How Inequality Harms

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88 Responses

  1. Avatar Mr. Blue says:

    This is the result of the pricing mechanic at work – the “cheap seats”, up in the nosebleed section, start at $65 and then prices ascend from there.

    The $65 price tag still hasn’t been supported. The average seat price for most teams is less than $65 according to FindThatData. Google “How much do [insert team here] tickets cost” and FTD will be among the first links. They’ll show other teams for comparison. Keep doing that for more and more teams. In some cases, significantly less. The Dallas Mavericks start at $9 and $15. The San Antonio Spurs start at $10 and $25.

    There aren’t very many sites where I can find individual game prices, but if we can assume little markdown for season tickets (the Spurs cut you a little break per game, but the Mavericks don’t), then the Denver Nuggets start in the arena of $19 and the Indiana Pacers at $11. Even if you add a little to that and you’re still way below $65.

    The only really expensive team I’ve seen prices for are the Chicago Bulls ($38/$50). I’m sure there are other teams that are also expensive (Lakers, Knicks, Heat), but they are the exception rather than the rule. They’re also in cities that are expensive places to live.Report

  2. Avatar Creon Critic says:

    Two comments. After spending some time in Europe, I’m amazed at how little solidarity and social cohesion figure into US politics.* On both Labour and Conservative parties’ parts social cohesion has been an ongoing plank in British politics for at least the past decade, if not longer. It is unfortunate that it took a Great Recession to mobilize segments of society who mistakenly believed the American combination of pull yourself up by your bootstraps individualism and inadequate social benefits were working well.

    Second, I think the decreased social interaction you describe should be particularly apparent to those who’ve expressed concern about the US military drawing from a small cross-section of the population and the potential harms that causes distancing soldiering from citizenship and the citizenry at large. Just as it is trouble for a democracy to have the burdens of military service shouldered by an under-representative slice of the population, it can’t be healthy for a developed democracy to have a wealth distribution where so much of the gain from increases in productivity goes to so few.

    * Obviously there are noxious ways solidarity and social cohesion can figure in politics, for instance, “No Muslim Victory Mosque!” is a kind of cohesion built on selecting and demonizing a capability-deprived outgroup. The US (and Europe) could do with a great deal less of that kind of social cohesion.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      Our individualistic tendencies aside, it’s extremely difficult to find solidarity and social cohesion in a society as diverse as ours. Not just racially/ethnically diverse, but geographically, culturally, and therefore politically diverse. How do you convince our hodgepodge collection of people spanning five time zones and countless cultures and subcultures that we’re all in this together? We don’t like each other. The only cohesion is disliking somebody else more, which, as you point out, is not exactly desirable.

      And a piece of nitpickery:

      Second, I think the decreased social interaction you describe should be particularly apparent to those who’ve expressed concern about the US military drawing from a small cross-section of the population and the potential harms that causes distancing soldiering from citizenship and the citizenry at large.

      I’ve heard concerned expressed, but I’ve never seen data to that effect. I know it’s the Heritage Foundation, but they have put together numbers that I haven’t really seen refuted suggesting that if the enlistees themselves aren’t wealthy (it doesn’t say anything one way or another on that), they actually tend to come from a surprising cross-section of neighborhood wealth. The last time I mentioned this, someone pointed to a Syracuse study. The Syracuse study suggested that the top quartile aren’t serving, but that the other quartiles are serving in comparable numbers.

      None of this corresponds with my personal experience at all, but I’ve never seen a good counter. If you have some, could you share it?Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic says:

        How do you convince our hodgepodge collection of people spanning five time zones and countless cultures and subcultures that we’re all in this together? We don’t like each other.

        I’m not sure what to make of this because there is apparently a deep resevoir of patriotism with higher proportions of the US public agreeing with statements like:

        I would rather be a citizen of [my country] than of any other country in the world
        Generally, speaking [my country] is a better country than most other countries.

        A number of smaller, less diverse, developed countries (e,g, Sweden, France) appear near the bottom of the patriotism list. I’d have thought that American patriotism could be mobilized to undertake national projects and engendering the notion that we’re in this enterprise together. Disliking each other and patriotism aren’t mutually exclusive, but there is some basis for liberté, égalité, fraternité being built on the back of patriotic sentiments. Also, after all, the US does have some universal social welfare programs – what’s more the broad based ones are pretty popular.

        Looking around regarding underrepresentation in the US military, I think the things that’ve stuck out in my mind are about the connections between the elites and the military, issues like few up-armored Humvees in Iraq early on, few Representatives’ and Senators’ children in the armed forces, and the like. Poking around Jstor, I did come across Shouldering the Soldiering: Democracy, Conscription, and Military Casualties by Joseph Paul Vasquez III, arguing that,

        democracies with conscript armies experience fewer combat casualties than democracies with volunteer or professional forces because the societal actors most closely affected by conscript casualties are more likely to have the political power and access with which to constrain policy makers.

        But it doesn’t speak to the issue you reference – generally I see more about geographic overrepresentation of some parts of the US, the South, and underrepresentation of other parts of the US, the Northeast and Mid Atlantic (google “Enlisted accession-share-to-civilian-share ratios, by state, FY10” for the chart I’m referencing, I think I’m near the held for moderation link limit).Report

    • Avatar Kimmi says:

      social cohesion? Sir, I do believe you mistake an accident of our geography or populace, for deliberate intent by our betters (or bettors if you’d rather).Report

  3. Avatar Mark Olson says:

    Price of tickets is not as simple as you’d think. If you fill the stadium, your ticket prices are too low. Chicago Opera tickets (as an example) are often $100+ … but are too low. There are waiting lists for tickets, … which should signal the ticket seller to raise prices.

    Tickets high/low are more a sign of demand than anything else.

    As a side note. I recall reading that early in the 20th century some big automakers cottoned onto the notion that they’d make more money if they pushed up blue collar wages … which because they were big enough that would encourage other companies to follow suit, which in turn would give millions of people enough money to buy cars.

    What the world is waiting for is for China, India, and companies putting their labor forces there to come to the same realization. The downside is that we’ll all have to pay realistic prices for goods benefitting from cheap labor. The upside is that markets for lots and lots of products will be expanding by orders of magnitude.Report

    • Avatar smarx says:

      I think it was Henry Ford who paid his workers more than the average wage so that they could buy the cars they were making . But, I could be wrong.

      He also had numerous subdivisions built to house his workers. Which is why there are places in the Detroit metro area (closer to the city center) where all the houses look the same… because they’re all the same design.Report

      • Avatar James K says:

        I think it was Henry Ford who paid his workers more than the average wage so that they could buy the cars they were making . But, I could be wrong.

        This is a common misconception. A couple of minutes with a calculator will prove that giving someone money just so they’ll buy something off you can’t possibly be profitable. Ford did pay above-market wages, but it was control he was aiming for. Overpaying his workers allowed him to impose controls on their lifestyles (not too much drink, no gambling, there were others but I can’t recall them). This was a classic “golden handcuffs” scenario.Report

        • Avatar smarx says:

          He may have paid them more as a way to keep them from unionizing.

          Although, Harry Bennett did a pretty good job at Ford workers from unionizing. At least until the Battle of the Overpass.Report

  4. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    The “9-to-5? day, in which workers worked 8 hours and were credited a 30-45 minute lunch break, has been replaced by the 55-plus hour “overtime exempt” workweek and making employees “get off the clock” for assigned breaks or lunches.

    I meant to challenge your assertion that the average work week was 55 hours over on this thread. I don’t see anything in the piece you linked to that substantiates that claim. The American Time Use Survey gives an average of 42 hours per week for men classified as full time workers (35+ hours), and 38.5 for women. The presentation is a bit confusing, but you get that by multiplying the average hours worked per day times seven days per week times the average percentage of workers working each day.Report

    • Avatar M.A. says:

      Here’s some statistics.

      The other thing that brings the figure up to 55 hours is that 55 is the figure for exempt, salaried workers. Hourly, “full time” workers bring down the average you were looking at. You will note even in my quote I specified overtime exempt, a classification which is growing as businesses knowingly misclassify workers and stretch the definitions of what can be added to the category.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        I’m not seeing how that substantiates your claim. It’s mostly about sleep, so they mention statistics about work hours only in passing, and aren’t really clear how they define it. I’m guessing that when they say “the 9.5 hour average workday,” they’re including travel time and lunch break, because I’m not seeing that figure supported anywhere else.

        Quoting you from the other thread: Since 1980, the average working week has ballooned from 40 (with a 45 minute lunch included) to now 55 (with lunch being charged as “off the clock”).Report

        • Avatar Kimmi says:

          Nu? Teachers tend to work more than 40 hours, so do nurses/doctors, so do video game professionals. I’m certain I can pull stats on how many nurses/doctors exist in the country, ditto for teachers. Can you or someone pull stats on how many people are exempt?Report

  5. I have nothing to add to this post. +1Report

    • Avatar Roger says:

      Mark and MA,

      The concern with the top 1% losing touch with the rest of us seems inherently problematic.

      Does anyone have any data to show that this is actually occurring? I’m not interested in anecdotes, but actual data?Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        the demise of first class, with the consequent upswing in private jets and General Aviation. The rich need not go through TSA.Report

      • It is my understanding that Charles Murray’s Coming Apart discusses this at length, if he’s your bag. Or look at the fact that “marrying up” is becoming increasingly rare, which was in one of my links in my post.

        It is, as I said, something that the dominant narratives of both the Left and Right have in common.Report

        • Avatar M.A. says:

          I’d +1 you but I think we both commented at the same moment. 😉Report

        • One thing I’d add – and this is anecdotal, but I think it’s illustrative – is the whole thing with Bloomberg’s Big Gulp ban. If you look at the response to that ban, you’ll find that the people who oppose it come from all walks of life, and are both liberals and conservatives. If you look at those who support it, I think you’ll find that it’s mostly people who travel in the same circles as Bloomberg. Many have Rs next to their name, many have Ds, but they mostly constitute elements of the media, business, and political elite, and mostly have laid claim to the mantle of being “centrists” and “moderates.” In a world where the elite were not basically isolated from the rest of us, such a proposal would not even get made, much less find broad acclaim from the rest of the elite class.Report

      • Avatar M.A. says:

        The rate of interclass marriage in free-fall is troubling enough.

        The rate of business consolidation, both in the USA and worldwide, is troubling.

        Charles Murray says it is happening, though he has some odd notions as to why that seem to come down to his longstanding and dangerously nazi-esque belief in eugenics as the determining factor of everything. And you’ll note I’m quoting him even though – or perhaps because – he’s both a conservative and an asshole.Report

        • Avatar Roger says:


          It is odd that you cite Murray as the subject matter expert for the class divide when he clearly gives the opposite cause, facts and solution. Here is a quote from Murray:

          “If changes in the labor market don’t explain the development of the new lower class, what does? My own explanation is no secret. In my 1984 book “Losing Ground,” I put the blame on our growing welfare state and the perverse incentives that it created. I also have argued that the increasing economic independence of women, who flooded into the labor market in the 1970s and 1980s, played an important role.
          Simplifying somewhat, here’s my reading of the relevant causes: Whether because of support from the state or earned income, women became much better able to support a child without a husband over the period of 1960 to 2010. As women needed men less, the social status that working-class men enjoyed if they supported families began to disappear. The sexual revolution exacerbated the situation, making it easy for men to get sex without bothering to get married. In such circumstances, it is not surprising that male fecklessness bloomed, especially in the working class.”

