Is Social Mobility Overrated?

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Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a freelance journalist and blogger. He considers Bob Dylan and Walter Sobchak to be the two great Jewish thinkers of our time; he thinks Kafka was half-right when he said there was hope, "but not for us"; and he can be reached through the twitter via @eliasisquith or via email. The opinions he expresses on the blog and throughout the interwebs are exclusively his own.

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531 Responses

  1. Avatar James Hanley says:

    social mobility in America or, more accurately, the lack thereof

    Perhaps.  Perhaps not.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      From the post, it looks like 64% of people raised in the middle quintile stay there or fall to lower quintiles, and more fall to lower quintiles than rise to higher ones.  Not all mobility is upward.  Even if we have high mobility, it may not be a good thing.  It sucks to fall out of the middle class.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        It assuredly does suck, but you can’t have upward inter-quartile mobility without having some downward mobility.  In fact they have to equal out.  That’s why the question raised below, of relative vs. absolute mobility, really is critical.Report

        • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

          High mobility isn’t necessarily a good thing, but I think it’s worth noting that inequality and mobility are also highly dependent on just how much of an impact the movement has on standard of living.

          In societies with less income inequality, inter-quartile movement is less devastating if you move downward and less rewarding if you move upward. The skew towards massive income and wealth inequality in the US I think is what also makes the lack of mobility somewhat problematic. Specifically that because there’s such a skew, that gap will continue to grow and create a social structure that’s more likely to solidify that gap into distinct social classes.

          Just as importantly this gap in wealth will manifest as gaps in influence and political agency, which sows the seeds for rent-seeking behavior and corporate cronyism.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew says:

          The quintile set-up can mask a lot of what is really going on.  Technically what you say is right (I think?), but the groupings can be stretched in terms of absolute numbers over time, where falling to a particular place can mean something very different than at another time it might have, same with the top.  If a person falls from the third quintile into the bottom via a working life setback, yes this causes someone to quietly move from the bottom quintile to the next one up without experiencing anything.  We should call the former mobility, and we should not call the latter mobility from an experiential perspective.  Yet they cancel each other out statistically.  Only the actual movements are of analytical interest.  Perhaps the statistical necessity you point out actually amplifies my point.Report

          • Avatar Will Truman says:

            This actually makes a pretty strong argument for the notion that we ought to be looking at objective mobility rather than relative. If too much movement occurs because of people falling down the latter, it’ll show up by objective measurements. Likewise, if movement is occurring because of someone jetting out ahead, that will show up in the objective measurements, too.

            Of course, the hard part is making comparisons across 30 years.Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew says:

              But how do you keep track of all these changes?  I mean, holy crap, that’s a lot of data. You need a systematic, and somewhat simplified way to do it, don’t you?  I have this feeling we’re just getting hung up on the methodology for gathering data that, if we did it completely directly, would be nearly impossible to gather comprehensively because it is so vast, and then also basically impossible to represent.  Are there really two different quantities here?  Or is it just a question of the resolution we have in the data?Report

              • Avatar kenB says:

                How about creating five categories using the federal poverty level as a point of reference instead of relative quintiles? E.g. 100% of FPL or below, 100-200% of FPL, 200-400%, etc.,roughly corresponding to poor, lower middle class, middle, upper middle, upper.

                 Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                You could do that.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                The FPL is, I believe, a relative calculation. Better than pure income, since it’s based on purchasing power, but still somewhat problematic because of its relativity and what they choose to base the purchasing power on. Also, easy to politically manipulate by redefining poverty up or down.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew says:

          Also, for the record, relative vs. absolute mobility is raised in the post and the NY Times article it references, hence below (wherever you’re referring to).  Though I’m not totally sure I understand exactly what the difference is and why it’s so much more important.  Reihan seems to mean simply, “What’s the delta in dollars between what you make and what your parents made?” by absolute – and says that that is more important than relative mobility.  Is that what you are saying?  You can still apply a quintile analysis to that, it just makes the whole picture less sharp is all I can see is the difference.  And yet people are going to have all sorts of deltas in that number, so we’re going to want some way of representaing them where we can look at one such number and not have to look at absolutely all the other numbers to get some sense of how it compares.  Or something. Right?

          I’m not sure I’m following what exactly anyone is saying here.  The language is more obscuring than clarifying.Report

          • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

            Absolute mobility is a nonsensical term unless we’re measuring some sort of delta that includes things like cost of living and standard of living adjustments when doing deltas between two populations. Intergenerational mobility might be the world they might actually want to use, but again that’s also a relative measure.

            Honestly this whole notion of “absolute” or “objective” mobility feels like a bit of a smoke screen to reduce the measurement that in purely distributional terms things are getting worse.Report

            • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

              Nob, your snake just ate its own tail: more income equality and less income is something only an ideologue could love.Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

                That depends.

                Would you rather live in a society where 100 dollars was shared out equally by 100 people, or where 900 dollars was shared out by 10 people and 100 by the remaining 90?

                If those dollars were also proportional to the amount of political influence one could buy, then income inequality becomes an enormous problem in a free society.Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

                That is to say, I don’t really like a society where plutocrats are telling me I should appreciate them forming crony-capitalist structures and rent-seeking behaviors just because I have an Xbox.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Nob, if 9 of us get 15 dollars out of 200, I don’t give a shit about the rest.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Nob Writes:

                Would you rather live in a society where 100 dollars was shared out equally by 100 people, or where 900 dollars was shared out by 10 people and 100 by the remaining 90?

                You’ve mischaracterized the economy in zero sum terms. Wealth is not shared. It does not fall from heaven. Wealth is created and produced and exchanged. I would rather live in a society where people were free to pursue as much wealth as they would like as long as they don’t harm others in the pursuit.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                Can you define “harm others” for us.Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

                An economy is usually positive sum, but that positive sum is generally apportioned in different ways. That is to say, wealth doesn’t create itself, resource allocation matters and how we decide to allocate public goods makes a huge difference on who can actually create and accumulate wealth.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Sam and Nob,

                Sam, by “harming others” I am basically referring to coercive zero sum interactions: if I lie, cheat, steal, rob, threaten, rape, forcefully redistribute, or commit other acts of violence.

                Nob, the fact that wealth does not create itself is my very point. The act of apportioning it and reallocating — if done coercively — is zero sum activity. The dynamic effects of coercive zero sum activity usually results in wealth destruction.

                The recipe for positive sum wealth creation is via creating complex networks of voluntary production and exchange. I want to live in a world where people are free to create wealth. If you focus on apportioning it you are part of the problem, not the solution.Report

              • Roger, are you familiar with the old company town model of the first half of the 20th century; most common in industries such as steel and coal?

                Would you consider the inhabitant of a company town to be someone engaged in a voluntary exchange free of coercion? Would you consider the owners or financial benefactors of the company town to be acquiring their wealth without the use of coercion?Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Elias,

                A few months ago the League spent a lot of useful time on coercion and how subtle that term can be. I won’t rehash that again, but let me answer the question…

                When people voluntarily accepted a job in a company town, they were accepting the best alternative available to them — as revealed by their acceptance. They formed a positive sum win/win arrangement to produce goods and services for the ubiquitous consumer, who gained by voluntarily buying the good (and thus paying salary and profits). This created value all around.

                I am aware that accepting this type of job exposed one to coercion. I would guess they realized it at the time too. I am aware that they were coerced, and in some cases they were totally exploited. I would be opposed to exploitation (and most forms of unfair coercion). Further, I believe that we would have prospered faster if there had been less coercion and exploitation.

                Coercion and exploitation are like cancer to prosperity.

                 Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                Roger,

                In that previous discussion, you essentially dismissed the idea of exploitation.  An exchange was either non-coercive and freely chosen, or it was coerced – which was then the salient thing to say about it, not that it was exploitative.  That would go without saying from it being coerced, as it goes without saying that someone who is forcibly enslaved is being exploited.

                Now you invoke the term exploitation.  What is exploitation?Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Roger, correct me if I’m misremembering but as I recall in the company town the company paid you less to work than it cost to buy goods for living at the company store. This gap in pay/expenses was made up for with a line of credit that represented a steadily expanding shackle on the ankle of the worker and was passed to his children when he dies. Nowhere in this scenario are the workers remotely free from coersion.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Michael Drew: Indeedy. As I remember those discussions, exploitation was reduced to unfairness, as something categorically distinct from coercion. That’s why the whole concept of leverage was introduced in the fist place: to give a semantics to a type of coercion which didn’t rise to the level of threat-at-gun-point.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Michael D, Stillwater and North,

                Uh oh, we are opening that can of worms again!

                By the end of the discussion several of you (and Patrick) had done a very good job of convincing me that coercion can be more subtle and pervasive than I originally thought. It can range from the smile of a pretty girl hoping for a free drink to a boss asking for sex to keep a job.

                As for leverage, I believe every interaction involves imbalances in leverage. There are too many dimensions of leverage and too many different values to even attempt to measure it. Still society draws lines. For example we consider some contractual and most (all?) sexual interactions between adults and children to be too imbalanced and open to exploitation.

                To add fuel to the fire, I believe coercion and leverage imbalance in general are often bad things. However I also believe that trying to correct them — in the wrong way — can lead to bad things as well. It is a complex problem.

                How do I define exploitation? I define it as what I wrote to Sam as a “coercive zero sum interaction.” The examples I gave were to lie, cheat, steal, rob, threaten, rape, forcefully redistribute or to use violence. I believe privilege seeking (rent seeking) when accompanied by force or threat of force is also a form of exploitation.

                Some of these company towns apparently used their leverage to coerce workers into exploitative relationships. My guess is they did so by coercively preventing non company stores from competing in the towns, or by requiring employees to use their store as a term of employment. But I am guessing. Some may just have been in the middle of nowhere.

                In general I am opposed to this type of leverage imbalance, coercion and exploitation. Beware unexpected consequences when dealing with the problem though!

                Medicine with side effects worse than the disease is better referred to as poison.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                There are new “company towns” all over the Athabasca region in Canada. Here’s the new equation. Excellent camp food, free lodging, free entertainment, free flights into and out of camps. Downsides? No alcohol, no prostitution, no drugs. Upsides? $200K per year, minimal expenses. And yet they still can’t get enough people to fill open positions. Apparently there are those who don’t want to be exploited enough.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Ward, what on earth are the positions are they trying to fill and what’re the technical qualification requirements?Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                Tom, it doesn’t follow from saying a situation in which there is more income but more inequality is a situation in which things are getting worse that it would be a situation he would love if there were less income and less inequality.  Either situation could be unsatisfactory, to say nothing of unlovable.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                MichaelD, perhaps a failed attempt @ short & sweet.  If a “rising tide” raises my income by 50% and the rich guy’s 100%, what skin is that off my back?Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Decreased buying power on finite goods, properties, and services. The purchasing of vacation homes in Jackson Hole drives up pricing for people who want to live there, for instance. Their hiring concierge doctors away from the local hospital.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Good argument, WillT.  But screw vacation homes in Jackson Hole.  The rich will always bid against each other for a Picasso.

                There is the problem of the UK’s National Health Service “stealing away” physicians from the Third World, though.  Being an NHS doc might suck, but it beats the bejesus out of Somalia or Pakistan.

                The answer would be to train more doctors, I make it, not bid against each other for the existing ones.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                These sorts of positional goods are the very things left-liberals should welcome.  They mean that extreme wealth buys progressively less.

                Meanwhile, those of us who don’t need a vacation home in Jackson Hole are more than content to spend our money on other goods, which are relatively cheaper with fewer ultra-rich people’s dollars chasing after them.

                But wait!  I forgot!  Electronic geegaws are proof that a society is morally bankrupt or something, and aren’t indicators of true wealth.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                TVD,

                when the rich bid on you (or your daughter), I think your perspective changes…Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                Perspective does tend to change, when people randomly change the subject.  So yes.

                 Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

                Jason, electronic geegaws are certainly not an indicator of anything other than progress in the overall technology level and certainly have no moral bearing. But as a general rule, I think people are right to resent the implication that because someone went from having a shitty TV to having an LCD, from watching rich people have Ataris to owning an Xbox that somehow it makes it okay that at the same time the richest 0.1% have gone from vacationing in the Hamptons to buying a quarter million dollar yachts.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Nob,

                If your interest is in relative wealth, then you’re correct.  But if your interest is in absolute levels of well-being, then it doesn’t matter what others have as long as there are improvements for others.  Especially if the gains made by those wealthier have not taken away from or prohibited gains for the less well off, then it’s hard to make a strong moral argument against it, unless one is focused primarily on relative wealth.  And then we can argue for a system that does not make the poorer better off, but only makes the wealthier worse off, or even makes both worse off, so long as the wealthier lose even more so that the gap is closed.  And that’s a rather perverse outcome.

                It’s natural to be concerned about increasing wealth gaps, but that concern can lead to some uncomfortable conclusions.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Nob, a few months back, we got into a discussion over whether or not Internet Access ought to be considered a Right.

                I expressed confoundment given that “the internet” is something that is exceptionally recent and my view of “Rights” entails some sort of universiality and timelessness (I mean, we’d agree that someone in 1950 wouldn’t have a Right to Internet Access… it seems odd to say that, sixty years later, they would). Anyway, I don’t want to rehash that argument.

                What I *DO* want to do is point out that there are arguments, serious arguments, given that these “electronic geegaws” are rights. Look at the healthcare argument… imagine someone saying that a poor kid from the ghetto doesn’t have the “right” to an MRI.

                These electronic geegaws, and access to them, are seen as not indicative of anything… until someone doesn’t have one or access to one.Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

                James,

                As I’ve noted several times, I think when looking at society that’s driven by wealth as a primary indicator of political influence, we need to really be careful about how blaise we are regarding gaps in overall wealth accumulation. I find it somewhat contradictory that people who tell me that money should be considered speech are also completely comfortable making the hypothetical about absolute gains vs. relative gains. There’s a bit of a status quo bias verging on an implied threat. “You wouldn’t want to rock the boat too much, would be a shame what’d happen to the poor if that happened, huh?” (Not to say that’s actually what you’re saying. But there’s an implication that that might be the case.)

                I’m also on the whole, highly uncomfortable with the extreme reversal that somehow caring about inequality is somehow akin to wanting an absolute reversion in standards of living. Moreover, when you look at the enormous gap in wealth in some countries, it would take a LOT of absolute shrinkage of wealth for the poor and working class to be worse off from a standard of living point of view. And by a lot, I mean on scales that industrailized economies have never actually experienced.Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

                Jay, I tend to think of the internet and other electronic geegaws as being something akin to print and books. They’re means to a particular right (self-expression, free-expression, free association, opportunity for self-improvement) rather than a right in it of itself.

                Whether that makes it a human right or not, I don’t know. But just like how we redefine what is meant by a right over the course of centuries, I think we can be okay with expanding the means to which we access and express a right in practice as we make progress, too.Report

            • Avatar Trumwill Mobile says:

              See Nob, I consider this attitude rather unhelpful. I even said that comparing absolutes is tough. Just because something is hard to measure does not make it a useless concept or a disingenuous smokescreen.

              It’s easy to measure the number of red cars sold in Maine, but that doesn’t make it useful. I consider both relative and absolute mobility to be worth knowing. But neither is definitive merely because it helps shape an argument for or against redistribution.

              I’m not trying to trick anybody. Nor are others pointing in the direction I just did. I just found MDrew’s comment to demonstrate the problematic nature of relative mobility and why absolute can be helpful.
              AndReport

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

                Beg your pardon.

                I wasn’t pointing at your statement, so much as Salam’s conception of “absolute mobility”.

                I find the way his argument tries to present it as a “do kids have more money than their parents” sort of argument as a complete non-sequitor when we’re discussing the issue of mobility in general. If we assume that the economy is growing, then OF COURSE they’ll have more money to spend. To argue on any other platform is pure nonsense.

                There’s very few developed industrial economies where we’ve seen absolute falls in GDP. To suggest that so we should take it as a given that things are hunky dory, is to say the least, ridiculous.Report

              • Avatar Trumwill Mobile says:

                Sorry to unload on you like that. Threading is a bit more difficult on a cell phone.

                The thing is, I’m not sure the current generation IS better off than the previous. Which is why such measurements are important. Including Salam’s, though it does put forth the questions of increased housing costs and student loans and such. And, even if I am wrong, it’s still perfectly valid to say that we’re not better off enough. That the gains of the current generation are less that the gains of the previous and so on. Relative mobility and distributions are also part of the overall context. And absolute gains a part of the context when we look at relative distribution and mobility.Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

                No worries, I understand your point.

                I think in general I’m more disquieted by the Yglesias point that liberals should suddenly stop caring about relative metrics. I would argue that in a world where money is speech and corporations are people, relative and distributional metrics are extremely important.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Nob, I’d love to do the metrics on yr marxist plutocrat conspircacy theories.  🙂

                Except for the finance sector, which deserves a closer look and may only have hit the inevitable “black swan” , here in the US, I think it’s more petty theft than a Grand Conspiracy.

                Congressional pork really doesn’t add up to much percentagewise, and contrary to some narratives, we didn’t topple Saddam just to enrich Halliburton.

                Me, as a Californian, suffer much more from the doings of my legislature and their sunny social programs for everyone under the sun, and their political payoffs to public-sector unions.

                What’s the buzzphrase like “crony capitalism” for “payoffs to public sector unions?”  That just doesn’t sing like a good cliche.Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

                I don’t know if it’s really a marxist plutocrat conspiracy to suggest there is such a thing as regulatory capture and incentives in the system for rent-seeking on the part of corporations.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Brother Nob, I’d like to do the metrics on your thesis on plutocracy in the 21st century.  Infra above, I mark it down to petty theft.  I’m not into this “power” argument, and I do use marxist with a small “m” to not call you a commie.

                There were times in history when plutocrats exploited and ruled, and Marx wrote in that context, as did Zola, far more wisely.

                These days in the Western world, the plutocrats don’t seize power, we cede it to them.

                The question is, who’s exploiting whom?Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                Nob I think Yggy is arguing from the purely material economic-welfare  effects of the distribution of the benefits of growth, and not purporting to address all aspects of the consequences of extreme inequality (or even of simply ultrawealth full stop), i.e. those in the political marketplace.  I don’t think he’s ignoring the latter and certainly wouldn’t deny its importance, but only separating these things, and might well concede your point if addressed in its area.Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

                Tom:
                I would say that the metrics are things like campaign contributions, the presence of lobbyists in staff offices and the amount of very specific legislative language that tends to be written by industry or interest groups.

                I suppose it’s not really direct theft I’m concerned about, but rather systemic distortions of the economy that come from piecemeal regulation and laws that come from interest group politics. Things like pensions and labor group interests are petty theft, rather than fullscale exploitation in some sense since for those to work it’s generally more required for indifference.

                As for the Yglesias argument, Michael, I may be being uncharitable. But I’m struck by the fact that it would take an ENORMOUS amount of absolute loss in the US economy for the income and wealth inequality rebalancing to have a measurable impact on the overall standard of living for the poor and middle class.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Nob, I think we need to do the math on the cost of public pensions and benefits vs. the access of a corporate lobbyist.  Metrics.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                TVD,

                … what’s not the finance sector? Real Estate? that’s gotten a closer look, already, mostly. and it needs another, as BoA continues to create escrow accounts —  involuntarily and without recourse.

                Ge? GM? both finance.

                Maybe exxon? BP? (have you looked at Nigeria lately?)Report

          • Avatar Trumwill Mobile says:

            I was merely pointing out that you were pointing to a weakness of relative in favor of absolute. I think there is value to minding each. It’s important to know if families are improving or not over generations, but also important to know if we are being competitive with one another.Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew says:

              I’m just not sure we’ve got a hold of a real, much less worthwhile distinction here.  i suspect it’s a matter of slightly different approaches to representing the same data that’s been given a big, fancy name, not actually different phenomena in the world, or even significantly substantively different analyses of the same phenomena.  I think we’re all actually pretty much interested in one basic thing (to the extent we’re interested in it).Report

  2. Totally disjointed thoughts, for which I apologize in advance:

    -Why are our two options reduced to these: the poor living better and the rich living worse. How would that even work?

    -The notion that anybody wants the rich living – worse- is crazy, and I mean that in the most respectful way possible. Nobody expects somebody in the Hamptons to give up their fourth home or eighth helicopter or whatever it is that American society now requires of a person to call him rich.

    -If you take the account of a wealthy person who earns, say, more than $1,000,000 a year and subtract a quarter of that, that person not only remains fantastically wealthy, but fundamentally unharmed in any meaningful way. Yes, they don’t have the awe-inspiring ability to claim that they’re earning the seven digits, but cry me a river.

    -I remain flustered by the needs of some to tell the poor that their obligation is to be grateful for what they’ve got and too otherwise be quiet. It is condescending at best. To put that another way, and to paraphrase a criticism I’ve oft enjoyed, iPads are great but they don’t taste very good.

    -Finally, Republicans and Democrats are never going to reach a middle ground in wealth inequality, because both sides have different explanations for what’s going on. In the mind of Republicans, wealth inequality is the result of a race which has decided winners and losers, the losers in this case being defined as the poor. Democrats believe that structural issues are deciding who is and isn’t poor and argue that this isn’t an entirely fair process that’s doing the winnowing. Where is the middle ground there?Report

    • Avatar Mike says:

      -Why are our two options reduced to these: the poor living better and the rich living worse. How would that even work?

      Considering how few people control how much of the wealth in the country, there’s no way around it. It may not be “zero sum” but it is very, very, very close.

      -The notion that anybody wants the rich living – worse- is crazy, and I mean that in the most respectful way possible. Nobody expects somebody in the Hamptons to give up their fourth home or eighth helicopter or whatever it is that American society now requires of a person to call him rich.

      Actually, the idea that there is a parasite class on the top, who live lives of ugly opulence, is not new. It was the main function of the French Revolution, caused by a major disparity in which the aristocracy were in opulence while the peasantry faced a quite literal famine.

      -Finally, Republicans and Democrats are never going to reach a middle ground in wealth inequality, because both sides have different explanations for what’s going on. In the mind of Republicans, wealth inequality is the result of a race which has decided winners and losers, the losers in this case being defined as the poor.

      Actually, no. Republicans look at it as a “moral” thing. Quite literally, they have created a religion around greed, sometimes known as “Prosperity Gospel.” In their minds, people who are poor, who don’t have massive stock portfolios, who don’t make six figures, are morally inferior to those who control vast tracts of wealth. Those who have fallen on hard times, who need assistance, are “immoral” and are being punished for their immorality by the consequences of poverty.

      It’s a religion of greed, coalesced into a political party. Nothing more or less.Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

        “If riches are a blessing from God, then poverty must be a curse and a sign of God’s disfavor—right? Wrong, said the Puritans, who disagreed with a whole tissue of assumptions often attributed to them in the twentieth century.

        In the first place, the Puritans disagreed that godliness is a guarantee of success. Thomas Watson went so far as to say that “true godliness is usually attended with persecution .… The saints have no charter of exemption from trials.… Their piety will not shield them from sufferings.”

        If godliness is not a guarantee of success, then the converse is also true: success is not a sign of godliness. This is how the Puritans understood the matter. John Cotton stated that a Christian “equally bears good and evil successes as God shall dispense them to him.” Samuel Willard wrote, “As riches are not evidences of God’s love, so neither is poverty of his anger or hatred.”

        http://www.apuritansmind.com/stewardship/rykenlelandpuritansandmoney/Report

        • Avatar Mike says:

          Yeah, but Republicans follow Greed Gospel. They’re not “puritans.”Report

          • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

            The article lists Osteen, TD Jakes and Creflo Dollar.  Now we know where all those black Republicans have been hiding.

            it’s actually an informative article if one reads the direct quotes, not the authors’ spin.

             Report

            • Avatar wardsmith says:

              Mike won’t read anything past “Republicans are Evil”. If it doesn’t say that on the page, by God, er Gum, he’ll make it say that. Why he’ll torture those words until they confess to anything he wants. 😉Report

      • Avatar Roger says:

        Sam and Mike,

        Considering how few people control how much of the wealth in the country, there’s no way around it. It may not be “zero sum” but it is very, very, very close.

        Your comments are historically and economically absurd. The US has 10 times the number of people and the standard of living of the median person is conservatively 10-20 times higher (realistically adjusted for quality and diversity 100 times higher) than those living a few centuries ago. And we live almost twice as long.

        Prosperity is created. That is a positive sum process. Free markets allow wealth to be created in such a way that both parties involved in the interaction gain. Of course, some wealthy are crooks, cheats, and rent seekers. But if they got their wealth via voluntarily serving consumers, then the more they are enriched the better.

        Greed in a zero sum world of fighting over a fixed pie can be harmful. Self interest (looking out for the best interest of self and loved ones) in a positive sum world of free enterprise is a miraculous thing. It allows us to enrich ourselves and others at the same time. Why is this so hard for some progressives to understand?

         

         Report

        • Avatar Sam says:

          Roger,

          Because you’re not being honest about the economy as it actually exists. The wealthy frequently make themselves more so at the expense of the middle and lower classes; see massive layoffs designed to increased stock prices. Telling those laid off people to get over themselves and just be happy with whatever they do (or don’t) have is offensive. If you’re well off, congratulations, but there are plenty of people who aren’t through no fault of their own, and I’m not entirely certain that it is good policy to tell them to shut up about their lot in life.

          I also dismiss out of hand the utterly absurd idea that we ask people today to frame their struggles in terms of what their lives would have been like centuries ago. That’s a cop out that can be used for any injustice. Would it be acceptable to tell gays today that centuries ago they would have been killed, so they should consider themselves lucky that they no longer are? Would it be acceptable to tell blacks that they would have been slaves centuries ago, so they should consider themselves lucky that they no longer are? The only thing that substantively matters to a person struggling today are their struggles TODAY. That’s the challenge they’re facing. Saying, “Hey, I know you don’t have health care and I know there are no jobs in your town and I know you’re struggling to pay your mortgage, but you would have been a subsistence farmer centuries ago, so really, just shut up about it.” doesn’t accomplish anything more than making you seem woefully out of touch.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

            I also dismiss out of hand the utterly absurd idea that we ask people today to frame their struggles in terms of what their lives would have been like centuries ago.

            Yes, but comparing the economy of the 1970s to the economy of today seems pretty reasonable all the same.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              Comparing our own lives to those of other times and places often leads to surprising results.   During the Middle Ages, people worked far fewer days per year.   Granted, their lives were shorter but certainly not more brutish or nasty.

              Number of days worked per year seems a reasonable measure of happiness and success.   I’ve often wondered why Americans don’t take more days off from work than they do.   Don’t they realize there’s a diminishing law of returns on that sort of lifestyle?Report

            • Avatar Sam says:

              Jason,

              Respectfully, I disagree with you with every fiber of my being. What do the 1970s matter to a person who was a child during them? What do the 1970s matter to a person who wasn’t born during them?

              All comparisons to previous times are good for is dismissing out of hand the struggles and concerns faced by people today. It is a tactic that is as good today as it was in the 1970s themselves (“But you’re so much better off than you would have been in 1940!”), in the 1940s (“But you’re so much better off than you would have been in 1910!”), and in 1640 (“But you’re so much better off than you would have been in 1540!”).

              To put that another way, I know nothing of your life and any difficulties that you have faced, but I cannot imagine those treating your life and those difficulties as if they are not profound, painful, difficult, complicated, and stressful simply because the same difficulties would have been worse 30, 40, 50, 500, 1000, 10000, or however many years backward you’d like to compare against.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                I submit that if we were worse off now than in the 1970s — if a majority of people had lower real income now than then — you’d be furious about it.  You’d be telling us that capitalism had failed.  You’d be pointing to those numbers at every possible opportunity and making as much hay as you possibly could.

                It’s only because we’re clearly better off materially that you resort to hand-waiving dismissals.

                Note what I am NOT saying, before you reply:

                I am not saying that I prefer the social policies or mores of the 1970s.  Or of today, for that matter.

                I am not saying that everyone without exception is better off. Some are clearly worse.

                I am not saying that today is an earthly paradise.

                I am only saying that incremental material progress is both real and worth attaining.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                Except we could have the good things from the 70’s (reasonable health insurance, decent pensions, and actual benefits even for working class people) and the good things from now (shiny gizmos and the Internet). Easily.

                That’s not even getting into the fact that once you throw in the rising cost of education, health care, and housing, I wonder whether many American’s feel more or less secure than their parent’s did.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                If we could make the medical care that was available in the 1970’s available to everyone, for free, would you see this as a good thing?

                If we had to charge for a treatment from 2007 so that someone who could not pay or did not have insurance sufficient to pay would have this treatment denied, would you argue that “we have the technology to save this person’s life, but the (statement about corporations or insurance or something)!”?

                (It’s fairly easy to come up with similar questions about Educational Standards and even Housing. The average home size was 1400 square feet in 1970, after all.)Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                If we had the medical care we had in 1970… oh, shit. We weren’t drawing blood to test for hyperglycemia/hypoglycemia. We were using urine, which has nothing to do with anything.

                People would die…Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                We’ve played this game before. The answer is no.

                Indeed, I think working class people should have access to high-quality health care in 2007 just as they did in the 60’s and 70’s because they either belonged to a union, the employer’s were afraid the workers might form a union, or the employer considered the health of their worker’s more important than the next quarter’s tick in the stock price.

                Also, the myth the average person is now living in a much bigger house is pretty much false.

                 Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                So it’s not that you think that people should have what was available in 1970, it’s that you think that people should pay similar prices to what was paid in 1970?

                How much do you think a “bone” created with 3D printing technologies should cost in inflation-adjusted dollars? A paretal plate, say.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                Well, actually, I think people should have access to a robust public health care system like the rest of the industrialized world. Barring that, yes, I think we have the ability in this nation with a $14 trillion dollar GDP for employer’s to cover the same percentage of health care costs as they did in 1970. If they asked for a 10% co-pay in 1970 with very good benefits, they can ask for a 10% co-pay today and give very good benefits.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                If we gave people the level of health care (TOP OF THE LINE!) for 1970, for half the money you’re asking, would you say that they’re getting “very good benefits”?

                You’ve pretty much already said that you would not… because you do not measure “very good” against anything except in relationship to what someone else gets.

                The very good of 1970 would be considered malpractice today.

                Guess what? I’m hoping that the folks in 2035 will look back at the bleeding edge technologies from 2012 and think “those freakin’ barbarians!” rather than “I’m glad we’ve made it so that these things are finally available to all!”Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                As I’ve said before, my son and I did a little work on this about a decade ago, looking at these changes, pondering how things have changed over time.

                It turns out things have not improved for the wage earner since the mid 1970s, for various reasons.    The middle class is emptying out:  some rise and others fall but few remain where they were in the 1950s and 1960s.

                We contend, my son and I, that the middle class is an artificial and temporary phenomenon in history:  the result of trade unions or some labor or skilled resource shortage.   The rise of the guilds created just such a middle class, and often tremendous wealth, where they held sway.    Read your Marx:  though he lied about the benefits of redistribution, he told the truth about capitalism though no capitalists these days have any idea of what he actually said on the subject.

