Friday, December 18, 2015

Flying high ... what about those down below?

We engaged in meaningless chatter which is what family gatherings are essentially about.  The conversation threaded its way to travel and flying.  "So, here's a question for all of you" the professor in me kicked in.  Why not make the family get together also a class discussion, eh!  Hey, they should be thankful that I did not crank up a PowerPoint presentation ;)

"There are more than seven billion people on this planet, right?  What percentage of the people do you think have ever flown?" I asked them.

I am sure the manner in which I asked loaded up the dice.  They figured it had to be way low.  The responses were as low as half-a-percent.  

"Only five percent of the population has been up in a plane" I told them, recalling the data from a post that was less than a month ago.  (And you thought I blog and then forget everything, eh! tsk, tsk, tsk ...)  "In fact, even in the US, a fifth has never been in a plane" I added.

The group seemed to appreciate this.  Damn, I should teach or something.  Oh, wait, that is my day job!

"Given the multiple trips each of us here has made, it means that we all are not only the elite in India, but among the elite on this entire planet.  By this measure alone, we have nothing to complain about.  We ought to be thankful" I continued.

But, complain we all do.

"It seems like the gap between the rich and the poor is rapidly increasing in India" father chipped in.  The professor was happy that the class discussion was being productive.  Students in the non-traditional settings are way more excited about such things than are the traditional students going to college straight out of high school.  The more I teach, the more I seem convinced that college for the vast majority of high school graduates is the wrong choice at the wrong time.  Instead, they need to do something in the real world--learn at the school of hard knocks, as my neighbor often remarks--and should then decide whether they want to attend college.

"Yes, that's what the data also shows" I replied.  "Think about it, do you think that the maid has even been inside a two-tier air-conditioned coach in the trains?"

"I doubt that she has even been in a reserved compartment" replied my sister.

It is so incredibly easy to understand how lucky we are; yet, we conveniently forget that there are hundreds of millions who are relatively way more materially deprived than we are.  We are so quick to resort to "woe is me!"

In an opinion piece on India's wealth inequality, Professor  Asit K. Biswas and Kris Hartley, who is a doctoral candidate, conclude:
India should examine its collective soul to ask whether an economy by and for the obscenely wealthy is just. The inability to establish a political consensus on the extent of redistribution is a convenient excuse for ideological purists to abandon redistributive policies altogether. However, there is a line beyond which inequality is too high, and India is close to – if not already beyond – that line. “Who decides how much inequality is unacceptable?” is no longer an excuse for inaction.
Something is rotten in the country of India.


Anne in Salem said...

I wrote my comment but was told by the robot that it is too long. Hence, two comments. I hope they post in the correct order.

I am not asking this question to be provocative but to learn. What is wrong with income inequality? Throughout history people of different skills have earned different amounts. I perform a job that requires significant skill and education and am appropriately compensated. Why is it wrong that I earn more than someone who picks blueberries or digs ditches (cue Caddyshack music).

Now I will be provocative because I really hate the idea of redistribution. I am addressing only attempts at redistribution through governmental or legal means. Moral and ethical issues are separate. Why must my income be taken by the government through taxes and redistributed to those who earn less? What gives government the right to determine how much I or anyone else needs to live? What gives government the right to take my earnings just because I earn above some arbitrary line? It is my money. I earned it. I pay ridiculous amounts in taxes, donate significant amounts to charity, have a family to care for and a retirement (God willing) for which to save. Taking my money and giving it to someone who did not earn it and may or may not "deserve" it is a gross overreach of governmental banditry. If a hunter is more skilled and meets the limit, why shouldn't he eat well all winter? Why should he be forced to share with a lousy hunter who had no success?

Hypocrisy seems rampant in the debates over income inequality. How can anyone take Hillary Clinton seriously when she pretends to care about the plight of the common man and his income struggles? She earns more in a year than many of her supporters will earn in a lifetime. No one asks her to redistribute, and I certainly don't hear her volunteering to do so. Even Bernie Sanders, champion of the low-wage earner, earns 10 times more than those he says he wants to help. Why isn't he asked to redistribute his income? Everyone is shocked when an athlete signs a multi-gazillion dollar contract, but no one mentions income inequality in those conversations. Same with actors and singers. The target is almost always businessmen. Always evil corporations. When is the last time someone did the math? If a president of a multinational company that employs 100,000 who earns $10M per year decided to forgo $9M of his income in an effort to reduce income inequality with his employees, it would mean each employee would get all of $90 that year, or $0.043/hour if the employee works 2080 hours per year. For many people, that doesn't even pay one month's phone bill. What have we accomplished? Nothing. A whole lot of token salary cuts that are good for PR and nothing else.

Anne in Salem said...

Part 2

Perhaps the conversation is really about those earning much more than I earn. Perhaps the conversation is really about those earning over $1M annually. If so, why is it such a hot-button campaign issue? There aren't enough people earning that much to make it an issue. It is an issue because people are uninformed enough to believe that if Sanders says he'll do it, it will happen when he becomes president. They seem to forget that Congress has to pass such a law, and there are a lot of rich people in Congress who will not want to pass such a law. I don't think even Obama and his overzealous use of executive order could force income redistribution. It's all a pipe dream that makes for good campaign sound bites but will never happen.

If people want to help those earning minimal amounts, cut government intervention, mandates and taxes. If businesses didn't have to pay such exorbitant amounts and meet such ridiculous demands, there'd be money enough to give everyone a raise. Until a $15 minimum wage passes, that is. Then businesses will either close shop or will automate as much as possible to reduce labor costs below such a crushing level.

I removed ethical and moral components of the income redistribution conversation at the beginning because it is not the government's job. Period, end of sentence. Every human has an obligation to help those less fortunate, and it is up to every human to determine to what extent he can help. It is not the government's job to TELL me how much to help or even to force me to help. It is up to each person's conscience, nothing else.

We are a capitalist country. Laissez faire.

Ramesh said...

Bravo - what a comment Anne.

I am equally against income redistribution, but I have a slightly different take. A society with wild income disparity is not a stable society. Leave alone the moral arguments, even by sheer self interest it is good for the rich to lessen inequality. Else a revolution will come.

I am however not as far down the road on the matter of inequality as Anne is. There is a role of government in levying taxes and providing a basic safety net for all. That should cover education (strongly in favour), basic healthcare, infrastructure and help in times of disasters. In addition to the usual defence, police, etc etc. In a very poor country like India, it will also extend to nobody starving (hence my support to the scheme in Tamil Nadu whereby anybody can get some food at a very affordable prices. Period. Any other form of income redistribution is , in my book, immoral.

Sriram Khé said...

We differ on what we mean as "moral" in this context.
There is nothing else that I can offer.

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