          He concludes: “The prerequisite for any eventual policy solution consists of a simple cultural change: It must once again be taken for granted that a male in the prime of life who isn’t even looking for work is behaving badly.”

          Do you agree with anything he suggests? With any of his conclusions? Do you even agree with his facts? I am just wondering, because I just got a copy of it from the library, and it is full of data wanted to know which parts are good and which parts are BS.Report

          • I think MA’s comment was pretty clear that he doesn’t agree with Murray’s explanation for the causes of, or solutions to, the problem, just that Murray provides data that say the problem exists.

            I think once you’ve recognized that this particular problem exists, it becomes pretty easy to see that it will inevitably be part of a rather nasty self-reinforcing cycle.

            Frankly, Murray’s own elitism comes through in suggesting that it’s not already taken for granted that “a male in the prime of life who isn’t even looking for work is behaving badly.” There is literally no one who views such behavior as socially acceptable.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

              Unless he’s independently wealthy and speeds his time in expensive recreations, of course.Report

            • Avatar Roger says:


              I am not disagreeing with the bifurcation being a bad thing.

              However, my personal experience differs dramatically from yours. I see and know of many a male behaving badly and getting away with it. Meaning multiple ladies, children, no ring and no job. Research on the topic reveals lower quintile women see it too, and resent it. Unfortunately they are still pandering to these males.Report

              • “Getting away with it” does not mean their behavior is viewed as acceptable or anything other than bad. It just means there’s not ,uch that can be done to prevent it.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                I would say social norms are playing a big role. I’m not suggesting we force shotgun weddings, but we should expect males to take care of their kids and to have a job and not live off the old lady. My personal experience is that the latter is occurring to frequently.Report

              • There are lots of bad things that happen way too frequently, but that we would not say are anything other than bad behavior and a deviation from social norms. A disturbing number of people cheat on their spouses even though they know this is socially unacceptable; a disturbing number of men beat their wives and girlfriends and “get away with it.” Etc.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                And an awful lot of people cheat on their taxes and lie to get out of jury duty, both with encouragement from their peers.Report

          • Avatar Kimmi says:

            Crack in Spanish Harlem is a much, much better treatise. For one thing, the bloke actually lived there, rather than bloviating. For another, it explains Actual Social Issues — including poor cross-cultural communication.

            Yes, women became much better equipped to raise a family on their own.
            Few if any males of working age are not involved in some sort of work — if most of it is selling watermelons and other underground economics, that’s the government’s fault!

            Men still get a ton of social status from having a family. Most of them aspire to it — I should know, I sit on the bus and listen to people.

            It’s far more difficult if you’ve just come out of jail to get a wife, however. or a job.Report

          • Avatar M.A. says:

            Murray’s explanation is the same old bullshit, bigoted republican/libertarian “the poor are poor because they are inferior and deserve to be poor” nonsense.

            He doesn’t argue the results, he just argues that the poor deserve it because he considers the poor to be genetically inferior and believes the poor are passing down rotten genes to their offspring.Report

  6. Avatar James Hanley says:

    There’s much I disagree with here, but I want to stick to saying two positive things.

    First, kudos to M.A. For joining in with a contribution.

    Second, I was very interested to see what approach someone would take in explaining why inequality is bad, and I was both interested and gratified to see him take a pragmatic, rather than a primarily moral, approach. Speaking only for myself, if I were to be persuaded, it would only be on pragmatic grounds.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      Speaking only for myself, if I were to be persuaded, it would only be on pragmatic grounds.

      Wealth/income inequality that arises from positive sum transactions can only be criticized, it seems to me, on pragmatic consequentialist grounds.

      Wealth/income inequality that arises from and is maintained by institutionalized structures can be criticized, it seems to me, on fairness grounds. Someone who thinks fairness is a moral issue would then criticize it on moral grounds.Report

  7. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    It’s hard to form business partnerships with people you never meet; it’s hard to convince someone to loan money to start a new business when you’re competing with their fraternity-buddy’s son from Trustfund Delta Silverspoon fraternity, who went to universities that deliberately price themselves so high that nobody out of the 0.1% could ever attend.

    Every single one of the top fifteen universities in the USNWR rankings offers need-based financial aid. The most elite universities don’t have high sticker prices to keep out the riff-raff, they do it because they want students from rich families to pay extra to subsidize the students from poor and middle-class families.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      Even non-elite colleges do that. When my college’s president first came in he had a consultant analyze our student body, breaking them down into 9 categories, based on two dimensions: ability to pay (high, medium, low) and academic potential (high, medium, low). We had way too many in the low ability to pay row. So pointing to the high ability to pay row he said “we need more of these, so we can support more of these” (pointing to the high academic potential, low ability to pay, cell).

      Our sticker price is low $30,000s, but most students don’t actually pay that much.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      I work at a private elementary school. One of the most uncomfortable nights of the year at such schools is the annual auction or benefit. It is often an exercise is decadence and, depending on how it is run, one of the most exclusive nights of the year, in which only a small percentage of the families can attend and participate. I hate it.

      Without it, our financial aid/tuition assistance would be slashed. I’d hate that a whole lot more.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        On the other hand, there is a certain satisfaction in finding ways to get the rich to support the poor without whining about it. 😉Report

        • Avatar Kimmi says:

          not really. there’s a certain satisfaction in rich people donating without expecting any reward or recognition. (If I ever get to name a building at a college, ti’s not gonna have my name on it)Report

    • Avatar Mr. Blue says:

      The sticker-price for Harvard is not much higher than Baylor University. It’s cheaper than SMU, by a little.

