The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


February 19, 2014

Geoff Caldwell, columnist: Income inequality nothing next to time inequality

JOPLIN, Mo. — It is a fact that the wealth gap in America today is at its widest since 1929.

It is a fact that approximately 40 percent of this nation’s total wealth is controlled by the 1 percent at the top.

It is also a fact that with Harry Reid in danger of losing his iron grip on the U.S. Senate and with President Barack Obama’s last two years on the line, income inequality will be front and center.

The message is that if the few didn’t have as much, the many would have more.  

The main villain in that message is the sinister hedge fund manager. Yet if you review Forbes’ list of the 100 richest Americans, you’ll find only seven hedge fund managers. In a twist of irony that only a conservative can love, the richest of those, at No.19, is none other than George Soros, the Great and Powerful Oz of left-wing political causes. Media, tech, energy, retail and fashion account for over half the richest 100, with the rest as varied as the economy itself.

In short, Wall Street has its villains, but they’re not the driving cause of Obama’s latest crisis of the moment.

It’s a crisis that Obama might want to rethink.

The latest Gallup poll of the most important problem facing the United States shows unemployment/jobs, the economy in general and dissatisfaction with government as the priorities for a combined 62 percent of those polled. Income inequality isn’t even on the radar. Of the president’s 2014 trifecta (climate change, income inequality, immigration reform), only immigration made the top 10.

Another inconvenient fact is the news that income inequality has actually increased more in the five years  Obama has been at the helm of the economy than it did during the Bush and Clinton years combined.  

While much of the blame is put upon the North American Free Trade Agreement and heartless multinational corporations that close American factories for cheaper labor abroad, the truth is that the American middle class, as created by the growth of manufacturing in the 1950s, ’60s and early ’70s, was an economic anomaly.  

When the guns went silent in 1945, America became the world’s “company store,” and for the next three decades we raked in the profits.

But for years now, the company store has been steadily pricing itself out of the global market. Unrealistic union demands, ideology-driven government regulations and uncompetitive tax policies are all partners in the cause.

Automation has left millions of Americans with skills that are no longer needed, and social decay has given as many younger Americans educations and work ethics that are worthless in a modern economy. (The real world does not give trophies for participation.)

This is not to slight the issue; it is real and deserves attention. But as the Gallup poll shows, it is not our most urgent concern, nor will it be fixed with sound bites and pandering.

Fomenting hate and envy against the haves may turn out voters in November, but it will solve nothing.

If Obama were truly concerned about inequality and its effects on the nation, he would compare the time he devotes to speeches and leisure to the time he actually works in the office to which he was elected.

That is the president’s true crisis of inequality.

Geoff Caldwell writes on national and international affairs. He lives in Joplin. Contact him at


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