Inequality: the Solutions

There is going to be talk of inequality for three straight years. It’s the Obama administration’s strategy to help voters forget the horrors of the implementation of Obamacare. (It’s not optimistic about the rest of the plan either, it seems.) Of course, the word “inequality” resonates well with young people who have been impoverished by the administration’s bad policies since the current economic crisis (which it did inherit). When you can’t get a job, nearly everyone is better off than you are, and inequality is concrete.

Besides, you can always find inequality somewhere by cherry picking: Since 1990, the top ten per cent have increased their share from X to Z while the bottom 17% have seen their share decrease by W; since 2001, the top twenty percent have grown their share from M to P while the bottom 50%, blah, blah, blah. See what I mean? The only situation where you cannot find inequality is when everyone one, every person, every household has exactly the same as every other. This would be hard to achieve if you tried, because people would become unequal again at one end (on the one hand) before you had finished at the other end (on the other hand).

Yet, it turns out, it’s not difficult to do something concrete and decisive about inequality of income and/ or of wealth on an individual basis, through personal initiative. (Inequality of looks is a tougher proposition.). I advise how below.

First, if you are rich, you can easily dispose of your share of the social burden of economic equality. Just give away your money until you reach a median position or below. If you can’t help but earn more money, just keep giving it away. Problem solved.

Second, if you are poor, just decide to become Steve Jobs, or Bill Gates, both multi-billionaires who started from nothing. If that’s not your cup of tea, just become a millionaire athlete or actor. If that won’t work, and speaking of tea, start a Starbucks for teas. Hurry up, Starbucks itself is doing it right now. Don’t blame anyone: You had more than twenty years to take the initiative.

In general, the healthy poor in American have a lot of explaining to do. Go ahead, explain.

If you fear you don’t have the talent, or the education, or anything to help you qualify to do any of the above, here is a plan:

In every developed country including the US, there is a chronic shortage of plumbers, has been for at least forty years. One plumber I employed about ten years ago was grossing $60/hour. That was although his phobia prevented him for working in dark confined places. (Would I make this up?)

My suggestion is that you should apprentice yourself to a plumber for a year or so. After that span of time – which you might finance through a loan, don’t be shy, go right ahead – go into business for yourself. Plan for thirty hours a week of actual work because you need time to relax and a little time to get organized and to do the billing. Take a French-style one month vacation each year. Charge as much as I was willing to pay the phobic ten years ago, $60/hr.

You should gross about $85,000 a year. Count $15,000 for taxes and other deductions if you insist on keeping books. You are left with $70,000 to spend. According to the Census bureau, the gross household US median income was under $52,000 in 2011. It’s probably not much higher now. Since we are comparing net to gross, these elementary calculations put you actually well ahead of the average. And, remember, we are comparing your projected income to the median household income. So, under my plan, your spouse need not be gainfully employed.

With this kind of income, if you are that kind of person, you should be able to salt away in savings $5,000 each year. Placing the savings at a safe 3%, you re likely to be able to give your children something like $140,000 after only twenty years. Nice down payment on a house in California, nice house in Arkansas, even with inflation. Yet, more choice!

If you end up finding your superior plumber’s income distasteful because it violates your belief in equality, see above. Or you might just decide to work less each week or to take longer vacations.

On inequality, see also: “Equality and Fairness“.

Any questions?

12 thoughts on “Inequality: the Solutions

  1. I see that being compared to Jesus has put Dr. P in a biblical frame of mind. The first half of his post [the part before his career counseling] is a long-winded version of the beginning of Deuteronomy 15:11
    “There will always be poor people in the land.”

    “Any questions?”

    Yes. Can you do a post on the second part of Deuteronomy 15:11?

    “Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.”

    • Quoting the old testament–especially the Pentateuch–can be tricky business when trying to explain modern politics. This article seems to point out anecdotally that the current American working poor have more wealth and opportunity available to them than practically any other people in history. Seems to me that the author of the verse you mention would sneer at the idea that we consider those people “the needy” above those dying of malaria or starving in poverty abroad. If you are to give compulsively as a means of worship, don’t you want to maximize the effect of that money?

