Income Disparity? What's the Big Deal?


I get more than a little cheesed when I hear the Ron Siders and Jim Wallises of the world (evangelical lefties, if you didn’t know) talk about how “income disparity” is an outrage that Christians ought to be concerned with.  I believe that the proper response, in the original Greek, is “baloney”.  But it’s become a popular thing to say, to suggest that the more the “gap” grows between the richest of the rich, and the poor, the more we Christians should be concerned about it, and do…something…to “fix” the problem (of course, the “solutions” offered involve income redistribution, taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor).

I suggest that the root of the concern over “income disparity” is one of two things: godless envy, or ignorance.  I’ll be gracious and extend to Jim and Ron the latter motive as likely.  But in case you need a good test to give to those who carp about this non-issue, set up the following hypothetical, and ask the following questions:

A man has devised a widget that will change the life of people the world over; he cannot build and sell these things fast enough, and so he offers this proposal: every person making under $40K a year will automatically be hired by his firm and given a salary of $80K/year to build these widgets, and every person between $40K and $80K will be hired as well and given that $80K salary.  Every poor person in America will be employed by his company, and thus every person in America will have as a base income $80K a year.  This will at least double the income–and corresponding standard of living–for every person who is poor or even lower middle class in America.  Every single one. Question 1: Would you go for that arrangement?  Would that be a good thing?  Wouldn’t we all like to see the standard of living of every single poor person doubled? I mean, that’s a no-brainer, right?  It certainly is if you care about the poor; if we could lift everyone’s standard of living that far, we’d all want to do it, right?

Second scenario/question:

The “man” is Bill Gates, and he represents a consortium of the 500 richest people in America, who have all invested in this enterprise, and they expect to become much, much richer through this project.  In fact, they conservatively project that, as a group, they will experience, not a doubling of their income like the poor folks, but a five-fold increase in their income.  In other words, the “income disparity” between rich and poor will grow significantly. Question 2: Do you still go for it? And your answer will tell the story.  If you say “no”, then something is wrong with you.  You mean to say that, given the opportunity to lift everyone out of poverty, you’d not take it because it would mean that the richest of the rich would become much, much richer, and the “income gap” would grow exponentially?  That’s called envy, a godless sin, and your disdain for the poor would be appalling.  If you say “yes”, then stop this ridiculous carping about this utterly irrelevant “issue” called “income disparity”, because it is not the issue at all.  Not one whit.  Period.  It does not impact me one iota what Bill Gates makes, and if he makes it honestly, more power to him.  What I care about is being free to make whatever money I make honestly; let my abilities, my hard work, etc., be the determiners of what my income is.  I know that’s a bit simplified, but at the core, that’s the way it ought to be, whether Bill Gates and Warren Buffett make a trillion dollars or end up bankrupt.


  1. Graham on March 20, 2010 at 6:17 am

    Socialists like to enthuse about the “Gini coefficient”- a measure of disparity in wealth. They waffle about how economically Britain is “less equal” than in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

    Well, that age of “equality” is not a golden era. Things taken for granted in 21st century “poor” homes- cars, washing machines, fridges, TVs, vacuum cleaners, central heating etc.- were luxury items. My parents can remember the food ration cards.

    Socialists get worked up about anything which helps the poor if it helps the rich. It is likely that in 47 days time there will be an election, and this is a battleground in the area of tax.

    Liberal Democrats talk about raising the “personal allowance”- the amount that you earn without paying tax. This would enable poor people to keep more of what they earn. Immediately, socialists leap in and say that this is not “progressive” as it also means that people on higher incomes will also pay less tax. Socialists treat it as a zero-sum game. If Conservative or Liberal Democrat tax plans help the middle-classes, then by definition they are anti-poor, even if the tax plans help the poor.

    • Byron on March 20, 2010 at 1:41 pm

      Yes, your point about the raised standard of living would have been another good point to make; thanks for doing so. What we call “poverty” in America would not be recognized as such anywhere else in the world. If “Socialists get worked up about anything which helps the poor if it (also) helps the rich”, then they give away their true colors, and demonstrate it to be about, as I said, envy, and not about any high-minded concern for poor people.

  2. Derlin on March 20, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    Income disparity only bothers me when there is a clear distinction between one group of people living like kings, and a second group of people incapable of sustaining themselves, even if they want. By and large such a poor class does not exist in the USA, but I see no reason why rich people should not be allowed to bring poor people into middle class existance by a process that makes them even more wealthy. As the quality of life goes up for the lowest class goes up, the quality of life disparity between lower and upper classes diminishes, even as the income disparity grows.

    • Byron on March 22, 2010 at 4:17 pm

      That’s exactly right, Derlin. As long as the quality of life for the lower classes goes up—as it has in America, such that “poor” here doesn’t look like “poor” to the rest of the world— and as long as there is fairness and justice, the opportunity for all to get ahead provided they work hard and play by the rules, then what business is it of mine how much money Bill Gates has?

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