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'Fight Inequality' Is a Poor Rallying Cry (bloomberg.com)
52 points by aaronchall 239 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 162 comments



Midway down the author mentions a study that showed most Americans object to "unfairness" rather than "inequality". I've found this to be the case for me personally. If someone tries hard, works diligently, and makes smart decisions, but are still living in poverty, I want to help them. No hardworking, disciplined, motivated person should live in poverty, or have trouble making ends meet, in my opinion.

Unfortunately the lower income people I know do not fall in to this camp. I have a fair number of friends and relatives who make very little money and struggle to keep their heads above water. They make routinely bad decisions or fail to do the barest minimum to be proactive about things. They have watched every show on netflix, or played every video game possible (at $60/pop). They spend money on frivolous things and fail to plan in any way for the future. Their impulse control leaves much to be desired.

But the weird thing is - they mostly realize this. They don't get too fired up about inequality. Whether it's consciously or subconsciously, they seem to realize they are not really giving it their all, and that other people work harder and are more disciplined. They appear to prefer their current situation to the stresses of "succeeding" at life.

Granted, this is all anecdotal, so take with healthy dose of salt.


It is a fair point and I know plenty of people like that as well.

However, to give another perspective on it. When I think of changing an unequal situation, I look at the situations you described like this: "Did something happen early on in that person's life that just kind of made them give up?" I've known people like that, and although it is _also_ true that they _could_ lift themselves out of that situation, when you take it in aggregate over a large population, it becomes a problem (at least to me it does).

Why is it a problem? Well, to me it is for two main reasons. First, it gives an indication that there may be a systemic problem that could be corrected (overzealous police, poor education, a political issue, etc.). Frankly, we're far along enough as a species that there's no reason to tolerate that. Second, it means a meaningful portion of the population isn't contributing to humanity/earth/however you want to think of it in a way they otherwise could, which holds all of us back.

One of the things that makes it complex is that the answer, I think, changes a lot depending on the population.


> Did something happen early on in that person's life that just kind of made them give up?

That is a retrospective way to address fairness. Another is, "Given where they are, can they start doing better and end up in a better place?"

A systemic problem that can (or used to) shove people down economically could be different than a systemic problem that doesn't allow a (reasonable) way to advance once they're at the bottom.

Point being, maybe people gave up. Maybe it's their fault. Maybe there was nothing they could do about it. But it's imperative that they have credible ways to undo that decision going forward.

Relevant issues (different people will add and/or subtract from the list):

1. permanent felony records and difficulty in getting records expunged after a history of good citizenship

2. hard cut-offs in government benefit programs

2a. getting a raise should not be a personal net loss

2b. getting married should not be a personal net loss

2c. getting more hours should not be a personal net loss, for you or your employer (the ACA really messed up here)

2d. moving to a better situation should not put your benefits at risk

3. Age discrimination needs to be taken more seriously

3a. 50-year-old college grads should have the same shots as anyone else. Otherwise, retraining from failed industries will be prohibitively difficult.

3b. New grads can't afford to wait 5-10 years for their first shot... this causes delayed marriages, delayed savings for retirement, an aging workforce, etc.

4. Home addresses are tied to wealth. Public schools are tied to home addresses. So public educational opportunity for kids is tied to how much wealth their parents have. Something has to be done about this.


Indeed, in the UK a single working parent with one child on the minimum income working between 30 to 40 hours a week has an effective marginal tax rate of 91% (every extra pound earned means 91 pence is transferred to the government via income tax, national insurance, and reduced benefits). No wonder most single parents in the UK don't want to work. And the well off complain about a, before deductions, rate of 40%.


I totally agree with you. I've thought about this as well. Most of the folks I know in bad situations had some early stumbles and they sort of just gave up, as you say. The thing is - and where I struggle - is that the early stumbles weren't insurmountable. It's like they had no fire, no tenacity, no will power.


Fire, tenacity, and willpower for... what, exactly? Towards what end? Why should everyone have to play ubermensch just to survive?


Because that's how nature works? Because it's naive to think we've evolved so far that we are no longer subject to natural forces and evolutionary history?


So farmers have spent thousands of years of civilization valiantly striving to out-ubermensch each-other, and the rest of us just never heard about it? Shepherds? Priests? Scientists? Artists and writers?

Shit, how have I missed the evolutionary war of all against all going on all around me? There are so many gene-rivals I could have stabbed in back-alleys!

Or does evolution maybe allow for successful strategies towards survival and reproduction that don't neatly map to metaphors about war?


Oh please, you're propping up a strawman. You don't need to be an "ubermensch" to survive, and that's not at all what I'm saying. I'm saying you can't expect to be lazy and make bad choices and also expect to have as much as someone who works hard and makes smart choices. That was my point regarding evolutionary history and nature.

Farmers that worked hard and planned ahead did better than those who did nothing. Those that bought crop insurance or fastidiously watched the weather were in a better position to succeed than those who didn't. Similar scenarios abound for your other examples.

No matter how much you wish otherwise, nature (and our society) is set up for certain kind of animals/people to succeed - and if you wilfully choose to ignore the system that's fine, but don't be mad when it doesn't work out great for you.


"our society is set up for certain kind of people to succeed - but don't be mad when it doesn't work out great for you."

Here's the mistake in your thinking as a society can be set up to be fair or unfair. However, a society can be changed and does change. It's fine to be mad at unfairness, it's fine to fight unfairness via societal changes.


Strawman? His question was why is it necessary for everyone to be an ubermensch and your response not one message before his said "Because that's how nature works[.]"

Unless you meant to write something completely different, that's your stance and he rebutted it


I don't wish. I put my efforts into overthrowing your so-called "natural" order. Nature, after all, is merely everything compatible with the laws of physics. If we create a universal basic income, or pass living-wage laws, those are natural!


While UBI and living wage laws are compatible with physics, they are not part of nature. UBI and living wage laws are human rules, and nature will do whatever it wants.

Humans have nature, too, and no amount of laws or rules will stop human nature. Until human beings become something else, always bet on it. Giving them more resources (e.g. money) tends to make things worse for them.


The minute we collectively stopped stronger folks than you and me from beating us up and taking our stuff, we left the realm of "how nature works".

In the west, we're all living in rich enough countries that no one should need superhuman will or fire or tenacity simply to live a decent life. No one willing to work 40 hours a week should be denied access to the medical care system, face food or housing insecurity, etc.

The fact that that is the situation for many speaks to problems in the way we've arranged society (which is about as far from "how nature works" as possible), not some innate rightness in the world.


> No one willing to work 40 hours a week

Quite often that's the problem. Particularly if we've built up a palace of perverse incentives that make it a better strategy to coast along on the byzantine web of social services that is effectively an inefficient Basic Income for people at the bottom of the pile, than it is to get a shitty job and make just enough money to lose all those benefits.

I can't really blame people that realize that that's the situation they face, though.


Counter-anecdote: my wife has a Master's degree and works 60 hours a week, trying to transition from biotech to teaching. She has to cobble together multiple jobs, some of which are in the "low-wage sectors". She works 60 hours a week because, well, budgets have been cut to school districts. She'll be earning $16k/year next year as a teaching fellow, albeit earning her education Master's while doing it.

We have a friend who scarcely makes $11.50/hour working in foodservice. Sure, the woman doesn't have the discipline or ambition to be a high-powered professional, but she never wanted to be a high-powered professional. She's working-class in the proper sense of the word: born to blue-collar workers, grew up in a blue-collar town, wants to just do a fair day's work for a day's livable pay. She doesn't get that choice, because everything outside the professional class has been gutted of livable wages and opportunities.

Nonetheless, how many jobs are professional jobs? 20%? 10% of new jobs inside this past decade? If your proposal is simply that inequality isn't a problem because everyone should be a professional, how are 100% of the people supposed to squeeze themselves into 10% of the jobs?

