Kim Holmes

The “knock out game,” where defenseless people are brutally and randomly attacked, is a shocker. It’s hard to imagine why teenagers, apparently bored out of their minds, would get a thrill out of beating up an old man or woman.

We are all outraged. But we are also divided on the causes. Some charge racism. Others cry a sick culture. Still others blame rising inequality in America.

Inequality was the subject of President Obama’s recent speech. He did not address the knockout game, but he clearly believes income inequality is the root cause of many of the social problems in America. It’s behind the rising mistrust in our society which he believes is damaging families and harming our “social cohesion.” I wouldn’t be surprised if the president thinks that his narrative of “mistrust” is at least partly to blame for the spread of the knockout game.

He is right about one thing--partly. There is an “income gap” in America, although as The Heritage Foundation’s Stuart Butler and Donald Schneider point out, the research shows little or no relationship between that gap and people’s ability to move up the ladder of opportunity. Yes, it is true that there is a problem with social mobility for those starting out near the bottom, even though the degree of the problem is often exaggerated.

But Obama is wrong about the cause. He thinks it is that the government has done too little to redistribute money and create new programs. The welfare state is still too small and entitlement spending too low, he says. Not enough is spent on unemployment insurance or federal education programs. If only the minimum wage was higher, or unions had stronger collective bargaining rights, presumably the “defining challenge of our time,” as he calls the issue of inequality, could be solved.

Put aside the grand canyon-sized gap between rhetoric and the reality; how raising the minimum wage a few dollars, or giving unionized government employees a raise, is supposed to even begin to solve the deep-seated social problems of America’s declining civil society is beyond me.

But the deeper problem is that President Obama has completely reversed cause and effect. America’s inner-city public schools are not a disaster because the minimum wage is too low. Rather they are a disaster because they don’t give young people the education and skills they need to command a sufficient wage in the market place. It is not insufficient government intervention which has caused inequality, but too much of the wrong kind of intervention.

Kim Holmes

Kim R. Holmes is a Distinguished Fellow at The Heritage Foundation ( He is the author of the book Rebound: Getting America Back to Great, which can be found at: