Who gets through a Facebook perusal without graphs and charts, lamentations and prophecies about the dire calamity of income or wealth disparity? It’s got to be bad, of course, and someone must be to blame and it can’t be us because, well, it just can’t. As with many things, one selects as proof, a time period that makes your premise believable, and we see these things showing the fraction of wealth owned by some top percent.
It’s been way up, way down more than once but if you decide to start at 1970 it looks like it’s been going up forever. But OK, that period in the late 1920s does look a lot like today, but can we assume, using the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy that today is like 1929? Scary seeing last week’s market calamity, but then that period in the 1970s when the disparity was low – was that a great time in terms of prosperity for the average Joe? No, as I recall.
What are we so angry about? Will something precipitate another depression? There is a great deal more wealth in this nation and most of the world than in 1929 or 1975. Can we be sure that as some people get higher on the ladder, they’re pulling it up with them and the lower rungs aren’t reachable anymore? I certainly don’t know. There’s a thing called the Pareto Principle, which suggests that 20% of the people own 80% of the wealth, is that there’s no point in being angry about that inequality. Maybe the 20% is doing better than you because they went to college and you didn’t — but that’s not hurting you — but is it?
The opinion in the region of Facebook I inhabit is that it’s all about the wealthy and their undefined “tax breaks” and malicious greed. OK, maybe but looking at the massive changes brought by globalization and technology, can we speculate that as in many things, many things share in the causation? Maybe not all the bogeymen are bogeymen and maybe even if Joe the Plumber is still struggling, his lower-income brother now has a job this year. Maybe it’s really complicated and political tropes and memes really don’t explain it.
My favorite slogan has long been “nobody knows anything” but maybe it’s worse if those who might are lying about it. Corporate greed sounds like a good one because it provides a delineated target, but sad Greenspan and Wooldridge wrote: Greed and selfishness are common human emotions that afflict paupers as well as plutocrats. Neither will tolerate it in the other, however. The prince and the pauper, peasant and lord, the disparity is long-standing, and if the disparity went up after Reagan, and down after the 1920 Crash, what is the cause and what is effect and what might be both? Both ends of the philosophical dumbbell have their own simplistic answers that are beyond question and beyond discussion. Like everything else on this ship of fools.