The Inequality Map

Dear visitors, we Americans are a unique lot. Some forms of elitism are O.K. Others not so much.

Comments: 125

  1. Entertaining, but one caveat.

    Wealth is acceptable if earned through activities, innovation or entrepreneurship that creates real value. Wealth is unacceptable if it is derived from "gaming the system" by loading the Board of Directors with cronies and paying oneself huge bonuses (e.g., may large company CEOs), or by laying off thousands of workers (e.g., Carly Fiorina, Mitt Romney) or by taking a huge payoff upon termination despite underperforming the industry (Robert Nardelli, Hank McKinnell).

  2. Most of this is silly. One part of it isn't: It is unacceptable for some people not to be able to pay for medication, or for them to be unable to afford enough to eat or decent housing. It is especially unacceptable if these people are impoverished so that the wealthy can have more.
    Of course, Mr. Brooks does not seem to have highlighted this particular inequality, but it's the one that matters most.

  3. In looking over your comments on acceptable and unacceptable inequalities, it seems to me that acceptable inequalities are more likely those that are attained by personal effort - e,g. academic or athletic accomplishment - while unacceptable inequality is more likely a status that does not demand significant effort on the part of the individual or member of a group - such as inheritance or religious affiliation.
    This distinction may also be a factor in resentment towards certain kinds of exclusionary organizations which draw you in or out of the circle based on factors like gender, race, religion and other attributes that one does not personally choose as opposed to factors that the individual by effort can influence in a productive manner.

  4. Treat others with respect and dignity. For the most part, they will respond in kind.

    To understand Americans, read a copy of Frederick Jackson Turner's, "The Significance of the Frontier in American History," which he wrote in 1893. Professor Turner identifies the three unique characteristics of Americans as being egalitarian, pragmatic, and self-reliant. These are heavily institutionalized. When they get too far out of balance, the public has a rowdy discussion and votes in politicians who inch back toward an agreeable balance.

    Read also a copy of Alexis de Tocqueville's, "Democracy In America." He came to this country in the 1830s to answer the question of why the United States' democracy was prospering where as France was unstable and switching between despotism and radical democracy. Abundant fertile land, ready means for people to acquire land and make a living, and lack of a feudal aristocracy were important.

    To gain insight about the outcomes between a society choosing ethical, virtuous behavior and selfish, destructive behavior, read letters 10 through 14 of "Persian Letters," written by Montesquieu in 1721. In those five letters (a total of about eight pages of the entire book), he also explains why people of a virtuous society fights and dies to protect against aggressors.

    As a bonus, in the last letter, Montesquieu clearly explains why the Occupy movement is not choosing a central leader. He foresees that a society yearns for a central leader to avoid or shift the individual responsibility for constantly deciding what actions are virtuous, ethical, and will make for a better society.

    A visitor would then be equipped to understand American society as it thinks of itself, understand its endless struggle with inequality and equality, and a basis for making virtuous and ethical choices, which Americans will not find offensive but will likely find admirable.

    This knowledge could also save the United States democracy.

    Liam Jumper

  5. Excellent piece. But, despite the clarification of cupcake and beer inequality, you still missed a big one.

    Predatory inequality has become unacceptable. It's no longer permissible to be Lloyd Blankfein.

    Oh, and by the by, while it's quite true that "... we are a democratic, egalitarian people who spend our days desperately trying to climb over each other", it's just as true that most other societies aren't because their people are, to one degree or another, frozen solid within class boundaries that allow about as much mobility (irrespective of ability or hard work) as a Bernini sculpture.

  6. The Internet fights elitism: Ivy League gear is easily available to everyone online. I’m partial to wearing Yale and Princeton myself. I also have some Harvard, Brown, Columbia and Dartmouth. I figure if I couldn’t afford the pricey education, I can at least afford the sweatshirts.

  7. Mr. Brooks, I usually enjoy reading your essays, even if I do not often agree with them. Every so often, however, you write one that leaves me scratching my head and wondering if we live in the same country. Today’s essay was one of those. To examine just one example, you state the following:

    “Moral fitness inequality is unacceptable. It is out of bounds to boast of your superior chastity, integrity, honor or honesty. Instead, one must respect the fact that we are all morally equal, though our behavior and ethical tastes may differ.”
    Where in American life have you observed that those who boast of their supposed superior moral fitness are actually endowed with it? Have we not often observed the contrary to be true; that those individuals who most loudly proclaim their moral superiority are the very ones exposed as hypocrites engaged in immoral behavior? I have been privileged to know people possessed of superior moral attributes. None of them has ever exhibited a desire to boast about those qualities. To the contrary, they have been people possessed of humility who quietly behave in ways that inspire all who know them. Genuine moral preeminence is not only acceptable, it is admirable.

  8. Mr. Brooks, income inequaility has reached egregious levels in our country. And it is as much about a theft of political power as it is about income. It allows people like the Koch brothers to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in super-pacs that finance campaigns against collective bargaining rights, school integration, our right to vote, clean water & air, public education and access to health care. So, the next time your imaginary Europeans ask about American inequality, tell them the truth - it is income inequality that is driving people into the streets in protest.

    I am disappointed that you continue to trivialize this subject in your recent columns. Income inequality is creating a gaping whole in the middle class and crushing the poor. It is concentrating massive political influence in the hands of the few. The bleak future millions of Americans face as resources flow unchecked to the wealthiest Americans deserves serious consideration, not sarcasm.

  9. That actors or athletes should make multi-millions of dollars, while k-12 teachers, firefighters and police make, on average, less than $75K should be unacceptable.

