It seems like the White House and media these days are spending a lot of their energy discussing disparity between the haves- and have-nots. The phrase “income inequality” is especially being used more frequently as a means to continue the class warfare rhetoric and is absolutely certain to be a major theme of Obama’s State of the Union Address this month.
Many explanations are bandied about in an attempt to show that “devious policies” are causing the wide gulf between higher and lower income earners. They include the vague and general terms such as “special tax benefits for the wealthy”, “corporate welfare”, and a “tax system that favors those with higher incomes”. Though these targets are great for talking points, they fail solidly on substance.
There are no virtually no special benefits for the wealthy — only higher tax rates, phased out tax deductions, and added surtaxes that lower income earners do not have to contend with. As for corporate welfare, though it does exist, it only affects a few crony capitalist-type industries and companies out of the millions of small businesses which form the backbone of our economy (think: GE, green energy, electric cars). What’s more, the tax system clearly favors those with lower incomes, not higher, with lesser rates and more deductions and tax credits available. It has been shown clearly and indisputably that the US has – by a large margin – the most progressive taxes in the world (yes, far more progressive than even Europe and the Scandinavian countries). Though there is income inequality in America, why it exists is not what you think.
The simple reason is this: unlike people in the fastest growing countries, and unlike our own citizens in prior generations, the current middle and lower income classes in America have lost their inclination to personally invest in their future. I would argue that much of this is because the growing government welfare system is stripping individuals of their need to prepare and plan ahead, and a wide safety net also exists. For the most part, it is only the upper middle and higher income individuals — those who are not the beneficiaries of government welfare and those with more entrepreneurial orientation — that are forcing themselves to save and put this money at risk into investments for their future.
Much of China’s current economic success can be directly attributed to the financial attitude of their citizens with regard to investing. Almost all earners, including and especially the middle and lower income ones, keep a certain amount of income each month and invest it in both entrepreneurial endeavors and the existing equity markets. It is common for even the minimum wage earners to save at least 10% of their income! Large or small sum, they regard investment as a priority and a path to prosperity.
I have a close relative who is an owner and executive of a substantial manufacturing operation that he started in Shenzhen, China because of its business friendly environment. I’ve heard from him many times that he went into business, not to comply with government regulations, but to make things. And part of that business friendly environment is the people. He has been pleasantly surprised by the careful frugality of the owners and their passion to invest and grow– a sentiment extends to, and is practiced by, even their lowest paid workers.
Contrast this to the present state of affairs in our country. We have not been saving– we have been borrowing for more than a generation now. Citizens have mortgaged their future by consuming continuously — while investing nothing — and passing on that example to the next generation. We are turning into a country where people will begin to wonder why they should invest, if it’s just going to be taken away from them in the long run by those who do not, or go into a market that is wholly unstable.
People are encouraged to spend as if consumption is a good thing , but truly, it is investing that is far better for individuals and for the economy as a whole. When our government pushes measures such as extending unemployment benefits, food stamps and other welfare programs, it reinforces prolonged financial dependency. It is government policy aimed in the wrong direction as recipients have harder, not easier, obstacles to overcome.
The biggest problem that this country has to deal with regard to moving people away from a culture of dependency is that it continues to be demagogued by the Left for the precise reason that it easily mischaracterizes those who might being against such policies as “insensitive” and as being against the “less well off”. But many who are opposed to such policies merely recognize that success of investment, independence, and upward mobility are making other countries greater while we persist our slide into wider dependencies and economic decline.
In order to get the middle class back on track, we must focus our efforts and rhetoric on reminding ourselves that this country was built upon those who were willing to invest their time and money to become great. It is the true source of upward mobility – and those that do not do their fair share will be left behind by those who do. This is what truly drives at the heart of income inequality in our country.
Investment is what made our country thrive and it is the only thing that will properly sustain our country’s financial future.
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