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Bread and circuses…well, circuses anyway, not so much bread

Michael Shermer indulges in some shabby Libertarian statistical games to wave away American economic inequality. Sure, there are inequities, he argues, but they’re not so bad — the poor are also getting slightly richer.

The rich are getting richer, as Brookings Institution economist Gary Burtless found by analyzing tax data from the Congressional Budget Office for after-tax income trends from 1979 through 2010 (including government assistance). The top-fifth income earners in the U.S. increased their share of the national income from 43 percent in 1979 to 48 percent in 2010, and the top 1 percent increased their share of the pie from 8 percent in 1979 to 13 percent in 2010. But note what has not happened: the rest have not gotten poorer. They’ve gotten richer: the income of the other quintiles increased by 49, 37, 36 and 45 percent, respectively.

I have a few problems with this. First, in an article titled “The Myth of Income Inequality”, he’s doing a bit of bait-and-switch: it doesn’t matter if the baseline is rising, the question is about the disparity. Income disparity is greater now than it was before. His own numbers show that.

This argument is basically a version of the “Well, the poor all have cell phones!” dismissal. They’ve also got refrigerators and TVs, therefore, you should just ignore the fact that the wealthiest are sucking up all our prosperity to fund luxuries and frivolities. We should just pretend that we’re all getting the benefit of a rising tide, and never mind that yacht towering above your dinghy.

But there are other funny things going on in this economy. Look at this chart: the costs of TVs and toys and cell phones (the latter at least is essential now; but it’s a new cost for the poor, even if it is dropping) are plummeting, but the stuff that really matters for upward income mobility, like child care, health care, and education are going up. Especially education. We are saddling new graduates with overwhelming amounts of debt.

poorcosts

Another interesting game Shermer plays is to ignore the difference between income and wealth. It’s good that the poor are getting some increase in income, but if you’re using it to make ends meet or dig out from under a pile of debt, you’re not going to be accumulating any wealth — you can still get poorer. Meanwhile, the rich don’t have to worry about covering essential living expenses, and can invest and get richer. It’s useful to be able to see the distinction, so here’s a handy table of wealth and income in the US.

Income, net worth, and financial worth in the U.S. by percentile, in 2010 dollars
Wealth or income class Mean household income Mean household net worth Mean household financial (non-home) wealth
Top 1 percent $1,318,200 $16,439,400 $15,171,600
Top 20 percent $226,200 $2,061,600 $1,719,800
60th-80th percentile $72,000 $216,900 $100,700
40th-60th percentile $41,700 $61,000 $12,200
Bottom 40 percent $17,300 -$10,600 -$14,800
From Wolff (2012); only mean figures are available, not medians.  Note that income and wealth are separate measures; so, for example, the top 1% of income-earners is not exactly the same group of people as the top 1% of wealth-holders, although there is considerable overlap.

Here’s another sneaky trick. When the concern is inequality, let’s ignore the most extreme and instead focus on perceptions.

One reason for the controversy is that people overestimate differences between the rich and poor. In a 2013 study published in Psychological Science entitled “Better Off Than We Know,” St. Louis University psychologist John R. Chambers and his colleagues found that most people estimate that the richest 20 percent make 31 times more than the poorest 20 percent (it is 15.5 times), and they believe that the average annual income of the richest 20 percent of Americans is $2 million, whereas in fact it is $169,000, a perceptual difference of nearly 12 times. “Almost all of our study participants,” the authors concluded, “grossly underestimated Americans’ average household incomes and overestimated the level of income inequality.”

That’s beautiful sleight of hand. First, as previously mentioned, talk only about income, not wealth (and most of us already have poor intuition about the difference; notice also that if you look at the table above, the guesses pretty much hit the mark on wealth, rather than income). Then talk only about the top 20%, rather than the top 1%. And then make much of the fact that people’s guesses about rich people’s incomes are wrong. Har har, the proles guessed that managers make 31 times as much money as they do, when it’s really only 12 times.

Really? Try this exercise: imagine that you got paid just 10 times as much as you do now. “Just” 10 times. How much of a difference would that make in your life? I’m in a comfortable position; optimistically, I’m probably somewhere in the bottom of the 20%, so I don’t have to worry much about making ends meet, and give me an order of magnitude more money and I’d just be socking it away in a bank. But if you’re poor, if you’re struggling to cover child care and rent and keep the family fed, that’s an immense difference.

And of course the other factor is that the 20% aren’t actually working any harder than the 80% — their labor may require more training (which we’re trying hard to lock poor people out of with skyrocketing education costs), but they’re not actually working any harder than you are. My father was often working two jobs in order to keep spinning his wheels in poverty, so I’ve seen this inequality at work, and am well aware that I’m on the lucky side of the rich-poor divide.

But set aside all the squinty-eyed statistical games, and simply ask the fundamental question: Who owns the country? Where is the product of 315 million people’s labor going?

In the United States, wealth is highly concentrated in a relatively few hands. As of 2010, the top 1% of households (the upper class) owned 35.4% of all privately held wealth, and the next 19% (the managerial, professional, and small business stratum) had 53.5%, which means that just 20% of the people owned a remarkable 89%, leaving only 11% of the wealth for the bottom 80% (wage and salary workers). In terms of financial wealth (total net worth minus the value of one’s home), the top 1% of households had an even greater share: 42.1%.

That’s the inequality that we’re concerned about, that a mere 1% own well over a third of the wealth of the country, and it’s increasing — they use that wealth to manipulate media and politics to steal even greater quantities of our work. We are becoming a kleptocracy.

But never mind that. Look! Over there! There’s a poor person with an Xbox!


But wait! Even that claim that the poor have gotten richer may be dodgy: this analysis of reported incomes shows that we’ve been experiencing a decline.

Comments

  1. md says

    Its okay if the poor lose 20% of their net worth next year, as long as the rich lose 30%. Inequality will be reduced and others misery makes for a delicious dinner.

  2. Nick Gotts says

    …And md sets fire to an unfortunate straw person in the very first comment. Got to get that misleading crapola in quick, eh md? Of course, both absolute poverty and economic inequality matter, and nothing in the OP even hints that the former does not. But I suppose it’s only by lying to yourself that any objection to inequality is about wanting the rich to be miserable that you can remain comfortable.

  3. carlie says

    they believe that the average annual income of the richest 20 percent of Americans is $2 million, whereas in fact it is $169,000, a perceptual difference of nearly 12 times. “

    It’s even worse than that – remember that $200,000 per year figure that got thrown around so often a few years ago when politicians were talking about the “middle class”? That’s the top 5%. Let me repeat. Only the top 5% of Americans make over $200,000 a year. So that figure of $169,000 as the average for the top 20%? That is being heavily skewed by people at the very top (the top 2%, in fact), and most of the top 20% is nowhere near even that $169k. Our system is deeply, deeply screwed.

  4. carlie says

    And those numbers cited in the link I posted are household income numbers, not individual salaries. That means that for every person in a dual or triple or quadruple income household, their jobs pay individually far less than those numbers indicate.

  5. razzlefrog says

    You’re so smart, PZ, and I always want to link to your posts, but the atheist thing makes me worry about the social and professional consequences I might have to deal with if I share. Sigh.

  6. Stacey C. says

    UGH. I live in liberal-ville and the attitude toward the poor/working families is pretty crappy. I can’t imagine how it is further out into the ideological spectrum. I’m lucky to have a good job and family support-esp. since my husband was chronically ill and out of work for the last year and a half-we managed to stay mostly above water and thanks to my retirement plan we’re able to pay off our debt but otherwise we would have been totally screwed. He couldn’t get Disability-despite needing a cane, needing to rest after crossing a room, having occasional pain ‘seizures’, and not being able to work at all due to being in pain all the time-because he didn’t have a specific diagnosis. Thank the godz he now has one and is on medicine. I can’t image what we would have done if I’d had a lower paying job. We could very well have ended up having to move in with one of our parents-and we’d still have been better off than many.

  7. borax says

    I’m reminded of the time I tried to explain to a Libertarian friend (or as he likes to be known, a classical liberal and student of the Austrian school of economics) that a national sales tax puts an undue burden on the poor.

  8. Holms says

    The top-fifth income earners in the U.S. increased their share of the national income from 43 percent in 1979 to 48 percent in 2010, and the top 1 percent increased their share of the pie from 8 percent in 1979 to 13 percent in 2010. But note what has not happened: the rest have not gotten poorer. They’ve gotten richer: the income of the other quintiles increased by 49, 37, 36 and 45 percent, respectively.

    This section of Shermer’s post appears to be saying that every quintile has increased its share of US total income. How the fuck is that possible? Maybe my economic-fu is not up to scratch, but the only way I can see this happening is if the modern incomes of each percentile were compared to their incomes from X years ago, without taking into account the fact that the total income has also grown in that period.

    Or in other words, lies, damned lies and statistics.

  9. raven says

    Economic inequality has two very predictable outcomes. Neither good.

    1. Political instability. The USA is becoming politically unstable. One party tried to destroy the USA a few months ago to keep a few million mostly low income people from buying private health insurance. The ACA is supposed to save teh feds money, not cost it.

    Plus there are militias, roving bands of armed people who claim to believe the USA doesn’t even exist. Operation American Spring was supposed to bring several million armed citizens to Washington DC to overthrow the government. (They got around 100, less than a kid’s soccer game.)

    2. If it becomes extreme, there is a real risk of a Revolution. At some point, people just get fed up and when they vastly outnumber the oligarchies, that is it.

    The French Revolution, the Russian, probably the last was the recent Egytian one.

  10. says

    Good point, Holms. One moment he’s talking about “share of the pie”, the next it’s apparently all about absolute increases in income. The entire piece is lazy and sloppy that way, constantly shifting the terms under discussion to set up false comparisons of apples and oranges.

