Posted by: mulrickillion | November 20, 2011

Thinking About Inequality: Living by Our Desires Rather than Our Needs

By Trevor Burrus, Nov 18, 2011 —

The Occupy Wall Street movement has shined a spotlight on the issue of economic inequality. While valid objections have occasionally been raised to bailouts and crony capitalism (theft and government-granted privilege should always be opposed), complaints about economic inequality per se, regardless of the source, have been the most consistent message to emerge from the mélange of attitudes that make up the movement. In response, many conservative commentators have attacked the OWS movement as consisting of layabouts and ne’er-do-wells, exemplified by the phrase, “why don’t you occupy a job?” Some conservatives have also highlighted the “Plight of Joe the Puppeteer,” referring to the “overeducated, underemployed” Joe Therrien, an OWS protestor who left his job as a drama teacher to get an MFA in puppetry and now finds himself without a puppeteering job and with $35K in student-loan debt. Mr. Therrien has been cited as an example of those who populate the OWS movement, that is, unemployed or underemployed actors, would-be rock stars, anthropology majors, and beat poets who can’t understand why the world gave them the shorter economic stick.

Michael Barone penned an able defense of Joe the Puppeteer, rightly pointing out that “in an affluent society, more people can find jobs they love.” Barone is on the mark, and I wish to expand on those points here. Specifically, I wish to ask whether, in an affluent, productive society, we should generally expect income inequality to rise while expecting psychological satisfaction—I’ll call it “happiness inequality”—to converge. While the top earners build better mousetraps to sell to a consumer base that is broad enough to turn small innovations into million-dollar ideas, the rest of us can spend more time smelling the roses.

I still consider this an open question, but I think there are strong reasons to suspect it is true. I also think that this gets closer to asking the right question about inequality, namely, when and why is it a bad thing?. . . .

Thinking About Inequality: Living by Our Desires Rather than Our Needs | Trevor Burrus |


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