INCOME EQUALITY: FIGURING IT OUT

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President Obama says that he wants to make income inequality– the growing gap between the richest and poorest Americans– the defining issue during 2014. He points with alarm to the fact that distribution of economic gain is increasingly favoring a small percentage of the population– those who are already well off. Duh! Why would anyone find that surprising, much less somehow illogical? But to Obama, it is simply unfair for a corporate CEO to be paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, while a high school dropout working at a fast food restaurant makes minimum wage. And in the president’s mind, that can be fixed by simply taking money from those in our society who have figured out how to be successful and giving it to those who haven’t figured it out– in essence, redistribution of wealth.

The fact is, however– except maybe in Sherwood Forest– taking from the rich and giving to the poor is not going to have much impact on the problem of income inequality. What would make an impact is somehow helping the dropout in the fast food restaurant simply “figure it out.” I have lived for a number of years and I have concluded that “figuring it out” is what life is all about. How hard is it for young people to figure out that they will do much better in life if they at least finish high school and don’t start having babies in their teens? Those who can figure it out up to that point should also be able to figure out how to go to college or trade school. Granted, it’s easier to figure it out if you have parents and/or others to coach and encourage you.

Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard all the crap about how, if you are born poor, you will almost certainly stay poor. Bull! My father died when I was five and my mother struggled for years just to provide the basic necessities for her two kids. But despite our situation, she told us over and over again that we could be anything we wanted to be in life and that the first step was education. She always assumed that my sister and I would go to college– and my sister and I also assumed that– although we never discussed how we were were going to pay for that.

From junior high on, I figured out how to use part-time jobs to pay some of my own expenses– important stuff like ball gloves and bicycles. My very first job was as a soft drink vendor at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge. My mother helped me get my social security card. I also worked at an ice house, bagged groceries, delivered flowers and shelved books at the county library. And I had several paper routes. When I graduated from high school, I had to figure out how to finance college. I was able to do that for a year with part-time jobs, but I soon figured out that this was not going to be sustainable. There was a draft back then and I figured out that I could volunteer for the draft, serve my two years and the GI Bill would then pay for my college. Once I had a college degree, corporations actually recruited me to come work for them! What a concept! Later, when I pursued advanced degrees, I found that scholarships and grants were readily available.

Does what I did mean that I am inherently smarter than the guy who dropped out of high school and went to work at the fast food restaurant? I don’t think so. I just made different decisions. I figured it out. And it wasn’t particularly hard. The decisions I made just seemed logical to me. But having said that, the dropout must bear some responsibility for his own decisions. But Obama wants to reward him by providing more government entitlements and by forcing his employer to increase the minimum wage. That may or may not happen and, even if it does happen, I do not share the notion that it will mean the economic end of the world. But the notion I do share is that those few additional dollars will not make much difference in the life of the dropout working at the fast food restaurant. He will still always be poor– unless he figures it out.

Having said all of this, I am hardly a role model for young people who want to become rich. I took too many “sabbaticals” to pursue adventures like spending six months in London and Paris, sailing in the Bahamas for three years and running a weekly newspaper in a small town for 18 years. But my education and experience– which resulted from the decisions I made in high school– made it possible for me to do that.

Dennis Reeves Cooper, Ph.D

Dennis Reeves Cooper, Ph.D

Dennis Reeves Cooper founded Key West The Newspaper (the Blue Paper) in 1994 and was editor and publisher until he retired in 2012. He says he has at least one more adventure left in him. He has applied to serve in the Peace Corps.

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18 comments on “INCOME EQUALITY: FIGURING IT OUT

  1. Well Mr. Cooper, I do not know what your Ph.D is in, but it is a safe guess that it is not economics. For if it were, you would know that one of the constructs of a market economy is class stratification. It is a necessary component of the system. It doesn’t matter the level of your education, skill set, or talent. There is a always going to be a need to fill those “low Level” positions to which you ascribe as poor decisions leading to a life of economic depravity. So what difference does it make if you struggle to educate yourself? There is always going to be a need for workers at Burger King. Do you know that the average age of a fast food worker today is almost 30? How many of them do you suppose have college degrees? The game is rigged Mr. Cooper. Jobs and opportunity are determined by demand. Demand is determined by the amount of money consumers have to spend. The amount of money in the economy is determined by the people who make it (central and retail banks). They determine who has money and who does not. It has nothing to do with peoples ambitions or lack there of.

