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Define Income Inequality
The Left sees it as a disease; the Right sees it as a symptom.

Letitia James and Dasani Dasani Coates

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Jonah Goldberg

Democrats are revving up for a huge national “conversation” on income inequality. This is in no small part because the Obama administration and congressional Democrats would rather talk about anything other than Obamacare.

But it would be unfair to say this is all a cynical effort to gain partisan advantage. For instance, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio is certainly sincere in his desire to take “dead aim at the Tale of Two Cities” in the Big Apple. He and his team want to fix the distribution of income in New York by distributing it differently.

This in itself points to the different perspectives on the left and right when it comes to income inequality, perspectives worth keeping in mind if you’re going to try to follow the conversation to come.

As a broad generalization, liberals see income as a public good that is distributed, like crayons in a kindergarten class. If so-and-so didn’t get his or her fair share of income, it’s because someone or something — government, the system — didn’t distribute income properly. To the extent conservatives see income inequality as a problem, it is as an indication of more concrete problems. If the poor and middle class are falling behind the wealthy, it might be a sign of declining or stagnating wages or lackluster job creation. In other words, liberals tend to see income inequality as the disease, and conservatives tend to see it as a symptom.

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Also, income inequality can be a benign symptom. If everyone is getting richer, who cares if the rich are getting richer faster? New York City’s inequality, for instance, is partly a function of the fact that it is so attractive to poor immigrants who start at the bottom of the ladder but with the ambition to climb it rapidly.

This raises the most delicate aspect of income inequality, the extent to which it can be driven by non-economic issues. New York City’s new public advocate, Letitia James, delivered her inaugural address while holding hands with Dasani Coates, a twelve-year-old girl who until recently lived in a grimy homeless shelter with her parents. She was profiled in a nearly 30,000-word New York Times series that aimed to highlight the Dickensian nature of the city and succeeded in anointing Dasani as the living symbol of income inequality in New York.

James held Dasani’s hand aloft for emphasis when she proclaimed, “If working people aren’t getting their fair share . . . you better believe Dasani and I will stand up — that all of us will stand up — and call out anyone and anything that stands in the way of our progress!”

But she also said something interesting about herself. James said her parents were smiling down from heaven as they watched her swearing-in, adding that her mother and father were “without credentials, humbled individuals more accustomed to backbreaking work than dinner parties.” Later, at a reception, she said of her parents, “I made them proud. I just want to inspire others. That’s why I had Dasani with me.”

One has to wonder whether James missed the irony. According to liberals like James and the Times (to the extent that’s a distinction with a difference), Dasani is a victim of a system that tolerates so much economic inequality.

Dasani is certainly a victim, but is the system really to blame? Dasani’s biological father is utterly absent. Her mother, Chanel, a drug addict and daughter of a drug addict, has a long criminal record, and has children from three men. It doesn’t appear that she has ever had a job, and she often ignores her parental chores because she’s strung out on methadone. As Kay Hymowitz notes in a brilliant City Journal examination of Dasani’s story, the Times can’t distinguish between the plight of hardworking New Yorkers like James’s late parents and people like Dasani’s parents. “The reason for this confusion is clear: In the progressive mind, there is only one kind of poverty. It is always an impersonal force wrought by capitalism, with no way out that doesn’t involve massive government help.”

The data say something else. Family structure and the values that go into successful child rearing have a stronger correlation with economic mobility than income inequality does. America’s system is hardly flawless. But if Dasani were born to the same parents in a socialist country, she’d still be a victim — of bad parents.

— Jonah Goldberg is the author of The Tyranny of Clichés, now on sale in paperback. You can write to him by e-mail at [email protected], or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2014 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

 

 


De Blasio Inauguration
Bill de Blasio was sworn in as the new mayor of New York City on January 1, and while he delivered an energetic speech about his campaign promises, the tone of some of the other speakers drew rebukes from political observers and even some de Blasio supporters. Here’s a look.
Former President Bill Clinton was on hand to deliver the oath of office to de Blasio, one of several Democratic party luminaries in attendance, including Hillary Clinton, New York Senator Chuck Schumer and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
In his speech de Blasio asserted: “We are called to put an end to economic and social inequalities that threaten to unravel the city we love. And so today, we commit to a new progressive direction in New York.”
Washington Post writer Melinda Henneberger described the ceremony as “not just a progressive jamboree but a 90-minute pummeling of outgoing mayor Michael Bloomberg.”
The New York Times observed that the inauguration was filled with “an unusually open airing of the city’s racial and class tensions” and “fierce denunciations of luxury condominiums and trickle-down economics.”
Singer Harry Belafonte denounced what he called the “Dickensian justice system” behind the city’s stop-and-frisk police policy, which de Blasio has vowed to end. Belafonte also claimed: “New York alarmingly plays a tragic role in the fact that our nation has the largest prison population in the world.”
Youth Poet Laureate Ramya Ramana lamented a New York City plagued by “classism” and a racial schism with “brown-stoned and brown-skinned playing a tug of war.”
Letitia James, the city’s new public advocate, pounded home de Blasio’s campaign themes in accusing the city of living in a “gilded age of inequality where decrepit homeless shelters and housing developments stand in the neglected shadow of gleaming multimillion-dollar condos.”
Added James: “The growing gap between the haves and the have-nots undermines our city and tears at the fabric of our democracy.”
Reverend Fred Lucas, the senior pastor at the Brooklyn Community Church, in his invocation referenced the “plantation of New York City.”
Lucas’s comments drew quick rebukes on Twitter. Columnist Linda Stasi wrote: “Cleric Fred Lucas Jr., calling NYC a plantation in his "prayer" is a disgrace! Isn't this supposed to be a day of uniting?”
Brooklyn Democratic district leader Betty Ann Canizio was not impressed with the tone of the inauguration, tweeting: “I find these speakers offensive. It appears to be reeking of racism. Didn’t know we had a plantation, nor am I shocked at prison pop.”
It was left to former President Bill Clinton, who delivered the oath of office, to strike a note of comity during the ceremony, saying: “I also want to thank Mayor Bloomberg, who has committed so much of his life to New York City … He leaves the city stronger and healthier than he found it.”
Even the stalwartly liberal New York Times could not abide the tone of the speakers, criticizing several by name. Wrote the Times in its editorial: “Too bad the speakers on stage with him didn’t get the unity part, marring the event with backward-looking speeches both graceless and smug.”
The Times slammed Letitia James for using a 12-year-old girl as a prop: “Ms. James turned her into Exhibit A of an Inauguration Day prosecution: the People v. Mayor Bloomberg.”
The Times also deemed Belafonte’s remark about a burgeoning New York prison population in New York an “utterly bogus claim.”
The paper even defended Bloomberg, to a point: “Mr. Bloomberg had his mistakes and failures, but he was not a cartoon Gilded Age villain. He deserved better than pointless and tacky haranguing from speakers eager to parrot Mr. de Blasio’s campaign theme.”
The following day, an unrepentant de Blasio defended the harsh words directed at Bloomberg, telling the Times: “I’m very comfortable with all that was done.”
Updated: Jan. 03, 2014

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