Tag: rich

The Libertarian Case for a Minimum Wage Hike

Nate Galt | United States

The federal minimum wage has been a controversial issue ever since it was introduced by President Roosevelt in 1938. Proponents of raising it say that it will help job growth and reduce poverty. However, opponents believe that raising the federal minimum wage will lead to layoffs and closures of small businesses. In all, the current federal minimum wage of seven dollars and twenty-five cents per hour is not a wage that someone can afford basic necessities with. People who are paid the federal minimum wage should be able to afford things such as clothes, food, and a roof over their head.  Raising the minimum wage has been an issue adopted by “progressive” Democrats and the Green Party. 

Taxpayers are paying for the minimum wage, just indirectly. They subsidize programs such as Food Stamps while large corporations save money by not paying their workers a living wage. This is extreme inequality because that money should go to workers employed by these corporations, not into the pockets of billionaires who try to cut corners by paying their workers very low wages. 

Raising the minimum wage would help the economy. According to the Economic Policy Institute, a minimum wage increase to $10.10 an hour would make $22.1 billion flow into the economy and would create about 85,000 new jobs in three years. Further, economists from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago made a prediction that if the minimum wage were to rise by $1.75, household spending would increase by $48 billion in the next year.  While these are merely predictions and are imperfect, they show that household spending increases as the minimum wage is raised. This boosts the gross domestic product and spurs job growth. For example, in Snohomish County in Washington State, there were no local minimum wages higher than the state minimum of $9.47. The state then raised the minimum wage to eleven dollars per hour. The full weight of the $1.53 increase, or over 16%, was assumed by employers. Subsequently, sixteen thousand jobs were created in Snohomish County. 

Some people say that raising the minimum wage hurts small businesses. According to Think Progress, two-thirds of “low‐wage workers are not employed by small businesses, but rather by large corporations…” Also, the three largest employers of minimum wage workers are Walmart, Yum! Brands (Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and KFC), and McDonald’s. A hike in the minimum wage will not make large corporations like Walmart shut their doors, and its workers will benefit from it. 

Another reason the minimum wage should be raised is that it is impossible to afford rent in every state if one is paid $7.25. The state with the lowest “living wage” is South Dakota at just over 14 dollars, which is nearly double the current federal minimum wage. The definition of “living wage” is the bare minimum salary one needs to be able to afford rent, basic clothing, and groceries without skipping meals or receiving aid from the federal government. People who work full-time and are paid the minimum wage cannot provide basic necessities for themselves and their family, let alone afford to pay rent. Right now, this is the case, and millions of Americans are in a dire financial situation because they live on around only fifteen thousand dollars per year if they work full time. These people receive benefits which are subsidized by taxpayers because their employers do not pay them an adequate wage. As a result, businesses are saving money while taxpayers have to pick up the burden. If people get a living wage, they do not need to rely on taxpayer-funded public assistance. Better pay would let the government cut a lot of taxpayers’ funding of the money that it currently spends on programs to help counter poverty.

Others say that if the current minimum wage were increased, the price of items would increase. However, researchers at Purdue University found that increasing the wages of fast food workers to $15 an hour would only result in a price increase of around 4 percent. 4 percent of the cost of a Big Mac is around 23 cents, which is not a significant amount of money. The workers will have their wages doubled and will be able to make ends meet. Despite the negligible increase in prices, workers would end up with more money in their pockets and would be affected positively by this positively.

Increasing the minimum wage to 15 dollars would benefit the economy. It helps boost the GDP and job growth, and it alleviates taxpayers’ burden of paying for welfare. $15 per hour will allow minimum wage workers to make ends meet and to afford housing, clothing, and food without having to rely on government programs such as food stamps. It would reduce the number of Americans living in poverty as well. All of the above benefits have no significant drawbacks, so the only logical thing to do is to support raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour to help workers, the economy, and your tax rate. Should businesses get so-called “corporate welfare” while taxpayers have to foot the bill? Even though raising the minimum wage seems like a leftist, Bernie Sanders-type policy, all libertarians should support it. Taxes, welfare, and other benefits would be cut, leaving more money in Americans’ pockets. 


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Does Capitalism Unite or Divide People?

Joshua D. Glawson | United States

Capitalism is an economic system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state. More specifically, capitalism is the free and voluntary exchange of goods and services.