  2. To me, this sets a pretty scary precedent. Don’t want to work? It’s ok, cause we’re gonna take money from all those big bad rich people and give it to you anyway.
    My dad, born poor in rural Oklahoma, worked his butt off for 50 years and saved enough to retire. Not any fancy retirement, but comfortable. Their insurance company dropped them once Obamacare was implemented. They attempted to sign up for Obamacare but the cost to them would have been $1000/month with a $10,000 deductible. So basically, my dad worked and saved and now gets to spend his retirement money subsidizing health care for the people who dropped out of high school.

    It doesn’t seem like this system encourages people to make more of themselves, only to become fully dependent on government handouts.

  3. Aw, Daves, I know people who did not get college degrees and ended up millionaires, by the sweat of their own brow and wits, and they did not run drugs or guns to do it. Maybe if our grade, middle and high schools taught kids a trade, required fluency in a foreign language, ability to touch type, fluency in computers, maybe they would not go to work for Burger King, run drugs, rob banks, become addicts, end up living on the street. Or under the care of a psychiatrist. Or dead. BTA, I majored in Economics at Vanderbilt, minored in Business Administration, then I went to law school, then I went to tax law school. I proved for a fact that such education is no guarantee to being rich or happy or successful. The US Government and American corporations proved that all the economic theories I learned at Vanderbilt where futile in a country which prints more new money whenever it runs out of money, to pay for stupid wars on drugs, poverty, other countries … and to pay for anything else it wants but cannot afford …

    • Sloan… and I bet that at no time during your impressive education did they teach you the FED is a private, for profit corporation that creates money out of thin air. Or, that the commercial banks do the same thing with fractional reserve banking. And that the owners of these banks, yes, they are one and the same, control the money supply, and hence commerce, governments, and the world. He who controls the gold controls it all, wouldn’t you say? So all the booms and bust, recessions, depressions, bubbles, et al., are all manufactured events, for the express purpose of accumulation wealth and power; a simple but oh so reliable paradigm. You just read that 85 people are wealthier than half of the worlds population. In what universe is that result of hard work or education? 45 million Americans are on food stamps. In what universe is that indicative of the American Dream? The system is rigged, manipulated, and corrupt. For every rag-to-riches story you bring forth, there are millions of broken dreams and lives to counter.
      B.S Michigan State, M.A. Michigan, Ph.D Florida, all in economics. B.S Florida (finance) for good measure.

      • Yes, I know about those things, too; and I know there is no such thing as a free market where the economic theories I learned at Vanderbilt have a chance of trying to prove those theories are true. I also know G.W. Bush financed his 2 wars by lowering taxes on the rich and printing more money in one or more devious ways, and it looks to me that his hope/change Democratic successor followed suit overseas and at home is printing money for what he wants to buy. Of course, when the President or Congress or the Fed counterfeit US greenbacks, in the various ways they can do that, it’s legal. if you or I do it, and if we get caught, we go to prison. I sometimes wonder what Bill Gates, for example, will do with all his money? I sometimes wonder why he joined up with IBM instead of with Apple which had the better product? Maybe if Gates had “partnered” with Apple, instead of IBM, we’d have cold fusion today, star drive. I bet I can tell as many personal broken dreams stores as just about anyone. I have never blamed it on the US Government, though; nor on any government. Nor have I ever begrudged anyone who make a fortune though hard work and wits. I don’t care for greed. I don’t care for employers not paying a fair wage. I don’t care for beating up on poor and/or down and out people. I still believe it is more blessed to give than to receive, which is not an economic theory I learned at Vanderbilt.

    • It is like trying to teach quantum physics to a five year old.Liberals don’t want to understand. How many Mc D’s of Burger King flippers went on to become $ 500,000 per year managers ?? Many. My friend is a area manager of a Mc Donalds in Connecticut. He started on the grill when he was 16 and now makes $ 500,000. per year. No he does not work 40 hours a week ( more like 60- 80). Also my friend Don Smith started flipping burgers behind the counter back in the 60′s. He then went on to become the president of Burger King. He is on the front cover of a 1980 Fortune Magazine cover.

