Why Care About Inequality?

The last couple of days have produced a plethora of conversations about the rich and inequality. We have been discussing inequality for months, but this weekend provided fodder for a heated exchange over comments a billionaire made in a letter to the WSJ.

Tom Perkins, a founder of Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers, wrote in response to “Censors on Campus” that there is a parallel between the war on the 1% with Fascist Germany. He stated, “From the Occupy movement to the demonization of the rich embedded in virtually every word of our local paper, the San Francisco Chronicle, I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent.” Kleiner has announced that Perkins is no longer active in their business.

Although I find his comments a reach when comparing Nazi Germany with our current situation, I do agree with his comment about his ex-wife Danielle Steele. She has spent millions on the homeless and mentally ill over the past decades. So the process of demonizing all rich as taking advantage of the poor is incorrect.

Just because someone has worked hard and earned a fortune doesn’t make them a bad person. However, I also agree with Mickey Kaus who stated this morning that the ‘pulling apart of this taffy,” the growing gap between the haves and have nots, has not just occurred, it has happened throughout several President’s reign, even President Obama. This growing divide is a part of our economic and political system, and has been for many years. So how do we turn the tide?

Kaus raises a good point. Would we care if everyone was getting stronger financially, but the rich were still getting 51% of the pie? I think this is an interesting question. On the other hand, this is not what is occurring. We have a changing work task reality, the type of work that we did in the past which was considered middle class has now changed. Our labor value is diminished due to cheaper labor in other countries, and many of our middle class jobs have been replaced by technology.

I think the dialog is a good one. It takes me back to a previous quote I presented in this blog. A billionaire was mentioned in a Peggy Noonan article, “Every time I hear the stock market went up I know the guillotines are coming closer.” The fact is we need to discuss this, and I think Kaus hits the nail on the head as to the reason. In the United States our culture demonstrates a narrow power distance. In other words, we believe that all of us put our pants on one leg at a time. Therefore, we have a problem when someone thinks they are better than someone else. Kaus stated, “ When we think honestly about why we hate growing inequality, I suspect it won’t boil down to economics but to sentiments. No, we don’t want to punish success. But we do want to make sure the rich don’t start feeling they’re better than the rest of us.”

President Reagan once said, “ Whether we come from poverty or wealth, we are all equal in the eyes of the Lord.” I would add to this that all of us have a responsibility to treat others better than we treat ourselves. If all of us practiced this then social equality would never be an issue, and maybe if we took better care of each other economic inequality would be reduced? This is probably too naïve.

The fact is work is a good thing. And compassion is a good thing. Many poor just want to work and make a livable wage, and many of those who have money do care about those who don’t. So how do we create a better social system based on respect? Reagan believed that “achieving a rough social equality in the United States in the midst of vivid economic contrast” is something “America has been historically good at” until now.

So, here is what I think. The working poor have now become the largest recipient of food stamps. Therefore, those companies that are not paying a livable wage, Walmart, or providing healthcare for their employees, Walmart, should pay a tax covering the $80 Billion bill that we as taxpayers are paying. Either way the employees of these companies will make enough money to live.

Second, those of us who have the skills to create small businesses will be a part of training workshops for communities that need help. We will no longer pretend the destitute do not exist. No longer will we be Simon Cowells who saw Susan Boyle and dismissed her because of how she looked, but had this beautiful voice. We will look for the potential in all people. Instead of ignoring we will pay attention.

I know I am taking a Pollyanna approach to this problem, but we continue to do the same thing while expecting a different result. We all know what that is the definition of.

And that is my thought for the day!


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