And if 90% of the people end up in the bottom 90% of the jobs, why should those jobs exploit them by paying unliveably low wages? After all, if there wasn't profit to be made employing those workers, nobody would do it, and minimum-wage rises at the municipal level have "destroyed" nowhere near as many jobs as predicted.

It looks to me like "inequality" really means "exploitation", a word Americans should start saying more often.


Your wife is being paid to go to school and she'll make better money as a teacher when she completes?

Brilliant, welcome to the middle class.

If you're unambitious and living on 20k a year (like your friend in foodservice), you can get a roommate, a beater car, and still have a fun life. That's not exploitation, that's her choice.

If she wants the responsibility of providing for a family, she should probably take on more responsibility in her career, and make way for our unemployed youths who need their first jobs so future employers will take them seriously for real ones.


And she'll never be able to support a family, dying young or putting stress on social programs as she ages with no support network.

Then after 30 years of these low skill folks dying off without having kids everyone will be pooping their pants about millions of immigrants moving in to prop up our economy that we uprooted and wondering where the economic power of the west is headed.


>If you're unambitious and living on 20k a year (like your friend in foodservice),

As a matter of fact, her old employer never gave her full-year hours, so she had to deal with a basically minimum-wage income of ~$15k/year. She finally found a new foodservice position in her area (where she can afford the housing costs in mere driving distance to work) that will convert her to full-time this year, so she's making a bit of a move up. She's also been attending community college to become a paralegal, but that takes time when you're working and also dealing with personal issues.


If you wife counts the cost of commuting, dress clothing, supplies/materials, paying others to cook/clean/care, taxes... does this even make a profit? What is the point?

Meanwhile, there is an impact on family life. There are only 168 hours in a week. Take out 56 for sleeping, 60 for work... now down to 52, which is 7.43 hours per day. In those 7.43 hours you must cook, eat, bathe, poop, shop, make love, commute, exercise, and more. I don't think that really fits. Something is not getting the time required.

Is there a good reason she persists? Would she feel unvalued as a stay-at-home mom? Does she fear that she might be inadequate? Does she somehow think she'd be a failure if she chose a traditional role? I hope you would still respect and value her if she did that, and that she knows it. (don't just assume she knows it -- and she may hesitate to believe you if you say it, due to upbringing or peers)


We don't have children. We don't believe in that "traditional role" rubbish. And also, we live in Boston: if you don't have two professionals working here, you don't make rent. Biotech was toxic for her, so she's taking a hit for a year to change fields.


I lived in Boston doing part-time IT help for what is $14.38/hour in 2017 dollars. You can make rent, just not in completely over-the-top fancy digs. I lived at 525 Newbury Street, in a basement apartment facing the alley. That isn't even a bad location; it is a very short walk away from the Kenmore Square station on the Green Line.

I had time for fun. I'm sure you can buy better toys than I could, but you mostly can't buy time.

Anyway, it is 100% false that you need two professionals to make rent. You could do it with a full-time minimum-wage job. Anything above that is luxury.


I've noticed an alarming lack of financial intelligence among people my age (I'm 24). People have no concept of saving money or investing, and consume as much as they possibly can. Lots of people are within a month of running out of cash, and have credit card debt.

Looking back on my public school education in the US, I'm kind of shocked that there was never a required course on personal finance. We had to spend weeks studying every major war in history, something that will never matter to us in our day-to-day lives, but we're left on our own to figure out how to stay out of debt and build a future for ourselves as working people. This directly impacts our lives every single day.

You pretty much have to read niche blogs and subreddits to even be exposed to it in our culture. It worries me a lot.


I think there's a bit of a squeeze area where people who work hard at jobs that pay between 30k and 50k (or even higher depending on the area) can find themselves basically paycheck to paycheck. And it's not all down to making bad decisions.

On top of that it's hard to hold every to a standard of making perfect decisions all the time. For example I know a couple people who bought houses right before the bubble burst in '08. Sure you can say that was a bad decision, but it's awfully heartless to expect everyone to be supremely wise to the real estate market.

There's people who probably don't have the ability to land a higher paying job yet still work hard at absolutely necessary jobs they have. And I think they deserve to have the comfort and safety, though perhaps not quite the luxury, as those who rise above them.


> For example I know a couple people who bought houses right before the bubble burst in '08.

And? Unless they lost their jobs in the mean time, or made some very very bad decisions with their mortgages, they are in all likelihood no longer upside down.

A drop in the value of your home doesn't take money out of your pocket - you're still making the same payments, you just feel worse about it.


>they are in all likelihood no longer upside down.

You clearly don't live in a non-metro area.


I don't disagree that there is a group of folks who are working hard and still struggling. I also agree that there should be some wiggle room for a few bad decisions not to sink you completely (depending on the severity of the decision).

But, in my experience this is not a large group of people. And, for the most part, this group isn't the one I see complaining in the news media.

And in any event, none of the policies the government currently has are meant for this group. They are somewhat lost in the shuffle. Should we do more for this group? Absolutely! But, I don't have a lot of hope much will get done.


It is all anecdotal, and completely misses a couple of things.

Firstly, that the direction of causality is not established. Nor is it likely to be an arrow, but rather merely a connection that has a feedback loop.

What I mean by feedback is that poor decisions often beget other poor decisions. Consider in a completely deterministic world such as chess. A poor move often leaves you only with other poor moves to make. The later into the game where you have played poorly, the more amazing you have to be playing at the end to still have a shot. (Any other sport shows this, too. You can always win with time on the clock. But it is harder the more you are behind.)

Secondly, don't neglect that your attitude and interactions will also lead to some of the outcomes you are seeing in discussions. You may think "they mostly realize this." It could just as likely be that they dont' get fired up about it with you.


Remember the speaker when it comes to inequality - sometimes, it looks to me more about upper middle class/the professional class assuaging internal guilt than a movement from the lower class.

I agree honest, a bunch of my friends from home don't do shit, don't want to do shit, and are perfectly happy with life. Honestly, probably happier than my wealthy friends. Low cost of living takes a lot of stress off your back.

The above only applies to people in that exact situation - there are of course huge structural problems with poverty in America w/r/t/ race, immigration status, etc. that are 100% not semi-idyllic image I'm describing.


I think blaming this on impulse control is self-serving.

I expect those with lower incomes tend to feel more oppressed and unhappy. They work hard every week but it's always paycheck to paycheck, and they always feel beholden to their employer. They don't have the financial freedom to _really_ control their lives in any significant way.

So perhaps they compensate by seeking fulfillment and distraction with netflix and video games. There has to be some outlet for all of their frustration, some way of mitigating that feeling of helplessness.

I live with a guy that has worked at Walmart for 13 years. He comes home absolutely exhausted. I don't know how he keeps going, but I have to think that indulging in movie theater visits and other forms of entertainment/distraction may actually be vital to maintaining his mental health.


I also know a lot of poor people, and none that work hard or work on themselves. The only poor person I know who works hard is me, but that's because every time I have money I use it to attempt a business. I don't consider that unfair at all, just the definition of 'risk'


What about 'unfairness' in the other direction? Anecdotally, I know plenty of people born into upper (or at least middle) class families who have made impulsive or bad decisions: not working hard in university or at their jobs, abusing drugs, getting DUIs, etc.. Almost all of them are "succeeding" despite their bad choices.

Lack of social mobility can mean it's difficult for poor people to rise above their station, but it also means it's hard for the rich to screw up badly enough that they suffer real consequences for their mistakes.

You say no hardworking, disciplined, motivated person should live in poverty, but what of the lazy, undisciplined wastrel offspring of the upper classes? Should they live in [relative] luxury?


I share some of your observations but I disagree with your implication that these people are poor primarily because they are lazy.