  11. palmettobug says

    How the hell does this garbage get published in Scientific American? Let’s hope this is Shermer’s swansong at SciAm. Seriously, though, his stats are pretty misleading. And trying to gaslight the poor, saying inequality is all in their heads. That’s despicable.

  12. raven says

    Internet billionaire Nick Hanauer warns of coming revolution
    www. bbc.com/news/blogs-echochambers-28068277

    Jun 30, 2014 – Internet billionaire Nick Hanauer warns of coming revolution. What in the … Do you think the US is special or different, he asks. You’re wrong.

    1. Even the ultrarich know there is a problem with economic inequality. You have to really dumb not to know what happened to the Russian Tsar or the French King and nobility.

    The tumbrels can and will roll again somewhere.

    2. Nick Hanauer made a good point. Revolutions sneak up on countries. They start slow and creep along. And then end with a…Bang!!!

    3. To be sure, it isn’t going to happen in the USA, soon, decades away probably.

    4. And quite often, revolutions end up peaceful. Unequal societies step to the edge of the cliff. Look down. And say, “no not today”. And fix their social problems more or less peacefully.

    Those poor people might be armed with torches, pitchforks, and AR-15’s. They are also armed with…votes.

  13. doublereed says

    Yes, the reason the poor and middle class have more things is because we are more productive than we have ever been. And yet wages have been basically stagnant. Gee, I wonder where that extra benefit of wealth is going?

    And you see how that graph takes off in the late 1970s? Around the time that Money was declared Speech and we drastically cut top marginal tax rates? Coincidences!!1!

    md, meanwhile, is engaging with the other argument in favor of wealth inequality. That redistribution will “obviously” hurt the economy and dumb liberals don’t understand economics. The argument is that the gains to the economy have been fantastic and liberals want to hurt everyone just to level the playing the field. This is what we call “bullshit.” Inequality does serious damage to the economy, and supply-sided economics has been shown to be nonsense and ridiculous. Economic growth comes from demand and demand comes from the middle class.

    The middle class is the people who actually get stuff done. The investor class doesn’t actually do things.

  14. raven says

    I can see that the Loonytarians will destroy this thread. It’s nihilism, destroying minds, societies, and cocktail parties since Ayn Rand was born.

    It’s real simple. Gibbertarianism is simple minded.

    1. It’s wrong for many obvious reasons.

    2. It fails always. The current Loonytarian paradises are Somalia, Pakistan, and any number of third world countries. Honduras is a good example. Taxes are low, government is lacking, regulations are almost nonexistant.

    It’s unequal, poor, and has the highest murder rate in the world.

    3. A recent book called Why Nations Fail explains it. The failures are what Ayn Rand wanted.

    4. The main problem though is underappreciated. Loonytarianism is boring, boring, boring!!!

    I was one myself in the 1970’s for a few weeks. Nothing has changed since then. Except that I’ve heard the same drivel word for word hundreds of times.

    Supposedly being bored to death is an idiom. But I could see how it could happen. At any rate, my lifespan is finite and wasting it reading boring drivel isn’t a good use of it.

  15. samihawkins says

    #7

    UGH. I live in liberal-ville and the attitude toward the poor/working families is pretty crappy. I can’t imagine how it is further out into the ideological spectrum

    It’s the complete opposite. Right-winger glorify working class people, well the white ones at least, as ‘Real Americans’ who sweat and bleed for their paycheck instead of sitting in some comfy office like those snooty liberals.

    That’s one of the things that infuriates me about American politics is that the side supporting policies that would actually help the working class alienates them with their elitism and clear disdain for us laborers while the side that’s actively screwing over the working class gets their support because they at least pretend to like us.

    I know some of you might be thinking ‘What are you talking about? The right is constantly claiming the lower classes are worthless scum sucking parasites!’ and that’s true, but you have to remember that the right also does everything possible to trick the working class into thinking they’re talking about someone else. The working class in this country has been convinced that when right-wingers talk about welfare moochers they’re not talking about the unemployment benefits and food stamps the working class are increasingly forced to depend on, they think the right wingers are referring to those mythical beings who sit around all day doing nothing except for collecting fat paychecks from the government just for voting Democrat. I’ve actually seen a man rant about how he worked hard all his life for his social security and how he’s not getting nearly the amount he deserves because that n-word in the white house would rather give welfare to other lazy n-words. This guy had also been homeless and unemployed many times throughout his life and had to rely on unemployment benefits and foodstamps, but in his mind those types of government aid are completely different from the type used by ‘welfare moochers’.

    *reads back over post*

    Wow, I did not intend for that turn into a long angry rant. Sorry about that.

  16. pyrion says

    Investors are needed. So are workers, at least for now. But that should not really be the question, should it? It’s a question of fairness. Wouldn’t it be nice if everybody in a country would participate in economic growth at least roughly the same? The problem is that wealth creates more wealth, and poverty is not easy to leave. Fast forward, 50 years into the future, automation will have taken most people’s jobs away but the rich will continue to get more rich. Will their combat robots be able to protect them? I fear they will. We will see corporate nations, with voters being paid for their vote (something like that happened already in the roman empire). I honestly have no idea how to avoid such a future, at least not in the US.

  17. raven says

    md, meanwhile, is engaging with the other argument in favor of wealth inequality. That redistribution will “obviously” hurt the economy and dumb liberals don’t understand economics.

    It’s obviously wrong.

    The main driver of the economy is consumer spending. And when the people who are the consumers don’t have money, they don’t spend it.

    and supply-sided economics has been shown to be nonsense and ridiculous.

    Supply side economics has been tried and almost always fails.

    Brownback of Kansas just did it and wrecked the state. Deficits exploded, it caused huge other problems, and the magic jobs and economic growth never happened.

    In a Red state, he is so unpopular he might not get reelected. Tom Corbett did the same thing in Pennsylvania and is also wildly unpopular.

    Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Rick Scott in Florida, I don’t know much about. They certainly didn’t improve anything, might have made things worse.

  18. raven says

    Why We’re in a New Gilded Age – The New York Review of …
    www. nybooks. com/articles/archives/…/thomas-piketty-new-gilded-age/

    May 8, 2014 – Thomas Piketty in his office at the Paris School of Economics, 2013 … The big idea of Capital in the Twenty-First Century is that we haven’t just …
    ‎Getting Away with It – ‎The Way They Live Now – ‎We’re More Unequal Than You …

    It’s been long known why Gibbertarianism fails. It’s empirically seen among other reasons.

    Thomas Piketty has another reason. This is being described as the economic book of this decade.

  19. pikaia says

    The price of televisions has gone down by more than 100% ? That means they pay you to take them away!

  20. twas brillig (stevem) says

    re OP:
    I “liked” that trick question; asking people, how they think the top 20% actually possess. The trick is asking about an absolute percentage of the population, knowing that ‘perception’ is not a simple calculator. If I was asked that question, I know that I would be misdirected by the “top” word in the question (like PZ noting the perception of the top 1% overwhelming perception of top 20%). That would distort me to consider the ‘very top’ as representative of the arbitrary %age they asked about. To then use those naive responses to a trick question as PROOF of “no problem”, is the ultimate “shenanigans”. And the shenanigans that perpetuates the trope; “lies, damn lies, and statistics”.
    wait… is this [the OP's subject] trying to say that “perception” is the only reality to income inequality? That people with lesser incomes are just “greedy scumbuckets” lusting after the wealthy’s “marginal” riches? If so, or not; I’ll just say it again. Wealth, when not doin anything, just sitting as numbers in someone’s ledger, is essentially nuthin. Wealth is wealth only when doin somethin. EG profits, what good is a billion $ of profit that just sits there in a bank and never gets used to expand the business, update the infrastructure nor pay higher wages to the employees?? Why give million $ bonuses to the CEO of a company that goes bankrupt or who’s product has killed people through mis-handled defects [looking at you, GM]?
    [sheesh, I'm starting to rant...]
    That trick question, again: my interpretation of the wrong answers is that they were not really answering about the AVERAGE wealth, but confabulated by the RANGE of the top 20%, being so much higher than their spot in the distribution that their responses tended to weight their figures too high.

  21. says

    I wish some of this anger here was directed to the income inequality between the first and third world countries. I live in probably one of the more economically advantaged countries within the third world , and the difference between the average income per capita (ppp adjusted) between here and the US is 15x!
    To be in the top 1% here you need an income which corresponds to the bottom 20th percentile in the US.

    You folks are hyper aware and concerned about privilege , but I rarely hear you talk about one of the most odious forms of privilege globally : first world privilege. This not only affects economic status and quality of life , but also your chance to grow and evolve morally and intellectually. It it much harder to break the shackles of patriarchy , fundamentalism etc in a socially regressive country. Environment matters. You consider yourself the vanguard of morality , but if you are a better person you have been afforded the privilege and opportunity to become one. You are exposed to progressive ideas , peers , education , media.
    etc. Could there be a more stark form of privilege?

    The conversation here is frustratingly insular. Problems are discussed , and solutions are offered for issues which affect you and people like you. PZ points out many causes here , which people can donate to. How many of these are directed to the the third world ? How hard is to locate some of these and highlight them ?
    If inequality matters , it should matter whether it affects you or not . Otherwise ,(to steal from Pratchett ) you are concentrating on the personal , and not the important. Viewed through this prism , even the well intentioned liberal populace here , seems like at best libertarian lite to me.

  22. twas brillig (stevem) says

    Fast forward, 50 years into the future, automation will have taken most people’s jobs away …

    Haven’t the anti-automation people been saying that for more than 50 years? Were they correct, and why we have such high unemployment today? I disagree… Automation may take over a specific job, but to do so, automation creates many more jobs. Those robots, on the automobile assembly lines, don’t build themselves, nor repair themselves nor develop updates, etc. etc. etc. etc.
    And say that “trope” a little more accurately; Automation does NOT *take* away someone’s job. Automation might replace someone at a particular job. It is the execs who decide to replace a worker with automation; not the automation forcing its way in, to throw out the workers. And guess why the execs are so eager to replace workers with automation? One word: PROFIT. But what is Profit except a number on a ledger? If they use it, it’s no longer profit, just expense.

