The current academic and political obsession with inequality is like crabgrass taking over a pristine lawn of Kentucky bluegrass. Inequality has become the cudgel of professors and politicians to blame every social, economic, meteorological, political, educational, unemployment, racial, ethnic, religious, military, dietary, and behavioral problem afflicting the United States and the rest of the world.
The scourge of inequality is the greedy, selfish, lucky 1%, which has too much income and wealth. Their success, claim the professoriate, deprives everyone else from achieving their dreams. Never mind that most of the rich and wealthy made it into the 1% through hard work and risk-taking, not from their parents or trusts, and created jobs for others in the process.
Who are the academic members of this complex? They are professors in the humanities, social sciences, and law that enjoy incomes placing them in the top 2-5%, with job security, high social status, and excellent working conditions. They are advisors to politicians and government officials. They are critics of successful entrepreneurs, whose donations to their institutions ironically help underwrite their salaries and research centers on inequality.
The salience of inequality has forced conservatives to argue the finer points of its exact degree, to show it’s not quite as bad as portrayed. But defending the 1%, even the working 1% while excluding the hereditary 1%, is regarded as beyond the pale of acceptable discourse in the academy.
Federal, state, and local governments love the tax revenue that is collected from the 1%, who funds a disproportionate share of government activity, but loathe and demonize the 1% who pay the taxes.
The academic political inequality industrial complex wants higher tax rates on the rich and wealthy to reduce the gap between the 1% and 99%. It also wants more government spending on education, job training, and infrastructure to boost the 99%.
Remember “Joe the plumber?” He was the object of then presidential candidate Barack Obama’s vitriol for not wanting to pay more in taxes to help those less fortunate in life. Instead of praising Joe for supporting his family and employing others, he told Joe that it was more important to “spread the wealth around.”
Let’s talk about one of the core programs on which the academic political inequality industrial complex wants to spend more: inner-city education in poor communities, ostensibly to provide greater opportunity to climb the ladder of success. High school and college graduation rates in inner cities are appalling, and have been so for decades, despite ever higher per pupil expenditures. Until and unless studious behavior becomes the norm, no amount of money will make a difference. But the academic political inequality industrial complex will not take on the interest groups that block efforts at improving educational outcomes in inner cities.
Study after study of the 1% documents that most of the 1% is of the current generation. They have worked 60-70 hours a week and have to be available on weekends and holidays. They pay up to 50% or more of their earnings in federal, state, local, and employment taxes, yet are accused of not paying their “fair” share. They fight their way through morning and evening traffic to work to produce the goods and services that everyone, including welfare recipients, consumes while being blamed for global warming, excessive consumption, and contempt for the downtrodden. They support charities that help those with medical and financial difficulties.
Then there is the entrepreneurial 1% that works 70-80 hours a week with no job security whatsoever. In the process of becoming successful, they provide part-time and full-time jobs to 10, 20, 50, or more individuals who pay taxes. Instead of being thanked for their contribution to the local community and the country at large, they are criticized for not paying their “fair” share in taxes. They are guilty of blocking social justice.
Meanwhile the political academic class goes through the revolving door of government jobs, lucrative lobbying positions, corporate directorships, and distinguished professorships, often the presidency itself, of the most prestigious universities.
Let’s put the blame where it belongs, on the academic political inequality industrial complex, not those who produce the goods and services, provide jobs, and pay the taxes that sustain our lives.