J.D. Moyer

beat maker, sci-fi writer, self-experimenter

Steve Pavlina Doesn't Get Income Inequality

Sometimes I read a blog post that makes me so mad, I need to write a blog post.

Such was my reaction to Steve Pavlina’s post “Data Has No Power Over You” re: the youtube video about income inequality (above).

You’ve probably already seen the video. If not, it’s worth watching. The main point, that most of us aren’t aware of just how extreme income inequality is in the United States, is an important one.

So why did Steve’s post piss me off? I’ve linked to many of Steve Pavlina’s posts, and I enjoy his writing. He is both practical and spiritual. His writing tends to emphasize changes in attitude and framing; he uses phrases like “aligning yourself with abundance.” Phrases like this make my B.S. meter go off, but I tolerate them from Pavlina because he doesn’t discount the need for action, hard work, and changing habits.

What irritates me about Steve’s post (which includes phrases like “Don’t fuss over what strangers are doing or not doing with their assets.”) is that it ignores the fact that extreme income inequality hurts all of us. We don’t need to be passive and accept income inequality. We can vote for more progressive taxation, and government spending that preserves wealth (a real national health care system, for example, would prevent millions of bankruptcies among middle-class and poor families).

I completely believe in personal responsibility, but I also believe that we should strive for a more equal, more fair, more compassionate society. So many people seem to think that these views are opposed, but they’re not.

To be clear, I’m not swallowing the message of the video whole; there are some inaccuracies worth pointing out:

  1. Perfect wealth equality doesn’t happen under socialism, or communism, or any other system. Wealth equality has never happened in any nation, ever.
  2. The video refers only to wealth distribution and ignores wealth creation. The size of the pie is just as important, or more so. Equal wealth distribution, where everyone is poor, is not a desirable condition.
  3. The video is presented as if by an individual citizen. To my eye, the video looks professionally produced (high-end motion graphics, narration, sound quality, and music), and is posted with a throwaway account on youtube (user “politizane”, with only one video). This post on Mother Jones claims that “politizane” is a freelance filmmaker, proficient in After Effects, staying anonymous in order to “avoid losing clients.” Could be true … but I remain skeptical regarding the source and agenda behind all anonymously posted content.

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28 Comments

  1. If you study “working class” uprisings throughout history, you’ll get a pretty good idea of where inequality takes you. People can only take so much and, on the way to that breaking point, you have stagnation and unrest. We continue to be in a “gearshift” economy – some folks are in overdrive, some are idling in neutral and some are grinding their way into reverse. It’s beyond me how anyone can fail to see that people who feel like they’re getting somewhere for all their expended energy are happier, more productive, less hostile, more tolerant. As to the mealy-mouthed pap propounded by those who have to those who don’t – I dare Steve Pavlina to pop into Chicago’s South Side, stand on a street corner, and counsel passers by to “align themselves with abundance”. I’ll be the guy waiting in the background, leaning on the wall and holding a change of undies for him. Worldwide – not just here in the U.S. – the divide is growing deeper. I’m so tired of the, “I’ve got mine, so screw you….”, mindset. Or the, “Everyone is entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness……unless, of course, you happen to be gay, pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant (or not), or female” dogma – brought to you by the folks who turn right around and say government should get out of our lives. As an aside to the increasingly pervasive “Anonymous” poster: my name is on this comment……what’s your problem?

    • Agreed. What infuriates me most is the pervasive idea that income and wealth are always tied to societal contribution in a linear fashion. Sometimes the two are related, but often the inverse is true … wealth is tied to destructiveness and opportunism just as often (a current example is major banks laundering drug cartel profits).

      • I think perhaps complacency is one of our greatest enemies – the willingness of many folks to sit and do nothing, arguing all the while that the problem is just too big for little ol’ me to be able to make a difference, so to heck with it. For pete’s sake, people, do something…..anything….to make a positive impact in your world. It doesn’t have to be grandiose or earth-shaking. Remember, life doesn’t have a remote – you have to get up off your butt and change it yourself. Whenever you think that you’re too insignificant to get the attention of the powers with all the money, pull up a photo of that young man in China standing in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square…..and bringing it to a full stop.

  2. george

    I had once thought Mr. Pavlina a refreshing dose of common sense, but over the last few years he has shown increasing signs of mental instability. He began to believe that ghosts were helping him win at blackjack, then he pressured his then-wife into accepting adulterous liasons, then promptly divorced her. Since then, he’s publicly asked for slaves to work for him, and now, the same man, who once despised Bush, seems to have degenerated into right-wing self-righteousness.

