Income Inequality is Not the Problem

Friday, 18 December, 2015 - 1:56 pm

I've never understood all the talk, from both sides of the aisle, about the income inequality problem. 

Poverty is the problem not income inequality.

There is nothing inherently wrong with Bill Gates having so much money. I'm not an economist, and I may be missing something, but as far as I understand, I wouldn't be any richer had Bill Gates not made all that money. What is very wrong though is a wealthy society that does not support those in need. It’s not the gap that’s the problem it’s the poverty.

In the Torah, we never find a moral responsibility to create income equality but we do find, many times, a responsibility to support the poor. As a society we must ensure that the needs of every single individual are met whether through taxes, charity or both, but this has nothing to do with equality.

Either way there’s a moral requirement for some form of wealth redistribution but how we frame the issue, creating equality vs. eliminating poverty, makes a major difference and reflects the attitude of society.

Framing the issue as a problem of inequality rather than poverty implies that there is something inherently unjust about the fact that one person has more than the other. In this mindset even if I have enough there's a problem if someone else has more. This is a far cry from the Talmud’s recipe for happiness and true wealth  "Who is the rich man, the one who is happy with his lot" The secret to success, the Talmud is saying, is to appreciate what you have regardless of what those around you have but that’s hard to do in the “income inequality” mindset.

Additionally, framing the issue as a problem of inequality may be sending a subtle message that one person’s success is another person’s loss. What a negative way to look at life. With this zero-sum mindset we resent the success of others seeing it as a threat. Shouldn't we rejoice in the honest success of others rather than resent it?

All this talk about the problem of income inequality inspires a comparative society in which we measure our success by comparing ourselves to others. As a result we never truly enjoy what we have and resent the success of others.

"Who is the rich man, the one who is happy with his lot" - Focus on what you have and forget about equality and fairness and you’ll find yourself a lot happier :)

 Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Benjy Silverman

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