The new mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, has proclaimed what he called in his inaugural address “an inequality crisis,” pronouncing, “We are called to put an end to economic and social inequalities that threaten to unravel the city we love.”
Meanwhile, an article in Politico about Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign-in-waiting reports that Clinton “is also being advised to address income inequality.” Nor are the national Democrats waiting until 2016 on the issue: another Politico article, headlined “Dems seize on income inequality for 2014,” reports “The inequality campaign will intensify later in the year with a push in the Senate to raise the federal minimum wage that will be synced with President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech, which is expected to dig heavily into the issue of economic disparity.”
De Blasio, characteristically, is leading the debate by deliberately not limiting the campaign against inequality to the narrow question of income. Indeed, broadening the definition of “inequalities” to social matters, and even beyond, may prove helpful in clarifying the issues involved.
Start, for example, with vote inequality. That’s how de Blasio got elected in the first place, by amassing about a half million more votes in the November mayoral election than did his Republican opponent, Joe Lhota. That’s not equal at all. If de Blasio really wants to fight inequality, his first step really should be to give Lhota some of those votes, so that Lhota has the same amount of votes as de Blasio. That way rather than winning the election, de Blasio would have tied.
Or what about height inequality? The New York Times reports that at six feet, five inches tall, “the gangly de Blasio… is the tallest to hold the office in at least a generation.” Perhaps de Blasio should consider having his feet or his head amputated so that his height is exactly average and so that he doesn’t enjoy an unequal advantage when it comes to playing basketball or reaching books on high-up library shelves.
How about housing inequality? The Real Deal, a paper that covers the real estate industry, reports that de Blasio “owns a pair of two-family homes on 11th Street in Park Slope that are valued at more than $1.1 million apiece.” Plenty of Americans can’t afford a single million-dollar home, let alone two of them. If de Blasio really wants to “put an end” to economic inequality, he should sell both houses and distribute the proceeds to everyone else.
Speaking of housing inequality, Secretary Clinton splits her time between a $2.8 million mansion in Washington that later underwent an expansion and upgrade that cost an additional $900,000, and a $1.7 million, 5-bedroom house with a swimming pool in the town of Chappaqua, New York. If she really wants to tackle inequality, she’s going to need to move to a more humble residence, too. Clinton earned a reported $8 million advance for her memoir of her years as first lady; if income inequality is a concern to her, perhaps that money, too, should be taken away and redistributed to the many other authors who earn less.
Then there is the matter of vacation inequality. President Obama vacations on Martha’s Vineyard on a $20.35 million, 28.5 acre estate with a swimming pool, an apple orchard, a golf practice tee, and basketball court, and in Hawaii in a $7.9 million, 6,000-square-foot, five bedroom, six bathroom oceanfront villa. Plenty of Americans can’t afford such luxurious vacations. Perhaps Obama should combat inequality by taking day trips with his wife and children from the White House, or by booking a motel room somewhere near the beach in Maryland, Virginia or New Jersey. The money saved on the Hawaii and Martha’s Vineyard rentals could go to subsidize vacations for families who can’t otherwise afford them.
The reason that de Blasio, Clinton, and Obama don’t live more modestly to reduce the level of inequality isn’t just that they are a bunch of hypocritical phonies, though they may be that, too. It’s also because despite all their rhetoric, they probably understand on some level, as most of us do, that what’s really troubling isn’t inequality of outcome, it’s inequality of opportunity. And even then, what’s really troubling isn’t inequality of opportunity, but poverty with little to no chance of escape, that is, the absolute (not merely the relative) lack of opportunity. It’s something to remember the next time some politician starts hyperventilating about an inequality crisis.