Inequality, Freedom, and Dignity

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Erik Kain

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

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476 Responses

  1. Avatar Anne says:

    “But it can be solved if we agree to certain baselines of human dignity”

    This.

    I find in discussions on the internet and with my libertarian Fiancee (a Leftie here) that “let the market work” is a default with no examination of what the market can or won’t do. I want to live in a free society and sympathize with a lot of the libertarian agenda but what turns me off is the lack of concern for our fellow human beings. A totally free society let the market work sounds great if everyone has the same obstacles and restrictions but that is not the real world in my experience.Report

    • Avatar Erik Kain says:

      Indeed. The problem with total freedom is that we all start from different points to begin with. Because guns and violence exist with or without a government monopoly on violence. Because sometimes the choice is not between freedom and tyranny, but between kinds of freedom and kinds of dignity. I don’t know. I’m sympathetic to many libertarian arguments, and think many work in tandem with liberal goals, but I find ideological purity leads to as much blindness as anything.Report

    • Avatar Scott says:

      Does anyone know what these “baselines” actually are? Who decides what they are? I ask b/c baselines seem to change all the time. It used to be that all poor folks needed from gov’t was room and board but now we are told that gov’t has to pay for phones and internet so they can have fulfilling lives.

      Maybe the answer isn’t more gov’t. Maybe the answer is stay in school so you get an education and don’t have to work in a plant. Maybe the answer is don’t use drugs or commit crime. There are things gov’t can do but lots of things gov’t can’t do. Sadly the things gov’t can’t do are the last ones you ever her liberals talking about.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        I seen two of these complaints over and over. Of course our standard of a baseline changes. Of. Course. Its called progress, its called standards and values change. Flogging would have been considered decidedly non-cruel and usual, now it wouldn’t be. Things change.

        I’ve seen the claim the gov has to pay for phones and Internet before…where the heck does it come from. I don’t that myself.Report

        • Avatar Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

          I’ve seen the claim the gov has to pay for phones and Internet before…where the heck does it come from. I don’t that myself.

          I would. Try to do a job search without either of those things. They have become fundaments of living a modern life.

          If you want public policy to support widespread opportunity (as opposed to “equality of result”), the ability to engage with society seems pretty basic.Report

          • Avatar Erik Kain says:

            This is a great point. It’s like transportation. The transport of information and access to networks.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            We are well on the way to making sure that everybody who wants a computer can have one and, from what I understand, dial-up internet rides piggyback on previous efforts to make sure that every house is connected to a telephone.

            We are fairly close to the day where Heritage will point out the sheer percentage of people who have a computer and that can be waved away the way we wave away the fact that most people have refrigerators.Report

          • Avatar greginak says:

            I’m for wi-fi as a public utility type things myself. I was asking scott where this claim that the gov is supposed to pay for our phone and Internet comes from. I’ve seen people on the right say it. Making Internet like a public utility is not that at all. I know of programs, hell i helped some of my clients get hooked up in them, that offer 1$ cell phones to poor people, but that isn’t some grand plan to have the gov pay for all our phones. Its a frickin obvious measure to take to help someone get out of poverty.

            Note to self: read reply before sending to make sure all words are present.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

              I’m for wi-fi as a public utility type things myself.

              Me too. Wi-fi should not be limited to people who can afford a $6 mocha lattecino.Report

              • Our library was truly a life-saver when we first moved here. It took 3-4 weeks for the cable company to get the Internet to our house. Going to a coffee-shop or even McDonald’s every time we needed to access something would have made it really expensive really quickly. Going to the library was a hassle, but it was at least an immediate option.Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

          There are governments (local, usually) where there is free wifi throughout an area, like a city. It is generally weak, and therefore not a threat to paid-for systems that most people use. But it is payed for by the government, and is most used by the poor that cannot afford cable contracts, and is often opposed for the very reasons that Scott brings up. I have also seen opposition to free wifi in government buildings, such as libraries and court houses.

          The phone program is probably referring to the Lifeline program, which is a program designed to give free minutes (usually a couple hundred a month) to people slow a certain income level, with preference given to those that are isolated or infirm that have no phone service, for he case of emergencies – though others can qualify as well.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        Best that there be no baselines for human dignaty, then.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        The more I think about this comment, them more I think it is indicative of why I so dislike the modern conservative movement in America.

        I think of myself as a supporter of the idea that the government – any government – should be fiscally restrained. You would think then, that I would be more supportive of fiscal conservatisms goals than I am. And I think your comment, Scott, highlighted the reasons for why I’m not rather perfectly. When faced with the argument that perhaps the poor should not be treated with indignity, your response is:

        “Maybe the answer is don’t use drugs or commit crime.”

        When discussing the poor in this country, you equate them with criminals and drug addicts. They’re worse than simply lazy; they’re immoral wastes that don’t deserve even the most basic amount of human dignity.

        This pretty much mirrors what I hear on conservative talk shows, from hosts and callers alike. And it certainly mirrors what I saw John Stossell say on FOX when I made the mistake of watching it sober. So while you’re just one commenter, Scott, I think you do a nice job of hitting the basic conservative talking points.

        This is why I so dislike today’s movement conservatism.Report

        • Avatar Scott says:

          Tod:

          I brought up crime and drugs b/c of Eric’s silly comment in the OP that, “The War on Drugs – a cleverly named atrocity which may as well be called The War on the Poor and Minorities.”

          No one makes you take drugs or become a criminal. This is purely an area of choice, self control and responsibility, things liberals refuse to recognize or take into account the power they have.Report

          • Avatar Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

            I think a part of the “conservative” (or at least Scott’s) outlook is to view everything through a moralistic lens.

            When I was in college, I would bet that less than 15% of the student body made it through drug free. It was just that, as college students, we could afford higher-quality, more entertaining drugs.Report

            • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

              I’ve noticed that when we talk about drugs in our society, we rarely really talk about drugs. Instead, drugs act as a markers for amplified versions of the stereotypes we have of different groups of people.

              When we talk of drugs and the poor, we talk of non-white criminals and ne’er do wells, choosing immorality and laziness over success and decency. When we talk of drugs and college students, we talk of zany experimentation, funny anecdotes, and (quite often) sex with non-monogamous partners. When we talk of drugs and the very rich, we talk of huge amounts of expensive drugs that act as accessories made to accent excessive and opulent lifestyles, and the things like starlets and supermodels the those drugs in enough quantities can buy. When we talk of drugs and politics, we talk of jackbooted fascists breaking into our homes and shooting our dogs.

              And when we talk of drugs and ourselves, we talk of this thing we did when we were young, and who we were back then.

              But we rarely talk about drugs themselves.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                White people/men/straights folks/privileged people succeed as a group and fail as individuals.
                People of color/women/gays/marginalized people succeed as individuals and fail as a group.

                When a white person named Bob fucks up, we say Bob is a fuck up.
                When a black person named Bob fucks up, we say black people are fuck ups.
                When a white person named George wins the Presidency, we view it as an affirmation of white people.
                When a black person named Barack wins the Presidency, we view it as an affirmation of Barack (if even that).Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

                When a white person named Bob fucks up, we say Bob is a fuck up.
                When a black person named Bob fucks up, we say black people are fuck ups.

                Who is “we,” kemosabe?

                When a white person named George wins the Presidency, we view it as an affirmation of white people.
                When a black person named Barack wins the Presidency, we view it as an affirmation of Barack (if even that).

                IIRC, Obama’s election was very much touted as a victory for black people. And this is quite possibly the first time anyone has ever suggested that George W. Bush might be perceived as a credit to his race.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Berg-

                “We” as in the general sense.

                While folks touted Obama as a victory for black people, how many folks suddenly looked more favorably upon the average black person? That is what I mean. Not what people write articles about. But what actually happens about our perception of those involved. And had Obama lost, you don’t think some folks would have said (and perhaps rightfully so), “This means a black guy can’t win the Presidency”? Because I sure as hell didn’t see a single article about the end of white folks winning the Presidency when McCain lost.

                Do we ever have conversations about white culture or country music or stuff like that when a group of white people does something criminal or stupid or terrible? Because we often seem to talk about black culture and rap music and stuff like that when a group of black people does something criminal or stupid or terrible?

                Some of this is natural. We are generally better able to see individuals as individuals when we can identify with them. We tend to identify with people who are familiar to us. As a country that has a majority of white people, and with most folks living in largely homogenous areas, white people tend to be familiar with other whites. Coupled with white folks dominating the faces we see on television and in government and elsewhere and it is easier for us to see white folks as individuals who not wholly representative of white people in general than it is to do the same for black folks. It is why also we tend to identify as black folks as black folks far more often than white folks as white folks, who we tend just to see as folks.

                This is not uniquely American phenomenon and is not necessarily evidence of some insidious explicit racism. But it certainly happens and denying it means we’re sticking our head in the sand.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                I did find it interesting that a black man was President before a white woman–and, moreover, that America specifically had to choose which of those it wanted.

                “Do we ever have conversations about white culture or country music or stuff like that when a group of white people does something criminal or stupid or terrible?”

                Are you seriously asking that question, or is this some kind of rhetorical flourish?Report

              • Oprah’s support of a black man over [a putatively better-qualified] white woman may have been her Waterloo:

                Jan 2008–

                http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/story?id=4167650&page=1#.T-jXKbX2aul

                “I cannot believe that women all over this country are not up in arms over Oprah’s backing of Obama,” wrote austaz68 on Oprah.com, in a message thread titled “Oprah is a Traitor!!!” “For the first time in history we actually have a host at putting a woman in the white house and Oprah backs the black MAN. She’s choosing her race over her gender – hypocrisy [sic] at it’s finest!! Oprah – you should be ashamed of yourself!!!!!”Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Do we ever have conversations about white culture or country music or stuff like that when a group of white people does something criminal or stupid or terrible?

                So they cling to guns and religion

                I’m not sure we even wait for something criminal. 😉Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                James-

                Was that part of a broad conversation explicitly about white people and how the criminal actions of individuals are indicative of widespread shortcomings in the musical preferences or culture of white people? To the extent that generalizing was going on, I’d actually argue that that supports my point, in that an often marginalized subgroup was being chastised by “elites”. This time, it was “ivory tower liberals” going after “red necks”.

                The next time I hear a major media member point to country music or white culture when some white guy goes whacko (absent an actual direct link between said whacko and a particular musician or aspect of white culture) will be the first.

                White psychos are lone wolves. Brown psychos are terrorists or Muslim fanatics gangbangers. How quick was everyone to distance that Norwegian guy from any religious or nationalist agenda? How quick are we to deem every Muslim murderer a member of Al-Queda terrorist?

                It’s not always and never, but I’d be shocked if anyone could point to evidence that the trends aren’t as I describe them, both in terms of broader conversation and internalized responses.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Kazzy, it was just a joke. I’m pretty much in line with you on this one. Certain elements of white culture sometimes come in for criticism, those parts that the East Coast media don’t understand*, but not white culture generally, and the careful distinction isn’t made for the different elements of black culture.
                ______________
                * Look, when NYC gets 4 inches of snow, the rest of the country doesn’t fishing care! Tell your national anchors and morning talk show folks to stop pretending it’s an unprecedented armageddon that the rest of the world needs to hear about. I remember one time when I was digging out from a two foot snow storm and they were going on and on, all in a breathless fluster, unable to unwad their panties, about how New York was all shut down by 6 or 8 inches, or something like that. All of that both before and after they did their obligatory talk to the tourists on the street…I guess the tourists got to the studio before the storm and got stuck overnight or something. They looked pretty chipper, though. Probably Minnesotans enjoying the light snow flurries.

                OK, sorry, I just had to get that off my chest. I know it’s not your fault.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                JH-

                Sorry, I didn’t pick up on the sarcasm, since there seemed enough legitimacy in the point. Even when you jest, you have a point.

                More seriously though… it snows in other parts of the country? How does anyone even know that? Wouldn’t people need to live in those places and have access to phones or something for that type of thing to be known?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                You didn’t pick up on the sarcasm? Now I know you’re not from the northeast. I bet you really live in San Francisco.

                And who needs phones? We stomped a big “help us, it’s a blizzard,” in the snow just in time for the weekly ice cream drop plane to see it. Well, maybe. They might not have been able to see it through the blizzard. Still, you think they might have mentioned having a hard time finding the drop zone.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Heh… San Fran, eh? I now live closer to a biker bar than a gay bar for the first time in my life. Maybe I should get some guns and religion to cling to. It might be my only hope.Report

              • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

                James, that’s not half as irritating as when it’s 85 in The City, and all of our local stations go on about how glorious the warm sunshine is, as if they couldn’t read their own weather maps and didn’t know that most of their audience is suffering though 100+.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Jeez, if you really lived in San Francisco you could live near a gay biker bar.

                And just for fun.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Mike,

                And that’s not half as irritating as the fact that the Chron always capitalizes “The City.”

                Here in the Midwest we just have to deal with idiot weatherpeople who say, “It’s going to be a beautiful day, with a high of 95 degrees.” From my perspective, nothing above 75 is wonderful, but I don’t know anyone who likes 95.Report

              • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

                It’s a proper noun.

                I’m curious how many places are known locally as “The City”. San Francisco, Manhattan, Istanbul (from the Greek for “in the city”), the financial center of London, etc.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Medina, perhaps, since the word literally means city, but I don’t know enough Arabic to know if the colloquial sense of the usage matches up.

                But I disagree about the proper noun business. Manhattan is called the city because it’s the urban core. Same with London. San Francisco’s use just strikes me as pretentious. Of course just about everything about San Francisco struck me as pretentious, except the older native San Franciscans, who I always found to be remarkably nice and down to earth. I think they had a nice town once, and all the people who moved there because they thought it was the hip place have ruined it.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                Every generation that moves in ruins the former great status of a city according to some people. 🙂

                I’m sure you could people in the 40’s bitching about the “older native” San Fransciscans who were just moving in.

                In other words, the only thing worse than hipsters are old people bitching about hipsters. 🙂Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

            When white, middle-class college kids caught with weed or coke go to the same jails and wind up with the same prison records as black lower-class kids, we can talk about how poverty comes from irresponsibility. (Likewise, much as I love dogs, I wouldn’t mind just once reading about a cop storming into a 1%-er’s mansion and shooting his champion Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.)Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              If we ended the drug war, I foresee two things happening fairly quickly:

              1) Much of the political class talking about how we need to impose more paternalism on the drug-using lower classes.

