As we all ponder the possible Presidency of Barack Obama, which will apparently include the concept of redistribution of wealth, I thought it would be interesting to revisit a classic article by John Cassidy in the New Yorker: Relatively Deprived [PDF]. Written in March 2006, Cassidy considers the possibility that "poverty" is a relative concept; that is, in order to raise people above the poverty line it isn't enough to make poor people richer, you also have to make rich people poorer. This is a serious theory, by the way, seriously considered. It seems preposterous to me.
To show you how far people can carry this thinking, let me quote from the article:
The conservative case against a relative-poverty line asserts that since some people will always earn less than others the relative-poverty rate will never go down. Fortunately, this isn’t necessarily true. If incomes were distributed more equally, fewer families would earn less than half the median income. Therefore, the way to reduce relative poverty is to reduce income inequality - perhaps by increasing the minimum wage and raising taxes on the rich. Between 1979 and 2000, the inflation-adjusted earnings of the poorest fifth of Americans increased just nine per cent; the earnings of the middle fifth rose fifteen per cent; and the earnings of the top fifth climbed sixty-eight per cent.
Are you getting this? All we have to do to reduce poverty is to reduce income inequality. If "we" just raise taxes on the rich and make them poorer, we'll reduce poverty. This is dangerous stuff, and people honestly believe it. Here's more:
Introducing a relative-poverty line would help shift attention to the larger problem of social exclusion. Although few attempts have been made to address the issue, the results have been promising. A recent long-term study of Head Start, which began in 1964, as one of the original “war on poverty” initiatives, found that poor children who participated in the program were more likely to finish high school and less likely to be arrested for committing crimes than those who did not. And in another initiative, undertaken between 1976 and 1998, the city of Chicago relocated thousands of impoverished African-Americans from inner-city projects to subsidized housing in middle-class, predominantly white suburbs; researchers found that the adults who participated were more likely to be employed, and their children were more likely to graduate from high school, than their inner-city counterparts. (A more recent experiment, in which the federal government gave vouchers to poor residents in a number of cities, enabling them to move to wealthier neighborhoods, has failed to produce similar gains. Many of the participants chose to live near one another, which researchers think may account for the disappointing results.)
Please note that the apparently successful experiment described occurred in Chicago. No word on what it cost, nor how it was paid for... but this is wealth redistribution in action; amazingly, relocating poor people from the inner-city to middle-class suburbs helps them. One would have to think Obama, who grew up in Chicago politics, is well aware of this experiment.
If you ask me why I'm voting for McCain, I can give you reasons why I'm voting for McCain, but this election is a choice between two people, and I can also tell you why I'm voting against Barack Obama. He scares me. And it doesn't have anything to do with race. It has to do with victimology, and the culture of entitlement, and dangerous concepts like "relative-poverty". I don't want the government engaged in wealth redistribution. That would not be change we need, nor change I could believe in...