    I believe he hit his acme with his experiment with polyphasic sleep, but since then has turned into a textbook example of the Peter Principle at work.

    • He is definitely eccentric and has some odd beliefs. The “slave” post was on April 1, so I don’t hold that against him (except for poor taste). I really like his writing about purpose and intention.

  3. Pavlina’s post reads like positivity fluff, ignoring data to sell a good feeling. Strongly agree with your point that linear (or even direct) correlation between societal contribution and income/wealth is a total fantasy.

    That said, regarding this video, there was a good Quora answer posted detailing how some of the data in it is misleading and the way people’s opinions were surveyed was biased. Specifically, the data on Sweden swaps out wealth distribution for income distribution, two very different things. Makes Sweden seem drastically different from the U.S. when in practice it is not.
    http://www.quora.com/U-S-Politics/What-is-most-peoples-reaction-to-this-presentation-on-wealth-inequality-in-the-US/answer/Adrien-Lucas-Ecoffet

    Still, the point strongly stands. We have much more inequality than we think we have, much more than we would like to have. That has a concrete negative impact on society and we should try to change it.

    • Nice analysis of how question phrasing can be used to get the response you want. Reminds of Jimmy Kimmel’s question “Should Obama pardon the sequester and send it to Portugal?” (generally, people answered yes)

  4. I’ve been trying for years to get these facts out to as many people who will listen. Nobody cares. People would rather watch cute kitties on the internet than view the unimaginable facts that have devastating effects on all of our lives. Whoever polirizane is, I’d like to shake his hand and offer my assistance in any way I can. Thank you politizane! Excellent work. If anyone cares, see Scott ernster, the bus on YouTube.

  5. One of the things I disliked most about Pavlina’s post – it basically just sits there and tells you how screwed you and all the rest of the peons are, but offers no solutions, no progressive path to follow, nothing uplifting or truly positive – shoves your heart and soul into the muck and won’t let you up for air. Pah! Yuck! Patooie!

  6. altamisal

    I think Steve’s message is well summed up in the conclusion:

    “Don’t fuss over what strangers are doing or not doing with their assets. Focus on your own path. Make sure you’re living in a way that inspires you and challenges you to keep growing. If you do a good job of that, you’ll be less inclined to fret and worry over the inequities of life.”

    I find nothing to disagree with there. His view is in alignment with Abraham-Hicks: “Get everyone else out of the equation”:

    “We want you to leave everyone else out of the equation…
    We think it is a really good idea if you get your nose out of all their business, and you put your nose in YOUR business.
    And as far as we can see, your only business is your alignment of energy.
    Your only business is managing the way you feel.”

    Makes sense to me.

    • Taking personal responsibility is one thing. Ignoring what is happening on the macro level (group/community/society/civilization) is another. We are not lone wolves — we are a deeply intertwined species, living collaboratively whether we like it or not. If good people ignore what is happening politically, then tyrants have more opportunities to take control.

      • altamisal

        Protest is fine if that’s what we want to do, but I feel we can make a difference just by cultivating our own garden.
        It could be said that by focusing on inequities we are only drawing forth more of the same, according to the Law of Attraction…

        • Sorry Altamisal, but the “Law” of Attraction goes against everything I believe in. What a terrible way to go through life … avoiding fat people because you’re scared of getting fat … avoiding poor people because you scared that poverty might be contagious. Am I wrong that this same idea leads to the conclusion that tragedy victims are to blame because they “attracted” disaster or mayhem? That the Jews were responsible for the Holocaust?

          Maybe you don’t take this so-called Law of Attraction so literally or to such extremes. I know Pavlina doesn’t (he’s written about it), but many people in the world of “The Secret” actually take this kind of hokum to those extremes.

          I would readily accept that “like attracts like” and that it’s important to nurture a sense of possibility within oneself, but there is so much crazy, irrational thinking associated with the “Law of Attraction” that I am going to jump on it whenever it’s mentioned on this blog.

