Saturday, December 21, 2013

Income Inequality

Pundits and politicians are always going on about how improving education is the answer to income inequality.  They're wrong.

College graduates are significantly more likely to be employed than high school graduates  A lot of their jobs used to be performed perfectly well by high school graduates, but so what?  If you can get a slightly more intellectual waitperson to serve your yuppie clientele for the same price, you may as well do it.  Right?

Back in the old faculty room, it was pretty obvious to everybody that you can't make a silk purse out of sow's ear, nor a Rhodes Scholar out of a horse's ass.  Human aptitudes, sadly, tend to follow that old normal curve.  There are probable winners, possible winners,and certain losers.

This is not to say that we should not work very hard to improve education, especially to shove more of those nice kids in the middle of the normal curve towards the higher end of the "hump" — and certainly we have to lift a lot of poor kids out of the quicksand of poverty and failure, and give them all the opportunities that might help them.

None of that has anything to do with income inequality.

Nobody should work for poverty wages.  Every worker should earn a living wage.  Despite the insistence of Tea Party types, the real inequality problem is not a result of "government giveaways" to the poor (mostly children), but because people working full-time (albeit, at times, in several part-time jobs)  cannot make ends meet.

The answer is legislating a living wage — at this time, about fifteen bucks an hour — indexed for inflation.  Certain businesses will have to spend a lot more on labor.  Who will pay for those extra expenses?  Well, the rest of us, of course.  We won't be able to lay it all on the rich, as much as we might like to do so.  Just the same, we'd be spending a lot less to support programs like SNAP (aka food stamps) and Medicaid.

Also, when the people at the bottom get a boost, higher wages trickle up.  Okay, that will push prices up — but the people hurt most by inflation (apart from retirees like me) are the bankers.  You can be sure the bankers will find a way to deal with inflation, even if it means keeping a bit less of their wealth.

Nobody working full-time ever should have to depend on the social safety net for survival.

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