      Harvard has other ways to discriminate. For instance, not admitting them in the first place.Report

  8. Avatar tarylcabot says:

    It’s probably an anomaly because of the short season, but nosebleed seats to see the Lakers host the Mavericks were $80 each & then i had to pay a “convenience” fee on top of that. Cheapest tickets that i could find for the Heat were $115.

    Probably a fluke, but the cheapest seats for the Lakers ($20 range) are nearly un-obtainable.Report

    • Avatar Mr. Blue says:

      Even if it isn’t an anomaly, the Lakers are a special case. Had the example been limited to “for some teams, nosebleed tickets start at…” I wouldn’t have made a big deal out of it. Actually, I wouldn’t have made a big deal out of it in the first place had it not been something MA and I just had an exchange about, which I wouldn’t have gotten into if it hadn’t been for the nature of his exchange with James Hanley.Report

  9. Avatar Rod says:

    Just for comparison, let me give you an example of the level and scope of inequality that isn’t a problem, and is indeed, a benefit. Or at least was for me personally.

    As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, I drive a semi for a living. A couple of years ago I was working for a small trucking company in my hometown. (I live out in Western KS, a place that people who are from places most consider fly-over country consider fly-over country :-P.) I was down in the TX panhandle on my way north with a load of cotton-seed when I got a frantic call from my wife. Our daughter, who was six at the time, had been struck and run over by a car. She was on her way to the hospital and that was all that she could tell me. Naturally, I was in a state, and I had about an eight-hour drive to get home. I called my boss (a Mormon guy, nice people) and he, of course, told me to just come home and they would take care of the load from there.

    Next thing I knew the A/C in the truck stopped working. I pulled over to check it out and the engine fan had fallen off. Literally. The hub and come apart and the fan was resting on the radiator. Great. So now I’m broke down and desperately trying to get home. Called the boss again. They arranged repairs in a nearby town (Dalhart) and a ride with his brother who lived down there.

    Next thing I knew plans had changed. He had called the president of his bank, which was the same bank I used, and arranged for him to fly down to Dalhart to pick me up and fly me home. The president of the bank; talk about customer service! He flew down and got me. I don’t know if my boss paid him some for the fuel or not; I didn’t ask and no one asked me to reimburse either, which is good because I couldn’t have.

    Now this guy has some money, naturally. Somewhere in the seven figures I would guess. Enough to own his own small plane anyway. But here’s the thing. He’s still part of the community. He lives in town. His kids go to the public school. He knows people by name and he even offered to loan me money to buy my own truck. He genuinely cares about the community–and he should, his fortunes are wrapped up in it along with everyone else.

    Would Jaime Dimon do something like that for a customer? I don’t know; maybe a really, really, good one, I suppose. But generally these billionaire types live in their gated communities, ride around in their limos with the blacked-out windows, send their kids to private school, and generally don’t give a damn about people like you and me. You and I don’t really exist for them in any meaningful way. How can you trust someone when all they are is a caricature?

    It’s not even so much that they’re necessarily harmful, although many of them can be in their quest for ever more and more. It’s that they’re just fucking useless.Report

    • Avatar M.A. says:

      That would be kind of my point. Inequality that isn’t a societal problem, versus inequality that is. Thanks for bringing the illuminating story on the difference.Report

  10. Avatar MaxL says:

    This is exactly the reply I would have written to Mark’s post.

    ** I would only note that most of the gains in household earning between 1970 and ~1985 were due to women entering the workforce in large numbers and 2 wage earners/household becoming the norm. The credit bubbles came next, and now…what?Report

  11. Avatar MaxL says:

    Check that. I see looking back that you made that point about dual earners, too. Long day, my eyes must be getting tired.Report

  12. Avatar James Hanley says:

    * I would only note that most of the gains in household earning between 1970 and ~1985 were due to women entering the workforce in large numbers and 2 wage earners/household becoming the norm

    I agree, but doesn’t that suggest that the slow down in household earning growth isn’t really much of a change? That is, if it wasn’t individual earnings that were creating the gains back then, and individual earnings aren’t making big gains now, then the current time period isn’t actually any worse than the previous time period. After all, it was possible back then to look forward and realize that eventually we’d tap out on adding more women to the work force.Report

    • Avatar M.A. says:

      The 1920s were hallmarked by people buying on credit. Then came October 29, 1929.

      After all, it was possible back then to look forward and realize that eventually we’d tap out on adding more women to the work force.

      We hit that point in the mid-80s sometime; to keep the “growth” going, the 1990s were hallmarked by people buying on credit. It got even worse after Glass-Steagall was repealed, and we rolled through the “jobless recovery” of the 2000s almost entirely fueled by fictional economic growth based on a ponzi scheme of stacked credit “vehicles.”

      So, what to do now? Repeal child labor laws and send the 5-year-olds back to work while giving them savings accounts?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        to keep the “growth” going, the 1990s were hallmarked by people buying on credit.

        I agree, but that’s a problem more for your side than mine. You’re the ones complaining that the Smiths aren’t keeping up with the Dow-Joneses, so you’re the ones expecting continuing high rates of advance for the middle class. Not me.

        So, what to do now? Repeal child labor laws and send the 5-year-olds back to work while giving them savings accounts?

        Yeah, if some commenters said this, I’d know it was all tongue-in-cheek. With you, I’m not sure you don’t believe there’s actually a bunch of people advocating that.Report

  13. Avatar Roger says:


    I have a lot of questions with your work hours narrative.

    First, leisure time has been growing for the past century or two. Working hours have increased for women since ’65 for obvious reasons, but are more than offset by less time doing housework. Last I checked the woman’s movement was voluntary.

