“No Justice, No Peace” is an old, vaguely threatening leftwing bumpersticker slogan advocating the amorphous concept of “economic justice.”
That basic utterance, whatever it means, has currently been labeled “income equality,” leaping off car bumpers and into the political mainstream as the issue de jour of President Obama and congressional Democrats — that is, to folks anxious not to talk about Obamacare. This, depsite the fact that no one playing with more than half a deck actually believes that all of our incomes should be equal.
Into this intellectual hubub comes a Center for Responsive Politics study looking at the income disclosure forms filed by members of Congress, which effortlessly illuminates the absurdity of a Washington-led war on income inequality. For the first time ever, most of those “serving” in Congress are millionaires.
Democratic Party representatives are on average even richer than Republicans (and thus less representative of the populace), while Republican members of the Senate could, if they chose, boast of more dough than Democrats.
Clearly, the best thing members of Congress could do to deflect the horrible scourge of income inequality would be to cut their pay.
And it’s not merely the malevolent in Congress. The increasingly wealthy metropolitan area in and around Washington, D.C. epitomizes the divide between the have and have nots — with those “helping others” as federal government employees or private contractors or consultants getting a bigger boost than those being helped.
Among cities with 500,000 residents or more, only Atlanta has a wider disparity between rich and poor than does the nation’s capital. In a recent column, The Washington Post’s Charles Lane contrasted a Washington where “gleaming office-retail complexes rise, home prices reach into the millions and people routinely spend tens of thousands of dollars per year to send their children to private schools” against a city in which “[m]any single parents go to bed worrying about how to feed their children or protect them from crime and substandard public-school educations.”
Lane isn’t anti-rich folks. He doesn’t suggest that doing well economically is a crime. And he doesn’t believe most Americans resent the well-to-do, either. Still, he argues it matters how folks earn their money, that there is a difference between “those who exploit connections or insider knowledge to make money” and “those who get rich by developing extraordinary artistic talents, starting new businesses or inventing useful products.”
“A large number of Washington’s top earners fit into the less productive category,” Lane concludes, adding, “Various societies have grown free and prosperous by many different methods; dividing up existing wealth according to political connections is not one of them.”
Lane has articulated a different take on economic justice — one that has something to do with justice, with fairness even. One that free-market conservatives and libertarians should enthusiastically embrace.
What does this mean?
It means we should forget about micromanaging the economy through minimum wage hikes. Stop making welfare pay better than work — as it does in 35 states, according to a recent Cato Institute study. End government subsidies to GreenTech cronies and also to more sympathetically-portrayed farmers. And everyone else.
That’s economic justice.
Most of all, start demanding an end to licensing laws and regulations that block access to starting a business. Not the new tax free deal for new businesses offered by New York State, intending to continue to punish its current struggling businesses with the same high taxes, plus the new tax-free businesses’ share. But an economy in which there are no special deals for some businneses over others and a welcome mat out for any new endeavor.
That conception of a just and fair and free market economy, however, would necessarily reduce the power and wealth of those doing the horse-trading and landing the contracts for guns and butter in the nation’s capitol. [references]
January 12, 2014
This column first appeared at Townhall.com.