Opportunity, Society, and the Role of the State

Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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7 Responses

  1. Freddie says:

    This is a lot to mull over, but here I think I should plug Grand New Party which, while I disagree with a lot of its content, is a really well thought out attempt by two guys with unimpeachable conservative credentials to craft a right-wing response to the failure of the middle class to make much headway in terms of real wages in the last several decades. It’s precisely the sort of thing, it seems to me, the right should be trying now, to create a tangible way forward for our country’s middle and working class under the banner of conservatism.Report

  2. E.D. Kain says:

    I agree, Freddie. Douthat and Salam are not always correct, I think, but their work on GNP and elsewhere is fantastic in that it is fresh, and new, and actually attempts to deal with the concept of governance and society rather than whatever it is the rest of the conservative movement is doing whilst twiddling its proverbial thumbs…and crying foul at any move by those “damned libruls!”Report

  3. Rortybomb says:

    There is a lot of interesting stuff here, and I tend to not be a big picture thinker, but I want to point out one quote to animate where I come from:

    “Well, I am reminded of my teacher Shannon Stimson’s lectures on early Victorian political economy. She noted that to the Victorians private charity should be ample (because that was what Jesus taught, and to keep the poor from starving in masses the streets) but never comprehensive, so that there would always be a few of the poor visibly starving in the streets, so that the poor would know that charity was not something they could count on, so that the poor had the proper incentive to work, to save, to stay married, to have children and bring them up properly. She tries hard to recover this mode of thought, in which the purpose of the economy is to create morally prudent servants who live in the Fear of the Lord. And her students–hedonists living in the California sun early in the 21st century–find it very strange: the purpose of the economy is obviously to enable people to realize their human potential and to satisfy their needs, wants, and dreams.”
    Brad Delong

    I tend to discount the idea that conservatives (blanket USA term) want capitalism because it invokes security/stability/safety – it always struck me that that is more of a center-left line. The payoff for the right strikes me as a balance between individualism and the visible rewards/punishments for the quality of one’s life/decisions.

    The notion of capitalism acting as a self-goverence care-of-the-self mechanism is well-founded upon the early marriage of markets and conservativism. You can still hear it; people not rooting for its failure per se on the right, but nodding their heads at the unemployment numbers as if God’s judgement has finally come down upon us (I’m looking at crunchy con survivalist types).

    Now it seems like the bull has gotten out of the cage and is wrecking havoc among even those who were leading virtuous lives.Report

  4. James Williams says:

    Rortybomb’s post reminds me of one of the best ever neologisms in the history of blog punditry: “dark satanic Millian liberalism”:

  5. Joseph says:

    Like Freddie in his post and many of BB’s commenters, the fact the the guy who did this “experiment” was white and male and spoke clear fluent English, and had an education and possibly healthcare provided by his regular employer, means that he already has pretty much both legs up over mpost people at Wal-Mart. Sure $10/hr is absolutely reasonably for a clerk, but that’s the median, and a college education isn’t a guarantee of anything: my girlfriend’s father works at a Wal-Mart. He’s in his sixties and has a Master’s degree (earned just recently from the same state U as my Bachelor’s), and a second job, but the thing is, he’s Cuban, still doesn’t speak English fluently, badly overweight, and has a given name that gets him mistaken for Arab. And I’d say that he’s far more typical of a Wal-Mart employee. Of course, his daughter worked there as well as a college student ($7/hr) and likewise faced discrimination (including being denied ANY opportunities to advance, forced to work unpaid overtime, and treated as an unpaid babysitter for shoppers’ kids).

    As for whether “conservatives” should care about this, well there I think you’re just on another planet. Of course education is being slashed. The point is to get rid of us losers and peons, to make us disposable parts. If like Ismail, they are educated, they will resent it when they figure out that it’s too late to do anything else. And since he’s , you know, a “goddamn dirty spic”, well that’s just more reason to write him off.Report

  6. JB says:

    I have an observation and a question:

    Noting that the Gini coefficient has gone up in the past x years does not mean that the poorest of society are worse off in absolute terms than they were x years ago. In fact, it’s pretty hard to argue that they are–even if I let you pick x. Psychologically, this may not matter if what you’re after is relative wealth. But if society’s or the economy’s goal–however organized–is to put food on the table (absolute “wealth”), then I’d say there’s been some success even if Evil Bill’s excesses seem, well, excessive.

    Suppose we actually do live in a meritocracy and it just turns out that the distributional tails are fat. That is, there are some extraordinary people with the foresight, industry (and perhaps, luck) to earn a whole lot more than than the average Joe. Likewise, there are some less able (or more unlucky in some sense) that aren’t going to be millionaires no matter how much they want it. If that were the case–and I’ve seen no one bother to argue that it is not–then how is what we observe bad? Even if it’s bad by some cosmic fairness metric (say, the luck bit is important), what do you suppose society can do about it–I mean, won’t any merit-based economic system–capitalism or otherwise (keep your eye on the hypothesis of the exercise)–keep on rewarding the more able no matter how hard you try to re-distribute?Report