Politics & Policy

It’s Time to Fix America’s Income-Inequality Crisis Once and for All!

(Mnogosmyslov Aleksey/Dreamstime)

During his visit to the U.S., the pope will probably talk about income inequality, and many reporters will nod approvingly, write down the quotes, and then hand them off to the unpaid intern to be transcribed. It’s a big issue. An important one. In the view of many progressives, the ultra-super-rich extracted all their money from the poor. Think of Bill Gates in a homeless shelter, kicking over cots at 2 a.m. and blackjacking transients, demanding they fork over $49.99 for a Windows 95 license, and you get the idea. The ultra-rich have probably pooled their money to develop space-based matter-dematerialization beams just so they can transport the coins from the “have a penny, take a penny” trays at the gas station.

The “rich” are never people like the Clintons, who acquired their wealth by the sweat of their brows, toiling in the harsh icy policy-mines of Davos. They’re not the guys who make a bundle off some clever bit of tech, sell the company, then pledge to spend a fraction of their fortune on outfitting polar bears with inflatable vests to help them survive their imminent inundation in the boiling waters of the Arctic. They’re not people like John Kerry, who married his way into a pile of money derived from a ubiquitous condiment; they’re not people like Apple CEO Tim Cook, because c’mon, he’s gay. They’re not the Kennedys, because the Kennedys could strike oil on their Hyannis Port compound, pay African orphans a dollar a day to work the pumps by hand, build a pipeline that ran through a protected Monarch-butterfly preserve, and the media would still hang halos over their heads because JFK was martyred in Dallas by a free-floating toxic cloud of right-wing hatred that inhabited the brain of a well-meaning Marxist.

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These are rich people, but they’re good rich people, because you can imagine any one of them writing a check to Planned Parenthood with the words “keep up the excellent mammograms” in the memo line.

No, the bad rich people are hedge-fund managers, people who inherited something, and well-paid CEOs of companies that make things we don’t like or resent having to pay too much to get. They need to be taxed good and hard, according to advocates of the confiscatory state such as the nimbus-haired Bernie Sanders. Nothing says “the future and its bright new ideas” like the image of a liver-spotted limb thrusting deep into someone else’s pocket and pulling out the guts of a golden goose. Sanders’s proposals were estimated to cost $18 trillion over ten years, an amusing projection — apparently after a decade the economy just seizes up and we’re reduced to paying for our bread with chickens or bits of ironmongery.

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Or not: The parasites and kulaks who will be required to fund the programs will work with undiminished zeal. In fact, they’ll work harder. If you know the state is going to take half your labor, well, you produce twice as much so you’ll prosper anyway. Right? Jack up the tax rate to 97 percent and you’ll really see this economy take off.

But why not 100 percent? This is where the moderates on the progressive side peel off. Nah, can’t do that. I mean, someone’s making $400 million a year, and you take it all, they’ll have to go on welfare. That would be a burden on the state. Ninety-four, 95 percent, sure, but the whole megillah? That might be counterproductive down the road.

#share#But why not? It would help. This is a fact, and facts are science. In its September 23 “Benchmark” column, Bloomberg News ran the numbers. If you took the fortunes of the richest people in each country — I mean, literally, took every sou, drachma, lira, groat — and gave them to the bottom 15 percent, people would benefit. The people of India, for example, would be able to buy 188 meals, each of which included one pickle. As the article said:

(Billionaire) Mukesh Ambani’s . . . net worth is 13.6 million times more than the gross domestic product of his fellow Indians. Still, with 30 percent of the country destitute, his riches would result in each poor person getting $59, enough for 118 basic meals priced at 35 rupees (50 cents) and consisting of rice, dal, two vegetables, one pickle and three chapatis.

This is where you need a confident Vox “explainer” about how such a move would be an economic boon to India’s pickle industry. “India’s sudden surge in pickle demand has brought new hope to rural villages that might now have a pickle factory.” The story would have an interview with an old man who ran a pickle store once, and some charming anecdotes about the role pickles have played in certain cultural events. There would be a cautionary note that most modern pickle production was concentrated in urban areas, controlled by powerful cabals, mired in red tape, and hampered by archaic facilities, but that upstart artisanal pickle producers in Mumbai were making a difference and empowering women who had long been the mainstay in the time-honored, deeply traditional rituals of cucumber metamorphosis. The piece would conclude:

As India’s poorest face a year in which 118 meals are guaranteed, many are thankful, but social workers worry what will happen when the money stops, and the parade of pickles — once a luxury, now perhaps a mainstay — comes to a sudden halt. The U.N. has pledged to address the issue, but the conference — slated for 2019 — is already under fire for ignoring the relish shortage that will ravage the globe unless climate change is addressed.

“We are facing a world in which chutney will be unknown by 2047,” says Ted Danson.

Back to Bill Gates: carve up his fortune, and people get $1,736. They would get the same amount the next year if Mr. Gates managed to make $84 billion, but the selfish toff seems disinclined to do that all over again. Even if you chopped him up into small minced bits and dusted them with surplus cheese, it wouldn’t be an adequate nutritional substitution. The only way this really works is if you split up the fortunes so all the billionaires are destitute, the bottom 15 percent get some of it, and then the earth is struck by a large celestial object that obliterates the population so next year’s not a problem.

If you can find something more egalitarian than mass extinction, let me know.


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