Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Spreading the Wealth Around

I got this chain e-mail from a friend of mine a few days ago and heard some GOP Talking Head mention it on the radio a day or two later.
Yesterday on my way to lunch I passed a homeless guy with a sign that read 'Vote Obama, I need the money.' I laughed.

Once in the restaurant my server had on a 'Obama 08' necktie, again I laughed as he had given away his political preference -- just imagine the coincidence.

When the bill came I decided not to tip the server and explained to him that I was exploring the Obama redistribution of wealth concept. He stood there in disbelief while I showed him a ten-dollar bill and told him that I was going to 'redistribute' his tip to someone who I deemed more in need--the homeless guy outside. The server angrily stormed from my sight.

I went outside, gave the homeless guy $10 and told him to thank the server inside as I've decided he could use the money more. The homeless guy seemed genuinely grateful. (surprised me).

At the end of my rather unscientific redistribution experiment I realized the homeless guy was grateful for the money he did not earn, but the waiter was pretty angry that I gave away the money he did earn even though the actual recipient needed the money more.

I guess redistribution of wealth is an easier thing to swallow in concept than in practical application.
A few things about this e-mail:
1) The homeless guy is working and he earned that money... he's hustling. He got 10 bucks out of his efforts/work. While some people might not find pan-handling working, it technically is: one is using their time sitting or standing in high foot traffic areas hoping to get contributions (a wage) from passer bys. And that's what work is—a worker is paid for his/her time for someone else.

2) Obama does not want to take all of Paul's money to give to someone else. And that's what happening in this story, all the money is being taken away from the waiter and given to the pan-handler. No where in Obama's policy proposals does he even imply that he'll do this. While his now somewhat infamous quote to Joe the Plummer about how he wants to "spread the wealth around" is the reasoning behind this story above, Obama is not talking about taking all the money people make and dividing it equally.

Rather Obama is more speaking about closing the gap between the wealthiest and poorest in this country. This indicator, called the Gini Coefficient, has increased over the last 20 to 25 years at a pace that probably worries most policy makers and economists. According to the UN, the U.S. Gini Coefficient is 40.8, which is about the same as Georgia, Sri Lanka, Ghana, Turkmenistan, and Mali. And another recent study showed that American cities are as unequal as those in Latin America or Africa.

Slowing down or even closing the gap between the have and have nots in this country isn't the worst idea in the world; espiecially if it's done so in an intellegent, pragmatic way.

1 comment:

Ron said...

The goal of capitalism isn't to narrow the gap, it is to raise the bottom (a rising tide lifts all boats), which it has done. The poorest in this country live like monarchs compared to the middle and even lower upper classes in other countries, e.g, India.