The Slim Get Slimmer, While the Fat Get Fatter

What would you make of this sort of argument? “We live in a dark world indeed when all of those people in Planet Fitness keep shedding pound after pound, while millions of other people are suffering from obesity.”


You might think, “Look, Watkins, of course it’s sad that lots of people are overweight, but you’re implying it’s the fault of the people who are losing weight. That doesn’t follow at all!”


And you’d be right. It’s totally illegitimate to contrast the success of some people with the failures of others, unless you can argue that their failure is the result of other people’s success.


It’s a lesson someone should teach to inequality alarmists like Philip Jennings, the General Secretary of UNI Global Union. From his recent column in the Huffington Post:

Today’s world, historians will note, is a world twisted out of shape. Between 2009 and 2014, at the height of a financial crisis forced upon working people, the number of billionaires doubled. During those same years so many of the rest of us were losing our homes, pensions, jobs, welfare, wages and rights.


For years, no, decades, the labour movement has warned that if we did not fend off massive income inequalities, we would wind up with a world torn straight from the pages of a science fiction novel — a dystopia consisting of an all-powerful super-rich and an increasingly desperate, impoverished underclass. Well, the richest remain untouched by austerity — their wealth increases by a sickening half a million dollars every minute. Meanwhile, around 30 million jobs have been lost since the financial crisis began, incomes have stagnated for decades and debts have risen. The middle class is disappearing and that fantasy world does not seem so far away.

You would expect Jennings to provide some reason to think that the “sickening” fortunes of rich people are coming out of the pockets of everyone else. But he doesn’t. He merely juxtaposes the fortunes of some with the hardships of others.


Maybe Jennings believes that’s all he needs to do, and that we live in a zero-sum world where you can only get rich if other people get poor. But the Industrial Revolution put that myth to rest long ago. We can create wealth, and so the existence of inequality per se doesn’t prove that anyone is gaining at other people’s expense.