David Cay Johnston's Confusion
By David Henderson
“Inequality Damages Marriage” is the title of a recent article by David Cay Johnston. But his article shows no such thing.
Regular readers of my posts know that I never blame an author for the title of an article run by a newspaper, magazine, or web site. We authors rarely get to choose. In the 44 articles or book reviews I’ve written for the Wall Street Journal, for example [I recently counted them when I updated my CV], my suggested title was used exactly zero times.
But whether or not he chose the title, the title does accurately reflect the author’s thesis. Moreover, in a tweet Johnston, although he misspells inequality, repeats the publisher’s title with no hedges.
But what Johnston shows, at most, is that poverty and low income damage marriage. Even there, I’m skeptical because two people with low income who got married would, if they were both earning income, automatically create a higher-income family than either of them had. In other words, marriage is, and has been, a way to get out of poverty.
But my more important point, given how common the confusion is, is that it’s important not to confuse poverty and income inequality. If everyone’s real income doubled, there would be less poverty and fewer people with lower income. But if income inequality were measured the standard way, there would be no change in income inequality.
If the income of the people at the bottom doubled and the income of the people at the top tripled, there would be less poverty–and more inequality.
Johnston shows no awareness of these basic statistical facts.
Is someone near the bottom whose income rises a lot hurt because Paul Krugman’s income increased by an even higher percent? It’s hard to see why.