Rich man, poor man – can anything close the gap?


Richard Connor

The cab driver phoned to tell me the number of his cab. He was a block away from my pick-up spot.

“Don’t get in no other cabs,” he said. “Here’s my cab number. Look for me and please wait for me.”

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This seemed strange. Fort Worth is not a haven for transportation alternatives to driving your own car, particularly at 6 a.m. How many cabs are weaving through downtown looking for a fare at that time of day – or any other time?

New York, this ain’t.

But sure enough, moments after the phone call, a cab with a different number cruised up the street, searching for someone in need of a ride.

Luckily, I had remembered that my cabbie said he was driving a van. The other cab was a sedan. I hadn’t listened closely enough to the number to remember it.

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On the ride to Love Field, I peppered the driver with questions. How long had he lived in Fort Worth? Total of 7 weeks. He was using an iPhone map application to find the route to the airport. Where did he move from? Alabama. Why? To work in the oilfields. It had not panned out. Luckily, he had driven a cab back home so he managed to find work.

He has two children, 1 and 2, and they have a mother who does not want them. Their grandmother was going to watch them until the oilfield work came through. She quickly tired of the wait, phoned, and said, “Come get ‘em.”

He did and now the three live in an apartment in Fort Worth where the landlady also baby-sits. That way, he can be free to drive the cab on a minute’s notice.

The baby sitter costs about $200 a week. He buys his own gasoline for the cab and he has no benefits. He used to have a cleaning service back in Alabama and he might start one here.

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Marketing interests him and he’s good at it, he said.

“I’ve noticed everyone, especially the women, likes coupons in a Sunday paper,” he offered. “Get some of those in the business newspaper and you’ll grow like crazy.”

“Man, I got to tell you,” said his passenger, “you have a lot of challenges but you also seem to have the will and desire to make it on your own, to work hard and provide a chance for your little boys.”

“Have to have a foundation in God,” he said. “My next wife will be a believer.”

Life’s experiences tell us he might make it out of near poverty and he might not. His attitude and faith might make the difference and they might not. Poverty can become a cycle that’s difficult for a family to break.

A day before the cab ride to Love Field, the passenger was at a private airfield next to Meacham Airport. It was filled with private jets. Passengers were being delivered to those jets in black Mercedes, BMWs and other expensive foreign cars. One SUV pulled up to a jet and a family emerged to board a plane. Their two dogs got on first.

“Nothing like Texas and Texas wealth,” observed a man.

The disparate worlds of the cab driver and the private-jet-flying families – not just in Texas but all over America – offer but a small example of the divide between the super rich and those living beneath the poverty level.

It may not even be an example of anything deeper than the reality that some people have a lot of money and others don’t. Some wealth comes from hard work, risk, and the attendant amount of luck. Some people are born rich and just seem to get richer.

Many among us are born poor and lack opportunities – a good education, for example – and get poorer.

Whatever the reasons, there is ample evidence that the rich get richer and many of the poor get poorer. And there exists in business a fraternity of men and women who keep making each other richer.

Take, for example, the proposed purchase of the headphone and music company “Beats.” Apple may buy it for more than $3 billion. It’s a startup and one of the founders is the rapper Dr. Dre. The other is music and entertainment mogul Jimmy Iovine. No one should think of either of them as up-from-the bootstraps entrepreneurs, or risk-takers.

No. They had fame and money and most importantly contacts. The possible sale to Apple is an inside job. And it’s a case of the rich making each other richer.

French economist/author Thomas Piketty has written a controversial book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, making the case for a global redistribution of wealth. There are some who are comparing Piketty’s thesis to the ideas of Karl Marx in Das Kapital. Washington Post writer Charles Lane finds Piketty’s treatise reminiscent of Progress and Poverty, written in 1879 by American journalist Henry George.

And the May 15 Wall Street Journal featured an op-ed piece by Martin Feldstein debunking the ideas, methods and data Piketty used in reaching his conclusions. Feldstein was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in the administration of President Ronald Reagan.

I’m not advocating a redistribution of wealth but I am saying that all around us, every day, we see great wealth and great poverty. We don’t need statistics and data to heighten our awareness of the gulf between the haves and have-nots.

Feldstein makes a valid point but his premise is old and tired. He bemoans the “persistence of poverty” and argues that to “reduce that persistence of poverty we need stronger economic growth and a different approach to education and training.”

Well, we’ve been saying such things for years and years while the gap between rich and poor continues to increase. The point is that rich people, including and maybe especially the owners of businesses, need to give back to their communities in greater amounts of time and money. They need to provide more money for education and training. When they make more money, they need to create more jobs.

Until that happens, all the talk about the gap between rich and poor is just talk. And the gap will continue to widen.

Richard Connor is CEO of the Business Press’ parent company, DRC Media. Contact him at