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William Murchison
William Murchison
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Government as the Great Equalizer -- and Other Absurdities


The really troubling point that Joel Kotkin makes in the New York Daily News is that New York can't figure out how to do the economic equality thing we hear so much about in this and every political season. "Gotham," writes Kotkin, "has become the American capital of a national and even international trend toward greater income inequality and declining social mobility."

The most unequal county in America — that's Manhattan. Second lowest among the country's 100 largest cities in terms of middle-income neighborhoods — that's the city as a whole. The Bronx one-ups, so to speak, that dismal distinction, being the nation's poorest urban county. Meanwhile, says Kotkin, a respected (outside "New Yorker" circles) writer on urban dysfunction, "Roughly one in four Brooklynites — most of them black or Hispanic — lives in poverty."

Well, he goes on for a while, but you may not want to beat your head against a wall. Thus, jumping back to the underlying point: If New York can't — and, seemingly, doesn't know how to — do equality for all, who is going to? Does not every good thing come from New York and environs? If not, the media have been pulling the wool over our eyes. As, yes, maybe they have been by continuing to exhibit, and frequently campaign assiduously for, government redistribution of wealth as the answer to almost everything. More education spending, financed by higher taxes on the wealthy, is part of the equation; so also are minimum wage increases and subsidies for "green" energy projects. Et very much cetera.

However the upcoming elections turn out, we may expect to hear more in the same vein in 2016 from Democratic presidential candidates and their respective claques because, frankly, this is what we have come to expect of Democratic presidential candidates. And of some Republican candidates, catching the carnival spirit from so many around them.

Some of us senior citizens who figured this was all a-coming once that fella Bryan went on a tear about crosses of gold — now we're not a bit surprised.

The fixity of a certain gap between better-offs and lesser-offs makes wealth a fixity of political discourse, usually of the wrong kind. The main idea is that the rich are to blame. The secondary idea is that government will fix things. Just elect XXXX and you'll see!

Once elected, XXXX, if he has the votes, does what he says, while simultaneously blocking the projects that would actually do some good. Consider — well, what? Charter schools and free, or freer, choice in schooling. That's the kind of thing we can't have, politically speaking. The teacher unions and their wolf packs won't hear of measures that might help the poor escape appallingly poor schools, because to support such measures would be to help "predatory" educational entrepreneurs. A federal court case in Louisiana revolves around the ridiculous argument that letting black pupils opt out of bad schools unconstitutionally decreases black contact with whites who don't know better than to attend bad schools.

Good old pro-teacher union New York City, whose new mayor, Bill de Blasio, wants to start closing down the town's charter schools, sure has that problem figured out! Kotkin writes: "New York City now has the nation's single most segregated public school system, according to a devastating report from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA," wherein it is demonstrated that Gotham exhibits "'the lowest exposure to white students, and the most uneven distribution with white students across schools.'"

Even more damagingly, perhaps, New York has one of the highest urban tax rates in America, which helps make the city one of the most expensive places in America to live. No wonder the middle class disperses where it can.

The myth of inequality as the result of governmental indifference may be our biggest political myth, but hard on its heels, in America, is the myth of government intervention, New York-style, as the cure. We'll see in a few days how much of the latter myth American voters still buy — with what money remains to purchase it.

William Murchison's latest book is "The Cost of Liberty: The Life of John Dickinson." To find out more about William Murchison, and to see features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