                More than “some” are worse off.   Most are worse off.   Most people work longer hours for less compensation.    That’s a simple fact, beyond dispute.   The American Middle Class eroded, melted away, leaving a huge gap in the middle.   If a few rose, more fell.

                There is no incremental material progress.   There never was.   That’s a bad joke.   Material progress as a function shoots up and down.

                And yes, people are furious about it.    They watch their good-paying jobs disappearing into less-developed and therefore more-exploitable populations.    They don’t have much to complain about:  everyone who’s applying for a job might as well hang a big placard around his neck reading “Exploit Me, Please” because that’s the reality.

                But incremental progress?   I find that hilarious.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                There is no incremental material progress.   There never was.   That’s a bad joke.   Material progress as a function shoots up and down.

                But with an undeniable upward trend.  Unless you really want to argue the average American has less material wealth than 100 or even 50 years ago.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                James,  the dispute here seems to presuppose that even you think that economic progress across all class divisions (or more narrowly, at least the middle class) is a good thing. That is, that economic justice is actually in play even on your own terms. But if so, then what constitutes enough economic justice? I think the criticism here is that you aren’t identifying any standard for it other than a contingent one: that as time passes, things have as a matter of fact gotten better. So presumably, you would agree that if there wasn’t any upward trend across all the class division, policy should be different. So your argument substitutes a fact of the matter for a prescriptive argument justifying that fact.

                In other words, it seems like you’re relying on empirical data to reject a prescriptive policy argument wrt economic justice, one that in principle you already accept.

                Or is that wrong?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                James,  the dispute here seems to presuppose that even you think that economic progress across all class divisions (or more narrowly, at least the middle class) is a good thing

                Well, hell yeah!  Was there ever actually any doubt that anyone here was in favor of economic progress for everyone?  I honestly would be shocked if anyone reading this thread thought that anyone writing on this thread didn’t think economic progress for everyone was a good thing!

                That would be a misunderstanding of colossal proportions–do you really think libertarians oppose economic progress for some people?  Heck, do you think conservatives even think that?  Both of those groups may sincerely disagree with liberals on how to achieve that, but they don’t oppose the goal!  Honestly, I’m dumbfounded.

                So presumably, you would agree that if there wasn’t any upward trend across all the class division, policy should be different.

                Agreed.  Of course I can also look at a policy that does in fact allow for an upward trend, and point out ways in which it is limiting what that trend could be (same as you liberals do).

                it seems like you’re relying on empirical data to reject a prescriptive policy argument wrt economic justice, one that in principle you already accept.

                First, I think you’re conflating goals with policy here.  I accept the goal, but I don’t accept the liberals’ prescriptive policy.  (One point at which I will draw a line in the sand and fight to my last breath is on the significance of the distinction between goals and policy, which far too often gets obscured.)  But, yes, I am relying  on empirical data–not so much to reject a particular policy prescription as to reject what I believe are false empirical claims.  The empirical data shows that by many objective measures the material well-being of all classes, including the lower classes, is higher today than it was in generations past. I think that matters, and think that those who don’t think it really matters are fundamentally wrong, and choosing their measures through ideology.

                But if we’re going to focus on the rejection of policy prescriptions, what better basis than empirical data for rejecting them?

                But of course the fact that material well-being has improves does not means things are perfect, or that the system we have in place now is satisfactory.  That is, I have my own prescriptive policy positions.  They’re based both on economic theory and empirical evidence.  You’re free to dispute whether they’d have good effects or not (of course that’s open to dispute).  But its particular prescriptive policy I reject, not prescriptive policy per se.

                 Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                BP,

                wrong, just plain wrong. Good pay is a result of a temporary problem: the need for skilled workers where experience matters. Just look at programming… When we can build computers fast enough that you don’t need efficient code, pay goes down.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                I can see why you’d say that, but it doesn’t work that way in software.  They’ve been trying to automate software development for decades now.   Every time the fashions in men’s ties changed, another new tool appeared, promising to make coding easier.   Management would buy into these tools and the resulting code was a botch.

                I’ve been at this since the days of punch cards and reel-to-reel tape, Kim.  These Towers of Babel rise and fall.  I’ve seen ’em come and I’ve seen ’em go.   I’ve seen the invasion of the Indian Coders and I’ve made a great deal of money as a firefighter, coming in to deal with the messes they’ve made.

                For a good long while, I specialized to a product called SeeBeyond, a tool which promised to simplify everything and only created nightmares for the people who bought into their solutions. These corporations paid top dollar for this product, too.   Paid their consultants big money.   There was a team of four of us who super-specialized to dealing with failed SeeBeyond implementations.

                Perversely, the faster the computer, the more efficient the code has to be.   I do this for a living.   Not sure what you do, but this is my bread and butter.   Experience is the only thing that matters in this business:  I can teach a well-trained gibbon to write Java.   But I can’t teach him to think and I can’t give him a tool which will oblige him to think and I can’t build tests rigorous enough to foolproof the crap he’s gonna write.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                BP,

                yes, everyone thinks they can make it more efficient to code, and yes, stupid programs still have memory leaks.

                STILL, C++ is nearly dead as a language. you have filesharing, modeling, video games (if you work for ID, at least. Nobody else is writing engines anymore. I know someone who did pathfinding for DromEd), and DVD codecs.

                And we aren’t even getting into assembly code.

                Sooner or later, we’ll have enough memory — and time, to run most products. Java doesn’t care about speed — because most programs don’t anymore either.

                The more people can be taught to program  — the easier programming gets, the cheaper the wages. Unions or not.

                Not that one expects programmers to go quietly into wage subjugation. Either with planes like that chap in Texas, or with new crowdsharing ideas…Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                Jason,

                Incremental material progress is both real and worth attaining and nobody here is arguing otherwise. Nobody.

                As for hand-waving dismissals, the only people guilty of doing that are the ones telling people suffering today to get over it because the 1970s were worse compared to now.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                the ones telling people suffering today to get over it because the 1970s were worse compared to now. (emphasis added)

                It’s so much easier to argue with a strawman, isn’t it?Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                If bringing up the 1970’s as a comparison against today ISN’T designed to tell people that their complaints are relatively groundless, than what is it designed to do? If I am misunderstanding the point of that argument then I most definitely apologize, but it looks for all the world like an attempt to say, “Hey, your life is fine. Stop complaining.”Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Asked and answered, Sam.  “Get over it,” is a very different thing than “look how far we’ve come, let’s try to go even further, but don’t panic if we don’t get as far as X.”

                It’s not about trying make poor or middle class people ashamed of striving for improvement, it’s about being concerned that in our good heartedness we’re actually promoting greater greater stress and unhappiness among these people by emphasizing what they don ‘t have, and their bad fortune, rather than encouraging people to be thankful for what they’ve got.  I got that latter lesson from my parents, I teach it to my kids, and I can’t understand anyone not teaching it to their kids. Why is it suddenly a bad message, a message of “get over it”?

                I’m sure we  both agree that a person can live a good life without having everything.  I think every liberal will agree to that and will condemn the advertisers that send the opposite message.  But then we reinforce the advertisers’ message every time we say, “don’t focus on what you have, look at everything you don’t have.”  Is that really showing concern for the well-being of the lower and middle classes?

                Let’s consider a teaching example.  If I have a student who gets a D on the first assignment, then a C on the second one, do I help that student more by emphasizing her improvement or by emphasizing that she didn’t achieve an even better grade?  When I emphasize her achievement I’m not sending the message she should be stop right there and stop trying to do better.

                I guess what really is bugging me at this point is that you’re being very ungenerous to your opponents.  You’re using the nasty interpretation of what we’re saying, which isn’t going to promote thoughtful discussion.  It will only enable you to dismiss us as evil people whose arguments don’t have to be judged on their merits because we’re evil, and in turn we’ll be tempted to dismiss you as someone whose arguments don’t have to be judged on their merits because we think you’re not willing to engage in serious debate.  I really don’t want to go there, because the ideal of this blog is to not play the game that way (and I admit to not always achieving that ideal, but I’m trying to).Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                James,

                “Get over it” is a fine message in certain situations. I entirely agree with you on that. Except that there are times when “get over it” really doesn’t take care of things. Do you recommend that people who cannot afford health care simply “get over it” something, I’d note, that they probably literally can’t do without the aforementioned care?

                However, on a bigger level, I think we’re talking past one another. When I’m talking about things that people don’t have, I’m not talking about the latest iPod or the hottest shoes; I’m talking about careers, I’m talking about salaries, I’m talking about healthcare, I’m talking about stability, I’m talking about pensions/retirements/savings/etc. I’m not terribly concerned for those who don’t have trinkets but want them; I do get concerned for people who want the things I mentioned above and simply cannot find it.

                As for my interpretation of the argument, I will say that I am guilty of interpreting in an ungenerous way, but I’m being honest when I say that I’m reacting to what I’m seeing written. If I’m getting it all wrong, I apologize, but I can’t help but think that in your own life, you’d be less than appreciative if you were facing some sort of personal challenge and one of the responses you received was, “Hey, things were worse at X point in history.” It’s not that “Hey, things were worse at X point in history,” is necessarily wrong, but it does seem dismissive of the immediate concern.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                “Get over it” is a fine message in certain situations. I entirely agree with you on that. (emphasis added)

                Hold on now, that’s not what I said.  I explicitly disavowed that and you’re still attributing it to me?

                I’ve been rightfully accused of not always being a nice guy, and this is specifically the gambit that brings out my nastiness.  So the options right now are that I get nasty or walk away.  I’m going to exercise a bit of better judgement for once and walk away.  I hope we can have a more cordial discussion about other issues at other times.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                James,

                You wrote: “Why is it suddenly a bad message, a message of “get over it”?” Wasn’t I meant to answer that question?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Sam,

                Mea culpa, and my apologies.  I did write that, totally bungling my own attempt to clarify.

                So let me, with embarrassment, clarify.  I wrote hastily and it wasn’t at all what I intended to say (I think it came from a badly edited revision where I didn’t check my own work).  I meant to say, “why is ‘be thankful for what you’ve got'” suddenly a bad message.

                But to emphasize, I don’t think that means the same thing as “get over it.”  I think “get over it” is dismissive of a person’s concerns, while “be thankful” is affirmative.

                Sorry for causing that confusion and for criticizing you for my error.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                So, I should go tell a guy at a blue-collar job that, “hey, you’re paying tons more for worse health insurance than your dad did, your house that’s probably of the same quality cost tons more than your father’s house did, you have a 401k instead of a guaranteed pension, but hey, be thankful, because you have high-speed Internet and an HDTV.” Nah. I’ll pass on that.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                His dad paid relatively less for health care in 1970, true, but average life expectancy was 65.5 in 1970.

                Today, you’re paying a lot more but the average life expectancy is 78.2.

                How much are those 12.7 years worth to you?

                If the answer is “not as much as I’m paying!”, well… I tend to agree.

                I submit that if you were willing to bring life expectancy back down to 65.5, we could easily cut medical costs in half. (Plus it’d solve the Social Security problem! Win-Win!)Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                James,

                No worries. Should we discuss “be thankful for what you’ve got” or would you like to let this thread drop? Because I agree that people should be thankful for what they’ve got, but that’s a message that makes more sense when things are good. When people are desperate though – sometimes appropriately, sometimes not – a message like that is going to struggle to get through.

                We can imagine desperation over unimportant things, but I would argue we can just as easily imagine desperation over important things, like foreclosure, bankruptcy, health-care, etc. Those are the topics where I can see a request to be grateful falling on the deaf ears of a person who feels abandoned by society and frightened of the future.Report

              • My understanding is that the diff. in life expectancy is overwhelmingly due to a decline in infant mortality and that most blue collar-type workers are living essentially as long as they did before.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                As Elias said, people working blue-collar jobs aren’t living that much longer than they were thirty years ago. Yeah, lawyers and office workers are living longer. Miners and truck drivers? Not so much.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Let’s go with that. The overwhelming amount of years that show up in life expectancy have to deal with improvements in infant mortality… and so the increase in the expected life span of the average person hasn’t gone up that much.

                Are we willing to say that the amount of improvement in medical theory and/or technology since 1970 is not worth the added costs that we’ve seen since 1970?Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                It’s worth the added costs. I just don’t think patients should have to pay those costs directly. I think the costs should be socialized through taxes and using the power of the government to leverage costs.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                How’s that workin’ out for ya?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Are we willing to say that the amount of improvement in medical theory and/or technology since 1970 is not worth the added costs that we’ve seen since 1970?

                Jaybird, I’m surprised to see so willingly cheapen your own argument. You’re usually better than this.

                Hungover?Report

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                Get over it seems to be a recurring theme in this society. I wonder why that is?Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                Considering Medicare costs are growing more slowly than private insurance and has lower administrative costs than private insurance all while taking care of old people, pretty damn well. Not perfect and it needs to be reformed somewhat, but pretty well all in all.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                No, still sick.

                Tomorrow I will be hungover.

                (And cheapening my argument is something that I am usually delighted to do. If people say “yes”, I usually have an argument to respond to that. If people say “no”, I usually have an argument to respond to *THAT*. Usually, in both cases, the emphasis goes back to such things as the importance of individuals being able to make decisions on their own behalf… mostly because, for some people, the answer *IS* “yes” and, for others, it *IS* “no” and we should be willing to accomodate that rather than make decisions on the behalf of others because we know what is best for them and otherwise arrest their development… I mean, that’s a good way to end up with perpetual adolescents who think that they’re entitled to everything without having to pay for it because, hey, they feel entitled to it.)Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                I was unaware that not wanting to go into bankruptcy so you can continue to live means you’re a perpetual adolescent, but that’s not a huge shock coming from you.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Is there any monetary limit to the medical care you think you’re entitled to, Jesse?

                Any at all? Give me a number. Give me a number where you will say “okay, after we spend X, medical care to keep me alive should come out of *MY* pocket.”

                Sorry to say, dude, but if there is no amount that you think that you should be responsible for (to the point where you might have to, gasp, declare bankruptcy!), then… you’re saying that you are entitled to a potentially unlimited amount of time and materials of other people and you are not responsible for making sure that they are reimbursed for either.

                Is there a term you’d rather I use than “adolescent”? I can use that one, if you’d like.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                No, there isn’t. But, I also think we should have a radical rethink on end-of-life care, such as was in the ACA, so people do decide to die gracefully instead of hanging on.

                But yes, I think in my perfect world, in a single-payer system, you’ve paid into the system, if a drug or medicine is approved for use by the IAPB or whatever the regulation board approves of, you should be able to get that drug, medicine, or procedure.

                The rest of the industrialized world has figured out your credit shouldn’t go to crap because you get cancer. Unfortunately, we haven’t as a society. But, the will of the universe bends toward justice and all that.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                @Sam,

                <i>that’s a message that makes more sense when things are good. When people are desperate though – sometimes appropriately, sometimes not – a message like that is going to struggle to get through.</i>

                My point is that putting the emphasis on what people haven’t got actually makes them feel more desperate.  By putting all our focus on that we actually cause people to become more desperate and worried, which adds stress to them.

                Conversely, if we focus on how things have gotten better over generations, we can relieve some of that stress by focusing on how fortunate we are to be where we are, even if we would like things to be better.

                We’re both concerned about whether people are desperate.  My claim is that their level of desperation is not objectively determined by what they do and do not have, but is far more determined by their focus on what they do and don’t have.

                Let’s use a personal example.  I make decent money, not great.  Sometimes the spouse and I worry about how we’re going to cover the bills, especially during the summer when she doesn’t get a paycheck.  That can seriously stress me out.  Then I think about how my mom would sometimes make us “mush” for dinner (I’m not sure what it was, some kind of grainy porridge) because we literally did not have money for real food.  Or about the time my dad was ecstatic that he found a $20 bill folded up deep in his wallet, because it meant we actually could buy some groceries that week. And then I realize that my economic situation, despite not being what I’d like it to be, really isn’t so dreadful, and it deeply relieves the stress, which makes my life better.

                By the way, one of the reasons we were so bad off for a while was the struggle to pay my dad’s medical bills after a serious, almost fatal, accident.  That was the early ’70s.  So the medical cost issue happened back then, too.  It’s not something that’s just suddenly arisen as the country’s gone to hell.

                And about half of medical costs come in end of life care.  For christ’s sake let’s go to hospice care and stop trying to keep people alive just so they can struggle painfully for a few more days or weeks.  That kind of thing should not be a cost that’s socialized to other people.  Nor should the cost of caring for the guy who busted his head on a motorcycle because he was going 80 and not wearing a helmet.  The little kid with leukemia?  Sure.  The mother with breast cancer who has two little kids?  I’m good with that.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                As I’ve said before. Yes, we should pay for the guy who rode a motorcycle without a helmet. All humans deserve medical care without going massively into debt, even if they acted like an idiot. I’m a bleeding heart. Sue me.Report

              • Are we still doing the silly name-calling thing? Because if we are, an inability or difficulty empathizing with others is not only a distinctive trait of sociopaths and the autistic but adolescence, too.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                I have no objection to you contributing to his care. I might even admire you for doing so.

                I do have an objection to you forcing me to contribute to his care.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                By the way, I’m under no illusions that the message is a hard sell.  I’m reminded of that every time I bring it up only to watch liberals go absolutely bonkers in response.

                But that’s not evidence that it’s wrong.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                And there we go. What it comes down too. A society that cares for one another via the common good versus basically, a society that goes, “hey, too bad about the motorocycle wreck. Hope a charity helps you out buddy. But I think you’re an idiot for not wearing a helmet, so go bleed out somewhere.”Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Elias, I am *NOT* name-calling.

                If someone expects goods and services and expects someone else to pay for them without ever, and we have agreed that there is *NO* dollar amount of goods and services that would get us to reach “ever”, even having to be inconvenienced to the point where a person would have to chip in to the point of declaring bankruptcy, then we are talking about someone who is arguing that the obligations of others to him exceed the obligations that he has to himself.

                Again: if you don’t like “adolescent”, what word would you prefer? We’ll use that one.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                And there we go. What it comes down too. A society that cares for one another via the common good versus basically, a society that goes, “hey, too bad about the motorocycle wreck.

                Jesse, you have an unfortunate tendency to push things towards simplistic distinctions and ignore subtle variances.  That is, you persistently, ungenerously, present your opponent’s argument in a more extreme version than your opponent intends it.  That’s TV talking-head kind of stuff, political stump speech kind of stuff; not really reputable.

                I said that I was good with caring for the sick kid, or the mother of small kids with cancer, and you contrast that to a society where peopl care for one another?  If that’s not caring for people, what is it?

                There’s a difference in the cases presented, and I’m not willing to subsidize overly-risky behavior (perverse incentives and all that).  If you think we ought to pay for those people’s care, too, fine, we differ on that.  But for you to pervert that into a claim that I am arguing for the opposite of “a society that cares for one another,” then you’re just playing cheap ideological games.

                75% of my job as a political science teacher is persuading students to not argue like the idiots we see on TV, to not take the easy but cheap path of misrepresenting their opponents’ arguments just to make them easier to ridicule or reject.  It means you’re not manning up enough to deal with the substance of the objection.  And this is a case in point–by obscuring the distinction I made you attacked a false position and failed to deal with the substance of that distinction. T’ain’t much of an achievement.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                As for hand-waving dismissals, the only people guilty of doing that are the ones telling people suffering today to get over it because the 1970s were worse compared to now.

                Interesting.  So who said that?  I’m curious, because I can’t find anyone.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                Jason,

                You wrote: “Yes, but comparing the economy of the 1970s to the economy of today seems pretty reasonable all the same.” What is the end result of making that comparison in your mind? Is it not that things are better now than they were then?Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                The end result of making the comparison is to tell people that things can get better.

                Not that they’re perfect.

                Not that they should be happy.

                Not that everything’s fine.

                Just this:  Things can get better.

                I’m sorry if it angers you.  But things can get better.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                but if there is no amount that you think that you should be responsible for (to the point where you might have to, gasp, declare bankruptcy!), then… you’re saying that you are entitled to a potentially unlimited amount of time and materials of other people and you are not responsible for making sure that they are reimbursed for either

                Yes, that’s true in principle. But for the premise to make any sense in practice, it must be the case the government/private-insurance/private-provider nexus is so fundamentally corrupt and powerful that those three entities can extract potentially infinite (!!) sums from the populace in the name of responding to an ‘entitlement’. Economies and politics are much too complex for that to be entertained by non-adolescents, even as a theory.

                What it also doesn’t show, in any sense whatsoever, is that  Jesse’s desire to see universal coverage is ‘adolescent’. There are lots of facts on the ground that demonstrate that emotional maturity is not sufficient to receive health care under the Adults Only Free Market. And those same facts can be used to argue – rationally! – for single payer (or universal, or Medicare) based on a cost to benefits received analysis.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                How’d this end up here? Is anyone else experiencing weird jumpiness in the reply button?Report

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                Is anyone else experiencing weird jumpiness in the reply button?

                All the damn time. Also when I hit reply, I have to scroll up multiple pages just to find the text input box where I’m typing this now. Assumed it was only me so didn’t say anything, I’ve got so many doo-dahs and widgets added to my browser I figured it was easier to live with than troubleshoot. Have to do a text search for “Submit” to find the box usually if visually scrolling doesn’t cut it.

                BTW, this also happens on my new smartphone’s Dolphin browser if that is any help.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                It started sometime mid-December for me.
                And yeah, it’s really annoying.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                If it is true, in principle, that one expects more from a system than one puts in then one should not be surprised when someone else says “that ain’t sustainable”.

                From my perspective, I see the system and I see a system where I expect to put in more into it than I expect to take out of it.

                I don’t particularly resent this… as bargains go, I’ve had worse ones and I have taken a great deal from the system (it’s just that I’m going to end up putting back more than I received from it).

                What I resent is the enthusiasm with which people explain how they are entitled to a potentially infinite amount from the system.

                I don’t look at the system and think “what am I entitled to from this system?” but “what are my obligations to this system and am I meeting them?”

                Discussions where people point out that they are entitled to a potentially infinite amount from this system, more than I could ever meet even if I changed career paths and became a medical doctor… well, they strike me as… well. I still don’t know what word we should use for those people.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Put another way:

                When I hear something to the effect of “sex is a human right”, I don’t think “hurray! I’m going to get laid!” but “I wonder how I’m going to get f***ed this time.”Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                JB, I think your Cassandra-like inclinations are getting the better of you here. Liberals advocating universal health care are by definition singling out people who can afford to pay insurance from those who can’t, and suggesting that the total income within an economy can accommodate paying for universal care. We think we have arguments to support this, of course, but your argument here isn’t to criticize the justifications for that belief, but to criticize back-end responsibilities that derive from it.

                But look, by definition, the program is in some sense a taking. That’s not in dispute. But the totally open monetary commitments to pay for any and all medical procedures to sustain life – at any cost! – exist independently of whether government or insurance companies are writing the checks for end of life care. So that point, all on it’s own, isn’t decisive against a publicly supported model. And there is no reason to suppose that those open-ended commitments can be closed easier in one system rather than the other.

                 Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                In a system where the expectation is that people are responsible for themselves rather than people have other people who are responsible for them, the costs are always going to be lower and the system is always going to approach sustainability.

                In a system where we are more and more divorced from what our responsibilities actually entail, we’re going to end up like kids telling their parents “you don’t have to pay for it, you can just use the credit card!”

                It’s a Family Circus cartoon come to life.

                And about as funny.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Jaybird:  enjoyReport

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Nietschean Health Care jokes are already well-trod ground.

                That’s a good one, though.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                In a system where the expectation is that people are responsible for themselves rather than people have other people who are responsible for them, the costs are always going to be lower and the system is always going to approach sustainability.

                And in a system in which people are responsible for themselves, lots of people – the old, those with congenital illnesses, the young, the unfortunate(!) – are unable to meet the ‘responsibilities’ people like you would impose on them.

                That’s fine, of course. You can say that the biologically or in any-other-way unfortunate are irresponsible for not having foresight enough to choose to be born without a debilitating disease, or even without a normal process of aging. But that seems to reduce the whole ‘responsibility’ thing to those who actually have more choices than others do. For example, the choice to be born without suffering any catastrophic illnesses. Or that accepting ‘market price’ for health care is the baseline for being ‘responsible’.

                 Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                 unable to meet the ‘responsibilities’ people like you would impose on them

                You misapprehend the nature of the universe.

                They would have these responsibilities had I died in the womb.

                You can say that the biologically or in any-other-way unfortunate are irresponsible for not having foresight enough to choose to be born without a debilitating disease, or even without a normal process of aging. But that seems to reduce the whole ‘responsibility’ thing to those who actually have more choices than others do. For example, the choice to be born without suffering any catastrophic illnesses. Or that accepting ‘market price’ for health care is the baseline for being ‘responsible’.

                Not exactly. I’m just looking and saying “Who’s going to pay for this?” and coming up with the answer “Me, pretty much.”

                Which is a different experience than looking and saying “look at all of the free stuff I should be able to have someone else pay for!!!”Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Get rid of enough folks who have less than enthusiastic attitudes about how they put more into the system than they take out and you’ll find that the problems that come from people with less than enthusiastic attitudes are preferable than the ones that come from systems where everyone is enthusiastic.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                I’m just looking and saying “Who’s going to pay for this?” and coming up with the answer “Me, pretty much.”

                Exactly. And my guess is that you conclude that because you haven’t extracted more benefits than the payments you’ve put in. So you look at the folks who are actually using their insurance as a burden on you. Again, end of life care or whatever exist even in a private insurance plan. Why doesn’t the same argument apply to all the other people on your current plan who are taking out more than they put in? Or to all the other people currently insured by the company you contract insurance with?

                whether it’s government or private, there will always be healthy people who don’t take out the same amount in benefits that they put in in premiums. Does that make the system unsustainable?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                No, not exactly.

                It’s the prevalent attitude that people should be able to expect a limitless amount from the system but not even expect to be so inconvenienced that they might have to go bankrupt.

                Again: I asked for an amount beyond which a person could be expected to file for bankruptcy if they took out of the system and was told that there wasn’t one.

                Not even “an upper limit for a dollar amount of health care provided” but an amount that, after that, you’re expected to contribute at least until you hit bankruptcy.

                There is none.

                When you have more people who think about the system in terms of what they are entitled to from it rather than what they obliged to provide to it to make it sustainable, you’ll quickly find yourself with an unsustainable system.

                It’s my opinion that the people who think about their obligations to the system are *NOT* the problem here, but I would, wouldn’t I?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                I have this theory about Jaybird’s Lack of Enthusiasm.   He’s right, of course, as far as it goes.   Yet consider, socialism works extremely well at small scales.  It just doesn’t work well at extremely large scales.   Why not?   Because, as Jaybird points out, some people will conclude they’re paying more than they receive and others are gaming the system.   Even if the system were perfectly administered, they’d still be entitled to their opinions:  obviously some folks will get more than others.

                It’s what I call the Toilet Paper problem.   In a normal household, we don’t think of the toilet paper roll as individual property, so much so we get annoyed when one of our beloved family members won’t change the roll when it’s empty.   We don’t let our homes run out of toilet paper.   We presume everyone involved is only using as much as they need.

                Don’t know if any of you ever lived in a house with a bunch of students.   Boy howdy, the Toilet Paper rule doesn’t work in that situation.  Fridge, ditto.   Everything’s marked with someone’s name.

                In smaller countries, it’s possible to have more socialism because the round trip is shorter.  Beyond a certain size, the Toilet Paper problem rears its ugly rear and folks don’t feel quite so social.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Jaybird and Stillwater,

                Though I am Jaybird’s biggest fan and agree with most everything he says here, I do agree with some of Stillwater’s concerns.

                We do need social safety nets for things like unemployment, old age and horrible luck.

                The health care and health insurance markets are screwed up beyond all recognition because of paying with others’ money and all the rent seeking activities of just about everyone with a pulse.

                We’d even be better off with a well designed system for universal catastrophic coverage. Absent competition, choice of plans and the ability to opt out altogether, the rent seekers and free riders will just screw this up too though.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                And let me repeat myself:

                From my perspective, I see the system and I see a system where I expect to put in more into it than I expect to take out of it.

                I don’t particularly resent this… as bargains go, I’ve had worse ones and I have taken a great deal from the system (it’s just that I’m going to end up putting back more than I received from it).

                What I resent is the enthusiasm with which people explain how they are entitled to a potentially infinite amount from the system.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                Yes, damn it, I’m so enthusiastic to get cancer or some other horrible disease so I can steal money form you, Jaybird. So enthusiastic!Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                You’re confusing enthusiasms.Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 says:

                There are some points that Jaybird and others make that I can agree to-

                Namely, that It Sucks, capital letters, to have to pay for other people’s mistakes. Liberals, generally speaking don’t like having to pay for other people’s screw ups any more than conservatives do.

                The line separating us from the libertarians is that we acknowledge a duty to care for others, even those who are undeserving of it. For us, this duty is compulsory, even if the economics work against it, even if those we help cannot possibly contribute enough economically to pay for it.

                Like the people Tom speaks so eloquently about in the eugenics thread- the Down’s Syndrome babies, the disfigured, the palsied.

                We believe that the inherent dignity of people is enough reason to coerce all of us into paying for them, even if only at some minimal subsistence level.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                The line separating us from the libertarians is that we acknowledge a duty to care for others, even those who are undeserving of it. For us, this duty is compulsory, even if the economics work against it, even if those we help cannot possibly contribute enough economically to pay for it.

                That’s not the only line.

                There are at least five lines I can think of, and not all libertarians disagree with all of them.

                The first line is, “Do we acknowledge that we have a duty to care for others?”

                The second line is, “Who are the others to whom we have this duty?”

                The third line is, “Who exactly are the ‘we’, here?”

                The fourth line is, “If some member of the ‘we’ does not acknowledge that they have a duty to some member of the ‘others’, do we use societal pressures to enforce this?”

                And the last line is, “If we use societal pressures to enforce this, do we include the particular pressure of state edicts in the form of the law?”

                Or, more succinctly, “You need to be more explicit here in step two”.

                ——-

                We believe that the inherent dignity of people is enough reason to coerce all of us into paying for them, even if only at some minimal subsistence level.

                I don’t think libertarians, for some part, disagree with your second paragraph.  However, the “even if only at some minimal subsistence level” part is pulling a lot of weight here.

                Enough that I think you may find, in specific, many people who claim libertarianism agree with the first clause and are only arguing with you about the second.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Adding on to Patrick’s comments….

                The idea of social safety nets is a great idea if designed well. It is a terrible idea if designed in a way progressives would like.

                In reality, progressives will build a monopolistic bureaucracy with zero competition backed by government force. The special interest groups and bureaucrats will push to enlarge their scope. The system will naturally move toward more benefits, for more people, with more bureaucracy and overhead and higher cost. It will shift from a safety net to a hammock and the politicians and bureaucrats will love it as they create a new class of dependency. Twenty years later someone will blog about Why is social mobility lower? or Why is health care so expensive?”

