Monday, October 04, 2010
Welch began by stating that "all of economics results from inequality. Without inequality of priorities and capabilities, there would be no trade, no specialization, and no surpluses produced by cooperation." He invited his audience to consider a world in which skill, effort, and sheer chance played no role whatsoever in what you got paid. The only decision that would affect your wage level would be when to leave school. "After that, the clock ticks, and wages follow the experience path. Nothing else matters. Can you imagine a more horrible, a more deadening existence?"
But something close to the dystopia Welch envisioned already exists for those toiling in the economy's lower tiers. Welch should have a chat with his office receptionist. Or he could read Nickel and Dimed, or the 2010 book Catching Out by Dick J. Reavis, a contributing editor at Texas Monthly who went undercover as a day laborer. Waitresses, construction workers, dental assistants, call-center operators—people in these jobs are essentially replaceable, and usually have bosses who don't distinguish between individual initiative and insubordination. Even experience is of limited value, because it's often accompanied by diminishing physical vigor.
Welch said that he believed inequality was destructive only when "the low-wage citizenry views society as unfair, when it views effort as not worthwhile, when upward mobility is impossible or so unlikely that its pursuit is not worthwhile." Colleen's comment would appear to suggest that the first of these conditions has not been met. But that's only because I omitted what she went on to say: "But what I would like is to be able to take a day off now and then … if I had to … and still be able to buy groceries the next day." Colleen may not begrudge the rich the material goods they've acquired through skill, effort, and sheer chance, but that doesn't mean she thinks her own labors secure her an adequate level of economic security. Clearly, they don't.
Slate | Why We Can't Ignore Growing Income Inequality