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Inequality

The Emerging Democratic Majority staff posts that "advocates of government action to reduce inequality prefer Kerry." But of course they do. The interesting thing is not that 57.3 percent of Americans who say inequality is a "serious problem" in America are voting for Kerry, the interesting thing is that 23.7 percent of those who think it's a serious problem prefer Bush.

Speaking for myself, I prefer Kerry, and at the risk of getting my liberal card taken away, I don't think inequality is a serious problem. Deprivation in the face of alternate policies that could promote well-being for the worst off without serious reducing the living standards of others is intolerable, but inequality per se is not. One point that I think is often overlooked in this area is inequality in the provision of public services. That the people living on the west side of town have nicer stuff in their homes -- and even nicer homes -- than those of us living here in Shaw is fine. That they have cleaner, better-appointed streets and sidewalks, enhanced attention granted to their public safety concerns, and superior transportation access to the main foci of employment is not. One of the most interesting books I've ever read was Comeback Cities where the authors make the point that though the poor will likely always be with us, or at least will certainly be with us for a long period of time, that's no reason for their quality of life to be so egregiously low. Why does the Red Line, serving the predominantly white, wealthier portions of the District, need to be so much better than the Green Line serving a predominantly African-American, working-class population?

October 23, 2004 | Permalink

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» Inequality, problems with from jasper emmering
Matthew Yglesias makes the point that he has no beef with inequality per se*, as long as the entire system is progressive enough to make sure the plight of those at the bottom isn't so bad as to be morally unjustifiable. Which is true... up to a p... [Read More]

Tracked on Oct 24, 2004 12:23:58 PM

» Inequality, problems with - II from jasper emmering
A commenter over at Matt's inequality post (he gets commenters - it is so unequal and unfair) links to the CIA factbook. To the page where they have all the Gini-indices for all the different countries. [Read More]

Tracked on Oct 25, 2004 9:29:22 AM

» Is there a relationship between Gini-index and GD from jasper emmering
My two cents: when income-inequality gets too high, the upper crust will get so fucking rich that even if no one actually wants to abolish the meritocratic society, the wealthy will be able to buy so many advantages for their offspring that the natur... [Read More]

Tracked on Oct 25, 2004 9:30:49 AM

Comments

Equality is a euphamism for totalitarianism.

Harrison Bergeron By Kurt Vonnegut.

Posted by: Modern Crusader | Oct 23, 2004 1:50:59 PM

Might want to do some thinking as to why one group might have less political clout than another ...

Posted by: praktike | Oct 23, 2004 2:07:15 PM

On second thought, maybe Modern Crusader is just a parody. No real person could possibly be that stupid.

Posted by: JP | Oct 23, 2004 2:13:09 PM

By the way, is this one of those Mickey Kaus-ian "social equality not economic equality" things?

Posted by: JP | Oct 23, 2004 2:13:36 PM

Well, complete economic equality is really communism, and I don't think that anybody at all is pushing for that anymore these days, so I think when you're talking about liberals like that, you're kind of batting at a strawman.

The problem, is when the inequality gets to levels, that in our society, causes problems, then something has to be done about it. Mainly, the truth is that a minimum wage job is not enough for a person to support themselves. Period. So then we should raise that to a point where someone IS able to support themselves. Yes, they are low education jobs. But also a yes, more often than not they are also relativly IMPORTANT jobs. Yes, more important than yet another middle manager, or money cruncher.

I'm not saying to pay them 40k a year. But a moderate increase in the minimum wage would stand to not only help these people, but also to actually get the economy going. I'm shocked that nobody ever thinks of this as a way to jolt the economy in a time of recession. More money to workers, means more money being spent, which means that companies need more workers...it helps to reverse the negative cycles that a recession /jobless recovery feeds off of.

Posted by: Karmakin | Oct 23, 2004 2:24:00 PM

I'm not asking for economic equality -- as Karmakin just wrote, is anyone asking for that these days??? What I'm asking for is equality of opportunity. Which seems to be what you are saying too, Matthew?

Posted by: robin | Oct 23, 2004 2:31:06 PM

Karmakin,

"More money to workers, means more money being spent, which means that companies need more workers...it helps to reverse the negative cycles that a recession /jobless recovery feeds off of."

J.M. Keynes and FDR's advisors did. Lost a lot of its credibility in the 70s/80s.

