MORRIS: Financial success is a bad thing?

Greg Morris
May 17, 2014
Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

MorrisIncome inequality is the hot topic this political season. President Obama called growing income inequality combined with the lack of opportunity for upward mobility the “defining challenge of our time.”

It’s the age-old battle between the haves and the have-nots. The rich versus the poor. It perpetuates the notion that, if you’ve done well for yourself, made some money and accumulated some wealth, you’re not a good person. Are you a 1-percenter? Shame on you. Who would have ever thought that working hard and achieving success would be considered anything but a grand achievement?

The media loves this fight. It can’t get enough. What’s a more noble cause than fighting the injustice of the rich taking advantage of the poor? It’s a script made in heaven for a media property trying to drive controversy and boost ratings. It plays well with the masses. But I believe this class-warfare pitch from the president and its constant spoon-feeding from the media is killing the ambition and motivation of millions of people. So, I decided to write a column about it.

However, a funny thing happened along the way to my column. I spent a considerable amount of time doing research and pored through a lot of reporting, data and opinion. And I found some compelling evidence that we might actually be out of balance on this equality issue. At the very least, it appears the concept of a rising tide raises all boats changed sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s. Since that time, rising fortunes have been concentrated mostly in the hands of a select few at the top of the food chain.

But the radical views presented in the media and the outrageous solutions offered up to reverse the widening inequality gap obscure any legitimate points to be made on this issue.

The hot buzz on this topic at the moment is created from a book written by Thomas Piketty, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century.” The extremists love this guy. Piketty is a professor at the Paris School of Economics. That should be a warning about his views. He believes there should be an 80-percent tax rate on incomes above $500,000, or $1 million here in the United States. Why? Well not to necessarily raise money for education or benefits, but to put an end to incomes in this range.

He also suggests a 50-percent to 60-percent tax rate on incomes as low as $200,000, an annual wealth tax as high as 10 percent on the largest fortunes, and a one-time assessment as high as 20 percent on lower levels of existing wealth.

Piketty assures all concerned that none of these things would reduce economic growth, productivity, entrepreneurship or innovation. Yeah, right. This guy is a totally off-the-charts wacko, yet he’s getting a lot of play in the media. Go figure.

More “expertise” is offered from Robert Reich. Reich was secretary of labor in the Clinton administration and is currently chancellor’s professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkley. He’s written 13 books and recently co-produced and starred in a film titled, “Inequality for All.”

In a recent blog, Reich gives us a few initiatives that he says can help reverse what he calls the widening inequality gap:

• Make work pay. Raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

• Unionize low-wage workers (Walmart, McDonald’s, etc.).

• Invest in education. High-quality education should be free and available to all, starting at the age of 3 and extending through four years of university or technical education.

• Pay for these investments with higher taxes on the wealthy.

• Make the payroll tax progressive. Eliminate tax on the first $15,000 in income and remove the cap.

• Raise the estate tax and eliminate the “stepped-up basis” for determining capital gains at death.

• Constrain Wall Street.

My blood pressure’s acting up again. I’ve got a massive headache. And I will say that Reich did present some compelling data that gives one pause. But, yet again, his radical solutions make me avoid considering any of his potentially legitimate points.

The bottom line is, the wannabes need to stop villainizing others for being successful. Keep the negative rhetoric on income inequality to a low roar and those with differing opinions might be more willing to consider alternative points of view.•


Morris is publisher of IBJ. His column appears every other week. To comment on this column, send e-mail to gmorris@ibj.com.


  • Feelings . . . nothing more than feelings . . .
    So, even though Piketty's book stresses that this is not the age-old haves vs. have-nots battle and shows how something quite different with income inequality is afoot, we can and should reduce the problem to protecting the feelings of the well-heeled? That they might be cajoled to listen to the legitimacy of the problem if we speak in dulcet tones and protect their egos? If we suggest that the problem can be fixed with a minimum of muss and fuss to their privilege? A reversal of devastating social misfortune for the 99% if we emphasize for the income elites all the positives for the rest of us in their advantage? Ai yi yi. The compassion and broad-mindedness on display here is truly impressive: we just have to protect the fragile feelings of rich kids and they might deign to acknowledge the intractability of the problem for the rest of us. News flash: most people "work hard." Hard work is not the key to success. In most instances, an uneven playing field and privilege are the programs running in the background.

Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. I never thought I'd see the day when a Republican Mayor would lead the charge in attempting to raise every tax we have to pay. Now it's income taxes and property taxes that Ballard wants to increase. And to pay for a pre-K program? Many studies have shown that pre-K offer no long-term educational benefits whatsoever. And Ballard is pitching it as a way of fighting crime? Who is he kidding? It's about government provided day care. It's a shame that we elected a Republican who has turned out to be a huge big spending, big taxing, big borrowing liberal Democrat.

  2. Why do we blame the unions? They did not create the 11 different school districts that are the root of the problem.

  3. I was just watching an AOW race from cleveland in 1997...in addition to the 65K for the race, there were more people in boats watching that race from the lake than were IndyCar fans watching the 2014 IndyCar season finale in the Fontana grandstands. Just sayin...That's some resurgence modern IndyCar has going. Almost profitable, nobody in the grandstands and TV ratings dropping 61% at some tracks in the series. Business model..."CRAZY" as said by a NASCAR track general manager. Yup, this thing is purring like a cat! Sponsors...send them your cash, pronto!!! LOL, not a chance.

  4. I'm sure Indiana is paradise for the wealthy and affluent, but what about the rest of us? Over the last 40 years, conservatives and the business elite have run this country (and state)into the ground. The pendulum will swing back as more moderate voters get tired of Reaganomics and regressive social policies. Add to that the wave of minority voters coming up in the next 10 to 15 years and things will get better. unfortunately we have to suffer through 10 more years of gerrymandered districts and dispropionate representation.

  5. Funny thing....rich people telling poor people how bad the other rich people are wanting to cut benefits/school etc and that they should vote for those rich people that just did it. Just saying..............