Thu Nov 15th, 2007 at 02:52:21 AM EST
You may have read yesterday's headline that scientists have found that Monkeys Can Distinguish Unfair Situations. Apparently, the Wall Street Journal has yet to catch up with them.
Ironically, on the very same day we learned that monkeys "fuss over inequality" we found the WSJ flinging poo at anyone who dares "fuss" about income inequality.
If you've been listening to Mike Huckabee or John Edwards on the Presidential trail, you may have heard that the U.S. is becoming a nation of rising inequality and shrinking opportunity. We'd refer those campaigns to a new study of income mobility by the Treasury Department that exposes those claims as so much populist hokum.
The article then admits:
OK, "hokum" is our word.
No, sweethearts, it's not just your word, it's your trade.
As if to further prove their inferiority to the monkeys, the article even helpfully puts the word "inequality" in quotes.
All of this certainly helps to illuminate the current election-year debate about income "inequality" in the U.S. The political left and its media echoes are promoting the inequality story as a way to justify a huge tax increase.
I'm not sure if the scare quotes mean they don't grasp the concept, or if they simply refuse to believe in it. When reading the WSJ, one does always get a whiff of the Victorian belief that God put everyone in their rightful place and no one should get uppity about it. And, of course, all this "inequality" is just a "story" evidently.
The "this" that they're finding so illuminating is a study just released by the US Treasury Department. The WSJ speaks glowingly of this "study" -- hey! I can use the quotes, too! maybe they'll hire me and I can assume my rightful place in the natural order of things! -- oh, sorry. Back to the "careful, detailed" (hey, that's them quoting it, not me this time) "study:"
The Treasury study examined a huge sample of 96,700 income tax returns from 1996 and 2005 for Americans over the age of 25. The study tracks what happened to these tax filers over this 10-year period. One of the notable, and reassuring, findings is that nearly 58% of filers who were in the poorest income group in 1996 had moved into a higher income category by 2005. Nearly 25% jumped into the middle or upper-middle income groups, and 5.3% made it all the way to the highest quintile.
Wow! So the study finds that almost half of lower income Americans didn't budge their income in a decade! Surely a sign of mobility -- I'm so reassured! To further reassure us, the article is awash in this sort of thing:
...what [the study] does do is show beyond doubt that the U.S. remains a dynamic society marked by rapid and mostly upward income mobility.
also: Much as they always have, Americans on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder continue to climb into the middle and sometimes upper classes in remarkably short periods of time.
and, of course: inequality is only a problem if it reflects stagnant opportunity
You might note that an even trickier aspect of this study, which the WSJ just tosses out there, evidently not finding it worth exploring, is the demographic.
Starting with people aged 25 and over and taking a look-see 10 years later is hardly proof of anything. I mean, presumably, these are the peak earning years, or so I've heard. Basically, this renders the study meaningless in regards to actually saying anything about the total population.
But, surely, you say, reporters wouldn't allow such a thing to just slide? that there must be something in the actual study itself to back up all this crowing? Well, you say that because you're smart -- smarter than monkeys even. I thought the exact same thing and went to look at the study myself and can now state, conclusively, that the US Department of Treasury also has sub-primate levels of grasping the obvious.
In case any of this "inequality" business is confusing to you, the good people at Treasury provide us with this helpful analogy -- it's not even an original, but I guess you can't just think up this kind of thing at the drop of a crown:
Economic historian Joseph Schumpeter compared the income distribution to a hotel where some rooms are luxurious, but others are small and shabby. Important aspects of fairness are that those in the small rooms have an opportunity to move to a better one, and that the luxurious rooms are not always occupied by the same people.
Get that? You in your small, shabby room -- you listening? You can change rooms! There are PLENTY of luxurious rooms in the hotel and there's different people in them! That's opportunity, my friend! The stuff this country is made out of! All you have to do is listen to your government, get off your shabby ass, and be one of those people!
Well, I'm certainly glad they cleared that up. I was beginning to think that perhaps the Treasury Department was full of political hacks with an agenda, churning out "studies" on the taxpayer dime, trying to convince taxpayers that all this "inequality" was okay.
I mean, sure, there was that pesky thing that came out just this past August:
WASHINGTON — Top Commerce and Treasury Departments officials appeared with Republican candidates and doled out millions in federal money in battleground congressional districts and states after receiving White House political briefings detailing GOP election strategy.
...and Paul Krugman reporting in 2003:
[U]nder the Bush administration the Treasury takes its marching orders from White House political operatives" and "since George W. Bush came into power, the department has suppressed most of that information [about economic policy's affect on taxpayers], releasing only partial, misleading tables."
...as well as quoting tax analyst Martin Sullivan that:
''Treasury's analysis was so embarrassingly poor and so biased, we thought we had seen the last of its kind.''
...but we can all clearly see how very, very wrong Mr. Sullivan was!
But to get back to the WSJ, they're backing this political hackery for all they're worth. In case they haven't fully convinced you that it's your fault if you're stuck in your shabby life in this dynamic, mobile economy -- in case your primate sense of unfairness is tingling and you've got questions -- of course, we need someone to blame:
[The study numbers are] even more impressive when you consider that "median" income and wage numbers are often skewed downward because the U.S. has had a huge influx of young workers and immigrants in the last 20 years. They start their work years with low wages, dragging down the averages.
Yup, it's those immigrants dragging us down. Perhaps even blocking the hallways with their vacuums and mops while we're trying to make our way to the good rooms. AND, just in case one nod to racism isn't good enough for you, there's a second more subtle one included, this one the title of the article we've been hosing off.
I can hardly believe it myself but, yes, it is indeed called "Movin' On Up" complete with the dropped "g" -- and why not evoke a jingle from a show about a low-income black family that makes good? It's just a catchy song from an Archie Bunker spin-off.
I mean, I'm sure it wasn't intentional. Maybe they just didn't think. I mean, surely they wouldn't be rubbing it in or anything. It's not like there's been any mention of black people in the article or elsewhere in the paper or... oh:
Blacks Trail in Growth of Income
Blacks born into the middle class in the late 1960s are far more likely than whites to earn less than their parents, a new study of economic mobility has found.
So I guess all that glowing stuff wasn't about black people. Or immigrants. Just... what did they call it? Oh, yes -- Americans. But evidently only those of us who count or are counted. Now please excuse me while I pack my bag -- I think I'm leaving this hotel and checking into the Monkey House. It's not the shabbiness I mind so much as the stench.