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Forum Post: What's so bad about the income gap?

Posted 12 years ago on Oct. 5, 2011, 5:33 p.m. EST by mattjiggy (31) from Durham, NC
This content is user submitted and not an official statement

Full disclosure: I am a math teacher from Durham, NC, and our (my wife and I) combined household income is $51,000. We have 2 daughters, aged 2 years and 11 weeks.

Is the income gap inherently evil?

To illustrate this point, I'll relay a story from my classroom. After my geometry students took a test (triangle congruence theorems, if you're really interested), I decided to perform an experiment. The class average on the test was somewhere in the upper 70s, with the highest grade being a 100 and the lowest grade in the low 40s. I adjusted all the scores so that the rank order was preserved, but that no student was more than 7 points above or below the class average (e.g., the student scoring a 100 now had an 85, and the student with a 42 now had a 71).

When the students got their tests back, the failing students were pleased to see that their grade had been "curved" up to a passing level, despite the plethora of red marks and comments on their paper. The students scoring in the 90-100 range were understandably confused and angry.

"I only got 1 question wrong! How did I get an 83?!", Moira asked.

"Well, I didn't think it was right that you scored so much higher than John," I replied. "So, I gave some of your points to him. Don't be upset, you still got an 85."

"What the hell?! I should've gotten a 100!"

"Moira, don't be that way. You had unfair advantages going into this test that John didn't have."

Moira was aghast. "Like what? I stayed awake in class? I did my homework?"

"Among other things. You have 2 parents at home, and a computer, and internet access, and a healthy diet," I explained.

"That dude is hardly ever here and when he's here he does NOTHING!!!" By this time, Moira had gone from perplexed to furious.

"But he's earnestly trying, and who are we to withhold basic rights from him?" I asked.


The conversation went on like this for a while, and of course, the grades were changed back to their original levels.

I'm sure this will anger a few people, and it's an open forum. Why would this analogy not hold water?



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[-] 5 points by anonymouse (154) 12 years ago

That's fine as an analogy for individual responsibility, but I think what the movement is looking at is how some people (the so-called top "1%") have special access to the rule sets that governs all others, allowing them to skirt, subvert, or bend laws to their liking in such a way that disadvantages everyone else.

The classroom analogy for that is, if one student (who passed bribes to the teacher) could choose what categories of questions appear in a classroom-wide test. Of course that student would design the test in such a way that he would easily ace it, while others may struggle in the face of his arbitrary preferences.

This is approximately what's happening with the tax code for example, which is chock full of arbitrary, preferential treatment partially drafted by those who would benefit. I imagine it's this corrupt culture that OWS hopes to stop.

[-] 2 points by squaresphere (39) 12 years ago

Spot on. I wish threads could be closed here, 'cause after what you wrote, this thread's done.

[-] 2 points by marsdefIAnCe (365) 12 years ago

I like this analogy. What we have now is much closer to a test where 1 student gets to not only pick the questions, but the right answers, and off anyone who dares say anything to the contrary.

[-] 4 points by entrepreneur99 (114) from Los Angeles, CA 12 years ago

I agree that this is nonsense. OWS is not about grading on a curve, or just grabbing money from the rich to hand it to the poor.

Using your example, the situation we have now is that a couple of your students talked to the principal to get you hired. Now they are asking to be given a 100 even though their chemistry experiment caused the school to blow up. If you don't they'll get you fired.

We just want fair grades, man. No student should be able to buy the teacher. (ie: money out of politics)

[-] 1 points by distortion (196) 12 years ago

now thats an accurate analogy!

[-] 3 points by powertothepeople (1264) 12 years ago

In your class, each student solved the problems on the test on their own. Each is individually responsible for their performance.

No one in this country got rich on their own. Companies employ workers, who should be treated fairly. They deal with suppliers, who they should treat fairly. Monopolies and unfair trade practices are against our laws, for that reason. There is no "individual performance" in a business that employs people.

Here's something else:

In 1974, the average CEO made 34 times as much as a production or non-supervisor worker.

In 1990, it was 96 times as much.