              2) Libertarians will be called heartless because they don’t particularly care if people spend their free time ruining their own lives.Report

              • The soft paternalism you describe is a real possibility, and it will/would be condescending and not a little bad. But it’ll / ‘d probably be better than the hard paternalism of incarceration. (I say “probably” because a lot of mischief can be done in the name of “helping” people when “helping” implies a non-adversarial process.)Report

              • Avatar Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

                I’m sorry if I seem to be picking fights, today, Jaybird, but I do care if people spend their free time ruining their own life. Particularly if we understand that many aspects of what we do to ruin our own lives are so bound up in our genetic code, and evolutionary legacy, and human nature that they are outside of the leverage of rational intervention.

                As an example, our reward centers are designed to light up when we eat things that were good for us as hunter-gatherers, but bad for us in industrial abundance: sugar, salt and fat. Despite all the moralizing about good and bad choices, we are learning–to an ever-increasing degree–that many of our drives and behaviors simply overwhelm our cerebral cortex (see recent books by Daniel Gilbert or Jonathan Haidt).

                We used to have strong cultural pressure that helped counter some of these more destructive human impulses–restrictions on sexual mores, and public behaviors, and ethics–that helped us counter the less rational parts of our nature. But most of these strictures have dissolved, and I don’t think anyone wants to go back to them (e.g. taboos about homosexuality, single women, and social rank).

                But as our culture fragments, and commercial interests become the primary instruments of common culture, through media, branding, advertising and the like, combined with a culture that celebrates “individualism,” personal choice: what is to constrain us? The libertarian answer seems to be “enlightened self interest.” And, to the degree that people can make truly free, informed, and willful choices, I’m all with that.

                When I go to the market, I’m probably confronted with 100 breakfast cereals. If I were to make a truly free, informed and willful choice, I’d probably be there for five hours reading nutrition labels, maybe followed by another 80 hours of internet research on the corporate behavior of each of the manufacturers, their business practices, safety, labor practices, and food safety records.

                And I haven’t even gotten to the dairy isle, yet.

                All I’m saying, is that it would be considerably more frictionless for all parties if there were minimum nutritional, food safety, and labor standards; and if food labeling was standardized. We can then re-point our efforts towards making decisions that would be more rewarding productive.

                Like jams.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Snarky, take this for what it’s worth, but you’re not gonna make any headway here. JB isn’t arguing anything in particular. He’s expressing a sentiment: that government interference is a bad bad thing. And that’s a fine sentiment to hold, I suppose. But given that it’s only a sentiment, you will chase yourself in ever expanding circles trying to get him to see the logical or evidential point you’re making. He won’t.

                Or won’t admit to it anyway.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I don’t see how I would have the right to tell you what to eat, or tell you what *NOT* to eat. You’re not my child. You’re not my spouse. You’re not my pet cat.

                What you put in your mouth is none of my business. For that matter, what you put in any of your orifices is none of my business.

                Here’s what I’d like to know: let’s say that you’re right… that such things *ARE* my business and, more than that, that I should have a say in making sure that you don’t do the wrong thing.

                Why should I listen to you, Snarky, instead of Doctor Dobson (who, may I point out, is telling me similar things)?Report

              • Avatar Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

                There’s a certain tension between two different tides that I’ve been trying to point out. Thus far, you seem to be ignoring this.

                I understand that you don’t like the government telling anybody what to do: I really do. But that doesn’t make that basic tension go away.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Thus far, you seem to be ignoring this.

                It’s more that I’m just not seeing it. If I cannot see where I have the right to tell you to not eat a burger, then I am going to need you to explain to me how you have the right to tell someone else that they shouldn’t eat a burger.

                Or whatever.

                If we were talking about hypotheticals where one of us shot the other, I could see you explaining “if you broke into my house and came at me with a knife, I would have the right to shoot you” and me saying “well, even if I didn’t agree with that, I see how *SOMEONE* could agree with that.”

                When it comes to hamburgers (or whatever), I’m not seeing the circumstance where I’d have the right to take the burger out of your hand. (Though, for the record, if someone argued that you’d have the right to shoot me for trying to do so, I’d see how someone could agree with that.)Report

              • Avatar Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

                I’ll give this one last shot, and let it go…

                When it comes to hamburgers (or whatever), I’m not seeing the circumstance where I’d have the right to take the burger out of your hand…

                I’m not comfortable with your example, and no one is advocating burgers out of anyone’s hand. Let me modify your example, as follows:

                I’d like to sell a ground beef and worms and bacteria paste, and sell it as a “hamburger.” If the state says I’m not allowed to call that a “hamburger”, that’s an infringement of my freedom. And if it makes me reveal all the ingredients, that’s an infringement, as well. After all, I’m engaged in a free exchange with another person, and it’s none of the state’s business.

                I know that we’ll never agree on this: but I consider commerce to be a privileged realm (much like driving), in which we are all better off if we can assume some common ground rules. And those would primarily be of the type that ensure safety, and transparency, and fully-informed choice. All of these ground rules would be restrictions on somebody’s liberty, but would increase the aggregate pool of common welfare.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Oh, so we’re just talking about fraud?

                For what it’s worth, I am 100% opposed to fraud. If a company behaves fraudulently, I fully suppose using the law to jail the perps, break up the company, and sell the pieces for pennies on the dollar to honest companies.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                All of these ground rules would be restrictions on somebody’s liberty, but would increase the aggregate pool of common welfare.

                And that, Snarky, is where true libertarianism conflicts with the fake, FYIGM-style libertarianism mostly advocated on this blog.

                Work with the actions and see if they increase liberty for ALL concerned, rather than assuming as a religious tenet “well nobody should ever have X liberty restricted” even if the result of the powerful rich using X liberty is the continued harm and decrease in both liberty and dignity for the poor.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

                This is a strawman, Snarky. There are certain baseline expectations people have about a product called hamburger. One is that it be made of ground beef. Another is that it not contain worms or dangerous levels of pathogenic bacteria. To sell something that doesn’t meet those expectations and call it “hamburger” without further qualification is fraud. No serious libertarian thinker would argue otherwise.

                What we part company with the left is that we don’t think that products should be banned outright. Consider casu marzu, a traditional Sardinian cheese infested with maggots. This is an actual product that some people willingly and knowingly eat. It’s also illegal in the US, even if you slap a big “WARNING: MAGGOTS UP IN HERE” sticker on it.

                Or consider the FDA’s policy on experimental drugs and medical prodecures. You can’t legally obtain medication or undergo medical procedures that haven’t yet completed the years-long process of demonstrating safety and effecticacy to the FDA’s satisfaction. Even if you have a an end-stage terminal illness. Drug safety laws kill.

                There’s an easy solution to this: Relegate the FDA to an advisory role. It gives its stamp of approval to foods and drugs, and consumers may choose to heed that or disregard it at their own risk, but it won’t have the power to ban products outright.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                BB – To take it into a more challenging area of the sale of foods…

                Where then, would a libertarian come down on food manufacturers having to list ingredients on packaging, or nutritional content?

                When those things have come up historically my memory was that libertarians were against, but I recognize that I’m remembering guys that have talk radio shows that use the word “libertarian” without really meaning it, so I don’t really know where a libertarian would fall in these situations.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                I think food labeling is a great idea. I even LOVE the calorie counts in all the restaurants in California. It totally affects my choices, though research seems to suggest I am the only one.

                I am sure libertarians would be able to come up with a voluntary system that did the same thing, but as far as regulations go, these tend to do more good than harm in my opinion.

                I would recommend labeling for much of what is licensed or regulated today.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

                I’m not a big fan of minimum labeling requirements, though obviously I do agree that any information provided should be required to be accurate.

                My reasoning is that if more detailed labeling is something that consumers demand, food manufacturers will provide it. First one will do so to get a competitive edge, then another will do it to nullify that edge, and pretty soon not having nutrition information is like not having a high school diploma.

                To save one of the usual subjects the embarrassment of having to walk back some snark about how libertarians love their theoretical models but don’t understand how the real world works, I’ll give some examples.

                Milk is one good example. There’s no requirement that use of rBGH or prophylactic antibiotics be disclosed, but all the brands that don’t advertise it on the label, so you know that the others do. Similarly, if the cows are fed exclusively on pasture, that’s on the label.

                I have a canister of whey protein that gives the amino acid profile. That’s not required, but enough consumers care about it, so it’s there.

                I believe that nutrition labeling was optional in the US prior to 1990, but most manufacturers chose to provide it. Even today, many labels contain more than the minimum required information.

                Many fast food restaurants provided brochures with nutritional information upon request years before there was any talk of requiring them to post calorie counts. I’m actually not 100% sure that this wasn’t required, but I don’t believe it was.

                All that said, I don’t really see this as a battle worth fighting. There’s no real harm done. But let’s not trumpet this as some great victory for big government—they were just mandating something that was fairly standard practice already.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Where then, would a libertarian come down on food manufacturers having to list ingredients on packaging, or nutritional content?

                I think lots, perhaps a sizable majority, of libertarians would come down on Brandon’s side.

                My perspective, though, is that imperfect information is a cause of market failure. Often people don’t have the expertise to even know what kind of information they really need, because it’s pretty specialized knowledge. So I’m actually cool with labeling laws whose purpose is to give people more information.Report

        • Avatar Koz says:

          “The more I think about this comment, them more I think it is indicative of why I so dislike the modern conservative movement in America.”

          Well yeah, that’s a mistake.

          “I think of myself as a supporter of the idea that the government – any government – should be fiscally restrained. You would think then, that I would be more supportive of fiscal conservatisms goals than I am. And I think your comment, Scott, highlighted the reasons for why I’m not rather perfectly.”

          Though to some extent I disagree with Scott’s comment. Oddly enough, it gives libs too much credit. Specifically, he posits and alternative answer to what we might collectively tell the poor. But before that, we have to take inventory of what our resources and make some intelligent conclusions for what we are capable of.

          These are considerations that politically active libs will make a sustained effort to avoid dwelling on, as I have learned from personal experience.

          The benefits of fiscal conservatism go significantly beyond accounting. Among other things, they are an attempt to rationalize our priorities to our means. Until libs can come up with a coherent answer for these things are supposed to relate (and given the track record for libs in our lifetimes), we can safely ignore all their theories for treating the working poor with greater dignity.Report

      • Avatar Erik Kain says:

        Scott, “stay in school” is an unsatisfying answer, especially when many people have access to such horrible schools. And when I worked in the plant, I had a four-year degree, but jobs were scarce. Of course, all your “solutions” are actually symptoms, which is why none of them are plausible.Report

        • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

          Scott, “stay in school” is an unsatisfying answer, especially when many people have access to such horrible schools.

          First, let’s not forget that those horrible schools are a part of the welfare state.

          Second, it doesn’t really matter. The value of a high school diploma is that it shows employers that you’re not the kind of person who drops out of high school.Report

          • Avatar Roger says:

            Adding on to Brandon,

            If staying in school, which is required by law, is not a plausible solution, then we must have radically different views of the word “plausible”.

            Are we saying poor people should no longer be expected to graduate high school, look for a job or avoid having kids prior to getting married? ( the third of the conservative recommendations for path out of poverty).Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      The ways of God are mysterious to man.Report

  2. Avatar James Hanley says:

    A nice take, E.D. The focus on dignity seems pretty a pretty powerful lever.Report

    • Avatar Erik Kain says:

      Thanks, James.Report

      • Avatar wardsmith says:

        Yeah Kain, where ya been? I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop since the first second Symposium post (namely yours). Also haven’t noticed many comments from you either, although I admit I was out of the loop for a week or so. Good job on this OP. Now stick around buddy. 😉Report

  3. Avatar Niles says:

    This article has much more insight than what has been penned down here

    Becoming Dagongmei (Working Girls): The Politics of Identity and differenceReport

  4. Avatar Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

    Another big factor in the constrained options available to the working poor is that we, as a society, have been pushing risk back down to the individual level; and the poor are living so marginally that a big life event–a lost job, an accident, an illness–can often be enough to begin a death spiral from which it can be very, very difficult to recover.

    On a recent thread, I recently talked about a period of my life–thankfully short–in which I was poor. That was the bleakest period of my life: my financial “mobility” were constrained by lack of resources, lack of transportation, and lack of opportunities. I ultimately had to move back in with family for a spell, and more or less re-start my professional life from the bottom rung, but I still did that from a much stronger baseline–I was a college graduate, and the published author of a business / technical book–than the typical working poor today.

    I like to think of the rise of two influential economic entities in two very different political eras: the credit card, and managed medical care (which really didn’t come into being until midway into the Nixon Administration). The credit card came into being in a liberal age, and the legal structure built around it (the Fair Credit Reporting Act) was designed to place most of the risk at the top of the food chain: maximum liability for a stolen credit card was set at a nominal $50, and there were very specific rules and constraints on maximum rates, the way that interest was calculated (billing grace periods). As a result, the ability of consumer credit to wreak catastrophe was pretty severely limited. Because they credit card issuers bear the brunt of liability for credit fraud and theft, the issuers developed elaborate and effective systems for controlling risk (including sophisticated fraud detection).

    In our post-Reagan, post-regulatory age, medical care is much less regulated. We contract with insurance companies, but there are much fewer constraints on their behavior and incentives, and–predictably–the care provider pushes as much risk as possible down to the consumer. Without the control, sophistication, or resources of large managed care providers, the consequences of medical catastrophe to an individual are consequently significantly more, well, catastrophic. Claims can be denied with little guidance or justification, and insurance companies are incented to dump patients whose medical costs are significantly higher than average. Cost control is virtually absent from the system, and the inflation rate of medical care has been roughly double that of the economy in general since the shift from individual / catastrophic insurance to “managed care.”

    And the consequences of a large medical event on the life of a poor–or even middle-class–person can be huge. I haven’t seen any studies that seem rigorous enough for me to feel comfortable with, but it is clear that a really significant portion of personal bankruptcies–20-50%–involve the expenses related to a significant medical problem–an accident, a surgery, cancer.

    And the economics of the health care have evolved around the incentives created around the legal structures created. The relative income of physicians has about doubled in the last 30 years, and the portion of medical expenditure that goes towards lab work, specialists, patented medicines and the like have skyrocketed. Care providers limit their liability by overuse of medical testing, by promulgating take-it-or-leave-it arbitration agreements, and by seeking limitations to tort remedies.

    I’ve used managed care only as a representative example of a larger trend. In almost every domain in our economic lives, consequences of risk are being pushed down to the individual consumer. To some degree this does make sense: it can result in more aware, rational consumer behavior. But where the consumer is not as able to manage their own risk–because of lack of knowledge, resources, information and understanding–we end up with more stressful, constrained lives.

    Banks make most of their income now from late fees. And, predictably, they have structured their business models to increase the late fees they correct: Citibank chose the location for their credit card payment center because some smart analyst determined that Nebraska would have the longest average mailing times. Until the recent update in credit card regulation, they would re-order transactions for overdrawn accounts in the way that resulted in the most NSF fees.

    I know that from my own experience that when one’s options are severely constrained, the ability to transcend life’s circumstances is radically diminished. Much as Erik’s experience when he was a factory worker, the energy and resources to optimize opportunity and transcend one’s own circumstances evaporate.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      I agree with all of this but there is a very troublesome dynamic at work that I don’t know how to deal with.

      Let’s say that one of our main goals is to protect consumers from being wrecked by a credit card. We wish to protect people from themselves (and others, of course). Something like a “credit rating” schema is established and we know that people with “bad credit” should not be given as much rope with which to hang themselves as people with “good credit”. (Would we be in agreement about the importance of setting something like that up?)

      Would this be likely to correlate with demographics that would look, very, very bad if reported a particular way?Report

      • Avatar Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

        One of the problems I have with the fundamentalist libertarian outlook is that it assumes that people have the time, intellect, information and resources to make optimal decisions in all portions of their life. So, for example, if you don’t like your banks fees, go to a bank with more reasonable fees.

        To do this, of course, would require a pretty complex analysis, and a pretty objective assessment of one’s own likelihood to run low on funds, predict clearing times for checks, and the like. So I am comfortable with a regime in which some baseline rules for fairness and decency in commercial transactions can be set: advertisements may not lie or mislead, and business models may not be built around human cognitive errors or ignorance, or gross asymmetriies in power or knowledge.

        Of course, my ideology is much closer to that of a traditional (say, FDR) liberal than yours. But I would very much like to see a society in which we can all presume higher baselines of ethics, fairness, and opportunity. That way, we can point our efforts and intellects towards creating richer, more fruitful lives, than avoiding exploitation by the less scrupulous.Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

          One of the problems I have with the fundamentalist libertarian outlook is that it assumes that people have the time, intellect, information and resources to make optimal decisions in all portions of their life.

          That’s an excellent point.Report

          • It is, and yet I keep running into a wall: How often should I lose the ability to do something else because somebody else can’t handle it? Or, if we give me opportunities that we don’t give them, because my credit history suggests I can handle it and so on, how do we discriminate in a way that’s going to be acceptable?

            I am very, very sympathetic to the notion that a lot of people cannot be relied on to make the right decisions in light of someone with a financial interest in them making the wrong decisions. But I don’t want to be protected from making the wrong decisions myself, and I have trouble saying that they should and I shouldn’t be held back from making decisions that are, in the aggregate, disproportionately likely to be wrong but in many cases likely to be right.Report

            • Avatar Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

              So you would choose to pay $34 NSF fees when your debit card is declined when you buy a coffee at Starbucks?Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                C’mon, they were described fully in 2-point type in one of those supplements that comes with your bill.Report

              • Personally? Probably not. I have a lot of issues with the way that “overdraft protection” was handled by the banks, including the automatic opt-in (I supported the new law). But they gave people the option of opting out, and most people didn’t last I heard. So maybe there are circumstances in which I would consider it.

                I do recall having once accidentally mismanaged my accounts and knowing that suddenly my rent check wasn’t going to go through. I called my credit card company and immediately got an extension on my line of credit, where I could then get a cash advance and smooth that buffer. Because of my good credit, I was able to do that. Absent being able to do that, I would probably rather have overdraft protection than a bounced rent check, even with some fees incurred.

                Extended lines of credit and cash advances with high interest rates are all things that can get people in a lot of trouble.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                Absent being able to do that, I would probably rather have overdraft protection than a bounced rent check, even with some fees incurred.

                Or you’d do what most of the poor do; go to a payday loan or title loan place, get into hock, and the revolving fees and high interest rates would never let you out.

                You’re assuming of course that you had a checking account. Many of the poor don’t. They cash their paychecks somewhere that charges them fees for it. If they’re short on money for the month, a $34 NSF fee might be worth it, but there’s a minimum amount of credit needed or base monetary input needed even to open a checking account that you can’t manage if you’re living paycheck to paycheck.Report

              • Avatar Scott says:

                MA:

                If folks don’t want a checking account that is their choice. My wife was a manager a large hospital in ATL and couldn’t believe the number of her hourly employees that chose not to have a checking account b/c they didn’t trust banks. Most were black and it seemed to be a cultural thing. The hospital wanted to go to direct deposit and folks screamed about it.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                If folks don’t want a checking account that is their choice.

                You’re confusing not wanting one with not being able to get one in true, dishonest conservative fashion.

                Have you actually looked at the requirements for a checking account at your local bank lately? $1500 minimum balance, reducible to $750 if you have direct deposit – and that itself is a perk only available once you’re making a certain amount. If you don’t meet minimum balance requirements there’s a fee to open the account as well as a monthly fee for “managing” the account.

                That’s what I am talking about here. The poor have trouble even getting a checking account. I can’t blame them for not trusting banks when their only experience with banks is fee fee fee fee fee fee fee, nor can I blame them for not wanting to waste money on those banking fees just to store the meager money they may have on hand in a given month.

                The poor also have less access to banks, at least to reputable banks. The neighborhood corner store may have an ATM, but not a bank. The ghetto grocery store may not have a bank in it either.

                couldn’t believe the number of her hourly employees that chose not to have a checking account b/c they didn’t trust banks. Most were black and it seemed to be a cultural thing. The hospital wanted to go to direct deposit and folks screamed about it.

                As for blacks – blacks tend not to trust the police for good reason. Lower-income blacks also tend not to trust banks, for good reason too. Long histories of discrimination, redlining, and worse practices are not easily forgotten.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                Not to take anything away from the main thrust of this comment, but I’m not aware of anywhere in the country where you can’t get a local bank to open an account for you without keeping a minimum balance of $1500. You may not get certain “free/value added” services at certain banks, but you don’t need $1500 to open a bank account.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                Ahem.

                You may not get certain “free/value added” services at certain banks, but you don’t need $1500 to open a bank account

                Did I say they “couldn’t” open an account without $1500? No. I said they can’t do it without monthly fees.

                An account eating up $10/month in “maintenance fees” when you’re only making $250-300 a week is probably something not worth the cost, for their calculations.

                An account that then has an attached “debit card” with a yearly fee, ever-rising minimum balances -and keep in mind banks in poorer areas will require a higher minimum, not lower – fees for using ATMs, and increasingly tiny interest rates if you do hold a balance in your checking account.

                Right or wrong, that’s the calculation they make – that trying to go to a bank and then getting charged fee after fee after fee isn’t worth it. I don’t know that I would do it either, if I thought I had a risk of a NSF popping up due to the bank deducting the monthly fee I’d probably not bother having a checking account either.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Are checking accounts even really necessary? It seems they are increasingly less so. I can access my savings account through the ATM and write maybe four checks a year. Now, I realize this is not the case for everyone, but will likely be universal some day soon.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                If you didn’t say that, you worded it in a confusing manner. It looked like you were saying you couldn’t open one.

                And again, I still agree with your larger point.

                In the situation Scott described, I think it’s entirely possible that many of those people can’t get a checking account, because when you’re poor if you go over balance banks are less forgiving, which can lead to a downward spiral – such as the necessity for check cashing stores that take 10-20% of your very small paycheck just to cash it.

                I have a hard time saying “they deserved it for going over!” since I have certainly gone over balance with my credit union. I think what happens to the poor when they go over as opposed to what happens to me is comparable to what happens when poor people’s kids get caught with marijuana, as opposed to what happens when a kids from where my kids go to school get caught.Report

              • Avatar Scott says:

                MA
                I don’t know which fantasy bank you are talking about. My bank only asks for $100 to open and $500 in monthly direct deposits to avoid fees. You should stick to reality so your arguments sound better.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                and $500 in monthly direct deposits to avoid fees.

                First problem: where are they going to get “direct deposits” from?

                Second problem: your bank isn’t a ghetto bank and isn’t representative of their experience. Your experience is on the low end; this bank is about average. Ghetto banks are on the HIGH end.

                Get it now?Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              One of the things that got argued back during the foreclosure crisis was how one out of four high-risk folks lost their homes because of the bad mortgages they were given and how they never should have been given this mortgage option in the first place… and I think about the three out of four high-risk folks who have a house.

              Would we have been comfortable telling 4 out of 4 high-risk people that, really, they should be renting?

              That thought makes me wince.Report

              • Avatar Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

                When the mortgage boom years of 2003-2005, I was consulting for AmeriQuest, who really defined the business model of the subprime mortgage industry. And they followed their incentives quite closely.

                One of AmeriQuest’s big competitive advantages is that they became wickedly efficient at securitizing mortgages. From the time they issued a check to a borrower, they had securitized the entire amount–and wiped their hands of any financial risk from the outcome of that mortgage–in less than two weeks.

                And the system they created: large, nominally–secured loans to the riskiest portion of the population, followed by quick securitization, followed by inpenetrable tranching of the securities, followed by abstraction of these tranches into derivative securities–managed to further and further dilute and hide the risk inherent in the mortgages issued.

                This was a system, designed by men, to squeeze money out of our financial system by hiding the true nature of the transactions involved. Each step in the lending and securitization process managed to secret the information that a player would need to make a rational decision.

                But each party was “free exchange,” so hey.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                So these are people who should not have been given mortgages?Report

              • Avatar Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

                Absolutely right.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I’m less comfortable telling certain classes of people that, no, they should rent.Report

              • Avatar Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

                I find this very strange, from you of all people.

                If these people have demonstrated through their own behavior and history, that they are poor risks for lending, and you think that they should be able to buy houses, you are necessarily saying that the risk should be put off onto another party. Who? Taxpayers? Defrauded investors?

                Perhaps your outlook is more nuanced than I thought. But this seems a very un-libertarian outlook.Report

              • Avatar Trumwill says:

                I think he’s saying that the risk should be assumed by the borrower via higher interest rates and such. And that, so long as they are willing to accept that risk, they should be allowed to accept whatever risks that you or I can accept. Rather than saying “We should cap interest rates and therefore these people won’t have the option of accepting the risk.”

                For my own part, I tend to view it as more complicated. Snarky:AmeriQuest::Trumwill:Countrywide. It’s too bad we didn’t get an opportunity to talk about this in Vegas!Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                Snarky,

                part of the “Community Reinvestment Act” goals – especially in the 1995 Clinton revamp – was to get more local ownership of houses in distresed neighborhoods. The hope was that people who “own” their house would be more prideful of appearances and neighborhoods than people who rented from slumlords, and that this would cause neighborhoods to revitalize and crime to decrease.

                Poverty is still poverty of course, and part of the trouble was getting many of the slumlords to sell at all. People living in the houses often didn’t have the means to do the kind of rebuilding and repair that was originally envisioned.

                Here’s where we get to the part about inequality again. Without rampant inequality in America, the goals of the CRA might have worked. If more of the people who were targeted by it had been able to put in to do the hoped-for repairs and increased the tone of the neighborhoods, a turnaround might have occurred. As it was, many of them just traded the risk of not being able to pay a slumlord for the risk of being unable to pay a slumlord bank and nothing else changed.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Oh, I’m fine with telling someone who has a credit score of 720 that they can get a good rate, someone with a credit score of 620 can get a medium rate, and someone with a score of 520 can get a crappy rate.

                I’m just not fine with telling people that someone who has a credit score of 720 that they can get a good rate, someone with a credit score of 620 can get a medium rate, and someone with a score of 520 should rent.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                Jaybird: “I’m less comfortable telling certain classes of people that, no, they should rent.”

                Snarky McSnarkSnark: “I find this very strange, from you of all people.”

                Snarky, why do you think that black people shouldn’t be allowed to own their own homes?Report

              • Avatar Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

                I would guess that between 25% and 33% of sub-prime borrowers will end up defaulting on their loans (at AmeriQuest, the average credit score was in the 570 range). So, as a matchbook estimate, I would say that it would take a 25% interest rate to reflect the true transparent risk of those loans. Compound that to 30 years, and you’ll have a monthly payment of $448,774 on a $200,000 house.

                Not so financially viable, I think.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I would guess that between 25% and 33% of sub-prime borrowers will end up defaulting on their loans

                Which brings me back to this:

                That means that between 2 out of 3 and 3 out of 4 people now have “your own home!” when, under other plans, they probably would still be renting… and, most likely, renting in perpetuity. This strikes me as something worth looking at as well (if not celebrating).Report

              • Renting certainly has its drawbacks (as well as benefits) but it’s not the lowest of the low to which one can descend right before that terrible creature is born in Bethlehem.

                I realize, Jaybird, your problem is with the paternalism involved in prescribing who “must rent” and who “may buy,” and that you’re not talking about the relative benefits of renting per se. But any policy, or almost any policy, is going to encourage more renting or more buying, and the fact that policies will do that is not really an argument against policies.Report

              • Avatar Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

                I think you’re still missing the real point. And that is, in a transparent free market system, none of these people 570 FICO scores would have gotten a mortgage.

                And if they did, the costs–and risks–would have to be pushed off to a third party.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Someone who can buy can *ALWAYS* instead choose to rent. It’s not an issue of “encourage more renting or more buying” but one of “buying *AND* renting being an option vs. just renting being an option”.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I think you’re still missing the real point. And that is, in a transparent free market system, none of these people 570 FICO scores would have gotten a mortgage.