                If we want libertarians to support safety nets, we need to address these fears. The key is to build safety nets that do not deteriorate and lose efficiency and grow in free riding over time. If you’d like that recipe, just ask….

                 Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                We believe that the inherent dignity of people is enough reason to coerce all of us into paying for them, even if only at some minimal subsistence level.

                If you really want to have fun, start discussing what this minimal subsistence level would entail, in practice.

                Clean running water. Sewage. A roof. Heat in the winter. 2000 calories a day. Access to education. A refrigerator. A microwave. A television. An XBox.

                Suddenly, we discover that some minimal subsistence level entails access to such things as an unlimited amount of health care, high-speed internet access, and a heavily subsidized college-level education.

                Subsistence ain’t what it used to be.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Jaybird: What I resent is the enthusiasm with which people explain how they are entitled to a potentially infinite amount from the system.

                Jesse Ewiak January 6, 2012 at 10:10 pm

                Yes, damn it, I’m so enthusiastic to get cancer or some other horrible disease so I can steal money form you, Jaybird. So enthusiastic!

                Jesse, this is an example of what I critiqued above, where you mis-state your opponent’s argument in the most extreme way, so that you can avoid dealing with that person’s real meaning.

                That kind of thing can be done tongue-in-cheek, because then everyone knows it’s not meant seriously.  But when done seriously it cheapens the debate terribly.

                Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Jaybird:   Let’s stipulate to your entirely reasonable questioning about Where Does It Stop.    Let’s turn it around and ask Where Does It Start.

                I don’t suppose you’ve ever had to live in a society where hordes of beggars are a fact of life, but it’s probably well within your imagination.  Here are the population dynamics of beggars:  they congregate only where there’s sufficient food in trash bins.   Yes, people in America really are eating out of the trash bins.

                Would you like to put a stop to that practice?   I’d really like to know.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley says:

            I also dismiss out of hand the utterly absurd idea that we ask people today to frame their struggles in terms of what their lives would have been like centuries ago.

            Then you’re dismissing as absurd the argument that absolute, as opposed to relative, well-being matters.Report

            • Avatar Sam says:

              Absolute well-being is always going to be at its best today when compared against any time in the past, because the world changes and improves and betters. The only thing that substantively matters to a person struggling today is those struggles, not the fact that the same struggles at some previous point (usually defined not by the struggler, but by the third party trying to dismiss the struggler’s concerns) point in history would have been “worse.”Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Absolute well-being is always going to be at its best today when compared against any time in the past

                Hmph. We hope.  But I’d like to persuade you to not take that for granted.  Uncertainty about the future is why absolute well-being really does matter.  And the struggle today can be psychologically mitigated by looking at the past.  We struggle because we’re taught that we should have more.  Teach us that we already have more and are pretty damn lucky and the struggle suddenly doesn’t seem so bad.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                James,

                I have a hard time believing Robert Mugabe can come to power in America, no matter how awful the major political parties become.

                Meanwhile, are you arguing that people today have enough?  Who are you to make that decision? And how do you tell a person with substantially less than you (I have no idea what you do and don’t have) that they have enough? Wouldn’t an economy that accepted this premise stop striving to innovate the sort of technologies that we’re now either taking for granted but would have been considered world-enders in 1970?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Sam,

                Some liberals think the GOP are like Mugabe, that they are destroying the economy.  I’ve heard repeatedly from my liberal acquaintances for the last several years that the middle class is hollowing out, that income mobility is stagnating at best, and probably declining, that we’re shipping all the good jobs overseas. that unless we can reinvigorate American something along the lines of the FDR consensus it will continue to get worse.  They  think it can get worse.

                Or let’s take the worst claims about global warming and how devastating it’s going to be socially and economically.

                Or let’s say a meteor hits the Earth.

                Or the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts.

                Or let’s say opponents of industrial-scale agriculture are right, and that monoculture crops lead to massive crop failures and famine.

                Oh, it can get worse than it is now.  It’s just a matter of what would be the mechanism, and what can we do to prevent or at least mitigate it.

                Meanwhile, are you arguing that people today have enough?

                No.  I do want to make that clear.  “Enough” is an individual decision, because utility is subjective.  There is no objective measure, so what’s enough for you and enough for me bear no relation to each other (except, perhaps, by pure coincidence).

                What I am saying is that “enough” is determined psychologically.  If I feel and think I have enough, then I have enough.  So when we teach people to think they don’t have enough, because look at what they’ve got, we’re going to increase their sense of felt struggle.  Conversely, if we teach them they’re doing pretty well because look at what they didn’t have, we’re going to decrease their sense of felt struggle.  That’s subtly, but importantly, different from saying “you’ve got enough.”  It emphasizes the value of inter-generational improvements, and suggests that we should also try to help our kids–the next generation–be better off than us, just as we’re better off than past generations, but diminishes the psychological stress people feel about not having as much as the Jones’s down the street.

                I’ll admit this isn’t necessarily a wholly satisfactory answer.  But before I’ll take complaints too seriously, I’d like to see some liberals address the contradiction at the heart of the criticisms–they tend to disparage materialism and the advertising culture that makes us all want more, more, more, but then they also tend to complain that the middle class is having such a hard time getting more, more more.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                The more-more-more that many liberals are arguing for is what people who already have more-more-more take for granted. Nobody is saying that the poor person needs to have more cell phones, more washing machines, more refrigerators. They’re arguing that they need to have more healthcare, more affordable housing, more available quality education, etc. Those are things that some of the well off already have in spades and thus take for granted.

                Meanwhile, it’s one thing to insist that we work toward a psychological change where we’re not jealous of the Jones’s down the street; its quite another to argue that a blind-eye should be turned to the Jones’s down the street who are effectively cheating at the same game we’re playing legitimately.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                They’re arguing that they need to have more healthcare, more affordable housing, more available quality education, etc.

                I know this will be contentious, but I disagree. I think that’s a position liberals tend to fall back on when challenged. I remember some years back when there was a big outcry about the digital gap–poor people didn’t have access to the internet and zomygod!  Then a few years later the poor had access to the internet in ever growing numbers, and suddenly the outcry was about a gap in internet speed and the poor didn’t have high speed internet and zomygod how could they ever manage?  Much of the debate over mortgages revolves around the issue of how much house middle class people were paying for; it’s a bit much to complain that there’s no affordable housing when people were buying houses twice as large as their parents’ house while having half as many kids (those numbers are literal–average home sizes have doubled, and number of kids per family has nearly dropped in half, in the past 50 years).

                its quite another to argue that a blind-eye should be turned to the Jones’s down the street who are effectively cheating at the same game we’re playing legitimately.

                Sure, but where did I argue that?  Of course that “effectively cheating” claim is pretty vague, so it’s hard to know just what you really mean.  If you mean violating the law, I’m right there with you. If you mean rigging the political system for purposes of rent-seeking, I’m right there with you.  If you mean went into a more remunerative legal line of work that some of us don’t wholly admire, I’m not on board.  I don’t really like such claims because who can tell if we’re even talking about the same thing or not?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Also, you didn’t changed the subject and didn’t deal with the issue of whether we can be certain things will always get better.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Uh, there seems to be a bumper crop of Liberal Straw Men this year.  Prices are sure to drop.

                Health care through the employer was an accidental byproduct of wage freezes during WW2.   Kaiser Permanente arose on that basis and other employers followed suit.

                But Henry Ford paid for doctors and nurses for his workers out of his own pocket and made sure his workers lived in good houses, paternalistic old gent that he was.

                If Liberals want health care for everyone, the need for it is borne out by the number of missed work days, a huge economic dent in the corporate bottom line.   Most health care issues are trivial if spotted early enough.   Allowed to fester, they turn into expensive million dollar nightmares.

                And what’s the big deal about Liberals wanting more people to have better Internet service?   It’s an economic benefit to the country, like telephones.   The USDA had a program in the 1930s called RUS, it’s still around, putting in the infrastructure for electrical, then telephone and now Internet service to smaller communities.   Do you have any concept of what keeps a small town alive?

                If people are having fewer children, there’s only one predictor for this trend in any society, the educational level of its women.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                James,

                You tend to disagree that people without healthcare need access to healthcare, that people without affordable housing need access to affordable housing, that people without access to quality education need access to quality education? Do you have access to these things?

                And yes, I’m talking about the sort of cheating that you’re describing. The jealousy that you’re describing – wherein poor social workers are jealous of rich bankers and then describe that income differential as the process as “cheating” – is a mindset that I’ve never encountered in the real world. Have you?

                (Yes, I generally believe that material, incremental progress will always be made, barring a crisis of enormous proportions: plague, asteroid, etc. Is there reason to believe otherwise, some example of technology that has gone backwards in terms of usefulness and efficiency?)Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Sam,

                James, You tend to disagree that people without healthcare need access to healthcare, that people without affordable housing need access to affordable housing, that people without access to quality education need access to quality education?

                I don’t tend to do any of those things at all.  And I challenge you to find any place where I said those things.  I’m pretty sure that even I didn’t mess up my editing that badly.

                And while you certainly couldn’t have known this, so this is not intended as an attack on you, the “access to education” issue really strikes home to me.  I just spend two days listening to students’ appeal their suspensions for poor academic performance.  When you have a freshman from desperate poverty and a crappy school system who totally bungles their first semester of college because they simply had no idea how much work it took or even how to study, it’s a really tough call on whether to let them back in or not.  On the one hand, they sure as hell do need an education.  On the other hand, if we let them back in and they fail again, we’ve led them into a trap where they fail out and end up owing even more money they can’t afford to pay back.  For most people the issue of access to a good education is very abstract–for me it is very concrete because I had to make the call on whether students would get that access or not.  That’s not to claim any kind of superiority to others on this issue, just to emphasize that it’s a very direct and real one for me.

                And yes, I’m talking about the sort of cheating that you’re describing.

                OK, good.  It’s nice to be on the same page with someone, and to be sure we’re actually talking about the same thing.

                The jealousy that you’re describing – wherein poor social workers are jealous of rich bankers and then describe that income differential as the process as “cheating” – is a mindset that I’ve never encountered in the real world. Have you?

                Yes.  I’m pretty sure I’ve encountered it a time or two here.

                 Report

          • Avatar Roger says:

            Sam,

            Sorry to ask this question and then take a break from the conversation, but surf is double overhead today, and I  had to paddle out. It was amazing!

            First, your comment on layoffs is silly. Workers and businesses serve consumers. In free enterprise the consumer (all of us!) is king. It is the responsibility of an executive to maximize productivity and minimize expenses so as to optimize the win/win relationship between the producer team (which includes employees and stockholders) and the consumer. This is not zero sum activity. It is positive sum. Producer teams compete with each other — in an admittedly non-coercive zero sum way — to create the best value for consumers.

            My point on historic progress in prosperity was not to dismiss the challenges of those in lower classes. It was clearly related to dismissing Mike’s absurd claim that wealth is zero sum.

            Let me be very specific. Prosperity has increased in astounding, unprecedented ways and it does so in a positive sum process. Failure to acknowledge this can lead to the overriding mistake of many progressives. They suggest throwing sand into the wealth creation process in order to coercively reallocate it. They dismiss the positive sum miracle of free enterprise and suggest a destructive zero sum redistribution process.

            Once we kill off the prosperity creation process, the world will be zero sum. Let’s not do so.Report

  3. Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

    Very nice, Mr. Isquith.  “Relative” mobility is a zero-sum game, no?  For me to move up a quintile. somebody has to move down.

    The “stickiness” appears at the top and bottom, as affluent families transmit their advantages and poor families stay trapped….

    This is rather a duh.  Rich kids don’t become poor in a generation, and the “cycle of poverty” is uncontroversial, esp the children of a single mother, as noted in yr OP.

    A Pew study found that 81 percent of Americans have higher incomes than their parents 

    The other 19% likely map pretty closely to the cycle of poverty.  It would appear the problem is more social than political.Report

    • Avatar Roger says:

      Thumbs up!Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      A Pew study found that 81 percent of Americans have higher incomes than their parents

      But Tom, that won’t matter until everyone’s in the top quintile!
      Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

        Yes, that’s exactly what us evil big government statist liberals mean. Exactly.

        And you won’t be happy until the social safety net is destroyed and rich people pay zero in taxes.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      oh, gee, I dunno, when you (the united states government) give some people FREE HANDOUTS for generations, and deny them to other people… you want to call the result CULTURAL?

      sheesh, ravens are smarter than this!Report

  4. Avatar Will Truman says:

    Perhaps another brake on American mobility is the sheer magnitude of the gaps between rich and the rest — the theme of the Occupy Wall Street protests, which emphasize the power of the privileged to protect their interests. Countries with less equality generally have less mobility.

    I’d like to have a clearer idea of why the rich protecting their interests would have such a deleterious effect on movement of the other classes? I mean, I can understand why they would build up walls against the middle class ascending to the higher class*, but why would it make it harder to get from the working class to the middle class (or vice-versa) from a relative standpoint.

    This is a genuine question, though I suspect that the answer is that class protection doesn’t begin and end with the upper classes. Or the middle class.

    * – As a side note, it’s more than a little agitating to hear people who have already made their fortune in income get all magnanimous by suggesting higher taxes that will often fall on those who haven’t made their fortune yet.Report

    • Avatar Mike says:

      The actions taken by the rich to prevent the ascension of the middle class, by and large, are actions taken with the effect to shrink the middle class.

      When the middle class is shrinking, then yes, it is harder to move from the poor/lower/”working” to the “working”/middle class, and likewise harder to move from the lower to upper range of the middle class. Put it another way: Good luck finding a middle class job, coming from the poorer class, when 20% of people with experience in those jobs are already out of work and the lost jobs were replaced with jobs in the poorer pay grades.

      This is more or less what’s been happening since Reagan was elected. The rich have consistently become wealthier, taken up more of a share of resources while NOT “trickling down” (Reaganomics in practice means nothing but a trickle ever escapes the top), while the poor have become relatively poorer in income and the middle class has shrunk, the number of middle income jobs has declined (replaced by lower income jobs), and income gains for the poor and middle class in “real numbers” haven’t even been able to keep pace with real inflation.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        When the middle class is shrinking, then yes, it is harder to move from the poor/lower/”working” to the “working”/middle class, and likewise harder to move from the lower to upper range of the middle class.

        Not in a relative context. If the middle class is getting poorer, it would theoretically be easier for the working poor to catch up with them. Unless they’re getting poor too. In which case, you’re not talking about “gutting the middle class” so much as “making everyone (but themselves) worse off.” But it’s not clear to me why the rich being better off would inherently make the effect on the rest disproportional. Instead, the general result would (it would seem to me) be that everybody gets poorer and everything gets more flat (except for the rich) as it becomes impossible for middle class people to continue to be middle class (there’s only so much lower the poor can go).Report

        • Avatar Mike says:

          You’re missing the point.

          We have a set of monetary income figures that are the bounds of the “middle class.” These are the definitions commonly worked with.

          What has been happening is that there are less and less people IN the middle class. They are falling down the ladder to the real of Poor, while at the same time, not enough Poor are ascending the ladder (because as middle class jobs are gutted they are replaced with either no job, or Poor-level pay) to offset this.

          The definition of Middle Class hasn’t changed. There are simply less people in the middle class, those who are in are not moving up, and those who move down are moving down primarily as a result of the predations of those from the rung above.

          Instead, the general result would (it would seem to me) be that everybody gets poorer and everything gets more flat (except for the rich) as it becomes impossible for middle class people to continue to be middle class (there’s only so much lower the poor can go).

          That’s precisely what I was describing. The number of people in the Poor segment – as a percentage of the population – are growing, and have been continuously. The number of people in the middle class segment have been shrinking, on pretty much a 1:1 ratio with the growth of the poor segment. It is that much harder for people from the poor segment to move up into the middle class segment, because there are more people trying to compete for the fewer and fewer jobs in the middle class segment.Report

          • Avatar Will Truman says:

            We have a set of monetary income figures that are the bounds of the “middle class.” These are the definitions commonly worked with.

            What are these figures? The only figures I am really aware of involve distances from or comparisons to the median, which rise and fall with incomes generally. Which make them relative rather than absolute, as you are suggested. The entire word “middle” is relative.

            So as such, if the median income goes down, it actually moves closer to to poor. Making it, ironically, less out of reach for all but the poorest of the poor. That’s why I find the tying of “the death of the middle class” to “a lack of social mobility” (unless we’re talking about escaping from the middle class to the wealthy) kind of odd.Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            Mike, if you go with the old definition of middle class, $250,000 is the lower threshhold for it (circa 2009).

            Enjoy!Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

              Kim, I’ve asked you repeatedly for a citation on this definition of middle class, and you’ve never provided it.  So I’ll do your homework for you.

              An income of $250,000 per year year puts you squarely in the middle of the iconic 1%.  Specifically, it puts you in the 99.48th percentile.  See for yourself.

              So drop the bullshit, please.  There is no definition by which a quarter of a million dollars a year makes you “middle class,” not now, not circa 2009, not ever (unless we get a whole lot of inflation in the meantime, but it hasn’t happened yet).Report

              • I think these things are better understood by wealth rather than income — Mitt Romney’s “income” right now is probably rather paltry — but it’s certainly true that someone who has a yearly salary of 250k is not strapped for cash.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                I’d certainly agree that wealth rather than income is the better measure, especially for people with a very great deal of wealth saved up.  All I meant to do here was to attack one particularly absurd definition of middle class that Kim has repeatedly offered here.

                I suspect she’s never actually held a job, managed a household budget, or spent much time around people who have.  I’m at a loss as to how she could otherwise come up with $250,000 per year as the lower bound for being middle class.Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

                I think she was being sarcastic and offering the actual lower boundary of what’s considered “upper income” (as in the top marginal rate) in the US.

                ie: mocking the notion that someone making $250k can be considered “middle class”.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Nob,

                No, she’s made that claim several times before, and despite being challenged on it has never either retreated from it nor provided any kind of documentation to support it.

                Your confusion is understandable, though.  It’s hard to fathom that someone could seriously claim the upper 1/2 percent is middle.Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

                Oh, I see. Mea culpa then.

                As for my confusion, I dunno, James. People constantly claim that those making less than a gajillion dollars a year are somehow “middle class”, most notably members of the media punditocracy that are members of that poor, benighted class of middle class citizens in the 6 figure salary range.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Oh, as for that, yeah, that’s a peculiarly American oddity.  Both those who are distinctly above the middle and those who are distinctly below the middle tend to claim they’re middle class.  You have to move pretty far out to the extremes before people stop claiming that.  I think it must just be a purely cultural thing, given that in America we praise ourselves for being a middle class country, we glorify and constantly fret about the middle class.  Identifying yourself as non-middle class almost ends up feeling like identifying yourself as  un-American.Report

              • “Middle class” in America roughly means, in the political lexicon, what “working class” meant throughout much of Europe in the 20th century. I think I saw a chart a while ago showing something like 80% of people self-ID as middle class. I guess Americans think our social organization is like the anatomy of a caterpillar?Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                James,

                No, I’m probably not going to substantiate an offhand comment from a published economist (okay, so maybe Krugman got the credit, I honestly don’t know). Because I don’t speak for someone else, and their research.

                I can however hazard a guess that it’s about wealth-based metrics, possibly the proportion of wealth that the middle class has, vis the rich. (so, if the old metric said: The rich have 50% of the wealth, and the middle class have the next 30%, and the lower class have 20%…).

                Or if that seems entirely too fuzzywuzzy, maybe he was talking about “lawyers, doctors, real estate agents” and excluding the pink collar workers (which were originally defined to be upper lower class, from the research I’ve read). As blue collar workers have a lower and lower proportion of our workforce…Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Bullshit, Kim.  You make a totally ridiculous claim, then airly waive away demands that you substantiate it.  You might as well have said,

                No, I’m probably not going to substantiate a an offhand comment from a published astronomer that there are dancing hippos on the moon.

                Seriously, you are “probably” not going to substantiate it because no published economist ever said something so utterly ridiculous.  (And for all my criticism of him, I’m damn certain Krugman wasn’t capable of saying something so utterly loony.)

                 Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                this from a profession that boasts plastic wall vaginas?

                [but, I digress — severely. I don’t know Krugman personally, and I’m not trying to speak for him.]

                Perhaps if you were to contact an actual economist and ask about metrics used to determine middle class (particularly older ones), you might get somewhere?

                Next you’ll be telling me that it’s impossible to work for the Daily Show and not get credited in the credits.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                Elias,

                Romney continues to make millions of dollars per year. Somebody making $250,000 isn’t strapped for cash, but that person isn’t anywhere close to Romney in terms of earnings.Report

              • Is this classified as income, though? That was where I was going. I thought most of his money comes as capital gains which gets taxed and is treated differently than a salary.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                But functionally, it is exactly the same thing. It’s just a nice hole that the rich have carved out for themselves to act as though they’re not getting a “salary” even though they’re rich beyond our wildest dreams.Report

              • Right, which is why Romney is a case-in-point on how looking solely at income can be misleading.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                Just because we treat capital gains differently from other forms of income doesn’t mean it isn’t income.  Don’t let the twisted policy tail wag the real-world dog.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      I never really thought of as the rich erecting barriers against people moving up.  The massive gains that have gone to the rich did not go to things that would help the middle and poorer class like universal health care. Some percentage of those middle class people who fell down and poor people who couldn’t move up was due to medical bankruptcy, poverty due to lack of  insurance, etc. Some of the riches that went to he rich could have gone to education and such that could  have mitigated some of the worst of the effects of middle class jobs going overseas. Certainly some of the money that went to the rich could have gone to fix up some of our outdated or falling apart infrastructure which would have created jobs and been a general boon.Report

      • Avatar Mike says:

        Some percentage of those middle class people who fell down and poor people who couldn’t move up was due to medical bankruptcy, poverty due to lack of  insurance, etc.

        What do you think are the barriers erected by the rich? These are things the poor have to worry about, the middle class have to worry about shoving them into, and the rich? Don’t give a flying crap about.

        Some of the riches that went to he rich could have gone to education and such that could  have mitigated some of the worst of the effects of middle class jobs going overseas.

        And again, why would the rich want that? They’ve gutted the public education system since the early 1980s whenever they could. Wage depression requires it.

        Certainly some of the money that went to the rich could have gone to fix up some of our outdated or falling apart infrastructure which would have created jobs and been a general boon.

        Infrastructure that the rich never use. Public stadiums? Fah, let the peons pay for it in taxes, and the skybox is tax deductible as long as they host enough politicians every year. Bridges, roadways, railroads? They fly most of the time or have a chauffered limo rented when going somewhere. And the roadways and bridges in their neighborhood / gated community are always very well maintained, thanks, so why should they give a crap that the roadways elsewhere are turning into gravel through neglect?Report

      • Avatar Roger says:

        Greginak,

        “Some of the riches that went to he rich could have gone to…”

        In free enterprise the rich get rich by enriching others. Your solutions will make the rich and those they enriched (employees, partners, suppliers, and most especially consumers (ie you and me) worse off. Your “solution” is the disease.Report

        • Avatar greginak says:

          Roger, you responses are usually more thoughtful. Yes rich people making profit also goes to enrich other that work for them or profit off their business. That is all good. That does not build infrastructure or provide basic research, things which the gov does and benefits us all. Nor does rich people making more money provide for things like universal health care which benefits many people. There are public goods that the free market doesn’t provide and there are things we do through gov that is useful for us all and increases profits for rich people and business.Report

          • Avatar Roger says:

            Greginak,

            Sorry, I am playing catch up after being out all morning. My response was weak.

            Yes, I agree that there are public goods and infrastructure needs and that taxes are a practical way to fund some of these. The tax rates to fund necessary public goods is pretty small(note emphasis on necessary, not all the crap the US actually sends to the military industrial complex and government service shake down artists).

            I also believe the taxes should be progressive (via a flat rate and a large personal deduction). They probably should not be as progressive as the US, though. We are a bit extreme compared to most nations. If they are public goods, I believe the middle class should pay their share too. Otherwise we will be tempted to try to exploit the rich. This usually has really bad unexpected consequences.

            And I know of no justification for charging the rich to pay an inordinate amount for other people’s health care, retirement or education. Forcing others to pay is usually a recipe for disaster and cost over-runs. Current events seem to be proving this point.

            By the way, everyone throws out that our infrastructure is crumbling (outdated, falling apart). Is this something that is empirically true beyond isolated anecdotes? Is anyone aware of empirical infrastructure comparisons across time periods or relative infrastructure trends between nations?

             Report

            • Avatar greginak says:

              Don’t know about any of the infrastructure comparisons you asked about though, if possible, they could be interesting. I know there have been reports from national engineer groups which say we need like 2 trillion in spending. There is an obvious reason not to take what a trade group of engineers as not having their own interests involved and to have likely an inflated estimate. But even if we halve the estimate that is still 1 trill which is serious money.

               Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Leaguers:

                Does it Seem to any of you that our infrastructure — in general — is crumbling? It seems like it has gotten bigger, better, safer and faster over the years to me, but I may be wrong.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Roger,

                It probably depends on which infrastructure we’re talking about.  We have a terrible backlog on repairing/rebuilding bridges, for example.  And a lot of cities have really antiquated water systems And some people point out that our passenger rail infrastructure is about 4 decades behind (although not everyone, of course, accepts the legitimacy of public passenger rail).  On the other hand, our communications infrastructure is obviously dramatically improved, our highways in general continue to improve, our medical infrastructure is (mostly) improved (infrastructure separate from delivery).

                How one balances all that out to an overall assessment is beyond my pay grade.Report

  5. This is an interesting paragraph in so many ways:

    Poor Americans are…more likely than foreign peers to grow up with single mothers. That places them at an elevated risk of experiencing poverty and related problems, a point frequently made by Mr. Santorum, who surged into contention in the Iowa caucuses. The United States also has uniquely high incarceration rates, and a longer history of racial stratification than its peers.

    This seems all very likely.  What’s interesting is that if we’re praising European countries for their social mobility and attributing that in large part to fewer single mothers, and if those European countries are generally more socially liberal than the US, this would all seem to imply that cultural/social liberalism makes for stronger families.  I’d be curious to see the statistics on percentage of single mothers broken down by country and, within the US, region and whether there is a correlation between that percentage and, say, approval of SSM (or some other indicia of cultural liberalism).

    The high incarceration rate issue seems obvious, but important nonetheless.  It seems to me that one of the especially nasty side effects of our incarceration rate is that when the incarcerated persons get out, it becomes remarkably difficult for them to get much more than a minimum wage job even a number of years later.  I know that many people will think this is just and proper, and while I could not disagree more, that’s not a point worth arguing.  However, those people who were incarcerated and largely condemned by our culture to a lifetime of low-paying jobs have (or will eventually have) families.  Those low wages certainly also contribute to the single parent problem.

    Our high incarceration rate is not a moral virtue.  It does not say anything about our interest in reducing crime; to the contrary, it says a lot about our desire to feel like we are superior to those we incarcerate.  If, in the process, we condemn the children, families, and communities most impacted by high incarceration rates to a lifetime of poverty, squalor, and hopelessness, then so be it.  It is THAT which is a sign of moral decay.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      This seems all very likely. What’s interesting is that if we’re praising European countries for their social mobility and attributing that in large part to fewer single mothers, and if those European countries are generally more socially liberal than the US, this would all seem to imply that cultural/social liberalism makes for stronger families. I’d be curious to see the statistics on percentage of single mothers broken down by country and, within the US, region and whether there is a correlation between that percentage and, say, approval of SSM (or some other indicia of cultural liberalism).

      While it would puncture a hole in the notion that social conservatism inherently makes for stronger families, it’s less clear that it makes an affirmative case for the alternative. Europe and the US are… different. It’s a mistake to assume that policies there would have the same affect as policies here.

      This applies just as much to the comparative lack of regulation in Sweden as it does to what we’re talking about – it’s not an inherently conservative apologism. In fact, one could argue that a more robust welfare state means that you can have better results for single mothers whereas in the US the comparative lack thereof makes the effects of single motherhood more detrimental. One could counterargue that the robust welfare state there wouldn’t have the same results here.

      The same is true within the US. Though divorce rates in the US tend to be lower in blue states, the relationship is unclear. Social conservatism can, for instance, be in response to problems in family cohesion. You also have different demographics from one state to the next (if African-Americans are more likely to divorce, and they live more in the south…) and different economic circumstances.

      There are a lot of factors to control for, here.Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

        Aye, WillT.  I’ve been waiting to see how viable the EuroState is over a period more than the 30-60 years they’ve been at it.

        We put up a Germany or Sweden as our paradigm [if they can do it, why can’t we?] but America is a polyglot of cultures.

        I ran across this:

        <i>Only 5% of native Swedish children live in poverty. For immigrant children with both parents born outside of the Sweden, the child poverty rate is 39%, a miserable number which may shock and should dishearten liberal Americans. The Swedish model appeared to produce amazing results as long as the country was completely homogeneous and full of Swedes. But the much admired welfare state was unable to deal with even moderate levels of ethic diversity (still far below the levels of the United States) without a collapse in social outcomes.

        Demographic change, not economic policy, is what is preventing child poverty from declining (if it were the fault of economic policy the child poverty rate of ordinary Swedes would not have declined so much).</i>

        http://super-economy.blogspot.com/2011/03/mystery-of-child-poverty-in-sweden.html

        America has her own set of demographic challenges [black poverty, and also hillbillies [which Tom Sowell argues are both the same Scots-Irish culture], not just immigration, but the idea still may hold.

        Elsewhere, I read that single mothers still struggle much more than married ones In Sweden, the dynamic holds.

        And in the above link

        Another reason is that the U.S (bizarrely) doesn’t include most government subsidies in the poverty measure, including I believe subsidize housing, food stamps health care. 

        So, we may not even be comparing apples to apples in the first place.  That last bit deserves a closer look, if anybody can help.

         Report

        • Avatar Mike says:

          For immigrant children with both parents born outside of the Sweden, the child poverty rate is 39%, a miserable number which may shock and should dishearten liberal Americans. The Swedish model appeared to produce amazing results as long as the country was completely homogeneous and full of Swedes. But the much admired welfare state was unable to deal with even moderate levels of ethic diversity (still far below the levels of the United States) without a collapse in social outcomes.

          What you leave out is the SPEED in which this influx happened. The Swedish model produced amazing results in preventing poverty and downfall. Your numbers, recent immigrants who came over not just impoverished but literally with nothing to the tune of greater than 90%, generally became free-riders, and whose children are just now entering the workforce, have not yet completely normalized within the system – and yet their child poverty rate is ONLY 39%.

