HAPPINESS AND INEQUALITY
October 22, 2007
The Democrats are correct that income inequality in America has increased over the decades, but their "egalitarian" attacks are misleading, says Arthur C. Brooks, a professor at Syracuse University and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute,
According to the U.S. Census Bureau's "Gini coefficient," in which zero indicates no inequality and one is perfect inequality:
- Over the past 40 years, the Gini coefficient in the United States has increased by a quarter, to .47 today from .39 in 1970.
- In European countries, Gini coefficients generally sit below .30, indicating substantially less income inequality.
Yet income is just one item of importance in the lives of Americans, says Brooks. There are many others -- from love to faith to happiness -- that we care about, some of them far more:
- For example, the 2004 General Social Survey's measure of happiness generates a coefficient for the inequality of American happiness of .18 (using the Gini coefficient model), while the 2002 International Social Survey Program produces a coefficient of .20.
- Moreover, while the average happiness level in America has not changed much since the early 1970s (and remains above that of most of our European allies), the inequality in our happiness has fallen by about a point since then.
If greater income equality is our end goal, bringing the top down is as useful as bringing the bottom up, says Brooks. This is about as sensible as depressing the happy for the sake of the sad. There is no doubt the egalitarians among our politicians and pundits want the best for America. But to focus on inequality -- and then only inequality in income -- creates policies based on either rank materialism or raw envy. These motivations do little to inspire, and even less to lead.
Source: Arthur C. Brooks, "Happiness and Inequality," Wall Street Journal, October 22, 2007.
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