          • altamisal

            Jump all you want J.D., it’s good exercise. 🙂 The Law of Attraction and “The Secret” (which I haven’t seen) are not the same thing. As a longtime student of the LOA through Abraham-Hicks, I do know that some people interpret it in “unique” ways, but that’s not the fault of the LOA. You may find this of interest: http://iasos.com/metaphys/#Abraham

            Anyway – I’m not saying we shouldn’t be aware of what’s going on in our world. I do think it’s more productive to envision the kind of world we prefer, rather than railing against things as they are. In the same way, we won’t have peace by hating war, but by loving peace.

            • On that last point I agree with you completely. What would I envision for the United States? In terms of income inequality, I would much rather have Denmark’s problems (high taxes, and a welfare state that could use a little trimming, as per recent nytimes article), than the egregious income inequality and lack of safety nets we have in the United States. A friend of mine, a restaurant worker who I am pretty sure has no health insurance, was recently hit by a car while biking home. He’ll receive emergency care, and in a few months, tens of thousands of dollars of hospital bills. So here’s one concrete point I’d like to envision — a healthcare system that covers everybody (and doesn’t result in bankruptcy in the event of serious illness or injury). I would happily pay higher taxes to see that kind of change in the U.S.

              What kind of change would you envision on the socioeconomic or political level?

            • altamisal

              First, i would hope that the hospital your friend went to would have some kind of program for lower income patients. My son had to go to the emergency room last summer, and as a student, he qualified for financial assistance. Your friend ought to look into that possibility.

              I envision a world of joy, safety and harmony for all, where everyone is provided for and we all have everything we need to survive and thrive. A world of sharing and caring, of unity consciousness. A friend of mine wrote this blog post where he outlines his vision of a world based in Oneness:
              http://zingdad.com/blog/253–choosing-joy-day-6-creating-oneness.html

  7. For anyone who is interested, here’s the article about the Danish welfare state mentioned in the comment above:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/21/world/europe/danes-rethink-a-welfare-state-ample-to-a-fault.html
    So this is what the Republican nightmare of welfare dependency looks like in real life. It does sound annoying to be paying 55% tax while your neighbor is living a life of leisure at state expense. But when it comes down to it, I would pick that kind of annoyance over the tragedy of millions of uninsured children, children living in poverty, talent wasted because of limited access to early childhood and/or higher education, and all the other issues we face in the United States.

    High tax welfare state — bring it on.

    • C’Mon. You don’t really mean that. Welfare is what gives us liberals a bad name. If that Mount Everest size pile of cash weren’t being boarded by the super rich, we’d have more than enough resources to properly educate all future welfare recipients.

  8. I would encourage politizane to come out from behind the curtain and take a much deserved round of applause. If losing work over this is his (or their) reason for anonymity forget it. If anything the opposite is true, with 6 million viewers your filmaking career is ready to skyrocket. Information is everything. If enough people absorb the enormity of what this video portrays perhaps enough voters will emerge to dislodge the GOP majority in the house of representatives and we can really accomplish something.

  9. NA

    Hi J.D., I’m a long time fan of Steve Pavlina. I came across your blog post about this particular video (which I hadn’t seen before) and after watching it, I must agree with you. I also do believe that extreme income inequality hurts all of us. But than again, high tax welfare state, what are our choices?

  10. Tiffany

    I think I know who Politizane is! We homeschool and use a program called Teaching Textbooks, and when my kids heard the voice on this video they said THAT”S ONE OF THE BROTHERS FROM OUR MATH! The brothers went to school? at, YOU GUESSED IT, Harvard! Their names are Greg and Shawn Sabouri and I DO believe that one of them is the narrator of this video.

  11. Man you make no sense. All he is saying is that you should try to contribute as much as possible and increase your contribution to society instead of being afraid of inequality. The world is never going to be a blissful compassionate money paradise, do what you can to better yourself.

    • And why not also do what we can to better the world? We don’t have to passively accept the plutocracy.

    • The linked article makes the point that the statistics in the video commit “Worstalls Fallacy” which apparently is the idea that poverty statistics do not include government assistance already provided. But the author does not even try to contest the point that income AND wealth inequality are peaking in the United States. Only the pre-Depression 1920’s saw greater income and wealth inequality.

  12. No, no no...

    Please don’t endorse this lunatic. He’s Trojan-horsing people into doing really shitty things (like giving him money). It’s blatant scam-artistry and he should no more be allowed to do it than a corrupt preacher should be allowed to lead a flock, regardless of how “sound” his doctrine is. And this is coming from an atheist. Please, please stop linking! Do your own thinking! He’s a crook!

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