Heritage Foundation Argues Income Inequality Is A Good Thing

November 15, 2011 5:10 pm ET — Matt Finkelstein

As Ben Smith documented last week, the Occupy Wall Street movement has already succeeded in bringing increased attention to the problem of income inequality in America, which has been on the rise for three decades. The movement has been so effective in changing the conversation that even prominent conservatives, such as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), are going out of their way to address the issue, at least superficially.

But according to the Heritage Foundation, the unofficial think tank of the Republican Party, income inequality is not actually a problem at all. In fact, a post on Heritage's blog, The Foundry, makes the case that "economic inequality is not necessarily an injustice, but rather a necessary component of any prosperous society," and that the founders would view the growing concern over the income gap as "misplaced and poisonous." From the post:

The founders were very aware that protecting the faculties of individuals would lead to inequality. In Federalist 10, Madison said that "From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results." But is this just?

Thomas West writes that the first reason the founders understood this to be just is that "property rights benefit all classes equally insofar as they protect the body and mind of every individual from exploitation or enslavement by others."

Secondly, the founders knew that protecting individual faculties likely helps the poor if it enables economic productivity that creates more jobs.

Madison articulated that industry and labor left to their own courses will be directed to "those objects which are most productive, and this in a more certain and direct manner than the wisdom of the most enlightened legislature could point out." [...]

America's founders certainly believed a minimum safety net was desirable. Nevertheless, they would view the current focus on income-growth disparity as misplaced and poisonous. Prosperity is inseparable from economic inequality; conversely, forced economic equality tends toward destitution. The more government attempts to equalize incomes, the less an economy produces. Who wants to produce when one doesn't receive the full benefits of his or her labor? Founder James Wilson captured it best: "Who would cultivate the soil, and sow the grain, if he had no peculiar interests in the harvest?" The focus should be encouraging people to utilize their inherent rights, rather than discouraging doing so by focusing on differences in income growth.  

Heritage's embrace of pervasive income inequality is tone deaf but unsurprising given the right-wing think tank's position that poverty is not really a problem either because poor people own refrigerators and other electronics.  

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