If all the talk of inequality and lack of mobility is exaggerated, it removes motivation! Articles and speeches about income and wealth inequality, and lack of mobility, abound on the internet and in political speeches. Many commentators consider these issues major threats that must be fixed!
It’s true that the top 1 or 2% have much of the wealth, and also true that some people are making much more money than others. But the hopelessness of anyone else getting some of it assumes 1) no economic growth on a macro scale; 2) no chance for economic growth on an individual basis; and 3) there is only a limited amount of financial resources!
My friend Steve Bakke has done a lot of research on income and wealth mobility and this is a link to one of his reports: Does Mobility Exist? His is writing is based on research he does, and has a conservative bent to it. His premise is that there is much more mobility (and opportunity for financial growth) than asserted by many politicians. It is interesting that politicians from the right and left are talking about the same issue. If you disagree with Steve I am sure he would welcome your comments on his blog. Steve’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org, he would be happy to hear from you! His website is Bakke Steve believes, as I do, that all this talk on this subject may be removing motivation from people to be achievers.
My main concern is the hopelessness that it conveys to our young people. If others already have the money why should they even try? Many people and organizations are working to narrow the achievement gap as am I. In Minneapolis the dropout rate in high schools is about 25%, which is defined as the education gap mostly. Now, if so many people,(and yes, even teachers), think it is futile to try to make lots of money and gain wealth, how will teachers motivate and inspire kids to stay in high school, much less college or trade schools? I’m not faulting teachers at all – the ones I know do a great job inspiring kids. But if young and/or poor people buy into the idea that the system is rigged or the deck is stacked against them, why even try? Shouldn’t we be encouraging them and inspiring them to buy into the idea that they can pursue the great opportunities that exist to make it in the world?
Yes, all of us have obstacles to overcome that can prevent us from being successful. Race may be the best example in our time because racism still exists. In spite of that real obstacle, many people have overcome it and gone on to vast success. Like Obama, Rice, Holder, and many others. They are great role models that prove what is possible. In my book “ACHIEVERS ORDINARY PEOPLE WHO DO EXTRAORDINARY THINGS” I present several stories of African Americans who did “overcome” and moved on to be successful, maybe not rich, but making it on their own. Rather than tell minority youth that they are victims, why not tell them about the “overcomers” so they see it is possible?
I know many people who have escaped poverty via education, creativity, productive work, and wise use of financial resources. They may be similar to me in that if someone tells them they can’t do something they go out and prove others wrong. That’s why I passed the CPA exam – I was told I couldn’t do it! But not everyone reacts like that. Our goal should be to teach and inspire others that it is possible – that it’s NOT just a futile effort. I don’t know if these “doomsayers” are pandering to voters, or are well-meaning in their arguments. But their message becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy – perhaps an unintended one.