Speaking 2 weeks ago at the Chautauqua Institution, Michael Novak hold forth on the Ethics of Capitalism in a Friedman-esque fashion. Of course, he doesn’t come off as nearly that intelligent, at least not in the FORA.tv editor’s selected highlight clip, in which he talks about the rich-poor gap in response to a question from the audience or a panelist or somebody with a brain (I’d like to watch the rest tonight, but there are no promises in the blogosphere).
He makes a few stupid arguments in this particular clip, which you should watch for yourself because no transcript is available and I have to ungenerously paraphrase.
1) The common good does not require equality, just that the bottom are continuously moving up, and this is happening, so we’ve struck the common good.
The nice hidden premise in here is that the bottom (and middle, I suppose), have been moving up, so therefore we’ve reached the common good. This second premise, however, is false, and the stagnation of real wages has been documented thoroughly and even targeted as a key cause of the economic crisis.
2) Simple arithmetic implies that the gap will always be growing; even if the rich only grow by 1% and the poor grow by 10%, the gap will increase.
Who actually talks about the absolute gap? Maybe we should, because it would make our inequality growth look even starker. Nevertheless, I’ve always seen it referred to in ratios and relative terms, e.g. the top 1% received x% of national income, the CEO earned X times the lowest-paid worker, etc. This argument is simply ridiculous. Maybe it’s just because he got caught off guard by the most predictable question he could’ve face in front of a responsible audience.
3) Talk of inequality is a sign of envy. Now I’m going to moralize about how immigrants stay off welfare and pull themselves out of poverty. Anyone can do it in 5 years. Also, children can pitch in. “Family socialism.”
Where to begin? First, I’m doubting the “responsibly audience” line, as the word “envy” brought tremendous applause. Second, America is no longer the economically mobile society that Novak envisions. Third, by bringing up the immigrant thing (which may not even be true), Novak predictably ignores that immigrants are less likely (I think) to be caught up in vicious social and economic cycles.
4) This is just an argument of political factions; I used to be on the other side, before I saw the light.
Sigh. Reducing a pressing problem to politics is all too common, but completely dodges the point. On second thought, there’s no way I could stomach 59 more minutes of this bullshit, so if somebody else wants to watch it and pick things out for the comments, I’d be happy to bump them up here.