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They say the best way to ensure nothing gets done about a problem is to form a committee. To that we should add that the best way to ensure that a lot of money gets spent, but not much gets done about various perceived social problems, is for government to declare a war on them.
President Lyndon Johnson made his grandiose declaration of a War on Poverty 50 years ago. About $20 trillion later, while his Democratic descendants claim its success, they also decry continuing unconscionable levels of poverty.
Remember the War on Drugs? The legalization of pot is spreading throughout the land. Who’s winning that, uh, war?
The first lady declared war on obesity. Not much different since the war began that I can see, except for some rallies and blogs in support of “fat pride.”
And so it is, and will go, with the War on Inequality, which President Obama says will be his main focus in the coming year – perhaps for the rest of his term if he continues to need a distraction from ongoing “glitches” and “surprises” embedded in Obamacare.
A lot of government money will get spent. A tremendous amount of hot air will issue forth about “more fortunate” people failing to “pay their fair share.” And little will change.
Hillary Clinton, the full-time non-candidate for president, checked the “inequality outrage” box several months ago with a clarion call to “reverse this tide of inequality that is eating away at the social fabric of our country.”
After which she revealed the specifics of her and her former-president husband’s vast personal wealth and bewailed how disconnected she is from the lives of average people … oh, wait.
The president will repeatedly hold forth about how everybody needs to “play by the same rules,” all while carving out waivers in the rules of Obamacare for his favored constituencies.
Indeed, if there is any “success” in this war, I suspect it will be when everybody becomes poorer.
The president builds these campaigns on resentment of success, not an aspiration to succeed, and the implication that if you are poor it is because somebody else is rich.
It used to be a joke that the poor American would look at a rich person driving by in a luxury car and declare, “Someday, I’m going to drive a car like that,” while a poor European would look at the same thing and declare, “Someday, we’re going to take that car away from him.”
It’s no longer a joke. Obama and his followers want us to adopt the European model – take more from the rich and give it to the poor – with administrative fees drained off to pay government employees for the hard work of all this redistribution.
But there are problems. One is that the rich, as demonic as they are in the president’s stated view (he doesn’t really believe it, or he would divest himself of his own increasing wealth), don’t have enough money to magically make everybody else middle-class.
A bigger problem is that inequality is part of the human condition. Author Kurt Vonnegut sought way back in 1961 - just three years before Johnson declared war on poverty - to expose the absurdity of mandating equality with his short story “Harrison Bergeron.” In a dystopian society, the Handicapper General’s team of agents ensures that nobody is smarter, better looking, stronger or faster than anyone else. To that, the Obama crowd would add “richer.”
And, of course they do it not by exhorting citizens to improve themselves but by tearing down – handicapping – those who are superior.
Another problem is the definition of fair. Is it fair that Larry Bird made millions playing basketball while others who practiced just as long and hard didn’t? Is it fair for one person to invent a product that sells, while another invents a product that doesn’t?
To ask those questions is to answer them: Fair has nothing to do with it. Equal opportunity never has and never will yield equal results.
Just this past week, Nancy Gibbs, managing editor of Time magazine (not an extreme, right-wing rag), opined concerning Hillary Clinton’s political advantages that “politics, like life, isn’t fair, players get to play by different rules, and Hillary rules are ones any aspiring candidate would envy.”
Yet another problem is that inequality isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If I get twice as rich this year, but Warren Buffett gets three times as rich, does that mean I’m worse off even though the “tide of inequality” between us has increased?
It would be absurd to say it did.
Finally, while government has necessary roles to perform, it is very bad at trying to control the economic success of its citizens.
It should seek to promote equal opportunity; forbidding discrimination is a worthy role for it to play. It should provide a safety net for those who lack the basics of food, clothing and shelter.
But, if Obama persists in government intervention to get rid of inequality, it is those who work for government who will ultimately be “more equal than others.”
Supposedly, their power to take money from productive citizens is all to help the poor, but somehow enough of it gets siphoned off to make the political class as disconnected from average citizens as elite athletes, Hollywood stars and the wolves of Wall Street.
Somehow I don’t think Obama is worried about that kind of inequality.
Taylor Armerding is an independent columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org