Before the implementation of money, the differences between people was a matter of Nature or God. Some, by their own free will or by location, had more than others and created more than others. Some are stronger, some are smarter, some are more intelligent, some are better looking, some need less, some utilize what they have better, etc. It is the very nature of being human that we have differences between us before ever even initiating money or property, i.e. capital, into the equation. This is most likely why Marx and Engles do not provide an origin of ‘property’ or ‘property rights’ because to take away what is someone else’s is unjust and immoral, as well as least pragmatic or least utilitarian.

Prior to the introduction of capitalism in the world, much fewer people had wealth, and all struggled to get by aside from those wealthy few. A world GINI coefficient would clearly show a lopsided distribution of wealth, in the words of Communists and Socialists, and provide evidence of the daily struggles once suffered while unknown in most parts of the world today.

We live far better lives today thanks to capitalism. Abject poverty since the implementation of capitalism in the world, especially after 1980, is nearing its very end. Prior to capitalism, people had to work longer hours, work harder, children worked more, and people married for practical reasons more than for love. It can be easily and confidently declared that capitalism made way for more love and individualism, simultaneously, more than any other approach prior.

Actual Capitalism does not infringe on the rights of others, because the philosophy of it is based on free and voluntary exchange. Typically, this also implies that there is a legal system that ensures the negative Liberties, Natural Rights, of everyone. Some economists and philosophers differ on the need of a State in order for capitalism to exist.

What most people criticize as being ‘capitalism’ today, as many Communists and Socialists have espoused, is in fact NOT CAPITALISM. A State that allows the infringement of rights while protecting a company that wishes to exploit is CRONYISM, or CRONY CAPITALISM, not capitalism itself.

Remember, government, by its definition, has the sole monopoly on coercion and initiation of force. A coercive monopoly, crony capitalism, coercion through labor unions, involuntary redistribution, taxes, etc. are only continually possible through a government, not a free and voluntary market.

Envy, jealousy, theft, coerced redistribution schemes through government, etc. are what keep people apart by force. Capitalism betters the lives of everyone in the end, generally speaking. In fact, this principle of capitalism that encourages free trade, as in laissez-faire capitalism, is one point that more economists agree on than anything else, no matter the economist’s political affiliation.

  • Isn’t it ironic that Communists and Socialists always complain about so-called “bourgeoisie” living easy lives while exploiting the “proletariat,” but Communists and Socialists want everyone to live like the “bourgeoisie” by forcefully stealing with threat of murdering the “bourgeoisie?”

Capitalism has done more to unite people than divide them. The fact that we can sit here reading and writing on the internet in the middle of the day rather than hunting, farming, collecting water, or making things to live day-to-day, etc. attests to the benefits brought by capitalism. The fact that a writer such as Marx could have existed while freely and voluntarily living off the dime of Engels, a “bourgeoisie,” is further proof that capitalism has done more to unite us than divide us. Without capitalism, our focus and worry is more on the immediate rather than the philosophy brought on by leisure for the masses which is only a result of capitalism.

When people begin making copious amounts of money more than others, sure their status and quality of life differs than the layman, but the wealthy must still spend or store their money somewhere that benefits those in lesser positions. This is a key principle, as living in a wealthier society is far superior to that of living in one where only a few are wealthy. But if everyone is forced to be the same, nothing has the same worth as it does now. When everyone has the same wealth, the cost of things becomes more expensive, subjectively and comparably speaking. If all we looked at was the GINI of two countries in order to compare wealth distribution, we could compare Morocco and the US. I am confident that more people would rather live in the US than in Morocco, aside from political and social differences, and simply based on economic reasons for equality and unity. Nevertheless, the two countries have pretty similar distributions of income as seen below:

Or we can compare the US with the Czech Republic, where the average person makes more like that of their neighbor than in the US.

I can still confidently say that more people would rather live in the US than in the Czech Republic. Not only does this suggest that there is more to living a good life than the balanced distribution of wealth, but also that when we get closer to actual capitalism we live better lives.

I will admit that Socialism and Communism in their truest forms have never been successfully attempted. Likewise, Capitalism in its purest form has never been successfully attempted. However, the near-Capitalism has done more to help unify and better humankind more than near-Socialism or near-Communism. While, near-Communism and near-Socialism have done more to destroy and divide people than any other system, records that suggest close to 100,000,000 (one hundred million) deaths from the two.