  23. screechymonkey says

    When Shermer starts ranting about economic equality and his libertarian theories, do any of the usual suspects start crying about “mission drift”?

    I suspect I know the answer.

  24. raven says

    When Shermer starts ranting about economic equality and his libertarian theories, do any of the usual suspects start crying about “mission drift”?

    Michael Shermer who?

    If Michael Shermer rants and raves in the woods and no one is around, does he make sound?

    He vaporized his credibility so long ago, I almost managed to forget he exists.

  25. Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human. says

    rahulkedia:

    Many of the solutions to first-world economic inequality would also help third-world economic inequality, both on an individual and international level. Stopping millionaires and billionaires hoarding obscene amounts of money will put more cash into circulation both within the US and in internaional trade. Encouragement of unions and living wages would raise worker income in the US providing more money to purchase goods traded internationally.

    And you seem to be making the argument that either I can concentrate my energies on solving national inequality or I can concentrate my energies on solving inequality on an international level. Why can’t I do both? Additionally, you seem to be making the assertion that, since other nations have higher income inequality/international income inequality, the poor and middle class in the US should shut up and accept their lot because someone else has it worse. I really hope you are not making this ‘Dear Muslima’ argument.

    Could you elucidate just how working to reduce income inequality in the United States actively or passively hurts other nations or the workers in other nations?

  26. doublereed says

    @24 rahulkedia

    Couldn’t this be said about any domestic issue in a first world country? And since when is the personal not important?

    I mean, I don’t understand how what you’re saying is relevant to the discussion. Certainly American Wealth Inequality is a topic that Americans are going to discuss. We directly vote for things, after all. Sure, we could discuss it in the context of Global Wealth Equality, but that doesn’t mean you have to. It’s not a requirement for the discussion.

    And I have no idea what is “libertarian” about this at all, regardless of such things.

  27. says

    @Ogvorbis

    am not making a “Dear Muslima” argument (at least not in my head) , of course income inequality in the first world is important and needs to be discussed and solved for . You say “why can’t I do both ?” I am saying yes , please do both , don’t do only one ! I see in general here the discussion concentrate overwhelmingly about the first world , all I am trying to point out is there is a whole other world out there whose problems deserve outrage , energy and some amount of action.

  28. anteprepro says

    Shermer’s gotta Sherm.

    I wonder when he finally publish his magnum opus, “The Myth of Date Rape”?

  29. anteprepro says

    I wish some of this anger here was directed to the income inequality between the first and third world countries. I live in probably one of the more economically advantaged countries within the third world , and the difference between the average income per capita (ppp adjusted) between here and the US is 15x!

    Cost. Of. Living.

    But aside from that, yes, third world countries are poor. That is a concern of ours. It is a separate concern from the income gap in our own country. We can worry about multiple things at once, m’kay?

    You folks are hyper aware and concerned about privilege , but I rarely hear you talk about one of the most odious forms of privilege globally : first world privilege.

    Legitimate point. But try to present it a little more…tactfully. Otherwise you will just come off as a troll whining about “WHY AREN’T YOU BLOGGING ABOUT WHAT I WANT YOU TO BLOG ABOUT!!?”

    You consider yourself the vanguard of morality , but if you are a better person you have been afforded the privilege and opportunity to become one.

    Vanguard of morality? What exactly are you talking about?

    You are exposed to progressive ideas , peers , education , media.
    etc. Could there be a more stark form of privilege?

    Yes, it is privilege. And? You are aware that having one form of privilege does not prevent you from being unprivileged in a different way, right? We have had that conversation a thousand fucking times, and you should be aware of that if you are going to appoint yourself as judge of what we should be talking about.

    Viewed through this prism , even the well intentioned liberal populace here , seems like at best libertarian lite to me.

    And this is the kind of shit that turns what could actually be viewed as a legitimate concern, complaint, criticism, or suggestion into something that resembles cheap point scoring or trolling. What exactly is your intention?

  30. rthille says

    In the chart showing change of costs the cost of a TV has declined over 105%. So who is paying me to take their TV?
    In other words, it’s total bullshit.

  31. md says

    Nick, PZ

    The inequality argument is the wrong focus of concern for the poor. It doesn’t matter if Trump has 5 yachts one year and merely 3 the next. It matters if the poor are fed, housed, receive basic medical needs, have opportunities to get out of poverty etc, etc Standard of living and economic mobility are the economic indicators that matter. On these indicators, you may have an argument, particularly economic mobility.

    Economics is not zero-sum. I know you don’t believe if Trump loses a yacht, poor kids get fed. You can’t be that simple minded. And yet that is what the focus on inequality infers. This is what your comment, PZ, about ‘sucking up prosperity’ infers. As long as the rich are more worse off than the poor from year to year, the envy-driven focus on reducing inequality is met and yet the poor are not helped

    Stick to Biology, please, you aren’t helping poor people. You stroke your own conscience by thinking so. If your arguments were right, poor people in low inequality places like Bulgaria and Cuba wouldn’t be voting with their feet and moving to high inequality places. Inequality and opportunity go hand in hand.

  32. Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human. says

    rahulkedia @30:

    I am saying yes , please do both , don’t do only one ! I see in general here the discussion concentrate overwhelmingly about the first world , all I am trying to point out is there is a whole other world out there whose problems deserve outrage , energy and some amount of action.

    Because that was the subject of the original post by PZed. Had his post been about income inequality in the third world, or income inequality between nations, that would be the discussion. Instead, we have Shermer proposing libertarian solution to problems that were created by libertarian ideals in the US.

  33. doublereed says

    @md

    Sucking up prosperity is exactly what we’re talking about. FFS there was a news story just out the other day about Kansas politicians giving tax breaks to the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.

    Kansas has a budget surplus. Kansas politicians has a brilliant idea to give massive tax breaks to the rich and decides to pay for it with middle class education. Class warfare straight up.

    Yes, where we put our money and resources matters. We have been putting our resources into making the wealthy wealthier rather than growing and supporting the middle class. Just because economics is not zero-sum doesn’t mean we don’t have limited resources.

  34. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Stick to Biology, please, you aren’t helping poor people.

    And MD, the lying and bullshitting RW/liberturd is taking care of the poor. NOT! You get stupider with every post.

  35. says

    @anteprepro

    Also .what would have been more tactful ? and nowhere did I say that first world issues are NOT important. Please point out where I imply that ? I am saying other issues ALSO deserve attention , at no point did I suggest one or the other exclusively. That would be dumb and I most certainly didn’t say that.

  36. raven says

    I see in general here the discussion concentrate overwhelmingly about the first world , …

    1. We live here in the USA mostly. PZ is in Minnesota, part of the USA. This is what we know about and we have our own problems to deal with every day.

    The USA isn’t exactly a Utopia and for most, it is getting worse not better.

    …all I am trying to point out is there is a whole other world out there whose problems deserve outrage , energy and some amount of action.

    2. This is an atheism +/ biology blog, not a fix the third world blog.

    We do know there is “a whole other world out there whose problems deserve outrage , energy and some amount of action.”

    We do what we can. How much influence do you think PZ Myers and Freethoughtblogs have in a nation of 317 million and the US government.

    Rather than my government listening to me, the NSA is archiving my email, seeing what I ordered from Amazon.com, and looking at my collection of Grumpy Cat pictures.

  37. Sven says

    I like the first graph. It’s very informative and speaks volumes about the changes in availability and quality of many consumer products and services, and why it’s unfair to make broad assumptions about someone’s income based on old perceptions of the costs of material goods.

    I would post it on Facebook, but before I do, I know my other mathematically-educated friends are going to ask me about the “television” line, which goes below -100%… which I don’t understand. I see the graph says it “reflects an increase in quality”, but I don’t know how to explain that in the context of a graph that portrays cost in such a way. Is there a better explanation I can find?

  38. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    md: “It doesn’t matter if Trump has 5 yachts one year and merely 3 the next. It matters if the poor are fed, housed, receive basic medical needs, have opportunities to get out of poverty etc, etc Standard of living and economic mobility are the economic indicators that matter. On these indicators, you may have an argument, particularly economic mobility. ”

    What an astoundingly myopic view. Inequality matters precisely because it makes meeting basic needs more difficult. An efficient economy responds to demand–and demand in this case means ready cash. If the rich have all of the ready cash, the productive forces of the economy will change focus to meet demand from the rich. We are already seeing this. Low-end retailers like Target and even Waldemart have been trying to move upmarket for years. This is why you have food deserts in low-income neighborhoods. This is why the prices of prestigious collectibles like paintings and high-end gemstones have gone through the roof. Inequality distorts the economy by forcing it to cater to the wealthy few rather than the poor masses.

  39. Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human. says

    md:

    Between about 1950 and 1980, as US national income rose, real dollar income for the poor rose. Real dollar income for the middle class rose. And real dollar income for the wealthy rose. The rising tide was, literally, raising all boats. Then cam Reagan and the new conservatives and the intentional redistribution of wealth through cutting taxes for the rich and cutting government programmes (including education funding) for the poor and the middle class. Since about 1980, US national income has gone up. Real dollar income for the poor has gone down. Real dollar income for the middle class has stagnated. Real dollar income for the wealthy has gone up fast.

    You seem to be making an argument (correct me if I am wrong) that higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans, be they consumption taxes, higher capital gains taxes, higher income taxes, a living minimum wage for employees, amounts to income redistribution which would, obviously, hurt the economy. We have now had almost 35 years of income redistribution from the poor and middle class to the rich. Why is that income redistribution fine and dandy and redistribution the other way anathema? Why is concentrating wealth in the hands of a few good and spreading wealth to more consumers bad? Why is high wages for the rich good and living wages for the poor bad?

