Friday, September 16, 2016

Why Wait for “Economic Growth” to Raise Your Income?

Something annoys me about how the media reports economic growth statistics. All the major outlets are talking about the recent good news from the Census Bureau. Supposedly middle-income households have seen their wages increase for the first time in decades. (Here’s one such story. Every major outlet has reported on this, as far as I can tell.)

I think this is the wrong way to think about income growth, especially with regard to your personal income. A nation-wide average is not a number that you can personally control with any decision you make. Your contribution to that is probably a rounding error, even if you are an enormously influential policy maker like the Fed chairman or the president. On the other hand, you have *enormous* control over your personal income. Do you want to see *your* personal income rise with double-digit growth for several decades? Then pick a lucrative profession and start hustling!

Do you really expect your earnings to increase without making any kind of change in your life? Well, in that case you’re asking other people to work harder so that your income will grow. You’re essentially asking other people to do the heavy lifting so you can keep doin’ what you’re doin’. I can't help but think this attitude is a little bit selfish. That's not to say you won't share in the growth anyway. You most likely will. Some incredibly productive individuals will invent products that you use daily, that entertain you for hours, that replace several other bulky and expensive products. (Are you reading this on a smartphone? A laptop computer? Then you really are the beneficiary of such individuals.) Your life really will keep improving, probably even if you don’t make adjustments that make you personally more productive. Economic growth is great that way, and I certainly approve of pro-growth policies (lower taxes, less burdensome regulation, lower government spending, etc.). But it’s not something you should feel entitled to. The world doesn’t owe it to you. 

If a very large number of people were hustling, as described above, to improve their individual careers, there would be more good news regarding increasing wages. It would be accomplished by private policy rather than public policy. It’s great to have *both* kinds of policies be “pro-growth,” but individuals should concern themselves with the one they can actually affect. If you’re waiting for the rising tide to lift your boat, you’ll be waiting a very long time. 

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