Capitalism provides solutions for people, as there is an incentive to provide these solutions in the market, and working with the marketplace. Such things as technology, medicine, art, transportation, architecture, clothing, food, etc. all help to better our lives and unify us, while more competition drives down costs of production and makes things better for most if not all, in the immediate. Capitalism does more to unify us rather than divide us, while other systems, such as Communism or Socialism, do more to divide us.


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A Healthy Dose of Collectivism is in Our Individual Interest

Craig Axford | Canada

During the summer of the 2012 presidential campaign, President Barack Obama asserted that America was the product of a lot of collective hard work.

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires. ~ President Obama, Roanoke, Virginia, July 2012

This lack of deference to the American myth of the rugged individual able to overcome virtually any obstacle through a combination of hard work and perseverance was duly noted by Obama’s 2012 opponent, Mitt Romney. The key phrase from Obama’s speech used by the GOP in their counterattack was “you didn’t build that.” Romney replied personally, arguing that “What he’s [Obama] saying is that if someone has succeeded, if they built something, he’s saying they didn’t really build it — no, it was the government, it was the government that takes responsibility.”

Well, of course, government research is responsible for a great many of the things that Americans currently enjoy, but that wasn’t really Obama’s point. His reference to government involvement in the creation of the Internet aside, his larger argument was that without a lot of collective effort on the part of countless fellow citizens, all the things we like to think of as our own individual accomplishments wouldn’t be possible.

Barack Obama was hardly the first president to recognize that civilization is a group endeavor for which no single person can take credit. Our individual successes are made possible by these collective exertions. Given Mitt Romney had made his fortune in finance rather than swinging a sledgehammer or on the assembly line, Abraham Lincoln might have reminded him that his wealth was largely the product of other people’s hard work:

Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights. Nor is it denied that there is, and probably always will be, a relation between labor and capital producing mutual benefits. The error is in assuming that the whole labor of community exists within that relation.~ Abraham Lincoln, First Annual Message to Congress [December 3, 1861]

The controversy surrounding Obama’s 2012 comments are reminiscent of the earlier attacks leveled against Hillary Clinton for her 1996 book It Takes A Village. In a stunning example of judging a book by its title, conservatives attacked then-First Lady Hillary Clinton for promoting the state as a substitute for parents and family.

Mrs. Clinton’s book title was derived from an African saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” No doubt the former first lady thought it would be uncontroversial to suggest that communities, as well as families, play a critical role in a child’s wellbeing and happiness. She, like others before and since, underestimated American resistance to anything that challenges its cult of individuality.

A willingness to work hard is a valuable attribute for an individual to possess. Certainly, it increases their chances of reaching and maintaining at least some degree of comfort and status. But, as has been pointed out many times before, if hard work alone guaranteed success every poor mother who has to haul their family’s daily water supply in buckets from distant wells or watering holes would be a millionaire. Both social and physical infrastructure matter and nobody can build or maintain them on their own. That’s as true in the so-called “advanced” nations of the planet as it is in the least developed.

Americans are fond of thinking of the poor as lazy. Unfortunately, that the data shows most of them do work and work hard represents another assault to the myth that it’s their work ethic that makes the successful worthy of their relative wealth and status. “Today, 41.7 million laborers — nearly a third of the American workforce — earn less than $12 an hour,” according to one recent New York Times article, “and almost none of their employers offer health insurance.”

So if it wasn’t all their hard work that made the rich and famous rich and famous, or even made the middle-class, what was it? Showing up, punching the clock, putting in a solid eight hours or maybe a little overtime is, perhaps, arguably necessary but has proven over and over again to be far from sufficient.

If we live anywhere in the developed world we should count ourselves fortunate to have been born in or to have successfully immigrated to a country where hauling our drinking water in buckets is no longer required for our survival. For those of us born in such a nation, it’s pure luck that landed us in a place where we had access to things such as safe drinking water and a public education system. In the US, the only developed country without universal healthcare, being born into a family covered by health insurance provided us with another lucky break. To paraphrase Barack Obama, as children we certainly had nothing to do with building any of those advantages and the many more we inherited.