  10. Adaptability is a requisite strategy to success.

  11. It is really simple. The more an inequality is caused by factors outside a people's control, the more unacceptable it is or should be.

  12. Suggesting that all countries don't share similar attitudes about these various inequalities is not acceptable. America is no different than any other country in its perception of what is right or wrong socially, or academically, or athletically.

    I suppose the conceit that foreign tourists are pelting you with obtuse questions is as good a way to launch a column as any, but the subtext (Oh Lord, why is there always a subtext?) seems to be that by highlighting so many seemingly irrelevant and random distinctions, it makes the real, immoral distinction between the one- and the 99-percent seem equally cavalier. We're supposed to slide into poverty while a few wealthy individuals sit on a mountain of cash, and because of this column we'll just shake our heads with bemusement that we ever thought the distinction was unfair.

    The most unacceptable inequality is the ability of the rich to buy political favors while the ordinary people the politicians are supposed to be looking out for are trampled underfoot.

  13. Presumaly the point here, beloved by the right, is that we should stop carping about income inequality and just celebrate our wacky American-ness. But critics of today's unprecedented rise of the very rich at the expense of the middle class (which currently bears the risk but not the rewards of capitalism) aren't advocating an egalitarian utopia; rather, they hope for a system in which the risks and rewards of capitalism are shared in a relative sense by all, as they were from 1945-1975. Not to worry Dave, that still leaves room for plenty of inequality; rich people will still be richer than middle class people, there will just be fewer foreclosures.

  14. This is a brilliantly conceived and funny essay in which Mr. Brooks again demonstrates that you can go to all lengths of rhetoric and wit to defend a wrong-headed prejudice by covering it up. But egregious inequalities of income and wealth and opportunity are no joke. Yes, there are many kinds of inequality, and the fact that we care too much about sports and stand on ceremony about too many little things and engage in small hypocrisies and blindnesses can be amusing indeed. But it's no joke that gross inequalities of income and wealth are ruining the country and the world - that they are not acceptable, morally or economically. Occupy Wall Street has made the essential point, and ours is not to question it but to join the most important work of the commonwealth - figuring out how to save ourselves. Entrenched interests such as political parties and cynical pundits may have a hard time accepting the revolutionary insight - gross inequalities of money are a cancer - but accept it they must. Excise the cancer. Reform the tax code.

    Apologies to the extremely witty Mr. Brooks, but the meaning of this piece - to ridicule the objection to gross inequalities of wealth as a silliness akin to sports rivalries - is grossly wrong, and a profound "let them eat cupcakes" mis-reading of the historical moment.

    It's time to restore progressive taxation. Tax the rich; support the needy in the immediate crisis; and level the playing field for present and future. The need for this is no joke.

  15. I can't tell which of your comments are sincere and which ironic or even sarcastic. Are you lamenting that certain forms of inequality are unacceptable, or are you lauding them? Quite frankly, if you are mocking the fact that religious and ethnic inequality are unacceptable I suggest you put down the glass and back away from the Republican Kool-Aid. And ditto (unfortunate choice of word given my liberalism) your contention that all moral inequality should be acceptable: it leads to the slippery slope of determining that certain conditions or statuses (alcoholism, obesity, AIDS) have moral or ethical failings as their cause. Furthermore, I disagree with your contention that academic inequality should be just as acceptable for K-12 teachers as it is for university faculty. Ratings of the latter's competence can be objectively measured not just in student ratings but in publication and research levels. There is no such analogous objective standard in the case of "el-hi" teachers: they are not supposed to publish or do research; and students' test scores are unreliable indicia of how well they learn or how well their teachers teach, but valid demonstrations only of test-taking skills and their teachers' record in imparting them. Outside factors, such as poverty and parental irresponsibility, can and do skew the results towards a false appearance of teacher incompetence.

    Next time you write a semi-satirical piece, please be consistent. We need to know when to laugh, as opposed to when to swear and draw a mustache on your portrait.

  16. David Brooks is the best writer among the NY Times columnists and today's editorial is what I would tell a child. However income/wealth inequality also entails power, especially if mobilized in PACs and lobbyists. I would also share this fact with that child, and go on to say that this is the big problem of our time, especially as the massive spending on lobbying and political contributions gravely threaten the hitherto principle of one-person one vote. Finally, I would explain to her the basic forms of government and provide some examples from history, and show her that America is becoming ruled by a moneyed elite akin to that of the Roman Senate in the Late Republic from 133-45 BC.

  17. I noticed that almost every so-called conservative pundit is trying to distort the issue of inequality. It is as though they have all been summoned by the moneyed interest groups to begin downplaying the issue as a way to downplay the "Occupy" movement. But I also noticed that these conservative pundits are not earning their keep because the movement is getting stronger each day.

    The majority of people, young and old, in this country are hurting. The purpose of the movement is not to forcefully take the money from Wall Street tycoons and distribute it equally amongst the rest of us. It is simply recreate the economic opportunities for the middle and lower classes which have been sinking towards poverty despite education level and work experience. Corporate America with the help of the U.S. government, Democratic and Republican alike, went to the extreme to punish American workers when opportunities overseas became available through global free trade, translated correctly as slave labor.

    We all believed at the time that free trade, when done correctly and fairly, should benefit both developed and developing countries. But we never advocated rigging the system so that people in this country are left behind while people overseas are enslaved with very low wages and terrible working conditions.

    The next time you go to the voting polls you will have to pick one of two establishment politicians. Third parties will never have a chance under this monopoly political system. The problem is that both political parties are bought and paid for. They are two sides of the same coin. The difference is only in the style in which you are deceived. One party claims to have a monopoly on religion and family values while the other champions itself as the advocate of the environment, labor, and middle class.