      I used to work in “workforce development” and the article highlights the main crutch of this industry: there are jobs out there that many people under the ‘working poor’ designation refuse to seek, at least in the short run. It’s not necessarily that these people think the jobs are below them; many have ‘inflated plans,’ for example, expecting a community college ‘business’ degree to support a family of 4 whereas a welding certificate is a better investment. You can argue that this has a basis in behavioral econ, human nature, etc., but regardless, throwing money at the problem doesn’t help anyone in the long run–quite the opposite. I guess what I’m saying is, many of the root causes of income inequality are not simply a problem of not being “openhanded” enough, and one of the worst things we can do is to refuse to struggle with the difficult questions beyond “spend more” and “spend less”. I would point out here that centralized bureaucracy should theoretically be much worse at this than a state- or community-led approach.

      So my question for you would be, are we following Deut 15:11 when there are starving children in the world at the same time as people earning a comfortable living refuse to do manual labor?

      Apologies for the reference to such a hackneyed topic but I found this article about plumbing wages that seem like less guesswork than Jacques’s figures:,8599,1851673,00.html

  2. @Kyle

    “So my question for you would be, are we following Deut 15:11 when there are starving children in the world at the same time as people earning a comfortable living refuse to do manual labor?”

    Sure looks like it. We can’t put too much emphasis on specific wording given the umpteen different translations but most of the variations seem to say some version of the poor and needy ‘in your land’. The emphasis in the Pentateuch always seems to be on the Israelites….the heathens not so much.

    Btw can you point to a source for how many ‘people earning a comfortable living refusing to do manual labor’ there are? Something concrete as opposed to something you think you might have heard on Fox News. Jacques and his fellow teapublicans seem to believe there are millions of welfare queens laying around smoking crack and living the high life on welfare money but I never get anything other than an anecdote here or there.

    • @Terry,

      It seems unimportant to argue if the creator of the universe draws the same petty national distinctions we would in the case of poverty and sacrifice, so I’ll leave that one alone.

      I’m in total agreement with you about the sad state of representation of the poor a la ‘welfare queens’… the Tea party is overall divisive on this one, people can be borderline racist, and barbed articles like Jacques’s above tend to stir the pot more than offer solutions. But there’s something about a baby and bathwater that goes here…

      I can’t provide a source–I gotta be honest, I haven’t even looked for one since I explained that my point was completely personal and anecdotal. Despite being somewhat of a pop/television personality, Mike Rowe tends to be much better at explaining the stats in this area than I am. I’m providing a link below to an article I find thought-provoking; I’d like to hear what you think if you have time. I wish I could come up with a way to research this area as my experiences have shown it to be severely lacking.

      Of course no one is ‘living the high life on welfare money’ but that doesn’t explain why so many workforce programs push clients around and around, to beauty school or community college business programs or ‘skills training’ that leave them with the same skills, a growing gap in their work history, and a misfounded hope. More money’s not a solution in itself. I wish I had more than an anecdote for you but my experiences rest on seeing and trying to help individuals misguided not necessarily by their own misjudgment but by that of a system that encourages bad decisions and wastefulness of personal resources like time, money, and hope.

      So let’s agree there’s some obfuscation out there in regards to what life is like for the ‘poor’ in America. But if we problematize income inequality while simultaneously refusing to admit that there exist alternative paths to overcome that inequality–many of which unglamorous and incapable of being steered by federal bureaucracy–we’re dooming ourselves and others.

      Here’s the link I mentioned; hope you have time to read it:

    • @Kyle. I followed your link; it was even more depressing than I’d expected but impossible to argue with.

      I love being a professor, I think it’s the best job in the world. Nonetheless in my mind one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made was not becoming a farrier when I had the chance. Plumbers and welders don’t hold a candle compared to the kind of money a farrier can pull in. And certainly a step up from the jobs I had at the time: part-time horse trainer and part-time seller of manure to gardeners.

      “It seems unimportant to argue if the creator of the universe draws the same petty national distinctions we would in the case of poverty and sacrifice, so I’ll leave that one alone.”

      Since I don’t believe in a creator of the universe I have to agree. It does reflect two important points I think we have to recognize for better or worse. First, the socio-biologists remind us of genetic overlap and altruism and the psychologists remind us of the importance of in-group/out-group distinctions with a much wider reach.