The alternative is that they lack motivation because their lives are exhausting and debilitating. Maybe that sounds paradoxical, but there are at least a handful of studies (with a quick Googling, e.g. [0] [1]) which suggest being poor is a massive stressor that has an impact on mental and physical health. When someone has no money and no clear path for advancement in life, it's not hard to see why they might want to escape with games or movies or drugs. That won't make their long term situation better, but its something small they can control and feel good about in an otherwise bleak and chaotic world.

It's also the case that people who've experienced success from working hard will have more motivation than those who haven't succeeded. To the latter group, the formula for success is theoretical rather than a lived experience--they haven't had positive reinforcement for past efforts so they're less motivated to try again in the future, even if that's suboptimal in their abstract model of the world.

So ultimately, yes, a lot of poverty is the result of bad decisions, but that's an incomplete picture of the death spiral of poverty where a lack of money and options creates a mindset that encourages those decisions.

[0] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/am-i-right/201210/the-e...

[1] http://www.urban.org/urban-wire/povertys-toll-mental-health


Why is stress management / relaxation a bad decision? As far as they go, Netflix and video games are some of the best time/value propositions for these aspects of life.

Being poor is a constant juggling act between physical/mental/financial health. I don't think it makes sense to look at trade-offs between them as bad decisions.


What about people who tried hard, worked diligently, made smart decisions, got bogged down in poverty, and decided that there's no point in trying hard, working diligently, and making smart decisions if they're just going to get bogged down in poverty?


This is something I think gets lost, poor people in low-paying jobs have a pretty tenuous existence. They'll set aside their $10 a month for savings (and end up with $120 at the end of a year) and the first emergency wipes out their savings. So they start saving again--$10 a month or whatever--and a few more years, another emergency wipes it out.

It always gets me how people talk about how you can just live frugally, on poverty wages, and you'll slowly be less poor. That might work, if you have no emergencies in life, literally never make a mistake or display bad judgment in any way (remember, one emergency will wipe out years of saving and mistake-free life choices), and don't even think of having a family or raising children.

But positing that as "the way things ought to be for everyone" in the richest country on earth? That's fucked up.


I don't find that very weird. But then, as a currently successful person, I believe way less in the concept of "free will" than most.


Obama used a few phrases that not only sounded pleasing, but accurately addressed what's happening to Americans:

"Everyone, including the rich, need to pay their share."

"Americans from all backgrounds should have a fair shot at a quality education, not just those who happen to grow up in nice neighborhoods."

He tapped into equality of opportunity, while acknowledging that some will be more successful than others. That should be the rallying cry, not the idea of ending inequality outright.


I personally disagree that this should be the rallying cry.

Why should someone who invests nothing in their own children get to see their children have equal opportunities to the children of another person who invests everything into their children?

Why should a person who has 10 children get to see each one have the same amount of opportunity as each one of the children of someone who has 2 children, assuming equal total parental investment?

The rallying cry should be equality before the law.


I disagree because I think children should not be punished for the quality of their parent(s).

I also think you are making a big (and incorrect) assumption that children who do not receive "investment" have parents that are neglecting them, rather than have parents who lack the means to make a substantial "investment".


I mean some people are born smarter than others. Maybe low IQ people deserve a monthly stipend, that high-IQ people are forced to pay, to compensate them for how unfair the universe was to them.

I'm sorry for the facetiousness, but I just don't see any reasonable case for the government playing this kind of role in society. It all seems very moralizing and controlling.


Does it work better when low IQ people "deserve" to be shafted by high IQ people for being stupid?

Is that any less moralising and controlling?


How are they being shafted? As for whether they deserve to be born rich, poor, smart, dumb, it's not for the government to say who deserves to be born with what.


Harrison Bergeron was supposed to be a work of satire, but I'm not sure it won't prove to be prescient, these days.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harrison_Bergeron


That's frighteningly true.


There's no way to avoid children being punished or rewarded for the quality of their parents. At a minimum, they are the DNA of their parents. Practically, parental quality in development is hugely important and how could it not be? Will the state read bedtime stories to all children?


Because the children have no control over who their parents are, and we shouldn't punish with a lifetime of diminished opportunities because their parents aren't as "good" as others.


But we're not punishing them. We're simply not taking, by force, money from one person, to spend it raising the children of another.

If we force people to subsidize other people's poor children, we create perverse incentives to have a maximum number of children with minimum personal investment in each. It cannot end well for society.


If we force people to subsidize other people's poor children, we create perverse incentives to have a maximum number of children with minimum personal investment in each. It cannot end well for society.

You have it reversed. Not providing, say, an education to all children, regardless of parental investment, will leave us with a large number of uneducated citizens languishing to fend for themselves. That sounds pretty bad for society.

Not sure how your making the case that educating children ends up poorly for everyone...unless, of course, you mean that it's harder for the wealthy and powerful to control an educated populace compared to an uneducated one.

We're simply not taking, by force, money from one person, to spend it raising the children of another.

No one is forced to live in a country that provides for it citizens. People can always choose to leave if they feel it's unfair to have basic responsibilities like paying taxes.


Historically that's not what has happened. Before the era of government education, education was improving rapidly, with literacy rates rising.

As government involvement in education has increased, education outcomes have stopped improving:

https://academic.oup.com/qje/article-abstract/111/3/671/1839...

I'm making the case that forcing people to pay for the costs of raising poor children will create an incentive for people to produce poor children.


First off, your link explicitly blames teacher's unions, not government involvement, for the lack of increase in education outcomes.

You think there are poor people out there thinking: "hey I can have a bunch of kids and they'll all get free educations, let's do it!" Why would they? So that the kid will grow up and get a great job and support them? That's not so much a get-rich-quick scheme as it is a get-rich-in-twenty-to-thirty-years scheme. Plus you'd still have to raise a bunch of kids, which isn't exactly a walk in the park.

And the evidence is on my side. Increased access to education is associated with lower fertility rates, not higher: http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/completingfert...


Centralising spending in the hands of a monopoly inevitably leads to rent-seeking behavior, like the rise of teachers unions and legislation like collective bargaining acts.

I think the net level of support people can expect their children to receive from redistributive programs plays a role in their decision to have children when they have low income. It's also important to note that it won't just be schooling if the goal is to provide equality of opportunity. It will have to be food as well, and other resources needed to have an equal opportunity.

As for education and fertility rates, this is not guaranteed to last. Formal education is not something humans were evolved for. But evolution has a way of quickly adapting to maximize its programmed objective: reproduction.


> As for education and fertility rates, this is not guaranteed to last

That is not a valid retort. You can't just take a bunch of data points and discard all of them because "evolution has a way". I'm not extrapolating based on this data: these studies show that improving access to education in a wide variety of regions and cultures decreases fertility. These are completely valid statistics and research demonstrating that education is correlated with reduced fertility, you can't discard them with idle speculation. If you have evidence demonstrating your position, we can talk.


Evolution is a well understood phenomenon. It's reasonable to extrapolate its long term effect, especially when very high levels of government spending on education is such a recent phenomenon.


You have a hypothesis, but do you have evidence supporting your conclusion? A study suggesting that increased access to education, or welfare in general, increases the birth rate among the poor? Maybe an example of a species which, upon a decrease in difficulty raising offspring (I'd accept a decrease in infant mortality as an example), started to produce more offspring than normal?


I certainly have evidence that suggests welfare leads to people having children when they're in poorer financial circumstances:

https://books.google.ca/books?hl=en&lr=&id=Gl5Xvza-bmsC&oi=f...

The rise of the welfare state over the last 50 years has been associated with a massive rise in out-of-wedlock childbirth:

http://www.heritage.org/sites/default/files/~/media/images/r...

>Maybe an example of a species which, upon a decrease in difficulty raising offspring

It's a well known maxim that feeding animals leads to a population explosion.


1. Welfare doesn't mean access to education. At no point have I mentioned welfare, only access to public education, specifically public primary and secondary education.