    Second, the poor are the ones with the most leisure. I believe Landsberg calls it the leisure gap. the last data that I saw showed that the lowest quintile families were working 14 hours per week. That is per family, not per worker. To the extent that there is a problem, I would suggest it is that they do not work enough, wouldn’t you?Report

    • Avatar Kimmi says:

      Drop me that data. And tell me whether it includes time spent negotiating the system, and whether it includes time spent looking for work.

      A friend of a friend fishes antique coke bottles out of the dump. He makes $15,000 or so a year, and that’s about the most anyone makes in his town. He works a lot though…Report

      • Avatar Roger says:

        This link reveals how average annual hours worked have plummeted from 3000 in 1870 to around 1600 in 1978. In other words we have seen average work hours drop from around 58 per week in the good old days to around 31.'s+OECD+data+for+the+century+from+1870+to+1978.+Average+hours+worked+per+person&source=bl&ots=oknbQ2LWPA&sig=XzgaLkc4HC4KbeWs4eB05HrkvDc&hl=en&sa=X&ei=UUjbT4PcJaPg2AW8msiHBg&ved=0CG0Q6AEwBA#v=onepage&q&f=false

        Herr is the link into the more modern trends on increasing leisure. You can follow it from there.

        • Avatar Roger says:


          Any response? It seems to contradict your premise.Report

          • Avatar M.A. says:

            I think Kimmi ably called your bullshit out, but I’ll take a crack at it too:

            First – Comparing to the 1600s, a pre-industrialized society, is ridiculous.
            Second – comparing to the 1800s, an era when Thomas Jefferson was busy idealizing the “yeoman farmer” in a colonialized landscape, is similarly ridiculous.

            Second – bad definitions of “leisure.” Sure, “leisure time” for those of “low income” – those who have a very low amount of wages – is up. More Americans are underemployed and not by choice, taking part-time jobs. They have “leisure time”, but not leisure income. Job losses and outsourcing have hit the lower end the hardest; the pervasively growing Wal-Mart model of deliberately keeping any worker but management to only part-time hours and counting on taxpayer-funded social programs to pick up the slack means that more lower-income workers can’t get the extra hours if they wanted to; the willy-nilly schedule switching atmosphere makes it more difficult to find or keep a second job, if they chose to look for one, long term. It’s hard to work at Wal-Mart mornings and Home Depot evenings if both bosses are constantly changing your schedule.

            The percentage of retired Americans is up, which constantly leads to complaints about needing to “reform Social Security” by implementing means-testing or raising the retirement age or reducing benefits. Retired people generally have very low income but plenty of leisure time.

            Beyond that, Aguiar/Hurst have some interesting ways to massage the figures to get what they want to see, but they’re still massaging the figures. For instance, they are insisting that married women dropped 12 hours in “non-market work” (housework) from 1965 to 2003 on average. Big surprise… not. The percentage of dual-income households skyrocketed. They make no provision for multitasked or multipurposed time – how do you categorize the drive time of a wife who leaves her part-time job at 3pm, picks up the kids from school at 3:30, drops the kid at piano lessons, drives over to the grocery store while piano lessons are on, then picks the kid up and goes home? They just don’t account for it, they want to shoehorn it all into one category.

            After all this, their aggregate measurement (table A1) insists that “core market work” is up 1.57 hours, not down as you suggest, and “total market work” – into which they throw “side work” and second jobs – is down 1.57 hours. This makes sense: as I said above, it has become harder to hold down two jobs without the schedules conflicting, it has become harder to move up to full-time from part-time. Core hours for those who would have had full time hourly-paid jobs now reduce to part-time, masking the effect of salaried “overtime exempt” workers being ordered to work unpaid overtime at greater levels.

            Other masking effects they admit to:

            While total market work hours for the full sample have
            been relatively constant over the last 40 years, time spent in non?market work has fallen sharply. Specifically, time spent in food preparation and indoor household chores has fallen by 6.4 hours per week, time spent obtaining goods and services has fallen by 0.8 hour per week, and total non?
            market work has fallen by 5.5 hours per week (p?value of all declines <0.01).As with market work hours, the average trends mask differences across sexes. Male non?market work hours have actually increased by 3.9 hours per week (p?value <0.01). Female non?market work hours have fallen by almost 12.6 hours per week (p?value <0.01).

            Put simply:
            – More dual-income households.
            – Masking effects of drop in ability for workers to find/hold multiple part-time jobs, if they so choose, counterbalancing the insistence that overtime-exempt workers take on heavier and heavier workloads.
            – Masking effects of unemployment and underemployment in general.
            – Lousy definitions and study techniques that do not account for multitasked or multipurposed time.

            So I don’t buy your representation of the study, or the literature, or your assumption.Report

            • Avatar Roger says:


              I come to the league to have a discussion with people of diverse views. It is not respectful to me or the League for you to routinely start your comments with “fuck you” video links, calling me a “lying asshole” or say that I am full of “bullshit” or to imply the my world view is based on “FUIGM.” And yes, Kimmi is guilty of much worse, but the fact that you are now condoning her “able” usage of “fucking calling bullshit on your fucking ass” in your own post is totally unacceptable.

              I’ve asked before and will do so again, will you please be civil and courteous in your discussions with me and any other people of differing views?

              An answer would be appreciated.

              Kimmi, the question stands for you too.Report

              • Avatar clawback says:

                Then maybe you could make an effort to think for yourself about what might explain the data you found. Some clues:

                — Maybe a large percentage of the lowest quintile are unemployed.

                — Maybe a large percentage of the lowest quintile are single parents with multiple dependent children, for whom work may be uneconomic.

                Did you happen to notice the big jump in working hours per working-age adult from the first to the second quintile? I’m sure you did. Try to think about what that might suggest.

                Think about it a while, then come back and tell us the most plausible explanation for all of this is that poor people are choosing leisure.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:


                Why are you assuming that those things are not obvious to me? Of course they are often unemployed, retired, going to school and disabled and so on.

