Image credit: http://garrick-tremain.squarespace.com/cartoons/
Last month, The Economist ran a story about income disparities between the rich and everyone else. The Economist noted the growing concern among leaders of the world, including Chinese President Hu Jintao, Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron, Warren Buffett, and French economist (and Socialist) Dominique Strauss-Kahn. While each of these leaders has spoken recently of the dangers of a rising inequality, they differ on how to solve this — one of the world’s oldest problems.
The growing inequality around the world can be attributed to a number of factors, none of which a single person has been able to yield influence over. Instead, as in most cases, it’s the “system” that usually fails someone — in this case, the world’s poor and middle class. The “system” that is failing so many can best be described as a combination of poorly performing schools, ineffective immigration laws, increased government influence over the daily life of the average person, entitlement mindsets, pursuits of greed and power, and a general rise in the number of rich people who withdraw from engaging in the rest of society and instead move to build a “self-contained world unto themselves, complete with their own health-care system (concierge doctors), travel networks (NetJets, destination clubs), separate economy… and language (‘Who’s your household manager?’)”.
To be sure, a rise in the number of rich people is not in itself the problem. A public education system is not in itself the problem. Immigration is not the problem. Government itself is not the problem. No, inequality happens when neglect or abuse enters the mix.
No doubt you have heard the famous saying, “Money is the root of all kinds of evil.” Money itself is not evil, but the pursuit of money can take hold of a person’s life and become the foundation for their deeds. Simply put, when rich people decide to disengage from those who are not rich and therefore fail to help others succeed as they have, they abuse their opportunity to make the world a better place. It’s true that many rich people employ others. Also true is the fact that the money they spend helps the lives of others employed to make the products or services that rich people buy. Yet, when the rich do not realize a greater responsibility as wealthy citizens to become more involved in helping others reach the same level of success they enjoy, they abuse their opportunity to lessen the gap of inequality. The result is obvious: Inequality grows.
Of course, not all rich people abuse their opportunity to help out. In fact, the majority are craving someone to mentor, someone less fortunate to help out, but don’t know how to make the connection. (Uh, oh. I just revealed another opportunity for a disruptive business. Get working, people!) Some rich people are simply to blame for neglect, for abdicating their duties as responsible citizens to seek out those less fortunate, to create institutions that disparage no one, and to willingly offer their time and talents in pursuit of something greater than themselves — the growth of another human being.
Abuse by rich people can lend itself to many forms: the pursuit of excessive power or greed. Granted, to some extent we all want to increase our influence and living standards. Yet, if we are not grounded in something stronger than ourselves — such as family or friends who won’t be afraid to correct us and a God who can sustain us — we may find ourselves in the peak of life, wealthier than ever, and susceptible to neglecting the least of our society or, worse, abusing our opportunity to influence for the good.
Failed Education Model
We are all familiar with stories of a public education system failing yet another student, of incompetent tenured teachers, and of teachers’ unions wielding way too much influence. In fact, The Economist places much of the blame on how America’s “powerful teachers’ unions have stopped poorer Americans getting a good education.” That’s a nice sound bite, but I think what The Economist was trying to get at was the way in which teachers’ unions in the U.S. have lobbied to never let a teacher get fired, never let a school become defunded, regardless of how piss-poor the teachers were or how terrible the results coming out of a failing school.
In defense of teachers everywhere, the real issue is not the quality teachers alone. The real issue is the system. In the U.S. we have a failed public education model. I am a product of both private and public education. To be fair, though my private education was by far better in the elementary years than those of my public education peers, private education failed me during junior high. How so? Without going into details, the model was simply broken. I learned virtually nothing in those three critical years. In high school, my parents were able to lobby the principle to remove me from poor teacher’s classes and match me up with great teachers. As a result, I enjoyed being taught by four “Teachers of the Year”.
As stated above, public education itself is not the problem. Yet when the U.S. increasingly lags behind other less-developed countries in math and science, we are doing something wrong. When so many of our 18-year olds don’t have the capacity to hold a decent job or go on to college, we have only ourselves to blame for not fixing our education system problems.
Illegal Immigration & Multiculturalism
Just recently, leaders in Europe met together to discuss the growing problem of multiculturalism. The term multiculturalism has several different meanings, depending on your worldview. According to European leaders, they define multiculturalism as an invasion of one society’s culture without regard for the respect of and adherence to the culture in which they live. Specifically, both Tony Blair and David Cameron, along with other European leaders have seen how their countries’ policies toward illegal immigrants and multiculturalism are failing. Specifically, illegal immigrants in Europe do not have respect for European culture and are instead trying to replace European culture with their own.