It should be obvious that being randomly selected by an indifferent universe to begin life in a place with well-paved roads, educational opportunities, healthcare, supermarkets and, more recently, the Internet, gives certain individuals a huge headstart from day one. If you happen to have been driven home from the hospital by a chauffeur and had a trust fund established for you before your first birthday, your odds of success rise much further still. If anyone thinks, upon graduating from Harvard or Yale, that this sort of headstart had nothing to do with their degree or the school they received it from it is, to be frank, an indication that their Ivy League education was probably wasted on them.

Try for a moment to imagine sustaining any of these benefits of civilization without the labor of the “nearly a third of the American workforce” currently scraping by on $12 an hour or less. Many of them are in the healthcare industry. Others clean the homes of far wealthier families so both parents can work without either having to worry much about housecleaning or the other basic chores that are daily routines for their poorer neighbors on the other side of town. Hundreds of thousands if not millions of these workers are in the construction trade busy building the homes, schools, and roads of tomorrow. Yes, some are fast-food workers, of which a rapidly shrinking minority are teenagers, but why should that matter? Work is work and even the president is rather fond of KFC.

By now some readers will no doubt be mumbling furiously to themselves about all the effort doctors, lawyers, scientists, and business executives put into their education. Doesn’t this effort deserve to be rewarded? If you’re one of them, you aren’t wrong; you’re just not looking at the big picture.

Picture yourself earning a diploma or degree under the following conditions: To begin with, you must hunt and gather all the food it takes to sustain yourself as you complete your studies. Then there’s the small matter of making the clothes you must wear each day. Before you can even begin to think about studying for your finals you will need to build yourself a shelter, dig a latrine (or invent indoor plumbing complete with a steady water supply and a reliable sewage system), dig a well, build a kiln to fire all your plates and cups in, mine the minerals you’ll need for your utensils (to say nothing of your laptop, which you’ll need to build from scratch). Of course, you’ll also need to cut down a few trees and convert them into paper so you can hand copy all your textbooks (or perhaps you can barter a copy from some earlier student who somehow made it this far).

Hopefully, you get the picture. An awful lot of people make their living taking care of all the necessities for us so we can focus on pursuing our aspirations. Pride is the wrong response given this reality. We didn’t single-handedly overcome the challenges life throws in our way to get where we are today. None of us “pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps.” We all stand upon the shoulders of millions of others, both living and dead, who sacrificed themselves to make it possible for us to pursue our dreams — dreams they believed would ultimately benefit them and their posterity as much or more as it would you or I. The proper attitude in this light is one of gratitude and humility.

When companies like Amazon and Walmart fail to pay the men and women that show up to work each day a living wage and when politicians stand before the cameras to defend their “right” to do so, they aren’t just being unjust; they’re actively undermining the very social contract that made our world possible. When people dismiss the working poor as lazy they aren’t merely wrong; they’re lying to themselves in order to justify their own privileged place in our social hierarchy.

Such narratives may be self-serving in the short-term but in the long run, they’re deadly myths that can undo entire nations. In light of current events, one is forced to wonder just how many more Americans need to be driven into poverty before the ideology of the self-made man (or woman) is finally recognized for the civil society killing cancer that it is.

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Income Inequality is Real, and That is a Good Thing

By Joshua D. Glawson | United States

Income inequality exists in the world as a necessary characteristic of money and economics itself. If money is a measurement of the value one brings to the market, naturally there will be differences in income. If that money was inherited or gifted, it still shows a measure of someone’s value preceding the new owner. As a matter of trade, some businesses or individuals will benefit greater than others based on many varying factors and combinations of these factors such as, but not limited to, location, production costs, selling prices, customer service, convenience, and so forth. Sometimes one’s success can equally be based on luck or happenstance in relation to others competing for the same business. No matter the case, markets are naturally unequal, and that is okay.

In a state of nature, resources and abilities are also unequal. Some people live in areas of plenty of clean water, have the right access to metals, good climates for year round agriculture, etc. Some people are also stronger, more attractive, smarter,and work harder.

These are all dependent on either decisions of choice or genetics that play a crucial role giving luck or disadvantage to individuals’ varying situations. How one deals with that given hand is what makes the biggest difference to their success and producing more bringing greater value to them as an individual. So, whether it is in the state of nature producing inequality from one’s genetics and location, or their success and hard work within a marketplace, inequalities will naturally and necessarily exist as a fact of the world and human nature.