  4. In my experience and observation, liberals and conservatives don’t understand that you don’t print money to pay for things you want but cannot afford. Liberals have one wish list, mostly not shared by conservatives, conservatives have a wish list, mostly not shared by liberals. I get all sorts of political forwards, mostly from conservatives, bashing liberal’s for their economic wish lists/spending policies, but never do the conservatives fess up to what they have done to bankrupt America fiscally. If America were a corporation, it would have been put into receivership years ago, and would be overseen by a US Bankruptcy Court. I have a dear, ultra conservative friend, M.I.T. grad, PhD, inventor, engineer in private sector after he stopped teaching at M.I.T. and working at Oak Ridge. He and I, of course, disagree about plenty, but we agree, the wheel’s are going to come off Train USA and we both hope we are not still here when it leaves the tracks.

  5. Sloan, Fred… what both of you don’t understand is that affordability has nothing to do with money. Affordability should be put in terms of resources. Money has been turned into a commodity unto itself. Rather than a representation of value, it has become value. Money is used as an instrument to ration. It has nothing to do with need or necessity; it has everything to do with greed and oppression. What do politicians say for example when they make cuts to education: we can’t afford it. Really? Is there a shortage of teachers? books? school buildings? land on which to build? the resources required to make all those things? No, there is not. there is just no money. But money is created out of thin air. it is unlimited. So how can we not afford something due to lack of money? Affordability should never be discussed in terms of money. So next time you hear that the government is screaming poverty and has to cut food stamps, health care, infrastructure repair, etc., ask yourself why? If the resources are there, it is affordable. If the money is not, it is willful greed and cruelty that is responsible. Money as debt is a shameful paradigm, and is in fact a Ponzi scheme. Why do we pay for our own money? Should not the government supply the money, interest free, as the Constitution requires? If they did that, guess what, no national debt. no booms and busts. no depression, recession. resources would be made available on the basis of need. opportunity for those that want it. what a concept, huh?

  6. Earth to Daves, Earth to Daves. If you don’t have money, you can’t afford, hmmm. to pay rent; therefore, hmmm, you live with friends or relatives, or in a homeless shelter, or on the street, or, hmmm, in a jail, or prison, or, hmm, in a cemetery or heaven or hell, or wherever. You’d know this, Daves, if you’d ever not had money, and were unable to make money, and had lived on the street. If you don’t have money, you can’t afford, hmmm, health insurance, either. The list goes on. I suppose we could discuss this subject a few thousand years and nothing would change other than we might die and be reincarnated a few or more times. What’s going on in USA goes on everywhere on this planet. It has gone on for a very long time. Even before there was money, it was going on. Poor Americans today can only print as much money as they can borrow or get from their credit cards, if they have such, or steal. Pretty much the same applies to less poor people, middle class people, upper class people, corporations and local and state governments. And also to Uncle Sam, except he don’t ever have to pay any of it back; he gets to keep it all and print (borrow) more money, and that great big fat chicken is gonna come home to roost some day, and, as I wrote yesterday, I hope I ain’t here for it. Meanwhile, all I can do is deal with what is dead in front of me, sometimes it’s pretty fun, some times it’s not fun at all. It’s all a play with different actors playing their different parts. Dennis Cooper sure did set off a commotion in the hen house when he dropped his latest egg. Journalism indeed can be a contact sport, and for old farts like me, who can’t play football or rugby anymore, it can get pretty interesting sometimes.

  7. davies fred sloan a point or two to ponder..

    “I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the banks] will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered. The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs.”
    Thomas Jefferson, (Attributed)
    3rd president of US (1743 – 1826)

    Article I, Section 10, Clause 1: No State shall…coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debt.

    the private central bank created in 1913 is the source of fiat paper created out of thin air then loaned [interest rate] to the government with no backing other then the enslavement of the population thru taxes for repayment. ponzi scheme indeed. this is why gold and silver is the arch enemy of central banking and are crushed whenever the occasion arises by the private central banking cartel known as the federal reserve using the treasury’s PPT.

    • I wonder how many time this sort of thing has been discussed just in America? I hope somebody figures out a way to fix America’s monetary system/situation. If a fix is figured out, I hope it is used. Meanwhile, did any of you watch on TV or attend last night’s KW city commission meeting and get many earfuls of who really is making money off off the outer mole pier? And being paid a bundle by the city to do it? That would be Historic Tours of America a/k/ Ed Swift. After being paid to bring cruise ship passengers into his gift shops and conch train/trolley stations, cruise ship passengers buy trinkets in Swift’s shops, pay to ride his conch trains and trolleys elsewhere, and then when the witching hour comes, he takes them back to their cruise ship. So, see? We don’t have to go all the way up to D.C. and NY and Chicago to find fucked up government monetary policy. The city commission meeting was a crash course in government monetary policy all Keys high school students should be required to watch, along with their own school district suing the HOB contractor for documents it already furnished the school district, after it came to light that the school district had no usable accounting records for a nearly $40 million school built in KW. These are but two of I’m sure many local government monetary cluster flusters people in the Keys actually might be able to do something about by voting out of office the elected officials on whose watches it happened. I don’t see there is a dang think any of the pundits in this thread can do to change anything except not send their kids to stupid foreign US wars financed by fresh-printed US greenbacks.

