Rand Paul: Economic inequality exists because some people work harder than others

In explaining on Sunday how his flat tax plan will avoid exacerbating economic inequality — which it totally will — Rand Paul explained that the only reason such inequality exists is that some people work harder than others.

Said Paul, quoted by the Huffington Post:

The thing is, income inequality is due to some people working harder and selling more things,” Paul told host Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.” “If people voluntarily buy more of your stuff, you’ll have more money.”

This is an abundantly stupid assertion, especially for a self-described libertarian such as Paul.

In this framework, a unit of work should be worth the same no matter who produces it, and if it takes you twice as long to produce that unit you deserve half the pay. You learn in the first week of microeconomics that this isn’t how the free market works. The market values different goods and services at different levels; a unit of productivity for an entry-level worker at Burger King is valued less than a unit of productivity for an entry-level worker at, say, a construction site or a consulting firm. So in a free market system, inequality is inevitable as a function of diverse labor. Two workers, exerting equal effort, will earn different amounts of money depending on what they’re working on.

Rand Paul, via Wikimedia Commons

Rand Paul, via Wikimedia Commons

Paul almost got around to saying something to that effect when he told Chris Wallace later in the interview that “We all end up working for people who are more successful than us,” but he said so in the context of repeating the trickle-down truism that success at the top produces gains on the bottom, a truism that’s been debunked here, here and here.

Instead, his comments are yet another refusal on the part of a Republican presidential candidate to acknowledge how wages have stagnated, despite steadily-increasing productivity, over the last forty years. His comments are only slightly different from Jeb Bush’s earlier claim that Americans need to “work longer hours” in order to grow the economy.

Both Bush and Paul’s assertions completely ignore any other systemic factors that produce inequality, starting with the steady erosion of organized labor and ending with corporate executives increasing their own pay on a whim.

There are a lot of reasons why Americans’ economic outlooks are head-deskingly unequal. Lack of effort isn’t one of them.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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