  40. says

    Holms #10

    the only way I can see this happening is if the modern incomes of each percentile were compared to their incomes from X years ago, without taking into account the fact that the total income has also grown in that period.

    Exactly. He’s measuring the bottom 80% as growth in income, while measuring the top as growth in share of income. It’s apples and oranges.

    E.g. let’s say one week we split ten dollars and we each get five. Completely fair.
    Next week, we split $100 and you get twenty, while I get eighty. Your income has increase by 300%, while my share of income has only increased 60% (from 50% to 80% of the total). So your situation must have improved five times more than mine, right?

    It’s simply a blatant manipulation of statistics. I guess he’s just completely given up on even pretending to be a skeptic. What a disgrace.

  41. Anthony K says

    @anteprepro #32:

    Legitimate point. But try to present it a little more…tactfully. Otherwise you will just come off as a troll whining about “WHY AREN’T YOU BLOGGING ABOUT WHAT I WANT YOU TO BLOG ABOUT!!?”

    Really? This old trope?

    @MD:

    The inequality argument is the wrong focus of concern for the poor. It doesn’t matter if Trump has 5 yachts one year and merely 3 the next. It matters if the poor are fed, housed, receive basic medical needs, have opportunities to get out of poverty etc, etc Standard of living and economic mobility are the economic indicators that matter. On these indicators, you may have an argument, particularly economic mobility.

    Economics is not zero-sum. I know you don’t believe if Trump loses a yacht, poor kids get fed. You can’t be that simple minded. And yet that is what the focus on inequality infers. This is what your comment, PZ, about ‘sucking up prosperity’ infers. As long as the rich are more worse off than the poor from year to year, the envy-driven focus on reducing inequality is met and yet the poor are not helped

    That’s absolutely wrong. Inequality itself correlates with poorer health outcomes. This is well established. Google health disparity and then ask an adult to read and explain the scientific literature to you.

    Stick to not talking at all, because you obviously don’t know what you’re talking about.

  42. moarscienceplz says

    @#33 rthille (and others)

    In the chart showing change of costs the cost of a TV has declined over 105%. So who is paying me to take their TV?
    In other words, it’s total bullshit.

    Before you jump on your soapbox to show us how superior your reasoning is, you need to read the fine print.
    (From the bottom of the chart)

    Much of the drop in prices for electronics reflects an increase in quality over the past 10 years.

  43. toska says

    @md #34

    The problem is that money is power and money is speech in this country. That’s how income inequality allows the rich excessively more sway in the government and over elections than the vast majority of other people. Not very democratic, is it?

  44. anteprepro says

    Fair enough rahulkedia.

    As for md, who we have all come familiar with as a particularly dense troll:

    The inequality argument is the wrong focus of concern for the poor. It doesn’t matter if Trump has 5 yachts one year and merely 3 the next.

    Do you know how money works, md? Are you aware that it isn’t an infinite resource, md?

    It matters if the poor are fed, housed, receive basic medical needs, have opportunities to get out of poverty etc, etc

    Do you how that could happen? If they got more money. Do you know the easiest way that they could get more money? If they were more fairly compensated and the richest stopped pulling in ridiculous amounts of cash.

    Economics is not zero-sum. I know you don’t believe if Trump loses a yacht, poor kids get fed.

    Yeah, most of the time it is. A good economy would be constantly turning around money. How is it good for everyone if large chunks of money are either jammed up in Trump’s bank accounts or are just volleyed back and forth between Super Duper Luxury industries, never even getting near the grasp of 99% of society?

    You can’t be that simple minded.

    But you certainly can.

    This is what your comment, PZ, about ‘sucking up prosperity’ infers.

    The word is “implies”. And you have yet to show him wrong.

    As long as the rich are more worse off than the poor from year to year, the envy-driven focus on reducing inequality is met and yet the poor are not helped

    Ah, yes, it is all about “envy”. Standard right wing talking point is standard.

    Stick to Biology, please, you aren’t helping poor people.

    You have not shown PZ to be wrong. Despite talking about him being simplistic, you haven’t even suggested why there is a more complicated element that makes him wrong. You say “stick to biology” and yet I, dabbler in economics and finance and all, can vouch for the fact that PZ is right and Super Skeptic Shermer, who also has no economics background, is wrong. Why don’t you just shut your fucking ignorant gob?

    If your arguments were right, poor people in low inequality places like Bulgaria and Cuba wouldn’t be voting with their feet and moving to high inequality places.

    This is why you are a fucking idiot. There is more than one economic metric, you know. Income and wealth inequality are just two of them. PZ is not implying at all that they are the only factors that matter. But they are important ones. Which is something you dismiss based on fuck all.

    Inequality and opportunity go hand in hand.

    Then explain why a high GINI coefficient is considered to be a bad thing. Instead of being just a proxy for The American Dream. Why income inequality is associated with less stable economies and less economic growth. Go ahead. I am sure you are a master of economic theory and could explain that so easily. Just don’t get over technical on us!

  45. anteprepro says

    Oh wow. The straw that broke the camel’s back. So long, md. It’s been real. Real long and tedious.

  46. serena says

    Trump doesn’t have to buy a yacht for me to be shafted in wages at my job. It’s not yachts that make things unequal (who the fuck wants a yacht anyway? I want to afford dental and health care) it’s the insanely high taxes the poor pay (in ratio to income) and legalized bribery of government officials by multi-national corporations . It’s the restaurant district manager that deletes 30 minutes off my timecard every day so he can show his boss (who likely never stepped foot in a kitchen) that he saved loads of labor hours that month; it’s the hiring manager that didn’t even schedule an interview after they learned you don’t own a car; it’s the pervasive sentiment that my labor is worthless while simultaneously using my labor day in day out (oh, tell me again how unskilled and useless my job serving fast food is while you sit at my drive-thru window).

    We’re telling you how the poor can be helped. Pay us a living wage. You don’t actually have to confiscate Trump’s yachts to do that. You’re very right that it’s not a zero-sum game. Your inference is wrong, and now you’ve been corrected.

  47. Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human. says

    Damn you, PZed! md was just about to answer my questions up in #43. Now we’ll never get to hear why income redistribution up the grade is good, but down the grade is bad.

  48. Sven says

    #46 moarscienceplz:
    Yeah I get that. I just don’t get what that means. If I post this chart and someone asks me to interpret that data point in a comprehensible way, what do I say?

  49. ibyea says

    Wellp, that didn’t take long. I assume md has been annoying here people for a long time.

  50. says

    @Raven

    “This is an atheism +/ biology blog, not a fix the third world blog” (sorry not sure how to quote)

    This is not also a social justice blog? You say this is “not a fix the third world blog” , isn’t this a form of “other”ing ? This is somebody else’s problem , no thanks , we have enough of our own ? If you care about the disenfranchised and the oppressed , why is the third world not as important a topic as sexism , racism etc ?

  51. weldonribeye says

    Piling on to #46 moarscienceplz:

    The chart reflects percentage points relative to a 23% increase. A 105 point decrease from a 23% increase would be an 82% decline — certainly within the realm of the possible.

  52. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    rahulkedia,
    I lived in Africa and have traveled extensively in third-world countries, and while it is true that the disparity between first world and third world incomes is stark, I doubt that most African villagers would want to trade places with the poorest of the poor in the US. For one thing, in most developing countries, a person needing medical care doesn’t face the prospect of bankruptcy. Granted, they may not have access to health care at all, but many in the US do not have access either. Moreover, the poor in the US often live in “food deserts,” where there is no ready access to healthy food (no gardens, grocery stores, etc)–only fast food.

    So, while I agree that we should do whatever we can to reduce first/third world inequality–indeed, I’ve spent years of my life trying to do just that–the disparity in incomes doesn’t tell the whole story. Google The Economist’s Big Mac Index as an illustration.

  53. Akira MacKenzie says

    Try this exercise: imagine that you got paid just 10 times as much as you do now. “Just” 10 times. How much of a difference would that make in your life?

    Let’ see. I make $14 an hour and after taxes and my costly yet crappy benefits, I usually take home a little over $800 every two weeks. Then I have to pay the stack of bills (old credit cards, student loans, medical bills for my shrink and recent gallbladder surgery), then throw in gas and food costs. By next payday I’m lucky to have more than $20 in my in checking account. I have absolutely nothing in savings since there is nothing left to save, all I have is my company’s 401K and SS when I retire. I can’t make rent, so I’m stuck living at home with my foaming-at-the-mouth right wing Catholic father.

    If I made 10 times my current wage–if only for just one year–I could pay off all my debts, be able to move out of my house and way from my asshole dad and his passive aggressive (and sometimes VERY aggressive) bullshit, and have enough left over to salt away for my dotage. I could go back work for $14 an hour, if I knew I had some security and my paycheck didn’t have to get eaten up high interest debt.

  54. rojmiller says

  55. anteprepro says

    ibyea: Here are what I could find some of md’s old dribblings

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/09/12/lets-not-get-confused/comment-page-1/

    13 September 2012 at 12:56 pm (UTC -5)
    Ben Stein desecrates Atheism, no one riots.

    PZ desecrates a ‘holy’ cracker, no one riots.

    Somebody desecrates Islam, people die and Pharyngulites reserve their harshest words for the moviemakers and moral equivalence for some unrelated Pastor. You people are really disgusting.

    Your deformed morality takes shape. I criticize the Islamic mob. I wonder aloud why its so easy to whip a Muslim mob into a property destroying and life taking frenzy. I wonder why Pharyngulite commenters are always so quick to change the subject to Christians whenever some Islamic fanatic pops a vein. You call me ignorant and a shitbag for doing so. Ive got the measure of you just right.