In fact, mankind’s nature is that of being poor and destitute. We are not born with strength to survive on our own, we are not born with fur to protect us from the weather, and we are not born with the immediate cognitive ability to take care of ourselves in a world full of danger. We are born into whatever life our parents had prepared before us and are humbly submitted to their care and direction, or to that of whom takes care of us. Humans were not born with a world of comfort, we had to make it, and we continue to work towards making it more comfortable for ourselves individually.

Some people are able to do more than others at progressing out of their given situations. However, just because one person does better does not mean someone else is doing worse because of that success, it simply means the one doing better is, well, doing better. In an economy, this is reflecting the concept that the marketplace and economy, as a whole, is dynamic, not static.

Many of the advocates of combating the so-called “immorality” of income inequality do so based on the model of a static economy. This is likened to a pie, where there is only a limited amount of financial resources, and when one person takes a large slice of the pie, it leaves others with less. In short, the people who believe in a static economy model believe there is a limited amount of capital, labor, and resources.

There is, indeed, a natural limitation of resources such as land, materials, food, etc. Capital and labor, on the other hand, are both nearly innumerable in the right hands, especially when it comes to human capital – that is the human skill set and knowledge one has and is able to teach to others. It is for human capital that most people go to school: to learn, to make more of their reason, and to better their capacity to make do with the world around them.

Because of this ability to learn, retain and spread knowledge, and to do more with what is around, the economy is not static, but rather dynamic. Economies are constantly changing through human capital and trade. They are never static. It is better to see the economy as a constantly growing and shrinking, pulsating, pie where human capital and trade are adding and removing the slices while filling in the empty spaces. The economy expands and contracts, there are booms and busts, fat years and skinny years, all with “winners” and “losers” in trade.

When in competition with one another, there is growth in the marketplace, providing more for people to benefit from and consume. What individuals gain from competition in the marketplace is their ‘fair share’ if it was acquired without coercion. This is the essential part of human flourishing, i.e. capitalism. ‘Capitalism,’ better yet ‘free trade’ or more specifically ‘laissez faire capitalism,’ is the free and voluntary exchange of goods and services.

Capitalism, or whatever is nearing capitalism, has done more for the betterment of humanity than any other system; it is mankind’s greatest creation and strength. Not only does it provide the necessary goods and services most lacking or most desired, but it also enables the exchange of ideas through a ‘marketplace of ideas.’ This means good products, bad products, good ideas, and bad ideas, all competing against one another, so to speak.

Wherever there is competition, the differences in wins and losses are easily recognizable, and this is the actuality of ‘income inequality,’ as it pertains to economics. There are those that consume, those that produce, and those that act in a mix of the two. If one is unsuccessfully producing, producing very little, or producing nothing at all, for purchase in the marketplace, their financial prosperity will tend to dwindle.

Yet, when someone does well, it does not necessarily mean someone else will not also do well in the same marketplace or area. Nevertheless, this ‘competition’ is not for a limited amount of potential capital, or money, it is the competition for what is already there and what can be potentially made. If the market is filled with too much excess of currency, the currency is inflated and worth much less. Money must be earned and exchanged to produce wealth and enrich the marketplace; investments also count as earning income.

Generally speaking financial success requires a few key principles. Among these are capital, taking risks, investing, hard work, patience, diligence, and good business sense. Opportunities arise from ability and effort, along with economic freedom (Don Watkins, Yaron Brook, Equal is Unfair, New York, 2016, 114). In fact, to maintain wealth is rather difficult for individuals and generations of families.

Unlike what capitalism naysayers might believe, the wealthy tend to not stay wealthy, and their accumulated income does not stay within families very long. According to Spanish economist and professor of economics, Dr. Juan Ramon Rallo, “three decades are sufficient to lose almost everything,” and the world’s wealthiest people in the 1980s are no longer on the Forbes list, nor is anyone from their family (Juan Ramon Rallo, Anti-Piketty, 2017, 31-35). So, Rallo points out that the wealthy are not getting wealthier.

No matter the case of idealistic capitalism bringing wealth into fruition in the marketplace, some people do in fact establish and gain wealth through other means. The most significant and obtrusive way some are gaming the system of economics is through the coercive powers of government, e.g. cronyism, rent-seeking, labor unions, coercive monopolies, etc.

