The latest faux issue to insinuate itself into our political polemics travels under the unedifying name of “income inequality.” As political abstractions go, this one is more incoherent than most. (Shabbier too in its naked appeal to envy and resentment.) Almost no one who uses the term says what he means by it. But it has the ring of yet another incitement to leftist larceny.
Since President Obama heaved this dead cat into the room a few weeks ago, I’ve been waiting for anyone speaking for the Republican Party to say that this hustle is nothing more than Marxist boilerplate. Since no one in the Grand Old Party has either the courage or the awareness to say this, I guess it’s up to me.
If income inequality is the problem, then income equality is the goal. From each according to his ability, to each according to his need, to coin a phrase (or to each according to his or her fanciful desires, if we are to adopt the Sandra Fluke addendum to the original Marx).
Are we to have a government committee to insure that the corporate CFO with the 10th floor corner office makes the same as the security guard sitting in the ground floor lobby? Should universities add what the full professor of women’s studies and the janitor in her building make and pay them both half the total? Should the guy who drives the studio limo make the same as Tom Hanks did on his last picture? Should the burger flipper at the corner McDonald’s make the same as the chef de cuisine at the Chez Pretense? On a more personal example of blatant income inequality, Obama, with his presidential salary and other sources of income, fetches in a multiple of what I make. Will he be sending me a check to equalize things between us? I won’t hold my breath.
OK, those who wring their hands in public about income inequality don’t really want to put full professors and university janitors in the same tax bracket. Most doing the complaining are doing quite well, thanks very much, and have way too much to lose by real income equality. What they hope to achieve by this is to reinforce in the minds of low-information voters the image of Republicans and conservatives as heartless meanies who snatch food from the mouths of widows and orphans and, if you don’t watch them, would tie little Nell to the railroad tracks.
Sadly, it’s not that hard to explain how this transparent fraud could get traction. Writer Joe Epstein explained in his 2003 book “Envy” that, “Of the seven deadly sins, only envy is no fun at all.” Earlier on, Henry Mencken took the measure of this important political dimension when he explained that the truly happy man is the one who makes five dollars a week more than his brother-in-law. Parse for the intervening inflation and you have today’s figure.
Envy’s accompanying emotion is resentment. Which is exactly what the hustlers retailing income inequality want from the marks. They want Pavlovian drooling about how Republicans and conservatives (hardly total overlap in these two categories) look out for the interests of evil Wall Street bankers, hedge fund managers, and various other country clubbers instead of those of honest Americanos like the complainers. This is fantasy, but it works with lots of voters.
I’ve asked a couple of liberal friends if they thought income inequality was a serious issue today. Predictably they said it was. Just as predictably they were less than lucid in explaining what it meant. One suggested that it had to do with the disappearing American middle class and what he called extremes of wealth and poverty in America. If the Democrats get very far with this argument, it will be, once again, because inept and pusillanimous Republicans allow them to. To the extent that the great American middle class has gone missing, it’s because of high taxation, hyper-regulation, and other toxic policies — brought to us by guess who? — that continue to shackle the American economy.
A few more years under policies brought about by those who whine about income inequality and we’ll have real income equality. All of us will be bringing in next to nothing. And those of you who wondered if the party of Ted Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and Eliot Spitzer (wearing uniform number nine) could come up with a fraud of comparable audacity to the “Republican War on Women,” now you know.