    • I suppose people really worried about the Fed and printing US greenbacks out of thin air, I believe selling US treasury bills and notes prints money, also, and maybe they do just print money for pet projects, literally. in some secret installation Erick Snowden might know about, I wouldn’t put it past Uncle Sam – anyway, people really worried about it can buy gold and silver in various ways, including the hard metal, and stash it somewhere safe, just in case. Diamonds are nice, too. Land that can be farmed and/or with timber, also. If you are really smart and brave, you can play the currency markets, I’m neither smart nor brave. But what good is paper money, if it ain’t worth a Continental? I do hope I’m not still on this planet when the train leaves the tracks. If I wuz a kid today, I might be trying to figure out what kind of trade I could learn which would be in demand no matter what happened in the money markets. Something I could do in exchange for something I need, like food, potable water, clothes, a roof over my head, a hunting rifle with plenty of ammo, a shotgun with plenty of ammo, good knives for skinning game, fish hooks and line, the kind of stuff you need to stay alive when the shit really hits the fan. I imagine carpenters, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, farmers, might fare better than Economics majors, Phds and pundits.

  8. The posts on Donnelly’s “amateur governance” support the grievances addressed in this comment section.

    It doesn’t matter what your beliefs or politics are, if you’re unable to think, analytically reason and learn the skills necessary to make sense out of economic, banking and government systems; you are condemned to a life of ignorance. This material world will be confusing and threatening, creating stress and dysfunction in the lives of its participants.

    Robust discussion, argument and debate concerning the most effective strategies to be employed in managing the systems of government will be thwarted.

    It all starts in our ‘Classrooms’. Children from broken families, crime infested neighborhoods and poverty have been healed and given a premium education because of their exposure to an enlightened teacher. It was expected that they would expand their knowledge base and skills, as they became confidently aware of their environment. At one time it was ‘standard operating procedure’, children learn and become more self-actualized, as teachers prepare and demand more from them. I’ve seen it happen time and time again. It was my experience.

    Educators, pundits and politicians talk the game necessary to keep their jobs and secure votes. Unfortunately, that’s as far as they are willing to go.

    What are your solutions to this inequity?

  9. The posts on Donnelly’s “amateur governance” support the grievances addressed in this comment section.

    It doesn’t matter what your beliefs or politics are, if you’re unable to think, analytically reason and learn the skills necessary to make sense out of economic, banking and government systems; you are condemned to a life of ignorance. This material world will be confusing and threatening, creating stress and dysfunction in the lives of its participants.

    Robust discussion, argument and debate concerning the most effective strategies to be employed in managing the systems of government will be thwarted.

    It all starts in our ‘Classrooms’. Children from broken families, crime infested neighborhoods and poverty have been healed and given a premium education because of their exposure to an enlightened teacher. It was expected that they would expand their knowledge base and skills, as they became confidently aware of their environment.

    At one time it was ‘standard operating procedure’, children learn and become more self-actualized, as teachers prepare and demand more from them. I’ve seen it happen time and time again. It was my experience.

    Educators, pundits and politicians talk the game necessary to keep their jobs and secure votes. Unfortunately, that’s as far as they are willing to go.

    What are your solutions to this inequity?

  10. Yeah ya know, that’s what I’m gonna tell my two boys to do when they get out of high school. I’m gonna tell them that they should join the military, gosh darn it! Cause hell, who cares if they gotta kill a couple mooslim terrorist grandmas or babies. At least they’ll get their college degree! Yippee!

  11. Solutions:

    Stop Believing Lies

    Stop Believing in Government

    Stop Believing in Authority

    Stop using their banking systems.

    Look to supporting crowd sourced projects like those proposed by Dr. Steven Greer for Tesla type energy sources….Those who control energy control the masses. We need to have the power of energy in our own hands for ALL people to use freely or at least cheaply.

    Stop Killing and Eating Animals..Leo Tolstoy — ‘As long as there are slaughter houses there will always be battlefields.’

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