    Must we choose between the lesser of two evils each and every election? Or would a mass occupy movement change the way the game is played?

  18. Your opening sentence seems unusual to me. The question I have heard is “how come in a rich country there is so much inequality?”

    So I will take liberties and gently correct your response.

    Academic inequality is socially irresponsible; you can buy these sweatshirts everywhere. If one has some intelligence and willing to work, they should have access to a good education. K -12 should be free and beyond that affordable. This social contract is breaking in this country.

    Ancestor inequality, I agree but I have close friends who resent the Mormon Church posthumously baptizing their dead relatives who are of non Christian faiths.

    Fitness inequality is not acceptable. From personal experience I can attest to this. I am fit but will not fit into anything anyone would want so see in workout tights. And I have seen women twice my age who are very fit in those suits. That is not acceptable either.

    Moral fitness equality should be acceptable and accepted. It is perfectly in bounds to not go to church and be a law abiding citizen, be honest, have integrity and be moral. The truly moral citizen cares about the community and the welfare of the entire community not just oneself.

    Sports inequality is acceptable to a point, see below. (I am more interested in writers inequality, I wish I had more talent.)

    Church inequality, I agree see above. Some people do not abide by community welfare and they call themselves Christians.

    Income inequality is not acceptable. It you are a star baseball player remember you are part of a team. If you are CEO (I omit the word star since they all get top dollar) it is not just impolite but immoral to have a combination wages and benefits worth hundreds of multipliers over your employees, it is bad for society. The single bottom line is not just for you.

    Spending inequality is a way of life, many are no longer spending.
    Cultural inequality is acceptable in the arts, but in ethnic identity cultures, inequality is acceptable in many regions of the country. We are a modern tribal society by region where in some regions those who are different in numerous ways are not tolerated.

    Vocation inequality is not acceptable if it is due to academic inequality due to economic circumstances or ethnic identity. Vocation bullying is acceptable. If you are a good public servant, or work in an altruistic vocation where service comes before money it is acceptable to ridicule such people.

    Dear visitor, we are struggling with our democracy. We are an egalitarian society, but those with money are undermining our democracy.

  19. As de Tocqueville concluded almost 200 years ago, no society is more obsessed with rank and status than a classless society.

  20. Once again Brooks attempts to 'obfuscate' social inequality, and again by ignoring the biggest inequality of all: the tiny percentage of Americans that live solely off of the labor of others, versus the rest of the population that either performs, performed, will perform, or wants to perform that labor. In other words, workers, retired workers, children who will become workers, and unemployed workers (the latter of whom aren't working primarily because it's not profitable enough for that tiny percent for everyone who wants to work to have a job; in fact, it's profitable for them to HAVE unemployment).

    Brooks previous article on this topic focused on "income inequality" and compared it with "educational inequality" but conveniently counted only income from salaries and wages, leaving out the central category of income: income from "investments" and bequeathments from former 'investments.' The "real" inequality isn't educational inequality, or 'moral' or 'religious', etc; it's in how one earns one's income: from one's own labor or from others. And only by paying attention to this key division can one make sense of why for almost forty years now the '99%' have seen a DECLINE in individual real wages, despite huge increases in productivity and technology (note: Brooks and other conservatives generally shift the conversation to 'family incomes' which have remained basically 'flat', but only because more family members have worked more total hours, until the Great Recession made it impossible).

    But give Brooks credit, he's perhaps the best conservative pundit in years on such matters, seeming to appear intelligent and rational and informed while nonetheless serving a key ideological necessity of 'the owning class': obfuscating how social inequality and our society at large 'really work.'

  21. How about the inequality of opportunity? Is that acceptable?

    The differences in aptitude for athletic prowess or artistic talent or business acumen are not the vexations of political discourse. When some parts of our society are not able to pursue or even discover their unique strengths, then we generate a more lively and more valuable discussion.

    We might start by stipulating that life is unfair. Then we might engage in discourse about what things ought to be available to all our citizens - things like a basic education (with affordable college as an option), decent health care for those who require little and others who require more, and collective sensible stewardship of our natural resources and environment.

    When fundamental needs are met for as many citizens as possible, the benefits to all citizens are multiplied. Living in an educated society of people able to think, work and create productively is a goal worthy of serious discussion. Will an unregulated marketplace produce this equality of opportunity? Might government have a role beyond keeping us safe from natural disasters, crime and external attack?

    Dear Visitor, we are a nation of great diversity. We are currently engaged in historic discussions about whether we are better off as diverse individuals in competition to accumulate private wealth (based on luck, inheritance or hard work in some combination)or better off as a society of common aspirations and symbiotic purpose with our diversity as our enduring strength.

  22. Party inequality is unacceptable. If a particular party is overwhelmingly responsible for the near default of the country, one must never call that out. The blame must be equally attributed.

  23. Income inequality is acceptable, but the lack of an income floor is a different matter. Should all of us who are not filthy rich really have to worry about what will become of us if our investments go South and Social Security/Medicare are cut? Or should we have peace of mind on these matters and be able to choose whether to worry about affording a higher-class neighborhood/car/vacation or not?

  24. Inequality that is inherent is acceptable. Inequality that is imposed, is not.

    Still disappointed in the quality of your expositions, Mr. Brooks. I am sorry you have become an apologist for the uberRich, but understand you still have not come to grips with the knowledge you are not one of them.