                My point is that in terms of inequality, the poorest work very few hours . The wealthy work lots of hours.

                Overall, the trends are that working hours have dropped to about half of what it used to be, and that leisure is increasing overall. Even if the data here is faulty in just one direction, there is no apparent trend in the direction of some kind of “leisure crisis. ” If there was one, it would be in the top quintile.

                I am pretty sure the argument of this post is NOT that we should pity the wealthy families who work 79 hours per week.

                I repeat my claim. To the extent that there is a problem here, it is that the poor do not work enough hours. To the extent they are choosing retirement or school, it is no problem at all. Yes this means the problem is unemployment.Report

              • Avatar clawback says:

                You explicitly referred to “modern trends on increasing leisure”, and you approvingly linked Landsberg’s piece clearly advancing a theory of poor people choosing leisure. This is incompatible with saying the problem is unemployment without some bizarre distortion of the terms involved.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:


                Yes, because Kimmi asked for support of my comment that hours worked has been going down. I googled it and found the Lansdbeg opinion piece that linked to a study. I had never read this before I googled it, and basically just skimmed the thing to get to the study that was referenced.

                I had read the Goklany reference. I own the book.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                And this is why I am fed up; because you continuously, knowingly, and without any regret misrepresent and distort even the things you offer as references. The Slate article was a distortion enough of the real research, which at least admitted to confounding effects involved.

                My point is that in terms of inequality, the poorest work very few hours . The wealthy work lots of hours.

                And you bounce back to this again. This is not a “point”, this is an assertion. To make a point would be to offer at least your personal theory as to why this is going on. Previously you have implied that much like Murray you believe the reason is that the poor are a bunch of lazy, shiftless bums.

                The retired wealthy, even with “low income” according to bad metrics, work very few hours and do quite well without being poor despite being lumped into your “the poorest” category. The retired unwealthy tend to work some hours to supplement their income, but they are caught in a system where age discrimination and the physical issues restrict the jobs they can get, and as a result are trapped into positions where the pay is low hourly wage and restricted hours. The lower end are trapped in much the same cycle; underemployment for those who wish to find a full time job and inability to easily retain multiple jobs in the current economy.

                Overall, the trends are that working hours have dropped to about half of what it used to be,

                No, it’s not. From the same section I quoted you before: total market work hours for the full sample have
                been relatively constant over the last 40 years.
                What’s happening on one end of the scale is a heightened number of low incomes represented by retired persons and those trapped in the exploitative cycle of underemployment. In my previous reply you’ve not bothered to respond to that point; perhaps you’d care to do so now?

                On the extreme upper end of the scale, leisure has always been ubiquitous. When the upper 10th percentile (as per fig. 5) did not change much in hours spent in the day devoted to leisure from 1965, it’s not because they were “working” harder”, it’s because there are a finite number of hours in the day and by the measure of increase found by Aguiar and Hurst, they were already quite leisurely in 1965.

                Almost the entirety of the gains in “leisure time”, according to Aguiar and Hurst, come from the women’s side of the equation. More specifically, they come in a 12.6 hour per week decrease in female “non-market work”, which they define as;

                “Food preparation and Indoor Household Chores” plus Shopping/Obtaining Goods and Services” plus all other home production including: Vehicle repair; Outdoor repair; Outdoor painting; Yard work; Pet care; Gardening; etc.

                Meanwhile, they have male nonmarket work hours up 3.9. These two figures are the result of the incredible rise of two-income families in trying to keep up with the rate of income inequality with the upper class. Faced with dropping real value for worked hours and being monetarily squeezed out of the system, the response of many in the middle class was for both parents/spouses to work rather than one being a primary breadwinner and the other primarily taking care of the home, offspring, and “non-market work” of the household. And then in the 1980s for the first time we had to face the problem of an epidemical generation of “latchkey kids” as a harmful result of income disparity.

                Decrease in available hours for the low end masks the rise in worked hours for the middle, while the upper end sees rampantly increasing income and wealth due to concentrative wealth policies. That is what is going on. Analyzing it on the basis of highly overbroad “averages” does not accurately represent the situation, and you damn well know it.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Although I am judging by his lack of an answer to my request (and his opening tone) that he is not planning on dropping the ad hominem approach, I think MA brings up some interesting issues which deserve discussion.

                The first is his assertion that I think the poor are “lazy, shiftless bums”. To avoid the derogatory, emotionally charged names though, I will refer to this group as those with less ambition. Let me now expand out his question…

                1) Do I believe that, all else being equal, the less ambitious are more likely to be poor? Yes, I agree with this statement. I also believe they are more likely to be chronically poor.

                2) Do I believe the poor lack ambitious? No. I strongly disagree with this statement. I believe the majority of the poor are retired, temporarily unemployed, families that are just starting, or single people with kids.

                3) Does this mean I don’t care about those lacking ambition? No. I actually believe they are one of our harder problems to solve in the poor category. I suspect our culture and institutions are contributing to this chronic problem.

                I also want to hit the issue with number of hours worked.

                1). I believe that the poor are quite often poor because they lack work. Their issue is not too much work and to the extent they have a problem, it is that they need more. Often getting a full time job is what they need to get them to move up to the middle tiers.
                2). For those families with jobs, there are two paths up the income scale. The first, as MA emphasizes is to work more hours. The second of course is to gain skill, experience and responsibility. In general income rises as these rise. Thus even with flat wages on average, as the family matures and gains in skills they move up the scale.
                3). Note also how this issue weaves back into the earlier discussion and how those with less ambition are less likely to develop skills or work more hours. That is part of the reaon why they are the hard problem.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:


                I suspect that there might be a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem here. Does a lack ambition beget poverty or does poverty beget a lack of ambition? My hunch is that the relationship works in both ways. And even allowing for the various public “safety nets” we have, private safety nets are much, much stronger. How much ambition does Paris Hilton have? She sure as hell ain’t poor. Daddy Hilton’s safety net has much fewer holes than Detroit’s.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                I agree 100%. There are feedback loops tied back to other feedback loops. There is a nature and nurture issue. There are institutions which affect ambition and so on.

