understand everything that’s going on in american culture, let alone boil it down in to a book. People have a natural tendency to oversimplify and I think that’s what your Canadian friends are poking at in their blog. It’s not that Florida is WRONG, it’s that his theory is but one of an incomprehensibly large number that explains what’s going on in the world today.