Vail Daily column: The insidious notion of ‘two Americas’"
No doubt the country has some legitimate economic issues that must be addressed, but the notion of “two Americas” isn’t one of them, at least not in the way certain politicians frame the matter. What many find interesting is that according to research released by the Center for Responsive Politics the median net worth of the members of Congress was just above $1 million in 2013, or 18 times the wealth of the typical American household. And while the median net worth of Americans is down 43 percent since 2007, the median net worth of members of Congress is up nearly 30 percent.
According to Forbes, Trump is a billionaire and the Clintons who were “broke” when they left the White House have somehow managed to build a tiny little nest egg in the neighborhood of $110 million (not including the hundreds millions in the Clinton Foundation they have access to.) Even pundits, such as Chris Matthews, are worth millions.
While I question their perspective from such lofty perches, perhaps Matthews and his politicos are correct, that there are indeed two Americas. But Bob Lonsberry, a Rochester, New York, radio talk show host, wrote a piece several years ago that looks at the matter from another perspective.
Lonsberry argues yes, there are two Americas, the one that works and the other that doesn’t. He feels it’s not about the haves vs. the have nots; rather it’s about the people who do and the people who don’t.
Pretty black and white to be sure, but strong arguments can be made that the real issue isn’t income inequality, although it certainly exists in some quarters; instead the issue is really about responsibility vs. irresponsibility and the demagoguery that accompanies it.
We know human beings respond to both incentives and disincentives. When we encourage something we usually get more of it; conversely, when we discourage something, we’re likely to get less of it.
But it’s questionable whether or not this great truth works in the real world of public policy making. Why is it that so many lawmakers don’t seem to understand that when Washington raise taxes, people don’t work as hard or save as much? Or why when government hands out welfare checks for not working, the recipients of these programs don’t rush to update their resumes.
According to the Foundation for Economic Education, one unintended consequence of increasing welfare benefits occurred when fathers abandoned their families. As the benefits increased, so did the number of abandonments. The Foundation for Economic Education also discovered that is was extremely counterproductive to cut a dollar of welfare benefits for every dollar of income someone earned, as some programs do, because in effect, it imposes a 100 percent marginal tax rate on welfare recipients who find jobs. Not a great incentive to look for work.
Far too many means-tested government programs have the unintended effect of reducing incentives for able-bodied people to become self-reliant. If one gets a job and they exceed program’s income threshold, then person’s aid disappears. If you remain below a particular income level, then you can be compensated to stay in that low-paying job.
Vis-a-vis the foregoing, we should all have a healthy fear of developing a culture where government programs are allowed to subsidize irresponsible behavior. We can argue specifics till the cows come home, but this is a very real danger.
Perhaps by its nature, government is incapable of understanding that while certain welfare programs are absolutely essential, they weren’t designed to empower people. Far too frequently they subject people to a culture of dependence, entitlement and victimhood.
Many in Washington won’t accept the fact that most income variations in America today are the result of choices; choose wisely and responsibly and you’ll have a far greater likelihood of success than those who choose foolishly and irresponsibly.
We all know statistics are liars but these are difficult to refute. Two-thirds of American children living in poverty reside in single-parent homes, or that unmarried women were twice as likely to be raising their children below the poverty level than married women were. Did you know too that if a young person graduates high school, refrains from having children out of wedlock or marrying before having children reduces their chance of living in poverty by 90 percent?
Our leaders should echo a similar message and tell young people that responsible behavior is the single greatest lesson they can learn instead of preaching the income inequality claptrap.
The two Americas’ adherents would have us believe it’s a zero sum game; that an individual’s success comes only at the expense of another. And yes, some believe it. But the truly sad part of that perspective is that it’s insidious and it sets Americans against each other, and who benefits from that?
Quote of the day: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” — Abraham Lincoln
Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes regularly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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