1 Comments | Post Comment
Sir;... I know you are an old fuddle, but your article is so all over the place I think you must have lost your mind with your keys.
The idea that government should do good is at least as old as Aristotle who based that opinion on the obvious fact that good was the object of all human activity. No one sets out to have their economic system be a failure and rob people of hope as it drowns them in despair. No one could be said to create an economic system. People might try to formulate the rules of our economy, but if they did try they would have better luck formulating the rules of madness. Few would argue that economics is a mixture of the hard and soft sciences with certain axiums and prejudices mixed in for good measure; but it is. In a world generally reliant upon fact, we want our economic systems to be based upon fact. But we have a lot of free association expanded to the level of laws as well. It is not written in stone that the less intelligent lose their money, or never move out of poverty, though we can easily see poverty as the low score on a vast intelligence test with wealth as the grand prize. The idea that the deck might be stacked, and that those playing by the rules as a low intelligence move in itself, cannot be accepted wholesale either.
Why do people accept rules in the first place? If you look at the invasions and conquests of the German tribes in former Roman territory you see that the violence drove off all hint of foreign Roman culture, but when the object of the tribes was to secure what they had won, they were quite happy to have Roman law once more... Revolutions do what invasions do, and when one group or another has achieved power, law is once more introduced to secure power, with power meaning wealth- from what ever class was dismissed.
No rational person can deny the economic object of social law, but just because no one can give their economic laws the same force and relevance as laws of the physical universe, they still try to make fact their view of social truth with legal sanctions. There is a reason the poor grow poorer and the rich grow richer and it has nothing much to do with breeding. or intelligence, though in a more just world and intelligent, there would be more social mobility so those with the ability could more easily exchange their lot for that of a higher class.
The idea that the net of poverty must hold so many fast while they struggle in vain against it is widely accepted. Yet, everything is not for the best in this best of all possible worlds. With the wealthy in control of our economy and government they will craft laws to help protect the wealth in their control. This is natural, to take advantage of every advantage one is given. Is it good for the country? Does it add or subtract from the future of a country?
We might with more justice say that all wealth taken out of the commonwealth should be returned to the commonwealth. There must be some motive behind giving over vast tracks of this country, and our mineral wealth to a fraction of the population. Is it efficiency? Do we not all expect a return, or is this simply back room dealing between the rich and their government?
We can see in the general alienation between the population and THE Goverment the recognition that government is not working for us. Who does it work for, since those it most works for are the first to express their alienation, and first in spreading that alienation. People demand the help of the government and others say that is not what government is for. What then is government for?
Does government exist only for defense, to promote business, and enforce laws, or to defend itself from popular feeling? How long will such a government last against the general will of the people to resist it? Can government enforce the laws, or are laws obeyed out of a general respect for government which is a general respect for the will of the people? Today that general respect for government as the will of the people is fading.
As much as the rules of government and economy are advanced as abstractions, as abstractions they have no power. The power of government comes from the good it does for real people, and not abstract people. Capitalism works well on paper, or as theory. When you remove the smoke and mirrors there is no magic, and it is all one person taking from another. And there is a reason the economy had been able to take for so long from so many. We let more in to be taken from, and nature helps people to recover their losses, to an extent. But after a while even the abundance of nature is turned to the exclusive profit of a few, and the people sink deeper into unforgiving poverty. It can be shown that Rome as it sunk into decline sold its own fertility to have another day of survival even while the laws penalized childless couples. If people needed to survive for their day they would castrate their own children and put them up for sale as slaves. Modern people simply have less of children in order to pay their bills, but those without children and those with few children resist the demand of education for all children. Rome saw such a mental decline and retreat from rationalism that people could not form arguments or state any sort of case and could not understand the logic behind their own laws. The church was encouraging celebacy mostly to have the labor of people and their wealth, but even while sanctions were in place against childlessness there was an absolute depopulation in Roman territory that left too much in hands too few to defend it. The same is true of the wealth of the wealthy in this land. As commonwealth America might be defended, but when all the poor have to defend is their poverty, they will not put up a fight. The rich cannot defend what they have, and morally their wealth amid such a sea of poverty is indefensible. Some one, some day is going to ask why we are letting these rich folks piss away our wealth and resources in the name of an economic system that never delivers the good it promises. And then it will be all over.
Democracy is an open revolution. The people can make right any wrong so long as they have democracy. The problem for democracy is equality, and political equality goes away in any society that allows economic inequality to take hold. Without the ability of the commonwealth to take back the wealth taken from it, there can be no democracy and no equality. Hereditary wealth means hereditary government.
Comment: #1
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Tue Oct 28, 2014 10:07 AM
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