In 2000, it was 458 times as much.

458 times as much as the production worker? WOW! This impacts shareholders in publicy traded companies, as well as workers.

It looks to me like CEO's are the ones being graded on a curve. And no, I don't think that is fair.

Do you think they are performing more than 12 times as well as they did in 1974?

[-] 1 points by Jolibear (47) from Greenfield, MA 12 years ago

and compare that 458 times to how many times more the CEOs make than the production worker in other countries. It's frightening.

[-] 0 points by ThinkingResponsibly (3) 12 years ago

but no! Not every student is individually responsible. After all, some have parents that are concerned, and put pressure on, while others don't. Some have a genetic ("natural") talent in a subject. The book they used was written by others. Some may have asked the teacher on stuff they didn't quite grasp. None of that was "on their own"!

I like the original analogy. Quite accurate for most of what's suggested on this board. I've seen comments that range from light socialism to marxism to communism.

You guys are the same groups of clowns that were screaming "the devilish oil companies are posting record profits! We slave away to pay for our gas, and they just get rich!!", while failing to acknowledge that the percentage of profit they had was LESS than the chunk the government was taking! GASP

How's this one for you? We eliminate taxes completely. No federal bailouts possible. Your money is your money. You can hire who you want, work for whoever will hire you, etc. No welfare, no minimum wage. No government handouts (not even hand ups), no nothing beyond what you yourself earn. You can invest it. But, that's a risk. You could lose everything. Now, is it right that someone ELSE profits off of your risk? Is it right that someone else profits off of your business? Off of your work? Hell no it ain't. Instead of demanding MORE from the rich (who by the way, pay more in taxes than 99% of you 99%ers-not just in dollar amount, but in %), you greedy bastards should be thankful that they pay as much as they do! They could instead say "screw it, if I pulled everything I have out of the US, and invested in greece, I'd make a killing.. or in china.. or australia.. or hell, ANYWHERE!". Those 'evil' rich bastards keep this country going. And until you realize that, all you're asking for is your own demise.

Who's going to hire you if they don't have money to pay? Who's going to hire you when it costs them more in pay and benefits than you produce for the company? Would it be right? Would it be FAIR (which you folks seem to throw that word around a lot!)?

[-] 1 points by powertothepeople (1264) 12 years ago

And even though I shouldn't answer you because of your ad hom attacks, I will throw this statistic out here.

The rich pay more than "us greedy bastards" you say?

Yea, no, not so much. Haven't you seen this USA Today article? 1, 470 millioinaires and billionaires paid zero taxes in 2009.


I'm not an unemployed college student, I am a self employed freelancer and I've had my own brick and mortar retail store before, so don't preach to me about what it takes to pay employees or run a business. I pay not only Federal Income tax but I pay the entire 15% FICA tax because I am self employed, I pay the employee portion AND the employer portion for myself. And because I earned less than 106,800 last year - I paid that 15% on every penny of my income. People who earn MORE than 106,800 stop paying FICA tax on anything they earn over that amount. So I was FICA taxed on 100% of my income - while the rich who have actual payroll type income pay less of a share and then some of their income is capital gains which is taxed lower than my income is.

Yes, even though I've been a business owner and I'm now a hard working self employed person who is dependent ONLY on my own individual performance, I still believe in justice and fairness.

How much do you earn? would you care to share? If you earn 50K a year like the gentleman who started this topic why are you shilling for the rich?

[-] 1 points by powertothepeople (1264) 12 years ago

Really, is it necessary to call names? You responded to my post with all kinds of bad language. Stop it. All the replies are respectful in this topic except yours.

[-] 3 points by marsdefIAnCe (365) 12 years ago

This is nonsense. You carry the pretense of making a valid analogy but couldn't be further from the truth.

Let's try this instead: 100 students take a test, averaging 80%. One of these students has access to the point black box, from which he can draw as many points as he likes and give them to himself and his friends. The rub is, each time you double the number of points their value is cut in half. So the student with the magic black box decides that now there will be 16,000 points total instead of 8,000. The other 99 must now gauge their level of points against a 200 point baseline instead of 100, so the average drops to 40%. The student with the magic black box of 8,000 points gives himself 200 and a 100% score, while using the other 7,800 to bribe a few into using force to keep the rest off his back.

