Peggy Noonan Bemoans Economic Inequality, Flying Coach

Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, like so many Americans, dislikes air travel. Her December 20 column devotes a few paragraphs to the horrors of sitting on an airplane, among which is the ever-present threat that the seat assigned to you "was used on the last flight by a Senegalese tourist with typhus." And if the risk of louse-borne diseases from African tourists weren't enough, there are also people -- other people -- on the flight who do things like interact with one another:

The words you always hear are "We have a full flight today," and they do, which is bad news because of America's Personal Physical Boundary Crisis. Our countrymen increasingly lack a sense of where their physical space ends and yours begins. The young, blond Viking-looking woman with the big purse and the jangly bracelets, waving her arms and yelling to her friends across the aisle; the big, wide man who takes not only the arm rest when you're in the middle seat but the shoulder and leg space...

Imagine these people with phones. It will be hell. Their voices will have no boundaries. And they are precisely the people who'll make the most calls, because they understand their urgent need to chatter is more important than your hope for quiet.

There will be the moment when softly and with a smile, you ask if he could lower his voice just a bit. He will not. He's on with the office, it's very important. So after half an hour you'll gesture to the stewardess, and she'll say something to the man, and he'll snap the phone shut but he's resentful, and you have to sit next to angry, no-boundaries man for another four hours...

"These people" do indeed sound troublesome, but at least they're not disease-ridden tourists from economically disadvantaged parts of the world.

Speaking of economic disadvantage, a few paragraphs after Noonan vents at having to share space with people less well-off than herself, she approvingly quotes an anonymous "billionaire of New York" who can't abide by economic inequality:

A billionaire of New York, in conversation: "I hate it when the market goes up. Every time I hear the stock market went up I know the guillotines are coming closer." This was interesting in part because the speaker has a lot of money in the market. But he meant it. He is self-made, broadly accomplished, a thinker on politics, and for a moment he was sharing the innards of his mind. His biggest concern is the great and growing distance between the economically successful and those who have not or cannot begin to climb. The division has become too extreme, too dramatic, and static. He fears it will eventually tear the country apart and give rise to policies that are bitter and punishing, not helpful and broadening.

So the Peggy Noonan approach to economic inequality advocates closing the distance between the haves and the have-nots, but preferably in a way that involves no actual contact between the two. Because you never know who might have typhus.

Posted In
Wall Street Journal
Peggy Noonan
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