As the work of James M. Buchanan and his contribution to political choice theory demonstrates, the vast majority of individuals, in the worlds of public and private sectors, do what benefits themselves the most. This is to say that politicians in the public sector do what will enrich themselves just as much as those in the private sector. Simply taking someone from the business world and putting them into the political world does not remove their horns to produce hallows, nor vice versa. The biggest difference with the political and private sectors is that in the private sector losses are easily felt and remedied; whereas in the political sphere, everyone pays the cost of bad politicians and it usually goes unpunished and without remedy for a very long time.

The marketplace is still providing more for individuals and fighting abject poverty throughout the world by allocating the costs of labor to lower socioeconomic regions of the world. Lower costs for labor help to create the same goods with lower sells prices, while simultaneously helping to relieve the problems associated with extreme poverty.

According to research by Dr. Mark J. Perry at The American Enterprise Institute, a study of home appliances from 1981 to 2013 shows that appliances are “cheaper, better, and more energy efficient” at an increasing rate (Mark J. Perry, AEI, 2015). As for fighting against abject poverty, in 1990 nearly “47% of the world population lived on less than a dollar a day,” and by 2012 only 22% of the world population survived off less than an income of $1.25 per day, which was equivalent to $1 per day in 1990. That is nearly 700 million people pulled out of abject poverty and into better living conditions (Jean-Philippe Delsol, Anti-Piketty, 2017, 8).

This is not to say that people are not still struggling, or that these same people in their given situations can afford the home appliances, but it is a drastic and positive improvement in the quality of life that comes with having an increase in income through nearing free trade market practices.

With marketplace solutions through free trade, more people can be lifted out of poverty. More people see income increases, as has been historically and empirically demonstrated time and time again. Nevertheless, there are still some that are gaining a significant amount through immoral and coercive means with government assistance. It is this, specifically, that I am most concerned with. I am not concerned with vast amounts of wealth being accumulated through peaceful and voluntary means of exchange between consenting people. I am, however, concerned with utilizing governments, specifically within the United States, for coercion over the market, disabling true competition and free trade.


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Facing Poverty Directly, For a Change

By Craig Axford | United States

The UN’s special rapporteur on poverty, Philip Alston, has just issued a blistering report on poverty in the United States. He’s hardly the first to draw attention to this ongoing crisis. Given the lack of political will to do anything about it, he certainly won’t be the last.

Philip Alston’s findings follow a visit he made to the US in December of last year to assess what can only be described as a slow-motion social train wreck that threatens America’s long-term political stability. Included among his findings are some staggering statistics. For example, “the share of households that, while having earnings, also receive nutrition assistance rose from 19.6 percent in 1989 to 31.8 percent in 2015.”

The UN report is relatively short but attempts to use its 20 pages to describe some of the people and places behind the statistics it relies upon. Such efforts to humanize the data have become sadly uncommon within government publications in recent decades.

While we hear a lot about multimillion dollar bonuses and what percentage of wealth the top 1% control, personal stories about the poor and images of their unnecessary suffering are rare. Inequality is often substituted for the word poverty these days, with most of the attention drawn to data that shows how much the wealthy have as opposed to how little the poor are forced to make do with. As a result, it often sounds as though envy rather than justice is the motivation behind calls for change.

But extreme inequality is about far more than just you having more than me or vice versa. “If the only advantage of affluence were the ability to buy yachts, sports cars, and fancy vacations,” the Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel writes in the opening pages of What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, “inequalities of income and wealth would not matter very much. But,” Sandel continues, “as money comes to buy more and more — political influence, good medical care, a home in a safe neighborhood rather than a crime-ridden one, access to elite schools rather than failing ones — the distribution of income and wealth looms larger and larger.”

While more and more Americans go to work every day and require public help like Medicaid or nutrition assistance, those with the means to provide for themselves now increasing claim taxes are confiscation. The notion that taxes are a species of theft rather than the price to be paid for a politically stable society that fairly distributes opportunity to the greatest extent practicable is now orthodoxy among conservatives.