  25. Don't be cute David. You're really bad at it.

  26. The tendency to form pecking orders is human nature. Even the down & out homeless will tell you that this one behaves in a way they never would or that one is 'lower class.' This does not mean that they would not help each other, share some food, or offer a butt for a drag. It just means that there are attitudes, which people use to set themselves apart in what is experienced as a positive, self-affirming way.

    This tendency to form pecking orders is not one of the more positive aspects of human nature; it can be destructive, but it is not going away.

  27. This column seems like an attempt to distract the reader by holding up many shiny objects: "Look at all the frivolous inequality we have!".

    The two inequalities that really matter the most are wealth and political power. It is not ok for to have such a glaring wealth gap. It leads to oligarchy. And it is not ok to have unequal political power: It leads to the same result.

    Those with a boat load of money to throw around have much more access to politicians and thus are able to shape public policy in their favor. Money buys political power for the few shutting out the rest of us.

  28. Equality is an integral requirement for a democracy. The degree of inequality in income, wealth, and hence political power and influence, in the US today is a huge problem for the survival of our democracy. The fact that tourists are confused about the inequalities they perceive in the US is probably because, from past experience, such inequality is antithetical to the model of quality they had believed the US to be. I had similar questions put to me during a recent two-month stay in Europe.
    Making light of such questions and concerns about inequality in the US today is, unfortunately, typical of the GOP, which sticks its head in the sand and tried to pretend that some inequalities, such as income inequality, are actually good for us. Within reasonable limits I would agree. But to the extent that the 1% dominate by exponential margins the economic and political power structure in the US, to the point where the 99% are marginalized, this becomes destructive.

  29. Ye gods. Just when you thought Brooks couldn't get any worse, he starts channeling the ghost of Andy Rooney.

    Although I do like that in Brooks' World, people make anywhere from $1 billion on the high end to $200,000 on the very low end. Blunts the sting of income inequality quite a bit.

  30. This is Remembrance Day in Canada and Veterans' Day in America. This was a fatuous column for a day of such significance in North America and Europe.

  31. David is such a tortured soul. I suppose it comes with the territory--being a semi-conservative intellectual, and a columnist for the New York Times to boot. Rush Limbaugh, the Tea Party, and Fox News hate him as as a snooty intellectual. Liberal elites, his natural soul mates, view him as a traitor to their kind, sort of a more cordial Joe Lieberman.

    It's got David all mixed up. He's concluded that fawning over gourmet cupcakes is socially acceptable, but that bragging about ancestors who came over on the Mayflower is out of bounds. Not in Peoria, David.

  32. Your "I am famous and you are not" inequality is showing!

    'Foreign tourists are coming up to me on the streets and asking,..." Really, David? Really?

  33. Clever and fun David, but you skipped the biggie...health care inequality. Explain to the tourist how its laudable for some to have easy access to their specialist for the flu, let alone a heart attack, while others get turned away from needed care because they just got laid off at work.

  34. This would be funny if Brooks didn't believe every bit of what he wrote.

  35. Such a piece of avoidance/denial writing, a fluff to side-step the matter of a certain inequality currently providing the springboard for a major social movement. The inequality of the 99% and the 1%. Mr Brooks, as he's shown in his befuddlement at OWS and its many off-shoots, is firmly of the 1% mind-set, but since he can't address that matter with any honesty, he fobs off this kind of stuff.

    Stuff it, Mr Brooks.

    www.jonjost.wordpress.com
    www.cinemaelectronica.wordpress.com

    Support OWS !

  36. Thanks, David, for volume no. 5246 of your magnum opus, "Adventures in Incoherence."

    What I see going on here is this: last week you tried to sell us on the idea that wealth inequality between the top 1% and the rest was a trivial problem and that the real problem was inequality between the educated and the uneducated, which you blamed primarily on the uneducated's supposed shiftlessness and promiscuity. In response, Paul Krugman among others tore you a new one. Now, unable to defend your spurious nonsense regarding the question of economic inequality in America with anything resembling evidence-based argument, you've resorted to trivialization and ridicule. You believe that if you show that the left-wing academics who dismiss your writings as those of a hack and a Republican shill are themselves embedded in a hierarchical, meritocratic system, you have thereby demolished their critique of growing wealth inequality in America. You would be wrong.

    Of course inequality will always be with us. Each person is unique as is her experience. But this truth does not in any invalidate critiques of particular instances of inequality. It is no joke that some forms of inequality are acceptable while others are not. One would have thought that as a Jew you would know this.

  37. This is the funniest thing you've written in a long time, David Brooks, and frankly, it's a nice break from the mental pounding we've been taking of late. Thanks for the laugh.

    And now, back to our regularly scheduled browbeating.

    http://wifelyperson.blogspot.com/

  38. "Foreign tourists are coming up to me on the streets . . . ."

    No they're not. And whatever credentials David Brooks has a columnist, a talent for humor is not one of them. Is his editor on vacation this week?

  39. Diction inequality is unacceptable. It is perfectly fine to say "Mama and me went out," or "that's great for Joe and I" or "the merchandise just lays there." It is considered rude to mutter, under your breath or not, "I went out >> Mama and I went out" or "for me >> for Joe and me" or "lie = recline, lay = place." (Um, you do not have to capitalize Pilates or write "show the world that Pilates has given you buns of steel"?)