          The system works, you’re just dishonestly cherry picking a figure you could find. Lies, Damn Liars named TVD, and Statistics.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew says:

          Is it the Swedish welfare state that was unable to deal with diversity, or simply the Swedish society and economy?  Did the welfare state falter administratively or politically in providing the benefits it promised to people eligible to receive them when ethnically diverse immigrants increased in numbers, or did the economy simply fail to accommodate them?  If the issue is that the economy did not end up lifting immigrant families out of poverty in just one generation (presumably most of those who were in poverty in the study were not children of highly-skilled, already affluent immigrating families, though perhaps some were, but rather went there in poverty to seek economic opportunity), is there a story about why the welfare state caused that, and any evidence to support it?Report

          • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

            I dunno, Mr. Drew, I’m reading up.  One interesting point is that Sweden has a communitarian-bureaucratic that’s in the culture

            Sweden’s bureaucracy is one of the most impressive in the world, and it has been for a couple of hundred years—that’s what makes it possible to have a public sector this size. This is something foreigners rarely understand. They think that our big government makes the country run well, whereas it is the other way around—the fact that it works well makes it possible to have a big government. 


            If countries don’t already have a tradition of an efficient, non-corrupt bureaucracy with an impressive work ethic a larger government only means more abuse of power and more waste of money. I often try to convince Americans, no, more government in the US would not get you a big version of Sweden, it would get you a big version of the US Postal Service. 

            So there’s that.Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew says:

              That is certainly something, but it’s rather completely a different point from the one being made in the Swedish-Kurdish(??) blog post you link to.  That was pretty much just an anti-immigration post trying to exonerate Swedish liberal (Euroliberal) welfare reforms of culpability in child poverty outcomes there, laying it at the feet of immigration (and doing a decent job of it I might add).Report

            • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

              Also, tell your buddy to quit insulting the US Postal Service.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Man’s fatal error is to confuse luck with genius.

                I’ve just started reading up on this Sweden thing, fellas.  Give a fellow a chance.

                The argument there is that Swedish society works: it could conceivably work under other political systems as well.  We certainly would expect the communitarian model to work better in a homogenous population, but what happens when you introduce the polyglot that is 21st century immigration, not just from a neighboring country but a continent away like Somalia?

                Further, Sweden may have enjoyed a unique combination of favorable factors since WWII—the Pax Americana, favorable demographics with a young-leaning population, an economic boom in the Western World.  But this doesn’t mean the system is sustainable, or if it is, translatable to other countries/cultures.

                Y’know, Mr. Ewiak, I’ve always been one who admired, not disparaged, the US Postal Service.  But it has just hit the wall of unsustainability this very year, with layoffs and cutting back service unavoidable for it survive.

                Which illustrates my argument/concern for the viability of the EuroState to a “T.”  It works, until such time it doesn’t.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                The only reason the USPS didn’t turn a profit this year is the GOP Congress of the mid-2000’s saddled them with the responsibility of funding their pension in such a way no other public or private company has too. If private companies had to fund pensions in the same way, the only companies in the black would be well, those that don’t give out pensions.Report

              • Avatar Johanna says:

                Jesse, there is a fair amount of truth to that.  But ultimately that just reinforces that there is a fundamental problem with government corporations.  It would be nice to be able to say, “they can work just fine, if the government can just keep the politics out of it.”  But in fact it is nearly impossible that government would keep the politics out of it.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Full disclosure: This comment was actually from James Hanley (using Johanna’s computer).Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                Except those onerous requirements weren’t put on the USPS until…wait for it…wait for it…the GOP Congress of the mid-2000’s. So, after two hundred years, the USPS was legislated into bankruptcy by a group whose goal was to destroy the USPS. I fail to see how that’s the fault of the Postal Service.

                If the GOP wasn’t run by people who don’t think government can work, the USPS would not be in this situation. Admittedly, the Democrat’s have not fixed the situation for reasons I’m not entirely clear on (even though there were bigger problems than the USPS for the entirety of the two years the DNC held the triefecta), but no, I’m not going to say government corporations can’t work because every so often, crazy people get a seat behind the wheel.

                 Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 says:

                Not to mention that if the USPS were simply allowed by Congress to raise first class rates to a sustainable level, there wouldn’t be a shortfall at all.

                There isn’t anything inherent in the USPS construction that prevents them from being sustainable forever, other than the will of Congress and the people.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                 

                Except those onerous requirements weren’t put on the USPS until…wait for it…wait for it…the GOP Congress of the mid-2000?s. So, after two hundred years, the USPS was legislated into bankruptcy by a group whose goal was to destroy the USPS. I fail to see how that’s the fault of the Postal Service.

                That doesn’t really get you anywhere. My point is that politics is inevitably going to eff it up, and your response was, “but the politics didn’t eff it up until….”

                Of course it took politics just to sustain the USPS in the first place.  Prior to the 1970s, the USPS was subsidized by taxpayers.  That’s politics.  When transformed into a government corporation, it found itself struggling to compete with private firms, despite having a legal monopoly on first-class mail, a political protection.  And while that makes Liberty’s argument about profitability somewhat dubious, in fact those constraints on price increases are–always have been–political.  And now politics totally effs it up, and we act surprised?

                no, I’m not going to say government corporations can’t work because every so often, crazy people get a seat behind the wheel.

                But the crazy people getting behind the wheel every so often is inevitable.  That’s just one more problem on top of the poor incentives government corporations usually have.  There may be reason to support them nevertheless, but there’s really no reason to be surprised that they’re going to be political targets now and again.  The crazies–or as some might say, American citizens with differing beliefs about what government ought to be doing–aren’t going away anytime soon.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                Well, I guess this is where we part ways. I’ll take 200-odd years of good service (I’ve had multiple foreign friends and foreign friends of friends remark how good the USPS is compared to their postal services, which are many times corrupt, slow, overpriced, or all three) over a few years where it’s been derailed because crazy people believe something shouldn’t be done by the government got into power even though it being done by the government has been cost-effective, quick, and successful.

                Again, I don’t even disagree that long-term the USPS will have to get smaller because people aren’t mailing things. But, that doesn’t mean that in actual reality, we have to cut hundreds of thousands of jobs and close tons of post offices tomorrow.Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 says:

                James, so where does THAT get us? You seem to be saying that since a government entity like USPS is controlled periodically by crazy people, we shouldn’t have the USPS in the first place?

                But those crazy people are also in control of our police force, air traffic control, emergency responders, and oh yeah, our thermonuclear missiles.

                It seems to me that the real solution is to not elect crazy people.

                 Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                Hey, if the GOP decided unilaterally in 2013 with President Romney to fuck up FEMA via some random change in policy, obviously that means responses to national disasters should be handled by Blackwater (or whatever their name is this week) and Haliburton.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                James, so where does THAT get us? You seem to be saying that since a government entity like USPS is controlled periodically by crazy people, we shouldn’t have the USPS in the first place?

                No, I’m just saying that being surprised by political interference, and arguing as though it could possibly be some other way over the long haul, is not  particularly insightful. “If only” crazy-ass politicians wouldn’t interfere is about as meaningful a statement as “if only it wouldn’t get hot in Phoenix.”

                There’s simply no value to basing our analyses of government on assumptions of non-politics.  That’s where I think too many people go wrong–they implicitly assume what I call the candy-machine theory of government; all the prices are as listed, the labels on the buttons are correct, and you always get just what you ask for.  No, they don’t think that actually happens, but they tend to think that it is fairly readily achievable if only not-X.  But X is the fundamental nature of the process, and can’t be assumed away.

                I gripe sometimes about the legal monopoly the USPS has on first-class mail, but in reality it’s so far down my list of issues to get worked up about that I don’t really care if we have it or not (I probably wouldn’t make the effort to cast a vote in a referendum).  But I do care about people trying to assume away politics when we’re talking about government, the “if only not-X” argument.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                @Jesse,

                Hey, if the GOP decided unilaterally in 2013 with President Romney to fuck up FEMA via some random change in policy, obviously that means responses to national disasters should be handled by Blackwater (or whatever their name is this week) and Haliburton.

                Well, that’s a bit of a stretch, right?  One the one hand we’re talking about an on-going day-to-day business proposition from which profit can, at least potentially, be made.  On the other hand we’re talking about random, unexpected and unpredictable, one-off events from which it is difficult to profit while achieving the results we want.  So the comparison doesn’t really work.

                On the other hand, we now know that FEMA working hand-in-hand with private firms is a really good way to go in disaster response.  FEMA’s capacities are in organizing responses and getting info on those who need help.  The private sector’s capacity is in getting them the stuff they need right now, not tomorrow.  Wal Mart’s information systems are sophisticated enough that they known from past sales just what people in different regions need and want after different types of disasters.  And even these profit-driven firms are willing to donate lots of stuff after disasters (I’m assuming because it’s good PR, rather than out of good-heartedness, but, hey, whatever motivates them).

                So it doesn’t have to be an either/or.  As far as the USPS goes, I’m not sure it’s generally necessary anymore, but it might be necessary for delivering to the more obscure and out of the way places in the U.S. where UPS and Fed-Ex don’t find it profitable to go.  We can question (and I do) whether we should subsidize people who want to live way the hell out there, but I’m certainly not going to march in the streets over the prospect of a government agency delivering mail to them.Report

          • Avatar Mike says:

            See my point above. TVD was just lying with statistics, nothing more. To take an immigrant group that comes in with greater than 90% not just poverty but CRIPPLING poverty, continues to immigrate in not-insignificant numbers, and yet have the child poverty rate of that group down to 39% in less than 2 decades, is an immense achievement rather than a “failure” as TVD tried to paint it.Report

        • Avatar wardsmith says:

          Tom there’s always this:

          A Scandinavian economist once proudly said to free-market advocate Milton Friedman, “In Scandinavia we have no poverty.” And Milton Friedman replied, “That’s interesting, because in America among Scandinavians, we have no poverty either.”

          Too bad those Scandihoovians are so damn white and hard working! Obviously genetically unfair.Report

          • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

            That was on my list for investigation, WSmith.  I was struck by the passing mention in an above quote that Swedish bureaucrats are hardworking.  An risible thought in the US.Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              TVD,

              you’ve never taken the Empirebuilder, I take it? Jeepers kreepers, I thought the CONSERVATIVE might know something about CULTURE.Report

        • Avatar bob says:

          Hmm, Tom you have failed to realize many of the immigrants to Sweden are actually refugees. As such, they are, I believe, not immediately given work privileges.

          Search the internet, have some fun! One nugget I found:

          “In April 2008, the mayor of a small Swedish town spoke in the United States Congress in Washington, describing how Södertälje alone, with it’s 85,000 inhabitants, received more Iraqi refugees than the United States and Canada combined. ”

          More fun:

          “Of these countries, Sweden takes the highest number of refugees, with an annual quota of 1,900, equivalent to 9 people for every 1000 of its inhabitants (with its population of only 9 million). This ranks Sweden as the twelfth highest country in the world, well above even the United States, Canada and Australia, when it comes to the number of refugees accepted compared to population size.”

          Refugees cost money, and sure, their kids may live in Swedish ‘poverty’.

          Oh. And. Polygot USA, you say? Stats I found show 11.8% foreign born in US versus 12% Sweden. Polyglot Sweden.Report

          • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

            I forgot to point this out, but yeah. The fact that a population made up largely of refugees from the basketcases of the world only have 39% child poverty after a few decades of being in a completely different society is something to be thankful for, not preen about as if it’s a sign that Sweden is collapsing.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        Mark: What’s interesting is that if we’re praising European countries for their social mobility and attributing that in large part to fewer single mothers, and if those European countries are generally more socially liberal than the US, this would all seem to imply that cultural/social liberalism makes for stronger families.

        Will: While it would puncture a hole in the notion that social conservatism inherently makes for stronger families, it’s less clear that it makes an affirmative case for the alternative. Europe and the US are… different. It’s a mistake to assume that policies there would have the same affect as policies here.

        Why does this imply “policies”? There are varying marriage norms across cultures that have more to do with traditions and cultural ideas than state policies. Most of what I’ve seen of European (and North American) government attempts at family engineering failed miserably. And yet, different cultures do marriage and family differently. Living in France, I definitely saw that, but I felt like the French marriage norms were at once both more liberal and more conservative than the American.Report

        • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

          Rufus, the French keep sex and marriage separate, then? Perhaps Mr. Murali was onto something.

           

          Although I don’t think he’d be real good with this…

           

          http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1195624/French-women-dont-just-tolerate-husbands-affairs–expect-them.htmlReport

          • Avatar Rufus F. says:

            Oui. Although the “French marriage” stereotype is more than a bit exaggerated, and it definitely depends on the class and location, I still know plenty of nice bourgeois French couples for whom divorce is seen as shocking and scandalous; infidelity, not so much.Report

            • Avatar Rufus F. says:

              Anyway, my point, to tweak the old line about the past, is that other countries are other countries; they do things differently there.

              So, why are there so many single mothers in the US?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                The structure of our welfare programs (not welfare per se) and the drug war come to mind.  That and the self-reinforcing problem of kids growing up in projects where single-parent families are the norm, crafting their expectations at an early age.Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 says:

                This is one issue where I sound like my younger, conservative self- while government programs can influence people’s decisions, I am not convinced that the lure of welfare beneftis figures prominently in the intimate and complex decisions about whether to use contraception or not, whether to marry the girl you impregnate or not, whether to offer support to your family or not.

                There is something broken in American culture, and I would maintain that it is onlym ore apparent in the poor, because they don’t have the buffer of affluence to shield themselves from the most ravaging effects.Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. says:

                I guess I do know a tiny bit about single mothers because we live in one of the so-called “teenage mother capitals” of Canada and not so many of those 17 year old papas stick around very long. Also, my wife’s a therapist who works with enough of these girls to know a bit about their mindset. Note that ours is a city on the lower end of “blue collar” and that it’s very Catholic, which makes abortion a non starter with these girls. Beyond that, my wife argues that these girls tend to come from similarly fractured homes and aren’t exactly facing the cream of the crop in terms of mates and are often desperate to have another being who needs and loves them to keep them company. She says it’s very common for them to try to trick their boyfriends into impregnating them by lying about still being on the pill. And it’s very common for the males to leave them as quickly as possible.Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              Rufus,

              in Britain, infidelity is a SPORT. because boinking the neighbor’s wife makes it all more fun.Report

        • I was actually trying to get more at the notion that culture is everything and certainly more important than policy in discussing topics like this.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew says:

            Topics like economic mobility?  The view that culture is everything in that realm an incredibly strong claim.  The prevailing economic regime and institutional structures, the law, the extent and quality of public education, all these things, except on the broadest definition of culture, not the one under discussion here, are inputs to social mobility and the extent of class reproduction in a society.  These are not all susceptible to policy, and  policy can only ever do so much, but they are all distinct from culture as I think you mean it here, and they very much contribute to social economic outcomes and class mobility.  Culture is only everything if it is the only thing you assume can be a variable in the equation – and we frequent do this, because we take so many features of the economic and institutional nature of our society as fixed and innate.  But what space does this leave us to make any analytical inferences about the causes of differences?  If policy seems to have only limited utility, it might be because we take matters that could in theory be subject to policy as fundamental features of society, and policy ends up with an incredibly narrow domain of application and magnitude of action.  And this is not to argue it should be otherwise.  But it doesn’t follow that, analytically, culture is everything in human outcomes of economics.  That view frankly borders on social Darwinism.

            (You were atypically brief and simplistic in making that statement, and I assume your view is more complex than that, but I feel I want to put a response on record to that particular claim, even though it comes from you and knowing you I know it’s not your full view.)Report

            • Yeah, that was me rushing a comment in between scribbling sessions with my daughter.  It would have been much better for me to have written that “I’m trying to get more at the notion that culture accounts for a lot in this arena, perhaps even more than policy, and on top of that culture seems to drive policy in general as much or more than policy drives culture.”Report

          • Avatar Rufus F. says:

            I was actually trying to get more at the notion that culture is everything and certainly more important than policy in discussing topics like this.

            I thought you were. I was going in that direction too, although maybe not as far as to say “everything”- quite a lot though.Report

  6. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    Interesting how “a rising tide lifts every boat” and “making everyone a bit richer is good for everyone” is suddenly an acceptable notion when it isn’t icky old conservatives saying it.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Yes, DD, because you and TVD ain’t conservatives. When conservatives say it, they be lying. And, they be ready to wipe the floor with you and apologists like TVD just as fast as they can.

      The people I hate ain’t you… it’s the people behind you, pulling your strings through propaganda.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        So a completely correct idea can still be wrong if the wrong people are saying it for the wrong reasons?

        Welcome to Room 101, citizen.  We’ll wash that thoughtcrime right out of you.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          Pardon, sir, but if you say something in a deceitful and spiteful manner, such as shouting fire in a movie theater, when it’s your cig on fire, yes you are wrong.

          [And I think my original point and yours are … orthogonal, not intersecting. which is a fancy way of saying “you’re no longer responding to me because I was no longer responding to you” sorryes!]Report

  7. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

    I think in general lack of social mobility is debilitating to the interests of a particular state and society precisely because it removes a lot of the shared interests of the polity within that state’s borders. This is particularly true in a world where capital and personal mobility are substantially higher than social mobility. That is to say, it’s much easier for money and individual people to move across countries than people to move in status WITHIN countries.

    Now arguably, for the aristocracy this was what the standard was within a particular geographical region. European nobility for example tended to have more in common with eachother, and their persons tended to move within Europe to serve as the officer class of various armies. Meanwhile the classes under them including both the bourgeoise and the peasantry tended to be more geographically isolated.

    Today we have a similar dynamic, but without the regional constraints on mobility. That is, people are no longer limited to simply moving within Europe, or Asia, or North America, they can move quickly to different geographical regions and take their capital with them just as quickly.

    Nationalism had many pernicious qualities, including jingoism and conflict, but one thing it did do we solidify that capital and labor were constrained to a single relatively limited geographic area. The causal link here is a bit more convoluted than I’m presenting (and I’d be happy to get into specifics here) but the general idea is that social mobility slowly had to be allowed in societies or else they faced the prospect of violent revolution.

    I would argue that today what makes the rich more likely to create structural impediments to social mobility is not that they’re consciously erecting barriers, but are simply less likely to support policies that can create social mobility. Trade policy, for example tends to favor the movement of goods and capital, but very rarely includes immigration changes or liberalization. Arguably the reason European social mobility is less egregious on the whole is because geographic mobility for Europeans is less of an issue within the European Union (note less of an issue, not a NON-issue). One can note that the ethnicities/nationalities within specific EU countries that do NOT get a European passport (expat communities from former colonies for example) might in fact have much lower rates of social mobility and make up an impoverished class within that specific state.

    Consequently within the US the middle class and the poor make up two different economic strata for capital to take advantage of. One is a consumer of products manufactured overseas (with American capital), and the other is a provider of cheap labor to offer services related to that consumption. There’s little interest for those making stuff abroad and bringing it to the US to create mobility from the lower to the middle, because that would drive up wages. Manufacturing usually created that social mobility, but capital could create stuff for consumption abroad, so it deemed it no longer necessary to have that part in the US.

    Is this an argument for some form of limited protectionism? I don’t know, honestly. I’d argue that geographical mobility for individuals is the most defining aspect of social mobility. The fact that China attempts to limit geographical mobility for its poorest, and as a consequence does create a distinct gap in wealth in that process, I think is additional proof for this concept. The problem of course is that the costs of moving tend to be relatively higher the lower the social ladder you go, and there’s no real way to advance broad geographic mobility in a way that’s acceptable to national politics. I’m stumped for a solution.Report

    • Avatar Liberty60 says:

      “…general lack of social mobility is debilitating to the interests of a particular state and society precisely because it removes a lot of the shared interests of the polity…”

      This is very well put. To enlarge upon that point- Even if we were to stipulate that the poorest among us is fabulously wealthy compared to some other time and place, class stratification and a fixed aristocracy plus a fixed underclass is destructive to the entire concept of liberty and democracy.

      A counterexample for the libertarians among us- would the socialism be acceptable if it could provide generally high standard of living?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      A question about immigration:

      I’ve heard it said that merely living in the US is worth some obscene amount of social capital… lower crime rates, handy educational system nearby, the potential to work for just above minimum wage and still make enough money to send remittances back home (that are worth so much more there than would be here).

      Do these immigrants change the dynamic at all?

      For example, would things be better off for “our” poor if “their poor” weren’t moving here?Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

        It may have a marginal impact on employment rates and wages (primarily on employment rates and labor force participation) but not a huge impact on social mobility, which is determined more by things like educational attainment, savings, career advancement opportunities.

        I guess a better question is…what would happen if people could move their families to a place with a much lower cost of living but a comparable standard of living while they kept their low wage jobs in the US? Would that help them accumulate more wealth? The transfer of money and people would, hypothetically also help the communities they’d be moving to.

        Effectively, wouldn’t “our” poor be better off if they could live somewhere that cost less money but could work here?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          what would happen if people could move their families to a place with a much lower cost of living but a comparable standard of living while they kept their low wage jobs in the US?

          I’ve been thinking about this and I don’t see it as possible without teleporter technology. Where would there be a much lower cost of living but a comparable standard of living? South Dakota? Wyoming? Maine?

          I mean, back near the 2000’s, I saw four or five of my co-workers move to Alabama (like somewhere in the sticks) where they’d be making $35,000 a year. One of them explained to me that, sure, that was a less than they were making now but they’d be making $35,000/year in a place where a new house cost that much money.

          (Everyone of these co-workers were childless, as well.)

          I don’t know to what extent cost of living is tied to standard of living but… it seems to me that there are a whole lot of little things tied together and we don’t know how to cut this particular thread without cutting the braid.Report

          • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

            I’m not saying it’s practical for the poor to do this. (And really if we had teleporter technology that was easily accessible so poor folks could do this, our level of technological development would probably be high enough that we’d be nearing a post-scarcity society anyway)

            I’m just saying that’s one of the structural advantages simply by dint of physical reality that those with more money possess. I can make my money somewhere else, live in another spot, and still have money leftover to do whatever else.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew says:

            Jay, any chance these folks to some extent actually just had a true heart’s desire to move out to the styx of Alabama and were sorta embarrassed to admit it straight up so they gave an economic answer (which is not to say the economic answer was bogus – just not complete)?  It seems like an extreme economic choice to make absent having some inherent desire for it – to choose to make less money in order to buy a really cheap house in a place that most (save for a certain few) people don’t want to live? I mean, I don’t know how much more they had been making, but if they were thinking of it as an investment oppo, if they were making significantly more than the 35k, it wouldn’t have taken too long to just save up a down payment to buy one of these places to rent it out until the market went up.  (That might not have worked out well given events, but it still seems like deliberately reducing your income in order to reduce expenses is kinda self-defeating unless you like the change in location for its own sake…)Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              No, I don’t really think so. First off, there were 4-5 of them all going together to go to this job. Additionally, this was a job doing a very particular type of application support (an application they worked with every other day).

              (Also, they weren’t making much more than $40k/year.)

              They made less money in ‘bama, but not *MUCH* less, in a place where the cost of living was much, much less.Report

  8. Avatar Steve S. says:

    “Mr. Salam recently wrote that relative mobility ‘is overrated as a social policy goal’…Yglesias wonders whether or not it’s true that progressives … would actually agree with Salam

    Social mobility should not be a policy goal, rather it should be seen as reflective of a more decent society (assuming a baseline of relative inequality).Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

      Agreed. Social mobility on the whole is more a lagging indicator of other issues in society like wealth concentration and opportunities than something to be strove for for its own sake.Report

  9. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    I’m not sure our measures of mobility are appropriate.   Is income the only such measure?   Surely other measures of quality of life ought to count.

    When my kids were adolescents and talking to me about the future, I told them what my father told me:  success has two parts: doing what you want and getting paid for it.   One can be traded for the other.   I got paid a great deal to travel everywhere.   When my kiddoes were tiny, I asked my client (then Sears Roebuck) if I could work from home if I lowered my billing rate.   These were the days of dialup modems and it wasn’t often done.   They agreed, to everyone’s satisfaction.   I came downtown for meetings (no Skype in those days) and I was able to trade money for time with my small children.

    If the poor don’t move up much in the world, why not?  As Reihan Salam observes, it’s usually education.   I just got finished coding up a great whopping interactive employment application form:  most of the entries have to do with experience and education.   There’s one lonely text field for what the applicant wants to do.

    I cannot speak for all of you, but considering the educational and intellectual calibers of most writers here, I dare say when the likes of you, far from mere Ordinary Gentlemen, go looking for work,  you’re asking yourself “where can I do what I want to do?”   Law and medicine, for example,are wide seas and force the practitioner to specialize reasonably early.   I can speak to software, where years of practical experience in a given technology practically guarantee you’ll get the job.   When you interview, you interview back, sizing up the job and the people above and around you.

    Of course most people in this country are sliding downhill on an income basis.  They’re not ambitious enough to put up with the demands of a high-powered job.   For example, anyone with the right personality and a modicum of training can become a salesman and make a great deal of money:  the salesmen often make more than the executives at many manufacturing corporations.   The ambitious kids of the lower classes make it out, I’ve seen it too many times to say they don’t have an out.

    Here’s the deal:  Americans used to put up with high-stress jobs.   They don’t anymore.   They can’t.   Look at all the people on antidepressant drugs, the fraction is startling.  The children of the middle class watched their parents work all those hours, come home late, make a dog’s dinner of their own lives, often as not they watched their parents’ marriages collapse.   They ate too much frozen pizza, those kids.  They’re living their lives in reaction to their parents, as is so often the case.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      Good points.  In relation to your last paragraph, economist Tyler Cowen recently pointed out that we’re always encouraging people to stop and smell the roses, but if some people follow that advice and others don’t, that in itself will contribute to (although not by any means solely explain) a growing income gap.  And then we worry about those who aren’t making as much.

      We need to distinguish between the contented rose-smellers and the discontented who can’t find a way to get to the level they want to be at.  But when looking at aggregates we don’t have a good means of doing so.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        That’s right.  Money is like blood:  we don’t really think about it until we’re leaking it out.

        When I was a young man, I’d often scoff at people who said “Money can’t buy everything.”   I’d say “Seems to me it might not buy everything, but it can rent most of it.”    Then an old guy, a client, sternly looked at me when I’d said it, and in the middle of a Tuesday workday took me out to the parking lot.   We climbed into his car and headed out to the Atlanta Motor Speedway.   He showed his pass at the race gate and took me out for a few laps.   At about 140 mph, he yelled over the roar of the engine “Time is the one thing money won’t buy.”

        Cured me of that nonsense pronto.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          Blaise,  I’m not really intending to start an argument here, but can I poke at an apparent contradiction just a bit?

          Above you wrote, ” I was able to trade money for time with my small children.”

          Isn’t that effectively buying time with money?Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            Well, yeah, sure.   But that dude at Matsushita taught me something:  you’ll have to walk away from some money to do what you want in life.

            Some people allow themselves to be defined by their jobs.   You can love many things in life but your job won’t love you back.   A big fat bank account and investment portfolio and a big house won’t make your kids love you or give us any of the things you really need.   Look at  how advertising works:  beyond the little flyers at the grocery store, we’re being sold status or sex or Kewlness.

            Steve Jobs understood this better than anyone:  for all his orneriness, he knew how to make people want stuff he made and give it a cachet the other stuff just couldn’t match.   Steve Jobs was an idiot for putting only one button on his mouse.   Made my life as a coder that much harder because people really do like what a right-mouse click can do in a given context.    And Apple will never sell as many units as their competitors.   By many accounts, Steve Jobs was a workaholic and drove his people crazy.  He didn’t live in some monstrous house with a crew of servants to clean up after him.  His personal life was a baroque and complex mess.  But that doesn’t matter.   I could still write to a pseudo-right-mouse click if the users pressed the Apple key.

            Steve was doing what he wanted to do and if his mouse only had one button, his APIs were clean and straightforward and coders liked it:  Microsoft’s software for Apple was always cleaner than what they wrote for their own operating systems, and it came out first, which meant it was probably the reference version.

            Perhaps money will buy time, but it won’t get you any more of it.   Gotta make some compromises between the two sides of that coin, to use an unfortunate metaphor.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              Perhaps money will buy time, but it won’t get you any more of it.

              That’s probably the true resolution of the apparent contradiction.

              Steve Jobs was an idiot for putting only one button on his mouse.

              Thank you, thank you, thank you.  I’m all for elegance, but not at the expense of functionality.

              A big fat bank account and investment portfolio and a big house won’t make your kids love you

              Well, it ensures they’ll start showing you affection when you’re writing your will…Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Heh.   Ever read Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin?

                “My uncle, a most worthy gentleman,
                When he fell seriously ill,
                By snuffing it made us all respect him,
                Couldn’t have done better if he tried.
                His behaviour was a lesson to us all.
                But, God above, what crushing boredom
                To sit with the malingerer night and day
                Not moving even one footstep away.
                What demeaning hypocrisy
                To amuse the half-dead codger,
                To fluff up his pillows, and then,
                Mournfully to bring him his medicine;
                To think to oneself, and to sigh:
                When the devil will the old rascal die?”Report

        • Avatar boegiboe says:

          On a related note, my Grandpa, who died just after the 2011 New Year, gave me some advice as I was preparing to find a college to attend. He said to stretch college out as long as I could, and squeeze as much out of it as I could. It was advice that seemed superfluous at the time, but once I was in the environment in which professors and bureaucracy generally wanted me conformed and commenced and out the door as fast as possible, it was helpful having his words to lean on.

          I spent 6 years getting 3 bachelor degrees and a minor in technical and non-technical fields, with one of those years spent in France getting an education almost entirely without technical merit (also largely thanks to Grandpa’s help). I’m constantly thankful Grandpa taught me that critical lesson about the value of time spent living well.Report

    • Avatar Liberty60 says:

      “most people in this country are sliding downhill on an income basis.  They’re not ambitious enough to put up with the demands of a high-powered job.”

      Is this  a not-so-polite way of accusing “most people” of being lazy? What has been your experience that causes you to think that “most people” are not ambitious? Because they aren’t all out there selling vaccum cleaners door to door?Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Lazy is an interesting word.   Software uses lazy loading as a paradigm all the live-long day.   When my son was just a little boy, he wanted to write software.   I responded, “I’m not sure you’re cut out for this job.   You’re not lazy enough.”

        “Not lazy enough?   C’mon, I’m pretty lazy!” he responded.

        “You’d have to be soooooo lazy, you’d want to solve a problem sooooo completely that you’d build a tool so you’d never have to do any work to solve it again.”

        Let me put it less politely and more directly:  most Americans don’t have a fishing clue how to get rich.  You get rich by writing invoices and investing in winners or taking advantage of losers.   Americans are trained from the moment they enter school to sit quietly in little chairs and do what they’re told.   They aren’t taught to think for themselves and become entrepreneurs and investors.   They sit around and moan about their jobs going to India or China or some other godforsaken corner of the world where children smear toxic glue onto the soles of shoes for pennies a day.

