Opinion: Opportunity offsets income inequality

December 16, 2013


In a Dec. 4 speech, President Obama declared income “inequality” to be “the defining challenge of our time.”

It is time for me to come clean; to own up to a dark secret I have been hiding most of my life. It is embarrassing to admit it, but I suffer from income inequality.

Yes, there are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people who make more money than I do and it has affected my life in ways too numerous to recount.

Starting with my first summer job as a bellhop and kitchen worker at a hotel in Maine when I was 14, I kept records of the amount of money I earned. The ledger records that on a really good day I made as much as $8 in tips. The hotel owner paid me a salary of $20 a week, but included a small room in the basement and all the food I could eat. He made more money than I did.

In the early ‘60s, as a copyboy at NBC News in Washington, my take-home pay was less than $100 a week. Everyone else, including, I suspect, the janitor, made more than I did.

When I finally got on the air as a broadcast journalist, my NBC check stubs were far less than the withholding on David Brinkley’s paycheck. I still bear the scars from this income “inequality.”

When I was 37, I made $25,000 a year and took public transportation to and from work. Many others, including most of the people I interviewed, made far more money than I did. Some of them had cars and drivers to squire them around Washington.

Was it “fair” that these people were richer than I was? Absolutely, as long as I had the opportunity through education, risk-taking, experience and hard work to eventually make more.

President Obama and some leaders in the Democratic Party appear to want us to accept a false premise: that if I earn more money than you, I “owe” you some of my money to make things “fair.” This might be true if the amount of money available were fixed, but it is not. The communist philosophy is similar to this way of thinking: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” is the slogan popularized by Karl Marx. In other words, mutually-shared poverty with just enough to barely sustain everyone, not an avenue out of poverty with hope as the mode of transportation, hard work as the fuel and success as the destination.

Income “inequality” is a part of the greed-envy-entitlement philosophy promoted by liberals who want to addict more people to government and entice them to vote for the party that is effectively buying their loyalty. And now they want to extend the 99-week limit for unemployment benefits, which has the potential to enable those people who are unwilling to look for a job.

Today, we have a tendency to punish the successful and subsidize the unsuccessful. It used to be the reverse, which motivated more people to become, if not a success, then at least self-sustaining. There was a time when Americans would have been ashamed to take, much less ask for, anything from their fellow citizens. If you were able-bodied, asking for help from the government was regarded by a previous generation as moral weakness.

Today, the attitude promoted by the income “inequality” crowd is one of victimization. Poor people are told they are victims because successful people have stolen from them what is rightfully theirs.

Envy, greed and entitlement are not the things that built America, or sustained her through numerous wars and a Great Depression.

The concern should not be how much others make, but how much you can make if you apply yourself and adopt the values embraced by successful people.

Those who make what I once earned and think they can never earn more are being told a lie. Realizing this is the first step to improving one’s income and one’s life.

— Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services.


Kendall Simmons 2 years, 5 months ago

Cal made $25,000 in 1979. In 2013, a person would have to be be making over $80,000 to have the same spending power that Cal had in 1979.

Frankly, I'm sure most people making $25,000 a year today would be ecstatic if they made $80,000 instead. But, hey...if $25,000 a year was good enough for Cal Thomas 34 years ago, then it ought to be good enough for other people today.

And, if they don't like it, they just need to "apply themselves and embrace the values held by successful people". Like Cal's values of ignorance and condescension?

Bart Johnson 2 years, 5 months ago

Economically, income inequality results from supply and demand. Most everyone can operate a cash register and thus the supply of workers for such a position is relatively high, meaning the pay will be relatively low. Very few people can (successfully) operate on a human brain, thus the supply of brain surgeons is very low meaning their pay will be very high.

Then there is demand. Even if a person possess a skill that very few people also possess, if there is little to no demand for that skill, then pay will be low.

There is a great benefit to income inequality. It motivates people to switch to work that pays better either because it is more in demand or because the supply of people in that line of work is low. Without income inequality there would be no motivation to do this.

Using the violent force of the State to change this situation is immoral and will also cause great harm to society, resulting in a general decline in wealth for all classes of society.

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