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/11/19/they-never-learn/

    19 November 2012 at 3:27 pm (UTC -5)…
    Janine,

    Not exactly my implication. Two things though. One: id like to see some liberal reporter ask some random members of our new Hispanic overlords, or perhaps some African Americans in the south what their views on Creationism and the origins and age of the planet are.

    Two: There is a meme here and in the MSM press, though, that disavowing creationism is a signal for rational thought in all other areas of political concern. Forget our economic policy differences, Id offer that rational thought led to and can, not will, not must, but can lead to again eugenics and other scientifically based horrors. The science minded can get morally confused, it seems.

    Put down your keyboard. No I do not blame Darwin, I blame the rationally minded proponents of eugenics. You know the roll call: Wendell Holmes, Wells, Woodrow Wilson. How’d they lean politically?

    History can be a guide. The details change but much of the structure remains, both on the right and left. Relevant to this post is the notion that rationality and science should triumph over all.

    G.K. Chesterton, I think we all agree, was right on eugenics. The source of his righteousness was Christianity. Both things are non-trivial.

    The progressive blindspot then, was hubris. To think Progressives are rid of it today, because hey we progress, is hubris again.

    And more recently: http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2014/07/05/lets-hold-up-a-mirror/comment-page-1/#comment-818581

    One is wanted in connection with murdering people in a shopping mall (but then again, this blog probably figures consumers in a ‘shrine’ to capitalism had it coming). The other is married to a man in the armed services and has killed no one, nor has given anyone (outside of those who believe inanimate objects control people) reason to think she’d want to.

    PZ, don’t you have a child in the American military? How does (s)he block the incessant murderous messages coming from those guns and flags all the time? Inanimate objects never sleep. (s)he must have tremendous willpower to stand it.

    The comparison between the two women is morally degenerate. A new low for you, PZ.

    I seem to recall that he spent a large amount of his time playing apologetics for the U.S. military and demonizing Muslims. There is waaaaaaay more articles that he took a dump in, and I think he was doing so before 2012. But he has a very difficult ‘nym to google!

  56. moarscienceplz says

    #55 Sven

    The chart says that it shows a change in prices relative to a general 23% inflation from 2005-2014, so if a TV that cost $100 in the beginning period still cost $100 at the end period that would count as a -23% change in price. So if you could buy that same TV for $18, that is -82% of the original price AND you subtract another 23% for the “normal” inflation you didn’t have to pay, for a total change of -105%.

  57. methuseus says

    @Weldonribeye #60

    Piling on to #46 moarscienceplz:

    The chart reflects percentage points relative to a 23% increase. A 105 point decrease from a 23% increase would be an 82% decline — certainly within the realm of the possible.

    I could not figure that out from the graphic, and I have been told I’m smart. Now that you explained it, I totally get it, but it’s not very clear.

  58. raven says

    Rahulkedia:

    This is not also a social justice blog? You say this is “not a fix the third world blog” , isn’t this a form of “other”ing ?

    Now you are just trolling and being incoherent.

    The plus in atheism + stands for social justice.

    Stating the subject of this blog, which is owned by PZ Myers isn’t othering. It is stating the subject of this blog. It’s a giant world you know, there are millions of other websites. They tend to focus on one thing or a few, not everything.

    Why don’t you start your own forum, blog, website, Youtube channel or whatever instead. We are not your servants.

    This is somebody else’s problem , no thanks , we have enough of our own ? If you care about the disenfranchised and the oppressed , why is the third world not as important a topic as sexism , racism etc ?

    Incoherent gibberish.

    1. I can’t do much about the third world. I live here, not there.

    2. The third world really has to fix itself. We can help a little but that is about it. You are making the assumption that the USA can fix your problems. We can’t even fix our own problems much of the time!!!

    The last two times we got into the nation building business were Iraq and Afghanistan. Those two alone cost us a lot, $2 trillion USD. And how well did that all that work out?

    3. You are also going to have to find another audience to troll. I’m bored and not going to bother any more.

  59. consciousness razor says

    samihawkins, #18:

    That’s one of the things that infuriates me about American politics is that the side supporting policies that would actually help the working class alienates them with their elitism and clear disdain for us laborers while the side that’s actively screwing over the working class gets their support because they at least pretend to like us.

    What a load of horseshit. Give a single example of a liberal politician who looks down on laborers. Once you find one — I don’t doubt that you can — try giving two, then find enough so it that looks at least vaguely representative, or even constitutes a significant but problematic minority. Meanwhile, I can point to the entire right wing as a bunch of deluded lying fuckers. But you just repeating the liars’ propaganda about what the “liberal elite” is supposedly like doesn’t make for a very convincing argument.
    ———
    ———
    rahulkedia:
    I don’t know what I, as a first-world poor person, am able to do about inequality on the international scale. I can talk about it, and I do. I can vote to influence my country’s foreign policy to some extent, and I do that too. But I can’t really know what happens on a day-to-day basis in third-world countries, because I’m not fluent in thousands of languages, nor do I get to tell the English-speaking media what to report, even if I did have time to keep track of it all. Also, as anteprepro already brought up, due to the cost of living, even though I do have more money (on an absolute scale) compared to a lot of people, I still don’t have much of anything to directly contribute to numerous different causes all over the world. I’ve got bills to pay (and it’s really pretty pathetic, sort of embarrassing, seeing those numbers above and thinking about how hard it can be to pay such small amounts). What I’d like is for the richest and most powerful fuckers on the planet, all over the planet, to stop leeching off of everyone else. I think I am responsible, like everyone else, for doing what I can to make sure that happens; but what I’m actually capable of doing is very limited. If you still want to put that on me, fine; but don’t even tell me what the fuck I’m thinking or what the fuck I care about.

    So other than trying to change the subject of PZ’s thread, what exactly should I be doing that I’m not already doing? Maybe nothing. In any case, I don’t blame you for raising the issue, even when it’s (sort of) off-topic, but the way you did it is a little presumptuous. And it’s not exactly helpful if I don’t know what, if anything, I’m supposed to take away from it.

  60. Sven says

    #68 moarscienceplz

    The chart says that it shows a change in prices relative to a general 23% inflation from 2005-2014, so if a TV that cost $100 in the beginning period still cost $100 at the end period that would count as a -23% change in price. So if you could buy that same TV for $18, that is -82% of the original price AND you subtract another 23% for the “normal” inflation you didn’t have to pay, for a total change of -105%.

    Ohhhhhh I see. Thanks!

  61. says

    @raven

    I am not trolling, you can’t fucking magically peep into my head to assert that. You disagree , fine but you can’t just make up shit about what my motivation is for what I am saying. Are you made entirely out of just spleen ?

  62. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    On the subject of first/third world inequality, the situation is complicated. Yes, there is a huge disparity between incomes of poor in developed countries and those in underdeveloped countries. In practice, that disparity does not translate into a significantly better quality of life for the poor in the US and other developed countries.

    There is also a huge disparity between urban elites and the rural poor in third world countries–a disparity that dwarfs that in the US even.

    I have also witnessed first hand the transistion of Brazil from a third world country to a middle tier industrialized country (I’ve been going there for over 20 years now.) This has not decreased the disparities–if anything, it has increased them.

    In the end, you have to live where you live.

  63. consciousness razor says

    Are you made entirely out of just spleen ?

    Heh. Yes, raven is spleenerific. Please, whatever you do, don’t take him seriously.

  64. militantagnostic says

    The entire piece is lazy and sloppy deliberately misleading that way, constantly shifting the terms under discussion to set up false comparisons of apples and oranges.

    FTFY PZ

  65. says

    @conciousness razor

    Talking about it , voting for foreign policy is absolutely doing something. Everyone has limited means . I would settle for just being aware , caring , and maybe spreading some awareness. Which is what I tired to do , build some awareness for something I give a damn about , and felt this audience would/should also. I am not *commanding* anyone to do anything!

  66. Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human. says

    rahulkedia:

    You have received multiple responses, some polite, some not, all of them saying basically the same thing. We care. We do what we can. Affecting the body politic nationally and internationally is not easy. The first step, however, is awareness that the problem exists. This particular post, written by PZed, is about income inequality in the US and lies used to support increasing the inequality. Which is raising awareness about the problem.

    So, having received both polite and impolite responses, what the hell do you want?

    Additionally,

    I am not trolling, you can’t fucking magically peep into my head to assert that.

    Intent does not actually matter. Had you, after your first one or two responses, taken your concerns to another venue (such as THUNDERDOME, where no subject is off the subject), you may have been able to have a useful conversation regarding, say, the intersectionality between social justice in one country and social justice internationally or in another country. Instead, you have become increasingly defensive and are now resorting to personal insult rather than content (personal insult with content also works). You may not intend to be trolling but, as your content decreases and your insults increase, no matter your intent, you are heading into troll territory.

  67. says

    @Ogvorbis

    Ok , I felt this was fairly on topic so I stayed to talk. I have only responded to responses to me , besides my first post. If this looks/feels like trolling to people , I am not really achieving anything . I largely said whatever was on my mind anyway.

  68. anteprepro says

    Actually, on the topic of third world countries, I was pondering recently:
    New Hampshire is relatively libertarian. But despite it being more regressive than the rest of New England and pulling in less due to their disdain for taxes and fetishization of FREEEDOM, they still fairly well. Pretty damn well, actually. And I came to the realization: it is because they are benefiting from the economies and infrastructure provided by neighboring states.

    This led to the thought: aren’t most states in the U.S. that do relatively in terms of economics not just similar politically, but also geographically? As in, there are chunks of states that do well and chunks that do not, and it is largely an issue of where they are, physically. This led to the thought: Isn’t that basically how it is with third and first world countries? Third world countries often have third world countries as neighbors. First world countries have first world countries. Neighboring economies affect the home economies. It is so obvious that I’m surprised I needed that much effort to realize it.