        Fat and lazy in extremis, they close their eyes and open their mouths and expect some corporation to put food in their mouths and pay for their gastric bypasses, in that order. What this country needs, in the immortal words of Jack Nicholson as the Joker, is an enema.   Enterprising people will always get ahead because they’re ambitious.   They’re not ambitious because they’ve never been taught how to do anything worth doing that anyone else will pay an invoice to receive as Services Rendered.    And don’t get me going on how the schools don’t teach people to manage money.Report

        • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

          The problem is, not everybody can be a titan of business or even a mini-titan of small business, even if they have the ambition. Somebody has to sweep the streets. Somebody has to clean the toilets. Somebody has to take the call when the widget gets broken. I just have the silly belief that the people who keep the gears of society moving deserve to be well-paid too, not just those that created the gears in the first place.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            That’s as may be, that some people are fated to Work For Da Man.   Doesn’t answer the question.   If I saw a market in cleaning toilets, I’d start me a toilet cleaning business and buy a pair of good gloves and superior cleaning solutions and clean those fishing toilets and write an invoice which would have Squeaky Clean Toilet Cleaners, Inc. on the top and I’d expect the check to read the same on the Pay to the Order Of line.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

            Somebody has to clean the toilets. Somebody has to take the call when the widget gets broken. I just have the silly belief that the people who keep the gears of society moving deserve to be well-paid too, not just those that created the gears in the first place.

            I believe that too.  I further believe that a freer labor market, with increased specialization and increased trade, is a big part of the way to get there.  Comparative advantage really works, counterintuitive as it may appear.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              That’s only one half of the problem.  Without collective bargaining and trade unions, don’t expect the lot of the workers to benefit in any way.

              That said, I’m not for closed unions, set up as an adversary to management and owners.   I’m for an open union system, where corporations employing more than an arbitrary number of workers are represented on the board of directors, as is the case in Germany.

              Somehow, Germany pays its workers twice as much and gets twice as much work out of them, working fewer hours than American workers.   Riddle me that.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Somehow, Germany … gets twice as much work out of them

                That’s not what the labor productivity figures show. See, for example, here and here.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Interesting, Blaise.  From the comments @ Forbes:

                We have to comprehend a German Union and an American one also are only similar in their use of the word ‘union” in describing themselves. Slacking at a North American shop is deemed “sticking it to the man” whereas in German that is shamefully “placing the burden of your workload onto the shoulders of the worker after you” and collecting pay not deserved. Here in north America one can “cause” downtime by throwing a belt, in the case of mining as an example, while suffering merely a warming for such loss of productivity. Regardless of conduct and just shy of committing a criminal offence, the Unions in North America will intercede on their member’s behalf and see it as being “against” the wishes of the corporate entity on the matter. In Germany doing such is sabotaging the workplace and intolerance for such is absolute within the corporate entity, the unions involved and the government’s representatives on site. Try that three times in your working lifetime and you’ll need a new trade within Germany as the union steward himself will see you off the premises and out of the union entirely. The Union, governmental safety official and the controller of the corporation himself are all on the same page regarding their given industry’s health. A successful company requires a safe work environment and by providing such ingratiates itself to ITS’ workers who openly display their appreciation through stellar productivity. Let that last bit set in. In Germany, unlike anywhere else I know of, both the corporate entity and the workers themselves feel an attachment to each other and an awareness of the others’ well being. They truly see more in their relationship than merely dollars and cents.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Polartec managed the same thing In America. It can be done, if you’re willing to be a mensch.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                Perhaps because the unions in Germany started as a conservative reaction to the rise of Marx and such, much like the rest of the social welfare state. While, on the other hand, people were still dying for the right to a decent wage until the lifetimes of people who are still alive today in the United States.

                But yup, place all the burden on the worker. I could easily make the same comparison of corporations, where corporations in Germany see themselves as parts of the country and as a result, have responsibilities while corporations in America just see the country as a place to be abused and used like any other market.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                It’s because they’re German.  The system is a reflection of the culture.   We get it backwards in these things.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Well, exactly, Tom.   Read your Marx, he laid it all out.    As I said, nobody reads Marx.

                Here’s why Marx fails:  he didn’t foresee the rise of the trade union.   Bismarck staved off Communism thereby.   The workers got representation, management had some meaningful pushback from the workers, who now viewed themselves, as you say, as integral to the enterprise as a whole.

                America would benefit from just such a setup.   At present, management is in thrall to the stockholders.   Even the customer gets short shrift the way things are now.   It’s all fished up and it just doesn’t have to be this way.

                Look at Southwest Airlines, case in point of a heavily unionized operation capable of beating the tar out of the competition.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                True, Blaise.  Industrialization created a catastrophic but temporary imbalance between labor & capital.  Water seeks its own level, but we still get the marxist Rx for conditions that no longer exist.

                [Somewhere along the line, perhaps starting with Henry Ford, it occurred to capitalism that well-treated workers are more productive workers.  But only if the workers themselves give value back for value.]

                Germans, with their ethnic-cultural solidarity and good work habits could make a go of many different systems.  Although as we saw in East Germany, even they couldn’t make communism work.

                Some systems just suck.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                No it’s not because they’re German.   That’s crazy talk.  The reason is clear enough, German law puts workers on the boards of directors.   End of story.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Blaise, so does Saab.  Did.  It’s in the dumper.  The German auto industry is sui generis: high end product and market, worked by Germans.  As a transferable model, that’s the real cherry picking.

                The real lesson in the Forbes article is that they may pay twice as much, but they also make twice as many cars.  We aren’t anywhere near that second part in this discussion, how to turn a doubling of pay into a doubling of production.  There’s not a capitalist in the world who wouldn’t go for that deal.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Saab Auto made some serious mistakes.   Don’t count on the Germans to make the same mistakes.

                Put it this way, Mercedes Benz doesn’t make fighter aircraft.    And they won’t sell out to General Motors.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Saab Auto made some serious mistakes.   Don’t count on the Germans to make the same mistakes. Put it this way, Mercedes Benz doesn’t make fighter aircraft.    And they won’t sell out to General Motors.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Saab Auto made some serious mistakes.   Don’t count on the Germans to make the same mistakes.

                So it is about Germans?

                Now I’m so confused.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Once again, ever so tiresomely, I repeat myself in saying German law obliges corporations to put workers on the boards of directors.

                So let’s not have any of this quasi-racist nonsense we heard so much  back when it was those Inscrutable Japanese eating our lunches.   The Japanese follow the same model of defusing the idiotic tension between management and workers.    They started outsourcing their labor and the whole thing collapsed.

                Is any of this sinking in?   It’s not the country, it’s the labor laws which make all the difference.   Germany has engineered the Race to the Bottom out of their framework.   Go to any little town in Germany and you’ll find a machine shop with a couple of robots cranking out some incredible bits of hi-tek gear.   Ask yourself why we don’t have them in the USA.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                I heard you the first time, Blaise.  You’re crediting the system and ignoring a constellation of other factors.

                A job at BMW is, well, the BMW of jobs.  You’re going to get the cream of the labor crop.

                Was just looking @ BMW in the US:

                How do I qualify for STEP?

                1. Have a valid driver’s license and documented proof of a driving record acceptable to BMW.
                2. Have completed high school or GED and post secondary automotive education level acceptable to BMW.
                3. Attain a minimum of a 3.2 grade point average (3.5 preferred) in technical school.
                4. Achieve a documented minimum of 98% attendance during their post secondary education.
                5. Be willing to relocate within a region making the individual marketable to enough BMW centers to justify the expense of technical training for that person.
                6. Accept employment at a BMW center within 30 days of graduation from STEP for a period not less than one year.
                7. Have the financial means to support themselves during training with BMW.
                8. Pass a written test (general automotive, not BMW specific).
                9. Pass a personal interview by a BMW STEP administrator.
                10. Some professional experience “turning wrenches for money” is preferred.

                Any business with top graduates and people who show up 98% of the time is going to tend to excel, with the labor force meriting top pay.

                So chill, bro.  I don’t have your faith in systems.  They are populated by people.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Heh heh.   “Was just looking @ BMW in the US”.

                Get back to me when we’re talking about what goes on in Germany.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Blaise, you get back to me with info it’s different in Germany.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Don’t take it too seriously, I was just looking for clarification.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Now Tom, that just won’t do.   I have already established the difference in law, the Mitbestimmungsgesetz,   I have likewise furnished wage differences in the link previously provided.

                You must explain how things are so different, in some other way than to attribute it to some silly cultural racist conflation, which is about all I’ve seen in opposition to the points I’ve made.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                That’s the 3rd time you’ve made that assertion, BP.  I’m going to make my arguments just the once, if it’s OK.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Yeah.   And while that Forbes article can be used as the reference for those differences, I stand by my assertions.   All this hooey about It’s Because They’re Germans is just silly.   It’s because BMW in Germany is governed by Mitbestimmungsgesetz and over here it’s South Cackalacky’s Right to Work bullshit.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                If there were that much demand for American automobiles, I’m pretty sure they could be produced and just about whatever rate per worker-hour were needed to.  At this point worker productivity in industry has just about nothing to do with worker effort – it’s determined by what capital investments have been made by a firm to create that productivity, and by the remaining hangover behemoth size of the corporations themselves from the time when they ruled the industry.  American car companies don’t have a product that is marketable enough to justify investing in capital designed to upscale quantity.  The problem definitely has to do with the quality of certain American workers – just not the unionized ones on the shop floor.  It’s the product designers, and particularly their bosses who select designs for production and make the decisions about what level of quality in materials, parts, and engineering go into the product.

                Germans produce so much per production worker because the product that’s been developed is so superior to that developed here, and because their firms remained at a size appropriate to a strategy of dominance in the top end rather than the broad middle of the car industry.  They make so many more cars per worler because many fewer Germans in Germany available to do the production work to fill the orders of a much stronger global demand for their product compared to the size of their production forces.

                From this it doesn’t follow that American car production employment should be halved overnight – our economy was built with that industry as it’s backbone, and it is only now starting to adjust to the market that emerged after the period of postwar American dominance.  We need to see where the market will go to see what size car manufacturing industry employment base we need to have, and a drastic downsizing of the industry would still be devastating to the economy.  So it’s in a bit of a holding pattern.  But, whatever its prospects, the worldwide market for American cars remains tepid, and that’s why German workers make twice as many cars per year worked as Americans right now.  Given the demand, American workers could and would be just as productive.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                Didn’t mean to say there aren’t as many Germans available – there are plenty of Germans to have a car industry as big as ours by size of workforce if they chose to – but rather that there just aren’t as many Germans making cars compared to the strength of the market for their cars.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Mr. Drew, I didn’t feel like litigating it, but I ran across a mention that Germans are chauvinistic toward their car brands, even though the Asian high-end stuff rates as good or better in quality and value.  So there’s that market of 80 million Germans in their favor.

                I suppose it’s possible that you could plunk a BMW plant in America, pay/adjust to the same wages & benny pkg, and get the same results.  How scalable upward that is to a nation of 300+ million, with American attitudes of labor vs. capital, without a loyal market of chauvinistic citizens, I question.

                The Tiffany model is only so scalable, and the US sensibility is more like Wal-mart.  I did write a note recently that we American consumers are so fixated on price that we’re handing ourselves over to Big Box Nation, but that’s a different discussion.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Kudos to the German auto industry, obligatory note that the causes of productivity failure of the American auto industry are both obvious and well-known, and then an insistence that cherry-picking one sector of the economy is no substitute for overall productivity figures when determining whether one country actually gets “twice as much” out of its workers.

                If you want to say BMW and Daimler have been a lot better managed companies than GM and Ford, well, good luck finding anyone to argue with you.  Doesn’t say much about the overall labor productivity of either country, though.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                For the benefit of the rest of us, who read that article clear to the end and got to this part,

                 The article’s author, Kevin C. Brown, asked Claude Barfield, a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, why the German car companies behave so differently in the U.S. He answered, “Because they can get away with it so far.”

                — just how the Causes of Productivity Failure and Cherry Picking are made manifest in the American society.   Hee hee.   This I gotta see and be thereby enlightened.Report

            • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

              What Blaise said. All the average worker has seen over the past thirty years as free trade has become a bigger thing is less security in their job, stagnant wages, a loss of benefits, and increased inequality. I’m not even against free trade deals – with countries of comparable economic levels. A free trade pact with South Korea is fine. A free trade pact with Colombia? Insanity.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                The average worker has also seen a decline in the real cost of many manufactured goods, in terms of how many hours need to be worked to attain them.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                The decline in the quality matches the decline in the price, as far as I can see…Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                …and in increase in the hours needed to pay their rent/mortgage, an increase in the hours needed to save for their kid’s education, and increase in the hours needed to pay their health care premium, and an increase in the hours needed to get to work in the first place. All while they’ve gotten more and more productive while realizing zero to little of the gains.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Jesse,

                Some of that is accurate, and some of it is perhaps accurate but misleading.  If you buy a 2500 square foot house in the suburbs, yes you’ll be paying more and commuting farther.  But let’s not pretend the person who made that choice has been fished over by the system.

                As to paying more for education, it’s really a perverse argument.  Most people who got a college education in the past could afford it because only the well-off went to college.  So we worried (appropriately) about the education gap.  Now we bemoan the fact that people are getting an education who can’t–up-front–afford it.  OK, so we’re moving the goalposts.  And anyone who’s paying serious attention to the education costs issue knows that increasing costs are, in large part (not wholly), driven by a couple of factors that I don’t think liberals are comfortable addressing.  One is the subsidization of education through student loans; while I do support it, it allows colleges to charge more, because it allows our students to pay more.  In making policies like these it’s always important to think through not just the intended goal, but what incentives are created.  The other factor is that students demand a lot more costly amenities in their colleges, and are apparently willing to pay for them. Colleges have to provide these amenities or students take their student loans elsewhere.  For example, when I went to college I shared a room with one other person, a room that two decades before had housed three students.  Now an ever larger number of students expect single rooms (those poor middle class kids who’ve always had a room to themselves instead of having to share with a sibling or two).

                I really don’t have much objection to most liberal policy goals, but I do have much objection to the refusal to analyze what incentives and effects are actually created by the policies designed to get us there.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                I really don’t have much objection to most liberal policy goals, but I do have much objection to the refusal to analyze what incentives and effects are actually created by the policies designed to get us there.

                You know when you write like this you sound a lot like TVD, but you two always manage to find a hair to split that coughs up a fur ball and the next thing I know you’re at each other’s throats. Ah well, more peppers for the salad that is this site can never go wrong by me.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Jesse,

                …and in increase in the hours needed to pay their rent/mortgage, an increase in the hours needed to save for their kid’s education, and increase in the hours needed to pay their health care premium, and an increase in the hours needed to get to work in the first place. All while they’ve gotten more and more productive while realizing zero to little of the gains.

                Over the longer term, hours worked has been steadily dropping not rising.

                Last statistic I saw on housing affordability index is that it currently the best it has been in 30 years.

                Health care and education are FUBAR, but these are the very fields progressives have most screwed up.

                 Report

              • Avatar dexter says:

                Mr. Hanley, I look around and the only things I see that have dropped in price are electronics.  The price of almost everything else has gone up a bunch.  For example, a friend of mine’s father bought him a maxed out four wheel dodge power wagon in 1972 that cost 3,200 brand new.  According to the inflation calculator I use that comes to 17,319.04 in today’s money.  I remember seeing a doctor in 1969 and the visit cost me 6.00 dollars which comes to 36.99 in today’s money.  The things one has to have, insurance, gas, food,and rent have gone up bunches.  For blue collar people things are much more difficult than thirty or forty years ago.  Plus, what Kim says in post 186 rings true for me.  The quality of the carpenter tools I buy today are, for the most part, inferior in quality and longevity to the good old days.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Dexter,

                It’s not just consumer electronics.  It’s also clothing (which everyone needs), toys (if I may assume a rare moralistic pose, kids today have far more toys than kids 30 years ago, too damn many, at least in my house).  As to housing costs, you have to consider what people are getting for their money, which these days is a lot larger houses that are better insulated, etc.  And as to that Dodge power wagon, it didn’t have anti-lock breaks, airbags or a CD player, and the engine most likely didn’t last over 100,000 miles–a car that gives you all that ought to cost more, but in fact depending on what you’re looking for, you can pay even less or about the same price.  And while health care has gotten more expensive (a bad policy design issue, not so much a market issue, I think), the reality is that we also have access to a lot better health care, too.  We pay more, but we also get more.

                And paying less for so many goods means more money left over to pay for those other things.

                Look, I’m not making an argument that all is peaches and cream in paradise.  I’m just arguing that the doom and gloom, it’s all going to hell in a handbasket arguments aren’t supportable by the evidence.  We do have problems; we’re in a tough economic restructuring, energy prices are going to remain problematic for a good long time I think, and health care costs are a problem (but a solvable one).  But we were hearing these same kinds of arguments in the 1970s, and by almost all objective measures we’re better off now.  We keep looking for a time when nobody is struggling, but as long as we keep having rising expectations–and we will as long as things keep getting better–we’ll always feel like we’re struggling.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                But, actual statistics show that all that money saved on clothing, electronics, and other toys has been swallowed up by health care, housing, and so on. Again, the link I’ve posted multiple times that debunks the “middle-class people bought huge houses so f em” myth.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                James,

                you got nothing. Most people may live another 12 years, but in bonecrushing poverty, so far as I can tell. Most people can’t survive even losing their job for a month or three, without unemployment, because they don’t have money in the bank.

                I gotta say, yes, people got more money now, but they don’t got pensions, and they don’t got security, and they do got STRESS.

                And if that don’t kill them, failing to save for the future will. Reagan’s Ponzi scams aside, who puts money in a mattress these days?Report

              • Avatar dexter says:

                James,

                The cars you mentioned are different than a dodge power wagon.  Look up the prices for 3/4 ton four wheel drive trucks and get back to me.

                I know that medicine has advanced greatly since the 60’s, but I was not talking about a new procedure, I was talking about seeing a doctor for the flu.  

                I don’t find clothes to be any cheaper now than in my youth.  I remember buying a pair of Levis in 1969 in Alaska for five dollars.  The difference, at least for the blue collar people, is that wages have not kept up.  In 1966 I had the world’s most menial labor job that paid over 25 an hour in today’s wages.  Try finding one of those today.  I remember seeing a short blurb on the tele recently where a man working in an auto plant in the south somewhere bragging about how he was making 16 an hour.

                Things may be better if one has a master’s degree or phd, but for people like me, blue collar dude that I am, who  has seen 9 million factory jobs offshored and around 20 million undocumented aliens come across the border all I see is a downward spiral.  I see a country that has entirely to many people that don’t make enough to live well.  And by live well I don’t mean a 2,500 square house in the burbs.  By live well I mean not having to worry if there will be enough food for the week.  I mean not worrying that your car will break, or not worrying about how you will pay for it if you or your kids gets sick. 

                I would be much more enamored with the right wing if they spent time complaning about how the corps have captured the government instead how we need more deregulation and how well the poor are doing.

                 

                 

                 

                 Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Dexter, Yeah, they’re not the Dodge power wagon.  That’s missing the point.  Vehicles today are safer and more durable.  That’s worth some real money.

                Jesse, 2x houses w/ 1x kids.  Let’s not pretend that’s not real.  I’m not saying all middle class people did that, I’m saying it was common.

                As to health care, look no farther than a) other countries holding down pharmaceutical costs so that firms had to make up the extra here (no, we don’t want to follow suit–somebody has to actually pay the development cost for new pharmaceuticals), and b) tying health insurance to employment.  I’m all in favor of fixing these problems.  But let’s not pretend they’re some kind of problem of capitalism.

                Nice article, by the way.  It supports 90% of what I’ve said about the middle class having more money now and what they spend their money on.  It does play games with house size, measuring by number of rooms instead of square footage (and certainly not considering either square footage or number of rooms per family member).  They also note the effect, that I’ve seen mentioned elsewhere by economists, of middle class people driving up home prices by shopping for their school district.  It’s entirely reasonable for people to angle to get their kids in better schools, but if you have more people going after a fixed housing stock (e.g., that in a particular district), the effect on prices is predictable, and its pointless to blame anyone but the middle class folks who are demanding that much to sell their home and other middle class folks who are willing to pay that much.

                Now let me emphasize that I’m not saying people are “spendthrift.”  That’s a pejorative I have no interest in engaging in.  I treat value as subjective, so whatever folks want to spend their money on is all right by me.  But when we have fewer kids and buy bigger houses, it is a bit much to start blaming…well, whatever or whoever the heck it is that’s supposed to be at fault.

                I will note a serious flaw in the article, however.  It critiques high-interest credit card companies–but without consumers using those credit cards, there is no problem.  And credit cards are a relatively recent phenomenon.  So what’s changed is in part consumer’s willingness to take on unsecured debt.  (Hey, I did it for a while; didn’t need to, was stupid to do so, and it took a long time to get out of it.  But it wasn’t anybody’s fault but my own.  I didn’t deserve any sympathy, but somehow I’m supposed to not think that for most people it’s their fault just as it was mine? I’m not into infantilizing middle-class adults that way.)Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                And this, which makes things much clearer — you have to work a lot less nowadays to get the same stuff from 1975.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Mmm.   I am.  I remember 1975.   Really wellReport

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                Well, there is the small matter of things that actually take up a large portion of most people’s paycheck.Report

        • Avatar Liberty60 says:

          Well, being a clever entreprenuer is important of course, as well as choosing your ancestors wisely, but mostly choosing your ancestors wisely.

          And I have to smile- a bit grimly, but smile nonetheless- when I think of the people I know personally- a maid who works 14 hours days, 6 days a week, a home health care worker tending to an elderly man for the same long hours, a gardener, a farmworker; retail clerks and customer service reps, juggling famililes and jobs without resources such as a car or health insurance.

          And having all of them branded as fat and lazy by people like us, comfortably affluent people who got where we are on the shoulders and coattails of others, people like us who expended a tenth of the effort they do, yet were winners in the Lucky Sperm Club, or the Great Lottery of the Boomer Generation when college was free and jobs were plentiful.

          But yeah, calling them all stupid and lazy is a cool way to make ourselves feel accomplished and virtuous.

          P.S. You forgot to work in the phrase “strapping young bucks”. And “these kids today”. And something about walking to  school in the snow.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            Look, my point is pretty simple:  you will never get rich as a salaried employee and don’t expect your employer to give a damn about you, he won’t, unless you’re valuable enough to him to make it worth his while.   Sad fact of life:  if you’re on someone’s payroll, you are being exploited, by definition.

            I don’t have health insurance through my employer, I have to buy it for myself.   I have an accountant and a tax attorney, not some cheapo rent-a-JD service either.   I get what I pay for.   Cost of doing business.

            Now I didn’t start out on my own.   I was working for some outfit which laid off half the programmers when they bought some off-the-shelf crap from a vaporware salesman.   They let me go two weeks before I was to close on a house, a house I was buying because it was closer to that job.

            That taught me a lesson I’ve never forgotten.

            Now if you’re going to get snarky about walking to school in the snow, allow me to return the favor:   if you gave a damn about those Pore Exploited Folx, the maid and the farm worker and the whole cast of characters in that mawkish little paragraph, you’d be best served to quit condescending to the poor and consider, not why, but how the poor are exploited to the very considerable extent they are.   Our entire economy is utterly dependent on a class of exploitable persons, undocumented workers, who drive down the price of labor in this country.   At some levels, it’s worse than slavery and we both know it.   America has always depended upon exploitable persons.  Get them some rights in law and we’d have some economic justice in this country.   At present, we don’t.Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              Blaise,

              You got out of that housing contract, right?

              Are you still being exploited if you have to blackmail the company to get the job? (just wondering…)Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                I would have lost my earnest money.   As it was, I just closed on the house, on the advice of my lawyers.   Got a gig two weeks later and went back to consulting.   As I say, I did learn my lesson.  Some folks don’t.

                As a curious postscript, once the company that terminated me realized they’d been sold the proverbial bill of goods, they wanted to give me back my job.   I reminded the guy who called me of a conversation I’d overheard where he’d said “I don’t pay my people caca.”   By then, I was already working on another gig.Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              if you’re on someone’s payroll, you are being exploited, by definition.

              demonstrably untrue, BP. If you’re on someone else’s payroll only and until you make their company cease to exist with your “good ideas”, then you’re probably exploiting them.Report

            • Avatar wardsmith says:

              Blaise, you’re doing some impressive hand waving there. First you define /any/ worker as exploited. Ok, I get that. Later you say America’s greatness is predicated on exploiting undocumented and exploitable workers. Ok, I get that albeit a little less so.

              I started to write up an OP comparing liberals, conservatives and libertarians and cross-referencing belief systems. Unfortunately as I got into the 2nd page I realized I was doing a damn good job of offending everyone on the site at once. For instance liberals trend towards disbelief in religion and belief in Darwin. However, they completely discard survival of the fittest as evidenced by this entire discussion thread. Oh well, cognitive dissonance makes the head go round.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                What’s wrong with being exploited?   Is there something pejorative about that word?   I mean, I don’t volunteer to sit here and write this stuff, I gotta get paid for it,  I exploit these corporations which could have their own people do my job but they won’t, because I’m better value for money.   I come with a big long resume and some interesting recommendations.  Of course I’m going to exploit, to the max.   I’m no longer an exploit-ee, I’m an exploit-er.

                Despite being a Liberal, I’m a thoroughgoing Capitalist:   how can anyone’s salary be justified if he’s not contributing to the bottom line?Report

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                What’s wrong with being exploited?   Is there something pejorative about that word?

                Um, actually yes, since Marx at any rate. The bourgeoisie existed solely to exploit the working class and therefore keep up their hedonistic lifestyle.

                As for me I’ve often been a willingly exploited worker. And in my aforementioned job I quite often told my management, “The definition of an ideal worker is someone who is irreplaceable to the company and the definition of ideal management is to keep that from happening”. Ultimately when I quit to find my fortune, they replaced me with 5 and then 10 people, offered me progressively higher management titles if I’d return and in a snit stopped buying from me after I’d told them not only no but hell no. Naturally I regret not one iota what I did.

                I prefer to think of work as mutually exploitative. I used her, she used me, but neither one cared, we were both getting our share.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                only true if they aren’t drivign you into desperate poverty, and then picking you up for a song.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Exactly right.  No quarrel with any of that.  I’ve already made the point, somewhere around here, that Marx never really got beyond the trivial nature of the worker-employer conflict.   Bismarck was able to short circuit this stupid head-butting by putting workers and management on the same footing on the board of directors.   Curiously, when Gen MacArthur was ruling Japan, he tried to introduce the trade union concept there.   To his consternation, the workers jumped in bed with management.   They emerged from a feudal world straight into the industrial world, and fealty was rewarded with loyalty.

                This ties into my point about the Middle Class, it’s always a temporary phenomenon.  In the Middle Class, it’s Up or Out, there’s no holding on and hoping for Incremental Improvements.

                And good on you for saying Hell No.   Burning some bridges is most exceeding delightful.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Blaise, Kim and Wardsmith,

                If you are defining exploitation as “voluntarily accepting the best offer I can get” then I guess i was exploited too.

                Voluntary employment is a positive sum, win/win arrangement. To me it is the antithesis of exploitation.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I started to write up an OP comparing liberals, conservatives and libertarians and cross-referencing belief systems. Unfortunately as I got into the 2nd page I realized I was doing a damn good job of offending everyone on the site at once.

                I would love to read this post.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Plus one! The idea of pissing everyone off sounds like fun to me.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                ward, Survival of the Fittest is all about creating more babies. It is NOT about being successful, by and large.

                I can write a short dissertation on what birth control has done to survival of the fittest — or Makeup, for that matter.

                If you’re interested, I’ll put it in the queue. Maybe Ed’ll actually post this one (he hasn’t frontpaged the last one I wrote, so…)Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Survival of the fittest means the fattest get fewer dates.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                Women are always attracted to the bulge in a man’s pants – caused by his wallet. Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Not fair! This picture was taken from my bad side!Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                However, they completely discard survival of the fittest

                Not to thread jack too much, but this is a phrase that (a) Darwin never appears to have used, that (b) he appears to have disliked, and that (c) is an empty tautology entirely unrelated to either his theory or the modern evolutionary synthesis.

                So liberals are right to reject it.

                “Survival of the fittest” means what exactly?  Survival of those who are most fit… to survive!  And how do we know that they’re most fit to survive?  Well, they survived.

                It’s the merest tautology.  Say “descent with modification” if you want to say something meaningful.

                As to rejecting it in the moral sense, that’s entirely okay too.  We are all the products “descent with modification,” but no one is suggesting we get by on evolution’s bare output alone.  Not even libertarians.  And some of us have even read Herbert Spencer, and know what he said!

                 Report

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                Lol, if I submit the OP I started and don’t get banned for it, you can find plenty more to disagree with me about. Yes, I read Spencer – and so did Darwin:

                Darwin first used Spencer’s new phrase “survival of the fittest” as a synonym for natural selection in the fifth edition of On the Origin of Species, published in 1869Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                I had been taught Darwin in a history of science class using the first edition, and it had been pointed out to me at that time that Spencer’s phrase was indeed a tautology.  Which it is.

                I could have sworn that I was also taught that Darwin rejected the phrase “survival of the fittest” when it was proposed to him, but apparently I was wrong.  My apologies.

                 Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Well, even Darwin was free of intellectual faults.  Because survival of the fittest most certainly is a meaningless tautology at best, a wholly meaningless statement at worst (since nobody actually “survives” in the long run).

                 Report

            • Avatar Liberty60 says:

              No, Blaise, the point I was addressing was your comment that people who are not doing well are not doing well mostly because they are lazy.

              “Doing well” and “getting rich” are entirely different things. Society can do very well with only a few people getting rich, but not if only a few people are doing well.

              The logic underlying your comment was that anyone can do as well as you if they only were as ambitious and smart as you.

              That is demonstrably false.

              Oh and this idea that somehow that a Writer of Invoices is somehow superior to a Receiver of Wages, or that the only path to non-exploitation is to be a free agent? I don’t know what causes you to think that!

              There are plenty of “independent contractors” who are no better off than any wage slave; in fact, “independent contracting” is one of the preferred methods of exploiting people who have no other choices.

               Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                For instance, and to draw Jaybird into this, professional wrestlers. Actual WWE employees get health insurance, retirement benefits, and so on. WWE wrestlers? Not so much. Once you throw in the injuries and such that happen to professional wrestlers, outside of being a top star in the WWE, it’s far better to be middle management in WWE production than a mid-level wrestler in the WWE.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                For what it’s worth, the WWE is very good about paying for medical care for their guys. They have access to the best neck, back, spine, tendon, ligament guys in the business and pay out the nose for them.

                The health care for the wrestlers is taken care of… I think it’s more that they did a cost analysis and figured out that paying for the wrestlers as needed was cheaper than finding an insurance policy for all of them.

                I’d be surprised if TNA didn’t do similar.

                (Now, if you want to discuss such things as how folks in the office praise wrestlers who work hurt and how wrestlers who take “too much” time off have their contract renewal talks more likely to stall, that’d be another thing altogether.)

