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Who Cares About Income Inequality?

In my latest Pittsburgh Tribune-Review column I ponder some of the reasons for the concern over income differences.  Here are the first few paragraphs:

I’ve never worried about income inequality. It’s not that I’ve not worried much about it; I’ve not worried about it at all.

Income inequality – like the color of my neighbor’s car or the question of the number of pigeons in Central Park – just never dawns on me as an issue worthy of a moment’s attention. More importantly, I’ve never encountered many people who worry about inequality.

Indeed, the only time I had regular, close contact with people who express anxiety about inequality was when I was in law school at the University of Virginia. And there, those who wailed most loudly about inequality were those from families that were, as we say, the “most privileged.”

To this day, when I read or hear concerns expressed over income inequality, I’m always a bit mystified. “Why,” I shrug, “is that an issue?”

I have always felt, and continue to believe, that fretting about monetary income and wealth differences in a market-oriented society is a sign of a deep misunderstanding of the way market economies work, of an inappropriate obsession with monetary (or narrowly materialist) values to the exclusion of other, competing values, or of envy regrettably unleashed and made respectable by populist politics.