Time to Focus on Income Opportunity

February 12th, 2014

In the midst of his George Washington Bridge troubles, Governor Chris Christie offered an insight that should be addressed by whoever is the ultimate GOP presidential nominee.

At a forum in Chicago yesterday, while addressing the issue of income inequality, he made the following observation, “You want income equality?  That is mediocrity.  Everybody can have an equal, mediocre salary.” Instead, he opined, America should focus on “income opportunity.”

Whatever your feelings about Governor Christie at this point, I think his observation is a good one and something that we need to focus on in the upcoming election campaigns.  Through the past few election cycles, we’ve heard Democrats speaking strongly against income inequality and members of both parties nod in agreement that there is indeed a problem.

Unfortunately, until now, that’s pretty much where the conversation ends, at least on the GOP side.  Democrats propose with great enthusiasm that the solution to this problem is redistribution of wealth.  Of course, they don’t call it this and will argue that they’re not actually proposing such a thing. In fact, they chafe at the suggestion and claim it’s tantamount to below the belt name calling (i.e., that they’re socialists), but when asked to explain their position it’s hard not to come to a conclusion that European style economics (i.e., socialism) would suit many of them just fine.

Up until now, Republicans haven’t come up with very effective responses.  For the most part, we’ve pretty much stood back and commented amongst ourselves how wrong and un-American this is. We figure we’ll let Bill de Blasio have his way with New York City and that by the time he totally destroys that city, everyone will come clamoring back to our way of thinking and we can then offer a collective, and “We told you so.”

Rather than just sit back and watch the ground crumble beneath our feet, however, perhaps it’s time to take charge here and offer our own solution to this vexing issue.

Chris Christie’s comments provide a good starting point.  He’s right.  What does it mean to be equal?  If it means we all earn the same amount of money no matter what we do or how well we do it, perhaps at some level that could be accommodated.  But as Christie points out, the amount of money we each receive would be low and the quality of what we produce would likely be quite mediocre.

Democrats appear to be advocating for equality of outcomes, and no one is really calling them out on the logic of that position.  In fact, the social experiment they propose is already being tried in many settings these days.  For example, youth sports leagues now routinely give a nice trophy to each child just for participating.  A kid doesn’t necessarily need to be very good or even try that hard.  If Mom and Dad pay the registration fee on time, Junior gets a trophy.

The problem with this is that it tends to produce pretty average results and is ultimately fairly meaningless.  I know this firsthand.  My twelve-year-old son plays a number of competitive sports.  He has trophies all over his room.  He knows exactly where the ones he actually earned by winning something are located and he knows the ones we bought and paid for just because he showed up.  Which ones do you think he cares more about?

The other little thing I’ve noticed along these lines is that kids are growing up more and more feeling entitled to something just because they exist.  Fail to give them something just for being there, and they think you’re unfair and mean.

Let’s face it, the quality of effort one makes to collect something just “because” is significantly lower than what we put in to actually earn what we get.

It will be far better for the country if we focus on doing something to alleviate the gap between rich and poor that is actually productive and positive for the country.  That is where encouraging income opportunity instead of outcomes is concerned.

That’s not to say if the Democrats can actually pull off their equality of outcomes goals successfully, I’d be totally against it.  If they can find a way to make me as beautiful as a supermodel and my son as athletically talented as an NFL quarterback, I’d certainly at least consider giving them my vote.

They probably still wouldn’t get it, but at least they’d have a shot.