                I just think that the real point also includes those 2 out of 3 or 3 out of 4 people who have their own homes now.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                “a monthly payment of $448,774 on a $200,000 house”. It’s a wonder AmeriQuest went broke.Report

              • Avatar Rod says:

                I think you slipped a couple decimal points. An interest-only loan payment would be somewhere north of $4,000 per month.Report

              • Avatar Snarky McSnarksnark says:

                I don’t think so.

                I rechecked my math, and came up with the same number. Compound 25% interest, and the principal grows very large. ($200,000 * (1.25 ** 30)) = $161,558,713

                The point, though, is pretty clear. If risk were properly baked into the mortgage rates, none of the sub-prime borrowers would have been given loans, in a transparent free market.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                You’re not taking declining principal into account. The payment on a 25% loan of 200K would be about $4200. Total payments roughly $1.5M.Report

              • Avatar Snarky McSnarksnark says:

                You made me do it in Excel. You’re right–my bad: it would take a $4,003 / month payment.

                So much for matchbook calculations… (blush)Report

              • Avatar Trumwill says:

                FWIW, there are calculators all over the Internet to do this sort of thing for us.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                I get between 4169 and 4170. But close enough.

                Calculators? Bah. I wrote a JavaScript (well, node.js) program.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Essentially, what you’re arguing here is that the MBS-caused financial collapse of 2007 was worth it because even tho loans were given to high risk customers who shouldn’t have qualified for them, 75% of them no longer have to rent.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I’m saying that if we want to argue that we should not give these loans to the high-risk customers, we really ought to look at what we’re saying and if we really want to be saying such things.

                For the record, if we are willing to say that “your own home!” is a good in its own right, I think that the “benefit” side of the “cost/benefit” of giving lots of people mortgages who never would have had one otherwise is just as worth looking at as the “cost” side of it.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                If I understand Snarky, he’s saying that the market would not have supported such high-risk loans if their true risk hadn’t been so thoroughly obfuscated. Assume for the sake of argument that’s true. Does anyone think that hiding risk is a good thing that leads to a more optimal situation than disclosing it? (That’s a different question from “Did anyone benefit from getting a mortgage a more transparent market would have denied him?”)Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Does anyone think that hiding risk is a good thing that leads to a more optimal situation than disclosing it?

                I don’t think anyone thinks that that is a good thing. (Well… maybe a handful of executives in the mortgage industry.)Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                I, at least, am not saying “Those people shouldn’t have houses. I’m saying “Those people should not have gotten mortgages that would never nave been written if the risk involved was stated clearly rather than being hidden behind a wall of obfuscation.” That presumably means fewer mortgages at higher interest rates on lower principal. So be it.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Dude. Do you really think we disagree on that?

                Is it one of those things where we look at each other and nod and say “if someone said ‘yes’ they must not have understood the terms” and then toast to yesterday?Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                It would amaze me if we disagreed on that. But if we agree, I don’t know what your point is.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Only where we disagree upon the ability for the established authorities to set things right.

                And if you really want to get into the right mind, you need to listen to an hour’s worth of Karen Carpenter and Barry Manilow. *THEN* I will listen to you explain to me how I don’t understand your point.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                You libertarians fight dirty.Report

              • Avatar Snarky McSnarksnark says:

                I’m not going defend Barry Manilow, but Karen Carpenter was better than you remember.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                Who doesn’t tear up at Superstar?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                If you think, for a moment, that I was trying to make fun of Karen Carptenter, I’m afraid that I’m going to have to ask you to step outside.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                Jaybird,

                part of the issue is how it was all laid out.

                Nobody ever walked into an office and was told:
                “Well you’re on the low end. We have government programs related to qualifying, and we have loans that you can qualify for but they are definitely not prime loans. With some of these loans you can have the first couple of years at a low interest rate but then your payments could double or more.

                You should really go home, look over the paperwork, look over the numbers, check with someone else if you need help understanding it all, and consider that maybe you’re not in the right situation right now to afford buying a house.”

                That was NEVER the sales pitch given. The sales pitch was always low money down, low monthly payments (with the fine print on ballooning payments after the first couple years not mentioned).

                If you’re going to have a program where people honestly understand the risks and opt in to making a risky move? Fine by me. If you’re going to have a program where a bunch of liars and shysters convince people it’s not a risky move and then use the underlying bad notes as “security” in a gigantic financial ponzi scheme to get rich? I have a problem with that and so should you.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                M.A.,

                That’s pretty much exactly what my wife and I were told when we bought our first house with an ARM.

                Was everyone told that? No, surely not. But probably most had more information than you’re indicating.

                I love your propensity to make absolute statements, the “always” and “never” kind. Such absolute statements are always easily falsified. (See what I did there?)Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                *facepalm*

                I think it’s pretty obvious. No one would have given out loans on those terms if they’d had to assume the risks. Instead, they masked the risks and sold it.

                Which yes, does mean that a number of people own homes that they would not have gotten on those terms — or perhaps ANY terms — without the aforementioned “totally lying about the risk and then selling it off”.

                I would suspect, offhand, that those lucky duckies are probably sitting in underwater houses they’re not going to have much longer as their rates adjust, but hey — let’s assume that’s not the case. Let’s assume 75% of everyone offered loans they ordinarily wouldn’t have qualified for (because of the aforementioned fraud and rapid selling of risk) now has a totally snazzy house they can totally afford! GO THEM!

                The cost was the entire global financial system melting down and billions or trillions of dollars of bailouts. So, you know, not worth it.

                At BEST you can assume that because 75% of “never would have gotten a loan under those terms” people managed to hack it, then perhaps banks should take a hard look at their actuarial tables and default assumptions. Great.

                But you know what they shouldn’t do? Go “Oh, well, only 25% of the people will default! Let’s sell this as triple-AAA and lie about the risk!”

                It’s kinda pathetic trying to spin the mortgage meltdown as a free-market win.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

              I understand what you’re saying, but I’m very aware that many of the businesses I have little choice but to deal with (banks, utilities, insurance companies) employ very clever people whose job it is to find new ways to screw me, and there’s only one of me to try to keep up.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          There is one conversation that we need to have, eventually (probably not today) about paternalism, how much of it would we really need in order to fix a large number of problems, and what the costs associated with paternalism really are (in the short and long term).

          Even if we, a bunch of vaguely leftish/libertarianish folks leisurely arguing politics on a blog would be comfortable having that conversation (and I don’t know that we’d be able to without *REALLY* pissing each other off), I’m certain that we, as a society, can’t really have this conversation.Report

        • Avatar Roger says:

          Snarky writes: “One of the problems I have with the fundamentalist libertarian outlook is that it assumes that people have the time, intellect, information and resources to make optimal decisions in all portions of their life.”

          The opposite concern is of course assuming that someone other than the individual has the same goals, same values, same tradeoffs, same local knowledge and same feedback. I would suggest the proper balance is better set toward more freedom than less.Report

          • Avatar M.A. says:

            More freedom to do what, exactly?

            To take a 65-year-old grandmother , get her in a room away from her children, and convince her that refinancing in a scheme that costs her 5 points and sets her mortgage to 15 years from almost completely paid off is a “good deal”?

            To roll back the odometer on a used car, or fix a wreck off the books in a slapdash fashion and then claim it’s got a “clean title”?

            To convince people who can’t possibly understand the math that a shoddy subprime loan with ballooning payments two years in is better than renting?

            There are two sides to this. The purpose of government, in a society with any conscience, is to prevent people from being predated upon. Obviously the society craved by libertarians has no conscience.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater says:

            I would suggest the proper balance is better set toward more freedom than less.

            Agreed. By all liberals. But what you say here is true only in an “all other things being equal” way. And the information asymmetries, and time constraints, and general ability to understand legalese, etc, mean that all other things aren’t equal.Report

            • Avatar Roger says:

              Two other things are not equal. First, we cannot assume that the rule makers are benevolent. Thus we must always suspect that the master planners are planning for their benefit or for that of their cronies.

              Second, never, ever assume that the planners understand complex systems or economics. As such, they can be expected to do actions which look good but lead to bad, hidden or diffuse costs that are unrecognized, or that requires even more interference in the future.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                First, we cannot assume that the rule makers are benevolent.

                We can do that better by enacting strong campaign finance laws to prevent people from buying elections.

                Too bad that got struck down in Citizens United.

                Thus we must always suspect that the master planners are planning for their benefit or for that of their cronies.

                Thus the need for stronger separation between certain industries and government. Remove the ability to get “paid back” for years of being a stooge by being given a cushy job in the company or industry you were a stooge of.

                The revolving door between the SEC and the bankers, the fact that Chris Dodd (D-MPAA) is now president of the MPAA, the number of former lawmakers turned lobbyists. That needs to end.

                Second, never, ever assume that the planners understand complex systems or economics.

                Nobody completely understands economics, especially microeconomics. You’ll get half of them predicting one way, half the other. Some asshole who doesn’t really know what he’s doing gets it right randomly 4-5 years running, and they make Alan Greenspan the head of the Fed where he promptly announces we should let the banks “self-regulate.”

                Oops.

                As such, they can be expected to do actions which look good but lead to bad, hidden or diffuse costs that are unrecognized, or that requires even more interference in the future.

                As opposed to corporations who always do everything right, understand everything with perfect clarity…?Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

                Too bad that got struck down in Citizens United.

                Never would have gone for that whole “free speech” thing if you knew it would apply to others, eh?Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                Free speech? Sure, all for it.

                Freedom to saturate the airwaves and print media and destroy everyone else’s speech? Freedom to buy elections?

                Nothing doing.Report

              • Avatar Erik Kain says:

                Roger, I agree that the rulers are rarely benevolent and should never be assumed to be such. However, this doesn’t mean that good rules cannot be made, or that vital, efficient safety nets and public services cannot be provided by the state.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                No argument here. Rules need to be as simple, fair and consistent as possible. They should be focused on the rules of the game, not on influencing outcomes.

                The reason this libertarian is such a fan of good safety nets is that it makes playing the game safer.Report

        • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

          One of the problems I have with the fundamentalist libertarian outlook is that it assumes that people have the time, intellect, information and resources to make optimal decisions in all portions of their life.

          It’s a good thing you pointed that out to me, because I had no idea I was making that assumption.

          It’s also a good thing that we put all these decisions in the hands of capable, honest statesmen elected by people who have the time, intellect, information and resources needed to assess the claims of candidates in order to make optimal voting decisions.Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

            And it’s idiotic that decisions about food safety are made by people who spend their lives becoming experts on food safety, rather than by entrepreneurs convinced that there’s a market for peanut butter and fecal bacteria.Report

            • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

              Look, you clearly don’t understand what libertarianism is, so maybe you should stop pretending that you’re qualified to critique it.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                I understand it well enough to see the humor in it.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                This is why you need to stay around forever. If libertarians lose their sense of humor, there will be only the whole “being right” thing worth keeping them around and, lemme tell ya, Cassandra wasn’t killed half as quickly as she deserved.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                If libertarians lose their sense of humor

                This is like, if Republicans lose their skepticism about military force?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                It seems to me that Republicans have been able to sublimate their skepticism of military force into other forms in the past (see, for example, the early 1970’s).

                If it’s possible to sublimate a sense of humor, I have no idea how such would be accomplished. Newsletters, maybe.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

                Rather, you misunderstand it enough to see the humor in it. Anything can be made to look ridiculous through gross misrepresentation.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              And if a member of the Peanut Butter and Fecal Bacteria Inspectors Union happens to hurt some people while on the job, on camera?

              Is the hope that he’ll get a full hearing before he’s returned to his job?Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                Yes, I believe that even assholes who have obviously broken the rules should have a full right to the fullest extent of their appeals in their contract, just like even obvious murderers can appeal all the way to the Supreme Court if they want.

                Even asshole union members get all their rights. 🙂Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                JB’s being subtle. The implicit assumption is that regardless of the outcome of the hearing, he’ll get his job back with no consequences.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                I see what you did there.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Mike? I can’t really put this into words so I’ll instead try to put it into verbal images.

                (pounds chest. touches nose. points at you. nods.)Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                What I don’t get is why having to stay with the Bureau of Peanut Butter and Fecal Bacteria isn’t punishment enough. (He wanted to be a lumberjack.)Report

    • Avatar Erik Kain says:

      This is a terrific comment, Snarky, and illustrates perfectly all the small ways that the system is structurally rigged to diminish economic and social mobility. It’s a bleak picture, and one largely invisible (save for the despair) to those caught up in it.Report

  5. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    “When we talk about inequality we often talk about the gap between the super rich and the super poor or the middle class. We crutch on the stupid 1% vs. the 99% meme. But we ought to talk about the many mundane ways that truly make inequality matter, or rather the nature of things when nothing is done to take the sting out of the inevitability of economic inequality.”

    This is interesting. One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is how many petty indignity there are to the usual “dues paying” you have to go through at the bottom- the constantly having to prove your worth to mid-level mediocrities in secure sinecures that they run like mini fiefdoms. It seems endemic to every area of human organization, this low-level bullying by martinets. That wears one down. I was struck by this at a recent party I attended with people who were, my any measure, members of the 1%. It was much easier to talk to them- because since you were there, it was assumed your insights had merit. I’m starting to think the Fabians had a point.Report

  6. Avatar Murali says:

    Erik, I find myself agreeing with a lot of what you’ve said here. but the thing is, we are not talking about inequality anymore. People in poverty would lack dignity regardless of how much less the rich have. But yes: Dignity gives a fairly intuitive and powerful reason for us to care about maximising the wellbeing of the worst off.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      A minor quibble. People in poverty don’t necessarily lack dignity; they are treated as though they have no dignity.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        That is, their dignity is eroded by a thousand daily indignities, enough so that when a fictional impoverished character displays dignity, we applaud and say “That’s a powerful scene” instead of reflecting that of course dignity and income are unrelated.Report

      • Avatar karl says:

        Your quibble is not at all minor, it goes to the heart of Mr. Kain’s OP and reinforces his aversion to latter-day conservatism.Report

      • Avatar Murali says:

        People in poverty don’t necessarily lack dignity; they are treated as though they have no dignity.

        This assumes that a self regarding tattitude is all there is to dignity. Presumably all there is to dignity and self respect is wheter one has lived up to one’s own conception of the good. However, if there was some irreducible social dimension, then the mere fact that other people fail to regard you as having dignity means that you don’t have.

        For example, when a grown man jumps up and down on a bed like a small kid, we may think that the person lacks dignity. We are not merely claiming that those of us who care about appearances would lose all dignity if we were to do that and that his dignity lies somewhere else, but that the bed jumper just doesnt care about dignity (or at least that aspect of it)

        But even if dignity was self regarding, other people treating me as though I lack dignity can still erode my own self respect and dignity. Not only is this a natural reaction, it is not unreasonable either. When everyone else or most other people in society treat me as though I lacked dignity, maybe all they are doing is signalling whether I live up to their personal code. After all whether or not live up to my own personal code is something for myself to assess. However, implicit in their condemnation is that my personal code (if it is what I am currently living up to) is beneath contempt. The issue is not just of whether I live up to my personal code, but also whether my personal code is worth adopting.

        If many many many others (who are presumptively my equals in the relevant sense) think my personal code is not worth adopting (putting me in a far minority) this is prima facie evidence that such is indeed the case. Or else, I have to answer the question of how I know that my code is worth adopting even though many people who are presumably as good as me at figuring out what the right way to live is disagree.

        One option is just to think that they are not really as good as me when it comes to such questions. Such a conclusion may in fact be true. Hoever, to a certain extent, there is a certain misanthropy involved in such a view. That doesn’t really provide an objection to viewing others as such, but it is a tension that few people are willing to resolve in the direction ofcomplete disregard for others’ opinions about ther own moral code.

        Incidentally, since claims about the worthiness of moral codes are basically truth claims, this makes dignity as a basis for distributive justice claims problematic.
        Consider the argument: Inequality/poverty is bad because this results in people losing dignity. Therefore we must reduce inequality and poverty in order to increase dignity among the worst off.

        However, managing human dignity would only be an appropriate goal if there was no factive basis on which to make appropriate ascriptions of dignity or the lack thereof. i.e. whether or not any particular person should be said to have dignity depends on whether he has adopted a code worth adopting and how well he has adhered to it. Only if no particular code was any more worth adopting than another would it even begin to make sense of afford each person equal dignity. None of this is to say that actual poor people always fail to live up such codes nor is it to say that the actual norms societies follow are the correct set of norms. All this means is that trying to change how people regard themselves without any regard to whether people should be feeling that wabout themselves is a mistake.

        We can compare this to exortations to not feel bad about how one looks without regard to whether or not one’s body is anything to feel good about.Report

        • Avatar Kyle says:

          I missed this comment on the first go around but… THIS.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          other people treating me as though I lack dignity can still erode my own self respect and dignity. Not only is this a natural reaction, it is not unreasonable either.

          Agreed. But the key word in the statement is “can.” I would even strengthen that to “has a strong tendency to.” But that’s not the same as “will.” Undoubtedly few have the inner strength to avoid that fate, but some do, and that means there is a difference.

          As I said, a minor quibble. The overall argument doesn’t turn on it.Report

    • Avatar Erik Kain says:

      Well I do think we’re talking about inequality, but we’re not necessarily talking about it in terms of the gap between rich and poor, but rather the shape inequality takes within our system as opposed to others (or rather, the American system as opposed to say, Singapore.)Report

      • Avatar Murali says:

        but we’re not necessarily talking about it in terms of the gap between rich and poor, but rather the shape inequality takes within our system as opposed to others

        That’s the thing right? When cease to talk about the gap between the rich and the poor, we cease to talk about inequality.

        Here is an analogy. John Stuart Mill claimed to be a hedonist and said the only kind of good was pleasure. However, he said that there were higher and lower pleasures. i.e. even though reading shakespear and watching dumb and dumber are both supposed to be peasurable, the more intellectual kinds of pleasures are of a different quality. The problem is that whatever it is that differentiates one kind of pleasure from another is not in and of itself pleasure.

        Similarly, whatever makes inequality in Singapore less harmful than in the US is not inequality per se but some other thing.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Perhaps this is strange, but I think this is the first post in the symposium that’s actually about inequality. If we treat inequality in strictly material terms, we’re basically rigging the game. If we start to look at it as a broader phenomenon, of which differences in wealth and income and mobility, are only pieces, then it becomes possible to engage inequality itself instead of getting bogged down in discussions of things like entrepreneurship and innovation and so on, things that have a lot to do with income gaps or differences in wealth (and for some people may even justify them), and start talking about the actual issues of inequality.Report

  7. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    A related point:

    People who live by selling their labor effectively have their skills as capital. When those skills become devalued via automation or outsourcing, that’s a significant loss of their wealth. That has to be acknowledged more seriously than by cheering “creative destruction!” or snarking about buggy-whip factories.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      But isn’t a good deal of the problem is that the ‘working poor’ (or whatever term we want to describe whom we talking about here) is that they lack sufficient skills? Or rather, sufficiently differentiable skills from another billion or so people in China and India around the world? (not to mention the million or so that (used to) arrive in the US every year). Nobody is saying that electricians, plumbers (or lawyers) don’t have long term job prospects. They each have *short* term problems, but those are congruent with the short term problems of the current economy.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        People have the skill set that they have, not another one. So I guess my question back to you would be: What constitutes a skill sufficient to maintain employment given offshoring and mechanization? And: Is that skill set attainable for the average worker?Report

        • Avatar Stillwater says:

          I don’t mean that to sound as confrontational as it might. I just don’t see any skill set as being immune to offshoring and mechanization for the majority of people who work for a living, even supposing they had that skill set.Report

          • Avatar Kolohe says:

            There are no good answers. In the short term.

            In the long term, ‘offshoring’ is just everyone else in the world finally catching up. There’s an asymptotic limit to the redistribution. Eventually, the differences should be the same as that which exist between any given of the fifty states. (i.e. just because Mississippi has one of the lowest wage rate in the US, Mississippi isn’t the only place in the US with jobs. In fact, it’s one of worst off)

            And I find it odd, now that I think about it, to be fighting *for* the dignity of labor but *against* automation. Automation get people out of scut work jobs, whether it be cleaning chamberpots or digging ditches (or even jobs that shouldn’t be done now like combing through landfills for anything of value. It’s Not Good when third world kids do this, but an important part of waste management if we can get robots to do that)Report

            • Avatar Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

              Automation get people out of scut work jobs, whether it be cleaning chamberpots or digging ditches…

              While I think that was true of the early stages of computerization, in the 70s and 80s, the jobs being computerized now include accounting, legal research, mechanical design and engineering, and the like.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              Personally, I think the distinction between automation and offshoring collapses a bit – well, to a great degree – when we consider the purposes of both practices: increase profits by reducing costs. That all on its own isn’t a bad thing, acourse, but what it means to me is that offshoring is justified on the same grounds that mechanization is. So from the pov of the folks making the decision to do one or the other (or neither) they’re indistinguishable.

              The only bonus you mention – that mechanization leads to the elimination of some shitty jobs – is a by product of the rationale for doing it in the first place.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                And the above argument, if it’s sound, exposes the conveniently used misapplication of morality to employers who engage in offshoring: that they’re trying to help impoverished third-world workers. From a business perspective, they aren’t, and saying so is a category error. It is only an incidental and indirect side-effect of seeking the lowest wage rate (given other considerations, acourse) that results in impoverished people being offered (and sometimes not even that) a job.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                Some two decades of Capitalism (crony or otherwise) has worked better than the previous 50 years of Socialism. (Marxist or otherwise). That seems to be pretty clear to me when talking about third world development.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                What you mean is, two decades of “capitalism” may or may not have worked better than the previous 50 years of harsh despotism. “Socialism” was never the order of the day.

                The best working societies in the world have strong social safety nets, strong programs to assist the working poor in training for skills necessary for a more middle class existence, and strong programs to ensure the dignity of those in need. Sadly those tend never to last because the despotic right wing comes around screaming “government waste, socialism, tyrrany, undeserving lazy people taking my money” while rummaging through the programs intended to help the poor looking for anything they can strip out of it.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                I mean, compare the economies created by Nasser-style socialism, by an Indian-style license Raj, and by more orthodox Maoist and Lenninist movements (including in the home nations of Mao and Lennin) with economies that happened after 1991 when a lot of those models mostly went of style and favor. I mean, yeah, you had some cases of spectacularly imploding corruption, like Russia, and places that really didn’t change, like Egypt, but those places that did make reforms (like India and China) have done much better as measured by GDP. (which to be sure isn’t everything, but it’s a good start)Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                And then compare economies created by laissez-faire capitalism.

                Company towns, slavery, rampant product mislabeling, rampant monopoly trusts, rampant fiscal fraud and all.

                We repealed Glass-Steagall after 56 years. 20 years before the repeal of Glass-Steagall we started down the road of systematically dismantling every bit of reform that we found it wise to implement following the Great Depression that laissez-faire capitalism handed us.

                What was our payback? Less than a decade after GLB, all of a sudden we have another Depression on our hands and we have 3 decades of ever-increasing inequality.

                We don’t need Nasser-style socialism, or an Indian-style license Raj, or Maoist/Leninist movements. But we don’t need Laissez-Faire Corporate Fascism either.

                The solution is not in extremist bullshit that the libertarians are trying to sell us. The solution is in a strong, tightly regulated capitalist society that prevents abuses and protects the lower classes while preventing, not encouraging, wealth and privilege centralization.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                It’s nice that you conflate the problems that occurred at various different points and in different regions across 150 years of American history into a single sentence that implies a single cause.

                (oh yeah, ‘slavery’ as the result of laissez-faire capitalism. That’s just funny.)Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Sure. But taking the third world out of poverty isn’t the goal or purpose of capitalism. And it most definitely isn’t the goal of corporate decision-makers either. It’s an ancillary benefit, to be sure, but it also entails a cost (which is the topic of the OP.)Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Stillwater,

                Sorry that I keep addressing you, but you seem to always make the most interesting points.

                Your purpose of capitalism comment aligns with the discussion we had on the purpose of society. Obviously systems don’t have intentions, but good institutions are designed (not always top down) to do something. I would say the reason I support Free Enterprise is that it tends to lead to prosperity and human flourishing across the widest scales. Even better, it leads to good widespread results even based upon narrow selfish goals.

                To me, this is the purpose of Free Enterprise.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                I think we all agree that contrary to Republican Party talking points, the interests of Capitalism and the interests of Corporations (and those who run them) are rarely congruent, at best orthogonal, and often diametrically opposed.

                Insofar as Capitalism has ‘interests’. That’s actually Capitalism greatest strengths, as the honey badger of economic systems. Capitalism doesn’t care if you’re black or white, Jew or Gentile, Sikh or Muslim. You want to put black people and white people on the same Pullman cars so you don’t have to switch on the New Orleans run every time you hit St Louis? Capitalism doesn’t care – but white southerners did, and thus their governments did. You’re the son of a former president? Capitalism doesn’t care – but Savings and Loan regulators, and the public private partnership that is Major League Baseball does, and thus governments do. You’re an immigrant trying to make a living as a cab driver? Capitalism doesn’t care, but other cab drivers do, and thus governments do.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Sure. But taking the third world out of poverty isn’t the goal or purpose of capitalism. And it most definitely isn’t the goal of corporate decision-makers either. It’s an ancillary benefit,

                Everything in capitalism, other than “capitalists make money”, is an ancillary benefit. That’s not a criticism; there are lots of ancillary benefits, and they add up to a lot of money. But one reason it irritates me so much to hear anyone with money described as a “job creator” is that, even for the ones for whom that’s true, it’s a side effect of what they really want, and their real goal is to create the product/service/miscellaneous-thing-of-value by employing as few people at as low wages as possible.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                the honey badger of economic systems.

                Awesome. And the rest of it was pretty good too.

                But that gets back to my initial (temporaly!) comment in this thread: that capitalism doesn’t care whether it’s offshoring or mechanizing or whatever. And on the supposition that a healthy middle class is the essential engine of capitalism (disposable income matters, no?), then mechanizing workers into marginally-above-subsistence wages ought to be a worry.

                But on that score, you’re right: capitalism don’t care.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                You want to put black people and white people on the same Pullman cars so you don’t have to switch on the New Orleans run every time you hit St Louis? Capitalism doesn’t care – but white southerners did, and thus their governments did.

                You want to exclude one kind of customer from your store to appeal to the other kind, the ones with more money? Capitalism rewards that –but eventually government said “Hell, no”, and now you can’t do that any more.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                If Capitalism had rewarded that, they wouldn’t needed to codify the apartheid cartel into law.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                Oh no, Kolohe, you don’t get to call that.

                Apartheid in South Africa was codified into law. Jim Crow may have been eventually codified into some laws regarding buses, but it was mostly the whole “voluntary association” libertarian bullshit; an entire society of slaveowners taking a FYIGM-and-you-can’t-have-any approach to the freed slaves.

                “Whites only” businesses were justified under “free association”, police called in to enforce “no trespassing.” Sharecropper scams and other methods of creating indentured servitude were the result of predatory systems designed to financially re-enslave those who had been freed. And every time any of it was challenged it was justified under “free association” and “states’ rights” grounds, areas which today’s Libertarians seem hellbent to argue for some reason.

                Libertarianism gave us Jim Crow.

                In short, the libertarian philosophy of Rand Paul and the Supreme Court of the 1880s and 1890s gave us almost 100 years of segregation, white supremacy, lynchings, chain gangs, the KKK, and discrimination of African Americans for no other reason except their skin color. The gains made by the former slaves in the years after the Civil War were completely reversed once the Supreme Court effectively prevented the federal government from protecting them. Thus we have a perfect test of the libertarian philosophy and an indisputable conclusion: it didn’t work. Freedom did not lead to a decline in racism; it only got worse.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                If Capitalism had rewarded that, they wouldn’t needed to codify the apartheid cartel into law.

                I know that’s the classic response, but it’s not true. Segregation appeared in many forms that had the force of custom, not law, behind it.Report

      • Avatar M.A. says:

        The West Wing
        Episode 5×19, “Talking Points”

        JOSH
        You knew we were for free trade. You knew it when you endorsed us five
        years ago.

        PARSONS
        Yeah, ’cause you told us we might lose old economy jobs – shoe manufacturing
        – to some dirt-poor country, but if we trained ourselves we’d get better
        jobs. Now they’re being vacuumed out of here, too.