                This is the hard problem of inequality.Report

        • Avatar Snarky McSnarksnark says:

          Median hours worked would be a more meaningful measure. Many people are involuntary part-time or casual labor, and a mean measure that includes them would be less meaningful.

          55 hours a week seems way too high. My gut tells me that something like 46 hours per week would be about right. Certainly, America is at the top of the international list for number of hours work.Report

          • Avatar Roger says:

            The OECD data reveals the average hours worked per worker in the US is 32. Just slightly above OECD average.Report

            • Avatar Snarky McSnarksnark says:

              Those are means, and they are skewed by part-time and casual workers.

              I spent some time Googling for median data, but couldn’t find any reliable source. However Found this site, for the International Labor Organization, that allows you to download data on a number of labor measures. Unfortunately, I cannot provide you a direct link.

              But if you look at the striated “hours worked” measures for the United States, you’ll see that they have a bimodal distribution, at 20 and 40 hours. This would drag the mean down, so that 32 sounds plausible. But if you look at full time workers (say, those working 32 hours a week or more), you’ll see that 40% working more than 40 hours a week, with about 15% reporting working more than 60 hours per week.

              I don’t think that it is safe to assume that part-time workers are part time because they choose to be, or because they lack ambition. Much of the retail and service sectors, where the least skilled jobs are available, offer only part time work. The majority of employees at Target and Walmart are strategically part time, in large part so the companies can obviate the need to provide health and other benefits, and are exempt from large swaths of labor law.

              One amusing part of the OECD data is that it shows the average Frenchman working 5 hours a week more than the average American…Report

              • Avatar Snarky McSnarksnark says:

                To pound the point a bit: median and mean measures can part dramatically, particularly when there are high degrees of inequality. US income is a good example. “Average” (mean) earner income in the US is about $39,959 per year. The median, though, is $26,363, which is somewhat more than two-thirds as much.

                The mean is very much skewed by the Bill Gates and Warren Buffets. If you leave off the top one-tenth of earners, the mean income drops by almost $20,000 per year.Report

      • Avatar Roger says:

        The data on hours worked by quintile is here:

        I made an error though. The poor families are only working 13 hours per week on average, vs 74 hours per week for the top quintile. In other words, the wealthy families are working 5 times as many hours as the poorest. Has anyone seen newer data? My guess is the numbers are even more extreme post recession.

        My point is that the data seems to suggest the exact opposite of what MA suggests. The problem with indquality isn’t too many hours worked, it is too few.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi says:

          I would like to fucking call bullshit on your fucking ass. Every damn person capable of going to work training or school gets to, in my state. If they’re on welfare, it’s mandated to keep benefits.

          Now, maybe you don’t call school working… but that’s bullshit and you know it. Working to get a certification (often a GRE) is what school is about.

          And less than one working age adult??? Really, dude, you suck. Isn’t it obvious that the lowest income people are primarily retired?????Report

        • Avatar Kimmi says:

          no, this is roger pulling a fast one, not the link. I read the fucking link, and it supports what I said above.

          It is impossible to talk about poverty without talking about wealth. A wealthy person making a small income is not, often, poor.Report

  14. Avatar Roger says:


    Your style of argumentation is not appropriate. Instead of calling me names, would you explain what it is you are disagreeing with? You seem to accept the data. So what is your argument. Please re read my comment.

    Do you not agree it would be good for the poor to work more hours? To the extent the poor are not trying to work more hours, such as is the case for me and other retired poor, then that also says something, no?Report

    • Avatar Kimmi says:

      … I think that your argumentation “they’re poor because they aren’t working” without bothrering to say (“oh, by the way, these folks are in general retired”), falsely implies that the people you’re talking about are:
      1) drugdealers, and other people on public housing/welfare in the city.
      2) the people who steal vegetables for their kids in the country.

      I’d rather we focus a bit further, and talk about those with both low income and low wealth. These may indeed be people who are retired, but they have significantly less income security than those with a lot of wealth who are retired.Report

  15. M.A., good post. I’m still chewing on some of it, but I think your examination of how inequality can erode community is important and too often ignored in favour or discussions of material wealth.Report

    • Avatar M.A. says:

      It’s really not that far off.

      I know a number of Tea Party folks, and a number of people on right wing radio repeat the same meme, who believe that “ivory tower eggheads” and other forms of “elites” who don’t understand the “problems of the common folks” are making the rules. Of course, they’re angry about giving homosexuals equality under law, not being all rough and Joe Arpaio towards “wetbacks” and things like that, but nevertheless the narrative that gets them there is one of cultural inequality and the belief that they have little if anything left in common with the “elites” they are so angry at.

      On the same area, I’ll own up: I think that multinational corporations with their fingers in a thousand and one pies are a fishing stupid idea. What do we get from it? Destruction of local cultural treats and cultural identity. Local musical culture obliterated by top-40 radio, local cuisine closer every day to being obliterated by a thousand and one fast food restaurants and Applebee’s or TGI-Fridays on every corner.

      I’ve seen people who get outraged about the “inefficiency” of the local-foods movement and sure, in times of famine the idea sucks since you need to get food from somewhere; but without that movement, what would be left of not just the local delicacies but the local staples? What happens to the city when the culture’s been sucked dry by the same damn restaurants people eat at 500 miles away, delivered frozen and vacu-packed on a truck and reheated in a microwave where all the “chef” does is push the medium-rare button? Where the baked potato soup glopped out of a can and the bacon in it isn’t really bacon, it’s just bulk-packaged Baco Bits that are 99% soy and 1% hickory essence?