[-] 1 points by mattjiggy (31) from Durham, NC 12 years ago

As long as you're spinning the yarn, explain how the student came into possession of the black box.

And just so we're on the same page, is the student with the black box supposed to be the Fed chair, or, say, the CEO of Bank of America?

[-] 1 points by marsdefIAnCe (365) 12 years ago

Federal Reserve, of course. The owners of said institution came into possession of their printing machine by colluding with one another to cause market bubbles and crashes to create a problem, offered bribes to officials to encourage them to like the proposed solution, and retain control via criminal conspiracy that extends to assassinations when deemed necessary.

[-] 1 points by mattjiggy (31) from Durham, NC 12 years ago

Listen, I hate to channel my inner skeptic, but this sounds more like a hollywood plot than reality. I can only assume you have no actual proof of these dealings, just speculations that fit your desired narrative.

[-] 1 points by marsdefIAnCe (365) 12 years ago

Where to start? We could go back to 1930s when Bush Jr's granddaddy was simultaneously lobbying for drug prohibition and funding the Nazis, which is public record knowledge, and led to the profitable enterprise of the CIA importing drugs which, again, is public record knowledge and resulted in numerous scandals like Iran-Contra and Fast and Furious.

Or we could talk about how the Rockefeller's & co. attempted to corner the alcohol trade during prohibition and chilled in Arkansas where our illustrious "depends on what the definition of is is" con-man originated.

Or we could talk about Lincoln's assassination shortly after issuing orders to print greenbacks to pay down Civil War debt.

Or maybe JFK's assassination after Executive Order 11110 which ordered the printing of silver backed currency?

Or perhaps we can pretend that the anti-monopoly furor of the muckraker and Sen. la Follette era never existed, for there was clearly no organized economic plan of subversion at the time and they were all just loony tunes?

And while we're at it we might pretend that Thomas Jefferson was secretly plotted to subvert liberty in America with the bold and outrageous claim that private central banks are more dangerous than standing armies...

You serious? Should I go on...?

[-] 2 points by pariscommune (205) 12 years ago

youd better ask yourself why you even have to give points. you are a teacher and you have to give marks instead of filling knowledge gaps and its not your choice. you very well know that making lousy amounts of points isnt an invitation to filling the gaps but a reason to be kicked from school or not getting the degree. should make you suspicious really if you are about teaching.

the stupid idea you are telling here is that everyone is provided with the stuff he needs to get 100 points in your metaphor. in real life there is competition and not checking state of knowledge. competition while making a top to get to clearly makes a bottom too. so if you are gonna blame people for having a low income then you decide to ignore two things: in competition not everyone can win and in competition not everyone has the same means to get there. unlike your school example.

and really being a student is just about obeying the teacher and doing all the tasks assigned by the leader, its about being obedient, being a good boy. thats what you are really testing in school. because you very well know too that most of the people learning math and not giving a shit about it do it because they dont think they will ever use it. unless you are a primary school teacher that is the truth of the matter and not their fault.

[-] 1 points by joeradmacher (40) from Kansas City, MO 12 years ago

This is OK as long as you the teacher doesn't give a higher grade to someone else because they can bribe you.f That's the issue in todays finacial and political sectors. If everything was a simple as grading papers we wouldn't have so many problems.

[-] 1 points by littleg (452) 12 years ago

Initially I was laughing at your non sense experiment. Human beings instinctively know what is fair and what is unfair. Nobody needs to teach them fairness. If the poor people didn't think that it's fair to be rich in this country, all the poor would have looted all the rich people in every country.

You are really trying to compare apples and oranges. Don't oversimplify the current inequality problem in the US. It's not that simple.

Unfortunately, some teachers teach their ideology (like no free lunch/fend for yourself and so on) to their students while honestly they shouldn't (whether left or right). In fact ideology should be a mandatory course and let the student decide which way he/she wants to go.

