Saturday, September 10, 2011

Badly Served by "Deserve"

A letter to the editor from today's Star Tribune cited the following stats:

In Ike's day, the bottom 90 percent (of income-earners) held 60 percent of the wealth. Today, the top 1 percent to 2 percent have 40 percent; the next 8 percent have 33 percent, and the bottom 90 percent have 27 percent.
When people like me or Greg Van Hee, the writer of the letter, give numbers like that, we assume it's self-evident that a change in wealth distribution like this is a problem, and that the 1950s distribution of wealth was closer to the ideal.

People of the Right never seem to hear these stats, or at least appear to be unbothered by them. I think I just figured out why: They believe that the bottom 90 percent in the 1950s worked much harder than the bottom 90 of today, and so that earlier generation deserved their wealth while today's bottom 90 are slackers.

As a correlate, they also think the top 1 or 10 percent today have worked harder and smarter than either the bottom 90 or the top 10 of the 1950s, and so deserve that much more wealth.

Which reminds me of a quote from Ursula LeGuin's novel The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia:
"For we each of us deserve everything, every luxury that was ever piled in the tombs of the dead Kings, and we each of us deserve nothing, not a mouthful of bread in hunger. Have we not eaten while another starved? Will you punish us for that? Will you reward us for the virtue of starving while others ate? No man earns punishment, no man earns reward. Free your mind of deserving, of the idea of earning, and you will begin to be able to think."

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