  40. What about columnist inequality? Are we allowed to talk about that?
    Is this an attempt to be droll or ironic? We are all morally equal? Who thinks that? Or is this some sort of elitist whine? Please enlighten me, sir. Am I allowed to say Gail Collins always makes me smile, while you always make me frown, scratch my head or lose consciousness?

    www.newyorkgritty.net

  41. What has happened to you? Your comparison between the baseball player and the "star CEO" makes light of a very serious social and economic problem. Dismissing this huge issue by saying "it's no longer quite polite to receive an $18 million compensation package..." (i.e the CEO) is dismissing the underlying problem. They're not the same at all but, apparently, in your view, it's just being impolite! Absurd.

  42. Foreign tourists are coming up to me on the streets and asking, “David, you have so many different kinds of inequality in your country. How can I tell which are socially acceptable and which are not?”

    This might be the single most hokey introduction to an essay I've yet seen.

  43. "it is vulgar to spend on any adult toy that might give superficial pleasure, like a Maserati."

    Sounds like David Brooks in envious.

  44. So here we have David Brooks, beloved scion of the right for his warmed-over, half-understood quasi-scientific "Very Serious" talking points, churning out a silly puff piece based on a ludicrous hypothetical, all for the sole point of trying to make it seem like inequality is so banal and commonplace and finicky and silly that it isn't really worth talking about, or isn't worth taking seriously.

    "Because look how many kinds of inequality there are! Inequalities are a dime a dozen! Not a big deal!"

    Come on, Brooks. I know you've made your career off half-hearted faux-intellectualism, but at least give us something of a Madame Tussauds-level attempt at masquerading as a serious thinker. This is some "Transmorphers: Fall of Man"-quality work here.

  45. After riding a motorcycle through 25 US states I can easily say that Americans are the most friendly, generous people on the planet. What I don't understand about David's view of equality is the fundamental human idea that when your kid gets sick so many of your citizens have to seriously entertain thoughts of affordability when you seek medical assistance. Most of us could care less about your other 'tongue and cheek' musings. I want my neighbour to be able to get care for his wife or children when they need it and all my government needs to do is ask me how I can help make this happen. This year, it's the difference between you and us... I think we're more equal.

  46. False equivalencies are unacceptable, rendering your entire premise useless.

  47. Apparently, significant groups of foreign tourists have read the new Fodor's guide David Brooks On Five Dollars A Day. From a careful reading of today's column one might suggest that our modern day de Tokenville keep strolling when visitors approach him on the mall.

  48. "grounds opponents into dust"?

  49. Columnist and column inequality obviously exists. This is not Mr. Brooks' finest.
    LWL

  50. In some other countries only uncouth peasants still believe in the same stuff as their distant Middle Age ancestors. Thus American believers look, and sound, pretty dumb, especially when they mix their love of Jesus, with the death penalty and their obsession with money, while ignoring culture and logic, or what they call pejoratively, "arguing", the noblest conquest of civilization.
    http://patriceayme.wordpress.com/

  51. Accurate and witty. Way to go David Brooks, tho I still resent your recent further turn to the right. Come to the light side.

  52. "Academic inequality is socially acceptable. It is perfectly fine to demonstrate that you are in the academic top 1 percent by wearing a Princeton, Harvard or Stanford sweatshirt."

    Especially since it isn't really true. Anyone can buy a sweatshirt, its very egalitarian. And you don't have to be in the top 1 percent academically to attend those schools.

    "It is not permissible to go around bragging that your family came over on the Mayflower"

    Of course it is. Unless you think that makes you better than someone whose family came over in steerage and built a life here. The problem isn't with the bragging, its that its nothing to brag about.

    "It is out of bounds to boast of your superior chastity, integrity, honor or honesty."

    Not to mention humility. I suspect that if somone were to suggest that you were deficient compared to them in "chastity, integrity, honor and honesty" you would be offended. Yet, that is exactly what the claim of superiority is.

    " It is perfectly fine to wear tight workout sweats to show the world that pilates have given you buns of steel. "

    I have yet to hear anyone complain about someone who demonstrates their "chastity, integrity, honor or honesty." I have heard people complain about those who show off their buns.

    "Sports inequality is acceptable. It is normal to wear a Yankees jersey, an L.S.U. T-shirt or the emblem of any big budget team."

    With the possible exception today of Penn State. I also suggest you take off the Yankee jersey before entering some Boston sports bars and suggesting the Yankees are better than the Red Sox.

    "It would be uncouth to wear a Baptist or Catholic or Jewish jersey to signal that people of your faith are closer to God. "

    Wearing crosses is pretty normal behavior around here. Maybe you should limit your social commentary to New York City.

    "If you are a star C.E.O., it’s no longer quite polite to receive an $18 million compensation package"

    Its not "elitism" to take something you don't deserve.

  53. Its telling that David Brooks makes no mention of Muslims or Islam in his Church/Ethnic descriptions.

    Everyone knows its ok to bash Muslim Americans.

  54. Please stop "not so much."

  55. "...we are all morally equal, though our behavior and ethical tastes may differ..." Yes, for example, the Religious Right believes that Jesus supports unnecessary, expensive, massive violence and torture(eg., the War in Iraq) and extreme economic inequality, while those of us who can read (e.g., the Bible) see that he said exactly the opposite ("Blessed are the peacemakers" "He who lives by the sword, dies...", "turn the cheek", "give everything to the poor" "easier for a camel to go through a needle, than a rich man to get into Heaven"...., etc.).

  56. I've seen this sort of opinion piece before in high school newspapers. It's a form of juvenile elitism in which the writer presumes to know what forms of elitism are acceptable. Oh, and everyone knows checkout line inequality is acceptable. It's called 10 items or less.

  57. David,
    Do tell, what point are you trying to make with your glaring ommission of income inequality? Come now- don't be coy. A low-simmering anger seethes through this column.

