Whiting column: Is it desirable to eliminate income inequality?
What’s wrong with income inequality?
A dominant issue in the current political environment is “eliminating income inequality.”
It’s not possible, and we shouldn’t.
The American economic system provides unlimited opportunity for income advancement. A primary tenet of our system is incentive. If we work hard and generate an income, we can keep the fruits of our labor. The government or others can’t arbitrarily take it from us. Work more; earn more; keep more. It’s our choice.
Beyond working more, our system facilitates working “better.” Become more proficient, and increased income will be the reward, because you reduced supply in your labor pool. Less productive economies pay everyone the same. Why work hard and do quality work? Our economy says it should be a function of quality and skill. If we choose to increase our skill level compared with others, “more” is our reward.
Beyond working better, when compared to other economic systems, ours provides even greater opportunity through entrepreneurship. We can open our own business; in most cases, government approval is not required. Take the risk, and, if successful, greater rewards are available. It’s our choice.
This “incentive” concept has been crucial to facilitating innovation; a major factor in our economic system being the most effective in history. The opportunity this “incentive” provides is why people began flocking to our shores in 1787 and continue to do so today.
We have learned, however, that some choose not to take advantage of this feature of our system. They are content with the minimum reward for minimum effort and skill level. Some prefer not to work at all. Economists have traditionally felt 3-4% unemployment was “full employment” because there are those who don’t want to work and will sabotage any attempt to find them work.
Currently, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 7.4 million people unemployed and 10.4 million job openings. They choose income inequality. If we believe in freedom, we must allow them to make this choice, but we shouldn’t be required to subsidize it.
Those advocating a system of income redistribution say, “It’s not fair.” They feel the government should take money from those who have and give to those who don’t. If change of behavior is the goal, this method will never work. People don’t value what they get for free. Recent history reinforces that people aren’t going to modify their behavior if they receive money for not changing.
Similarly, some say “it’s not fair” that my career isn’t available, and I don’t want to move. The necessity for career and location change has always been a characteristic of any efficient economy. The average person has four different careers and moves nine times. Everyone can’t make a living in Hawaii.
More than any other country, we facilitate making the choice for more income. We provide free education through high school for everyone, not a select few. Those advocating income redistribution cite “19% don’t graduate from high school, and their income is low.” Those dropping out chose to do so. No one made them. They chose income inequality.
Our system also provides the opportunity for post-secondary education, which further facilitates higher income. Income redistribution advocates cite “51% drop out of college”; another choice. No one made them quit.
Further education is hard and expensive, but it’s possible. It’s more fun to “play” than go to class and study. It’s hard, but most worked their way through college. It was their choice, and they will be rewarded.
Increasingly available careers in the trades also produce increased income and don’t require college. Necessary training is readily available through short-term training and apprenticeships. But they do require reliability and hard work.
This opportunity is available for everyone. It doesn’t matter where we live, what our parents do, having one parent or two, our race, sex, religion or economic background. There are situations making the choice more difficult but possible. It just requires work. It’s our choice. It requires choosing to take command of our own life instead of using circumstance as an excuse. Overcoming circumstance is one of the best ways to demonstrate the work ethic employers desire.
Sure, taxes and the cost of living are high; athletes, celebrities and corporate executives are overpaid, but those are separate issues independent from the level of our income. The government doesn’t owe us a living; that is our personal responsibility. If we believe in freedom of choice, we cannot reward those who choose not to take advantage of the provided opportunities.
If our country is to continue to advance, whether in an economic or humanitarian regard, we must facilitate the incentive component of our economic system by rewarding results, work ethic, skill level and entrepreneurial risk. Governmental action artificially instituting a method of eliminating income inequality is counterproductive.
Some may feel this is overly simplistic, but it is that simple. If we obtain a marketable skill, use the skill to obtain a career position, demonstrate work ethic, work hard, work more and work better, income inequality will not be an issue in our life. It is our choice.
Bryan Whiting feels most of our issues are best solved by personal responsibility and an understanding of nonpartisan economics rather than government intervention. Comments and column suggestions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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