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    How we should discuss income inequality

    How we should discuss income inequality

    I’ve been trying to articulate the way to engage with OWS-sympathizers for the past few weeks. It’s hard to write-off some aspects of the OWS gripes: some sectors have seen an inordinate amount of favoritism from the government while a lot of the middle class has fallen on hard times. My friend Trevor recently penned a piece on inequality that articulates – in far more lucid terms than what I could produce – how we should think about income “inequality”:

    While we understandably regard wealth as important because money can be turned into what we love, perhaps we should also be concerned with whether what we love can be turned into money. Money isn’t everything. In fact, for economists, money isn’t anything but an instrumental mechanism to achieve ultimate values. Yet, perhaps oddly, many of those who regard money and success as lesser values seem to analyze the world as if relative income and wealth are the only things that matter. If “creative types” are disproportionately represented in the OWS movement, then many of them have made choices in their lives in which they knowingly sacrificed absolute economic well-being for psychological satisfaction.

    Ultimately, productivity made these choices available to them. Perhaps the simplest way of stating my point is this: a world with more choices is a world with more possibilities for divergence (i.e. inequality) along many different metrics. […] inequality and productivity travel together. Having more choices means that people can maximize particular inequalities based on subjective valuations.

    Trevor writes about subjective values, opportunity and satisfaction extremely well.

    I also think that a lot of people in favor of OWS are mourning the death of a dream. I can sympathize with that. A lot of the rhetoric I heard while growing up in the 1990s was akin to this: if you get good grades, go to a decent college, and don’t screw up, you can live comfortably. I think that, for a lot of folks who did just this, the past three years have been particularly difficult for them. It has been more of a struggle than they anticipated. Wall Street is their chosen scape goat, but I really doubt it’s the source of the difficulty a lot of 20-somethings have come across. That’s a post for another day, I suppose.


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    jakee308 | November 19, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    Sorry for all the misspellings in previous. Too many to rewrite so I hope the gist of what I meant got through.

    You have to start by realizing what you HAVE.

    A. No one owes you a living. But – we as a society decided that we would band together and pool our money to provide an education for every single child in the nation. Instead of every community having to scrap together enough money for a one room schoolhouse and a teacher, we give you a fully funded education for 13 years. When you come out, if you have taken advantage of that gift, you should be fully prepared to make a good life for yourself. You owe it to society to go forth and prosper. Whether you go on to college, or not, is up top you, your family and your circumstances. And even if you are not wealthy, you can go on to higher education. Great thinkers, inventors and philosophers of old did not have this gift, many studied alone by candlelight – the #Occupiers would do well to reflect upon this.

    B. No matter what your house is like, it is almost 100% guaranteed that you live better than the kings of old. You have light at the touch of a fingertip. You have hot and cold water, and much more that a monarch of old would have bankrupted his kingdom to possess. It’s all a matter of perspective. Your Disneyfied image of what life is ‘supposed’ to be may not match reality, but – if you live in this nation you have much to be grateful for, and it is up to you to appreciate it.

    C. It is high time to start putting value on the people who take care of themselves. If you are single and taking care of yourself – you are not taking welfare and are not a drain on society – what is that worth? If you are married and taking care of yourselves, what is that worth? When you have children and you are taking care of an entire family, and often extended family, you are an asset to society and not a drain – what is that worth? When you pay your kids’ college tuitions, and do not take from society, you leave resources for those truly in need. When you are an employer, you provide, in full for multiple other families – mortgages, food, autos, healthcare and more – these assets MUST be recognized, valued, honored, and NOT ATTACKED OR DERIDED.

    This is why the #occupy movement is so inherently evil and despicable. They have no respect or appreciation for what they have, are not grateful that they live in this century where they live, disease free, with access to healthcare, clean water, vast amounts of food, goods and services, and they refuse to take their rightful place and become an asset to those around them… They have bought into the rhetoric of those who would use them as pawns, and those who would use them are in fact the cause of the lack of employment right now. Lackadaisical drone-like mentalities are not active participants in making this a better place.

    That’s the way I see it – running on too long, I know –

      Running on too long? Not at all. If you have more, share it. What you have said makes perfect sense. The real problem is that those who need to see this, do not look in the right places, probably because they do not want to see it or are afraid to see it.


    I request permission to use your reply.

    I know too many middle class broke people. It’s their own damn fault.

    When my employees drive up in car loans on metal that costs more than mine and my wife’s cars combined, that’s called stupidity. You try to coach them, but they know better. Broke people have the best vacations, the latest phones, the coolest electronic gadgets and the emptiest savings accounts.

    When an unemployed 20 something racks up 50k in student debt and doesn’t finish school or worse, finishes and finds they don’t have the skills an employer values or they don’t have the grit to start their own gig, that is the kettle of soup they brewed for themselves.

    I got ahead by going without luxeries for a long time. I don’t see that in broke people. They go w/out only when their credit is maxed out. Pardon my caustic attitude, but the nest of success is feathered by years of eating rice and beans, driving a beater car, and working 7 days a week, with many of those hours being at slave wages (especially if you own your own business).

    …and this student loan crap. Did no one in the family realize that one day bambino was going to turn 18 and want to go on to higher ed… was this all a freaking surprise? Oh- after you were too short sighted to save for higher ed, was cash flowing junior college not good enough for someone too dumb to save for an education? You sure seem to have enough cash for the best cable TV and a house full of smart phones.

    No- these people need a smack across the ahead, not sympathy.

    You show me a broke person in the middle class, and I’ll show you years of bad decisions.

    How about all of those years of school sports that were supposed to teach Junior all of those important skills. Maybe we ought to start valuing having an after school job a little higher than that garbage. You’ve got kids graduating with 18-30 seasons of school sports under their belt and not one job for the entire duration of their youth.

    Wow, and you tell me they are having trouble finding a job when they are older???? Call Ripley’s believe it or not!!!!

    Parents will spend a season of Saturdays to watch Junior compete against other kids on a court or a mat, which alledgedly gives them “really important” skills, but God forbid they spend an equal amount of time working on writing, speech, math. Here’s an idea, go take a refresher on Poor Richard’s Almanac.

    No- all I have for broke middle class people is a big fat “I effing told you so.”

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