Skip to comments.A Personal Note on Inequality
Posted on 03/08/2014 6:36:55 AM PST by Kaslin
Today I'm going to get personal. The reason? To see if readers have had similar experiences.
There were about 450 students in my high school graduating class. I don't remember a single one I would call "poor." Only one would I call "rich." All the rest were squarely within the 20 yard lines. Socioeconomically, we were all very much alike: solidly middle class. We went to school together, played sports together and socialized with each other. Since my school was segregated by law at the time, all of the students were white.
Now let's run the tape forward and approach the time of normal retirement. At this point I made five observations.
First, I made a rough calculation that between 5% and 10% of our class was earning about half the class income. Obviously, my calculation was far from precise, but I believe that the inequality of income within my high school class was similar to the inequality we observe in society as a whole.
Second, I have no idea why this happened. The highest earners in my class were not necessarily the ones with the highest grades or test scores. They were not the ones I would have predicted if I were making such predictions when I was young. A few of my classmates had the opportunity to enter their fathers' businesses and I suppose this gave them a leg up. But this was less than 10% of the high-earner group. Also, just about everybody who is doing well got there through hard work and perseverance. None of my classmates won the lottery.
The surprising thing is that I don't know why the distribution of income among my classmates looks the way it does. I know why the high earners are high earners ? in the sense that I know how they are earning an income. But I don't know why everyone else wasn't equally successful.
Third, if my subjective impressions are correct, when we were in school only one child had parents who were in the top 1% of the national distribution of income ? the group that Paul Krugman is always railing about. Yet by the time of retirement, that group included 20 of my classmates, or more.
Fourth, I don't know anyone in my class who thinks the distribution of class income is unfair. If you read Paul Krugman, Joe Stiglitz and similar commentators, you get the feeling that they think some great injustice has been done to create inequality in society as a whole (but without ever saying what that injustice is). My class includes Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, and a few libertarians like myself. But I'm pretty sure that regardless of political beliefs, no one in my class thinks that what their classmates are earning is the result of some general unfairness.
Finally, I don't know anyone in my class who regards this as a problem that needs correcting. If we were to have an expensive reunion that couldn't be paid for with normal fees, I'm sure that those who have more would chip in and underwrite the expense. But that would be voluntary and everyone would expect it to be voluntary. It's noblesse oblige.
Here is my theory. Our basic notions of what is fair and unfair and which problems need correcting and which ones don't are actually very similar when we are talking about people we all know. It is only when we are talking about abstractions and amorphous groups of people ? people that we don't know ? that political ideologies pull us apart.
What do you think?
One of the wealthier of my class mates and really pretty too ended up being a drug addict, another became a photographer to the stars and became a meth addict and did time in the federal pen, most of us just plodded along
How much of the resentment about inequality is (and has been) planted and nurtured by politicians seeking ways to divide us and create victim groups they can pander to for votes?
I would say 90% or more.
I grew up in a poor town, one school with blacks, whites everyone in class together. Back then the poorest included D.P.s (Displaced Persons from WWII, mostly Europeans). But almost everyone, other than the few wealthy families in town, would be considered poverty level by today’s standards.
No name sneakers and patched jeans or skirts were daily wear and kids wore hand-me-downs. Just about every mom patronized the local “rummage” sales. Very few kids had college in their future; if your family didn’t have the wherewithal you didn’t go.
The only fatherless kids I knew growing up were those who lost their dads in WWII or Korea. That includes blacks as well as whites.
People had much less than people do today but there was no widespread, ingrained resentment over class or economic status as there is today - no “Them” vs. “Us” mentallity among the kids or adults. Kids weren’t taught to be envious or hate others for what they had, kids were taught in school and at home that with hard work they could work themselves up the economic ladder.
There may, however, have been an overarching story affecting everyone that you miss unless you look at the big numbers. Why are more men out of the workforce today than in the past? Is it because more men are unlucky or more men are lazy? Or maybe it's because there are fewer jobs or fewer jobs worth doing for the money that is paid.
