You make too much money! And you make too little!
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., put it somewhat differently. But the new chairman of the House Financial Services Committee vowed to tackle the growing, festering problem of "income inequality." "Government doesn't have to interfere with the free enterprise system," says Frank, "but we can work along with it to reduce inequality."
Railing against Home Depot's $210 million severance package for its fired CEO, Frank called it "further confirmation of the need to deal with the pattern of CEO pay that appears to be out of control."
What does Frank propose to do about the "income inequality" in, say, baseball? New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez several years ago signed a contract for a quarter-billion dollars. That's "b" as in "bodacious." Pity the teammate who toils at the league minimum of $380,000 a year. Will Smith reportedly gets $20 million per picture. Most members of the Screen Actors Guild work at other non-acting jobs just to make ends meet.
What exactly is the appropriate gap? How wide should it be? Presumably Mr. Frank possesses the divine wisdom to know when the gap is jus-s-s-st right.
Understanding Frank requires understanding the deep recesses of the Democrats' psyche about wealth and its creation. Recall former House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri, who once said people of wealth in America are "the people who have won the lottery of life." Obviously, Messrs. Frank and Gephardt consider the old hard-work formula dated and dysfunctional.
A friend told me a story of an executive, "Bob," who works with her at an insurance company. During a golf outing, Bob told her his life story. His dad abandoned him shortly after his mom gave birth. When he was 3, his mother, in a fit of anger, broke his arm. Social services investigated, but found no wrongdoing. Shortly after he turned 8, his ever-angry mother broke his jaw. This time, social services removed him from her custody, and he lived in a series of foster homes and group houses. In school he constantly caused trouble, made poor grades, and grew angrier and angrier as he found himself shuttled from one temporary custodial place to another.
One day, a priest visited the house where Bob, now a teenager, was staying with other "unwanted" kids. The priest gave a motivational speech, telling them about God's love, and that despite their circumstances, they should value their lives. The priest said that each of you possesses a special gift, a gift you must find and use. Bob's eyes rolled toward the ceiling as the priest spoke after all, he'd heard this before. "If I'm so special," he thought, "who values me? Please, what 'gift' do I have?"
The priest noticed Bob's indifference, and after his talk, approached Bob quietly and asked him why he appeared to pay no attention. Bob asked the priest the very questions he'd been thinking, including, "Where's my gift?" He told the priest about his absent father, and the abuse he suffered at the hands of his mother. The priest said, "Your gift is that you survived. What you endured requires strength, a strength that a lot of people do not have. That is your gift."
For whatever reason, the priest's words sunk in. Bob began to work harder, and his grades improved. He went to college, got a degree in business and joined a large corporation, where he began to work his way up. He is married and has two children. He now earns a high six-figure salary and loves his life.
To Messrs. Gephardt and Frank, Bob is merely a winner in "the lottery of life." To them, Bob occupies the wrong end of the "income inequality" scale. Never mind that America remains the most upwardly mobile country in history. Or, that most rich did not start out that way. Or that, of all the qualities that go into income success, hard work remains the most important.
A great man from humble circumstances once said, "[T]here is not, of necessity, any such thing as the free hired laborer being fixed to that condition for life. . . . The prudent, penniless beginner in the world labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself; then labors on his own account for awhile, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This is . . . the just, and generous, and prosperous system, which opens the way for all gives hope to all, and . . . improvement of conditions to all. If any continue through life in the condition of the hired laborer, it is not the fault of the system, but because of either a dependent nature which prefers it, or improvidence, folly, or singular misfortune."
Barney Frank, meet Abraham Lincoln.