As much as I appreciate Phil Gramm, his “nation of whiners” remark sure started an unhelpful firestorm. This is a typical reaction from the right – and this is a more extreme reaction from the left. What to make of all this?

It has always been true that people who do high productivity work get a greater share of society’s tangible rewards. What is new in our time is that the difference between the high productivity workers and low productivity workers is growing. Instead of being (I’m making these numbers up for purposes of illustration) 4 times more productive, high productive workers are now 6 times more productive. As a result, national productivity is growing, meaning that there are more goods and services to go around, but low productivity workers, while improving their lot on an absolute scale, are not keeping pace on a relative scale. This is the chief complaint of the left and the source of discontent among low productivity workers. They don’t like it!

But would they like it more if they were improving less on an absolute scale but more on a relative scale? It doesn’t take much economic analysis to conclude that you can’t have it both ways. I wonder how well this is understood.


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