Posted by: WeSaferThemHealthier | Oct 23, 2004 2:38:37 PM

I think you're going after straw men there. I know few liberal who think massive income redistribution is really a policy goal. I don't think you're exactly alone in thinking that improving equality in the provision of public services, especially things which are essentially for kids such as education, should be a primary liberal policy goal. At the very least, it's the place to start.

Posted by: Atrios | Oct 23, 2004 2:43:07 PM

I gather JP has never read Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut. It's a shame, really, because it's a quite remarkable and beautiful short story about the egalitarian horrors of the antiamerican Bolshevik police-state policies advocated above.

Posted by: Modern Crusader | Oct 23, 2004 3:09:48 PM

MC,

Have you considered applying for a job at TheOnion?

Posted by: WeSaferThemHealthier | Oct 23, 2004 3:25:02 PM

***”Well, complete economic equality is really communism, and I don't think that anybody at all is pushing for that anymore these days, so I think when you're talking about liberals like that, you're kind of batting at a strawman.”****

I agree, most liberals have finally given up on communism and have moved on to socialism where some inequality is tolerated but they still advocate outright ownership of the means of production or tight central government control of it.

***”The problem, is when the inequality gets to levels, that in our society, causes problems, then something has to be done about it. Mainly, the truth is that a minimum wage job is not enough for a person to support themselves”***

Um, this isn’t an inequality problem. If we shipped all the high income people to the gas chambers, there would be no income inequality problem, yet the low income people would still not be able to support themselves.

***”So then we should raise that to a point where someone IS able to support themselves”***

What is the definition of “someone”. Is it a person who has no responsibilities and is able to share housing with others, or does it include single parents with responsibility for multiple children?

Should it be illegal for a secondary wage earner (teenager or spouse) to work at a job that that would not allow them to support themselves except for the primary wage earner in a family?


***”Yes, they are low education jobs. But also a yes, more often than not they are also relativly IMPORTANT jobs. Yes, more important than yet another middle manager, or money cruncher.”****

So who should decide which jobs are important? Do you want a central government agency to pass judgment on this? What if the government is in control of a political party that does not agree with your values?

****”I'm shocked that nobody ever thinks of this as a way to jolt the economy in a time of recession. More money to workers, means more money being spent, which means that companies need more workers”****

So when unproductive workers are being paid for more that they produce by government fiat, the additional demand will require that productive workers find a way to satisfy the demand or prices of goods and services must rise.

Posted by: Robert Brown | Oct 23, 2004 3:31:29 PM

I gather that Modern Crusader has never read God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut, a scathing satire of unbridled, unrestrained capitalism. Nor has he read Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, a blistering critique of organized religion.

I also gather Modern Crusader is too stupid to realize that referencing a work of fiction to make a point on income inequality proves nothing.

But, his website is freakin' hilarious, I'll give him that...

Posted by: Brad Reed | Oct 23, 2004 3:32:12 PM

From the MC website:

"Dedicated to the defense of America and the Holy Land from the Satanic Saracen horde of hateful Arab Muslim Sand Nazi terrorist infidels. Our long term goals are the sacking of Mecca, the defiling and final destruction of the Kaaba idol, and the creation of a Zionist State with Mecca as it's capital. For it is written, "But thus shall ye deal with them; ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire."
I almost have to admire someone who shuns all pretense of decency and calls for outright genocide, all from the safety of his keyboard. Al, Adrian Spidle, y'all are outclassed. Modern Crusader is officially the blogosphere's zaniest troll!

Posted by: Brad Reed | Oct 23, 2004 3:39:01 PM

The problem is not inequality, the problem is crony capitalism, the KenLays of the world being allowed to rip everybody off with impunity. High level of inequality is the result of that.

Posted by: abb1 | Oct 23, 2004 3:41:30 PM

Oh, and Matthew, be proud: you're listed as an "enemy blog" on Modern Crusader's page, along with Oliver "The Racist Coward" Willis.

I also find it ironic that such a sterling "pro-Zionist" would link approvingly to Pat Buchanan's 1992 "Culture War" speech...

Posted by: Brad Reed | Oct 23, 2004 3:46:24 PM

A "creation of a Zionist State with Mecca as it's capital" troll who liks to Vonnegut can not be anything but satire, folks. In fact, it's could be Vonnegut himself. Or the Fafnir guy.

Posted by: abb1 | Oct 23, 2004 3:47:30 PM

abb1-
Naw, I thought so at first until I looked at his website. He's got links to loony right-wing hate sites that I've never even heard of before. If it's a parody, it's quite elaborate.