2. Just because people are having more out-of-wedlock children doesn't necessarily mean they are having more children over all. It could simply mean people aren't getting married anymore.

3. Your first link has the following quote in the introduction section: "a reasonable reading of the evidence to date is that the welfare system may increase non marital childbearing, but the magnitude of its effect may not be large relative to the effect of other factors in contributing to recent increases in nonmarital child bearing in the US. In fact, the simplest evidence indicates that the welfare system has not been largely responsible for the recent increases in nonmarital child bearing."

4. Feeding animals increases population, but that's not the same as increased fertility. If an animal normally gives birth to a litter of 5, and only 3 normally live to adulthood, but now all five live to adulthood, then population will increase even though each couple is producing offspring at the same rate. And I'd also like something showing that human beings would exhibit the same phenomenon, because human behavior is a complicated thing governed by more than evolution.


1. You wrote in your previous comment: " A study suggesting that increased access to education, or welfare in general, increases the birth rate among the poor?"

2. The fact that an increasing number of people are having children out of wedlock should be very concerning. Many social problems are strongly correlated with high single parenthood rates. The evidence suggests to me that more welfare encourages single parenthood by changing its costs/rewards.

3. Even that finding is shocking in how anti-welfare it is, given the well-documented leftist bias in the social sciences. Even accepting it at face value, it points to a definite negative effect. Over time, it could get worse due to natural selection.

4. I can do some research and see what I find. As for human populations, I think the most likely outcome is that they inevitably reach a state of evolutionary optimal behavior.


You're talking like we don't do these things already. We've have public schools for over a century, we have various forms of welfare, all kinds of special grant programs to help the poor pay for college, etc. And society hasn't collapsed, the poor aren't popping out a dozen kids because they know they get free primary education. All people are proposing is that we improve these programs. It's not an ideological argument, it's a negotiation over degrees.


How redistributive were public schools 100 years ago, when they were almost exclusively paid for by local taxes within communities where people had very similar levels of income, and when education spending as a share of GDP was miniscule compared to today?

I would argue that the harm of redistribution has historically been more than counterbalanced by the accelerating rate of technological innovation, but that the last 40 years suggests that the growth of the harmful effects of welfarism are starting to outpace the accelerating natural-rate of innovation. That's what GDP and income growth figures would suggest to me. Also the explosion in single parenthood.


Subsidizing education is absolutely not redistribution of wealth! It is an investment. Giving a child a good education increases that child's lifelong income, some of which is taken as tax, which can mean putting money into education can result in a profit over time. This is especially true when you consider that giving a child a good education decreases their likelihood of having to live on welfare or unemployment. Not to mention that having a better education decreases criminality! You think welfare is expensive, consider that it costs about $50K a year to hold a person in prison. And I'm just talking about money: there's all kinds of benefits to society as a whole when the populace is better educated. Decreased crime rates means fewer robberies, rapes and murders. A better educated workforce means a larger talent pool for high-tech companies, which is matched by an increased demand for various products.

So don't just write off publicly subsidized education as wealth redistribution!


It is a component of child-rearing. Forcing people to pay for the education of other people is redistributive.

If it's truly an investment, we could let the student loan market handle it, since the returns (in increased income) exceed the costs.

As for social benefits, I believe the negative effect of encouraging people to have children when they're not capable of personally supporting them, and of reducing the incentive to be productive, outweighs the positive ones.

Before the era of government education, the level of education in society was improving steadily. I don't see history suggesting that society, left to voluntary relationships and income distribution, enters into a downward spiral.


> If it's truly an investment, we could let the student loan market handle it, since the returns (in increased income) exceed the costs.

Student loans? I'm talking about primary and secondary education, not college education. I'm assuming you aren't talking about privatizing those and using students loans to funding things, right?


I'm saying that if funding primary education produces societal returns, that must mean the net increase in earning potential exceeds the cost of the education, and therefore it would be profitable to issue student loans to the poor parents of children who would make good use of that education.


Great, get a child locked into debt slavery from the start. Sounds like a good recipe for violent revolution.


It's not slavery when the debt is assumed with informed consent. We currently force people to pay taxes, and that is vastly less consensual than a student loan. If being compelled to pay a student loan that you chose to take on is slavery, what is being forced to pay a tax debt that you never agreed to assume? As for violent revolution, the history of education before the state got involved does not suggest that would be the outcome.


Only 100 years ago? A lot? It appears the federal government has been involved in public education nearly from the start. Article I Section 8 of the constitution provides impetus; "The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States;". From the very start the federal government has provided land grants for public schools, and States have been happily applying funds received from the federal government to the costs of education.


The federal department of education was only created in 1980. All government spending on education, as a percentage of GDP, was a tiny fraction of what it is today. And the revenue for the education spending was weighted far more towards local sources, making it less redistributive.


Which superseded the Office of Education, established in 1867. I don't believe the solid historical foundations supporting your point of view(or adopted point of view for playing devils advocate) exist. Even if it did exist I doubt many people are in a hurry to revert our society and education system along with it back to 1789.

I think you would have a hard time finding any credible sources that indicate public education has been anything but good for the world. Cherry picking historical facts and turning a revisionists blind eye to our country's history won't help. As well, the debate over which LEVEL of government should be paying for education is orthogonal to the merits.


From a quick reading, it seems like the Office of Education was a small statistics gathering department with a very limited budget and role. The redistributive aspect of government education spending has increased substantially over the last century and a half. This goes back to the debate over whether society benefits if it guarantees equality of opportunity, and whether history vindicates the claim. Education outcomes have been stagnant for the past 40 years, during the era with the greatest amount of government spending and redistributive spending.

Whether it's a small community, with high levels of income homogeneity, funding the public education, or the federal government, is not orthogonal to the debate on guaranteeing equality of opportunity. The massive increase in government spending (at all levels, federal, state and local) on education is also not orthogonal to the debate.

Several economists have looked at the history of education and concluded that we would have been better off if we never transitioned from nongovernment to government education. The trends in place before public education was created were toward greater literacy and education.


First Land Grants for Public Schools came about with the Morill Act in 1862

https://www.nap.edu/read/4980/chapter/2


Perhaps for the sole purpose of schools(I don't know). However, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_Ordinance_of_1785

I'm not sure what arguing over the minutia even accomplishes. I feel like I'm chasing a goal post all over my Friday afternoon. Government support for schooling has been provided by every level of the US government stack(municipal, county, state, federal) since WAY BACK, even to colonial times, to varying degrees. Public access to and public funding of education has increased along the way, yes.


And has more than just not collapsed. Public education is an advancement just as important as any other I can think of. "The public school is the greatest discovery made by man." - Horace Mann. Possibly an exaggeration, but I'm not convinced the importance of public education to our society can be overstated. Everyone alive today is benefiting from a society rooted in public education.


Yeah, I know right? Those poor people's kids don't deserve:

Clean water, electricity, a home, education, or any of those "rich people" things. If they did deserve it, they'd have them. Since they dont, they deserve a life of misery, suffering, and edging to destitution.

^^^ If you can understand the above, its the reason why youre on the wrong side of history here. You can couch the discussion as "stealing from the rich"... But in the end, we all should have equal access and usage to the essentials of life. We have more than enough resources; there just being hoarded by greedy people who are great at explaining why they deserve it.


They don't deserve to take someone else's money by force, in order to pay for those things. I don't think opposing forced income redistribution puts me on the side of history.


And you're internalizing "take someone else's money by force". This really goes back to Americans being temporarily embarrassed capitalists, regardless their real financial livelihood. And working-class thinks that we're talking about them when it comes to "We're gonna take their money" - We are, some. But we're also going to provide a baseline for everyone no matter what.

> I don't think opposing forced income redistribution puts me on the side of history.

And here we go again. This is a matter of "How does the government serve the citizenry". And right now, not very well. Government's current modus operandi is to privatize the gains and socialize the losses. In other words, their gains is on the backs of our losses. And from that, we have a legitimate claim on those gains, as they should be socialized as well.

