April 16, 2011

773 words 4 mins read

Closing the Wealth Gap

cooperation Face it: you don’t have that many friends. Not that you can rely on, anyway.

On the bright side, you don’t really need friends, do you?  You’re a rock star in your own small way. Who made the varsity swim team?  You did.  Who made honor rolls and deans’ lists? You did.  Who landed your job and got the bonus? You did.

With friends like yourself, who needs friends?

If you make 20 times as much as the next guy in line at Target, who cares?  It was his choice to follow a career path that ends at $42,500 a year.

And you’re almost right.  You’re right until you stop to think how much help you’ve had along the way.

What did your dad and mom do for a living?  Didn’t mom go back to work to afford private coaching? Didn’t dad give up better jobs so he’d never have to miss your swim meets?  Your college roommate hounded you to get better grades when you decided to coast. And didn’t your neighbor has his brother-in-law shop your resume around at the company where you’re now a stud?

Human beings are social animals. We don’t just enjoy other people; we need them for survival of the species.  You can’t breed alone.  You can’t thrive alone no matter what you’ve been told. People who understand their need for cooperation and community are not lacking in self-esteem; they’re lacking in hubris.  There’s a difference.

In The Fourth Turning, historians William Strauss and Neill Howe explain:

Where we once thought ourselves collectively strong, we now regard ourselves as individually entitled.

Yet even while we exalt our own personal growth, we realize that millions of self-actualized persons don’t add up to an actualized society.

Our income disparity in America grew, not as a result of unchecked capitalism, but of unchecked government.

From 1970 (actually, long before 1970, but data on income disparity go back only to 1968) onward, the federal government has, through entitlements and services, built walls of separation between American people.  As the Great Society increased dependency on government, it destroyed the fabric of community.

The government, not business, subdivided the United States from a single nation composed of 50 states, into a 300 million nations composed of one lonely human being.

Where CEOs once understood the importance of their employees, they now see only dehumanized “human resources.” Listen in on a conversation in any company today, and you’ll hear the term again and again:  “Do we have enough resources?”  They don’t mean land, capital, and materials; they mean people.

Entitlements are blinders.  They protect the haves from their moral duty to the have-nots.  They protect the have-nots from personal connection to and reliance upon the haves.  And they protect us all from the human responsibility to look out for each other, to take care of ourselves, to graciously accept the kindness of a stranger.

In other words, government dehumanizes.The poor no longer hope for a rich person to lift them up; they demand that government to hand something out. We see each other as obstacles or burdens, not fellow humans trying to get through the best we can.

In 1970, the average CEO made $212,230 while the average worker made $6,540, or 30.6 percent (source: Portfolio.com).

Today, that gap has grown from 30.6 percent to 265 percent in 2009.  And that 2009 number is low because of the economy—CEO compensation includes stock options and other market-sensitive rewards.  Now the CEO makes $8.5 million compared to the worker’s $32,000.

Socialists exploit this gap. The left sees income disparity as an argument against capitalism.  And too many Republicans ignore the problem, claiming one’s legal income is no one else’s business.

On this, the socialists and the Republicans are both wrong. Socialists are wrong about the cause and the solution; Republicans are wrong about the need for change.

If you take away the government’s unconstitutional entitlement programs, you take away the emotional insulation that separates us from each other.  The CEO and the unemployed both become more reliant upon each other.  Emotional, human bonds replace faceless bureaucracy.  CEOs make less because making 265 times as much as his employees is a business risk he will no longer take.

When I talk about entitlements, I’m talking about all the entitlements—those that allow General Electric to earn $13 billion profit and pay no taxes, and those that allow GM to live beyond its means forever.

It took both corporate and individual welfare to rot the fabric of society. It will take a tea party to weave it back together.

Grab your sewing kit. It’s time to get to work.