                Additionally, when it comes to retirement benefits, the wrestlers are paid quite a bit and there are quite a bit of royalty, merch, PPV sales and so on. If you appear in a WWE video game (every wrestler in WWE ’12 got Sixty Grand for their likeness appearing in the game), you get a check. If you appear on a t-shirt (or your catchphrase does), you get a check. If you show up and wrestle at a PPV, you get a check. This is all on top of whatever downside you make. From what I understand, no wrestler makes only his/her downside (and getting close to only making downside is an indicator that you’re likely to not have your contract renewed).Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                You have me all wrong. I’m not superior to anyone. Wage earners and salaried people of all sorts muddle along and don’t get paid what they’re worth, mostly because they’re fearful little tree huggers, hoping their employers will see their virtues and hang onto them. It just doesn’t work that way.

                Look, I’m a contractor because I don’t trust anyone to do me right.   I’d love to be a part of some great corporation that made wonderful things that made people happy and be the goddamn Vice President of software and manage a horde of little Oompa Loompas from Oompaloompastan and we would all write delicious software treats for little kiddies all across the known universe.

                Such is not to be.   I’ve given up on climbing the corporate ladder.  All I ever got from that slog was a lot of overtime and unbelievable pressure.  So I got off the ladder and tripled my billing rate and now I work about nine months a year and never more than 11 for tax purposes.

                Accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

                I’d like to abolish many forms of evil in the world to which the masses are accustomed. I wish more people felt this way. It would be a much better world if people were able to stand up for themselves and push back against those evil forms. And I don’t think that’s unique to Liberals, by the way. Libertarians have this all dissected and labeled and they ought to be taken seriously. They haven’t quite grasped that workers must stand up collectively if they’re ever to get any more money or time off or benefits than they do, but they’ve got one thing right: corporations are amoral, not immoral.

                If I jumped off the corporate ladder, it was because I came to realize, to my horror, the rungs of that ladder were human beings and if I wanted to climb it, I’d be stepping all over other people.

                Are ordinary people lazy? I am. Laziness is a virtue in my business. Hard workers bother me. Lots of words have a pejorative connotation which I don’t observe, as with Exploitation, everyone is exploited. Once “exploit” meant a great accomplishment, as in the exploits of an explorer. Marx gives us “exploitation” with a new definition, as he did with many words. Marx did some work as a reporter but if the history books serve, I don’t think he ever did a hard day’s work in his life.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                Everyone should be reading Blaise in this thread and thinking about what he says.  It’s important and wise (if not perhaps the whole picture – but how can it be, it’s the view from somewhere, not everywhere?).Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 says:

                Well thank God you don’t feel yourself superior to the fearful little tree huggers!Report

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                Blaise is demonstrably superior to me, and I don’t say that about many people, living or dead.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                The important thing is that you’ve figured out a way to feel superior to him.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                C’mon Liberty.  They are fearful.   Are you saying most employees don’t live in fear of being terminated for reasons beyond their control?   I’ve watched it happen.

                You sit there at your desk and watch a decent, intelligent person come out of HR and clear out her desk, sobbing as if her heart would break, helping her put her stuff in boxes and helping her carry it out to her car with the two child seats in the back and tell me it doesn’t affect you.   Oh you really are a piece of work, to accuse me of putting on airs for saying employees don’t live in fear for their livelihoods.! They live in fear every fishing day.

                At least I don’t condescend to those people.Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 says:

                You are correct, that most (but not all)  employees DO live in fear. Just as much as most (but not all) sole proprietors.

                But what is your point? That being exploited is a function of being employed versus being independent?

                I would argue it is a function of being big versus being small.

                For instance, I doubt very much that the CEO of Bank of America is a fearful tree hugger, yet technically he is an “at will” employee like me.

                Whereas a sole proprietor of a one man shop is often every bit as fearful and exploited as a sweatshop employee.

                You seem to be veiwing the entire world through your own lens, that it sucked when Blaise was an employee, now its great when Blaise is a proprietor, so by golly, it must be universally true.

                You also seem hurt and put upon by my challenging your statement that most people are lazy. really? Do you live in some world where one can make that kind of sweeping shockingly offensive statement and not be challenged?

                If I made that statement about the bloggers or commenters here I would probably be admonished for ad hominem attacks.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Excuse me to death.   Let me get this straight, just so we know where each other stands:  have you ever been a sole proprietor?   If so, how was your incorporation set up?   I am a sole proprietor operating under an S corp.   Corporations aren’t Big or Small, they’re just corporations.   I am not my corporation.

                I have made my point:  by now at least several thousand words on the subject.  Others find it an interesting viewpoint, if existentially incomplete.   There’s nothing superior to being independent and I have explicitly said as much.   It’s an admission of the obvious:  that writing software is like building houses.   Beware the house builder who starts adding rooms on for himself:  it’s construction, with a planning phase, costing, bills of material and eventually the floors are swept and the people move in and cook bacon and eggs on that nice new shiny stove.

                I’m not some Information Technology schnook, trying to work out how to retrofit the Sales Department’s latest scheme for sending the highest performing salesman to Hawaii for a week into the fishing payroll system.   I have to keep running, faster and faster, to stay where I am in the food chain.

                Yes, it is great, to be me.   I find it just endlessly amazing to present myself on the doorstep of some FUBAR corporation and say “Y’know, I just don’t know anything about what you want and you’re going to have to tell me everything” and by God these folks are all-too-willing to tell me about their pains and sufferings and I write ’em a system to encapsulate those rules and policies and honor my users and it’s always an adventure because no two corporations are the same.   And when I’m done, they give me praise and thanks and take me out to dinner and I go on to the next corporation.

                You can’t possibly hurt me, sitting in your chair, drinking a cup of coffee reading these words.   As long as the comment begins with <span class=”comment_author”>BlaiseP</span>, you may rely on every word I say to be a view of the entire fishing world through my lenses, a policy I’ve observed my whole life.Report

  10. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    I’ve got a thought and I’m sure it’s hopelessly naive or bizarre, as usual, but here goes: I spend a lot of time with my in-laws and their friends, who are on the high end of the social spectrum. I also spend a lot of time with our friends and neighbors and the regulars at my favorite bar, who are on the lower end of the social spectrum. I don’t see a lot of differences as far who’s more hard-working or ambitious. I do see some differences as far as a basic outlook on life- it should be obvious which set is more optimistic about this society and its future. And they certainly have different cultural markers, which they might overemphasize- it should also be obvious which group has more atheists. Most of all, though, I just see a big difference in terms of who they socialize with. I often think that If I could just get my in-laws and their friends to hang out at my favorite bar, I suspect a lot of people would make a lot of really great business and personal connections. But it doesn’t happen so much. So, you know, maybe if there was still something like the Lion’s Club that enabled people to socialize, network, and take tips from one another, across these large divides, that might help.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      It’s no secret most of the advantages of higher education aren’t the facts you learn but the people you meet.   Look around any university town, you’ll find little startups here and there.   Research Triangle down in Raleigh/Durham works exactly along those lines.

      Looking at American society, with one foot in and the other out of it, Americans do a fairly good job of mixing it up.    Maybe that’s less so now than formerly, but Americans seem to be a remarkably egalitarian society.    The country clubs aren’t doing so well these days, if that’s any guide.   We do self-segregate but there’s always been this odd confluence high and low, of Taking the A Train down to Harlem.Report

  11. Avatar Liberty60 says:

    Responding here  to Patrick Calahan, Roger and Jaybird upthread, since that indent was getting overlong.

    In sum, if what we are discussing is the degree of duty to others, then we can have a very productive discussion, because there is a fundamental agreement that there is some sort of duty, even if it is a bit cloudy on the margins..

    So the debate would be along the lines of “should we cap benefits at $450 a week, or $475?”.

    It moves the debate away from the doctrinaire statements against coercion as an a priori principle, to a discussion about means to an agreed upon outcome.

    Its like the difference between saying “taxes should be lower”, versus “taxes are theft”.

    I know that not all libertarians believe the same things, and its unwise to tar them all with the same brush, strawmen and all that. But “Taxes are theft” and “Coercion is always wrong” are not just something I made up, and they aren’t just nutpicking. These are real things that serious people have said, and IMHO, are ideas that need to be engaged and defeated.

     Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      I would say that I prefer that, when people argue against me, they argue against positions that I hold than against positions that other people who are not me hold.

      I mean, I enjoy the intellectual exercise of defending positions I don’t hold but it just doesn’t engage me as much.

      If, however, we’re open to the idea of arguing against positions that nobody in the conversation holds, I’d just like to state that I completely disagree with the idea of starving political opponents by the millions.Report

      • Avatar Liberty60 says:

        I was thinking that your position is that you agree on the basic “duty to provide” except you disagree on where the benefits should be set. Am I wrong?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          When I think about my obligations to others, the things that I am responsible for making sure that they have, I see the 1st level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs being my responsibility, I see having a responsibility to some degree for the 2nd, and everything in the 3rd and above, my responsibilities are more of the form “stay out of their way”.

          So we get to hammer out exactly how much of the “safety” level I am responsible for when it comes to others. Most, I’m sure you’d agree, could be met by my merely *NOT* doing a whole lot of things. (Not mugging, not breaking/entering, so on.) It’s the other stuff that I wonder about.

          The majority of our disagreement could well be that I see a difference between saying “I need to do this” and “someone, somewhere, should do this!”

          It’s much, much easier to say the latter.Report

    • Avatar Roger says:

      Liberty,

      Thanks for expanding the thread again, and for your enlightening and moderating comments.

      I believe most libertarians desire to create better social safety nets. Yes, their ideas lean toward lower taxes, less dependency, and less coercion; and toward more options, more efficiency, and more constructive competition.

      Personally, I cannot imagine successful societies without broadly defined safety nets. It isn’t a difference in compassion, it is a difference in methodology. My nets look very, very different from yours.

       Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        I believe most libertarians desire to create better social safety nets.

        It’s mostly just the louder ones who totally oppose them.Report

        • Avatar Liberty60 says:

          So getting back to that motorcyclist injured while riding without a helmet…we are all in accord that there is a duty to provide care, even if we aren’t happy about it?Report

          • Avatar Roger says:

            I wish you would avoid the DUTY word.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            Where does this duty come from? God? How do we know that God isn’t giving us an organ donor intended to save the life of someone (or several someones!) who hasn’t been riding a motorcycle without a helmet?Report

          • Avatar James K says:

            I’ll sign up to that, assuming of course that the motorcyclist can’t afford treatment, I see no reason why the government should be paying for the healthcare of rich people.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley says:

            So getting back to that motorcyclist injured while riding without a helmet…we are all in accord that there is a duty to provide care, even if we aren’t happy about it?

            I may be persuadable about that case, but I’m not persuaded. Let me use two extreme examples here, to stake out end points on the issue.

            1. A man who is an orphan and a single child of a single child dies, with no life insurance, while his wife, who also happens to be an orphan who was a single child of a single child is pregnant.  The wife/mother dies, also without life insurance, when the child is two years old.  The child, with no family, was recently diagnosed with leukemia.

            2. A young man enjoys riding his motorcycle at 100+ mph through his neighborhood while not wearing a helmet.  He has already had multiple accidents and injuries whose costs have been socialized onto society because he has no insurance.  He does it again and sustains life-threatening injuries that will require very expensive measures just to barely keep him alive with massive brain damage.

            Now I see a category difference between the two cases.  Perhaps from your perspective the category difference doesn’t matter.  I can get that.  But I hope also that you can get why someone might think the category difference does matter.

            Of course the real cases, the tough ones, lie between the extremes, but I don’t want to argue about where to draw the line; I want to argue that it can be legitimate to make such distinctions at all.

            So, are we all in accord that there is a duty to provide care to the motorcyclist?  Not really.  With appropriate evidence I could be persuaded that the utility of a system that takes care of him is superior to a system that doesn’t, and I might then agree that as a practical matter the take-care system is the best choice.  But I think it would be very hard to persuade me that there is such a “duty.”

            To get to the heart of your question, is there a “duty” to provide for the two year old orphan with leukemia?  I’m hard pressed to call it duty, but if duty it is then it stems solely from the fact of the person’s innocence of its plight.Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck says:

              “Are we all in accord that there is a duty to provide care to the motorcyclist?  Not really.”

              The problem is that there’s always someone to whom we are the motorcyclist.  You should have known that rock-climbing was inherently hazardous.  You should have known that smoking caused health problems.  You should have known that eating rice oil from the Kanemi Company was going to cause birth defects.Report

            • Avatar Liberty60 says:

              What you are setting up is a duty based on worthiness- the deserving recipient versus the undeserving.

              While one may deserve it and another doesn’t, it doesn’t change the basic duty.

              In response to Roger, DUTY is the all important word. The care we provide isn’t something trivial, casual, to be provided if-its-convenient.

              For most people, duty comes from God, Allah, FSM, or some general belief in human diginity. But it is sacred, worthy of being enforced by moral pressure where possible but coercion where necessary.

              I have no problem providing care to an unworthy recipient, then scolding or punishing them later for their stupidity or negligence.

              For instance, we could provide medical care to the motorcyclist, then fine or even jail him later for breaking the law.

              I should point out that in most moral systems, the duty to provide is also accompanied by the duty not to become  a burden; We have a moral duty to work and be as self sufficient as possible.

              No, we are not the first society on earth to worry that our generosity will turn into an invitation to freeload.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Well, imagine a world with limited resources.

                For example, let’s say that a guy rode a motorcycle without a helmet, got into a crash, died.

                His liver, on ice, is now being flown via helicopter to a hospital where it will be given to David Crosby, of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, who has spent the last X years drinking a lot.

                I mean, a lot a lot.

                Is it not justified to ask whether this liver should instead go to a teenager who has a bum liver rather than going to a rock and roll star who destroyed his own liver with bad behavior?

                Keep in mind: We’re not talking about Stephen Stills. We’re not even talking about Graham Nash. We’re talking about David Crosby. (We sure as hell ain’t talking about the teenager.)Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                It’s just a little more complex than that.  That liver will go to the best match on the donor registry, not on the basis of  some withered old reprobate rock star’s status.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I suspect that Mr. Crosby got bumped ahead of equally suitable matches.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Hard to say.   I hope it’s not true.   A friend of mine flies corporate jets and they transport organs.   He tells me it’s done ethically.

                Which isn’t to say all such donations and transplants are ethical.   How many horror stories do we have to read about some wretched soul in Pakistan selling a kidney or those ghastly Chinese executioners, making sure they get a clean head shot so they can harvest those organs.   Yargh….Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 says:

                Yes, it is completely justified to question the expense and moral value of different actions.

                Moral dilemmas are the warp and woof of our existance. The transplant registry makes that very choice every single day.

                 Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Not to hijack the subject but it has been observed that injecting a tch more market into the issue of transplants pretty much eliminates the scarcity that is involved. The only reason why Mr. Crosy and young little Jimmy bum-liver both cannot not now have prompt matching transplants is a socially (and governmentally) created artificial scarcity.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                This Duty ought to work to society’s general benefit:  dying is an expensive business, no matter how you slice it.   Even the pauper’s grave isn’t free.

                Long ago, I did a little gig for a private ambulance company.   Their money run was Cuneo to Cook County, taking indigent patients from a private hospital to a public hospital.   The private hospital paid the tab, willingly, to get the indigent out of their ER.

                The yardstick for society’s obligation isn’t a moral one, it’s a financial one.   Were it in my power, I’d set up free clinics.   They’re provably the most cost-effective method to allocate health care dollars to those in need.   It’s about a tenth the cost of treating someone in the ER, often even less.   Insofar as society spends any money at all, it ought to be passed through the filter of some stink-eyed accountant who looks at value for money.   The cost of health care in this country has almost no congruence with the benefits derived.

                If I was a gunshot victim or in a serious trauma incident, I’d beg to be sent to Cook County.   They’re the best trauma unit for that sort of incident I’ve ever seen.   Why?   Because their teams have the most experience.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                For most people, duty comes from God, Allah, FSM, or some general belief in human diginity. But it is sacred, worthy of being enforced by moral pressure where possible but coercion where necessary.

                Ironically, I feel about this the way I assume you feel about creches on the lawn of city hall.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Liberty60,

                While one may deserve it and another doesn’t, it doesn’t change the basic duty.

                That’s an assertion.  It will take a lot more than a simple assertion to persuade me.  And the assertion is a lot easier to agree to when we fudge and put the duty on that amorphous concept called “society,” than when we get serious and start talking about what duties individuals owe to each other.

                The motorcyclist is my next door neighbor.  Do I personally have an enforceable duty?

                The motorcyclist lives in my town.  Do I personally have an enforceable duty?

                The motorcyclist lives in my state. Do I personally have an enforceable duty?

                The motorcyclist lives in Arizona, while I live in Michigan.  Do I personally have an enforceable duty?

                The motorcyclist lives in Germany.  Do I personally have an enforceable duty?

                I think you’re talking about a moral duty here, so none of those distinctions should matter.  And yet I expect you don’t see those as all the same (although I could, obviously, be wrong in my expectations).

                And I don’t believe in your god(s), and just from observing humanity I have sincere doubts about the concept of human dignity and the specialness of human life.  Why is it legitimate for you to force me to contribute based on what I see as false claims?  My beliefs, on the other hand, don’t force you to do anything–you’re still free to contribute based on your sense of duty. And, hell, I’ll probably contribute a bit, too, just because I like to do nice things (it sure as hell ain’t my “duty” to shovel my neighbors’ walk while I’m shoveling mine, but I do it frequently anyway, so it’s important not to construe “not a duty” with “I’ll never do it.”)Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 says:

                Using the Power of The State to enforce a moral code is, I agree, a dangerous proposition and easily abused to the point of man-on-dog Santorumism.

                But I would argue that there are some moral precepts so fundamental to the workings of society that it is worth the risk to enforce them, by coercion if necessary.

                In the same vein as “the Constitution is not a suicide pact” all individual rights have boundaries defined by the existential needs of the state.

                I am opposed to military conscription but I acknowledge it may become necessary to conscript civilians and coerce them into combat, to preserve the existence of the nation.

                A society that sees no obligation to the motorcyclist would, in my opinion, cease to function in even its most basic ways.

                 Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                But I would argue that there are some moral precepts so fundamental to the workings of society that it is worth the risk to enforce them, by coercion if necessary.

                Sure.  Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not rape 5 year old kids….

                But, thou shalt not let die has always been an extremely tricky concept.  The classic example in philosophy classes is the drowning man.  If I see a drowning man, and there is a life ring nearby that I could throw to him, am I required to do so?  Morally some will say yes, but we normally haven’t incorporated that into our legal codes.  So, “fundamental to the workings of society?”  It seems not.

                As to your subsequent paragraph, I don’t see how the existence of the state is implicated in any way.  I’m baffled as to how the state would “cease to function” if we let crazy-ass risk-takers die.  A cursory historical overview demonstrates that states have functioned pretty efficiently while being a lot more barbaric than that.  You’re going to have to do some pretty tenuous narrowing of the definition of a functioning state to sustain your argument.Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 says:

                But even the most barbarous societies held to the principle of Duty to Care, even if only for the clan members.

                I guess I could turn it a different way, similar to DensityDuck’s comment #348;

                You express “sincere doubts about the concept of human dignity and the specialness of human life.” So what is it about your liberty that is of value to me?

                If liberty and self-determination isn’t based on respect for human dignity, then what is it based on?

                 Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                So what is it about your liberty that is of value to me?

                Enlightened self-interest, if nothing more.  You owe me nothing, but if you deny my liberty I just might try to deny your’s, with extreme prejudice.  Better that we get into a positive iteration of interactions rather than a negative one.  There’s good game theory analogues for this in the concept of the iterated prisoner’s dilemma–if we each play tit for tat we’ll both come out a lot worse if we each defect on each other than if we cooperate with each other.

                You might say the same applies to preventing others from dying, and it might, from a purely utilitarian standpoint.  But that’s not duty.

                Human dignity, IMO, is just a nice story we tell ourselves so that we can pretend we’re not animals whose primary drive is just reproducing ourselves. The ease with which humans can be whipped up into frenzies of hatred, bigotry, and war pretty much undermine the idea of human dignity, I think.  Dignity is something individuals strive for, not something that is innate within the species.

                That’s all my opinion, of course, and relatively few people agree.  But I flatter myself that it’s got a better grounding in fact than opposing theories.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                “Mr. Castle,” said Frazier very earnestly, “let me ask you a question. I warn you, it will be the most terrifying question of your life. What would you do if you found yourself in possession of an effective science of behavior? Suppose you suddenly found it possible to control the behavior of men as you wished. What would you do?”

                “That’s an assumption?”

                “Take it as one if you like. I take it as a fact. And apparently you accept it as a fact too. I can hardly be as despotic as you claim
                unless I hold the key to an extensive practical control.”

                “What would I do?” said Castle thoughtfully. “I think I would dump your science of behavior in the ocean.”

                “And deny men all the help you could otherwise give them?”

                “And give them the freedom they would otherwise lose forever!”

                “How could you give them freedom?”

                “By refusing to control them!”

                “But you would only be leaving the control in other hands.”

                “Whose?”

                “The charlatan, the demagogue, the salesman, the ward heeler, the bully, the cheat, the educator, the priest—all who are now in possession of the techniques of behavioral engineering.”

                “A pretty good share of the control would remain in the hands of the individual himself.”

                “That’s an assumption, too, and it’s your only hope. It’s your only possible chance to avoid the implications of a science of behavior. If man is free, then a technology of behavior is impossible. But I’m asking you to consider the other case.”

                “Then my answer is that your assumption is contrary to fact and any further consideration idle.”

                “And your accusations—?”

                “—were in terms of intention, not of possible achievement.”

                Frazier sighed dramatically.

                “It’s a little late to be proving that a behavioral technology is well advanced. How can you deny it? Many of its members and techniques are really as old as the hills. Look at their frightful misuse in the hands of the Nazis! And what about the techniques of the psychological clinic? What about education? Or religion? Or practical politics? Or advertising and salesmanship? Bring them all together and you have a sort of rule-of-thumb technology of vast power. No, Mr. Castle, the science is there for the asking. But its techniques and methods are in the wrong hands—they are used for personal aggrandizement in a competitive world or, in the case of the psychologist and educator, for futilely corrective purposes. My question is, have you the courage to take up and wield the science of behavior for the good of mankind?Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                I second James’ comment on enlightened self interest.

                That is a social contract I would sign. I would even sign some that had various rules and responsibilities. Soon we would have competing contracts as people try to form the best societies. We would have a race to social cooperation rather than the mess we have today.Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 says:

                “Enlightened self interest” is a utility argument,a posteriori, based on facts observable. But what “enlightens” self interest and separates it from simple greed, if not a moral code, a priori?

                The weakness of a posteriori is that if the data changes, so does your outcome.

                In other words, if I somehow decided with some degree of certainty that it would never be applied to me, and absent any a priori belief in the dignity of human liberty, then it would be in my “enlightened self interest” to support a law that declared that all persons named James or Roger should be enslaved.

                 Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Liberty,

                “…what “enlightens” self interest and separates it from simple greed…”

                Seems like progressives have been conflating the two for over a century. To me greed is taking self interest to a fault, especially as it relates to material wealth. I believe greed would offend our Aristotelian senses, or whatever. I would only prohibit someone from being greedy if doing so caused harm to others.

                 if I somehow decided with some degree of certainty that it would never be applied to me, and absent any a priori belief in the dignity of human liberty, then it would be in my “enlightened self interest” to support a law that declared that all persons named James or Roger should be enslaved.

                I believe people have been pursuing their self interest and trying to “enslave me” (take away my freedom and property)  for years. That is why I want to associate voluntarily with others who agree to not harm me and to respect my property. Together we will defend ourselves against those that try to harm us. Then we can pursue dignity and whatever else we desire that does not harm others.

                I am well aware that some people want to take from others, and some want to tell others what to do. The libertarian society is not for them. They are welcome to their own dog eat dog society. My guess is most will be eaten, and a few will eat really well.

                However, we will gladly accept anyone into our society if they agree to play well with others. Just sign our social contract. Soon the big dogs will have nobody else to eat.

                 Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 says:

                Together we will defend ourselves against those that try to harm us.

                I have to smile at the concept of an army of cats libertarians.

                 Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Soon the big dogs will have nobody else to eat.

                Fair enough Roger. But I think the eventuality you so casually accept is what not only liberals but all those who oppose centralized private power have resisted for centuries.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                On our army of cats…

                We plan on outsourcing.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Stillwater,

                 …all those who oppose centralized private power have resisted for centuries.

                I am not sure I am following what you mean by “opposing centralized private power.” Isn’t centralized power usually public?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                For some of us (the stupid liberals!) centralized private power historically was the state. And in lots of cases continues to be the state. That’s the struggle we’re waging. To take the power of the state back from private privilege.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              But I think it would be very hard to persuade me that there is such a “duty.”

              I’ll second this. I don’t think we have a duty in a rights/obligations sorta way. Those only entail negative obligations to refrain from harming others. The further positive obligation doesn’t follow from the rights of the motorcycle or leukemia victim.

              If there is a positive obligation, it’s because a principle like it’s morally wrong to let people die in play here. And of course, that’s an ‘all things being equal’ type of moral principle that applies when the costs of acting are either possible to meet or aren’t so onerous that meeting them entails further moral conflicts. So the two cases you write about above are disanalogous on this score, as you say, because they involve different moral properties: one person was exercising his agency, the other wasn’t. But in neither case is there a rights-based duty to help either. Further, I’m not sure there’s a duty in any sense of the word, since the moral principle justifying the duty doesn’t apply ceteris paribus in either case.

              Despite this, what most of us feel is that letting someone die when it’s preventable is wrong, full stop. Which gets to the Jaybird’s worries about costs.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                Despite this, what most of us feel is that letting someone die when it’s preventable is wrong, full stop.

                It’s almost always at least possible to attempt to prevent.  But as the severity of the injury goes up, the efficacy goes down and the cost goes up.

                Let’s go back to our motorcycle idiot.  I’m the triage nurse at a local ER.  5 of the 7 beds are full.  Two ambulances arrive: one with a two year old and his mother, who are suffering from severe but likely treatable injuries provided they get care soon… caused by an accident when they swerved to avoid the motorcycle idiot, who is on ambulance number two, in critical condition, and very likely to die in the next 30 minutes unless the whole trauma team jumps on trying to save him from crashing.

                Let’s say for the sake of argument that you know that it is 90% likely the motorcyclist will die in the next 30 minutes, and 10% likely that he will survive two hours otherwise… whether or not he recovers after that is an unknown quantity but it’s unlikely.  It is 95% likely that the woman and the child will survive the next 10 minutes, but the probability that they die goes up by 5% for each minute after 20.

                Do you put the team to work on the motorcyclist, or put them to work on the child or the mother or both?

                How long do you work on the motorcyclist until you give up?  Note: his parents are going to arrive in the next 5 minutes, and if you start treatment but then stop before he bleeds out, they’re probably going to sue the hospital… but if you don’t put him on the table until after the woman and child are treated, that’s probably going to slide.

                If letting someone die when it is preventable is morally wrong, full stop: you’re screwed no matter what you do here, right?  Any way you slice it, you’re probably letting someone die when it was possibly preventable.

                Maybe that’s the case.  Maybe you can’t act morally in this scenario.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Patrick,

                If letting someone die when it is preventable is morally wrong, full stop: you’re screwed no matter what you do here, right?  Any way you slice it, you’re probably letting someone die when it was possibly preventable.

                Maybe that’s the case.  Maybe you can’t act morally in this scenario.

                Yeah, I agree. There will undoubtedly be those kind of cases. That’s one areas where the ought implies can principle comes into play: if you cannot do action X, then it makes no sense to say you ought to do action X, and I think that principle applies to the scenario you described above. (Granting that additional moral properties are in play there.)

                Personally, I think there are a bunch of moral dimensions in play in any non-trivial moral scenario. I also think that each one can be justified, usually in an ‘all other things being equal’ sort of way, so the problems arise precisely when (as Koz would say) the ceteris isn’t paribus.

                So going back to the health-care issue, I suppose one area you and I would agree on is that normal human rights don’t entail a positive obligation to save another’s life. Another thing we probably agree on is that the moral principle that one ought not let another die is a ceteris paribus principle that can be defeated either by a) that it’s impossible to save another’s life, or b) that the obligation imposes a moral burden which is onerous.

                But there are other moral dimensions to these types of things. So another moral dimension is that people who bear no personal responsibility for the situations they find themselves in are categorically different than people who do bear some responsibility for those situations. And I think we can all agree that the child with leukemia in James original example bears no responsibility, moral or otherwise, for that situation.

                So the big moral dimensions in play here, it seems to me, are that a) we have no strict duty (positive obligation, whatever) to help the girl. That might mean we’re justified in refraining from committing any of our money or time to helping her (or not, of course). But b) we also feel (at least in this case) that letting the girl die of preventable diseases for which she bears no responsibility is morally wrong. And we accept this principle even tho we realize that meeting the open-ended nature of it is not only financially (and in other ways) impossible, but it would entail onerous moral obligations (ie., positive ones). So we realize that it needs to be narrowed based on financial (sustainability, as JB said) or moral (ought implies can) or even other considerations. Narrowing it down is the hard part, the part no one really wants to talk about or get clear on. For pretty obvious reasons. (Essentially, we’d be trying to offer positive justifications for when it’s permissible to let people die.)

                 

                 Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                May I offer an observation?

                If you want some sort of flexibility so that the “narrowing it down” part is least unjust, consigning this task to the government may not be the best solution.

                Granted, the alternatives may not be any better.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                A sterling bit of thinking there, Stillwater.

                I remember when Sarah Palin was yammering on about Death Panels.   I gritted my teeth and yelled at the television:  “You vicious little goblin!”

                There really are death panels in this country, conference rooms in hospitals and nursing homes with a big box of Kleenex in the middle of the table, with ashen-faced children, spouses and medical personnel, their hearts wrung with grief, often the patients themselves, weighing these very issues, wrestling like Jacob with the angel.  I will not let thee go ere thou bless me.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Sarah Palin might be a better man than thou art, Brother Blaise.  Allow for the possibility.  I remain neutral when one man judges another, although I admit being disposed against the former.

                As for Sarah Palin herself, I do not want her as my or our president, but as a wife or a friend in a dark alley, I’d take her over any gentleman here.

                [No offense intended to present company and the gentle reader.  Perhaps some of us could come up to that mark.  Yet I would take my chances with this vicious little goblin.]Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                This isn’t a question of who’s better.   What is it with some folks around here when I make an observation, that their only response seems to be “oh, you’re just saying you’re better!” as if this was any sort of meaningful response.   I am quite willing to be judged by the measure with which I judge others.   They, in turn, will be measured by mine.

                There are death panels, real ones, not harum-scarum from erstwhile weather girls.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                it’s because a principle like it’s morally wrong to let people die in play here.

                Luckily for progressives, fetuses aren’t “people”. Ah the fun of a slippery slope.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Luckily for the pro-lifers, neither are unwanted children.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                LOL of course no one wants children once they’re adolescents. Or were you talking about adoptions?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Mmm.   Not being one of those hard-line pro-lifers, I really couldn’t say what they propose to do with unwanted children.   I just know they don’t want anyone to abort ’em.

