The essence of the superior man is that he is free of … envy. Conscious of his capacity to survive and prosper within his own field, he has no desire to change places with anyone else, and hence he is incapable of envying anyone else. Thus he is inevitably a bad democrat, for democracy is a practical matter is based mainly and perhaps almost wholly on envy. — H. L. Mencken
I can think of no more meaningless an “issue” than this. It’s not just the recent reports on census data; the narrative is perennial. I realize income inequality is a bee that buzzes incessantly in the bonnets of progressives. The MSM leaped on the “story” like frat boys on a pizza. But take it from one who drives a 1995 Mazda Protégé: It doesn’t matter. We need to think more critically about this so-called “gap” before shaking our heads anymore in either sanctimony or shame.
The poor person in America today enjoys more goods, services and greater quality of life than any poor person ever has in human history. Inequality of outcome makes that possible. Indeed, compared to most of the rest of the world, the American poor have it made. In the United States, the poor live longer and better lives than any 18th-century nobleman.
“But people do not experience life as an interesting moment in the evolution of human societies,” rejoins Timothy Noah of Slate. “They experience it in the present and weigh their own experience against that of the living.”
It’s a funny thing. I haven’t noticed the poor pulling at the gilded gates of the rich, threatening to tear them down. Even crime is down. Many of the working poor are prepared to turn the worst of the redistributionists out on their ears in November. Why? Maybe because they’ve learned the welfare state does little for human dignity. Maybe it’s because they’ve seen where that road leads — to ghettos, crime and a permanent underclass. Maybe because they see no common sense in further weighing down those who might employ them.
Or maybe they just don’t wallow in envy.
No, the only people who notice “the gap” today are so-called intellectuals — trustafarians and others many of whom — themselves — grew up slurping at silver spoons. They often become writers, academics and activists, perhaps in order to assuage their own guilt.
The poorest in America get free healthcare, food stamps, subsidized housing, and pay virtually nothing in taxes (and of course, none of these benefits are counted by the Census as income). Their kids get free schools and free lunches. The only way leftish demagogues can continue to oil the guilt/envy machine is to relativize poverty — that is, to compare the poorest with the richest. And that is nothing more than an appeal to people’s baser instincts. It’s a political call to class warfare that the rest of America has simply left behind.
In “reporting” about poverty, both the poor and the rich are often referred to as abstractions — classes or quintiles — rarely as individuals. Unless we’re being offered some anecdote designed to divine our crocodile tears, we won’t hear about real people. We’ll be given stats framed to elicit a certain response. We rarely hear the story of a welfare recipient with an Acura, gold teeth, fat rims and a two-pack-a-day habit in Slate or Salon. But we’ll pay for his reckless lifestyle over and over again. And this person is not exceptional.