Why? Because people who are rich did not do so themselves in a little bubble. Their successes rest in part on all of us. And it is easy to say, and act, that they need to pay their fair share. And that fair share would be sufficient in providing basic necessities to everyone, regardless of financial need.

People can still make profit, and thrive. I'm not advocating traditional communism. I'm advocating a blend, where the minimums are taken care of. People can still thrive and profit - they just won't be able to stand on our backs for them to get ahead.


>This is a matter of "How does the government serve the citizenry".

By taking other people's income? I don't think that's fair.

>Because people who are rich did not do so themselves in a little bubble. Their successes rest in part on all of us.

That doesn't seem like a scientific way to determine how much one owes another person. In my opinion it's not consistent with the principle of justice. It's a very sweeping generalization.

>People can still thrive and profit - they just won't be able to stand on our backs for them to get ahead.

How would they be standing on our backs in the absence of forcible redistribution?


> By taking other people's income? I don't think that's fair.

But you don't ask that when they extract peoples' money on the upswing. Only when I express that "socialism for losses and privatization for profits" do you have any problem with fairness.

> That doesn't seem like a scientific way to determine how much one owes another person. In my opinion it's not consistent with the principle of justice. It's a very sweeping generalization.

You want scientific and fair? We the people should own the proceeds from public lands. And that should be used to bolster lowering costs on food, electricity, water, and other resources.

Instead, our government is making "Deals" like selling whole trees for $3 to a wood cutter. Trees are usually in the range from $1000-$50000 , yet some private entity benefits on public's socialism.

Or we have eminent domain so some company can build something. Doesn't matter if it's not for public works. Again, socialism for the rich, and capitalism for the poor.

> How would they be standing on our backs in the absence of forcible redistribution?

Well, you seem to be an Ancap type, given your economic theory. Well, they'd just pay people to serve as a private militia to protect them. Like Somalia. Because people with pitchforks would come out, and take care of this and properly distribute.

Yeah, people can be richer than others... But there's a point that fairness surpasses when you have 1 person (or company) that owns an impressive amount of goods. We only look no further than environmental, societal, local, and government destruction due to extreme clout.


>But you don't ask that when they extract peoples' money on the upswing.

I always ask that.

>You want scientific and fair? We the people should own the proceeds from public lands.

The proceeds of public land is not sufficient to pay for a sizeable welfare state. All land in the US is worth $23 trillion. Assuming a tax equal to 3% of its value is levied per year, that would raise a little less than $700 million.

That has to first be spent on the essentials, like interstate highways, federal courts, and national defence. There's nothing left for welfare. Even if there were, it would better serve society to spend it on general goods to boost productivity, rather than private goods for the poor that discourage it.

No I'm not an ancap.

>But there's a point that fairness surpasses when you have 1 person (or company) that owns an impressive amount of goods.

I don't see this being based on a principle of justice. It's just a gut feeling, which will be highly susceptible to our biases.


Every capitalist fortune can be trace to appropriation of shared culture and resources. Nothing is created from nothing. The people cede control of culture and resources so that they might maximize the shared good. Intellectual and physical property rights are a grant by the people. Redistribution of income as a condition of that grant is an agreement, not stealing.


If you're alleging a particular fortune traces its roots to an illegitimate acquisition, then prove it in a court of law, in front of a jury of your peers. Your statement is a sweeping generalization, and prejudicial indictment, and that is in my opinion not consistent with basic principles of justice.

I personally believe we have a natural right to our private property. Otherwise, why stop at our physical possessions, and not go to our physical body as well?


We force people to pay for roads, firefighters, police, healthcare and ensure all children have the same opportunity.

Healthy adults can stand for themselves, children and the ill need protection.


But that's not a justification. That's just telling me we do this a lot.


Look, if you want to drag out the old "taxation is theft" chestnut, I'm going to drag out the "property is theft" chestnut, and everyone else can drag out their old chestnuts, and we can totally derail the thread.

Do you want to derail the thread just to vomit out slogans we've all heard a thousand times and found wanting?


I don't think that's very constructive. The parent comment said [X] should be the rallying cry. I said in my opinion it shouldn't, and I gave my rationale. By all means bring out your chestnuts. I welcome a rigorous discussion, instead of blind conformity to mainstream political mores.


No, you don't welcome a rigorous discussion. You want to repeat discussions we've already had, in which you were not persuaded to others' points of view, and you didn't persuade them either. The likelihood that we'll all see the divine light of von Mises and convert this time is extraordinarily low. Stop trying.


> The likelihood that we'll all see the divine light of von Mises and convert this time is extraordinarily low.

I disagree with Jabanga but the "market incentive to pay for smart kids to learn" is interesting - I'd say it's also very risky - a poor child's parents don't want to pay for the child's education, they're not smart, they decide to rob people, this isn't good for anyone.

But I welcome the discussion and Jabanga has been polite so far.


>But I welcome the discussion and Jabanga has been polite so far.

No, I don't think he has been. His core premise is, "taxation is theft", that is, providing government services with tax money is morally wrong. From there, he has dragged us all into trying to refute his entirely rationalized ideological structure, which claims descriptively that taxing people and using it to provide services has inferior results to simply privatizing everything.

He's rationalizing descriptive data that don't fit the real world to maintain a strictly normative premise that he believes for strictly normative reasons. He then wants us to spend effort engaging with his descriptive claims as if they were the core matter, or even as if they were real descriptive claims and not rationalizations.

No, if they were actual descriptive claims, and he was actually engaging in consequential rather than deontic moral reasoning, he would notice that his descriptive claims contradict reality and change his mind on the core moral proposition. Instead, he's solid as a rock on his original claim, which means he's reasoning deontically, not to mention fallaciously: Thou Shalt Not Tax, therefore tax-funded schools are inferior.

That's downright rude.


Believing in something you find morally wrong is not downright rude. Insisting someone else has no right to their opinion is.


>Believing in something you find morally wrong is not downright rude.

He's entitled to his own normative moral opinions, not his own facts.


Sure, and "taxation is theft" is an opinion.


Sure, but "taxation causes schools to be worse, and student loans could support high-quality elementary education for all" is just outright wrong.


I'm expressing my views. It's not constructive to tell people with minority viewpoints to stop expressing them.

I did nothing more than what the parent comment did.

I also don't think we're in a position to judge the full impact of our words on others, so I don't accept your assessment that no minds were changed by the previous discussions.


> I'm expressing my views. It's not constructive to tell people with minority viewpoints to stop expressing them.

Nobody's telling you not to express your view. The obnoxious thing is to snidely pretend everyone else has to justify their own positions in terms of your view.

If you want to say, "taxation is theft", just say it, instead of dragging things out from, "Well why should children have equal opportunities to other children anyways?"


My position is not that "taxation is theft" though. I do oppose certain kinds of taxation, because of the rights that I believe we have. I thought the way I addressed the parent comment was much more on-topic than the response you insist I should have provided. It was within the context of what the parent comment's argument was, making it relatable and relevant. It also expressed exactly what I believed. I don't think it's constructive to attack me because I expressed my view in a manner you disapprove of.


You're right, it's not a justification. The reason I think we do all those things is because it's good for society: there might be talented kids that have poor parents, so giving them a good start in life creates more successful adults. More successful adults is good for the economy and for the harmoniousness of society.


We could provide people with the market means to provide student loans to the parents of promising children. Then the market will take care of it, without any compulsion, and far more effectively than a nondiscriminating blanket redistribution based solely on reported income levels.

I personally think that guaranteeing equality of opportunity will have more negative social effects than positive, by reducing incentive to produce resources in order to provide for one's own children, since one can instead be poor and let the state force other people to pay for their upbringing.


What cannot end well for society is an underclass with limited social mobility and access to guns.