        JOSH
        We’re going to fight for more job training, more transition assistance…

        PARSONS
        I have members on their third and fourth career. What are they supposed to
        train for now, nuclear physics? Cello playing? Or should they just give up
        and bag groceries for minimum wage?
        Report

        • Avatar Kolohe says:

          Sure we could go back to protectionism. (Smoot-Hawley II – Electric Bugaloo. Just the thing a fragile world economy needs). But the question one should ask then is why is Germany, with fairly open trade with the rest of the world and probably the freeist trade possible with the rest of Europe, not a basket case?Report

          • Avatar Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

            I think that you’d be making a mistake if you try to draw any simple lessons out of the specific experience of Germany in the current financial mess. The reasons for Germany’s relative propsperity have to do with a lot of things, including:

            Culture / work ethic.
            Low rate of high-risk borrowing during the run-up
            Extremely advanced manufacturing sector
            Its role as the defacto central bank of the European Union
            Industrial policy that positioned it as an export-led economy since WWII
            Its strong tradition of craft unions, combined with a strong safety net
            Report

            • Avatar Kolohe says:

              “Culture / work ethic.”

              Which is (used to be?) a quintessentially American thing.

              “Low rate of high-risk borrowing during the run-up”

              I’m not so sure about that; I thought it was just they got bailed out on the first go round, (e.g. Iceland), and now their trying to have their cake and eat it too. Or others should be eating cake. Or something.

              “Extremely advanced manufacturing sector”

              As is ours in the US. The *value* of US manufacturing is near all time highs (even with the recession), though employment has fallen of a cliff.

              “Its role as the defacto central bank of the European Union”

              And the Federal Reserve is the de facto central bank of *the world*’

              “Industrial policy that positioned it as an export-led economy since WWII
              Its strong tradition of craft unions, combined with a strong safety net”

              This is likely the right answer. Have no idea how to get their from here though. (and ‘industrial policy’ probably only works when the system itself has low levels of corruption. It certainly hasn’t really worked in Japan – or at least, as everyone thought is was working in the 80’s)Report

              • Avatar Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

                That’s an excellent point about corruption.

                If you look at the 10 least corrupt countries on earth, you’ll find that–as a group–they are more prosperous, have greater social mobility, and economic adaptability than the rest of the world.

                And that makes sense: it less corrupt countries, there is less economic friction: when you decide to invest time, or money, less of it will be diverted to non-productive resources, and your outcomes are much more likely to be predictable.

                That’s one of my core reasons for worrying about the United States: we are becoming more and more corrupt. Not so much in the “paying off the customers officer” sense, but in the even more dangerous sense that we have incorporated it into our political system, and formalized it, and institutionalized it. I think I read that there are about 25.8 registered lobbyists per congressman in the United States, and dependence of political officeholders on private donations for campaign finance means that they must tend to money more than public policy.

                The average senator has to raise about $60,000 per week for their re-election campaign, if they are to be averagely competitive. Where would your attention be if you had to raise $60,000 a week?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                (For the record, my solution to this problem is to repeal the Reapportionment Act of 1929 and the 17th Amendment.)Report

              • Avatar Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

                Seriously?Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                Hey, don’t you remember how uncorrupt the Senate of the 19th century was?Report

              • Avatar Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

                Now I remember…Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Seriously.

                If nothing else, think about your congressperson. I give it slightly better than even odds (given that you’re one of us) that you have his or her name as a piece of trivia available to you.

                If we went back to 1910 rules, it’d pretty much make your congress person someone who is likely to be known to you or a friend of a friend of yours. And not just you (just because you’re one of us) but for pretty much *EVERYBODY*, that’d be the case.

                (We’d have the additional bonus of eliminating the gerrymandering problem!)Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                I think our problem is the part where you hand over the Senate to the control of easily bought and hard to keep track of even by geeks like me state legislatures.

                I’d be perfectly happy with a larger House.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                Conservatives have aquired a serious bug up their asses about the 17th Amendment.

                The reasons range from lunacy to just sheer naive foolishness, so my general response is just a massive eyeroll.

                Because really “The problem here is direct election of Senators, instead of your state Legislature picking them”? REALLY? Changing that’s going to make a whit of difference?

                Then, you know, massive eyeroll.

                I’ve honestly been wondering where the nut is there. It’s possible the “repeal the 17th” just started out of some conspiracy lunatic fringe and went pseudo-mainstream (because we all know the Constitution as written was perfect, then them liberals allowed income taxes and stuff — kinda like the Bible) or if it’s some rich guy’s pet project (In Texas, at least, I bet buying off Leg votes is a lot cheaper than trying to buy a senate seat directly) or if there’s some other hidden outcome there I haven’t noticed.

                Frankly, 17th Amendment folks just baffle and amuse me. Every time I see them it’s all “Isn’t that cute! You’ve picked the weirdest cause to get all excited about!”Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                And yet, most liberals seem to hate the Senate these days and would just as soon neuter or abolish it.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I’m not suggesting we do one without the other.

                That’s crazy talk.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                Morat20,

                Conservatives have aquired a serious bug up their asses about the 17th Amendment.

                Through gerrymandering and dumping massive amounts of money at the “right” times (right before decade redistricting) into state races, Conservatives have acquired control of 27 state houses. Despite this, they cannot maintain control of the Senate in a legitimate election because the majority of those states in a statewide popular election are still not with them.

                The reason they want to rescind normal election of Senators is simple; it’s a numbers gambit. Go back to the “state appointment” scheme and control of 27 states means 54 votes are guaranteed theirs; and it only takes a few more “split” state houses to necessarily split senatorial appointments 1 R, 1 D and give them a filibuster-proof 60 in the Senate.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                Kohole: What are you talking about? The only thing even close would be the filibuster, and you can’t possibly think everyone here is so stupid as to equate “filibuster reform” with “neutering the Senate”.

                But you keep trying! The liberals have to be as bad! They have to!Report

              • Avatar Trumwill Mobile says:

                Morat, there’s no chance of getting rid of the Senate, but quite a few (tending to the left) have talked about how they’d like to do away with it on account of the population disparities between the states.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                Actually, I don’t think the liberals are bad on this. If the Senate were abolished, I wouldn’t mind overmuch. I don’t like their special privileged position on executive branch appointment advice and consent, and even less their ability to pass treaties, which in this day and age can become law affecting domestic matters without even touching the HoR. (e.g. imagine a global carbon tax treaty).Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                I’ll happily admit I’m one of those liberals who if I had any power would end every speech with, “and the Senate should be abolished.”Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                I started hearing “Abolish the 17th” from conservatives when Republicans began dominating state legislatures. I began hearing “Every nominee deserves an up-or-down vote” from them in 2001 [*], and stopped hearing it in 2009. I started seeing Very Serious People worry about a Speaker of the opposite party succeeding to the presidency in 2007, but that became moot in 2009 and somehow wasn’t bothersome in 2011. I saw Very Serious Constitutional Scholars insisting that the Emoluments Clause forbade Hillary Clinton from being in the Cabinet even if she refused the pay increase. It must be because they’re so religious that God allows their principles and interests always to align.

                *Even though they’d been violating it with wild abandon during the previous 8 years. I wonder how they knew the liberal media would never mention that inconsistency?Report

          • Avatar M.A. says:

            Germany has a rising poverty class thanks to Agenda 2010. A combination of “trickle down economic” strategies with tax cuts at the very peak, drastic reductions in pension and unemployment benefits. They were buffered mostly by coming in to the Eurozone with a very strong currency and playing that off with renewed trading strength to their Eurozone trading partners. As it stands, German job growth is sitting at pretty much zero for the year and East German states are already looking like the Czechs did in the 1990s again. And the only thing holding buyer confidence together in Germany is Merkel’s government strong-arming of some large employers to increase wages as payback for their tax cuts.

            Germany’s due to crash in about 6 months to a year, tops. They’re out of options. It just stays out of the paper because they had more coasting time inherent in their system as opposed to some of the other Eurozone trading partners.Report

            • Avatar Kolohe says:

              An interesting and an unorthodox take. You may be right, but Germany did absorb the mess that was East Germany once before. Don’t know if that would mean they could do it again, or would say enough is enough.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                Don’t kid yourself about how West Germans saw East Germans. They were generally regarded as a lesser half of Germany and much of the Agenda 2010 “reforms” were sold to the West Germans as ways to “stop the East Germans from mooching.”

                East Germans are treated there like the right wing treats blacks here.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                I thought that’s how they treated the Turks? (East Germans seem to be more of what the right wing would call lazy entitled and/or government worker moochers, a la Wisconsin. Or Michigan)Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                Turks were told to go back home.

                East Germans were told to stay on their side of the wall.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                Ah, that’s right, the Turks are their Mexicans.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                I can’t tell if you’re being facetious or not, Kolohe, but the comparison’s not far off. Turks (especially Armenians) in Germany are generally regarded by the ethnic Germans as little more than vermin. They had a large and vociferous argument over the bounds of family reunification and immigration due to Turkish families generally arranging mail-order brides from the homeland; they had a large number of the other same arguments the right wing makes about Mexicans today.

                Merkel less than two years ago declared that multiculturalism “failed utterly” and started playing to xenophobic groups and neo-nazi groups in pushing policies to make the Turks “go home”, very similar to Mitt Romney’s “self-deportation policy” bullshit.Report

    • Avatar Scott says:

      Mike:

      Just one more good reason to stay in school. Too bad many folks are short sighted about the benefit of the free education you can get here in the US.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        I’ve got two kids in college. Where is this free education you speak of?Report

        • Avatar Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

          China.Report

        • Avatar M.A. says:

          In Scott’s imagination, mostly.

          Want to know why your kids’ tuition is so high? In 1980, a state university was over 50% state funded. Today a state flagship may be 20% state funded if it’s lucky, the rest of the state systems are 15% or lower.

          You don’t magically just change what it costs for education, of course. The shortfalls were made up in tuition increases and even then, state universities are a pretty damn good deal. 15 credit-hours at a flagship with in-state tuition will run you approximately $3K or so, at a non-flagship less. 15 credit-hours at a degree mill like UPhoenix or DeVry will run you $9K.

          Oh and 15 credits at a fake university like Liberty University, where you fail courses for getting the answers right, are also approximately $9K.Report

          • Avatar Morat20 says:

            Uh-uh! I was told it was because of student loans! Your facts are infringing on my worldview! I demand you retract them!Report

            • Avatar M.A. says:

              Student loans are a symptom. Sure, they’ve paced the rise in tuition costs, but that’s because tuition costs went up due to decreased state funding; the universities had no choice but to raise tuition themselves, which caused outcry that resulted in the expansion of the Pell Grant program and the expansion of the federal student loan program.

              Conservatives love to scream about how tuition rates went up “due to” availability of student loans but they have it backwards; tuition rates went up to account for constant cutting by “conservatives” in legislatures, and then student loans and federal loan protection went up in order to try to ensure that college remained accessible.Report

        • Avatar Scott says:

          I was speaking of primary education which is still free in this country.Report

  8. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Back when I worked at the restaurant, I probably worked harder than I ever have since. Wake up at 0’dark-thirty, stumble into the cafe, drink six shots of espresso,have a cigarette and steel yourself to deal with breakfast rush from 6:30ish until 9ish. Clean up everything to get ready for lunch. Deal with lunch rush from 10ish until 3ish. Clean up everything to get ready for tomorrow. Maybe finally be able to sit down and take a break around 4ish. I spent more time walking than standing and more time standing than sitting (sitting? What’s that? Oh, that’s the thing you do at 4:25 or so.)

    Tomorrow is going to be exactly like today was.

    Now I have a job where I spend more time sitting down than on my feet (and when I’m on my feet, it’s probably because I’m walking from “my chair at my desk” to “my chair in the lab”). While there are parts of my job that are difficult (why in the heck is that script giving files that group ownership when we run it? It doesn’t do that when we break up the script into small parts and run each part individually…), I wouldn’t consider any part of my job even half as strenuous as a day full of carrying a tub of dishes hither to yon for four hours.

    It doesn’t seem right that they are doing something that I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to do anymore (though I was pretty good at it when I was 20) and getting paid a tiny fraction of what I make sitting on my keister… but, other than tipping well and telling them that I know that they’re busting their ass, I don’t know what to do about it.Report

    • We should feel guilty about our cushy 1% lives. We all deal with it in different ways: write essays; earnestly discuss the indignity of it all at cocktail parties and cookouts; vote for the right party; blame the faceless “system.”

      Or we can be grateful. The natural state of man is poverty. The hunter/gatherer or the farmer does not punch out at 5, and lives in a perpetual state of exhaustion. Not one in 100 of us would rather farm than work the fry station at Mickey D’s.

      If our starting point, our barometer, is the life of a Western 1%er, then certainly all other lives are unfair. But if you think of how stupid the average person is, half of everybody else is stupider than he is. You can set up the “system” so each person has a chance to realize their potential, but you can’t make a everybody the bank manager and you can’t make the manager at your local 7-Eleven the CEO of Boeing.

      Now, it’s easy to cherry pick the very best outcomes from other countries, the workweek from here, the health system from there, the child care from yet another, but the people of Germany aren’t the same as Americans [and certainly not like the Greeks].

      It would be nice if garbage collectors only had to work 30 hours a week because the job kind of sucks, but it’s just not going to work. And yes, it would be nice if banks treated us nicer or didn’t charge us up the wazoo for overdrawing our accounts, but they’re not a charity, and ’twas we who screwed up, not the bank. And it would be nice if our boss wasn’t a martinet, jerking us around for the sake of jerking us around, but there’s something in our natures that makes us more productive under someone who’s a bit of a jerk.

      This isn’t to deny that life sucks out there for many people and we shouldn’t do what we can. But it’s not our obligation to be miserable about our cushy lives and make everybody else around us miserable too. The secret to Kim Kardashian’s mysterious success and why the plebes don’t begrudge her it is simple—she’s not a drag.Report

      • Avatar Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

        This isn’t to deny that life sucks out there for many people and we shouldn’t do what we can. But it’s not our obligation to be miserable about our cushy lives and make everybody else around us miserable too.

        And who, exactly, was advocating that?Report

      • Avatar Scott says:

        TVD:

        “We should feel guilty about our cushy 1% lives.”

