December 10, 2013

The Root Sources of Inequality

Walter Russell Mead hits the mark again with Obama Flubs Inequality Message

Obama, and those who think like him, focus so much on socio-economic causes of inequality that they tend to overlook the impact of cultural factors like the breakdown of the family and the decline of strong community institutions.
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Actually, there’s plenty of evidence that unwed childbearing, father absence and fraying kinship and community networks exacerbate the problems of low-income people and make it incredibly hard for them to gain a foothold in the middle class. These are thorny problems that aren’t easily solved by the kinds of government measures Obama champions. So his speech says very little about the ways that strong marriages, family stability, or a robust role for churches in helping struggling Americans improve their lives can all improve economic mobility in this country. These social and cultural factors are arguably root causes of inequality, and it’s a pretty conspicuous omission to ignore that in a presidential speech on the subject. We’re glad people are talking more about about the yawning gap between rich and poor, but this troubling reality deserves a better treatment than Obama gave it.

Obama can't solve the jobs problem  Glenn Reynolds

Last week, President Obama gave a much-touted speech on "income inequality." But while inequality is a valid concern, it's not so clear that unequal incomes are the biggest problem America faces.

More troubling -- as figures as distinct as Slate's Matthew Yglesias and National Review's Mark Steyn both noted -- is the growing divide between an America where people have jobs, and an America where people live off of government benefits.
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So why is President Obama less interested in the shortage of jobs and more focused on mere "income inequality?" I think there are two reasons. First, while expanding the dependency class might be bad for America (and for the dependents), it's good for the political party that passes out the pork. And second -- and this is more troubling -- I think that Obama has no idea how to address the underlying jobs problem.

Mark Steyn on The Post-Work Economy

Consider Vermont. Unlike my own state of New Hampshire, it has a bucolic image: Holsteins, dirt roads, the Vermont Teddy Bear Company, Ben & Jerry’s, Howard Dean . . . And yet the Green Mountain State has appalling levels of heroin and meth addiction, and the social chaos that follows.  Geoffrey Norman began a recent essay in The Weekly Standard with a vignette from a town I know very well — St. Johnsbury, population 7,600, motto “Very Vermont,” the capital of the remote North-East Kingdom hard by the Quebec border and as far from urban pathologies as you can get. Or so you’d think. But on a recent Saturday morning, Norman reports, there were more cars parked at the needle-exchange clinic than at the farmers’ market. In Vermont, there’s no inner-city underclass, because there are no cities, inner or outer; there’s no disadvantaged minorities, because there’s only three blacks and seven Hispanics in the entire state; there’s no nothing. Which is the real problem.  Large numbers of Vermonters have adopted the dysfunctions of the urban underclass for no reason more compelling than that there’s not much else to do. Once upon a time, St. Johnsbury made Fairbanks scales, but now a still handsome town is, as Norman puts it, “hollowed out by the loss of work and purpose.”


“Work” and “purpose” are intimately connected: Researchers at the University of Michigan, for example, found that welfare payments make one unhappier than a modest income honestly earned and used to provide for one’s family. “It drains too much of the life from life,” said Charles Murray in a speech in 2009. “And that statement applies as much to the lives of janitors — even more to the lives of janitors — as it does to the lives of CEOs.” Self-reliance — “work” — is intimately connected to human dignity — “purpose.”

So what does every initiative of the Obama era have in common? Obamacare, Obamaphones, Social Security disability expansion, 50 million people on food stamps . . . The assumption is that mass, multi-generational dependency is now a permanent feature of life. A coastal elite will devise ever smarter and slicker trinkets, and pretty much everyone else will be a member of either the dependency class or the vast bureaucracy that ministers to them. And, if you’re wondering why every Big Government program assumes you’re a feeble child, that’s because a citizenry without “work and purpose” is ultimately incompatible with liberty. The elites think a smart society will be wealthy enough to relieve the masses from the need to work. In reality, it would be neo-feudal, but with fatter, sicker peasants. It wouldn’t just be “economic inequality,” but a far more profound kind, and seething with resentments.
Posted by Jill Fallon at December 10, 2013 12:49 PM | Permalink