Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Mind the gap

I've never understood the problem that some politicians and pundits have with there being a widening gap between the richest and the poorest people in society. It often turns out that the poor are at worst staying their ground or (more usually) gaining somewhat while the rich are vaulting ahead much more quickly. While this does indeed widen the "gap", it doesn't leave anybody economically worse off. Whether the head of your company makes five or ten or one hundred times as much as you do is really a matter of academic interest, the only important point being that he makes more.

An opinion to the contrary is expressed by Max Hastings in the Daily Mail, who feels that the Labour party in the UK has sold out its traditional working- class constituency in allowing disparities in wealth to become greater under its rule. To his credit, Hastings does not put his faith in higher taxation for the rich as a solution, noting correctly that it would only drive more wealth offshore. Instead, he proposes more education for the people trapped in "inner-city housing estates in an apparently hopeless spiral of debt, drugs and unemployability."

Hastings's commitment to education is commendable, but it has to be said that education by itself will not stop the wealth gap from widening. If you have a basic education you are only basically employable. Beyond that, if you have some kind of post- secondary education which teaches you a marketable skill -- bearing in mind that this would exclude many university graduates in the humanities -- you will be more employable, and you will receive more remuneration for your services. Either way, though, as an employee you will still find yourself earning far less than the executives in your company, or other successful entrepreneurs elsewhere. In that case, knowing that you are smart (and possibly even smarter than your employer who skipped further education altogether in favour of an early entry into the job market) will prove to be of little consolation.

The old wisdom is still the best: since there will always be those who are richer, or stronger, or more intelligent than we are, we can either torment ourselves with that fact and condemn ourselves to a lifetime of unhappiness, or we can accept it and move on. Rather than obsessing over pay differentials, a working class man will always find his greatest fulfillment in knowing that he is doing the best job he can every day for a reasonable wage that allows him to support his family. Anything more than that is -- or ought to be -- beyond his care or concern.

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