If justice is the greatest happiness for the greatest number, some degree of equitable income redistribution is a moral imperative. The exact degree needs to be experimentally determined, as income redistribution does reduce individual autonomy (which has the side effect of reducing happiness) and incentive to work (which results in less wealth to redistribute). The exact amount is also probably population specific, with cohesive, homogeneous populations tolerating more redistribution.


The standard of living of the world's poor is improving faster than ever. I don't see cause to be concerned about a violent revolution.

As for the greater good justification: given income redistribution reduces how much wealth is generated, which you acknowledge, it goes to reason that over an infinite timescale, the society without income redistribution will become infinitely wealthier than the one with. A permanent boost to the exponent of economic growth leads, over a long enough time period, to a cumulatively larger gain for the welfare of the poor than any increase in redistribution could provide them, since the benefits of a permanent increase in the growth rate are recurring.


I'd argue that Society is literally the business of using force to align incentives towards global optima.

In the same way that society taxes you to pay for goods and services that others use, others are taxed to pay for services that you use. Society does this because it has been historically more adaptive to make everyone pay for roads, fire departments, and strategic bombers regardless of whether or not they actually want them.

If you don't think people should be forced to pay for things that others use, I challenge you to find a society where this doesn't happen.


I find that to be an odd definition of society. I think you mean government. And I don't believe redistribution from effective producers of economic resources to less effective producers is societally beneficial.


..and any child with "bad" parents has to work ten times as hard because they've spent their entire life swimming against the current.

There's a reason why certain communities have radically different outcomes. The more motivated kind set their offspring up so that the default outcome is, on average, success. They have to try hard to not succeed.


> They have to try hard to not succeed.

That is utter crap. They do have to make some bad decisions, but it's not like success is guaranteed for everyone who grows up in a white middle class neighborhood.


Just because it's possible to fail doesn't mean that it isn't easier to succeed. Consider the case of Eric Couch, who stole two cases of beer, drove 70 mp/h (30 miles per hour over the speed limit) and crashed, killing four people. Two hours after the crash, his BAC was .24%. He was 18.

His lawyer argued that he suffered from 'affluenza', and he was sentenced to probation and therapy; note that Eric was a repeat offender (having been previously cited for Minor in Possession and Minor in Consumption of Alcohol.

Eric Couch wasn't sentenced to a jail term until he violated the terms of his probation and fled to Mexico.

Success isn't guaranteed, but does everybody get the same leeway as Eric Couch?


>it's not like success is guaranteed for everyone who grows up in a white middle class neighborhood.

You know, if people can grow up in a privileged, middle-class neighborhood, unharmed by want or oppression, work reasonably hard, put in a normal level of effort, make reasonable-in-expectation decisions... and then wind up poor? Something is very wrong.


And being tall doesn't mean you'll be a great basketball player, but it makes it way fucking easier.


Quality schooling, basic health care, and a way to pay for college for academic excellence aren't going to take away all the nice things you can afford to treat your child to. A decent minimum line is as much helping you (a functioning, healthy society lasts much longer) as it is others. Every other first world country has those things I mentioned above for its citizens, and it's embarrassing how apathetic the public/Congress seem to be about it.


I don't see any basis for that. Substantial taxes could very well reduce how much one can invest into their own children.

I also don't see how other countries doing it is a justification.


Do you really consider everyone paying their share to be 'substantial taxes'?


Everyone paying their share would be a flat tax, not the current top-heavy and over-complicated system where nearly half of Americans don't pay any income taxes, and the rest prop up a multi-billion dollar industry of leeches, trying to minimize the amount that they have to pay out.


It depends what their share is.


Those kids whose parents don't invest anything in them? Some of them start stealing packages off of my front porch. (Yes, that literally happened to me. I know which kid did it, too. His mom caught him - so maybe I shouldn't list him as a kid whose parents weren't investing anything.) Some of them start breaking into houses. (Hasn't happened to me... yet.) Some of them start mugging people. A few of them get frustrated enough that they decide to kill as many people as they can.

At some point there, do you start seeing reasons for us to start caring about what happens to those children? If not for the childrens' benefit, at least for our own?


Jesus fucking christ dude, it's not about giving parents the opportunity to see their children be successful. It's about giving children the chance to be successful.


Don't bother responding. As soon as you catch a whiff of "taxation is theft" in a thread on the Internet you can be pretty sure you're communicating with someone who's solved government, coordination problems generally, and ethics from first principles (or, rather, read those who have, or been convinced in discussion with those who have read those who have). The only way to open them up to the possibility that some other conclusions might be valid would be to show them where weakly-justified axioms and non sequitur reasoning occur way back at the beginning of their understanding, which they missed the first time, and considering their (likely) psychological investment in the edifice atop those sands you're gonna have a rough time of it. You can try "but things seem to work pretty OK not doing what you're talking about" with specific examples, but they'll insist they'd work better still their way, and besides, your way is evil because (remember?) they solved ethics, et c., et c. This is a horse that's beaten endlessly online, to no purpose.

You may as well go punch a stone wall for a while instead.


That's pretty much my attitude as well. "taxation is theft" crowd of fringe libertarians are pretty up there with hardcore Scientologists, anti-vaccers, KKK members and level 5 vegans (don't eat anything that casts a shadow).

Government is bad, taxes are theft, regulation is evil.

Repeat ad nauseam until your opponent gives up. Best way to treat them is like the trolls they are - ignore them.


I don't think that's a constructive attitude to have. It's better to have a mind that is at least open enough to hear the other person out, and debate them.

You've basically dehumanized a large section of the population in a manner that you would agree would be pretty offensive if done to you.


In... god, nearly[0] 20 years of reading and engaging in Internet arguments and discussions, I don't think I've ever seen a productive exchange with a certain flavor of common-on-the-Internet outspoken and confident market-focused libertarian, though it occupies an enormous number of bits (and person-hours) on the global network. The best case for these is that we discover (again, hooray) that there's more than one reasonable way of understanding individual liberty. The worst case is that some of us discover that (again, OMG can we please stop?), while it continues to elude others and they go on thinking people just don't understand their position because if they did they'd surely agree, leading them to start the whole thing over again the next time it's half-relevant anywhere they post, leaving a trail misery and mises.org links (sigh) in their wake. Let's all spend that time reading some IPE, game theory, comparative politics, and undergrad readings in political philosophy textbooks instead, shall we? It'd be far more improving.

These days it seems to have replaced arguing/trolling about religion (anyone else remember the distant past of the 90s?) as the most common waste of everyone's time in Internet discussions. It'd be best if we just recognize when this kind of thread is about to start and stop posting.

[0 EDIT] uh, whoops, that should be over 20 years. How time flies.


I've seen plenty of minds changed in discussions with libertarians. But I agree that the odds that any one debate will lead to a consensus being reached are very low. Debates where one side insists on a politically incorrect position are especially unlikely to lead to anyone's mind being changed. Anecdotally, I used to oppose "market fundamentalism", and there would have been no hope of a free market advocate winning me over. So I agree that 99% of the time it's futile. But there is that rare occasion where someone learns something new. I've personally learned a lot from those who disagree with my market fundamentalist positions.


That's a great ideal to strive toward, but I don't see the case for forcing everyone to adopt that ideal.


You know, you're welcome to live in one of the hellhole countries that don't care about promoting the general welfare. We have that "ideal" literally written in the constitution.


You're also welcome to not respond to me if my views bother you. I'm simply expressing my viewpoint.

There is nothing in the Constitution about social welfare programs to provide equality of opportunity. It's all about the "general welfare", which had a distinctly non-redistribitive definition in the 18th century.

> it was never meant they should provide for that welfare but by the exercise of the enumerated powers, so it could not have been meant they should raise money for purposes which the enumeration did not place under their action; consequently, that the specification of powers is a limitation of the purposes for which they may raise money.

