Economic Irony

Tom-of-the-coast-of-Maine-2The mind boggles sometimes at the way political and economic rhetoric turn themselves into nonsense; i.e., something that does not make sense.  Nothing could illustrate this more dramatically than the view espoused regularly that if we give the rich more money they will do more with it to help the economy and that if we assist the poor and generally less well of they will do less to help the economy.  Assisting the poor, some even argue, will harm the economy since it remove the incentive of the poor to work harder.

There is something extremely ironic about this way of twisting things which was not lost on the late great satirist and comic George Carlin:

George Carlin 1

E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post echoed Carlin in a receipt column in the Post:


We might forgive the twisted logic of the rich working harder if provided with more resources and the poor or even ordinary citizen less hard if provided with less if we were not already in the process of expanding the gap between rich and poor and driving the median ordinary household income down:

decling median income

This twisted logic is no more than the typical line the “haves” use to explain the sad fate of the “have nots” in every age:  the less well off deserve their economic status because they spend frivolously, fail to save and are unwilling to work hard while those who do well do so because they have worked hard, saved for the future and “merited” there status.  Just think how much harder Bob Crachit would have worked had Ebeneezerscrooge paid him even less!  Not to mention decent health care for Tiny Tim.

2 thoughts on “Economic Irony

  1. You have defined a problem, cast dispersions, and allocated the blame. Now do you have any productive solutions to offer?

    • Scott,

      I think you are giving me a bit too much credit for defining, casting aspersions and allocated blame. All I am doing is pointing out the irony in the way these sorts of things are often talked about; i.e., that rich and poor people are somehow motivated to be productive in opposite ways. As you rightly pointed out in a previous comment to this blog the income disparity problem is a complicated one not fully amenable to the reified positions of the ideological right or left. Globalization, again as you pointed out, has a significant impact on wages and prices.

      At the stage of the game, I would argue that one of the first things we need to do is to stop thinking in these ideological tunnels and to stop falling back on the sorts of arguments that characterizes different groups in society as different types of people. I think I can even remember you saying something like “nine times out of ten what looks like a people problem is really a systems or process issue.” In other words, don’t blame the people but really analyze the system because as we also know “every system is perfectly designed to get the results it does.”

      Let’s leave the ideological “truisms” behind and find all those reinforcing, balancing, blame shifting systems loops that can be so illuminating in the work place.

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