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Income Inequality: The 'Chief Elder' Speaks from on High

Friday, December 5, 2014

Toward the end of this past summer, Lois Lowry's teen dystopian book 'The Giver' was released as a feature film starring Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges, and Katie Holmes.  Streep's character is the 'Chief Elder' who enforces conformity in the 'community'.  She delivers the movie's signature, icy line:

When people have the freedom to choose, they choose badly... every time.
It is hard to put a real-life face to the Elders among us, seeing how thoroughly dominated our political life is by the 'Culture of Experts'.  It is tempting to put a white wig with bangs on Jonathan Gruber from MIT, seeing how dimly our pedestrian lights flicker under the brilliance of him as our Chief Elder for Healthcare.  It even seems the signature line from The Giver was written for him - for he apparently feels that when seniors are free to choose their health care plan, they usually choose wrong.

But the Chair really has to go to the esteemed professor from Princeton, and his Nobel Prize in Economics.  Paul Krugman was recently interviewed by Business Insider on income inequality.  If Gruber's ignorance of his own political stupidity in publicly questioning the intelligence of American voters isn't proof enough that the Elders, er... Experts actually believe they know what is best, Krugman's brilliance on income inequality is just as stupefying.

In his interview, Krugman notes that questions about extreme wealth are uniquely American questions.  No, actually they are uniquely Progressive questions - Progressivism as it has been expressed in American history among shining lights like Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt.

Concerns about extreme wealth arise among Progressives in America because America has a unique egalitarianism of opportunity.  Europe does not struggle with these questions because their aristocracies are idled to their own self-indulgence such that it would not even occur to their wealthy to ask them.  And the poor?  They do not belong to the 'ruling class', after all, so why would it occur to them to ask these questions?  This egalitarianism of opportunity bothers Progressives precisely because it butts up against their desire to be the 'ruling class' of Elders..., er... Experts.

It occurs to the rest of us because our social model is built on the assumption that everyone who can work and create real wealth actually does - rulers and ruled alike.

So how did we get from that which European writers like Alexander de Tocqueville marvelled at among us to where we are today with an ever-increasing gap between rich and poor?  Krugman seems to take for granted that "great wealth" is a problem and perhaps "undermines democracy."  Even if we grant him that premise for the sake of the discussion, the question of how we got here remains.

And it is this question that shows us how little the Elders..., er. the Experts... actually know.  That Nobel Prize must gleam so bright in Krugman's eyes than he cannot see how his ideas are themselves the origin of the problems he bristles about.

And some of the answers are right in front of him.  He speaks of how "luck" plays such a large role in wealth and that the wealthy were "in the right place at the right time."  It is amazing to listen to him speak because what was an elliptical, mumbled remark about "...preparation, and all that..." shows us that he seems to know naturally that "luck" is actually the combination of opportunity and preparation.  A lot of people are so busy preparing (e.g. the young adult pushing thirty and in the middle of his third graduate degree, living on student loans patiently waiting for an adjunct teaching opportunity to open up) that they miss the opportunity to actually create wealth.  Or they see the opportunity, but haven't prepared to seize it.

Krugman would like to tax the lucky - the ones who prepared and then seized the opportunity - so others might be able to prepare some more while opportunities pass them by unnoticed.  Or he would like to tax the wealthy to provide for those who see the opportunity for a government job so their lack of preparation won't matter anyway.  I mean, we have to get our Elders..., er... Experts from somewhere, right?

"Being poor," Krugman laments, "or being working class is really hard...  Think about how hard  it is... if you don't have health insurance and your kids get sick."

What did we do before government run health care?  Now this isn't an argument against Medicare or subsidies in general to enable the poor to treat a chest cold with a doctor's visit and medicine instead of an emergency room visit because they couldn't afford the appointment and the prescription.  It's not even an argument about the social safety net.  It is, rather, to point out how government benefits inflate the money supply in any sector where they are extended.  If it is hard not having health insurance when your kids get sick, that hardship is a function of how price inflation follows the addition of those benefits, leaving the people who need them the most without them.

"In this environment," Krugman goes on, "you cannot get your kids into a... you can't afford to send them to a good school, or maybe to college at all, no matter how hard you try, no matter how hard you skimp and save."

This environment, the good professor evidently has missed, is an environment totaling some $1.2T of student debt.  This is money which has been borrowed for free, lent out at around six percent, guaranteed by the taxpayer and not dischargeable in bankruptcy.  The banks absolutely love this money printing enterprise.  And tuition inflation has followed this expansion of the higher education money supply.  Yup, this environment is tough indeed... thanks to the good professor's Nobel Prize in economics.

At some point - hopefully soon enough to rescue the future of my 16 year old son who has just started noticing that some people are "swmmin' in the bills" (he has a terrific way of coming up with phrases like that) - we will see the Elders..., er... the Culture of Experts for what it really is and 'send them to elsewhere...'  We might even have a ceremony for that in a couple years.

Sorry, you'll need to go see the movie to get that.

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