[-] 1 points by kwinter (29) from Levittown, PA 12 years ago

This analolgy does not hold water because it is based on the idea that the bast paid jobs are paid more because they require more from the employee.

The reality is more like the best paid jobs are given to friends and people who have the ability to appear more intelligent, regardless of ability to do the work at hand.

[-] 1 points by attorneysomewhere (22) 12 years ago

Faults with this scenario:

1) Moira sounds as though she actually worked hard to earn her 100, whereas a fair amount of people do not work hard to earn their money. The protest is not about wealth (or, at least, it shouldn't be if it wants to see any real impact), the protest is about corruption in government and how businesses can twist the scenario to afford themselves the best situation to live lavishly or, insofar as you're concerned, get the most 100s. There is nothing underhanded about following the rules and earning what you have, grades or money. Anonymouse is right on the money with this.

2) Another problem existing within the wealthy is that those who get there by stepping on the necks of those who are beneath them generally do nothing to pay into an environment in which others can move up. I'm pretty sure that if you asked Moira to tutor some of the lower scoring people in the class, she'd have no problem; ask a decent number of millionaires/corporations to pay back into their company to expand job openings to increase employment, I'm sure they'd stare at you with a look that says, "But, my bonuses!" You know, before they call security to escort you, a lowly teacher, from their presence.

3) I hope, for your sake, those aren't the kids' real names, or that you had their parents/their (if of the age of majority) consent prior to putting them on the internet. Given that you've already stated the school you work at, the city you live in (which is already bad enough), and their names, you could be faced with some pretty grim charges, the least of which being endangerment of a child (the same reason schools aren't supposed to put pictures of their children up on the website: pedophiles).

[-] 2 points by dreadsPoverty (93) from Mankato, MN 12 years ago


[-] 1 points by mattjiggy (31) from Durham, NC 12 years ago

yes names were changed

[-] 1 points by RightsOfMan (45) from Brownsville, TX 12 years ago

Statistically, the more money you make the smaller the total percentage you will give away charitably...that's a societal problem. I'm glad to see others feel as I do.

[-] 1 points by Dio (12) 12 years ago

I don't see whats so wrong with that, if you would have kept doing this with your students then the average and high ranking kids would start making sure that the rest of the class is paying attention and understanding whats going on in class so that their class average is higher.

[-] 1 points by Jolibear (47) from Greenfield, MA 12 years ago

But there are people who are doing everything right, as you said, "have 2 parents at home, and a computer, and internet access, and a healthy diet" or the monetary equivalent of that, and still not able to get ahead because with all the money concentrated in the top 1 percent, there is no where to go. I'm one of those people, super responsible, self starter, hard worker, good with money, but because I'm not willing to buy into wall st, and I don't have any inherited money or parents who can help, I'm just barely squeaking by, and quite far from comfortable or "passing"

[-] 1 points by distortion (196) 12 years ago

this sounds suspiciously like email spam

let me ask you something, that kid that scored a 100 but whose grade is now an 85, he's still got the best score in the class right?

[-] 1 points by mattjiggy (31) from Durham, NC 12 years ago

And no, this isn't email spam. It's an actual story from my classroom at Riverside HS.

[-] 1 points by mattjiggy (31) from Durham, NC 12 years ago

Yes, the fictional "85" was still the highest score.

[-] 2 points by distortion (196) 12 years ago

so the kid would rather be at 100 and the top of the class and see the rest fail then be at an 85 and still top of the class and see the rest succeed?? Sounds like a little a**hole to me, that kids gonna get beat up at recess.

[-] 3 points by dreadsPoverty (93) from Mankato, MN 12 years ago

If not expelled for being an obvious cheat. But that doesn't happen when you're "too big to fail."

[-] 0 points by agnosticnixie (17) from Laval, QC 12 years ago

It doesn't hold water because it doesn't consider how hard someone worked. It also holds no water because some people actually should by all indications succeed, including because they have awesome grades, and fail because the system is what it is.

Now watch this - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pd60nYW577U