- Thomas Jefferson


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I see advocating force as more similar to the definition of sociopathic behaviour. But I also don't think arguing over which belief is more or less sociopathic is constructive.


Well Western society has, by and large.


Because they are all human beings living in the richest country on earth. Why shouldn't they?


> "Americans from all backgrounds should have a fair shot at a quality education, not just those who happen to grow up in nice neighborhoods."

While the rich pay more than their fair share and then some (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KENaWXPmBr0), I would think that quality education is something we could all get behind. It's unfortunate though that the left in large part seem to be opposed to school choice. That means that if you live in a more impoverished neighborhood, you're stuck with whatever school you're assigned to instead of being able to shop around, and for a lot of impoverished neighborhoods, that means schools with bad teachers and administrators, and there is no way out of it. This is a huge problem in black communities, and one area where the right legislation could make a significant impact.


>That means that if you live in a more impoverished neighborhood, you're stuck with whatever school you're assigned to instead of being able to shop around, and for a lot of impoverished neighborhoods, that means schools with bad teachers and administrators, and there is no way out of it. This is a huge problem in black communities, and one area where the right legislation could make a significant impact.

Fuck us for wanting to fix those impoverished schools, right?


What are you doing to fix them? How can you ensure that bad school close down, and good schools thrive? Why not use a solution that has clearly worked? Why can't we agree that out of the infinite ways that people can organize themselves, that maybe having politicians and government runs things isn't the best solution in all cases?


> While the rich pay more than their fair share and then some

Do you honestly think every tax bracket pays the same effective rate as the middle class? I think you will learn a lot in this thread.


> Do you honestly think every tax bracket pays the same effective rate as the middle class?

Are you talking to me? Because I didn't say that. What I said is that the rich pay for most for government services, which means that per person, they pay WAY MORE than their fair share. Elon Musk will be paying nearly half a billion dollars in income tax this year, what did YOU contribute? How much would you need to sacrifice in your life to pay a tenth of what he paid this year alone?


Take a look at who bank rolls most of the federal gov't budget. It's the rich.


I think most people aren't terribly concerned about income/wealth inequality. The logical inverse would be that everyone should get the same share of resources regardless of their contribution to society or wealth created. I think even most on the political left would reject that idea.

Rather than inequality, I think people are more concerned about some combination of:

* Poverty - that some people don't have enough resources to meet their basic needs

* Lack of opportunity - that for too many people, working hard and making reasonable decisions is unlikely to result in a proportional gain in wealth

* Corruption - that wealth results in undue influence over the political process and control over the lives of others

* Unjust rewards - that some activities which arguably, or definitely cause a net harm to society or a reduction in total wealth are rewarded, and that some beneficial activities are not rewarded, or rewarded insufficiently


> The logical inverse would be that everyone should get the same share of resources regardless of their contribution to society or wealth created. I think even most on the political left would reject that idea.

Yeah, pretty much everyone of the left would reject that extreme. The progressive viewpoint here is simply that the economic system is tilted too far in favor of money accumulating upwards and needs to be pushed back somewhat. Other than that, there is a lot of variety in how far and what the method of doing so should look like.


The author of the article makes a passing reference to "radical egalitarianism", which Wikipedia doesn't say much about, but associates with equality of outcome and communism. It's possible that something along those lines is, in fact the author's position.

I'd be interested in seeing if there are a significant number of people who are fundamentally concerned with wealth inequality per se rather than poverty, lack of opportunity, corruption and unjust rewards.


I can agree with a lot of this opinion piece; fairness is more important than equality, and it's hard to rally around anything that's abstract. Yes. People rally around things that affect them directly and have an obvious course of action. Despite the inequality in the US, the majority of Americans have a comfortable standard of living. And I've frequently heard the idea that poor people vote republican because they expect to be rich some day.

But anyway the closer seems really weird to me.

> I also find it striking how frequently anti-inequality messages come from academia, which in reality has a remarkably inegalitarian system of allocating rewards. For instance, consider the differences in pay, security and working conditions for tenured professors versus adjuncts; citation inequality is very high too.

This seems to be suggesting that we should discount academics because they're hypocrites because their house has inequality too. Very specious.

Why is it surprising that the only people asking whether we have equality and taking the time to find out are the ones reporting that we don't?

There are many things wrong in academia and with tenure, but why exactly is it unfair for adjuncts to have less pay & security? Tenure is harder to get, and adjuncts are non tenure track.

Citation inequality? What does this have to do with global economic inequality? I'm sure there is citation inequality but the paper cited doesn't really demonstrate it. It catalogues where citations are concentrated, which doesn't prove inequality. To show inequality you'd have to compare submissions and rejection rates, not acceptance rates alone.


This is why 'Eat The Rich' is my rallying cry.


What does 'eat the rich' mean?


I'd take the calls to "fight inequality" more seriously if they didn't have such a nationalist tone. 71% of the world population lives on less than $10 a day, if inequality was ended on a global scale the majority of the people out there protesting would see a dramatic drop in income. I have a feeling that isn't what they are talking about.


It depends which form of inequality you are taking about. For instance consider the argument that the criminal justice system does not provide equal justice based on race or income and that it should. If this inequality was fixed this does not imply a net reduction in justice. Instead decreases in this form of inequality would result in a net increase in justice.

Based on your comment I assume you are addressing income inequality.

>the majority of the people out there protesting would see a dramatic drop in income. I have a feeling that isn't what they are talking about.

I do know activists that view fairness as such an important virtue that they would be overjoyed to take that bargain even if it hurt their bottom line. However, according to the BBC [0]:

> the world's average salary is $1,480 (£928) a month, which is just less than $18,000 (£11,291) a year.

18,000/365 is roughly 50 dollars a day. According the the 2014 US Census [1] about 18-33% of US households make this or less (18% is single earner, 33% is two earner households). So for 18-33% of the US population nothing changes or things improve.

However, no one has a magic income equality wand. Even if someone did have a magic income equality wand is not clear if the second order effects of global radical income redistribution would be positive and almost nothing would prevent the causes of income inequality from reasserting themselves. For this reason most attempts to fix such inequality focus on the root causes, e.g. differences in the quality of education, disease, malnutrition or structural power imbalances (such as unfairness in the justice system, structural racism/sexism, who gets business loans, rent-seeking, etc...). Almost all of these would likely raise the average level of income rather than just flatten it.

[0]: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-17512040

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Household_income_in_the_United...


Global per capita GDP is roughly 10 thousand dollars per year.

http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.CD

The median income in the US is 51 thousand dollars and even if you made minimum wage (15k yearly) you'd see a 50% drop in income in a completely equitable system.


>Global per capita GDP is roughly 10 thousand dollars per year.

Global per capita GDP counts non-earners such as children and the sick. That can't directly be compared to median income because median income doesn't account for non-earners.

>The median income in the US is 51 thousand dollars

And that is the median household income. Which is not the same as per earner wage. For instance a household with two earners would have household income of 30,000 rather than 15,000.

The BBC's analysis (linked to in my post) computes it for earners and therefore is comparable. This is also why it is higher (18,000 USD rather than 10,000 USD). I gave a range for 1-2 earners per household.

>and even if you made minimum wage (15k yearly) you'd see a 50% drop in income in a completely equitable system

Are you confusing median and mean here?


>Global per capita GDP counts non-earners such as children and the sick. That can't directly be compared to median income because median income doesn't account for non-earners.

Ahh, so this system would be rather Ayn Randian then? The elderly, sick and unemployed would be expected to starve? Or would you tax the already low wages these people have earned at a rate sufficient to give those groups a similar standard of living as those whom happen to be employed and not old or sick? If you did so with 100% efficiency you would have an after tax income at a number somewhere between yours and mine. That number would be very likely less than the federal minimum wage.

And even so the government hasn't built a road or a school yet.

