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2003-2004 Essay Contest Standard Economics Second Place Winner

Government as a Guide, Not a Commander

Linnea Rowse
Burnsville High School
Burnsville, Minnesota

If no income gap existed in the world, where would society be today? The answer to this question is unknown in the present, because most people want to be better and to have more than other people. In today's society, the income gap has drastically widened, even though society is supposedly progressive. To help reduce this gap, the government should be involved in the economy to the extent that it can guide people to a just and humane solution, but not to the extent that it becomes dictatorial or totalitarian. The government should keep ethics and morality in mind when making new policies, and it should educate people in order to provide equal opportunities, but the government should also allow redistribution to occur in other ways than only through government policies.

The government has a moral responsibility to be somewhat involved in the problem of income inequality. If the government allows the income inequality gap to continue to widen, many people will continue to become impoverished. This is not acceptable in the terms of the Declaration of Independence, which states that "all men are created equal ... with certain unalienable rights ... among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" (Berry Al). If one views these rights as including the right to have access to the basic necessities of life, then the American government has failed to fulfill its own shaping values. Everyone should have the right to a basic living standard, even if by gaining this standard, other, wealthier people lose a negligible amount of leisure money. Although the rich may not like to have some of their money given to people in poverty, it should be done because of the human need for a strong community. "We are members of a social, political, and economic [community] by virtue of our very humanity. To exclude some members from that community because they have not produced enough is to erode the community's foundation in human solidarity" (Gilbert This can be achieved through the implementation of more progressive taxes in the United States shifting the wealth to the impoverished. The U.S. government should work to help its own inhabitants avoid poverty because it is a worldwide problem. "The existing global income inequality ... has increased to such an extent that most of the severe poverty extant today could be avoided without significant sacrifices by anyone" (Pogge The morality of this argument suggests that people should be willing to give up some wealth to increase the living standards of the impoverished.

In addition to fulfilling moral obligations in its involvement, the government should assist in the education of people in order to provide more opportunities for their employment. It has been found that people with higher education are able to earn higher incomes because of the need for advanced skills and knowledge in today's industry and high-income jobs. For example, "in 1979 ... the median full-time weekly wage for men with college degrees was 29 percent higher than that for men with high school diplomas only. By 1998, college graduates had a 68 percent edge" (Danziger 2). This shows that the income inequality gap is indeed widening, with emphasis on the effects of higher education on earned income. The U.S. government should implement programs that help fund primary, secondary and higher education. This education would help workers become more skilled; incomes for "college-educated workers have increased faster than those of low-skilled workers as demand for high-skilled workers increased" (Primer). Education would likely benefit society as a whole, not merely the lower-income citizens.

The government has the power to lessen income disparity, but it should also allow the natural redistribution of wealth to take place. This can be helpful to those immigrants living in the United States who send money home to their relatives in other countries. For many of these people, even poverty in the U.S. is better than what they had in their own country. These remittances are often more money than a foreign aid program would provide to the home country. "Billions of dollars [are] sent every year by migrants in the United States ... to their families in Latin America ... [totaling] more than $32 billion annually—an amount so great that it surpasses foreign aid, trade, and investment for several countries in the region" (Sanchez This sizable amount of money helps the economies and the per capita incomes of those countries to a considerable extent. The current government programs are not particularly beneficial to those countries, and "the existing global economic order is unjust on account of the fact that it reproduces, even aggravates, global income inequality and severe poverty" (Pogge Returning to the moral part of the argument, governments need to reform their economic and foreign aid programs to help the impoverished survive and provide a means to end their suffering.

The end of the income inequality gap is not in sight, yet it may draw near if the government is involved in leading the people to a solution. But its involvement must take ethics into account, it must educate the people, and it must not hinder those who strive to help their own countries through means of new incomes found in the United States. There is no single "right" solution to any problem, but in the quest to find a compromise between the different values held by the world's societies, a new middle ground may be struck upon, leading to a working and flexible decision.

Works Cited

Berry, J., Goldman, J., Janda, K. The Challenge of Democracy: Seventh Edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2002. Al.

Danziger, Sheldon and Deborah Reed. "Winners and Losers: The Era of Inequality Continues." Brookings Review, Fall 1999.

Gilbert, Richard S. "How Much Do We Deserve?" UU World. Unitarian Universalist Association, 2001. 16 Feb. 2004.

Minneapolis Federal Reserve. Income Inequality Primer.

Pogge, Thomas. "Moral Priorities and Global Income Inequality." United Nations Development Programme, 2004. 15 Feb. 2004. [PDF]

Sanchez, Marcela. "Better than Foreign Aid." Washington Post. 2004.