    • @Terry:

      The direct-cash-to-poor argument has been made by a number of prominent libertarians (Milton Friedman’s negative income tax was one such a proposal), so it’s not quite fair to make the charge that you’re making.

      @ Jacques:

      Yes, it’s true: I ask that people refrain from labeling those they disagree with as Nazis or slaves in the ‘comments’ section. I am also willing to enforce civility by publicly calling people out for their boorishness, though this hardly qualifies as censorship.

      I think it is worth noting that you actually did ban me from your blog, so while you think that you may be playing Jesus Christ – making the ultimate sacrifice for free speech by avoiding the ‘comments’ section here – you are, in reality, just showing how irrelevant and weak your arguments really are.

  3. @Brandon my snide comment was directed to the teapublicans; a collection of people that seem very different from libertarians.

    • Ah gotcha. Thanks Terry.

      When the Tea Party was big here in the States (it’s actually a big thing in northern Europe right now, from what I hear), I remember a photo in a Foreign Policy article showing sign that said “Get Big Government out of my Social Security.”

      Pictures are often worth a thousand words.

      What is the Tea Party? Is it even relevant anymore? Are they Big Government social conservatives? Libertarian-ish wonks? Were they a bunch of conservatives still bitter about the 8 years of rabid opposition to the W Bush presidency?

      I guess a better question would be: How do you, Terry, define the Tea Party? I’ll give my own answer soon, but I still have to think about it for a little while.

  4. From Paul Krugman

    “A few months ago, Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, and Marlene Seltzer, the chief executive of Jobs for the Future, published an article in Politico titled “Closing the Skills Gap.” They began portentously: “Today, nearly 11 million Americans are unemployed. Yet, at the same time, 4 million jobs sit unfilled”—supposedly demonstrating “the gulf between the skills job seekers currently have and the skills employers need.”
    Actually, in an ever-changing economy there are always some positions unfilled even while some workers are unemployed, and the current ratio of vacancies to unemployed workers is far below normal. Meanwhile, multiple careful studies have found no support for claims that inadequate worker skills explain high unemployment.

    But the belief that America suffers from a severe “skills gap” is one of those things that everyone important knows must be true, because everyone they know says it’s true. It’s a prime example of a zombie idea — an idea that should have been killed by evidence, but refuses to die.”

  5. First things first: Brandon: I banned you from my blog once because you called someone a liar. It was not because it’s uncivil but because it’s nearly always a lie to call someone a liar. The truth, is that one rarely knows whether someone who says untruths is lying of confused or mistaken. I for, one, have not even called Mr Obama a liar, not once, for example.

    At any rate, you are welcome back on my blog, no conditions, no counterparts.

    Terry Amburgey is now quoting the Bible and misinterpreting it. He must think it takes that much to give his arguments the gravitas they lack. I don’t know of any ethical system that command that you take from Peter by force (FORCE), to give to Paul. Go ahead, educate me. On the other hand, everyone is welcome to give away his property of his own will. I, for one, am much in favor of Bill Gates’ enormous giving program. Anyone who does not understand the difference between giving and being forced to give is missing an ethical gene. The fact that it’s many of our contemporaries do not change this.

    I don’t know exactly how my humble essay led to a discussion of the merits of welfare recipients. I did not think I had done anything to trigger that particular discussion. Someone must be on automatic. No one has refuted any of my points.

    Terry, don’t flatter yourself with the thought you could have been a decent farrier and stayed in business. This is typical untested academic self-regard. And you forget to mention that senior academics such as yourself receive a very high rate of real hourly pay, I think about $300. I exclude research time which is supposed to be a benefit of academic life rather than a forced obligation. I note that your senior colleagues who attempt no scholarly research at all probably don’t earn much less than those who are very productive in that area.

    The positions expressed in the essay of relevance remain pertinent: Nearly all of the poor who complain of inequality – and we don’t know how many that is – could improve their fate a great deal if they only tried. Millions of immigrants -illegal as well as legal – can attest to the fact that making a good living in this country is not difficult. I know and I am tempted to say that I did and never worked hard a day in my life. But that would be an exaggeration: Between 1978 and 1981, I had to wok hard for a short while. As I never stop bragging about, I cam to this country a high school dropout and with nothing; that’s not a frigging thing, rien du tout!

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