Saturday, Nov 22, 2014
Columns

Reiniers: A tale of two cities


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The newly-elected New York City mayor, putative Democrat Bill de Blasio, believing that Barrack Obama hasn't gone far enough to the utopian left, actually campaigned on the Dickensian theme of The Tale of Two Cities. And it worked big-time - class warfare. (What better place than the home of the Wall Street wizards who made millions facilitating the subprime mortgage fraud scheme?)

This was a spin on the progressive liberals' "Two Americas" theme, or income inequality. This timely issue - the widening income gap - begs for a nonpartisan discussion, not a populist rant.

In his inaugural speech de Blsio intoned: "When I said we would take dead aim at the tale of two cities I meant it. And we will do it. A march toward a fairer, more just, a more progressive place."

The most famous opening lines in modern fiction are set in London and Paris in 1775 and strike an amazing similarity to America today: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us."

Charles Dickens was depicting the two extremes of idealism and shock during the French revolutionary period at the tail end of the 18th century.

The similarity in extremes with the Washington centered culture of the progressive liberal Obama era is striking.

In contemporary America, liberal progressives see the Obama era as the best of times; an age of wisdom, belief, season of Light and hope with everything before them, as the transformation of America from center-right to the utopian left is well under way. Republicans view the Obama era as the worst of times, an epoch of incredulity, a season of darkness and despair, with nothing before them.

The hard truth is that the attitude of the Democratic faithful should be in lockstep with the Republicans. Their economic progress has ground to a halt under the Omaha administration which brags about their successful policies by continuing emergency unemployment compensation.

Attacking the filthy rich won't solve the problem. It only makes the low income and welfare class feel better and brings out the Democratic vote.

Equally distressing to the truth of wealth and income inequality is that even if the government were to confiscate all the net worth of the wealthy it wouldn't solve the problem nor would it solve the fiscal mess of the country with its $17 trillion debt.

Using rough calculations, CNN reported that 1.8 million Americans had a net worth of $2 million or more. This isn't income. This is all their wealth. This is what entrepreneurs use as leverage for capital formation to start or expand businesses. This is the back story to job creation.

Staying with those 1.8 million Americans and $2 million, just to make this simple, their combined net worth is coincidentally what the federal government spends in a year - $3.7 trillion - and that's a moving target. Let us imagine that the government redistributed all of this wealth. Would these recipients still demand tax increases in the interest of fairness? Would it foster job growth? (We'd be right back where we started.)

The government would be tempted to confiscate some of that wealth from the nouveau riche - not to redistribute - but to keep the government afloat and to pay down the astonishing federal debt.

It is sad that the Clintons practically presided over de Blasio's inauguration, giving Hillary Clinton's 2016 run for the nomination a boost. These are the Democrats she is counting on to vote for her.

Harry Bellefonte, who once described Republicans as an infestation, talked about racial injustices, and had been preceded by a chaplain for one of the city's workers unions who described New York City as a plantation and implored God to "break every chain."

So we are right back to de Blasio's Dickensian Tale of Two Cities, which is now a liberal parable that I doubt any of his supporters ever read. It is silly to compare the completely out of touch immoral aristocracy of that time to contemporary American capitalists who pay the lion's share of federal income taxes and support or have founded many charitable organizations. The 18th century poor lived in fear, filth and squalor, and were treated worse than animals. They had no right to public education, no government support programs, no rights and no hope.

Much has been written about the ignorant American voter - that he is indeed no smarter than a fifth grader. But all those millions of liberals getting government handouts are simply going to where the money is - dumb as a fox. "Slick Willie" Sutton said he robbed banks "because that's where the money is." How dumb is that?

William Easterly is a professor of economics at New York University, co-director of the NYU Development Institute, author, and one of the 100 most cited economists worldwide. Ensconced in one of our most liberal universities, it is shocking that he argues in "The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest have Done So Much ill and So Little Good" that the best way to help the poor is to promote entrepreneurship and self-reliance by getting out of the way. He argues, "We should judge on the basis of econometric evidence," and that the record shows "bureaucrats have never achieved the end of poverty and never will." The solution never has been throwing more money at every societal problem, but getting the poor to make better decisions and be accountable.

Unfortunately President Obama will devote 2014 to demonizing Republicans with wedge issues to gin up support for Democrats running for office, and to get Obamacare, the failed economy and job creation out of the news cycle by changing the subject.

At some point party elders must address the very real challenge of the widening income and wealth gap - perhaps after the election. This issue encompasses the entire landscape of economic and social topics - our failed educational system, disintegration of the traditional family, job outsourcing and globalization - an endless list. Redistribution is not an answer.

Realistically, as our country keeps moving farther left, it will, as Dickens wrote, be "an age of darkness" with "nothing before us."

John Reiniers is a retired attorney and regular columnist who lives in Spring Hill.

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