Are more people taking drugs because more people are moral reprobates or because society as a whole has become less critical of drug abuse? Are more women becoming unwed mothers because women these days are more likely to be sluts, or because society as a whole is less critical of out-of-wedlock marriage?
We are all affected by the systems we are part of and that we helped to construct each in our own little way. The systems we are living under today are less flawed in some ways (e.g. less racist and sexist) and more flawed in others (e.g. more libertine and profligate). Our individual stories are all impacted by those larger stories.
If there is more overall inequality today than there was it's ultimately our responsibility, but not just our individual responsibility but also our collective responsibility where we failed to hold our institutions to the standards they once lived up to.
Interesting take on the current economic status of a HS group of middle-class students who graduated about 40-45 years ago(?).
Why some achieved such high income is primarily because they worked so very hard, according to the writer. And, why a few are much lower on the income scale is not known. But it may actually be a case of those in the lower income brackets chose employment or lifestyles which they prefer over affluence. Liberals assume that everyone should have the same income and that brings happiness. Not so. In fact, it does not even prevent envy. Some folks are just never satisfied; and some are happy living a simpler lifestyle. Some choose to live in big cities, others in smaller towns or in the countryside.
This notion that all need the same income to be “fair” is nonsense.
Finally, doesn’t this preoccupation with money distribution actually affirm the concept that liberals/socialists are materialistic? It is not Conservatives who put all there happiness and well-being in a basket of gold.
Those high school students probably already got a ‘life time’ communist indoctrination. Good that most if not all don’t buy into the class inequality garbage.
Just wait till their college days/years.
You need conservatives writing the textbooks and acting as school admin and on the school boards and in the dept of education - otherwise us conservative teachers get SLAMMED for not teaching curriculum as written - regardless of how bad it is.
What do I see as I go to class reunions? By now most of us are retired. The ones I see were solidly middle-class throughout their working lives. Mostly blue-collar workers (including a guy who became a union leader), a few schoolteachers, one woman who became an MD and may have been the highest earner in the class. The only Black girl in the class married a minister. Quite a few college graduates.
Looking back, I can't pinpoint anything that would have led me to predict how they ended up economically. Parental status seemed to have little or nothing to do with it. We all seemed to take our own paths regardless of where we started.
I can't see how any attempt at enforced "equality" would have improved the lot of the entire class, or of any individuals in it. The best thing the "equalizers" can do is let us alone, to work out our own destinies as best we can.
Inequality in the mind of a liberal is someone who doesn’t own half of what you earned.
I had a pretty large graduating class. It’s impossible to know what happened to all of them, but of the one’s I do know about...
One got into drugs, got clean, and is a drummer for a local rock band and an auto detailer.
One was married, divorced, and remarried and is semi-retired.
One is a drunk.
One is a college professor.
At least three are dead.
Several are housewives.
One became a successful dancer and choreographer, came out of the closet, and now runs his own dance studio.
You just never know.
Do you believe that the Leftist teachers inject their own agenda outside of the text? I have always suspected that, even in grade school, Leftists will be sympathetic or hostile to a student’s writings, etc, if they have a Conservative bent.
Good observations, but as you say in your final statement, it is truly up to the individual to determine how successful he or she wants to be.
Everyone who wants to be educated can be so, whether that is done in school, or by learning on one's own. There are still opportunities for a 'leg up' in society if a person wants to prepare for them.
Absolutely! Those decisions are made way above the classroom teacher.
I am going to be blunt and say some people are wealthier then others because they want to be.
Yes, there are good ideas, hard work, talent, being in the right place to take advantage of opportunities but mostly it is the want to.
Mostly people are not interested in being rich, they are interested in being comfortable.
Many believe equal opportunity is enough. Having no work ethic, they will be perplexed about the outcome.
if you want to keep your doctor
At this point, the text is SO far left that it almost doesn't matter anymore. It starts with the reading material in kindergarten.