Respond to a Lie: The Uses of the Income Gap
Collectively experienced mental delusions haunt mankind. Such widespread notions resist evidence. For good reason. Due to their inebriating effect, lies are enjoyable and because of that, they will be translated into “politics.” Their attraction as ointments explains why those that diagnose their time’s ailment, land in the doghouse.
Economically successful societies can afford to consume mindless and illogically reasoned theories that rely on limping half-truths amplified by their consumer’s ignorance. The inverse relationship; the better we do the more we swallow lies, has a rational explanation. Illusions as a replacement for reality are a luxury good. The more wealth we have the more we can afford to indulge in the empty mental calories that disperse sugary fantasies.
A popular lie we love to hear is that the successful movers; the creators of new products and ways of life, are criminally responsible for the wrongs we bemoan as a means to excuse our own failings. This approach accuses the “filthy rich” not for being rich but for being filthy. Their success is the proof. The alleged relationship between success and crookedness makes some of us feel good: If we have “not made it,” it was because our moral virtue and not for the lack of talent and drive.
Such moralizing charges have the support of a class whose wealth is not the product of economic, scientific, or organizational talent. The directly or indirectly state-fed crowd and the fashionably popular clowns furnish good examples. The case of the grandstanding Hollywoodians and of some of the stuffed-with-money professional athletes comes to mind. Their support for redistribution to “return” to society what others have earned could have a rational component. They themselves might have had discovered a gap between what they had to offer, and what they get.
Now then, a ball-kicker that earns ten million a year, actors that grab double digit millions might sound excessive. Those that think further than a half-clad star’s scandal-enhanced notoriety on a DWI trip and a “celebrity sighting” might muse.
What if the talent is in the area of medicine, engineering, science, or whatever? Beyond a possible Nobel Prize, the lifetime earnings of the so excelling will remain a fraction of the less IQ’d actor’s. The same goes for social influence. An endorsement of a cause by an entertainer has a greater effect than does the support of a mental giant.
Is this sufficiently unjust to require government intervention in behalf of those, whose intellectuality reaches its limits by the perusal of “TV Guide”? Well, surprisingly, “no.”
In this case, what is illogical might also be unjust and could reflect our lack of common sense. However, what is mindless is not illegal. Giving more to a person who fills a stadium delighted by rants, while rewarding with much less, achievements that save millions, is nonsensical. However, the unequal rewards are voluntary and represent choices that transfer legitimately earned value while express a preference. Eating tofu burgers might prove for Greens the moral superiority of those devouring them over the uncouth that ingest T-Bone steaks. The reader might agree that whoever speaks for the tofu does not legitimize the proscription of steaks to just serve public health while not provoking those who resolutely believe in holy cows.
The further removed from starvation we are, the greater our discretionary income. With it grows the ability to misspend by the lights of the enlightened. However, while the use of surplus might support immediate sybaritic pursuits and ignore the remote but useful, our system has a virtue. Consider the alternative, which is obligatory “voluntary” preference in favor of the felicity dispensed by Great Leaders. Freedom gives us the opportunity to abuse common sense and therefore, the choices it affords will not always equal the wisdom of utility.
An aspect of our freedom and of a progressive, open-ended way of life of choices is inequality. Indeed, as moralizers like to point out, the material inequality is growing in our societies. Numerous champions of the open society and of material progress are uncomfortable with this tendency. They should not be.
Freedom can be defined as the right to assert for ourselves what does not harm others. This definition would be superfluous if we would all be alike and thus act in lock step with our peers. However, since we are created unequal, freedom becomes the right to be different in response to our divergent preferences.
Endowed with dissimilar likes, talents and inclinations, we react differently to the opportunities our existence, at its state of development, offers us. Each choice reflects what appears to provide us with the greatest “pleasure” for a commensurate input. At the same time, these momentary choices will have consequences. These will be as diverse as were the options at the time of the original choice.
From the foregoing it follows that, diverse people acting differently will result in gaps in knowledge, prestige and income. However, differentiation, in paths followed and results achieved, will not only be a consequence of freedom’s choices. The more advanced a society is, the greater the choices it will have to offer. This differentiation, call it by its ultimate result to be an earning gap, will not only correlate with the level of the development of our nation. Development, making an opportunity out of changing conditions, is also a precondition of rewarding one’s creative efforts, diligence and entrepreneurial expertise. Yes, if we limit artificially the differences that nature imposed then we get more equality. The price will be stagnation, and truncated motivation and effort. At the same time, regulations that judge value on standards other than market-demand but by imposed judgments of the individual’s contribution to society will end in a, possibly unintended but inevitable, dictatorship by the arbitrators of “fairness.”
To conclude, the future of the modern world will open the income gap further. By concentrating on the “top 1%,” we ignore the condition of the “average.” For its rise in absolute terms, we need a system that rewards performance and excellence. If Mr. X invents a new technology and increases his wealth tenfold, we need not care as long as, due to that, our own standard of living doubles. Those that dislike this trade off opt for an unnatural system of stagnation that, in its results, will cultivate poverty.