  58. You do much better with these sorts of social witticisms than defending amoral Republican policy recommendations

  59. cupcake inequality is so OVER!

  60. Church inequality seems to be much more acceptable than you make out. There is a lot of public wearing of religious symbols. We have a gang of presidential candidates publicly declaring the moral superiority of being christian.

  61. >Foreign tourists are coming up to me on the streets and asking, “David, you have so many different kinds of inequality in your country. How can I tell which are socially acceptable and which are not?”<

    I do not believe for one moment that foreign tourists are coming up to you on the street, calling you by your first name, and asking these questions. This scenario is totally implausible. However, I suppose it's a nice literary conceit for launching into the polemic that follows it.

  62. Taking a reductio ad absurdum approach to a subject as serious as this country's growing economic inequality is, in a word, absurd.

  63. How about sexual inequality? Straight people can run around preaching the sanctity of their elavated relationships while hypocritically abusing children, divorcing, abusing each other, and cheating while denying their gay and lesbian neighbors the same rights.

  64. Thus the perfect democracy attained, a society classless and bland, and totally inoffensive to all; lacking the dynamism which once was the hallmark of the All American who rose to and accepted every challenge, defeated all comers, celebrated with gusto, and just like in Hollywood, lived Happily Ever After.

    Delightful David; thank you for lightening the mood of these difficult times; I needed that!

  65. "Travel inequality is acceptable."

    David, while my wife was flying gold, or some such, thanks to many logged miles, I always went along as 'pot metal' - but we'd board together, "I'm with her" were the magic words. A subservient attitude can do wonders - they really treated her well when they saw she even brought her slave along on the trip.

    We are the only nation in the world where people want to be filthy rich and very famous so they can afford to dress down and look like everyone else in their $500 sweatshirts.

  66. Being a European I actually asked myself questions about difference in values every time I visit the states. However, it were not the inequality questions you are rising, actually I agree with most of them. My issues were differently:

    - As the US spends more on health issues per capita than any other country: Is the inequality in health insurance and treatment acceptable?
    - Given the statistics about race etc.: Is the obvious inequality in front of the law/courtroom acceptable?
    - Given the quality and investment of the infrastructure (e.g. public transport, schools) : Is it acceptable to neglect the infrastructure when it is obvious that the richer you are the less you are depending on the infrastructure?
    -...

    To name but a few...

  67. For a supposedly astute observer of the American cultural scene, Mr. Brooks seems unaware that the fancy cupcake thing has been going on for at least a decade now. And no, the cupcakes at Safeway are not as good.

    Apparently, in Brooks' world, people make anywhere from $1 billion on the high end to $200,000 on the very low end. His world is a kind of Lake Wobegon of the rich: all the men are tall, good-looking, and earning in the high six figures. As one reviewer of his most recent book wrote, "Brooks’s vision of the good life stretches all the way from Westchester to the Hamptons." Couldn't have said it better myself.

  68. The United States. The most unequal country in the world. Except for all the others.

  69. Here is a shorter, and more accurate, version of your piece: earned inequality (through effort) is respected- inequality gained through friendships, kinships and corruption is not.
    It is very simple. I can respect a person who worked hard, or was just lucky enough to be born gifted, and went to one of the best Universities but I have contempt for kids who get in because of who their parents are or kids who's parents bribe their way into school.
    You are a bright person- how can you not see the difference?

  70. Equality and Inequality are artificial. In the mineral, vegetable and animal worlds, the system of Nature works and everything is acceptable.
    Where did we go wrong?

  71. A system of economic inequality is acceptable and ferociously defended by people like Brooks and unacceptable and fiercely resisted by an ever growing numbers of people.

  72. I agree about high school teachers David. I am one and resent the fact that as a physics and chemistry teacher I make as much as the gym teacher.

  73. David, I think it is charming that you think that the wrenching structural inequality in our country today is such an appropriate topic for light comedy. I suspect the minstrels playing for the King and Queen in Versailles during the 1770s thought very much the same way. I hope you have a very nice day.

  74. Mr. Brooks, you should reread John Rawls and Robert Nozick. Extreme wealth accumulated by unjust processes, without regard to the needs of those less fortunate or less willing to engage in such processes, is per se unjust. And social inequality is something entirely different from differing identities or loyalties.

  75. Surgeons have more prestige than valet parkers, but we do not acknowledge this? You gotta be kidding. American Docs are the most egotistical know-it-alls in the universe, generally speaking. (There might be 1% who truly have their heads screwed on correctly). We don't acknowledge it? That's nuts! We put doctors on the highest pedistals in the land, especially when we think we might have an illness, and this greatly contributes to the egos mentioned above.

  76. Very funny but I disagree with two: Nurses and firemen are clearly morally superior to bank robbers and drug dealers for instance by virtue to what they do. Unless the bank robbers give all the proceeds to sick children. Oh it gets dicey. I see what you mean. The other disagreement: You have obviously never had a gourmet cupcake. They are far superior to supermarket ones and even most of the lovingly home made cupcakes. I am firm on this one, David.

  77. We do accept moral fitness inequality. Recall the glee when Bill Clinton finally got caught. Now, we have Herman Cain. Soundly criticized by the same people who cut Bill Clinton a lot of slack.

    Now, we have the Penn State situation. I think if I was a 28 year old coach and walked into a locker room and saw another coach sodomizing a 10 year old boy, I would have done something right away.

    In that regard, I think myself more morally fit.

