Engaging the Left on Income Inequality -Joseph Lord

 

Over a weekend I attended an event at the Young America’s Foundation Headquarters in Reston, VA. While there, we heard from an interesting array of speakers from foreign policy experts to Trump-appointed Executive employees. One of the most interesting and engaging dialogues was a lecture by Dr. Anne Bradley, VP of Economic Initiatives at the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics.

In the lecture, Dr . Bradley made a point to criticize the right-wing approach to income inequality. Many on the right, she pointed out, are quick to dismiss income inequality as ridiculous mumbo-jumbo which is in no way a reasonable element of a logical, conservative discussion; Dr. Bradley expressed opposition to this, saying that income inequality does exist, that “it is reality that people are poor”, and that these things should be a part of our dialogue with the left.

Working from the view the income inequality did exist, Dr. Bradley went on to deconstruct the idea of income inequality as inherently evil. In a short “Economics 101” side note which will be familiar to students who have taken Microeconomics classes, she explained the concept of the GINI coefficient. The GINI coefficient measures relative distribution of resources over a given population, expressing what percent of a population holds total wealth in that population; in other words, it measures the level of inequality in a society. The closer the coefficient is to 0, the more equally distributed resources are; the closer the coefficient is to 1, the more unequally distributed resources are.

Setting up the point of her lecture, Dr. Bradley showed us a PowerPoint slide with two countries with their respective GINI coefficients: Country A (.278) and Country B (.457). “Which of these two countries would you rather live in?”, she asked us. Being in a room full of “right-wingers”, we could see clearly through the ruse and most of us expressed that we would prefer to live in the country with seemingly higher inequality (i.e. Country B). The countries from which these numbers were pulled were then revealed: Country A (the more equal country) was Afghanistan; Country B (the less equal country) was the United States.

Her point was to demonstrate the central idea of the argument: while income inequality does exist, and that is an important tenet to address in an argument with the Left, it is not an important indicator of prosperity, standard of living, or general happiness. While wealth is distributed more evenly among the Afghans, Dr. Bradley pointed out that this relatively higher equality does not breed higher levels of prosperity and happiness. The U.S., by contrast, with its much higher level of relative economic inequality experiences far higher standards of living from the highest classes to the lowest.

Furthermore, the root cause of the inequality is a factor that must be discussed when debating Leftist arguments around inequity. Again, Dr. Bradley turned to Afghanistan and the U.S. to illustrate this point. In Afghanistan, wealth is not created; people get rich through government favoritism, aristocracy, and contracts running drugs and other organized crime. In the U.S., by contrast, income inequality forms naturally as a result of wealth production. In the United States, individuals like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates become fabulously wealthy, but it is not without providing a great benefit that has been a boon to the whole of humanity. Dr. Bradley pointed to the benefits that would clearly be gleaned for humanity from the person who discovers the cure for cancer, saying “I want that person to be really, really wealthy.”

The lecture was not without some criticism of the modern- U.S. government for engaging in some cronyism; in fact, Dr. Bradley pointed out several examples of government programs which have enriched some at the expense of others. Lobbying by General Electric to get certain types of lightbulbs banned in order to increase sales on their new “environmentally friendly” light bulbs was one example. The disastrous “Cash for Clunkers” government program was another. Bradley derided the whole notion of cronyism, saying “the biggest hindrance to prosperity is statism.” The central point was that while wealth inequality is legitimate and does form, the causes vary: cronyism and statism breed a much different, much less useful inequality of wealth which should be addressed. Great innovators like Gates and Jobs are certainly much more deserving of large amounts of wealth than drug runners and criminals in Afghanistan, or companies that pay lobbyists who buy political power at the expense of the American consumers

In the United States, we do retain a significant amount of income inequality. In the era of Bernie Sanders and Occupy Wall Street, it is important to have a clear, concise conception of the true nature of income inequality and the arguments to be harnessed against it. More equality in wealth distribution does not guarantee happiness and higher levels of inequality do not guarantee misery. Rather, the wealth of certain individuals who have brought something into this world is simply a reward for the great benefits they have brought us. When debating the growing leftist misconception on the nature of income inequality, it is important to recognize that income inequality exists but also to be aware of the true nature of the issue. We should not discard arguments of income inequality, but rather, we should analyze them. And when, infallibly, they do not stand up to the scrutiny, we will find that we have engaged the leftists on their own terms and won.

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