        Sorry, that is BS. I worked hard in HS so I could get into a good college. While in college I worked hard to get into a good law school. Then in law school I worked hard to do well. I could have partied, smoked dope, etc. more at each level but I might not have gotten this far so I sure as hell don’t feel bad about it.Report

        • It was tongue-in-cheek, Scott, although there is something to the meme we are not self-made men: we WERE born into a rich and stable country, we DO have advantages most of humanity doesn’t. There exists a real moral duty to the commons, to each other.

          However, I would prefer the progressive’s Rx’s to make things even better not be so dependent on coercive political force and largesse with Other People’s Money.

          And not be a drag.

          And OTOH, you did indeed make the most of the opportunities that came your way and deserve to live better as a result of your self-discipline and good choices. When you dig a little deeper into the Poor Sam anecdotes we’re constantly subjected to as proof “the system” sucks, there are usually bad habits and bad choices under the surface.Report

        • Avatar Murali says:

          Scott, are you incapable of comprehending sarcasm?Report

          • Avatar James Hanley says:

            Murali, Just out of curiosity, is sarcasm normal in your culture? (I know it’s an ignorant question, but then I’m pretty ignorant about Singaporean culture in general.)Report

            • Avatar Murali says:

              I thought sarcasm was a universal (or if it isn’t we get enough hollywood that not all of us are sheldon cooper)Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                I’m sorry, are you being sarcastic? It’s hard for me to tell. I’m Canadian and we don’t have a big Jewish population.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                No, not quite universal. the northeastern U.S. tends to turn sarcasm up to an almost unbearable pitch. In the midwest, sarcasm is very common, but tends to be less stinging, less sharp than in the NE. The northwestern U.S., at least the Willamette Valley of Oregon, is almost a sarcasm free zone.

                I once dated a girl in San Francisco. Very bright, very pretty, good sense of humor, but she did not get sarcasm at all. Any sarcastic comment she took not as a joke but as a verbal assault.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                One thing I enjoy about Faulkner is his characters’ sarcasm. It’s generally the poorer, more rural ones, and their style is an innocent statement or question that’s deadly in context.

                Whether this was characteristic of the early 20th Century South, I have no idea.Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                Different cultures may interpret sarcasm and irony differently, but I’m sure all cultures grok the notion of sarcastic statements. While I can imagine some individuals being unable to tell whether a givenstatement is sarcastic (I can be quite bad at this) I do not think entire cultures lack the concept of sarcasm.Report

              • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

                “You know how double negative makes a positive? Well, I’ve been giving it a lot of thought, and I’m convinced that a double positive never makes a negative.”

                “Yeah. Sure.”Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                I didn’t really mean lacking the concept, but as a cultural norm frowning upon the use of sarcasm, rather than appreciating it. In my culture, the sarcastic person (if they do it well at all, some folks lack the touch) are appreciated. Folks like Mike Schilling for example (really, that wasn’t sarcasm). But I can imagine a culture where those who use it, even well, are viewed as behaving inappropriately. And I wonder if there are cultures that have that latter view, and if so, how widespread or frequent they are.Report

    • Avatar karl says:

      What to do about it? How about raising the minimum wage for a start? (Yeah, I’m joking — $300 a week is enough for any man).Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I worked at the restaurant for $4.25 an hour. I was given a raise to $5.00. Two months later, the federal minimum wage was raised to $5.00.

        A psychological insight into Jaybird: I resented this.Report

        • Avatar Miss Mary says:

          Next you’re going to tell me that gas was less than a dollar and a cup of coffee was a nickel.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            A cappuccino was $1.50. That’s how old I am.

            As it happens, gas was less than a dollar and a pack of Camels was less than two. Joe Camel still existed. Camel Cash still existed. Some of us had friends with leather jackets purchaced from nothing but Camel Cash. We looked at our Camel Zippos and cursed our short-term vision.Report

            • Avatar Trumwill Mobile says:

              A cappacino at a gas station is still less than $1.50. It’s one of the things that makes me love my country. I needed to refus the markers of my patriotism when raman stopped being a ten-cent meal.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Yeah, a *CRAPPY* cappuccino. Not one made by a trained professional cappuccinist. This “anybody can make a cappuccino” attitude is wrecking the country, coffee-wise.Report

              • Clearly then, the state has a compelling interest in certifying and licensing cappuccinists. This of course will create a black market for uncertified and unlicensed cappuccino, which will require the creation of a Department of Cappuccino Security, CWAT teams, and special cappuccino tribunals on Staten Island. But that’s progress for ya.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                Ya know, I was almost going to go this direction with the Peanut Butter digression with both the Dangerous Fatal Substance and For The Children angles. But now it would be (even more) derivative.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                You need to divide those derivatives into tranches and sell them as investment-grade fecal matter.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Don’t trust any cappuccino with an octane number.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        To this the average libertarian answers “if you raise the minimum wage you aren’t going to make everyone who currently makex X and hour suddenly make X+Y and hour; you’ll convert a goodly portion of them from making X an hour to making 0 per hour” and I’ve not generally read a good response to that.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater says:

          There was evidence from a program instituted in Oregon about 12-15 years ago where the increased the minimum wage and required certain types of businesses to hire workers. As a result, wages went up and employment went up in other parts of the economy. I’ll see if I can find something. (Or maybe Tod will chime in.)

          But in general, the argument for maintaining a minimum wage is based on relatively closed labor and capital markets. Or I should say, it is easier to justify in those types of markets.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley says:

            It’s not that minimum wage increases cause large job losses. Businesses still need employees, for one, and most people already make more than minimum wage, for another. Nobody’s going to lay off a $10/hour worker because the minimum wage increases to $8.

            What tends to happen is that in a minimum wage establishment, the least productive workers get terminated. That may be the teenager who’s new and doesn’t really know how to perform yet, or it may be the older lady who’s kind of slow, or it may be that perennial screwup who’s been tolerable until now. My worry is always about the mildly retarded bagger at the grocery store–he may already be a bit of a charity case from the store’s perspective; how charitable are they willing to be?

            But there’s no evidence it creates large job losses. Neither, though, does it create jobs.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater says:

            Yeah, that’s it, Snarky. Thanks.Report

          • Avatar James K says:

            Thanks for the link Snarky.

            I think the author of the piece is over-inferring from a weak methodology. Based on the information presented in that article, all I think could be concluded is that minimum wage increases of that size don’t noticeably affect aggregate unemployment when introduced in those economic conditions.

            Small changes to the minimum wage will have subtle effects and you need to use powerful methods to find them. It helps to be lucky too. Consider this study by Eric Crampton which looks at the abolition of youth minimum wages (i.e. increasing the youth minimum wage to the adult minimum wage), which resulted in a reasonably large change that only affected an identifiable sub-group of the population. For bonus points, it happened shortly before a recession.Report

        • Avatar M.A. says:

          It’s counterintuitive.

          Raise the minimum wage, and minimum wage workers have more buying power. The vast majority of their buying power translates into economic activity, as opposed to the “earnings” of the scrooge class (so-called “job creators” to the religiously conservative types).

          Increase the economic activity of those workers, and more services are needed, so more people need to be hired. Increasing the minimum wage becomes an upward pressure on employment, not a downward pressure.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley says:

            Raising the minimum wage doesn’t increase overall income. It just transfers it from one place to another. If my boss increases my salary, that money comes from somewhere else. Sure, my buying/investment power increases, but either somebody else’s decreases. Unless, that is, the money supply is going up at about the same rate, in which case I’m not really that much better off.

            The vast majority of their buying power translates into economic activity, as opposed to the “earnings” of the scrooge class

            A classic economic fallacy. The only way to prevent any earnings from translating into economic activity is to stick it under your mattress. Whatever their moral failures, the wealthy don’t stick their money under their mattress.Report

            • Avatar Bad-ass Motherfisher says:

              Just to note: the “overall income” may not increase (at least in the short- to mid-term), but overall utility may.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Maybe, but since utility is subjective, it’s not really possible to say.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Money has decreasing marginal utility, so we can say with confidence that a transfer from rich to poor increases total utility.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Everything has decreasing marginal utility. But utility is subjective, so you are making the assumption that you know what utility the rich man and the poor man have. It might be a reasonable assumption in some cases, but the nature of subjective utility is that none of us can actually know another person’s valuations.

                And for the rich person it may not just be the marginal dollar itself, it’s purchasing power, but what it symbolizes. I don’t admire people who judge themselves based on their wealth, but that doesn’t change the utility of it for them.

                And we can’t say with any certainty how the rich person feels about that transfer. The transfer itself may be a ridiculously large disutility for them.

                That doesn’t mean no wealth transfers are justified. Utility isn’t the only value. But using net increase in utility as a justification is ultimately just a word game, an unprovable assertion.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                We know what utility means to society.

                We know that increased utility for the lower classes results in OTHER goods for society; a decrease in poverty means a decrease in desperation, a decrease in hopelessness, a decrease in crimes that result in areas where poverty is rampant.

                If one person sees his perceived utility to buy a solid gold toilet decreased by 30%, and a thousand people on the other end see their utility to paint their house and repair a broken fence increased by 1000%? To hell with the rich asshole. Give the people means to take care of their neighborhoods, give the people means enough to find dignity for themselves, give them enough pay that they feel proud of the work they do. Make it so that kids growing up in the lower end can still see their parents with heads held high, rather than hunched over a table trying to figure out how to make things last through the next paycheck each week while being scared to death of being killed by a stray bullet in their neighborhoods.

                Once again: the fundamental flaw with libertarians. They’re more concerned with the “liberty” of the filthy rich than ensuring greater liberty for all of society.Report

              • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

                The transfer itself may be a ridiculously large disutility for them.

                Given how they scream about it, perhaps. Given how they make idiot threats about going Galt but never do, probably not.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                But utility is subjective, so you are making the assumption that you know what utility the rich man and the poor man have.

                Ahhh. Maybe parsing this comment will better express my worries. Utility is not subjective, preferences are. People can differ on how much utility they expect to gain from choosing X over Y not because utility is subjective , but because the rational expectation of utility gains is subjectively determined. Rational expectations manifest as preferences given choices, ones which, if acted upon, could actually decrease total utility where “total utility” may be (not necessarily must be) measured by objective properties, the most common of which is money. If not, for a whole slew of cases, it seems tome it’d be impossible for an individual to demonstrate that his rational expectation was wrong. be impossible for people to say that they made a mistake.

                In other words, preferences can be (and in fact often are, I would say) subjectively determined expectations of objective utility gains.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Maybe, but since utility is subjective, it’s not really possible to say.

                When you say things like this, I get a little jumpy. Your preferred theory is based on subjective utility, and in this comment you’re saying that utility gains can’t be measured, but that seems to me to be false in at least one important way (maybe another depending on how this comment turns out): you’ve repeatedly claimed that the middle class’s absolute standard of living has improved over last X number of years. That implies utility can be measured (even if subjective utility cannot).Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                Goalposts strapped to a golf cart, they keep moving and moving and moving…Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Stillwater and Mike,

                I am sure James is working on a response, but I cannot help jumping in.

                Mike’s marginal utility argument contains a kernel of truth, but collapses under a number of dimensions.

                First, it compares a dollar earned to a dollar gifted. Gifts can actually destroy dignity, as some of the comments on this post have made clear.

                Second it ignores the effects of capital investment. Surplus capital above the needs of basic consumption is necessary for investing in productivity gains such as technology, factories, and so forth. Ignoring this is economic suicide.

                Most importantly though, it ignores the effects of incentives on all parties. If the gifted person knows they will receive transfers, it substantially reduces their incentives to serve other people economically. Just as bad, it reduces the incentive of the productive person to be productive. There is no reaon to produce value for others if you get no gains from it. Investment, creativity, risk and productive endeavors will be killed.

                Mike has in a single line written something that is half true and yet when implemented is absolutely guaranteed to result in the widespread impoverishment and death of significant portions of humanity. Bad economics is man’s greatest curse.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Roger, my point was a pretty narrow one: that utility can be measured. In fact, I think that if the argument you make in favor of free market nstitutions makes any sense, it must be because you think total utility will actually increase if those institutions are realized. That is, you’re argument requires that total utility is actually increased under a free market regime relative to other systems. But that means total utility can in some sense be measured.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                Most importantly though, it ignores the effects of incentives on all parties. If the gifted person knows they will receive transfers, it substantially reduces their incentives to serve other people economically.

                And an increase in the minimum wage is a “gift” how, exactly? They have to be working to get it.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                To some extent, it can… but people can get used to anything. Mike made a point a few arguments back about how we don’t know what poverty will look like in 100 years. Maybe it will mean not having the B-18 Implant (in the same way that not having internet access today is one of the many markers of poverty).

                As such, there’s a very existentialist angle to the whole poverty thing.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                that means total utility can in some sense be measured.

                No. As I note below individual utility in a specific case can be measured, but not precisely. If you could measure everyone’s utility in every specific case (which means measuring how much I valued that coffee this morning (at least $1.50, but maybe more), how much I value that gallon of gas (at least $3.34, but probably more), how much I valued that bagel for breakfast (at least…well, I forget how much I paid for that bag of bagels, but you get the idea), and then if you could put that all into a superdupercomputer and sum them, you could get a rough measure of total utility.

                Good luck accomplishing that. But if you do, it still wouldn’t necessarily tell you whether I valued that bagel more than you did. The only way to do that is to put us together and see if we can come to an agreement whereby I give you the bagel in exchange for value or not.

                Now, you’ve pushed pretty hard a few times on the claim that we can’t measure utility. But you haven’t explained how you think we actually can measure it. It’s your turn, Stillwater. You can’t beat something with nothing. Any imperfections in our hypothesis do not function as proof of your alternative hypothesis.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                There is a fourth response to Mike’s subjective utility of redistribution argument. That is that the very act of redistribution creates an incentive for an arms race on defense and offense to protect from or receive the redistribution. This redirects efforts from productivity enhancements to rent seeking and it’s avoidance. This leads to massive waste, indeed it is possible to spend so much on wrestling over rents that value is destroyed in total over the process.