                Jonathan Swift had a solution.Report

              • Avatar Mike says:

                I really couldn’t say what they propose to do with unwanted children.

                Where do you think they intend to get the low-cost slave labor to clean their houses? Seriously. They don’t give a crap about them once they’ve passed through the birth canal.Report

        • Avatar Roger says:

          Even the loud ones are opposing public safety nets. Not private ones. You and I are open to both, but we are miles apart from what Liberty would like.Report

  12. Avatar Roger says:

    Liberty,

    I need to rewrite your question as I have no idea where you are going with duty.

    I believe society would be better with effective safety nets. The most appropriate safety nets in this case are either motorcycle insurance or health insurance. These are appropriate because they place the responsibility on the person most influencing the situation, most benefiting from the protection and most concerned with the price. Asking others to pay will lead to all the affordability problems Jaybird stresses, and will encourage free riding (literally and figuratively in this case).

    If he skips insurance, I recommend we bill him for his medical expenses. If unable to pay, he should go through a bankruptcy process.  This will minimize free riding. It will raise costs of medical coverage for the rest of us though. This is how we would help provide aid.

    Net result of my method would be minimal uninsured motorcyclists, yet 100% care for those injured.

     Report

    • Avatar Liberty60 says:

      I actually agree that private social safety nets are a good idea. In the same way that we have public schools and private schools, public hospitals and private hospitals, a mixture of different types of nets, offered on different basis and by different providers makes for a more robust and fail safe system.

      So I would go so far as to insist that we protect and nurture the private sphere for the same reason we create a public one- that no single source delivery method is foolproof.Report

      • Avatar Roger says:

        Liberty,

        And I see the need for some public safety nets too. Another idea which I would support would be a directed tax. This would be some percentage of our taxes which could be directed by tax payers on their tax form to worthy causes. I might even consider funding the irresponsible motorcyclist fund, or the drunken ex-rocker kidney fund. I’d probably fund something else though.

        I believe the longer term dynamic on directed taxes would be positive. Causes would have to compete for our money and avoid unnecessary overhead and free riding.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          This would be some percentage of our taxes which could be directed by tax payers on their tax form to worthy causes.

          I could go for that, and have an associated story.

          While teaching a class at the U. of Oregon, two of my students, who were members of the student government, learned that I leaned libertarian and asked me my thoughts on the school’s student fees, which funded various student groups through a competitive process in which each petitioned the student gov for the amount they wanted.  I said I would keep the fee, but let students direct it where they want to go, dividing it up as they saw fit–100% to group X, 10% to each of 10 groups, etc.

          The students literally blanched (an interesting thing to see; I hadn’t know it was a real phenomenon).  The idea of taking a central arbiter out of that role was shocking to them.  “But,” the protested, “nobody would give to the Black Students’ Union.”  “So you assume your judgment is superior to that of other students?” I (teasingly) asked.  “Wouldn’t the BSU then have the necessity of persuading me why they are deserving of some of my money?  Wouldn’t that be a good learning experience on their part, and isn’t it likely that I’d learn more about their value than through the current method?”  “But, but,” one stammered, “what would we ]the student government] do?”Report

          • Avatar Roger says:

            “But what would we do?”

            That is what Congress would say too.

            I wonder what the progressives think of tax payer directed taxes? Any still out there?

            A guy at a website called pragmatarianism is pushing this idea as a softer, gentler libertarianism.Report

            • Avatar Liberty60 says:

              We already have “taxpayer directed taxes”- its called Congress, where we elect people to fund things we like, and not fund things we don’t.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                I don’t think that gives us enough choice and competition. It leads to the current dysfunctional dynamic. We need a new paradigm. It would make me comfortable with more of the social safety nets as it would resist some of the current public choice problems facing government.

                That said, I’d start small (5%?) and see how it works. It might not work at all.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                Can the people also choose the tax rates as well? It’s only fair if they get to choose the spending, they get to choose how they get the revenue as well.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                At the end of the day, they should either pick the spending they want or the taxation they want.

                If they pick “both”, they’ll probably pick “an unlimited amount of spending!” and “tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts”.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                I always wanted to name a band Free Beer.

                Thought it would look great on the marquee.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Jesse. Blaise and Jaybird,

                Choosing tax rates is a separate but great idea as well. The point is that you need to match the cost with the benefit.

                For example, SS and Medicare could easily be funded in a libertarianish way by allowing everybody to choose their level of benefits and level of contribution (as a matched set of course). Those choosing age 71 with high deductible insurance need to contribute at X rate, those choosing 65 and first dollar coverage contribute at y%. Of course, I would recommend we give everyone an option of zero contribution and zero benefit as well.

                You can have beer, or you can pay nothing. But you can’t pay nothing for beer.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                But people *DESERVE* beer! We have a moral obligation to give them beer! Otherwise we’ll be saying “no, you can’t drink beer” and we tried that with the 18th Amendment!Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Jaybird has hit the nail on the head.

                As for Roger, when I’m elected to Grand Panjandrum of the Republic, I’ll have you set up the transportation system and the backhoes so’s we can dump the dying somewhere sanitary, say large pits in Montana, far from anywhere their moans won’t trouble more sensitive ears.Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. says:

                I might be remiss if I didn’t mention that I actually own an album by Free Beer and it’s pretty good.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Blaise,

                I have absolutely no idea why you assume I am for letting the sick die. Was it something I wrote, or do I just seem evil to you?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Roger,

                It’s anti-libertarian/conservative myth number 1.

                Anyone who doesn’t think it’s the government’s to ensure not-X sincerely hopes for, and takes wicked pleasure in, X occurring to everyone who can’t, entirely on their own and with no help of any kind, protect themselves against it.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                And not buying someone beer is the same as preventing them from drinking it.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Now Roger, someone’s got to deal with the consequences of that Zero Benefit option.   Since you’re the one who brought it into play, who better than yourself to handle those outcomes?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Libertarians, the real ones anyway, have all my respect.  They’re like the Stoics of old, cast anew in the forges.

                But these Virtues of Selfishness folks give me the willies.  Anyone who can utter the words “zero benefits” in reference to his fellow man, he is no Stoic.   We do not expect to be paid to be humane to each other.

                Any bartender will give a thirsty man a glass of water if not a glass of beer.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                A bartender who gives a thirsty man a glass of beer will find himself overrun with thirsty men.

                He will then have to decide between denying them beer (perhaps only giving them water) and becoming one of them.

                The people singing songs about how everybody deserves beer are not helping. We know that they aren’t the friends of the bartender. We can debate whether they’re friends of the thirsty.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Horseshit.   I’ve tended bar.  Shit I’ve run a jazz bar for two and half decades.  That bar was overrun by thirsty men all right, women too, and many of whom wanted a water back, but curiously, at no point has a horde of Thirsty Folks come in demanding Free Water.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                And not buying someone beer is the same as preventing them from drinking it.

                Jaybird, it’s interesting you think you’re being snarky here, cuz what you describe is actually the case for all too many people. I know you’re trying to bring some sanity into the discussion, but misrepresenting the actual facts on the ground doesn’t further that cause.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Stillwater, there are people who argue that people who don’t want the government to do X are people who don’t want X to happen at all.

                Some of them might appear in this very thread.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                “The” government?   Who is this Government of which you speak?  Some race of alien overlords?

                Let’s try the phrase “our” government, the one entity we all own in common.  It really doesn’t matter what you or anyone else Wants or Doesn’t Want.   The phrase remains here on the thread Zero Benefts, so just man up and explain what who’s gonna say “Sorry bud, zero benefits for you.”Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                “The Government” “Someone Else”, it all amounts to the same thing. “Not me, though I want credit for supporting it.”Report

              • Avatar b-psycho says:

                BlaiseP:

                Let’s try the phrase “our” government, the one entity we all own in common.

                We don’t own equal shares or anything close to equal power in it.  The government is “them” because of its inherent — and intentional — removal from “us”.

                 Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                All blurring together, eh?   I’m not the one conflating free beer with an emergency transfusion hereabouts.   I’m trying to get to the bottom of this Zero Benefits proposal.   It doesn’t sound terribly Libertarian to me, honestly.   Libertarians are still human beings, though their enemies give them no credit for it.

                From what I’ve seen of Libertarians, and I’ve been reading a great deal on the subject, what they want is a shorter route through the system, where individuals have innate rights in a society.   What annoys them mostly is this business of government running our lives.  We ought to run the government, it really is “OUR” government, not the other way round.

                So if it is our government, arising from the will of the people, I for one think it’s in everyone’s best interest if the basics of health care are kept within reach of everyone, for it’s better for every individual.  It’s provable, statistically.

                This is where Libertarians need to take the next step in their own amazingly sensible philosophy,  learning how to forge a group identity from disparate individuals, united in common purpose.   Liberals, well some of them, especially the Progressives, are peering into the wrong end of the telescope:  the group can only be as true to itself and its purpose as each individual is true.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                One should not so quickly move from interpreting giving people an option to “opt out” as a call for mass graves to complaining about others blurring things together.

                It’s tacky.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                It’s not tacky.  It’s the logical conclusion of the Zero Benefits argument and there is absolutely no getting around that conclusion, hence my snark about some dumping ground in Montana.   And you goddamn well know it, too, so don’t try that Fig Leaf on me.

                Now I’ll tell you what’s tacky, is some facile half-baked argument about Opting Out.   And comparing a blood transfusion to free beer is simply inhuman.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Would you say that someone comparing analogies that no one has made to the holocaust is simply beyond the pale?Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Blaise,

                Oh, now I get why you are saying that. We have an obvious misunderstanding here. 180 degrees.

                The zero tax, zero benefit was referencing an opt out provision for these experimental programs. I was never assuming someone who depended on the benefit would opt out, indeed I would recommend safeguards to keep them from foolishly opting out in error.

                I am actually suggesting this taxpayer directed tax idea as a way to get MORE assistance to the needy. I would love to direct some of my required taxes to needy people rather than the crap congress sends it to. The idea was intended in part as a way to build libertarian favored public safety nets.

                 Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Oh, okay.   Seen in that light, it makes far more sense.   You might see how I’d be cornfuzed by the “everyone”, though.

                It’s one of the great tragedies of the USA, how screwed up and horribly inefficient our health care system has become.   It’s sorta like that joke about Bill Gates going to the doctor with a frog on his head.   Doctor asks “What happened here?”   Frog replies, “Well, it started out as a wart on my ass.”

                Employer health care?   A historical artifact of WW2, a dodge around a law against wage increases.   Medicare, despite its critics, including a great many idiotic Ayn Rand types, (Ayn Rand herself shamefacedly applied for it in her declining years)  has paid for training for most of the doctors in the USA through residency programs.

                Roger, we don’t need Experimental Programs, we know what works.   Ask the doctors, the hospitals, the pharmacists, they all know what’s wrong with this system and they’d fix it in a heartbeat, if they were only taken seriously.   It’s Big Healthco and Big Pharma who are screwing it all up, not the government.   In some ways, it is the government:   Big Healthco bares its teeth and the government flinches.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Roger:  and fwiw I probably owe you an apology for misunderstanding you so completely.  I was wrong.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Blaise,

                No need. I was confused too. I kept scrolling through everything I wrote, to try and figure out what caused the misunderstanding.

                By the way, i really enjoy the humor you bring to the discussion.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                BlaiseP “Shit I’ve run a jazz bar for two and half decades.  That bar was overrun by thirsty men all right, women too, and many of whom wanted a water back, but curiously, at no point has a horde of Thirsty Folks come in demanding Free Water.”

                You get free water because you’re in there buying beer, and paying the cover charge to come in and listen to the band. If you walked in the door when the bar was empty, drank a free glass of water, and left, you wouldn’t be welcome back.

                Those few who come in on a busy no-cover night and manage to score a glass or two of free water are part of the cost of doing business–and if you honestly think that the owner wouldn’t look at an entire bar full of free-water patrons and say “no more free water” then you aren’t as smart as you tell us you are.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Blaise,

                Roger, we don’t need Experimental Programs, we know what works.

                But “we” don’t. Perhaps you do, or the doctors do, but perhaps not. All I will say is that you and the doctors BELIEVE you know what works (but the doctors widely disagree on lots of things with both themselves and you, so I think we need to be careful on trusting too much with either our beliefs or in the imagined consensus.)

                The point of experimentation in science was to get out of hollow theory and see what actually works. The way to actually see if it works is to try it. Before you try something you need to make sure failure isn’t catastrophic (so you do little controlled tests).

                Another benefit of experimentation is to prove to others what works. If you argue forever on whether it works, neither side ever budges. If we try both arguments in a controlled way, we can let the test speak for us. Over time, if you and the doctors are right, they can prove their case.

                Experimentation (in general) allows variety and competition into the system and makes success of failure more empirical than argumentation.

                (In my opinion btw, the doctors and their restrictions on entering the profession are a huge part of the problem).Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                ROFL!   Of course they’d be welcome back!   Do you know the first thing about running a business?   The most difficult aspect of running a public establishment is to get someone’s ass in a chair.  I have tolerated the Birkenstock Crowd coming into my establishment for years, sipping on cups of coffee for hours on the patio, knowing other more well-heeled patrons don’t like to sit in an empty bar.

                A bar is theater.  People can always drink for cheaper at home.  A theater has a cast, technicians and most importantly, an audience.

                Now since you’re intent on telling me how to run my bar, let me tell you how to keep one going for decades, while all my competition has dried up and blown away after a few years.   Here’s who you throw out of a high-end bar:  the scruffy drunks.  You price them out of the bar.  A well-heeled drunk isn’t much better, but he’s tolerated as long as he minds his manners and doesn’t vomit on the bar.

                I run a joint where women want to put on a good dress and jewelry and makeup and pester their husbands to make sure they get a good table.  They’re my very best customers and I make sure they’re treated with deference.    The ladies’ room is kept immaculate.  It’s twice the size of the men’s room, which is kept to the highest standards, too, but I have a reputation to keep up.

                Now I’ll tell you something else for free.   At the end of the long winding road which takes all these folks into my touristic little burg, the height of civilization is a glass of purified water in a clean glass, with ice cubes and a little bit of dew on the glass itself.   I learn the restaurant trade from an old German, he taught me to run a restaurant as theater, as a nice shady refuge from the filthy street.

                Take it from an old dude who was forever chasing quality in a world which never really understood quality.   Offering a glass of clean water in a place where you can’t trust the tap water brings ’em in like flies to a fresh dog turd.   Puts asses in chairs and money in my pocket.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Pliny once wrote:  ne supra crepidam judicaret.  The cobbler can judge as high as the shoe goes.   I’m telling you, as someone who’s watched the health insurance companies screw this up seventeen ways from Sunday.   These outfits are wildly profitable in an economy in serious trouble.   They’ve got government wrapped around their fingers because those companies administer the health care benefits for government itself.

                We’ve had enough Experimentation over the last few decades.   The system as it’s set up now screws doctors and hospitals and patients and the only people doing well are Big Healthco and Big Pharma.   What’s wrong with this picture?Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                ” Offering a glass of clean water in a place where you can’t trust the tap water brings ‘em in like flies to a fresh dog turd. Puts asses in chairs and money in my pocket.”

                So you agree that the assumption is that “free water” is not the only thing that the customer consumes, and that the “free water” is incidental to the other purchases they’re making, when they aren’t just serving as a self-installing marketing device.

                Now let’s go back to Jaybird’s original hypothetical, which is that you’ve promised to give free water to anyone who asks, and the only thing anyone wants is water. Does your restaurant stay in business?

                Since you affect a crusty “real talk” sensibility, here’s a few swear words: fuck shit stack cocksucker motherfucker tits.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Old Bertrand Russell once observed:  “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”

                Put it this way, Duck, ol’ buddy ol’ pal.   Anyone who comes into my restaurant will get purified ice water in a clean glass.  Anyone.  Because that’s how you put asses in chairs.   This isn’t an affectation, Duck.   Treat people well and they’ll go home and write great reviews and it has paid off nicely.   Oh, and you’re going to get free bread and butter, too.   It’s called a Loss Leader, but you’d know that if you’d taken any courses on marketing, a subject upon which you remain blankly and belligerently ignorant.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Old Bertrand Russell once observed:  “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”

                Oh, the irony.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Yeah, Hanley.   Perhaps you live in fear of an invasion of the Water Drinkers, busting down your door to consume Free Beer.    There’s a foolproof solution to allay your fears.

                Why don’t you and the rest of these Fearful Folk just barricade yourselves inside some shed somewhere, say out in Idaho, where you can have little pity parties about how the world is so full of meanies intent on drinking your water?   That way you won’t bother the rest of us who actually put the glasses of water, yes, and the baskets of bread, too, and butter, can you imagine the largesse thus implied…  and linen napkins withal !    Salt, pepper, the run of the garden, Miles Davis playing on the stereo, y todo gratis.

                G’wan ‘long now Hanley.   Hark, I hear ’em now, the Water Drinkers are headin’ your way.   Save yerself !Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                “If you don’t like it, move!” has a fairly interesting history.

                Sometimes it’s because of what it says about the people who picked up and moved, sometimes it’s because of what it says about the people who said it and what they did after a huge chunk moved away.

                In any case, the history tends to point to moving away really only helping the people who move. It doesn’t help the people yelling that people should move.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                You kind of missed the point, there, Blaise.  Pretty cocksure response, though.

                Pretty funny response, too, since it seems to be directed at someone who’s not me. And downright hilarious given that I just used your bar as a good example of cooperative behavior.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Hanley, if there’s any irony in this situation, it’s someone attempting to school me on Free Beer or Free Glasses of Water or who deserves either.

                Y’know, being told the obvious by people who are telling me about what Might Happen if I gave out free beer or free anything in my own joint tap dances on my last little patient nerve.   I don’t give out free water to people because they might buy beer, I give out free water because it’s what people expect in a first rate joint.  Big difference there, one I’d expect some folks around here to grasp immediately.   A jazz bar isn’t a quid pro quo situation.  Treat your customers like that and they’ll never come back.

                And that’s what really annoys me the most, that people attempt to oversimplify things and tell me who’s welcome in my establishment.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Hanley, if there’s any irony in this situation, it’s someone attempting to school me on Free Beer or Free Glasses of Water or who deserves either.

                Which I haven’t done, as you may or may not have noticed.

                But do you really not see the irony of you citing the claim that “the stupid are cocksure”?  You’re either implicating yourself or disproving the claim, eh?  Because you’re certainly not full of doubt.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                The ladies’ room is kept immaculate.  It’s twice the size of the men’s room, which is kept to the highest standards, too, but I have a reputation to keep up.

                This is how you keep a bar open for 20 years.

                Everything else is dancing around how lucrative it is (those are all important, too).

                Having a clean bathroom – highbrow or lowbrow, beater-joint or gin mill or high class “just a drink ‘afore the opera” all need a clean bathroom to stick around.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                I think I’m still not understanding how a bar whose patrons drink free water all day and never order anything else is a successful one that’s going to stay in business. 

                “oh but they’ll be good customers because they know I give free water” ah, so now they are buying stuff.  Which wasn’t part of the original hypothetical.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                The real world is not Zeno’s Paradox.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Can the people also choose the tax rates as well? It’s only fair if they get to choose the spending, they get to choose how they get the revenue as well.

                I support Jaybird’s comment, but want to add on (of course).  First, I don’t see how the fairness analogue works.  I really don’t.

                Second, it’s probably just unfunctional, in large part because of what Jaybird said.  The only way to move toward choosing what tax rate you pay is to make all of government a combination of fee-for-service and charitable giving, with no compulsion.  At that point it can’t really be called government anymore, or if so, just barely so.  Granted, that’s what extreme libertarians want, but it’s not necessary to take the argument that far.

                My take on it is this: conservatives want to fund war and not fund abortions or pre-natal care?  Fine, let them voluntarily pay for the one and not pay for the other.  But why should liberals be forced to pay for war and be denied the opportunity to direct some of their own tax dollars toward abortion and pre-natal care?Report

              • Avatar BSK says:

                How far do we go with this?  And what free ridership do we create?  Why would I direct my funds to the local fire department if I’m confident that my neighbors will foot enough of the bill to cover the whole town? Poor communities, with limited tax revenues, would be at the mercy of others helping them meet the difference between their needs and their revenue stream (for basic services like fire, police, etc.).Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                James, JB and BSK,

                How far do we go with this?  And what free ridership do we create?

                Some people may be assuming I am pushing something further out than I actually am.

                On the tax payer directed part of the idea, I recommended we start small and experiment where it can take us. For the tax rate part of the conversation I did not clarify the size of the experiment, but would recommend something similarly small and experimental. My examples for the latter were not for public goods, but for transfer payments.

                I may not be for high taxes, but if people want to let the government work as an insurance mechanism, they need to take responsibility that the premiums match the payouts.  Congress certainly doesn’t.

                It would be impractical and counterproductive to allow people to opt out of paying for most public goods. However, it is quite reasonable to allow them to select a provider in some cases. (Again, start small and experiment.)

                I agree with James that conservatives could allocate some funds to new weapon systems or veteran benefits. Liberals could fund abortion clinics and direct extra to the poor. Indeed, each could do so without a full yes/no, black/white vote. Voter directed taxes allow government services to start to be more like markets. That’s why I am pretty sure progressives will oppose the idea.

                 Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                My examples for the latter were not for public goods, but for transfer payments.

                That would be my position, as well.  Public goods are one of the classic justifications for government (going back at least to Hume), representing a true and undeniable market failure.  Transfer payments much less so.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Blaise,

                I trust your advice on running a bar is better than your handling of the experimentation point.

                We’ve had enough Experimentation over the last few decades.   The system as it’s set up now screws doctors and hospitals and patients and the only people doing well are Big Healthco and Big Pharma.   What’s wrong with this picture?

                I am not sure how the comment on social experimentation devolved into one on just health care. But if we use it as an example, I think it makes my point. You seem to think health insurers are historically more profitable than other industries and you completely ignore issues such as barriers to entry, and the problems of paying for service using other people’s money. I have no doubt that healthco is rent seeking, but so are others.

                You believe you know the recipe for a profitable bar and you believe you know how to solve health care. But you can never be sure. Your bar is an experiment, but is it really the ladies room that makes it so successful? Or is that just the story you tell yourself?

                You miss the point of experimentation completely.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                We already have “taxpayer directed taxes”- its called Congress, where we elect people to fund things we like, and not fund things we don’t.

                Do you know how much of your tax money goes to what agencies/policies?  Do you know how much spending for what issues your congressman actually preferred?

                The idea that taxpayers direct the allocation of taxes through their representatives runs into multiple problems, primarily the principal-agent problem and the problem of aggregate decision-making (which, of course, is fundamentally different than the type of individual decision-making my only half-serious proposal focuses on).

                If you happen to be the median voter, or close to, you might be represented well enough.  But try telling a Democrat in my district, or a Republican in Boston, that they actually have any kind of directive capacity in tax allocations.Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 says:

                James, you sound remarkably like the young people in my Occupy group who, when faced with being outvoted, whine about how their
                “voice is not being heard”.

                You seem to be upset that being in the minority in a democracy often means living with policies with which you disagree.

                Taxpayer  directed funding is just another gimmicky way of saying I wanna do what I wanna do, and not have to cooperate with other people.Report

              • Avatar b-psycho says:

                You seem to be upset that being in the minority in a democracy often means living with policies with which you disagree.

                Because 50%+1 never vote to screw over the other 49 out of ignorance…

                Not that it really even matters.  The state in practice is just a formalized ruling class.  “majority”? “democracy”?  Most people have no real control, and never did, by design.

                 Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Liberty,

                Taxpayer  directed funding is just another gimmicky way of saying I wanna do what I wanna do, and not have to cooperate with other people.

                I’m not saying you will ever like the idea, but your critique is not really getting to the heart of the matter. it isn’t about cooperating with other people. Indeed, to the extent that people volunteer to send funds to help the needy (one of my intended beneficiaries of the idea) it will enable cooperation.

                What it does is eliminate the lowest common denominator type of consensus implicit in democracy. When you try to design one size fits all, you often build something that fits nobody. The fact is that we have different goals, contexts and values. and this is a good thing. If you build variability into the system, you can increase the value added. Those preferring lower taxes get it, those preferring higher benefits get it as well. there is no reason to force a win/lose situation on something that can address both sets of needs.

                The other thing about tax direction is that it will start to build some discipline, transparency and accountability into how our money is spent. If taxpayers see their money wasted, they will start directing it to more efficient and effective uses.

                How could a progressive argue against increased government effectiveness and minority view empowerment?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                @Liberty60

                James, you sound remarkably like the young people in my Occupy group who, when faced with being outvoted, whine about how their
                “voice is not being heard”.

                I get why you’re thinking that, but that’s not really it.  The point is that democracy, despite our sanctification of it, does not represent “the people.”  It represents “some people.”  It’s only advantage over authoritarian systems is that it represents a larger set of “some people.”  Now that’s a doozy of an advantage, but it doesn’t change the fact that democracy does not, never has, never will, and never can represent the will of “the people” as a whole.  That’s the kind of thing they teach us in high school civics and bad college level American Gov’t classes.   The great intellectual leap forward of public choice theorists was to teach us that this is mythology, that no voting system can aggregate individual preferences into a meaningful group utility function.

                Paeans to how we’re all represented in the system, so all the outcomes are representative of the will of the people are a failure of analysis, not a meaningful argument.

                Taxpayer  directed funding is just another gimmicky way of saying I wanna do what I wanna do, and not have to cooperate with other people.

                No, that’s complete and utter bullshit.  Scroll around this thread until you find my anti-libertarian/conservative myth #1.  I think it’s astounding how you perpetually take what your opponents say and immediately assume it’s motivated by anti-sociality.  For my part I think it’s rather stupid to assume that the only route to social cooperation is through government.  In fact in many ways running things through government alleviates us of responsibility for really engaging in cooperative behavior because we’ve just turned all the coordinating responsibilities over to some authoritative figure.

                Non-governmental approaches to problem solving actually can require considerably more cooperation precisely because they’re voluntary, rather than authoritatively directed.  For example, I’m the president of my kids’ YMCA swim team; without the cooperation of parents, nothing gets done.  On the other hand, when they swim in the city league in the summer, almost everything is handled by the paid staff, and the parents can happily sit on their butts most of the time.  Hey, that’s a lot easier for me, but it’d be quite a stretch to say we’re “cooperating” more.

                So please come down off your moral high horse and have the decency to recognize that being opposed to forced contributions does not make a person selfish, anti-social, and non-cooperative.Report

  13. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    JamesHanley,

     

    I’ve been thinking about what more to say to accompany thispoint but I’m pressed for time so I’ll just make very brief just to get the thought out there.  I just wanted to note that above where you say that (I think it was) “any,” but it might have been most liberals would say that our culture of satisfaction of manufactured material wants is morally unsound (or something to that effect), and you say that this is counter to the notion of constantly pleading on behalf of the fortunes of the middle class (who, whatever their condition, certainly are doing fine in absolute terms).  I wholeheartedly agree with this assessment of two claims side-by-side.  But I;d like to suggest you give “liberals” (again: beware granfaloons) too much credit for being critics of consumerist society.  Most just are not,in my experience.  Most liberals, as defined by who pleads for improving the material prospects of the middle class, pretty much fully accept the maxim of “I want more until I have what I consider a lot” to be a consistent moral-social path to the pursuit of social happiness (it may not be sufficient for total spiritual happiness, but they don’t hold, or acknowledge that it impedes that pursuit either).

    You advocate for taking note of what we have as compared to what people before us had, and I find that a laudable view even if I don’t think you’ve demonstrated it to be morally requisite.  But that, I think, is your view – I think you drastically overestimate the nuber of people whom you would consider liberals who share it.  Perhaps I’m wrong, but I just wanted to make the suggestion for contemplation.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      I’d like to suggest you give “liberals” (again: beware granfaloons) too much credit for being critics of consumerist society.

      You may be right.  My view may be an artefact of the circles I run in.

      And thanks for introducing me to the word “granfaloon.”  I haven’t read much Vonnegut, although I think I should.Report

  14. Avatar Liberty60 says:

    Expanding this thread yet again ( I really am not fond of the indents!)

    There is general agreement here that everyone would feel terrible about the injured motorcyclist or girl with leukemia or the enslavement of Roger and James, or even, worse of all possible cases, a progressive 90% tax on incomes over a million dollars.

    We all might even lend a hand to prevent that from happening.

    I used the word “duty” very consciously since I see it as the cleaving line.

    My question at #366 was what duty do I have to preserve the liberty of the libertarians? If there is no duty, if it is only utility, then this completely refudiates the “nonagression” axiom favored by the True Libertarians.

    If I don’t have any moral duty to stem the blood gushing from your head, why would I give a crap about the 90% tax levied on your income? As long as it didn’t have a reasonable chance of happening to me of course. And as long as I felt bad about it.

    Nonaggression, “do as ye will an harm none” are assertions- not assertions of fact, but assertions of some mysterious morality, on the belief that it is somehow wrong to coerce others.

    Why? Who said this? Why should I follow it?Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      Ecch, Libertarians require some translation.  In this, they’re something like the Marxists, confusing everyone else with their terms of art.   Old William F Buckley used to say the Conservatives stood atop the steamroller, yelling “Stop! Stop!”   But it’s really the Libertarian who’s the only man left standing to yell Stop these days.   The Conservatives aren’t saying it and the Liberals have kinda taken to strolling down the Primrose Path of Statism.

      I’m not a Libertarian.   But I’m starting over with them.   The Liberals, if they had any sense, would take them more seriously.   The Conservatives merely pander to them.

      Whose Duty are we talking about here, Hume’s?   Slave to the passions?  The Libertarian has long since discarded Hume and demanded more reason in the equations of morality.   A trivial reading of Libertarian philosophy would lead the unwary into thinking they don’t give a damn about others.  They do give a damn, enough to say those in need are still individuals and don’t want our pity.Report

      • Avatar Liberty60 says:

        Why do they give a damn about others?Report

        • Avatar Roger says:

          Liberty,

          We give a damn about others because we evolved as a social species that accomplishes more together than apart. We have evolved empathy and the intellectual power to understand the benefit of universal rules of morality.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          Why do they give a damn about others?

          A) Utilitarian Answer:  Because the power I give to government to harm you can be turned around against me to harm me.

          B) Social Answer: Humans are social animals.  Libertarians care about others just about as much as anyone else cares about others, just out of human nature.  They give blood, drop money in Salvation Army kettles, give their beer cans to the Boy Scouts doing a can drive, etc. etc.  In sum, a person can be social not out of duty but out of personally caring, and out of the enjoyment of doing well for others.

          I really object to your continued assumption that being opposed to government, and being opposed to the concept of duty to others, equals being anti-social.  It doesn’t.  There’s a fundamental logical disjunction there that you keep skipping over.