    So, yeah, all that to say that I think that if we manage to lift up and improve the economies of a country in a third world region, it will be able to improve the economies of its neighbors as a consequence. Like collateral damage, but positive. Though politics, war, public health, trade barriers, and all sorts of other things might interfere.

  69. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    rahulkedia:
    I for one think that it necessary to keep global income disparity in mind even when discussing local problems, because it provides a scale by which one can measure exactly how bad things can get. The first world is not innocent of the problems of the third world in much the same way that the upper crust of American society isn’t innocent of the problems of the…erm…lower crust, for want of a better term*. Cite.
    So good on you.
     
    a_ray:

    I doubt that most African villagers would want to trade places with the poorest of the poor in the US.

    I don’t know if that’s a meaningful statement. It may be that most people living in rural Africa are better off than the poorest of the poor in the US. However, the poorest of the poor in Africa are not necessarily rural, and have no access at all to medical care, or even much knowledge that medical care exists beyond folk remedies. Often the problem goes well beyond access. Rampant political and economic instability hit the poorest hardest; we have nothing like that here (or at least not recently). I’ve spent time among the poorest of the poor in the US and in the DRC and if I had to choose, I’d rather be poor here.
     
    *I admit that I am part of both problems. I am not blameless. But I don’t want to be and am trying to take steps to mitigate my impact.

  70. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    Addendum: That isn’t to say that poverty in the US isn’t something to be taken lightly. Rather, the problem hasn’t gotten as bad as it can be yet.

  71. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Anteprepro,
    It is certainly true the unstable nations export instability–Kenya has certainly suffered for its proximity to Somalia. It is also true that money of the affluent will flow into at least border regions of a poorer neighbor. That said, some nations take off while their neighbors crash and burn. Nigeria had seemed poised for takeoff…now, not so much. In contrast, Ghana is doing quite well despite being surrounded by basketcases. And Turkey has played its position straddling Europe, the Middle East and Asia quite well, despite internal problems and neighbors no one would wish on them.

  72. pikaia says

    #68 moarscienceplz

    “The chart says that it shows a change in prices relative to a general 23% inflation from 2005-2014, so if a TV that cost $100 in the beginning period still cost $100 at the end period that would count as a -23% change in price. So if you could buy that same TV for $18, that is -82% of the original price AND you subtract another 23% for the “normal” inflation you didn’t have to pay, for a total change of -105%.”

    If the price had gone up in line with inflation then it would have cost $123. If the actual price is $18 then this is a reduction of 85%, not 105%

  73. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Antiochus Epiphanes, consider the urban poor in the US vs. in Calcutta. In Calcutta, there are families that have been camped on the same stretch of sidewalk for 3 generations. The eat, crap, make love, give birth and die–all on the same bit of pavement. Their poverty is abject, and yet, they manage to stay clean (and that is a feat in Calcutta) and to scratch out some type of living. In part this is because they are numerous enough and have been there long enough that there is some infrastructure in the economy that caters to their needs (cigarettes one at a time, rather than in packs, rice in 100 gram packets…). Compare that to the homeless in the US. Granted, in the latter, you throw mental illness and substance abuse into the mix, but I saw mentally ill people in India as well.

    Now, I’ll grant, DRC or Somalia, the poor would probably wish to be anywhere else. However, I really think looking at income alone fails to fully capture the misery of poverty. There are other criteria as well.

  74. says

    I don’t think most of us understand what welfare actually is in the US.

    I live in Canada, socialist Soviet Canuckistan, derided for being ridiculously generous to the moochers.

    I’m currently on “Ontario Works”, the Orwellian-named welfare program in Ontario.

    My monthly income is this: I am given (up to, lol) $376 for “shelter”, meaning “roof/heat/water/gas/electricity/Internet”. The cheapest studio apartment in this city is $650, in a shithole operated by a known slumlord. The cheapest room-in-a-house i could find offered was $475.

    I also receive $250 for general support.

    That’s all of it, every dollar. $626 maximum for a single adult. In a city where the cheapest I could find accommodation would take up, what, 80% of my cheque? And leave me $150 for food/transport/everything else. My medications are largely covered – except for the most expensive one, which thanks to the government’s friendly ruling on extending the patent because they reformulated it for the ‘war on drugs’, is both still patented and ‘too new’ to be covered. It costs $135/month. Another uncovered med costs me on average about $60/month.

    I am left, then, with $-45/month for my phone, my Internet, my food, and my transport. The bus is $3/ride. My phone is $50/month, and if I really squeezed, I could make it $39. My Internet would be $45, but is currently being covered by my temporary flatmate – he got evicted, and I offered to let him stay with me rather than be homeless. He’ll nominally be contributing $200/mo to the rent on my actual apartment (which costs $939/month inclusive of utilities, and which I could maybe replace with a studio for $700 or so, probably plus utilities of $75/mo, saving me $165/mo), but then I wouldn’t have a flatmate (who didn’t bring any of his furniture or anything else, because I simply didn’t have room, thus the small contribution until his new job starts). So same diff on that one.

    So my actual minimum expenses, before buying food, for shelter and basic utilities, and including my flatmate’s contribution, are: $940 (rent) + $40 (phone) + $45 (Net) + $195 (meds), or $1420/month. Less than $18000/year, for the most basic list of requirements I can make. My disability means the only way I can work is at home, so the Net isn’t optional, nor is the phone. I don’t have cable, or a car, or insurance of any kind, but my health care is provided for as an Ontarian (thank you Tommy Douglas, Greatest Canadian).

    The OW payment is $626/month, and I’m able to supplement it with $200 in income (difficult, currently, given my disabilities, as yet unrecognized by the government for the minimal increase in support this would provide, to a more livable $1060/mo) before the clawback hits. After the $200, they nick $0.50 from my cheque for every $1 I earn. So if I make $500, I’m only $350 ahead.

    In order to make enough to barely live on (before food, mind!), I’d need to supplement the OW income by almost $800/month. In order to make $800/month net, I’d have to earn $1400, and my OW cheque would be $26. If I were physically capable of making $1400/month, I’d not need the supplement in the first damn place.

    So the only way you can make it on OW, at all, is to not be on OW. It’s simply not possible.

    And this is in Soviet Canuckistan, the socialist paradise. I know US rates are as low as a sixth or less in some bad red-state areas.

    The CA and US dollars are more or less at par, the last few years, within 10% either way, for conversion purposes.

    Those are the numbers. Crunch ‘em how you like, and remember no food was included. None.

    That’s the ‘moocher economy’ they’re complaining about. That’s the sweet sweet welfare life.

    Pitchforks indeed. What options do we have left? I think anyone who thinks revolution may take decades hasn’t talked to many really poor people lately. :/

  75. cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming) says

    The chart says that it shows a change in prices relative to a general 23% inflation from 2005-2014, so if a TV that cost $100 in the beginning period still cost $100 at the end period that would count as a -23% change in price. So if you could buy that same TV for $18, that is -82% of the original price AND you subtract another 23% for the “normal” inflation you didn’t have to pay, for a total change of -105%.

    Not quite … that approach would infer that the TV should cost, after inflation, $123, so its $18 price would be a decline of 85% in real terms.

    What’s actually going on is more complicated and subtle; it’s that you’re getting more TV for your money:

    http://www.bls.gov/cpi/cpihqaqanda.htm

    In a handwavy, way, your $18 now gets you 2.05 $100-equivalent TVs, 1.05 of which you could sell for $18 each, thereby paying you $0.90 to take it away (for a price drop of 105%).

  76. cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming) says

    Not sure about the numbers in the last paragraph of #87, but I think the principle is right.

    (Spurious comma after ‘handwavy’, too. *sigh*)

  77. says

    And anyone who wants to take that comment and send it to their MPP or Congresscritter or to whomever else it would be useful, or post it on your blog, make it an infographic, whatever, go ahead. You’re welcome. Don’t attach my name to it specifically, please, even my ‘nym, as I don’t need the abuse.

    Those are the impossible numbers. If you can see how to make them ‘work’, I’m fascinated to know. The way I’ve been managing is to fundraise on the ‘Net (leveraging my first-world/educated white-girl privilege), using the yearly $6000 exemption on ‘gifts’, and that friends have been buying my food for several months.

    That’s what our tax cuts for the disgustingly, obscenely wealthy are doing to the poorest among us. That’s the price for their 5th yacht. So fuck you, you banned shitrag md, fuck you and your glibertarian bullshit about rising fucking tides, just. FUCK. YOU.

  78. David Johnson says

    A bit late to the party, and somewhat off-topic at this point, but I’d just like to point out that Shermer is actually being even more dishonest than anyone seems to have noticed. In addition to jumping back and forth between talking about income shares and raw incomes, his numbers on raw incomes are complete bullshit. At the least, he has failed to account for inflation and/or done some other weird math to calculate these, and at worst he’s just making them up.

    The actual changes in income per quintile look like this:

    http://inequality.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/change-in-real-family-income-by-quintile-and-top-5-percent-1979-2009.png?7d3501

    The bottom quintile has actually lost purchasing power, and the 20-40 and 40-60 groups have seen barely any increase.

    Shermer is also using a typical conservative trick by mostly only talking about the top 10% or 20%, when the really ridiculous income gains have been at the top 1%:

    http://inequality.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/average-after-tax-income-by-income-group.png?7d3501

    And the top 0.1 and 0.01 percentiles are even more absurd.

    (apologies if the display of these links is malformed – I can’t tell from the preview)

  79. grepo says

    Sigh. . . . As Christopher Hitchens pointed out in a debate once, an atheist can be anything (murderer, sadist, etc) and Michael Shermer proves this. Though, he maybe clear headed when it comes to gods and supernatural nonsense, he’s a dunce when it comes to economics. Paul Krugman would mop the floor with him.