Here in the U.S., we have the same thing going on. The U.S. has been a great melting pot of many differing cultures. In large part, this is due to the wonderful cultural aspects that legal immigrants have brought to this country and their willingness to assimilate into ours. Yet, in this new era of multiculturalism, illegal immigrants are pushing the boundaries of what it means to be “multicultural”. Many illegal immigrants disregard our way of life and instead publicly acknowledge their desire to replace our culture, language, and government with their own.
So what is the result from a blend of multiculturalism and illegal immigration? In Europe, the U.S., and elsewhere, illegal immigrants account for an increasing majority of those under the poverty line. They account for an increasing majority of crime. And they account for an increasing overall mindset of entitlement.
Increased Government Influence & Entitlement
Government is not bad. That may startle some conservatives, but a government of the people, by the people, and for the people is not a bad government. Of course, most of us realize that the current state of most governments — with over-bloated bureaucracies and unchecked power — provides for a climate that breeds entitlement. When governments become too big for their own good and start failing the public in spectacular fashion, they begin seeking majority support from society in order to continue existing.
Every society should have governance. Here in the U.S., our founders saw such a need early on in bringing together the colonies, yet what they also saw was the need for a government to keep itself in check. They saw the danger in government influence over the life of a citizen in how England was governing the colonies. Today, the U.S. government is the largest employer in our nation. Bureaucrats have largely succeeded in exerting soft control over our citizens. Many of our friends or family work for the government. Our teachers work for the government. To some extent — through welfare programs — our poor work for the government.
Is it any wonder why so many people oppose cuts in their area of government? Most people say that our government needs to do something about our huge deficit. Yet, most would also say, “Just don’t touch my area. Just don’t decrease my salary.” For example, let’s have a look at the teacher. Now, I love teachers. In fact, I think teachers should be paid more and paid according to the quality of work they perform.
So back to the example: Let’s say I’m a teacher. The economy has just tanked. People are being layed off right and left. The unemployment rate is hovering around 10%. Companies are trying to stay afloat by decreasing salaries across the board by 10%. Who are the people still employed without a cut to their salaries? Government workers. Teachers.
Then when a state decides, “We’re going to do something about this debt and cut government salaries across the board by 10%,” who are the first to complain — the first to picket? Teachers. It’s for the children, they say. BS, I say. It’s an entitlement mentality. And it’s not just teachers. It’s pretty much all government workers.
Through no fault of their own, government workers have been sold a Porsche — steady salary, incredible benefits, and tenure. Yet they come to find out that their Porsche has no engine — no way of getting ahead by one’s own measure. They’re not upset by it though. They have the government to push them along… at a steady pace. They can rely on the government. And if their lives suddenly crash and burn, what will they do? Well, they cry out to the government to save them. It is the government after all that moves them along in life.
Europe is realizing this all too well. Look at Greece, one of the world’s largest entitlement societies. The country was on the brink of ruin and will be there again shortly. “Give us our jobs back, give us our pensions, or give us death!” they cried. When other European governments hinted of balking, what did the Greeks do? They cried some more. And guess what? The government saved them again.
Through all the efforts of governments to influence the lives of its citizens, do you know what the most interesting commonality is among them all? A dumbing down effect. While the rest of the world is increasing its pace of becoming better educated, we are decreasing ours. It’s the mindset of entitlement: I deserve this. It’s my right. Ultimately, such a mindset lends itself to apathy, then poverty. This is not to say that all poor people are apathetic but to say that all apathetic people are poor. A mindset of ”you don’t deserve it and I do” will not get you ahead in life — in your living standard, in your relationships, or in anything else.
Solutions are easy to write on paper. Theories are easy to formulate. Because it takes a willingness of so many people to change the course of one failed system, change this big often seems impossible to accomplish. For the rich, they must be willing neither to abuse their power & influence nor to neglect their duty as responsible citizens to help others less fortunate than themselves. They must be willing to step out of their comfort zone and find people to mentor. How to do this? If you’re rich, begin by surrounding yourself with people who will hold you accountable to becoming a better citizen, a better person, one who gives back of your time and wisdom.
As far as education is concerned, it will take a few brave individuals in government leadership to possibly sacrifice what’s politically popular in favor of reforming their country’s education system. What we need is a different education model. Actually what we need are several competing models, thereby flushing out the bad ones in favor of flourishing good ones. If you find yourself in a position of leadership to effect change, then hopefully you will have reached that point by already surrounding yourself with wise people who will keep you grounded. Only then will you be able to act wisely on wise counsel and effect the change our country so desperately needs.
Illegal immigration breeds multiculturalism, which breeds an entitlement mentality. Increased government influence also breeds an entitlement mentality. A scaled-back, lean government with competent immigration policies will help turn the tide of entitlement thinking to something more promising: If I work hard enough and smart enough, with persistence I can improve my living standards, my family, and my legacy. I will not be part of the world’s growing inequality.