Wing Nuts Never Cease to Amaze Me

March 9, 2006

I commented to Amy today that I was feeling particularly drab about politics and the direction of our country. Perhaps, it’s all the news about banning abortion and rightwingers’ anger over the lack of men’s rights. (See Erika’s post below.)

Then I got sucked into this thread on the ultimate right-wing rag, the Wall Street Journal online, about the inequality of income distribution. Heather Boushey of the non-partisan Center for Economic and Policy Research pulls out all kinds of stats and figures to show, basically, the richest are getting richer and the poor, poorer. There is an eroding middle class. And while, yes, Americans are more likely than ever to go to college and acquire material possessions like washers and dryers, they are also in record-shattering debt. How can this bode well for the future of the country?

Russell Roberts of George Mason University — clearly, he is a Wing Nut for his take on public education (evil) and silence on Americans’ debt (good?) — debates Boushey with vacuous anecdotal evidence. Boushey pointed this out to him, but it’s the Wall Street Journal, so he gets the last word. Here’s a flavor of Professor Roberts’ top-notch research:

First, consider the level of inequality that we can actually perceive in our daily lives, as opposed to the level of inequality that we might know from reading government statistics. I’ve had dinner with a few billionaires at various charity events. As Hemingway pointed out long ago, the rich are different from us, they have more money. But as my colleague Don Boudreaux has pointed out to me more recently, it’s striking how difficult it is to perceive the differences between us and the super-rich in the absence of reading their tax returns.

Surely, the person working two jobs or living paycheck-to-paycheck notes the difference between herself and Bill Gates. Here’s the exclamation point, his ultimate argument, for why we shouldn’t care about the gross income inequality between our richest citizens and poorest citizens:

Immigrants risk death for the chance to be poor here and live among people much wealthier than they are. They still think of America as the land of opportunity. I think they’re right.

Exactly. Even if the company CEO makes millions of dollars while you have no 401K, you shouldn’t complain because you don’t live in some squalid village in Zimbabwe. And if you are comfortable, you shouldn’t worry about those less fortunate than you. Unless, of course, you hobnob with billionaires at charity functions…