Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. — “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, M. L. King, Jr. Cited by Rev. Dr. Vincent Howell speaking at the NAACP MLK breakfast in Corning today.
In an article in today’s Elmira Star-Gazette, columnist John Stossel addresses inequality in America. President Obama and Pope Francis are wrong Stossel claims; inequality — a few having more than they need while many don’t have enough — is no problem — it is the price of freedom and opportunity.
Stossel prefers to discuss inequality, but if we recognize inequality as reflecting injustice we may gain a better understanding. In any case, Stossel’s arguments are astonishing.
- The economic market, in which all must participate, is not a “zero sum game,” Stossel explains — the rich growing richer doesn’t make the poor poorer.
- To the extent that this is true it is not relevant. The poor are growing steadily poorer due to a lack of jobs with adequate pay and benefits. This trend must be reversed if we are to have a just society.
- In at least some cases, the economy is zero-sum. For example, taxes avoided by the rich must be made up by the rest.
- Interestingly Rep. Reed does imply that the economy is “zero-sum” when he claims that each “government job” costs a job in the private sector, or when he insists that additional benefits must be paid for by cuts elsewhere.
- “Some cite government data showing middle class incomes remaining relatively stagnant. But this data is misleading too. It leaves out all government handouts like rent subsidies and food stamps,” Stossel says. That’s astonishing — people who consider themselves middle class should count rent subsidies, food stamps, employer-paid pensions, which are rapidly disappearing for most workers anyway, as offsetting inadequate pay!
- Then the poor aren’t really poor, Stossel argues. Poor people have cars, cell phones, entertainment, and technology that only the rich could afford in decades past. Perhaps, but none of those things make up for lack of jobs, food, shelter, and education even for those in need who somehow manage to get by.
- We have social mobility, Stossel writes: “People born poor don’t necessarily stay poor.” Stossel cites data showing that between generations some get richer, some poorer. No argument there, but it is irrelevant — it hardly matters that children of poor families, Tom Reed for example, may do better than their parents — the fact remains that widespread poverty persists.
- “Inequality may seem unfair, but the alternative — government forced equality — is worse.” This is a false dichotomy — the alternative to injustice isn’t “government forced equality” it is justice.
Stossel’s arguments, false as they are, miss the point. The problem is not that a few are very rich but rather our laws and customs which allow some to accumulate extreme wealth also doom many to a lifelong struggle with poverty. Life isn’t fair Stossel claims. What’s fair, he wonders? What’s fair is that no one be satisfied while injustice persists, while too many Americans can’t afford the necessities of life.
© William Hungerford – January 2014