>And that is the median household income. Which is not the same as per earner wage. For instance a household with two earners would have household income of 30,000 rather than 15,000.

Children of single mothers would have it pretty rough then. Typically communist systems will give extra resources to parents of children in order to assist with the cost of raising them. I suppose this will not be the case in this brave new world? A bold choice as early childhood mortality will likely be very high as well as the numbers of parents abandoning children they can't afford.

>Are you confusing median and mean here?

Neither was mentioned in this context. The US federal minimum wage (FYI Walmart has a national minimum wage that exceeds that number by roughly 25% very few actually make this little) earned for 40 hours a week work, 52 weeks a year will give you a gross income of a little over 15 thousand dollars annually.


>Ahh, so this system would be rather Ayn Randian then? The elderly, sick and unemployed would be expected to starve?

This makes no sense. I pointed out you were comparing income statistics incorrectly (which was also noted by another poster) and in response you:

1. made up a political program which is entirely missing from my post,

2. ascribed it to me out of the blue,

3. and then wrote two paragraphs attacking me for this fantastical program.

I'd hate to be your math teacher:

Math teacher: "cmdrfred, you got this problem wrong 2 + 3 is not 6"

cmdrfred: "Ahh, so this system would be rather Ayn Randian then? The elderly, sick and unemployed would be expected to starve?".


I merely mentioned the median income in passing to highlight how low many will fall. (US GDP per capita is 53k if you are really concerned about apples to apples) and you fixated on it for some reason ignoring the rest of the argument.

"The median income in the US is 51 thousand dollars and even if you made minimum wage (15k yearly) you'd see a 50% drop in income in a completely equitable system."

The fact is if you had income equality globally you would either have to allow the sick and elderly to starve as well as essentially suspend every governmental function or even the lowest paid workers in the US would be much worse off as the economy would shrink to 1/5 of its original size.

My point stands, "Fight for $15" and making income "fair" are mutually exclusive goals unless you are a nationalist whom is really saying "hey, give me more money!"


The BBC article agrees. The $18,000 a year is based on PPP, so for equality of _effective_ income, that's possibly a better number to use.


"Inequality" is a bad rallying cry because no two people are equal, and few would like to be equal to someone else. So what people mean by "inequality" is always something else, and varies in meaning from person to person. Even if you choose something concrete, like "equality of income", few really mean that an 18 year old should have the same income as a 45 year old.

Ordinarily a meaningless word is great for a rallying cry, but things like "equal" and "fair" are just too meaningless.


> few really mean that an 18 year old should have the same income as a 45 year old

Surely people don't believe that an 18 year-old shouldn't have the same income as a 45 year-old?

A 45 year-old shouldn't have higher income just because they're older. In the UK, at least, we have laws about that sort of thing.


> few really mean that an 18 year old should have the same income as a 45 year old.

Pretty sure a lot of the 22 year olds I saw at occupy rallies thought exactly that. I am a bad person for working for 20 years to get where I am without giving most of my money to people that haven't.


After running a mental Principal Components Analysis over the whole liberal/conservative ideological spectrum, I'm increasingly inclined to reduce the entire divide between conservatives and liberals to whether any given individual is more irritated by the prospect of (A) poor people being lazy and abusing handouts or (B) rich people abusing poor people.


It's funny what you remember from the grade school days. In hindsight, one of the most influential stories I had to read was "Harrison Bergeron"[0], which I always come back to whenever I see people talk about equality. Danilov's last lines in "Enemy at the Gates"[1] have stuck with me as well.

"Equality" is a bit of a fraught term - it can mean lots of things in lots of different contexts. But "Harrison Bergeron" depicted an equal society, and it wasn't pretty.

Perhaps fights against inequality that cut down tall poppies are just inherently more difficult to sell. Debates about racial inequality have arguably made better headway over time in US politics because they tend to focus on elevating an oppressed group; granting them rights they lacked to make them equals with those who already had those rights. With income inequality, however, the solutions are often perceived (rightly or wrongly) as bringing people down; beating up on those who have had success.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harrison_Bergeron

[1]: "Man will always be a man. There is no new man. We tried so hard to create a society that was equal, where there'd be nothing to envy your neighbour. But there's always something to envy. A smile, a friendship, something you don't have and want to appropriate. In this world, even a Soviet one, there will always be rich and poor. Rich in gifts, poor in gifts. Rich in love, poor in love."


The author has been on the payroll of the Koch brothers for most of his career.


Not really. The author has been a professor at George Mason for most of his career, and it's quite a stretch to refer to the whole faculty of George Mason as "on the payroll of the Koch brothers".


Source?


I was skeptical as well, but it's true.

Cowen is the director of the Mercatus Center, which is heavily funded by the brothers. see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercatus_Center

And here's an article on that connection https://www.lewrockwell.com/2014/06/gary-north/the-koch-brot...


yeah, "fight inequality" is ineffective at rallying the benefactors of inequality-- boomers and the rich. big surprise.

bernie sanders is the most popular politician in america. is it because his fundamental message of needing to reduce inequality is falling flat? no.

garbage article, ignores objective realities in favor of babbling in circles...


a lot of these protests such as "Occupy Wall Street" or "Black Lives Matter" have the right idea, but they are not sharp enough to be meaningful. Know your audience.


If you want people to fight inequality with you, you have to first prove to them it's actually a problem.

It's a bit of a leap to convince somebody that just because Bill Gates is much richer than the typical person, somebody more deserving must have gone without for him to get so rich.


It's not a leap at all.

MS lost an anti-trust case. There were good legal and ethical reasons why MS in general and Gates in particular had to admit in a public courtroom that "cutting off the oxygen supply" to their competitors meant destroying other companies and other people's livelihoods.

Aside from that, once a company gets big enough it effectively becomes a kind of proxy mini-government in its market space, and smaller entrepreneurs either work with it and pay tribute for market access, or sometimes simply pay for the right to continue to exist.

And even then there's no guarantee that they really will be allowed to exist.

This is what inequality means. It's not just about poor people having no money and rich people having plenty of money. It's about inequality of power and influence.


What you say is true, but it's also true that convincing people of this reality is hard. There's a counterfactual world somewhere where everyone is slightly better off because the MSFT monopoly was broken, and tech progressed faster than it did in our world, but people find that kind of thought process tricky, and it involves making enemies of someone rich and powerful in our actual world.


Random semi-related anecdote

Japanese video game companies pay like 1/3rd or less what USA video game companies pay in salary. AFAIK similar things are true for other industries. Maybe not as bad as 1/3rd but that's not relevant to the point below.

In Japanese school (17 years ago) my teacher brought up the topic that CEOs don't get paid as much in Japan so it's more equal. My response at the time was "why do I care that my USA CEO makes 100x my salary and my Japanese CEO only 10x, the 100x CEO is still managing to pay me 2x to 3x more than the 10x CEO."

How true that is overall I have no idea. I can say that video game programmers in Japan with 15 years experience make less than interns at Google.


What I don't get is how people can hear "the CEO makes 100x what I make" and not then think "there's a lot of money in this company, I should be paid a heck of a lot more". Cause you know it's not just the CEO that's taking a big chunk of change. Why be content with what you're given, even if it's a lot, when you could be demanding more, cause you know it's there?


Actually I thought the opposite. I thought, AFAIK this Japanese company is making similar income to USA companies, why can't they pay similar salaries. I've never found out the answer.

It could be an answer like taxes are high or other costs are high. It could be the fact that you can't easily get rid of bad employees in Japan and that eats up costs. It could be that they don't pay for experience, they hire out of college with no experience, especially Japanese colleges which have a reputation for not teaching anything, that would mean maybe the company costs are years of training their inexperienced employees up to western graduate levels.

I have no idea and I'd love to know. But, whatever it is I think I'd like them to fix it so they start paying similar salaries to their USA counterparts.


Yeah - especially when the opposite is much more likely to be true.




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