  78. The only thing with more exceptions is the English language. No wonder foreigners find it confusing over here.

  79. It is now clear that if there's one columnist who has understood too well the implication of awareness among the 99% on the general well-being of the predatory 1%, that's David Brooks and he is really frightened about it. The more he alludes to and chastises the movement in completely misguided columns, the better I feel about the direction of the protests.

  80. You forgot that inequality between victims and victimizers is socially-acceptable and encouraged in the United States. Victimizers (CEOs, hedge fund managers, New York bankers, etc.) are revered, whereas their victims are hated. Think back to December of last year, when the Republicans tried to cut-off all heath care funding for the first responders of September 11th who are now suffering from lung cancer, brain cancer, etc. The first responders aren't wealthy, so, in the Ayn Rand way of thinking, they are considered lowly and must be condemned to die. Or how wounded veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq are put into underfunded VA hospitals/warehouses and forgotten. Or how teachers are despised. Yes, in America, you are wither wealthy or you are subhuman.

  81. We are all equal to be better than each other. Ecept for "radomness" ie. the "birth lottery" in a democratic meritoracy we are all equal to be than each other.

  82. Interesting ruminations on inequality. However, our nation was founded on the concept that such base human responses/attitudes can and should be overcome. I remember something in our nation's founding documents about "equality" as a desirable outcome. Check out Gini Coefficient on Wikipedia... Sweden(also mentioned in this NYT edition) is profiled as an exemplar; it appears to be an example of a nation striving to achieve a measure of equality. We would be wise to take a look at how they do this!

    It's all very interesting to talk about who we are. How about your next piece discussing how we can practically and realistically rise above this!

  83. Gosh, folks, lighten up a little. One huge problem today is that so many people take their prejudices SO SERIOUSLY, and see every event or situation through that distorted lens. It's no wonder communication and compromise have become so difficult.

  84. Wonderful tongue in cheek, humorous and witty, Mr. Brooks. I applaud your risk taking in the staunchly conservative fashion of old.

  85. I attended a state college, where you were allowed to design or combine majors, and fifty percent of the courses could be independent studies (one on one with the professor). Education is what you put into it. Hanging out at an Ivy League school and suggesting that presence at the school is better than what you can achieve elsewhere is delusional. People that come to this country understand it much more clearly than the Progressives that were born here. It is the opportunity to apply oneself and take your skills as far as you wish along with hard work. All the bologna about what walls and fences in society are keeping people out (aka The Man), are phantom blockades put up by the liberal elite.

  86. Mr. Brooks, you are a master of false equivalencies.

  87. Great read! but hard on the ears

  88. This is the LAST article I would give to foreigners to help them understand the USA.

  89. I find his analysis unacceptable.

  90. Thanks, David. Brilliant and sad.

  91. You state "the fact that we are all morally equal". This is a "fact" that I had not previously been aware of. You don't use footnotes; do you have any sources for this "fact"?

  92. David, you really need to visit more of the country. You'll find among other things that clothing proclaiming your adherance to Christianity warmly supported and encouraged, though other faiths will not be nearly so much. That kind of 'inequality' is more than 'OK' in much of the country. Also the kind of inequality where a few thousand people have more wealth than many millions of other people is quite a bit more socially destructive than some people being able to show off a tight body. Or havent you heard? So many people are struggling to just get by now and the political system doesnt seem to have any kind of real solution. Your article just makes you sound totally out of touch with the realities of much of America.

  93. How is this different to the home country of the visitor?

  94. This is a what a prejudiced and superficial analysis, without any backing in facts would look like. For example, take any inequality that is not based on results, impact, or fairness is what people complain about. A CEO, who causes long term damage, but creates short term impact will get the reward. In some cases, they get the reward even if the results are not there. If a basket ball player causes long term damage to the game and bail out in between the contract, would he be getting a golden parachute?

    It is the rigged system people are complaining about. Recognize David Brooks for what he is doing: He has a theory and cherry picks his aspects fit his theory. I too lament the demise of respect for intellectualism in this country, but I cannot agree with this piece. It glosses over the differences too much in smug satisfaction.

  95. This is a great column, but it ignores the real question: Is it acceptable to earn $500,000 - $1,000,000+ per year through an activity (computer-driven speculative trading) that adds very little to the economy and is often economically destructive?

  96. It seems to me that there are really only two accepted ways to claim moral superiority. One is: I've worked hard all my life, supported myself and my family, and NEVER ASK ANYBODY FOR ANY HELP.
    The other is: Life is unprdictable. You can lose you job, your home, your life savings, your health or even your life at any time no matter how careful you are. Therefor we should help others in need as much as we can.
    Each group regards the other as profoundly immoral.

  97. I really like your last paragraph...... keep this theme in mind as you write subsequent columns extolling the virtues of the free market bootstrap society.

  98. The false equivalencies are staggering...

    OK, David, here's the deal. I will agree not to wear my LSU or "Buddhist" sweatshirts, if you will hand over to me each month the difference in our salaries...

  99. How about the inequality between unquestioned adoration for anything NEW and the idea that anything well done is worth keeping if it works.

  100. This garbage belongs in USA today -- come on, David.

  101. Be sure to tell your visitor that you speak for yourself only.
    But making silly generalizations is still acceptable, in fact it's almost a mandatory trait for columnists and radio talk show hosts.
    It's also seeping into our governmental institutions.

  102. This is awesome; love it.

  103. Well, for the most part, David, your comments are interesting, but also "just your opinion" which may or may not have any validity.
    In other words, give us more facts or justification for your ideas
    about inequality or solutions to it. George in Illinois

  104. David, leave cute to Gail Collins, who's much better at it. Besides, it's not funny that money, with the imprimatur of the Supreme Court, can buy our elections now. Money enables rich men and women to run competitively for high office, no matter how underserving they are. Lobbyist buy our Congress and our legislatures. Jack Abramoff now admits that he "owned" 100 congressmen and influenced many more. Regressing to the Gilded Age is no laughing matter.