  80. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    Compare that to the homeless in the US.

    It’s really hard to find an objective comparison*, and I certainly have never walked in the shoes of the homeless. There are so many factors to take into account (as you have mentioned). For example, US homeless are subject to brutality by the Thugs of the Rich**, but I’ve seen that in Brazil and South Africa also–but maybe not so much in Mexico or China***. I’ve never been to Calcutta, and so maybe institutions exist to make life livable (relatively) for the poorest of the poor…and I guess we have these too…but how well do they work? I guess my point was that looking around the world would give us some indications of what we could do to make things better (if we were interested in that) as well as some indications of what we could do that would be worse (if we were interested in avoiding that). And also the inevitable complicity of privilege.
     
    *Most of what I have found is from the POV of conservatives accusing American poor of whining, because hey…they could be in Sudan or some shit. It’s a disgusting little corner of the internet that I hadn’t poked around in until today.
    **Coppers
    ***Just my experience…might not be an accurate portrayal of what is really happening.

  81. unclefrogy says

    the only thing I would add to the conversation so afar in regards to time frame.
    I do not doubt that we are heading for trouble and things just seem to go along until bang. I however do not think we will have to wait decades. A case can be made that the Egyptian upheaval the so called Arab spring was precipitated by the sharp rise in wheat prices caused by the drought in Russia.
    We are developing the exact same vulnerability and no amount of statistical manipulation nor ideologically twisted rhetoric will help that bottom line one little bit.

    uncle frogy

  82. militantagnostic says

    CaitieCat getaway driver

    So fuck you, you banned shitrag md, fuck you and your glibertarian bullshit about rising fucking tides, just. FUCK. YOU.

    A rising tide lifts all boats yachts.

    What idiot decided on a flat clawback rate of 50% for Ontario “Works”? This is effectively a 50% marginal tax rate. That is about what the highest the combined (provincial & federal) tax rate ever got in Alberta. A sliding scale might make sense if the idea was to create an incentive for people on welfare to work as much as they were able.

  83. says

    Actually, militantagnostic, that’s an improvement in the clawback.

    Until last September (when they raised the rates by about $50/month), the clawback was no-exemption, dollar-for-dollar, so literally, the first $626/month (for a single adult) was clawed back. At minimum wage, that’s about 30% of the hours for a full-time month.

  84. jrfdeux, mode d'emploi says

    CaitieCat:

    I’m so sorry you’re in that horrid spot you’re in. No one that I know on disability or welfare up here in our beloved Canuckistan wants to be on it. Fucking hell, it’s a grind at best. I can’t even begin to imagine what our friends to the south have to contend with when they’re trying to subsist off those glorious “moocher handouts” they get there, such as they are.

    I’m not in a spot like yours, but I do know that it wouldn’t take much for me or most anyone to suddenly become broke and homeless. It’s a precarious situation, and scary besides.

    I am glad you at least have a roof over your head. I hope things turn around for you soon, by some form of good luck.

  85. johnharshman says

    Shermer is really getting hammered in the comments on Sci Am. So far, I don’t think he has a single one defending him. So there is justice on the web.

  86. chrislawson says

    I was just going to say what johnharshman said @97: Shermer is getting blasted in the SciAm comments. With any luck it will make the editors take notice.

  87. ck says

    @johnharshman, @chrislawson,
    Sadly, I don’t think the critical comments will be enough for SciAm to do anything about him. Instead we should be blasting the editors for allowing someone to peddle transparently dishonest nonsense on their pages. The transition from calculating the percentage change in percentage of wealth held when talking about the elite to calculating the percentage change in absolute wealth when talking about everyone else is not an error someone makes by accident, but rather an intent to deceive.

  88. Cyranothe2nd, there's no such thing as a moderate ally says

    @ CaitieCat:

    Pitchforks indeed. What options do we have left? I think anyone who thinks revolution may take decades hasn’t talked to many really poor people lately. :/

    The problem, at least here in the US, is that the most armed and militant poor are very right-wing, pro-Capitalist folks. I can’t see them and the poor liberals coming together to revolt…which has probably been the plan (divide and conquer) of the rich all along. If we can’t get consensus across the poor and working class about what the problem is or who’s to blame, we get frozen and fractured, instead of actually doing something.

  89. paralipsis says

    While I don’t think it negates the overall thrust of the argument, the college tuition fees line on that graph might be a little steep compared to what is actually paid. Planet Money did an interesting episode on that a couple of years back.

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2012/05/11/152511771/the-real-price-of-college

    I think when amounts actually paid for college factor in, it is still one of the ones above the 23pc line, just not a huge outlier as it appears.

  90. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Why are we assuming Shermer is being careless rather than deliberate?

    My two cents, he is too arrogant acknowledge to he was wrong. And personally, he I think he knew he was wrong, and if the SciAm Editor in Chief agrees, xe should fire his sorry ass.

  91. destry says

    Thanks for this. You confirmed what I thought when I read the Shermer piece the day.

  92. says

    It fails always. The current Loonytarian paradises are Somalia, Pakistan, and any number of third world countries. Honduras is a good example. Taxes are low, government is lacking, regulations are almost nonexistant.

    -Lies, raven, lies. You fail to look at protection of property rights, which is best in the social-democratic welfare states and the economic tigers of the world.
    http://www.internationalpropertyrightsindex.org/ranking

  93. ck says

    Oh, and that chart about the cost of goods decreasing is dishonest nonsense, too. Treating “quality improvements” (which inevitably favours consumer electronics as increased specs can be treated as quality improvements) as equivalent to cost decreases fundamentally and intentionally skews this diagram. A laptop computer that is 4x faster than my previous at the same cost doesn’t mean I’m effectively getting three computers for free since it still is only fully useful to one person at a time. A bottom-of-the-line basic TV that happens to be twice the size as one ten years ago at the same price isn’t twice as useful as the ten year old TV.

    The only “quality improvements” that should ever be part of a chart like that are consumable products that have been improved so that less of the consumable part is consumed with each use. Everything else is just fixing the numbers to fit a predetermined conclusion.

  94. says

    @grepo #91

    Though, he maybe clear headed when it comes to gods and supernatural nonsense, he’s a dunce when it comes to economics. Paul Krugman would mop the floor with him.

    -I don’t know. Krugman (apparently a 1%er by income) has refused to debate one of his most formidable opponents:
    http://krugmandebate.com/
    Perhaps he’s refusing due to resume appearance imbalances.

  95. ck says

    Enopoletus Harding wrote:

    -I don’t know. Krugman (apparently a 1%er by income) has refused to debate one of his most formidable opponents:

    Because debates are the surest way to determine the ultimate truth, just like those creationism debates, which have soundly killed American creationism.

  96. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    You fail to look at protection of property rights, which is best in the social-democratic welfare states and the economic tigers of the world.

    And why should any liberturdian propaganda be believed?????

  97. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I blame insufficient increases in Mideast oil production and Mexican immigrants. Also, competition from China, but that’s a secondary factor.

    Whereas I blame employers from paying an honest wage to those who increase their bottom line due to iditotology…..
    You lose…

  98. says

    @ ck #108

    Because debates are the surest way to determine the ultimate truth, just like those creationism debates, which have soundly killed American creationism.

    -Did I ever imply that debates are the surest way to determine ultimate truth? No. They aren’t. Don’t put words in my mouth.

  99. says

    @ a_ray_in_dilbert_space

    And Turkey has played its position straddling Europe, the Middle East and Asia quite well

    -While simultaneously contributing to the transformation of its neighbors into ones “no one would wish on them”.

  100. Rey Fox says

    Don’t need to put words in your mouth to see that you are impressed by silly theater.

  101. ck says

    Enopoletus Harding wrote:

    -Did I ever imply that debates are the surest way to determine ultimate truth? No. They aren’t. Don’t put words in my mouth.

    So you brought it up as a non-sequitur due to someone else bringing up Krugman’s name? Well, bringing up Krugman makes me think of monkey beards. Or to put it another way: what was your point, exactly?

  102. says

    My point was that it is highly uncertain Krugman would “mop the floor with” Michael Shermer [I interpreted the "mop the floor" phrase in the context of a hypothetical debate between Shermer and Krugman] as we simply don’t know how good Krugman’s skills at debate with skilled libertarian debaters such as Shermer are.

  103. Suido says

    We understand that there need to be limitations on free speech. Even the Freeze Peach brigades have grokked that. Speech is about as fundamental a thing as humans have access to.

    If we can limit speech, why can’t we limit property ownership as well? A person with a million stuffed toys is assumed to have some sort of problem, but a person with a million dollars in the bank is admirable?

    Note, I mean too much property in the hands of too few, so that includes communism. Given that such concentrated ownership, whether it be in the hands of private citizens or the state, means inequality and all the ensuing problems created by inequality, what reasonable measures could be proposed to prevent it happening?

    I understand that wealth/land/death taxes are some of the tax based disincentives to property hoarding, but are there any other options?

  104. ck says

    Enopoletus Harding wrote:

    [...] [I interpreted the "mop the floor" phrase in the context of a hypothetical debate between Shermer and Krugman] [...]

    Unless I’ve missed them, I haven’t see Krugman do much in the way of formal debates. Most of the public exposure I’ve seen him engaged in is either column writing or televised interviews.

  105. Bryan Long says

    @25 Twas Brillig

    I agree about automation. I’ve worked in a handful of factories. What I have seen is that automation primarily makes the jobs less skilled, rather than replacing them. This makes companies care less about turnover, because anyone can be trained in a day to feed the machine. Which drives down wages and benefits.

    It also makes the jobs more repetitive. Stress injuries were scarily common in one place. Basically every person who had been there a decade needed wrist braces and would be in pain doing everyday tasks.