          It’s like the example that I used above about shoveling the snow of my neighbor’s sidewalk.  I don’t have a duty to do it.  But I often do it anyway. If you can’t figure out why, then either you don’t truly have human feelings, or you do but assume that I don’t share them.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        bah. the truest Libertarian is a liberal, for my money.

        Then again, I’ll judge first by deeds, and then by words.

        The liberal’s objection to Libertarianism boils down to “it’s not a free market, stupid!”

        … to which any Libertarian’s sound response should be “Let’s FIX THAT!” Say that, first, and you’ll get every liberal on board — because a liberal will go with a proven solution over some honeyed honeycomb that half the foolz will fall through.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

          The liberal’s objection to Libertarianism boils down to “it’s not a free market, stupid!”

          … to which any Libertarian’s sound response should be “Let’s FIX THAT!” Say that, first, and you’ll get every liberal on board

          In my experience this is not only untrue, but diametrically opposed to the truth.  Trying to approach a freer market is the one thing that most certainly sends all the liberals running away.Report

        • Avatar Roger says:

          Kim,

          Let’s fix that!

          No, liberals don’t care about real solutions. They won’t even endorse experimentation as seen by the responses to this thread.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          If I make some arbitrary statements about what constitutes a Liberal over and against a Libertarian, I’m sure to get in dutch with our Libertarians around here.  I’ve already said we all need to quit asking the Why question and get down to the Who and How brass tacks.   At those levels, in answer to those questions, I’ve also said the Libertarians and Liberals are often in agreement.

          As you say, first deeds, then words.  The Tea Partiers, who I sense are more guided by Libertarian than Conservative principles, have stood firm against the PATRIOT Act.   May the FSM leave them much pasta in their bowls.

          You should know I came here and said many stupid and offensive things about Libertarians some while back and have been obliged to repent of many of those statements.   The first was all about how Free Markets Aren’t Free.   To my surprise and delight, these Libertarians understand the problem completely.   Either they’ve evolved or I’ve evolved, rather like Mark Twain’s dad.  Twain ran away, came back some years later and was amazed how much his father had smartened up in the interval.

          They aren’t averse to market regulation, separating winners from losers.   What they can’t abide is market distortions, an entirely reasonable distinction which Liberals ought to grasp.   The Libertarian is not an idiot.   He understands cheating and malfeasance and if he doesn’t make devils of captains of industry, neither does he make angels of them.

          But the cruelest and stupidest canard about the Libertarian is that he doesn’t care.   He really does, Kim.   Look, which makes more sense in the long run, giving a man a fish or teaching him to fish?   I’ve done a lot of refugee work.   It has been my experience the refugee craves respect more than anything in life.

          All these goddamn do-gooders come out to these refugee camps, I’ve seen ’em come and I’ve seen ’em go, and they all complain about how ungrateful these refugees are.   They moan about the endless scope of the problems.  I’ve seen them come to hate the refugees.   They simply do not grasp what’s important in that situation.  Beset with problems, do not reduce a man to helplessness and worthlessness.   It will kill him as surely as a bullet.   In this, the Libertarian mode of charity is most useful:  put that man to work, give his life meaning, quit condescending to him, give him hope.   Quit treating him like a piece of shit.   People rise to the level of expectation.

           Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            Blaise, this comment deserves a response.

            My biggest problem with regards to “caring” is that “caring” reminds me of the Walrus.

            “I weep for you,” the Walrus said:
            “I deeply sympathize.”
            With sobs and tears he sorted out
            Those of the largest size,
            Holding his pocket-handkerchief
            Before his streaming eyes.

            “Caring”, it seems to me, is a way that people can yell that, deep down, they really, honestly, and truly, feel X.

            It doesn’t matter if they do, actually, feel X. The important part is making sure that everyone else whose opinion actually matters knows that, at the end of the day, X was felt. And $PERSON felt it.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              Oh hell yeah.   One of the happiest moments of my life was getting word from the Jalozai camps in Pakistan that the main camps were closing down.

              All this Caring makes me puke.   Tragic little po’faced kids weeping into the camera just makes me angry.   I want to see pictures of refugees going home again.   I want to see libraries getting built and people getting ahead in life, under their own power.

              I’m convinced about 98% of the problems in the world arise from well-meant perpetuation of existing problems, with all these UN assholes weeping and moaning and maundering on about the extent of the problems, all the while driving around in big white Land Cruisers and never touching a refugee.   Then they go home and pat themselves on the back about how they were Over There.
              Seems that when some innocent die
              All we can offer them is a page in a some magazine
              Too many cameras and not enough food
              ‘Cos this is what we’ve seenReport

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      My question at #366 was what duty do I have to preserve the liberty of the libertarians?

      It seems fairly self-evident that you have no more to preserve their liberty than they have to preserve yours.

      You may now begin to wonder why they argue in favor of your liberty (and everybody’s for that matter) despite there being precious little in it for them personally. I mean, most of the Libertarians that I know are smart enough to do drugs in the privacy of their own homes using product from established and stable suppliers… why in the world would they argue for an end to the war on drugs? Most of the Libertarians I know (in the real world, anyway) are straight. Why should they argue for gay marriage? Hell, most of them have mid-to-high paying jobs and they live on the right side of the tracks. Why should they give a crap about prison guard unions pushing three-strikes legislation that will end up throwing more people in prison?Report

      • Avatar Liberty60 says:

        How would they explain why any of their postions are good? Or ar they neither good nor bad, but merely useful?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          My answer involves an axiom that says something like “morality consists of being able to choose between X and Y” and a second axiom that says something like “the ability to choose between X and Y and Z (and Aleph and so on and so forth) represents greater morality than merely the ability to choose between X and Y” and a third axiom that says “Outcomes that result in greater ability to choose between X and Y (and Z and so on) are “good” while outcomes that result in arrested or lesser ability to choose between things are “evil”.”

          Those axioms can lead you to some wacky places, I tell you what.Report

          • Avatar Liberty60 says:

            Wacky places indeed.

            Your axioms all assert that individual choice is the highest good.

            To what end? Why would a world that held to these axioms be prefereable to one that didn’t?

             Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              No, it’s that morality consists of individual choices. (If I opened the list to “things that make sense to me and/or things that I prefer”, we’d have a much different list of axioms.)

              In the absence of a God, I don’t know what else morality would consist of.

              “Why would a world that held to these axioms be prefereable to one that didn’t?”

              I’m sure that a world with some vague deity who loved all of us would be preferable. I don’t believe that such a thing exists. I’m stuck with things that make sense to me.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      “My question at #366 was what duty do I have to preserve the liberty of the libertarians?”

      How can “leave me the hell alone” be a duty?Report

    • Avatar Roger says:

      Liberty,

      I used the word “duty” very consciously since I see it as the cleaving line.

      I see it as a black hole of argumentation. People will be arguing over what is and is not duty forever. They will never agree. I am too practical to think this discussion will ever end. So i avoid it. I will focus on what I think MY duty is and allow every other human or sentient being answer it themselves. I even believe that differing interpretations of the answer is superior than a consensus.

      …what duty do I have to preserve the liberty of the libertarians? If there is no duty, if it is only utility, then this completely refudiates the “nonagression” axiom favored by the True Libertarians.

      As i jokingly answered, few have ever respected our liberty.  If i depend upon them viewing my liberty as their duty, then I will probably never be free (as per above).

      A whole lot of libertarians lean utilitarian — often rule utilitarians. To me nonagression is a good idea as a working rule for the optimal long term cooperative benefit of those of us agreeing to it. (By the way, the reason libertarians are so in love with markets is that they see free enterprise as leading to optimal prosperity for the masses. As a rule of thumb, markets are a very good utilitarian path)

      Nonaggression, “do as ye will an harm none” are assertions- not assertions of fact, but assertions of some mysterious morality, on the belief that it is somehow wrong to coerce others. Why? Who said this? Why should I follow it?

      It’s not an assertion of a mysterious morality. It is just a good rule for mutual benefit. If we engage in zero sum, win/lose interactions, then collectively we will get nowhere. Some will win. They will succeed by the failure of others. But the odds are bad for any individual (to come out as a rare winner).

      Those of us cooperating in a win/win network can create an endless stream of value. There is no theoretical limit of how much value (prosperity, knowledge, experience, etc) we can produce.

      The only reason I know to choose non-aggression is that it is pragmatically a better course than the alternatives.Report

  15. Avatar Liberty60 says:

    So why is mutual benefit a good thing? If  I can live very well at your expense, why shouldn’t I pursue that?Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

      Blaise gave a good answer to this question, recently, with a neat anecdote about a corrupt pair of warlords who stole foreign aid money.

      The first warlord stole 10% of the money, and he and his cronies looked down at the bustling village and laughed about their shenanigans while sipping fine scotch and smoking cigars.

      The second warlord stole all of the money, and he and his cronies looked down at the hovel and laughed about their shenanigans while sipping bathtub gin and smoking tree bark or something.

      He told it much better than I just did.

      Mutual benefit usually means both parties are better off than they would be without the interaction taking place, and even better off than they would be if one guy just bonked the other on their noggin and took all their stuff.

       Report

      • Avatar Liberty60 says:

        So its the utility argument again.

        Utility arguments fail by presuming that doing good always results in doing well.

        But we know empirically that is false. Sometimes doing bad does in fact result in doing much better than doing good.Report

        • Avatar Roger says:

          Liberty,

          Utility arguments fail by presuming that doing good always results in doing well. But we know empirically that is false. Sometimes doing bad does in fact result in doing much better than doing good.

          Now we are getting somewhere!

          A utility argument that assumed doing “good” (for others), always results in doing well (for ourselves) would indeed be shallow. People are tempted to cheat or exploit. They are often driven more by personal success than in caring for the widespread wellbeing of others. We agree.

          Therefore the key is to establish rules of interaction such that personal success and widespread well being intersect. The recipe for such a system has been discovered by society (over time and after a lot of failure). In my words, it is to establish a world of personal freedom and defined property rights, where people are free to interact in any way as long as they don’t harm others (basically positive sum actions). They are encouraged (such as by the rules of scientific method and free enterprise) to constructively compete to create value for others.

          The system must be rigged to encourage positive sum win/win interactions and to discourage win/lose. So we make cheating, raping, stealing, violence and rent seeking illegal, and we design markets and protocols of science.

           Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          The last thing I want to do is reduce this argument to a pretentious round of name-dropping, but I could point out at least a half-dozen philosophers over the last several thousand years who’ve covered this ground in lots of detail.

          Here’s how to cut to the chase with the Duty Argument.   Stop asking Why until you’ve got an answer to Who and How.  The Why of Duty varies according to the viewpoints of each philosopher and only serves to throw dust in the air.

           

           Report

          • Avatar Liberty60 says:

            The last thing I want to do is reduce this argument to a pretentious round of name-dropping…

            Then stop. Just explain it to us in your own words.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              I already did.   Time for you to lay off the question mark key and take a few courses on the subject.   You’ll find no two ethical theories are the same.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                Well, in the meta sense, they’re all the same.

                The great thinker boils away his (or her) thought until he (or she) achieves the essence of what they find to be excellent.  They then work backwards to achieve a system that promotes that excellence via an ethical framework that leads you to that end point.  Aristotle started off the trend, but everybody more or less follows it.  I don’t know anybody who actually wound up with a framework of ethics that dramatically challenged their own idea of good.  Now *that* would be some interesting reading.

                As long as you keep this in mind, they’re all worth reading.  The real question is, do you buy whatever they’re selling as excellent?Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

          So its the utility argument again.

          You’re reading this response in a limited context.  It generalizes, though.

          Back up.  Here’s your (two) questions:

          • So why is mutual benefit a good thing?
          • If I can live very well at your expense, why shouldn’t I pursue that?

          Your first question has a lot of embedded assumptions in it.  What do the words, “mutual”, “benefit”, “good”, and “thing” mean?  How are you measuring all of those things and benefits?

          Your second question is a question of utility, which is why I provided the answer in the terms of utility.  I’m a bit surprised that you’re surprised you got the answer.  What else were you expecting?Report

      • Avatar Roger says:

        Patrick,

        I like your story and your concluding paragraph. But I can’t seem to grasp how they tie together?Report

    • Avatar wardsmith says:

      If  I can live very well at your expense, why shouldn’t I pursue that?

      Liberty, you’ve hit on the very reason Democracy soon devolves into Kleptocracy. Soon every presidential election will be between those who pay the taxes and those who receive the largesse. The payers are already in the minority so the writing is already on the wall.Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

        Every instance of national governance has devolved sooner or later, historically speaking.

        Anarchy, kleptocracy leading to revolution, oligarchy leading to revolution, totalitarianism leading to revolution, foreign invaders, or foreign armies seeking retribution.

        Might always be different this time, but I’ll not be placing any bets.Report

      • Avatar James K says:

        What do you mean, soon?Report

      • Avatar Matty says:

        Surely elections are between two sides who both want to be the recipients in the form of political salaries and perks?Report

        • Avatar wardsmith says:

          @Pat, James, Matty yes, yes and yes.

          Back when our democracy was formed, the theory was that giving the people a voice in the government would delay the inevitable devolution. To a large extent this has staved off basic tyranny, but of course those who best worked the system got to the top of the pile and aim to stay there.Report

          • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

            Those who best worked the system got to the top of the pile and aim to stay there.

            Take this thought and flesh it out a little bit more.  You might wind up more redistributionist than you think you are.Report

    • Avatar Roger says:

      Liberty,

      So why is mutual benefit a good thing? If  I can live very well at your expense, why shouldn’t I pursue that?

      Great questions, Socrates.

      Most of us are tempted to pursue individual success over widespread prosperity or progress. However this gets you into a game of competing with others trying to exploit each other. Zero sum games — as their name reveals — get nowhere. When you factor in arms races and entropy they move us backward. Statistically speaking, entering a zero sum game is a very dangerous thing for anyone other than the baddest mother fisher in the valley.

      Positive sum games allow everyone to succeed. It is a lower risk, and potentially higher reward payout (average and at both extremes) than playing zero sum games. The reason people pursue mutual benefit is either because they desire mutual benefit, or they desire personal success and realized the game is designed so they can’t cheat. They are better off playing by the rules than not.

      Liberty, you keep thinking you can moralize people into believing your vision of duty. You are dreaming. The key to creating societies of mutual benefit is to design practical rules of interaction that encourages win/wins and productive activity and that discourages win/lose and destructive activity. Liberty (the word, not your name) is one such practical rule.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        I don’t know if Roger’s familiar with the literature, but there’s been some good research with the prisoner’s dilemma to demonstrate his points.  In the Prisoner’s Dilemma, cooperation brings the best collective payoff, but each individual will do better if he defects; but that leads each player to defect, resulting in the worst collective payoff.  But that’s true if we play the game just once. If we play the game repeatedly, the iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma the best payoffs for each individual are normally gained through continued cooperation.  This has been demonstrated both mathematically and experimentally.

        You’re right that doing good does not always result in doing well (although if we add in the value of personal satisfaction of doing what one believes is right as well as financial gains, doing good has higher returns than you’re attributing to it).  But the iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma demonstrates that working collaboratively with others and not screwing them over often brings the best long-term results.  And those who try to get some short-term advantage by cheating here and there usually don’t do as well in the long run.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          Although that only works with actors who A: play the game more than once, B: are capable of learning, and C: put their own benefit at the top of the value scale (as opposed to preventing others from getting ahead of them.)  A stupid, vindictive person might be entirely happy with everyone crawling in the mud forever, just as long as someone else doesn’t have it better than them.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley says:

            Duck,

            Yes, so the moral of the story is play cautiously with strangers, don’t play again with those who are stupid or vindictive, and play repeatedly with those who’ve proven cooperative.

            It’s just like Blaise’s jazz bar, really.Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck says:

              Of course, you have to live long enough to have enough cooperative people to play with.  If everyone you play with screws you for short-term gain (or just to keep you from winning) then that’s unlikely.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Since most of us are born into families that take care of us and that provide social, psychological, and material sustenance, this is a pretty abstract objection.

                To the extent it has any force, it’s an argument for the unwanted infant drop-off policies states are experimenting with.

                If you’re talking about state of nature theory beginning with fully formed adults with no familiar or social histories, then you’re just engaging in non-sense objections.

                 Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            *nods* of course, DD. and that’s where we get to the propaganda and peasants dilemma. And why I won’t live where the Republicans do (Oh, I’m sure Colorado Springs is a nice place. But we’d get in more trouble bringing the right type of equipment there than we would in Bogota).Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              They make horrible politicians but lovely neighbors.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                … so long as they aren’t videotaping YOU, I guess… 😉

                Seem to make lousy businessmen, if they’re so easy to subvert.

                ((my experience is that the people bitching about taxes tend to artificially raise operating costs because they fail to do things in the most optimal fashion. Pay for trash pickup? My trash pickup earns money for the city!))Report

            • Avatar wardsmith says:

              A stupid, vindictive person might be entirely happy with everyone crawling in the mud forever, just as long as someone else doesn’t have it better than them.

              So I’m the only one thinking he was talking about Progressives? 😉Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                You just described most people, Ward.

                The ability to get past this observational standpoint is pretty rare.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                ward,

                I ain’t got no objection to your Carnegie, your Lamont, your Rockefeller, your Sam Walton. I got some objection to the “landed classes” who ain’t entrepreneurs, and that’s because they’re moneysinks (Smith raised the same objections, fwiw)Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      So why is mutual benefit a good thing? If  I can live very well at your expense, why shouldn’t I pursue that?

      Good luck keeping it up without anyone fighting back.

      But really, you’re being far more demanding that we justify our principles than that you justify yours, a typical pattern on this blog.  You’ve not even made a serious attempt to justify the idea that I have a duty to the maniacal motorcyclist, and you’re demanding that we justify to you why mutual benefit is good?

      This is a crock.  You’re going to push until you find a crack in libertarian theory (which isn’t hard, no political theory is crack-free), then you’ll reject it wholesale.  Meanwhile you’ll have made no effort to chase down all the loose threads of your liberal view but will just paper over any cracks that may exist, and blithely assume you’ve proved its superiority.

      That game is getting pretty old.

      Prove to me that I have a duty to you.  Don’t leave any cracks in your argument.  Good luck.Report

      • Avatar Liberty60 says:

        The concept of a moral duty to others is a postulate and can’t be proven.

        Its based on the near-universal premise that all human life is sacred, and that we are compelled into action to respect that. It is punishable by eternal damnation, bad karma, divine retribution, or something similar. We are not allowed to choose to ignore human dignity. Even in war, the moral order has all sorts of demands that coerce us to minimize harm and respect certain bouindaries.

        It is purely faith-based, and you are free to reject it, which you have, by your questioning of an intrinsic human dignity.

        The central premise of libertarianism, or at least the sort practiced by the commenters here, is that there is no intrinsic value to life or liberty that would compel others to action, and override their ability to choose.

        Choice is sacred to libertarians, and there doesn’t appear to be anything of higher value to that- not human life, even when pushed to the most drastic Godwin-like example.

        It isn’t choice as a tool in the service of something else; Choice is preferab le even when it doesn’t bring mutual benefit. Choice is preferable even when it doesn’t lead to good outcomes.

        Choice exists as a sacred thing wholly indepenent of any other consideration.

         Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          Separation of church and state. Please get your Jesus out of my womb.

          Seriously, if you men had to get abortions, they’d perform them on Sundays as a sacrament.Report

          • Avatar Liberty60 says:

            Sorry, I decline the invitation to a war between deists and atheists.

            The concept of an intrinsic value to human life, while faith-based, is shared widely between the religious and nonreligious alike.

            Which is why liberals and conservatives are merely different branches of the same tree; libertarianism diverges even at the most fundamental root to become a different species, on another planet entirely.Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              conservatives, true conservatives do not believe in an intrinsic value of human life. look at human centipede if you don’t believe me. or half a dozen reports of feeding people to snakes, or other such sexualized nonsenseReport

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                conservatives, true conservatives do not believe in an intrinsic value of human life

                Kim do you ever once engage your brain before you type your nonsense? Tom Six (who is NOT A FISHING CONSERVATIVE!!!) made a movie about a joke, the movie itself is a joke and yet you use it to support your banal contention. You are the biggest clown on this site most of the time, because of crap like this. Grow up or grow a brain but don’t post this same rubbish just to get your post count higher.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                … you’re bitching about one out of two things I posted, the other of which is quite substantiated.

                … and yet you aren’t bitching about plastic wall vaginas. Well, pics or it didn’t happen, I suppose.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                I propose a trade.

                Kim, I will give you my password for the League, which you will change immediately.  In return, you will give me whatever drugs you’re taking.

                I just don’t want to be able to post after I’ve ingested them.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              “Intrinsic value to human life” has a lot, I mean a lot a lot, of things that need to be unpacked. I’m guessing that there’s at least one unexamined axiom hiding in there and at least one term that you’re using in a very specialized way (that is to say: most folks probably would use a different definition of that term in daily usage and they’re likely to assume that you’re using the term in that way *AND*, on top of that, that’s to your benefit).

              When faith-based people tend to assume that their access to the truth means that they get to make choices on behalf of others who aren’t as morally upright… That’s a warning sign. It’s usually followed by pointing out that “those people aren’t like *US*!” and then we get to the next warning sign being the categorization of those who disagree as “immoral”.

              Yay. This is my favorite movie.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          The concept of a moral duty to others is a postulate and can’t be proven.

          Ah, so you get a pass, but we have to justify everything.  I thought I smelled that gambit coming.

          The central premise of libertarianism, or at least the sort practiced by the commenters here, is that there is no intrinsic value to life or liberty that would compel others to action, and override their ability to choose.

          No matter what anyone says here, you’ll go on your way repeatedly jumping to the least favorable interpretation, won’t you? I’m not sure there’s really any point in continuing the discussion since you’ve repeatedly demonstrated that you’re intent on playing that little game, but here’s one more try.

          The value of liberty is that it allows each of us to pursue our own interpretation of the good life, in collaboration and cooperation with others to the extent we wish, but without impinging on others’ pursuit by taking from them without compensation.

          Now, is it ever legitimate to compel others to action or to override their ability to choose?  Yes, but in limited cases (this is well trod ground now, and you really can’t justify not knowing at least some of the answers here).  1) If we have a true collective action problem and the only way to avoid free riders is to compel contributions, then we can compel action, because the free riders themselves want the benefit and value it more than the cost of contribution, but are trying to get the benefit solely at others’ expense.  2) If someone is trying to take from or cause harm to another person against their will, whether it be through a negative externality like pollution, or through a direct harm like theft, assault, rape, etc.

          Why is that justified?  Because either libertarians (including some around here, as I think you know damn well, despite your comment) place individual (negative) liberty at the very peak of their value system, or because despite “angels on the head of a pin” type theorizing about how the rapist’s utility might outweigh the victim’s disutility, that just never really seems to work out in practice.  Letting theft and violence go unpunished, and failing to solve serious collective action problems, always results in greater human misery.

          And at rock bottom, despite your sustained efforts to demonize libertarians, for the great majority of us it’s a desire to promote human well-being that motivates us.  If you think our methods are so faulty that they’ll backfire and make humanity more miserable, that’s fine.  But to warp that into implications that we don’t care about others, or that our theories don’t justify caring about others, says a lot more about you than it does about us.Report

        • Avatar Roger says:

          Liberty,

          Choice is sacred to libertarians, and there doesn’t appear to be anything of higher value… 

          I need to echo James. You did the same thing during Christmas when we discussed what libertarians believe. I repeatedly denied that choice is sacred a half dozen times, and you just kept ignoring what I said and repeating it again and again.

          Above we argue that liberty services utility and mutual benefit, and you just throw out that we believe choice trumps good outcomes and mutual benefit. WTF?

          I really don’t get your style of argumentation. Are the discussions over your head? It doesn’t seem so. Are you dishonest and insecure? I hope not. So why can’t you understand what we write?

          Let me be frank. You are not addressing the arguments that we make. Not even close. To quote Daniel Dennett, “You need to try harder.”Report

          • Avatar Liberty60 says:

            Per my comment below, you are trying to replace morality with utility.

            In other words, you seem convinced that self autonomy, liberty, and choice will inevitably lead to Good Things like mutual benefit and utility. The African tyrant story, the Prisoner’s dilemma; these both are meant to convey that rational actors behaving according to their own interest will result in a rising tide and all will be well.

            But we have already noted that doing well and doing good are not the same thing, and often are different.  We know from experience that the Right Thing is often not in mutual benefit, and doesn’t have some utility benefit, short or long term.

            So in cases like this, when it only benefits the other, and doesnt have some utility benefit, it remains unclear what guides the libertarian action.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              Quick question: if “utility” doesn’t define the lion’s share of morality, what does?

              “Intrinsicness”?Report

            • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

              To clarify, I’m not a libertarian.  Lest ye be hoodwinked.

              In other words, you seem convinced that self autonomy, liberty, and choice will inevitably lead to Good Things like mutual benefit and utility.

              This isn’t necessarily the libertarian argument.  I mean, lots of libertarians argue this, but I personally find myself much more attracted to a weaker form of this argument…

              Self autonomy, liberty, and choice are less likely to lead to Bad Things like rent-seeking, moral hazard, and misalignment.

              Now, none of those three things are necessarily Bad Things in the sense that they are always going to outweigh whatever Good Thing you’re trying to do.  However, discarding the weak form of the libertarian argument on principle is going to lead to a much higher likelihood that you’re going to wind up with Really Bad versions of those Bad Things.

              The African tyrant story, the Prisoner’s dilemma; these both are meant to convey that rational actors behaving according to their own interest will result in a rising tide and all will be well.

              I think you’re focused too much on optimizing.  Think of the libertarian position as arguing the least pessimum rather than the most optimum.  Even when arguing against the libertarian who believes that it is the most optimum you’ll find yourself reading a lot more charitably than otherwise.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              doing well and doing good are not the same thing, and often are different

              One the one hand you could actually ponder what our arguments imply for this platitude; or on the other hand you could refuse to consider our arguments and simply repeat the platitude.

              A good start would be to define your terms.  What do you mean by “doing well?”  The utilitarian means increasing one’s own utility.  If you like doing good, then doing good is an inseparable part of doing well.

              If you want to define “doing well” as getting ahead financially, then you should start by developing your argument further.  How often do doing good and doing well diverge?  Sure, in that case they’re not synonymous, but are they actually antynomous?  The whole economic case for free markets is based on doing well by doing good–that’s straight from Adam Smith, and I’ve not heard a persuasive refutation of his argument, despite 200 years for folks to make one.

              That’s why I said Blaise’s bar is a good example.  He’s doing good by folks, and he’s doing well as a consequence.  Duty isn’t a necessary consideration.  The intrinsic value of his customer’s lives isn’t a necessary consideration.  All that’s necessary is for him to recognize that if he doesn’t do good by them, he won’t be doing well for much longer.

              The platitude just doesn’t have enough depth to be a good foundation for your critique.

               

               Report

            • Avatar Matty says:

              The African tyrant story, the Prisoner’s dilemma; these both are meant to convey that rational actors behaving according to their own interest will result in a rising tide and all will be well.

              I thought the prisoners dilema was meant to be a model of social interaction that (in more complex versions) may help us understand how cooperation can arise either by learning or over evolutionary time. I didn’t know it had a moral.Report

  16. Avatar Liberty60 says:

    I approached this from a moral perspective, which is what undergirds all political philosophies. First we say “this is right and that is wrong” then we develop theories as to how to create right and prevent wrong.

    You are speaking in the language of economics- free riders, utility, externalities and so on.

    You want to frame this economic theory it in such as way that it displays a care and respect for others, while still questioning whether there is an intrinsic value to human life or rejecting the concept of a moral duty to others (sorry, your words not mine).

    Words have consequences; That  “intrinsic value to human life” and “moral duty to care for others”  are considered here to be such foreign concepts, so worthy of being questioned and “unpacked” is a shocking rejection of the foundational premise of nearly every moral system in existance.

     Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      I approached this from a moral perspective, which is what undergirds all political philosophies.

      Well, so long as there are no unexamined axioms…

      That “intrinsic value to human life” and “moral duty to care for others”  are considered here to be such foreign concepts, so worthy of being questioned and “unpacked” is a shocking rejection of the foundational premise of nearly every moral system in existance.

      Gotta say, if you’re a fan of “close your eyes and open your mouth”, you’re probably arguing with the wrong people. Where’s Koz?Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      You want to frame this economic theory it in such as way that it displays a care and respect for others, while still questioning whether there is an intrinsic value to human life or rejecting the concept of a moral duty to others (sorry, your words not mine).

      No, it’s not the economic theory that “displays a care and respect for others.”  It’s humans that display that. And we think a system of less government control and more voluntary activity best enables humans to display that care and respect.

      Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m reading two beliefs in what you’re writing.

      1. you seem to think that unless we accept the concept of moral duty and intrinsic value of human life, that we can’t actually care about others.

      2. If we don’t demonstrate that concern for others by voting for government managed social welfare programs, then we’ve demonstrated that we have actually have no concern.

      Is that a correct reading of what you believe?Report

      • Avatar Liberty60 says:

        # 1 is something I am trying to determine; I honestly can’t understand what “care about others” means absent a belief in the intrinsic value of human life and moral duty.

        #2 is not correct; I honestly believe that people of good will can display concern and respect for others entirely through private organization. I just don’t believe that it works as well.Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

          #2 is not correct; I honestly believe that people of good will can display concern and respect for others entirely through private organization. I just don’t believe that it works as well.

          In some problem domains, it doesn’t.  In others, it works better.  When it comes to resource management, the level of organization is very much important to the efficiency of the distribution across the target population.

          My problem with (liberals and conservatives) vs. (libertarians) is that they’re usually arguing about this as if there is a one-sized-fits-all approach to every problem.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          I just don’t believe that [private organizations] works as well.

          OK, that’s legitimate.  Reasonable people can disagree.

          I honestly can’t understand what “care about others” means absent a belief in the intrinsic value of human life and moral duty.

          As noted above, humans have evolved as social animals.  It’s in our nature to care about others. Many mammal species show care towards other, but it’s doubtful they’re motivated by any concepts of the intrinsic value of their species life, or contemplations of moral duty. The person who doesn’t care for others is a psychopath, not because they’re ignoring their moral duty but because they lack normal human feelings.

          And there is real personal utility to caring for others, because they care back.  A human without a network of those he/she cares for and who cares for him/her is a very unhappy and psychologically unhealthy person.

          There’s no doubt that care for others can be motivated by a belief in intrinsic value of human life and conceptions of moral duty.  But just because they’re sufficient causes doesn’t mean they’re necessary causes.Report

    • No one here views these as foreign concepts.  We instead merely make the empirical observation that they are concepts which seem to have dramatically different meanings to different people.

      Amongst other things, you indeed seem to ignore the fact that maximizing the ability of others to make their own individual choices might in fact be inherently just as much a part of  “care for others,” perhaps even more so, as playing Robin Hood to give those others what you, Liberty60, think is most necessary to care for them.Report