  105. Just as it is with the poor, snobs we will always have with us.
    Even Christ commented upon this human frailty.

  106. Truth inequality is acceptable. It is okay for quasi-moderate right wing shills to repeat all manner of nonsense in an effort to distract us from the grim situation that threatens all of us ( even his mega-wealthy overlords).

  107. Apparently health inequality is OK too. If you can't afford your chemotherapy, nobody seems to have a problem with that - except you.

  108. Mostly nonsense Mr. Brooks. Not equal to most of your editorials. -- bc

  109. I read the first sentence by Brooks and realized he was reporting some sort of dream or fantasy, to read no further!

  110. Can we stop pretending David Brooks is a deep thinker now?

  111. Nice try justifying greed with your inequality prose - that go on too long. What the now famous one percent that you are not referring to have done to America is morally wrong. Greed leads to hunger for the innocent.

  112. Does it mean that this newspaper acknowledged the fact that George W. Bush belongs to top 1% academically? He is a Yell alumni. Or is it just another form of ancestral inequality? His father was a multimillionaire by the time of his admission. I'm confused, could you provide a more detailed map?

  113. This is the most insufferable column Mr. Brooks has ever written--which is quite a feat. I cannot believe one of the most popular writers for the Times actually compared wearing a sweatshirt from your alma matter to "boast[ing] of your superior chastity, integrity, honor or honesty"-- or implied that there is something wrong with the fact that in america today "[i]t is wrong to look down on other faiths on the grounds that their creeds are erroneous." Well, yes; are you proposing a return to the days when Catholics and Jews were thought unfit for public office?

    What smug, pointless tripe.

  114. Pretty good David. I wonder what really prompted this?

    The best inequality is the class kind.

    You are fated to be of the privileged class David, but to spend your life grinding your teeth at the feckless liberals in your midst.

  115. DB:"we are a democratic, egalitarian people who spend our days desperately trying to climb over each other" Unfortunately, not many are very successful.

  116. Have you totally run out of ideas? When tourists are asking about inequality, they are expecting a serious answer, not this patronizing pablum.

  117. Thank you, David Brooks, for this. The runaway ruling class buying our congress and undermining our democracy is no different than choosing to buy Fat Tire or MGD.

    I can rest easy now.

  118. Thank you, David, for trivializing a very serious issue. Your faux jocularity, and the basic nastiness you revealed about the way you look at people, made me cringe. And, by the way, no one, seeing a person in a Harvard sweatshirt, necessarily assumes that person is in the top one percent of the educational elite (or even that the person has ever set foot in Cambridge)--just as no one can assume that a columnist, even at the New York Times, necessarily has anything insightful or illuminating to say.

  119. Faced with the cold hard facts of growing income inequality and its consequences for children in poverty and for democracy in general, Mr. Brooks retreats into nonsense. He should seriously consider the fact that tax policies and compensation practices favor wealthier individuals, and the fact that this has resulted in a redistribution of wealth from the lower and middle classes to the upper class--specifically the top .1%. Mr. Brooks, stop trivializing the destruction of the American Dream and stop being an apologist for the corrupting influences of power and money.

  120. I suppose you thought that that column was funny. Or did you just have a day when you didn't have anything worthwhile to say?

  121. WEAK!!
    One of Brookes' worst articles in a long time.

    Although obvious to David, it must be hard to admit that Krugman's been right and Brookes has been wrong on economic theory for decades.

    One has studied economics systematically and received a Nobel Prize. The other observes, notices, and writes really well - like a serious Seinfeld.

    SUBSTANCE OVER STYLE. It's comforting.

  122. "Dear visitor, we are a democratic, egalitarian people who spend our days desperately trying to climb over each other."
    Dear David, speak for yourself.
    Also ....... Egalitarian is a term and concept totally foreign and alien to you and your ilk.

  123. David, I agree with everything you said except for cupcakes. You and I both know there's a Big difference between Starbucks and Le Cirque.

  124. As usual, David, you are largely remplit ou bien farci
    as the case may be.
    You say: "Income inequality is acceptable." I don't think so,
    99 percent of us don't think so. To be more precise: It's fine to
    start with zilch, aspire to wealth, and get up to the amount
    a minimum wage worker would have to work 1000 years for.
    In today's dollars that's about 20 Million dollars. But Billions?
    Money is a form of power. In a democracy it is axiomatic,
    is it not, that ALL forms of power must be appropriately circumscribed.

  125. this is a really crazy article. inequality in all its forms is real and all we can do is work on accepting it by creating fulfilling, well-rounded lives to mitigate its unpleasant effects on our psyches. politically, we work on reducing it for future generations just like our predecessors worked to reduce it for us. in no way is the fundamental reality of it accepted by anyone, at all, in any field or life situation. it makes no difference whether you're checking in first-class or buying exotic cars, they are the same thing: the fruits of a relative advantage. we are only "equal" in front of our creator, if you happen to believe in such a thing. here on earth equality is nonexistent, and claiming otherwise is foolishness. you would do better discussing its emergence from the large-scale social organization necessary to cope with the population growth that our small-scale tribal systems could no longer cope with. all our efforts to reduce inequality attempt to recreate the social cohesion of tribal living. our world is defined by the strict hierarchies necessary to sustain state structures and industrial economies.