Mr. George (rising): Madam Speaker, pardon my interruption, but I must speak.
Madam Speaker: Highly unusual, Mr. George. Mr. Thompson has just begun his report. You will have time for comments at the end of his presentation. Mr. Thompson, please continue.
Mr. Thompson, committee member representing the Health Subcommittee, continues with his report, detailing a significant decrease in the numbers of cancer deaths. His report is met with smiles of elation from all on the committee, except for
Mr. George, of course.
Madam Speaker: What a wonderful report, Mr. Thompson. It is so great to hear that our investments have led to such a reduction in cancer deaths. I think I speak for the committee when I say, “Thank you.”
Mr. George (rising again): Madam Speaker, I must—
Madam Speaker (annoyed): Five minutes, Mr. George. But, please, remain seated.
Mr. George: Mr. Thompson says he brings great news. But it is horrible, simply horrible.
Madam Speaker: Mr. George!
Mr. George: Please, let me explain. Every tally Mr. Thompson erases from his cancer column ends up somewhere else. Do those people live forever? No, they die of some other disease.
Mr. Thompson, you are sentencing many of those very same folks you call survivors to years of heart disease and subsequent death. It’s a vile business you do. Truly, what have you gained by harming the hearts of our fellow citizens, other than to reap the praise of those on this committee?
Mr. Thompson: Absurd!
Madam Speaker: Please, Mr. George, some decorum. Why on earth have you cast such a pall over this meeting?
Mr. George: Madam Speaker, but it is true. Mr. Thompson has achieved nothing, other than to increase the number of suffers of heart disease. And I find that appalling.
Mr. Brown: Mr. George, you are speaking nonsense.
Madam Speaker (interrupting): Mr. Brown, you are out of order.
Mr. George: Oh, no, Mr. Brown, I am speaking truth. Did you not report just this evening that the disparity between the wages of the first and fourth quartiles rose last month?
Mr. Brown: I most certainly did.
Mr. George: And did you not make that statement to the detriment of the report read by Mrs. White—the report on the general increase in productivity levels and real salaries realized in each quartile?
Mr. Brown: I did. But we must reduce the wage gap so that—
Madam Speaker (interrupting): Messrs. Brown and George, this is not how this committee functions. You are both out of order. Mr. George, you have four minutes remaining. Use them wisely, and appropriately.
Mr. George: Madam Speaker, earlier this evening, we heard the tale of the tallies. Mrs. White noted that, in general, life for everyone in the country is improving. Good news, or so I thought. But then Mr. Brown noted that, while improvements may be seen in general, gaps in disparity still exist. He further noted that such a condition overshadows any general improvement. Nothing is worse than disparity. Nothing.
Mrs. White took exception, noting there is great movement between the quartiles—young workers tend to start in the bottom, move upward, and then back down after they retire and no longer receive an income. Further, she noted we will always find incomes conforming to quartile rankings, with necessary gaps between quartiles. And, by definition, each individual that we advance out of the bottom quartile sentences another to that very same quartile. Quartiles are a zero-sum game.
Mr. Brown fell into fit of apoplexy. He shouted that this is not a world of his making, and that it is our responsibility to rid of quartiles and gaps.
You all agreed, though I believe Mrs. White still held reservation but remained quiet.
The rich are getting richer, was the cry from Mr. Brown. That the poor are also getting richer was left aside, a bothersome statistic not conforming to his narrative. This committee then adopted the impassioned plea of Mr. Brown.
Madam Speaker, you even instructed the Finance Subcommittee to begin formulating a position paper to address the gap.
As for me, I kept my peace. I saw Mr. Brown’s comments as pure nonsense. But I felt any objection at the time would have been discounted. The consensus had moved, almost as if a spiritual conviction—a Fourier complex, of sorts—had overwhelmed the committee.
When Mr. Thompson spoke, my peace broke. If disparities are the issue, and not general improvements, why limit the logic to economics? Isn’t health as important?
Isn’t it true that we all die—that our days are numbered? And that our deaths are tallied in one of the columns reported by the Health Subcommittee? Reduced cancer deaths means increased deaths due to heart disease. This is something we cannot escape. So any improvement in cancer treatment looks like a decline in our ability to treat heart disease—another zero-sum game.
That people, in general, are living longer becomes the bothersome statistic not fitting this narrative.
Mr. Thompson, you said I was being absurd. But you had no trouble reaching a similar conclusion earlier in the evening. If I am absurd, the embrace of Mr. Brown is absurd. Don’t we all agree?
Madam Speaker: Mr. George, I assume you have finished your address.
Your analogy certainly shocked this committee. But shock is not substance. And as with each of your previous free market outbursts, you missed the point.
With regard to the economy, we really have no concern for general improvements that contribute to income gaps—whether gaps by quartile in real terms, or gaps by quartile between periods in percentage terms or in nominal dollars. In essence, any gap that can be imagined is an issue for us.
Maybe I am speaking more for myself than the committee at this time, but I would not be surprised to hear the Finance Subcommittee recommend a much steeper progressive tax. Nor will I be surprised to hear you stand in defiance of that proposal, claiming such a tax would harm us all.
You just do not seem to understand that the playing field must be leveled. And if the leveling harms each and every one of us as you claim…well such is the price we must all pay.
And that is the point you continually miss.
Mr. Secretary, what’s next on the agenda?