In his post on income inequality, Mickey Kaus gets at another question that I want to get answered during my year of immersion reading: Is it better to restrain the income of the rich or to lift the incomes of the poor:
The question is then what makes Brazil Brazil. Is it wild riches at the top, or extreme poverty at the bottom? It seems pretty obvious, from what little I know of Brazil, that the problem is the bottom, not the top. We worry about Brazil because of the favelas, the huge impoverished shantytowns, and the crime coming out of them.
I think Kaus is mostly right about this: I don't feel class-envy need to keep Bill Gates from earning another billion dollars or so.
The evidence suggests that -- recent circumstances notwithstanding -- the amount of actual wealth in America grew during the last 30 years. And that the people who were already rich did pretty much all of the accumulating of that wealth, while incomes for the rest of us stagnated during that time. But I have a hard time believing that the people in the Top 1 Percent who accumulated all that additional wealth did all the creating of all that additional wealth. I suspect that additional wealth was created, in part, on the labor and ideas and sweat of people further down the food chain who might not've shared proportionately in the rewards. (Although perhaps I'll be disabused of that notion as I keep up my reading.)
Assuming they're not simply shills for rich business interests, that should concern lovers of the free market: If hard work and productivity don't actually bring you additional income -- and that seems to be the case under the prevailing ideologies of the last 30 years -- then where's the incentive to hard work and increase productivity?
Preserving the free market aside, though, I think this is one of my concerns about growing income inequality: It suggests that most of us aren't being rewarded for our part in creating wealth for others. So I'm concerned about the runaway wealth accumulation of the Top 1 Percent because it suggests that the system is badly broken in its distribution of the wealth it creates, not because I don't want people to make more money.