Monday, March 14, 2016

Is Wealth Inequality Really a Problem?

I tend to extensively ponder the wealth gap in America. I find it strange that so many people do not understand why this gap is a problem while equally pondering if it truly is so obvious. If I were to guess, I would imagine that people believe in the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" mentality of trying hard to succeed. They hold on to this idea that if a person tries really hard then they, too, could be a rich bazillionaire.  There is certainly some amount of truth to this mindset which is perhaps why it is so easy to believe even to the detriment of society and even themselves. They probably also see the consternation of people speaking out against it as a jealous attack on the rich as if rich people are bad simply for being rich. They accurately see that as crazy-talk, but that is not exactly what is being complained about. The complaint comes from us having no chance in hell to become anything greater. Or have we? This is where I struggle.

We all know the underdog stories of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and so many others. We hear of overnight success-stories for things like Flappy Bird or Angry Birds. Surely, if we just came up with a good enough idea, then we could also have such success. But these people are not the norm. We all know these people only because they indeed got rich and famous. The true story is in those whom we do not know. Millions of people have ideas, work themselves to death, or risk it all in hopes for their big break. Some of them have great ideas and some of them have not-so-great ideas. Even those with the great ideas rarely become anything more because the probabilities are entirely stacked against them. Some people win the lottery, sure, but the average person quietly and invisibly struggles to succeed clinging to the hope of success. They might actually be better off buying lottery tickets.

What odds are truly stacked against them though? I see it as obvious yet confusing all at the same time. The obvious part is that if I wanted to go out and design my own car and build it, there is absolutely no way at all. I have no money to do so. And I could shout my ideas to every forum known to man, but nobody wants my ideas. They've got their own ideas and mine are probably not as unique as I might imagine. So I do not stand a chance at making my own car company. I picked up a children's book the other day and it surprised me to note that even such a small and simple book had over six people working on it not to mention the entire printing company. It named an artist, a writer, a producer, an editor, the chief director and sub-director and whoever else. With so much input and talent, there is no way for someone like me to even compete in a children's book market unless I came up with one heck of a novel idea (no pun intended). And even then, I would have to somehow get people to know about my novel idea which requires advertising (i.e. lots of money).

Here is where it gets confusing for me, however. As I just explained, no one person does all the work of anything. At least, not usually. It takes thousands of people to make amazing cars, movies, and video games. Together, we accomplish so much more than we ever could alone. So where do I get off thinking that any one of us needs a greater chance at doing something great or competing as an individual? Individuals rarely can compete. If I had a million dollars, I could maybe make my own business, but there are already successful businesses out there. It would be extremely hard to compete with them without being a gajillionaire and having significant experience running such large businesses. This is where I get to thinking that success does not come from a great idea fanning out to the world, but rather by working up the ranks of ladders already put in place. Unless, of course, a person is lucky and wins the quick-shot-to-fame lottery. When I think of it this way, I realize that I started poor and worked my way up using loans and government assistance. Now, with enough effort and desire, I probably could become the CEO of a company. If I don't, it is probably because I had no desire to be such or simply did not have the skill set. If I do desire it, then I feel like there is a potential based solely upon time, my skills, and my effort. It sounds to me like things are working the way they ought, right?

And yet, despite all this, I cannot help but realize the cost of a mistake. I received a degree in Computer Science. I am interested in so many more things, however, and I would love to study psychology or even quantum physics. These things are not within the field I chose and I am now in a position, given my degree, that would not pay my way for further education in these fields. Even if I fronted the money myself or go back into debt the way I started, I am now married with four children and I have a particular way of life. I cannot quit work to go back to school for the fun of it, and I cannot adequately try to go back to school while taking care of my family and working. These courses would be during the weekday which would also be impossible due to work until online-schooling becomes more mainstream. In short, I am stuck. I cannot do what I would really like to do. I can work my way to the top, but only of a limited set of companies and it would not exactly be what I am interested in. But okay, boo hoo. I have a great job, my family is surviving, and I can only become a billionaire in a less satisfying job. I cannot currently achieve all my hopes and dreams perfectly, but once my children move out I could probably make some sacrifices and do what I really want. But what about everyone else?

I am not the only person to have made a bad choice in life. And who can blame anyone for bad choices? We cannot see what the future holds and we all start out quite foolish until the harsh lessons of reality reap wisdom within us. Some people never went to college and instead got married and had children right away. Others might have indebted themselves into a spiral they cannot escape without the better job which they can never attain without a degree. Even I could not pay for all of my school without a cosigner on my loans and not everyone can get that cosigner. There are so many things that might keep a person down including simple incapability. Not everyone is endowed with the mental acuity to achieve a stable life. It is not like they chose to be that way, so should they really suffer for it? In the end, what is extremely clear to me, is that the bottom 50% of our society needs a heck of a lot more support than they currently have. Even if this means a few people get more than they deserve, I find this far more palatable than even one person having to steal ketchup packets from fast food restaurants in order to make tomato soup for their children. It is far more palatable than requiring people to work sixty hours a week just to make ends meet. We can do better than that and I think that better starts with addressing the wealth gap. If more people have the freedom to do what they truly want to do, we can get far greater ideas and products. And our people could be far more educated, far less stressed, and life could be that much closer to paradise.

To explain the wealth inequality, this video does an amazing job. It is far worse than people realize.

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