Richard Kind is a funny, talented actor. I had the pleasure of working with him when I did a cameo on the show “Spin City,” where Kind co-starred. He was thoughtful and helpful on set, even though I was a dreaded non-lefty.
Fast forward to this year’s White House Correspondents’ dinner. Pleased to be invited, Kind gave an interview to The Hollywood Reporter. After praising President Barack Obama as “the smartest man in the room,” Kind offered his opinion on what issue he “cares most about”: “The disparity between the ultra-rich and the next level is as disgraceful as anything that has gone on in our history. Now maybe some of them can control my life, my career, my employment, but I have to tell you something is wrong. I don’t know how it got wrong, but something is wrong.”
“The next level”? What does that even mean? “As disgraceful as anything that has gone on in our history?” Right up there with slavery, the World War II relocation camps for Americans of Japanese descent and the fact that the race-hustling Rev. Al Sharpton has a television show on MSNB-Hee Haw?
First, despite the primacy of Kind’s concern, most Americans do not care about the “wealth gap.” Only 15 percent of Americans, according to a Gallup poll, consider this an important issue. Far more Americans worry about economic growth and unemployment — as opposed to worrying about whether someone has more stuff than they do.
Besides, what exactly is the gap? Is it getting bigger or smaller? What is the appropriate gap? How does the United States compare to other countries?
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development [a consortium of 34 economically developed countries]: “In OECD countries today, the average income of the richest 10 percent of the population is about nine times that of the poorest 10 percent.” In the United States, the gap between the top 10 percent and the bottom 10 percent is 14 to one — about the same as the gap between the rich and the poor in Israel and Turkey. For countries like Mexico and Chile, the gap is 27 to one.
True, the wealth gap grew over the last 20 years, but the so-called “Great Recession” was less than kind to the rich. From 2007 to 2009, the top 1 percent’s share of the national income declined from 23.5 percent to 18.12 percent — a drop of 23 percent. Their household wealth fell by 30 percent. Average real income for the top percentile declined 36.3 percent, versus a decline of 11.6 percent for the remaining 99 percent.
Let’s hope Kind was joking when he talked about the alleged benefit of “one billionaire” leaving his or her money to the government: “I’m a big fan of education; I think more money should be poured into education. I think the environment is a mess and is spiraling downward. And I think our tax situation, you know we are in debt a lot. But I tell you, you cut off one billionaire, and he might be able to cover everything. If that billionaire were to die and leave his money to the government, all our problems may be solved.”
Just “one billionaire”? Add up the net worth of Forbes’ top 10 richest Americans. Their total net worth comes to $291 billion. The current projected annual deficit is $1.5 trillion — five times the combined net worth of the 10 richest Americans. More money in education? Outside of Switzerland, the United States spends more money on K-12 than any other OECD country.
In 1985, a federal judge in Kansas City ordered the school district to close what he called an “appalling” gap in the quality of urban schools compared to that of suburban schools. Fox’s John Stossel wrote: “The bureaucrats renovated school buildings, adding enormous gyms, an Olympic swimming pool, a robotics lab, TV studios, a zoo, a planetarium and a wildlife sanctuary. They added intense instruction in foreign languages. They spent so much money that when they decided to bring more white kids to the city’s schools, they didn’t have to resort to busing. Instead, they paid for 120 taxis. Taxis!
“What did spending billions more accomplish? The schools got worse. In 2000,  years and $2 billion later, the Kansas City school district failed 11 performance standards and lost its academic accreditation for the first time in the district’s history.”
Kind is not a stupid man. He graduated from Northwestern, where he studied pre-law. He is, of course, entitled to an opinion. But then so is actor Brad Pitt, who once refreshingly said: “You shouldn’t speak until you know what you’re talking about. Reporters ask me what I feel China should do about Tibet. Who cares what I think China should do? I’m a f–king actor! They hand me a script. I act. I’m here for entertainment. Basically, when you whittle everything away, I’m a grown man who puts on makeup.”
And that’s a wrap.