With the election and economic doom-and-gloom everywhere, the last few weeks has seen a particularly virulent strain of Democratic class warfare. The premise has been that the rich are idle, their money grows on trees, and the rest of us are victims of their parasitic success. But for a lesson on how the rich get rich, check out Dalton Conley's piece in the New York Times this morning.
As Conley, a sociologist from New York University, writes:
Since 1980, the number of men in the bottom fifth of the income ladder who work long hours (over 49 hours per week) has dropped by half, according to a study by economists Peter Kuhn and Fernando Lorenzo. But among the top fifth of earners, long weeks have increased by 80 percent.
Conley further states that the real "income inequality" in the United States isn't between rich and poor but between the middle and the top. That is, since 1980, relative wage gaps between economic classes in the lower half have remained stable. But in the top half, some are making more money and others are making even more.
The result of this high and rising inequality is what I call an "economic red shift." Like the shift in the light spectrum caused by the galaxies rushing away, those Americans who are in the top half of the income distribution experience a sensation that, while they may be pulling away from the bottom half, they are also being left further and further behind by those just above them.
The result of this paragraph is what I call the "sociology duh effect." Like English majors padding term papers with big words to cover the fact they haven't read the book, many sociologists feel a need to render the obvious into the confused. So galaxies aside, let's bring it down to Earth: At least half of American males want to be the Richest Man on Earth—and they're willing to work harder to achieve it.
This is hardly surprising, and despite writing for the op-ed page, Conley doesn't appear to have an opinion as to what this might mean. But I'll supply one:
Hard work and financial earnings are positively linked. Americans earning over $100,000 per year do so by burning the midnight oil, and, according to the study cited by Conley, those who earn the most also work hardest. Progressive tax rates mean these folks already contribute a disparate share to the nation's coffers, but some policymakers—particularly Democratic and notably Barack Obama—say they should be taxed more because others aren't making as much.
That's about as big a disincentive to success as there could be, telling the hardest working among us to work even harder so he can pay for those who won't work hard.