A video made shortly after the 2012 election showing how much greater the disparity actually is, has gone viral in the last few days thanks to links from websites including Reddit and Mashable. First, it lays out what people see as ideal, a system in which wealthy Americans get a lot more but poor Americans are slightly above the poverty line. Reality perhaps has the most shock value. As the narrator lays out in the video (uploaded by an unaffiliated, anonymous YouTube user), the top 1% has 40% of all the nation’s wealth, the bottom 80% only has 7% of it.
If you watch the video, you’ll be left with many questions. Among them are the following:
- What is morally wrong with wealth inequality?
- Why must wealth be distributed?
- Whose job is it to distribute the wealth?
- What makes the distribution of wealth “fair”?
- How do we measure “fairness” with respect to how people acquire their wealth?
- What is the “ideal” distribution of America’s wealth and who has the authority to determine what that distribution should be and how should it be enforced?
There are many more questions to pose, for sure.
Near the end of the video the narrator commits a fatal error, which ultimately reveals a possible motive behind the production, when he asks why CEOs should earn a salary “380 times” more than their average employee. The narrator then says, “we don’t have to go back to socialism to find something that is fair for hard working Americans.” There you have it friends: envy. The idea that somehow those who are wealthy are undeserving of their wealth leaps out at the end of the video. There is a deep seated envy epidemic in this country and we see it in videos like this.
The ultimate critique of current state of American wealth inequality seems to be that everyone who “works hard” should eventually amass an acceptable level of wealth. To help us make sense of this envy problem I would highly recommend everyone in America read, “The Moral Challenges of Economic Equality and Diversity” by Jordan Ballor. Ballor reminds us that,
We live in a culture today that celebrates diversity of all kinds, even those that clearly transcend the moral limits of God’s created order. And yet economic diversity, which is another way of speaking of the division of labor and specialization, has not yet received its due recognition. We praise diversity of all kinds; why not economic diversity? The answer is, in part at least, the reality of envy.
And herein lies the question: If America is a place that praises and celebrates diversity, why is that we cannot celebrate the fact that one hard working person has more wealth in the long-run than another hard working person? It may have to do with the moral degradation of an American society that has resulted in a political climate of class warfare, and that has turned wealth equality into an idol.