Friday, June 4, 2010

Inequality is not what makes people unhappy

Arthur C. Brooks, Happy Now?

What’s at stake in America’s battle over free enterprise.

On May 13, 2009, at Arizona State University, Barack Obama delivered his first commencement address as President of the United States. At one of the most frightening economic moments in America’s history, it was a chance to be a mentor, a teacher, and the nation’s inspirer-in-chief.

Did the president urge the graduates to get out there and create the growth and jobs our country needs? Did he inspire them to be the next generation of great American innovators and entrepreneurs? No; instead, he told the graduates that people who “chase after all the usual brass rings” display “a poverty of ambition.” He averred that this thinking “has been in our culture for far too long.” He told them they could do better than trying “to be on this ‘who’s who’ list or that top 100 list.”

If you’re a free marketeer, you’ve faced this charge a thousand times: You are a materialist. Meanwhile, your progressive interlocutors are interested in the higher-order things in life — such as fairness, compassion, and equality. Your vision for America might be wealthier, but theirs is happier. . .

Income equality is how redistributionists define the path to greater enlightenment and happiness for the rest of us. And that is why they are so willing to offer policies that sacrifice entrepreneurship for higher taxes, self-government for growing bureaucracies, individual achievement for powerful unions, and private businesses for federally managed corporations.

One problem with the redistributionists’ approach is that it’s based on a flawed premise — that greater income equality will bring us greater flourishing and happiness. A careful reading of the data demonstrates a crucially important truth, and one we overlook to our great peril.

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