Progressives have inadvertently lent credence to the confiscatory view of taxation by focusing so much attention on the top 1% and what their tax rate should be, instead of speaking directly about the struggles so many Americans are experiencing. Indeed, US politicians from across the political spectrum speak relatively rarely about poverty directly, a fact which did not go unnoticed in Philip Alston’s UN report. “One politician remarked to the Special Rapporteur [Alston] on how few campaign appearances most politicians bother to make in overwhelmingly poor districts, which reflects the broader absence of party representation for low-income and working-class voters.”

Obviously, there’s going to be a very strong connection between a society’s priorities and its tax code. But by focusing so much on the gap between the rich and the poor and largely ignoring the actual conditions the poor endure, poverty is distorted into an abstraction. It’s almost as though many politicians think families care more about Bill Gates net worth than they do about putting food on the table and being able to go to the doctor without having to think about bankruptcy.

These days Democrats, in particular, tend to talk as though it’s self-evident that income inequality is the source of most of our greatest social ills, and that a simple adjustment to the minimum wage or increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit will do the trick. But it isn’t obvious to those living in gated communities, nor is solving the systemic problems that give rise to poverty that simple.

The wealthy no longer see poverty directly. Indeed, they’ve intentionally shielded themselves from it. When they do read or hear about the poor the message is often delivered through an ideological filter that casts them as lazy, drug-addled, and criminal. Until the elite are again connected to their communities, any steps taken to close the gap between them and the working class will be grudging and temporary.

The anthropologist Jared Diamond has pointed out that one of the most consistent characteristics found within societies that have experienced collapse has been the segregation of the wealthy from the communities that surround them. He laments the fact that history is by all appearances repeating itself. Writing for ABCScience in 2003, Diamond states that “In much of the rest of the world, rich people live in gated communities and drink bottled water. That’s increasingly the case in Los Angeles where I come from.” Diamond concludes that as a result “wealthy people in much of the world are insulated from the consequences of their actions.”

We’re not going to get the rich or the decision-makers over whom they have so much sway to see the light by reminding them endlessly that they make many times more than the poor. They know that already, and from their current perspective, it looks to them as though they’ve earned every penny.

Those with power and means need to be reminded regularly and directly what the day-to-day lives of people living in poverty are like. We must not be shy about asking those sheltered behind gilded gates what choices they would make on a minimum wage budget. We must insist at every opportunity that they put themselves in the shoes of the people they spend a lot of resources hiding from.

It was precisely this kind of invitation that led Senator Robert Kennedy to leave the safe confines of a Senate hearing room for his 1967 poverty tour. According to University of Mississippi journalism professor Ellen Meacham, “Senator Bobby Kennedy was on the Senate Subcommittee on Employment, Labor, and Poverty, tasked with assessing President Johnson’s policies.” During those hearings “Marian Wright, a 27-year old NAACP lawyer and the first African American woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar testified before the committee on behalf of Head Start — a program that had nearly lost its funding. During the hearing, she went off topic and discussed the overwhelming poverty plaguing the South — and invited the senators to it see for themselves.” RFK took her up on that invitation and the rest is history.

We no longer insist our elected officials, let alone the wealthy, visit the homeless to hear their stories. We don’t demand that those charged with making policy visit poor inner city clinics or struggling rural schools. Even philanthropists usually decide where to send their money by reading grant proposals instead of visiting the people their money is supposedly meant to help. We talk like policy wonks and argue as though if only the top 1% took a pay cut poverty would vanish. Most of us may not live in gated communities, but our rhetoric about poverty has become guarded and sterile.

Across both the political and the class divide poverty is now a faceless phenomenon addressed through platitudes, if it is discussed at all. We debate raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, offering additional tax credits, and perhaps closing a few small loopholes without ever looking anyone in the eyes. We either demonize the wealthy or stereotype the poor because its easier for a culture to cope when responsibility can be shared by villains twirling their mustaches and lazy victims who refuse to get a job.

In any case, both the left and right have assuaged their guilty consciences by turning away. That they’ve turned in different directions is of little moral consequence. No one talks of “compassionate conservatism” anymore. There are no longer any Eleanor Roosevelts or RFKs doing tours of poor communities.

Even good policy decisions won’t endure within a culture that refuses to look poverty in the face. Inequality isn’t an injustice because some have too much. It’s an injustice because so many have too little in a land that has enough for everyone with lots to spare. Those people have names, and they know the elite have forgotten what they are.

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