Thomas Sowell

Most Americans living below the official poverty line have air conditioning, microwaves and VCRs. About half have a car or truck. Moreover, most of the people in the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution in 1975 have also been in the top 20 percent at some point since then.

People who are genuinely poor all their lives still exist, but only about 3 percent of the American population remains in the bottom 20 percent for as long as a decade.

This is fine as far as most of us are concerned. But it is tough if you are in the envy or "social justice" business. It means you have to work harder to stir up indignation, votes and government programs to deal with "inequities" between the "haves" and the "have nots."

Although the poor are doing better, the "social justice" crowd is in desperate shape. Irresponsible advocacy groups concoct wild statistics about hunger or homelessness, and some of these numbers are reported seriously in the media -- at least until someone comes along and shoots them down with the facts.

The envy advocates have to play games with numbers because they cannot get very far relying on realities. Yes, some people can afford extravagantly expensive designer jeans, while others have to get by wearing jeans without anyone's signature across their backside. Yes, some people can afford a pricey latte, while others have to go home and open a can of Maxwell House.

But who is going to get up from watching TV, while eating pizza, to go mount the barricades over that? Let's face it. Envy has fallen on hard times. It was not even successfully revived during last year's election campaign.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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