Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Vetting Actionable Data for Class War

Is class warfare heating up in the United States?

According to a recent study by some social scientists, certain correlations may exist between wealth and religiosity, painting a morose picture of economic subjugation relieved through religion. Particularly in America.

Meanwhile, President Barak Obama has seized on billionaire Warren Buffett's suggestion about raising taxes for the top five-percent of US taxpayers, eliciting cries of classism from some conservatives.

I'm starting to dread presidential campaign seasons.

Does Religion in America Hide Economic Disparity?

In terms of the new research, as surmised by Tobin Grant for Christianity Today, the greater the material wealth in a society, the less prevalent religion should be.  In other words, money breeds secularism, as witnessed in most of post-Christian Europe.  However, the more imbalanced the distribution of wealth becomes in a society, the more religious the society tends to be.

Maybe not the Christian religion, but a faith of some sort, serving as a panacea for the masses over whom the wealthy are lording.

As far as the degree to which religiosity relates to economic variables, I must disagree with this assessment of the data used by Grant and other sociologists he references.  Quite simply, God calls His people to Himself  regardless of their income, their socioeconomic status, and their nationality.  To the extent that human groups create religious systems to indoctrinate their adherents and provide a framework for manifesting their faith, I suppose religion can be traced along with other cultural factors for certain purposes.  But in terms of salvific causation, nothing in any society can get people to God or keep them from God.  God's sovereignty will claim for His eternal purposes those whom He calls.

So trying to use wealth as an indication of where religiosity should or shouldn't be present is a fallacy. Amen? Regardless of whether rich people do or don't try and manipulate poorer people using faith-based mechanisms.

When Ranking High Isn't a Good Thing

Interestingly enough, however, if you dig into the data Grant references in his article, you find a stunning revelation that does appear to provide a clear refutation of a political barb many conservatives have popularized.

How many times lately have you heard a right-winger accuse Democrats of inciting class warfare as calls for tax increases for the wealthy persist, along with talk of holding the line on entitlements? As if there is currently no strife between the economic classes in the United States, and income inequity is a figment of the liberal left's wild imagination.

Well, unfortunately for those rich Republicans who'd just as soon leave their poorer bretheren ignorant of reality, even our own CIA has done the math on income inequity in the United States. Among all of their research to anticipate political hotspots across the globe, they've calibrated the socioeconomic volatility existing in various countries which could make them susceptible to conflict. And sure enough, we appear ripe for some class warfare, just like many impoverished countries in Africa and South America.

Don't believe me?  Check out the stats for yourself, according to the CIA's World Factbook.  The United States ranks 39th out of 136 economies in terms of income inequity.  We're worse than Iran, Nigeria, Kenya, Russia, and even China.  Here's a break-out of some other reference points (the numbers indicate their inequity score):

1 Namibia (70.7)
38 Jamaica (45.5)
39 United States (45.0)
40 Cameroon (44.6)
42 Iran (44.5)
51 Russia (42.2)
52 China (41.5)
74 Japan (37.6)
92 United Kingdom (34.0)
101 Canada (32.1)
124 Germany (27.0)
136 Sweden (23.0)

Now, granted, since America has been home to most of the world's largest and most profitable corporations for years, and since most of the world's richest people are Americans, being a nation of wealth isn't surprising. But what's surprising - and disturbing - is that this data doesn't measure wealth, but the disparity between the rich and the poor, relative to each country's population.

I would think a healthy ranking for a country of our size and economic output might put us between Japan and the United Kingdom, two prosperous nations with enviable standards of living not too dissimilar from our own. But for the United States to rank between a tiny British protectorate and an impoverished African nation? The ignominy!

And, maybe peril?

Of course, some conservatives will immediately protest that the reason we have a disproportionate number of poor people in the United States skewing our ranking downward is because of generational poverty caused by our welfare state. But the numbers aren't just weighted on the bottom of the scale, are they? The disparity also comes from the people - the "five percenters" - who control such stratospheric wealth in comparison with the other 95 percent of American wage earners.

Remember, though, this analysis by the CIA is based on income, not wealth. So to say that workers in Cameroon have it only slightly better than workers in the United States in terms of income equity isn't anything to brag about, especially since their gross domestic product is a pittance compared to ours.

While we still have a relatively large middle class, it's not helping the mood of the country - or our faith in whatever principles of economic equity we like to think exist - to have so many rich people moving so far up the income ladder, while employment stagnates, costs keep rising, and home values deflate. Yes, these problems affect everybody, but some feel the pressure more than others.

And the people who don't respect the power of that pressure could get burned the most.

Compromise Requires Reciprocating Logic

I've said before that while I don't see any particular moral problem with raising taxes on the super-rich, I haven't thought doing so would raise enough money to put a dent in the nation's debt. The value I see for the country, however, is the ability to enact an emotional outlet valve that will help simmer resentment against the top 5-percenters who've benefitted the most from our country's abundance.

Having said that, however, I've been appalled to see how high Obama has proposed to raise taxes for the rich. Quite simply, conservatives are well within their rights to call his tax rate hike unfair. From what I've read, he basically wants to double their tax rate, putting it at about 30%.

Gulp!

If that is the case, then the president will be taxing thousands of high-wage earners out of the United States. Literally. Because most of them work in jobs that don't literally require them to live here. Think "Internet technology," and you get both the industry in which many rich people earn their big salaries, and the method by which they get their work done.

Besides, isn't it just plain petulant to double somebody's taxes just because you think they can afford to absorb the hit? Yes, liberals, it is!

Bottom line for tax-and-spend liberals is that spending should match revenue, not the other way around. This means our government's budget must be slashed. And if tax rates do need to rise (which, again, I don't think will be very productive), they should rise at a percentage that doesn't patronize or penalize people just because they earn more than many other folks.

Silly me - here I've been, thinking that Democrats were talking about raising taxes on the top 5-percenters a few percentage points. I didn't think they had the audacity to want to double it!  I guess that's one of the perils of trying to be a moderate conservative and advocating compromise on some of these issues.  I need to be less naive that radicals on the left won't try and pull stunts like this.

Not that radicals on the right don't have their own fears to face with the reality that America's income inequity is real and poses real dangers to the stability of our society.

It's just that the class warfare for which liberals appear to be spoiling - and which conservatives don't realize has considerable ammunition already - could erupt into something which nobody wins.

Our peers on the CIA's roster of income disparity can verify that.
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