Campfire Blog

Income Inequality is Good for Everyone

Envy, not inequality, is threatening the American dream

Watch Margaret Thatcher defend income inequality (2:34).

Watch Milton Friedman lecture Phil Donahue on greed (2:35).

Jackson Hole where I live has a lot of wealthy people. Their incomes have been hit pretty hard since the 2008 meltdown, and many have had to sell homes and readjust life styles. As a result, income inequality has been reduced. The Wall Street Occupiers and their sympathizers—including President Obama in a campaign speech in Kansas on Monday—tell us that income equality is a good thing.

But while the incomes of the wealthy in Jackson and Teton County have decreased, so has the number of jobs. According to some accounts, 3,000 people are out of work. Because when the rich get poorer, so do the poor.

Margaret Thatcher, in her last speech from the House of Commons floor as British Prime Minister, zeroed in on the true view of those who complain about income inequality: “So long as the [income] gap is smaller, they would rather have the poor poorer.” She understood that those concerned about “income inequality” are preoccupied with an envy of the rich rather than a desire for the poor to be less poor.

If the American economy were like the Indian caste system, where there is no social mobility, those worried about inequality would have a point. But in America, income inequality simply means that for those who work hard, there is a way out of poverty.

The Ruling Political Elite would prefer more income equality, where the likes of Steve Jobs could never have risen to the top to generate wealth for themselves and others—and where everyone has to rely on government handouts rather than self-enterprise.

These “narrow the gap” advocates present a chart with an escalating line illustrating the rich getting richer and a second flat line below it postulating that the poor have stayed constantly poor. But the people in that lower group are constantly changing! In 1964, when I came out of the Army with basic assets of $800 of accumulated leave pay, I was in that bottom group. Steve Jobs  was in that group, receiving free food from the Hare Krishna  folks. But we worked our way out of it! This ability to succeed is the mainspring of the American dream.

Those who have lost their jobs in Jackson Hole would be better off if the income of some in Jackson suddenly soared to higher levels. With more wealth (and, yes, even a wider income disparity), there would be more money for everyone—retailers, plumbers, carpenters, waitresses, ski instructors—because wealth creates jobs.

My hard-working parents focused on sustaining our family rather than worrying about the “income gap.” My dad bought and sold cattle, and my mom, who dropped out of school in eighth grade to pick cotton to help her single mom and eight siblings, canned fruit, froze vegetables, and butchered chickens in our basement so we wouldn’t have to pay “those expensive store-bought” prices.”

Franklin Delanor Roosevelt, in a 1933 radio address, said, “We cannot read the history of our rise and development as a Nation, without reckoning with the place the Bible has occupied in shaping the advances of the Republic….Where we have been truest and most consistent in obeying its precepts we have attained the greatest measure of contentment and prosperity.”

So in that “pre-entitlement” era, before the Woodstock crowd launched its drug and sexual revolution and became the “Me” generation, all of us knew that these centuries old Jewish  scriptures taught that envy was a sin. With our wealth we are to “be our brother’s keeper,” meet the needs of the poor, and to be a blessing to all those God puts in our path.

The Good Book exhorts us to share in people’s sorrows as well as joys. In those days we honored the productive, the successful, and, yes, the rich. And we believed that, in America, anyone who worked hard could become one of the rich.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and go bust your butt to widen the gap!!

God Bless,

  1. Victoria Christine Bingham

    Almost 3,000 years ago in his proverbs, the wise King Solomon noted for all time: ‘Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy?’
    Nothing is new under the sun. And as Friedman pointed out so well, where do the [liberals] intend to find the angels to run a perfect society? The fox always wishes to guard the hen house finally. What we need is someone in power who has no taste for chickens.

  2. Art Borden

    Thanks and Merry Christmas.

  3. David Nadler

    Wow Foster! Powerful message. Really gets to the heart of the discussion on the differences between a capitalistic system and that of a socialistic system. At least with capitalism you’ve got a chance, so to speak. I think it was Churchill who once said that “Socialism is not the equal distribution of wealth – it’s the equal distribution of misery!”

    The clips of Thatcher and Friedman standing up to the socialist rhetoric are just wonderful. Talk about a statesman – how about old Maggie?! Where are leaders like her and Reagan. Who is to stand up for democracy, capitalism, free-enterprise and the principles of a free republic? I think the country is yearning again for a champion. We need a uniter, instead of a divider. We need a patriot, instead of a phony socialist and crony capitalist.

    Well done Foster! Keep it up.

  4. Daryl L. Hunter

    Point well made Foster. It is to bad so many worker bees; blue-collar workers like myself are so reactionary yet have such a paucity of honest analytical motivation.

    Concerning our dead construction industry in Jackson I have floated an idea to a few including Paul Vogelheim about I local stimulus that would cost nothing.

    I proposed a 2-year moratorium on the $10,000 sq. foot maximum on homes our misguided commissioners passed. If such a moratorium was lifted I bet 50 + homeowners would want to expand their current size restricted homes by 2,000 feet or more. Many of these folks spend $800 per square foot to build and that would put a lot of our neighbors back to work. That would be $80+ million stimulus that would cost the government nothing.

    Oddly enough it would be the occupy crowd that would oppose such a moratorium.

  5. Jeff Kemp

    Foster, Thanks for working, investing, contributing and engaging in the ideas that anchor American Idea, this great experiment. The owner and the laborer, the landlord and the tenant, the entrepreneur and the penniless intern…are the same person at different stages of their lives. We must advance an American attitude and policy that encourages the government to fuel opportunity at every level so that the young and poor can work, invest and own… so that one day they will pay moderate taxes on their own capital gains. (credit these ideas to my father and the giants like Lincoln and Thatcher whose shoulders we stand upon)
    Pride, selfishness, envy, blaming and dividing are counterproductive. They damage relationships, teamwork, entrpreneurship, innovation, opportunity, justice, compassion and generosity. The Torah, the Gospels and Jesus of Nazareth showed the better way for all of us, on all sides of any debates.

  6. Jean Soper

    Foster, When are you going to throw your hat in the ring for President?? We need you in the White House!

  7. Mel Yount

    This is a great piece! Thanks Foster for appropriately framing the argument that President Obama and the Occupy crowd have twisted to portray hard work and success as villainous while taking handouts is honorable.Most people won’t be Steve Jobs but they have the internal drive to succeed for themselves and their families.
    “Envy, not inequality, is threatening the American dream.” I’m gonna paint that on the front of my house. Merry Christmas.

  8. R. Wayne Steiger

    I would be curious to know how the current candidates for the Republican ticket would answer this question, “Which would you consider yourself to be, a politician or a Statesman and why?”

    I am convinced that the reason Congress has become broken is that we have career politicians and not statesmen, there is a difference and this holds true for the highest office of our country.

    I think there would be a defining difference in how each would view the Constitution.

    Would you agree or disagree?

    One who loves this great nation.

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