      Inequality brought us TGI Fridays and a hundred other “national chains” where mediocre food disguised by sauce, frozen in a giant packing plant and reheated on the table destroys your local culture every time it puts another locally owned, small chain or single location restaurant with their own recipes and the owner-on-premises working culture out of business.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        You know how communities that don’t have any of these chains feel about them? They want them. When Olive Garden talked about the mere possibility of moving to the town in “Deseret” where I used to work, it made the front page of the local paper. Everyone was thrilled. I type this from “Redstone”, which lacks for a lot of these places (there’s one regional chain, but that’s about it). More than once, I’ve heard people talk about going to the nearest city that has these sorts of restaurants and how much they enjoy eating there.

        I guess they lack your good taste.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          There’s an old snark about liberal contempt for the lower and middle classes they say they care about. I don’t think it’s generally true, but this is st least the second time M.A. Has indicated his disdain for the masses. He also had a little rent about the terrible people who shop at Wal Mart.Report

          • Avatar Will Truman says:

            This raises my hackles enough that it has almost inspired my participation in the Symposium. Almost. The anti-chain sentiment is often steeped in cultural elitism. While I understand MA’s mention of sports as a symbol for class isolation and zero-sumism (and defended it as such above), the apparent disdain for anything but top-league sports as cut-rate “bread and circuses” (because the NBA isn’t a circus?) is demeaning the only entertainment we yokels out here have. Because there is a valid point in here, and because in the main post he actually took pains to be as level as he could, I have refrained from simply dismissing it as “cry me a river, buddy” at the example he chose. I fully believe it to be unintended, as I think he sincerely believes there to be a battle between the 1% and the rest of us, but there is an air of insult involved here. That those who aren’t resentful and aren’t in it with him are blind, stupid, or evil. Even if they’re in his preferred financial bracket.

            The irony here is that he started off with a good point about cultural elitism and its disdain from the right, before going off in a direction that cultural elitists so often do.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              I agree with this. I have to drive to another toen to o to an upscale restaurant (although surely not as far as you). And i just can’t afford to eat there often. So when I want a steak, I generally go down the street o Applebee’s. I know it’s kind of downscale, but I don’t feel deprived in some way because that’s generally all my budget allows, and I don’t think the folks I see there do, either. He truly is demeaning one of the things they most enjoy in life.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Well, to be fair, I’m not above a certain kind of elitism. I do try not to go on diatribes about the inferior preferences and liesure of others, though. Certainly not while trying to lay claim to being their champion. That’s the disconnect that jumped out at me here.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          On further reflection, I regret some of my comments here. What may have been intended as “they/we deserve better” very much came across to me as “what they have/want/are-content-with is crap” and that touched a nerve.

          (I have more trouble coming up with benign or neutral intent with the Walmart comment as I remember it. That may have played a role in my uncharitable reading of his comments here.)Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Look, I’ve run a cute little cafe in a tourist destination in Guatemala since the mid-80s. I ran it myself for three years, rebuilt it after an earthquake and it’s largely passed into the competent and caring hands of my ex-sister-in-law, with whom I still get along famously.

        Local delicacies? This restaurant cooks everything from scratch and does a killer sweet roll, which has passed into legend. People line up in the morning to get their pan dulce served hot out the window with a cup of coffee. Because I could not rely on fresh meat, it became known as a vegetarian restaurant, which it isn’t, strictly speaking, but the Birkenstockers just love this joint. Jazz plays all day long, people play chess, oh the hanging-out and general sense of cooler-than-thou is most precious and extreme and pays the bills and the lawyers’ wives wear their good shoes and new dresses when the band plays and it’s just a fucking circus in there.

        Don’t you put down what people want in a restaurant. A restaurant is nothing but theater. People can eat cheaper at home and I charge a fortune for anything in a bottle. That mediocre food disguised by sauce has been prepared in sanitary kitchens and market tested within an inch of its life and that’s what people want. It doesn’t destroy anything, least of all local culture. There’s a Pollo Loco down the street from me and two McDonald’s in town and we don’t compete and I know the guys who run all three. Me, I genially despise all these Birkenstockers from Japan and Poland and Canada and every other two bit country, especially the USA, acting like they’re All That, them and their cheap-ass hanging out and wasting table space and slurping at the same cup of coffee for hours and condescending to my wait staff. It’s Never Never Land, Quetzaltenango, where tourists come and tourists go and each of them acts like he’s some fucking conquistador who just discovered the place.

        Want to run a local restaurant? Serve the locals what they want to eat and give his wife a reason to dress up. Get a paying clientele. It doesn’t matter if it comes out of a plastic bag if that’s what they want. It’s theater and that’s all it is.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        First, this must be a suburban thing. National chain restaurants are greatly outnumbered by local chains and one-offs in every major city I’ve lived in or visited. But comparing the results of “restaurant” searches on Google Maps in urban and suburban areas confirms this.

        Second, it’s not clear to me that inequality is at all responsible for this. National chains succeed because the kind of people who like the kind of food they serve can afford to do so on a regular basis. My grandparents could afford better, but their favorite restaurant was Red Lobster.

        Furthermore, the backlash against chains has arisen during a time of high and rising rising income inequality, so your explanation is counterintuitive to say the least.

        Ditto music. Personally, I don’t like much modern popular music, but people likes what they likes. This is hardly new—there was plenty of insipid music getting airtime back in the ’50s. But the indie music scene is as strong as it’s ever been. That’s partly due to the internet, but where I live, there are live bands playing every night of the week.Report