  106. Thales Miletus says

    One good argument I’ve heard for post-WW2 prosperity in the United States is simply that the US industrial infrastructure was untouched by the war. The war in essence destroyed all the competition. This put the US in a unique position of servicing a strong worldwide demand for good and services in an environment where it faced weak global competition. These unique economic conditions drove demand for labor which allowed labor to negotiate very favorable terms. In other words, the labor movement succeeded because industry largely didn’t have any other choice. The strong demand for labor drove middle class prosperity.

    As time progressed, however, the rest of the world started catching up. Whereas in the 60’s and and early 70’s a high school graduate in the Midwest could walk out of high school and into a union job at a steel mill or auto-factory that provided a decent standard of living, that prosperity started erode starting in the late 70’s as the Japanese started to flex their industrial muscle. As time has progressed the rest of the world has caught up. Now the owners of industry have a smorgasbord of international labor markets to chose from all chasing the same $$. The owners of industry are back in the driver seat.

    Meanwhile, a generation of working class who used to vote democrat have seen the “American dream” their parents lived evaporate before their eyes. Cynical forces have harnessed their despair and focused it on “the evil gubemint” who is stealing their freedom with overspending and regulatory overreach; and “shiftless parasitic minorities” who are stealing their hard earned wages. They are being convinced by a constant barrage of talk-radio and Faux News that if taxes, regulation, and government spending were just cut some more, the prosperity that their parents enjoyed in the 60’s and 70’s would return.

    In addition to the outsized growth of government, a perceived moral decay brought on by satan worshippers disguised as bleeding heart liberals is emphasized as yet another prong in the attack on the America that once was. If the economic arguments won’t hook ‘em, moral issues are a terrific plan b.

    Are they wrong? No, not completely. Both political parties are slaves to the influence buyers who fund their campaigns. Even if a candidate wants to do the right thing, he or she still needs to raise money to pay for all the inane TV ads and political consultants that one needs to get elected these days; and if they don’t go kiss billionaire ass to get it, their opponents will. Candidates will be talking populism out one side of their mouth while promising Wall Street a free ride with the other. Thus, those who have been taught to distrust “the evil gubemint” turn out to be right after all. The gubemint bought and paid for by billionaires, really is out to get them.

    Thaley….

  107. paralipsis says

    These unique economic conditions drove demand for labor which allowed labor to negotiate very favorable terms. In other words, the labor movement succeeded because industry largely didn’t have any other choice. The strong demand for labor drove middle class prosperity.

    As time progressed, however, the rest of the world started catching up. Whereas in the 60′s and and early 70′s a high school graduate in the Midwest could walk out of high school and into a union job at a steel mill or auto-factory that provided a decent standard of living, that prosperity started erode starting in the late 70′s as the Japanese started to flex their industrial muscle. As time has progressed the rest of the world has caught up. Now the owners of industry have a smorgasbord of international labor markets to chose from all chasing the same $$. The owners of industry are back in the driver seat.

    The depressing part of this is that worker prosperity has therefore pretty much always been linked to the periods in history following the widespread decimation of competition for labour through wars or pandemic disease outbreaks. Rather than looking at the 20th Century as a time of progress towards economic equality, it can instead be viewed as one of many blips in history, such as the the post-Plague periods in Europe.

    If looked at this way, assuming we don’t want large numbers of people dying and/or infrastructure lost to war and disease (which seems like a safe assumption), we don’t really have any time in the past as a guide to how to get there.

  108. says

    Holms

    This section of Shermer’s post appears to be saying that every quintile has increased its share of US total income. How the fuck is that possible?

    Somebody must have missed second grade maths

    md

    “It doesn’t matter if Trump has 5 yachts one year and merely 3 the next.”

    Who on earth needs 5 yachts anyway? The fact that you think it’s reasonable that one person should even have 5 yachts shos how much you’re invested in capitalist consumerism. 3 yachts are 2 more than he can fucking use.

    arids

    I doubt that most African villagers would want to trade places with the poorest of the poor in the US.

    You know there’s an ongoing refugee crisis in the USA and Europw where the poor risk their very lives to get to these places. It seems to me that yes, they’d quite like to trade places. Seems like they desperately want to trade places.

    anteprepro

    This led to the thought: aren’t most states in the U.S. that do relatively in terms of economics not just similar politically, but also geographically?

    Absolutely
    Our entire first world wealth is based on exploitation of the thrid world. I think the best we can do is to give voices to people fighting for justice in their coutries and to support them. The first world often has a horrible tendency to find “solutions” to those problems without asking those people ever what they want us to do. What do the unions in Bangladesh want us to do in order to support their struggle for living wages?

  109. caesar says

    @123:

    Rather than looking at the 20th Century as a time of progress towards economic equality, it can instead be viewed as one of many blips in history, such as the the post-Plague periods in Europe.

    I’m about 75% through Piketty’s Capital and he pretty much confirmed what I believed all along about the growth of the middle class from about 1950 until the 70s, which is that it was merely an anomaly brought on by 2 world wars and a severe economic depression. All that destruction caused a massive restructuring of wealth, but it wasn’t long before the old disparities in wealth were able to reestablish themselves. But instead of lamenting inequality in wealth, I say we should celebrate. It’s true that wealth often begets more wealth, but shit, what would wealth be good for if you couldn’t grow it? Like Gordon Gekko said, greed is good in that it drives people to innovate and create new opportunities to obtain a surplus of wealth, leaving people leisure time so they can do things like gain an education, or play sports for fun, or buy 5 yachts for no other reason than because I fucking want to.

  110. says

    Yes, let’s celebrate the rich getting richer, while the poor continue to struggle just to survive. ‘Fuck you, I’ve got mine’-caesar the libertarian-like apathetic asshole

  111. Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human. says

    Notice how Caesar leaves out that much of the middle class wealth was created by government stimulation of the economy (rural electrification, the interstate highway system, building of schools) with wages protected by unions. Unions and government spending — two things anathema to the libertarian. Yet those two things helped to feed the rapid rise in real spending power for both the poor and the middle class. There were also very high taxes on the rich during the period in question – which was used for public works projects.

  112. anteprepro says

    caesar remains a sociopath. Consistently. Boringly. I mean, for fuck’s sake, now he is mindlessly quoting phrases from Gordon Gekko, who, as far as I can tell, was the villain in Wall Street.

    caesar, you are amoral, and beyond that, you are stupid. Rethink your life.

  113. caesar says

    much of the middle class wealth was created by government stimulation of the economy (rural electrification, the interstate highway system, building of schools) with wages protected by unions.

    I don’t deny that government played a role in creating a middle class in America. That’s why government exists; To help consolidate resources under a common banner and provide for the efficient distribution of those resources. But my point was that it was private enterprise that created the wealth to be taxed in the first place. I say that the ability to generate and grow wealth was and still is the reason for our prosperity, and if it’s motivated by greed, that’s even better. What better motivator is there than the desire to become and stay wealthy?

  114. Anri says

    caesar @ 130:

    What better motivator is there than the desire to become and stay wealthy?

    For you, nothing.
    For others, sometimes, better things. Fortunately.

    What makes you such a sad case is that you’d actually be a better person if you were just a troll. Pitifully, it looks like you actually believe what you’re saying.

  115. Rey Fox says

    But instead of lamenting inequality in wealth, I say we should celebrate. It’s true that wealth often begets more wealth, but shit, what would wealth be good for if you couldn’t grow it? Like Gordon Gekko said, greed is good in that it drives people to innovate and create new opportunities to obtain a surplus of wealth, leaving people leisure time so they can do things like gain an education, or play sports for fun, or buy 5 yachts for no other reason than because I fucking want to.

    Heh. You really think all that is open to you. How funny and sad.

  116. militantagnostic says

    The model for Gordon Gekko was Ivan Boesky who said “I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself” at University of California Businsess school commencement ceremony. Boesky did time for insider trading and was a complete parasite. He never built anything, invented anything, organized anything, designed anything, provided any useful service or managed any useful enterprise.

    CaitieCat, getaway driver – you are forgetting that a rising tide lifts all yachts. You just need to lift yourself up by your own bootstraps.*

    *Stupidest metaphor ever, but perhaps ironically apt. Anyone using it should be compelled to take a first year engineering course in statics until they understand what sum of forces equals zero means.

  117. militantagnostic says

    The argument about the value of increasing the size of the pie with the majority of the increase going to a few versus distributing the pie more equitably usually ignores the non-linear value of wealth and income. A 10% increase in after tax income is of much more value to someone in the bottom 20% than it is to someone in the top 1% or even in the top 20%. I think there is a sweet spot for income distribution somewhere between complete equality (lack of incentive) and what we have now.

    Greed is a powerful incentive, but for what? If it is an incentive to invent a better or cheaper widget, fine. All too often it is an incentive to pollute, cut corners on safety, pay lower wages, figure out a way to deceive people into paying more for a product that is no better than competing products, or just game the system. In the case of commercial fisheries greed is a perverse incentive to put more effort into catching a declining species. Only an ignorant fundamentalist thinks the “invisible hand” is omniscient or benevolent. In actual fact it is often very short sighted and is as indifferent to suffering as is evolution.

  118. paralipsis says

    I think there is a sweet spot for income distribution somewhere between complete equality (lack of incentive) and what we have now.

    I couldn’t agree more. Nothing frustrates me more than when economic debates degenerate into arguing for or against the two extremes. I think either end of the spectrum (and we’re living very near one of them right now) is undesirable. But it’s seemingly difficult to argue for a middle ground position without being mischaracterised as a total anti-capitalist when arguing for modest restraints on the concentration of wealth.

  119. militantagnostic says

    paralipsis

    The argument is because communism didn’t work out, then unfettered capitalism is the answer (never mind that didn’t work out very well either). Shermer is as much of a fundamentalist as is Ken Ham and every bit as dishonest.

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