Posted by: Brad Reed | Oct 23, 2004 3:55:00 PM

Like the Austrians, I do kind of find statements like "all people are equal" frustrating, because it implies an ordinal ranking of all people. Granted, they all have the same value, but it's still a relic of hierarchical ordinal rankings: {King, Queen, Lord, Lord, Lady, Peasant, Peasant, Peasant} is changed to {Citizen, Citizen, Citizen, Citizen} by the notion of normative equality, not into {Matt, Julian, Robert, Karmakin} with no relative rankings. Why bother preferring non-ordering to equality? In my book, because the arguments against ordering mean that anyone who talks about one person being superior to another is just saying something meaningless, rather than a meaningful but false statement that must be refuted. Someone who says that 58.16 ounces of silver is worth more or less than one ounce of gold is wrong, but is making a meaningful statement that could be right if commodity prices were different. Someone who claims that forks are superior or inferior to apples is simply speaking gibberish.

But that's normative notions of moral equality that I'm against. Economic equality's something worth working a little closer toward. Education is another big public service inequality. Perhaps the biggest?

Posted by: Julian Elson | Oct 23, 2004 4:06:27 PM

What's the evidence that the Red Line is better than the Green Line? If it's true, it's good for me, since I take the Red Line every day. In fact, just yesterday the Red Line broke down and we had to all get off and get on the Green Line to go downtown.

Posted by: ed | Oct 23, 2004 4:14:57 PM

Ok. Assume Gov'ts are inefficient in guiding private investment. Seems to me that is exactly what almost all of our tax policy and a lot of the rest of government services attempt to do. Capital gains tax differentials, home mortgage deductions, tuition tax credits,etc.

But why is wealth and income redistribution necessarily an inefficient use of gov't? Because it is "wrong"?

So if we divide income levels into 5 quintiles, including gov't transfer payments....and then use tax policy to redistribute wealth and income according to a formula where the bottom quintile receives 10%, the three middle quintiles 50% of wealth and income, and the top 20% of the population has 40%....and have this be the only fiscal goal...are the consequences necessarily unfair and inefficient?

Yes, we would be taxing old people, but they receive much of government services. And entrepeneurs and innovation rarely come out of old money. My purposes here are not normative.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Oct 23, 2004 4:20:03 PM

Ok I guess they are normative, but the goal isn't a just society but a dynamic and productive one. And I believe empirical evidence says that energy and productivity arise from a strong middle class.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Oct 23, 2004 4:28:24 PM

"That they have cleaner, better-appointed streets and sidewalks, enhanced attention granted to their public safety concerns, and superior transportation access to the main foci of employment is not."

Well, the fact that their public safety concerns aren't being met is a travesty. You should be able to live in a cheap neighborhood without the authorities allowing two-legged predators to flourish.

Of course one side of the political debate has long advocated forceful action to rid poor neighborhoods of these predators, such as long jail sentences, vigorous police enforcement, and a minimum of excuses accepted for lawless behavior, in order that the innocent poor and heavily minority residents of those poor neighborhoods can live in peace and safety. For this, the other side of the political debate has long been in the habit of calling them racists.

Which side are you on?

Posted by: Ken | Oct 23, 2004 4:40:20 PM

I'd be willing to bet that Bush voters who believe that "inequality is a problem" are thinking that things like Equal Opportunity create "inequality".

Posted by: Nick Simmonds | Oct 23, 2004 4:45:58 PM

WeSafer...,

I think Keynesianism lost credibility because of stagflation and the inflation crises of the 70s-80s, not because more spending power in the hands of consumers is a bad idea. It remains a good idea. It's just that money in the hands of the really downtrodden would hypothetically go to blue-chip sectors of the economy - food, real estate - and not to the sectors that profit from the irrational exuberance of the present middle-class culture.

Posted by: lucidish | Oct 23, 2004 5:07:08 PM

Luci,

Sure, more spending power in the hands of consumers is a good thing, but I wonder what the opportunity cost of doing that is.

Also, Karmakin's idea was to reverse negative economic cycles with a system that much resembles Keynes'. It can certainly work sometimes but it can also fail at reversing recessions.

You mention stagflation. According to the Philips curve, which Keynes used as a basis for his theory, I'm not sure stagflation is possible since it considers unemployment and inflation to be pure trade-offs ( 1 less here means 1 more there ). If keynesianism was right, stagflation shouldn't have happened.


Would someone tell me where the expression "blue-chip" comes from?

Posted by: WeSaferThemHealthier | Oct 23, 2004 5:17:35 PM

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