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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Income Inequality and Ben Franklin

I don't know about you, but I get upset every time I read something on the increasing income inequality in the United States. Here's a piece from the New York Times that presents the work of some academics on the topic. Read it and weep with me.

Let's look back at one of our Founding Fathers, indeed my fave Founding Father, Ben Franklin. OF course, he achieves the status of favorite because of his well-known comments on frugality. But Franklin also has something to say on income inequality in America, or rather, on its absence. By mediocrity, he, of course, means medium, or something like that. Happy indeed! This is from Information to Those Who Would Remove to America. Read it HERE.

Here's the best part:

The Truth is, that though there are in that Country few People so miserable as the Poor of Europe, there are also very few that in Europe would be called rich; it is rather a general happy Mediocrity that prevails. There are few great Proprietors of the Soil, and few Tenants; most People cultivate their own Lands, or follow some Handicraft or Merchandise; very few rich enough to live idly upon their Rents or Incomes, or to pay the high Prices given in Europe for Paintings, Statues, Architecture, and the other Works of Art, that are more curious than useful.

How I love you, Ben Franklin.
And how I love Mr. FS, who told me about this piece.

On Election Day 2010


Shelley said...

I'm pleased you see it that way. I remember meeting a man here when I first came to England who worked as a salesman. He was happy making just enough sales to have a sufficient income - he didn't care about being rich. I thought he was weird (and I still think his employer may not have been happy); now I think he was wise - if only for the day. Being frugal has taught me that 'enough' is 'enough'. More isn't necessarily better. But that's not the American dream, is it?

Duchesse said...

More is not necessarily better- but if one employed by a business, is up to the sales person to decide that "he (is) happy making just enough sales to make a sufficient income"?

This premise only works if a salesman is a reseller, not an employee of the firm making the product.

As an alternative, the salesman could sell more and give the surplus income to those in need.

Funny about Money said...

Interesting. That study pretty much confirms what gut instinct has led me to believe for quite some time: the middle class is not only going away in this country, in many respects its almost gone.

La Maya -- who's a sociologist -- was talking the other day about that chart showing how real wages rose steadily from 1830 century until about 1970, when (possibly coincidentally) double-digit inflation hit. It's on the float -- just google real wages since 1970.

There are other metrics for measuring financial well being that take some additional factors into consideration, such as the presence of passive income, the average number of children (i.e., mouths to feed) per household, the average real consumption rate, and the like.

Household incomes apparently have actually risen since the early 1990s. This has happened because women have entered the workforce. However, of course, the implication is that women are working and stashing their kids in day care not because they want to or because it's necessarily the best arrangement for their families but because they have to.

It also might be noted that the presence of so many women in the workforce may be one of the factors that tends to push figures for average individual wages down, since women still earn less than men for the same jobs.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Shelley--I totally agree with sufficient on the individual level. Franklin is talking about the society as a whole though--the absence of the kind of inequality that obtained at the time in England.

@Duchesse--Right--on an individual level it is problematical, unless one is self-employed.

@Funny--Yeah, I noticed long ago that my husband and I could not afford as much as my in-laws, also teachers, so comparison was easy.