                By the way, if progressives want to negate my libertarian views, the best line of attack is to show how my four rebuttals to Mike are incorrect. Indeed, I am 95% sure that if progressives understood or believed my four arguments that they would convert tomorrow to libertarians. Now is your chance.Report

              • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

                First, it compares a dollar earned to a dollar gifted. Gifts can actually destroy dignity, as some of the comments on this post have made clear.

                Yes, I know how ashamed the depletion allowance made oil executives. Poor fellows, they could hardly hold their heads up at the club.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Now, you’ve pushed pretty hard a few times on the claim that we can’t measure utility.

                Because every justification you guys give for accepting a preferency utility-based approach of voluntary transactions requires that objective utility, a measurable one. Eg, adopting neoliberal free trade policies may decrease per capita wages in the US, but it’s more than compensated for by a decrease in prices of consumables.

                But you haven’t explained how you think we actually can measure it.

                As one example, according to the same metrics by which you </idetermine that the middle class is living in better material conditions now than in the 1950s.

                It’s your turn, Stillwater. You can’t beat something with nothing.

                I have something. You libertarians reject it outright. There is apparently no evidence a liberal can provide which a libertarian will view as sufficient to justify his policy proposals.

                Any imperfections in our hypothesis do not function as proof of your alternative hypothesis.

                No, of course not, and I’m sorry you’re getting so emotional about all this. You have a theory which you think improves upon liberalism as its currently understood. You make your affirmative arguments supporting that view. I critique those arguments. This is all pretty standard stuff, James. When we have libertarians arguing that the MBS meltdown was worth it because a handful of people no longer have to rent, it strains credulity to think they have an empirically driven (or empirically constrained) theory justifying their views. But the bigger point is that I’ve made my policy proposals clear in most every case were discussing policy. I’ve made my Theory of Liberalism clear, and it’s a pretty thin theory, not much nuance or conceptual meat. But it is embedded to a large extent in empirical evidence. I think that means something.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                Stillwater,

                I get the feeling the libertarians won’t be satisfied until there’s a 9000-page document stapled to a door somewhere listing every possible nuance and implication you can think of regarding a theory.

                Which is quite humorous since all they can offer is vague comments about how “the market will provide” while moving the goalposts.

                James Hanley insists that I provide the exact line of what becomes “fair” inequality and where “too much” redistribution downwards to compensate for the overwhelming upward consolidation forces we see in practice today is. I told him: I can’t tell him precisely where, but I can tell him that we should start with the extremes on each end and work our way inwards.

                He isn’t willing to accept that. He offers vague notions and generalities about how I “don’t understand liberalism” while insisting I provide bulletpointed lists and an exact numeric figure of where I want everything to be in the fuzzy-lined middle. At this point the goalposts aren’t on the field, they’re not even in the same stadium any more, they’ve gone upriver and parked themselves across the state line.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                Grr. “don’t understand libertarianism”, not “don’t understand liberalism.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Because every justification you guys give for accepting a preferency utility-based approach of voluntary transactions requires that objective utility, a measurable one.

                I don’t see that at all.

                Eg, adopting neoliberal free trade policies may decrease per capita wages in the US, but it’s more than compensated for by a decrease in prices of consumables.

                Eh, I think you’re misunderstanding that argument. It’s not directly about utility, but about real prices. If my salary doubles/halves at the same time as nominal prices double/halve, then real prices haven’t changed for me. If nominal prices drop (as a result of trade) more than my wage drops (as a result of trade), then real prices have actually decreased for me (I’ll be able to buy the same amount of stuff with fewer hours of work).

                Is that an objective measure of utility? No, it’s only a proxy measure. Because I can now buy more stuff for the same amount of work (or the same stuff with less work), we can state that my utility has improved because I can get more of the things I want (whether that’s more goods or more leisure).

                But it’s not a measure because we can’t determine how much I actually value those things. We don’t know that with any precision. Even individuals don’t know their own utility valuations with precision until actually faced with a price tag (and even then, not always). And if we don’t know any one person’s utility with precision, there is no way–not just in practice, but no way even in abstract theory–to do interpersonal utility comparisons or to sum up collective utility.

                The proxy measures allow us to frequently engage in some ordinal ordering, but nothing more precise than that.

                There is apparently no evidence a liberal can provide which a libertarian will view as sufficient to justify his policy proposals.

                Well, I think that goes both ways a lot, although you’re a lot better than most people (on either side) about that.

                No, of course not, and I’m sorry you’re getting so emotional about all this.

                No, not emotional. Not this time. My problem is that I like pretty clearly identifiable standards by which we can make judgements about policy. Of course being overly rigid about those standards is pretty foolish, but so is having standards that aren’t precise enough to really confirm any conclusions made in reference to them. And–I say this knowing I’m poaching into that territory of defining another person’s ideology for them–I just don’t see that from liberalism in a lot of cases. Some, to be sure.

                When we have libertarians arguing that the MBS meltdown was worth it because a handful of people no longer have to rent, it strains credulity to think they have an empirically driven (or empirically constrained) theory justifying their views.

                I haven’t seen that, but I’ll take your word on it. But please allow me to point out in response that liberals were all gung-ho about loosening credit standards so that more people could become homeowners. And then they got very upset with the resulting mortgage meltdown. So that criticism seems a pretty sharp double-edged sword.

                I’ve made my Theory of Liberalism clear, and it’s a pretty thin theory, not much nuance or conceptual meat. But it is embedded to a large extent in empirical evidence.

                It’s that lack of conceptual meat that makes me dubious. I think it doesn’t constrain enough, so that it’s too easy to move to policy prescriptions out of intuition or emotion, rather than it being a necessary derivation of the theory.

                And, please pardon me, but I’m not persuaded about the empirical evidence. One of the things public choice theory teaches us is that costs of government activities are frequently hidden, while the benefits tend to be more evident. So empirical evidence about the benefits of government programs frequently is radically incomplete.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Eh, I’m not sure I follow all of that. What I mean is we can’t do explicit interpersonal comparisons: how much do you value a dollar vs. how much do I value a dollar. We can only do that if you actually bring us face to face and have us bid for that dollar (“I’ll work 10 seconds for that dollar.” “Well, I’ll work 15 seconds for it.” “Then I’ll work 20 seconds for it.” And so on.) Even then it is hard to measure very precisely, because if I quit bidding at 20 seconds, and you win it with a 25 second bid, we only know that you value it more than me, and at at least 25 seconds worth. You may actually value it much more, and you’re delighted to have gotten it for only 25 seconds.

                Now, when I talk about absolute standard of living…hmm, to be honest I’m not sure if I’ve quite been thinking in subjective utility terms or not. I was really thinking in purely material terms, which maps onto utility to a large degree, but without being perfectly congruent. E.g., doubling the size of my house would increase my material well-being, but in my case it would almost certainly not increase my utility (unless that doubled space was a billiards hall and indoor basketball court, perhaps).

                But to the extent the two overlap–and, again, they do to a considerable extent–we can in part say that today’s generation having far more material goods than yesterday’s generation means we have more utility. But that’s a comparison of goods, not a comparison of interpersonal utility. The interpersonal utility comparison would be, “do I get more utility out of my microwave oven than somebody in the 19th century would have?” That’s a different question than, “do I get more utility out of my microwave oven than a 19th century person got out of their absence of a microwave oven?”

                It’s the latter question that allows us to say, with some confidence, that we have more utility today, because it’s not doing an interpersonal comparison of subjective utilities. It’s a comparison of the presence of and the absence of material goods from which we know people derive utility.

                It was a good question, and I was happy to answer (and it did make me think, by god), but let me return to an old complaint I’ve made to you before. You liberals keep pushing us libertarians really hard on the nuances, and seem to think that if we can’t satisfactorily resolve every nuance, it’s a serious blow to libertarianism. But I don’t see you liberals jumping up to take on the nuanced questions. So let me ask you. How would you measure subjective utility so that you can be sure of making wealth transfers that increase overall utility? Even if you can be confident that taking a sawbuck from Bill Gates to give to a homeless guy for a couple of Big Mac meals increases overall utility, what about when the cases get more marginal? When we take from a middle class person like you or me to give to a lower middle class/upper lower class person, how can we tell how much to transfer before we start reducing overall utility? Since you all disclaim a goal of perfect economic equality, but think the current level of inequality requires some wealth transfer, how do you know where to draw the line? And if you can’t answer that, shouldn’t you be putting a little more effort into thinking about how justified your own ideology is before you put so much effort into demanding perfect justifications of others’ ideology?

                I don’t mean that as a personal attack, and I’m sure as hell not trying to put you down. But it’s the question that keeps occurring to me each time you and I have a discussion. I’ve never seen you make a very fine justification for your approach, while you consistently demand fine justifications for my approach. I’m quite sure it’s not intentional, but effectively you are setting up a double standard, where libertarianism has a much higher bar for justification than liberalism.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                Since you all disclaim a goal of perfect economic equality, but think the current level of inequality requires some wealth transfer, how do you know where to draw the line?

                How do you know where to draw the line? With a gigantic, fuzzy marker. Lines move. They move one way for a while, and then there’ll probably be pushback, just like we did quite well from the late 1940s until the late 1970s in ensuring that inequality didn’t grow to unmanageable levels, followed by pushback from the wealthy classes that dropped tax levels to the fishing stupid 15% on the majority of wealthy income degree while simultaneously trying to scapegoat the poor for all the financial issues of the nation.

                And if you can’t answer that, shouldn’t you be putting a little more effort into thinking about how justified your own ideology is before you put so much effort into demanding perfect justifications of others’ ideology?

                Here’s a thought: this is not a black and white world. There are things so egregious out there that they brook almost no discussion. Then there’s the fuzzy middle. My philosophy is, let’s deal with the egregious problems. Let’s increase liberty for the maximum number of people we can. Let’s decrease the coercive aspects of massive inequality and eliminate the very real traps that threaten to make permanent the damaging effects of a system that concentrates wealth upwards in a self-reinforcing cycle.

                Libertarianism gave us 100 years of trouble. Libertarianism gave us Plessy v. Ferguson, segregation and Jim Crow along with sharecropping and financial debt slavery to replace the prior institutionalized slavery.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Libertarianism gave us Plessy v. Ferguson, segregation and Jim Crow

                Who was the good guy and who was the bad guy in Plessy v. Ferguson? When it comes to Segregation and Jim Crow, why do you assume the Libertarian position is one that includes “passing laws”?Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                However, in 1883 the Supreme Court, then it its most libertarian phase, knocked down the 1875 act as well as many other Republican measures passed during Reconstruction designed to aid African Americans. The Court’s philosophy in these cases led logically to Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, which essentially gave constitutional protection to legal segregation enforced by state and local governments throughout the U.S.

                As we know from history, the free market did not lead to a breakdown of segregation. Indeed, it got much worse, not just because it was enforced by law but because it was mandated by self-reinforcing societal pressure. Any store owner in the South who chose to serve blacks would certainly have lost far more business among whites than he gained. There is no reason to believe that this system wouldn’t have perpetuated itself absent outside pressure for change.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                constitutional protection to legal segregation enforced by state and local governments throughout the U.S.

                This is the Libertarian position, is it?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                How do you know where to draw the line? With a gigantic, fuzzy marker.

                Yeah, not satisfactory for present purposes. You’re new here, so you don’t know the backstory, but the backstory is liberals–particularly Stillwater, but that’s largely to his credit, mind you–not allowing libertarians to get away with fuzziness. Which is why I’m asking the liberal to forgo fuzziness and make as precise an argument as is asked of us.

                Oh, I see you’ve shifted the blame for slavery away from libertarianism now. But you didn’t openly fess up to your mistake, or acknowledge Kolohe calling you on that.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Re: Plessy.

                The law at issue in Plessy was not a law allowing segregation, but a law mandating segregation. The railroad wanted to integrate the passenger cars because it was more cost-effective for them, but the state did not allow them to.

                Which side would a libertarian take in that case?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                but effectively you are setting up a double standard, where libertarianism has a much higher bar for justification than liberalism.

                What I’m responding to is actually the opposite: libertarians have set the justificatory bar so high that liberals in principle cannot meet it. See my comment at 307 for some thoughts about that, and the whole L v L dynamic.

                I’ve never seen you make a very fine justification for your approach,

                I did. You rejected it.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                That is to say, you didn’t reject justification I offered for my views, you rejected the accuracy of the description of my views. Which struck me at the time as an interesting move to make on your part.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                I’m sorry, I don’t remember. My bad. Is it easy enough for you to find that you can direct me to it? I have difficulty finding old threads that I’m looking for, so if it’s not easy, don’t go to too much trouble. I’m not demanding that you prove that you made such a case; I’m just lamenting my bad memory.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Stillwater,

                I have no idea which comment used to be #307. Can you link to it? (Clicking the current number will put the link in the address bar.)

                That is to say, you didn’t reject justification I offered for my views, you rejected the accuracy of the description of my views.

                I’m sorry, I don’t follow. I read that as me rejecting the accuracy of your description of your own beliefs. I hope you don’t mean that, and I really hope I didn’t give that impression, and I really really really hope that I didn’t actually do that. What I hope it means is that I rejected the accuracy of your description of some aspect of how the world works, because then even if I was factually wrong I would still be operating in the realm of legitimate debate.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                This is the Libertarian position, is it?

                The Libertarian position is and always has been “rights”, and generally those rights that allow for those in economic power to retain it through coercion.

                The “right of free association” to establish a whites-only business.

                The “states’ rights” or “local rights” to create segregation in the marketplace.

                The “libertarian” response to the end of slavery was to allow for the creation of new libertarian-based institutions that let it be recreated under new nomenclature, where blacks were placed under heightened economic coercion to keep them under the thumb of the former slaveowners. The heart of “separate but equal” was libertarian philosophy, just as the “libertarian” response to slavery itself was to ensure that “the states” had the right to define slavery and to sanction it or not to sanction it. The libertarian position was to not get in the way of those localities that practiced slavery; the liberal position was that slavery could not be condoned.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Here’s the link to that comment:

                https://ordinary-times.com/blog/2012/06/24/inequality-freedom-and-dignity/#comment-295274

                I read that as me rejecting the accuracy of your description of your own beliefs. I hope you don’t mean that, and I really hope I didn’t give that impression, and I really really really hope that I didn’t actually do that.

                You did.

                What I hope it means is that I rejected the accuracy of your description of some aspect of how the world works, because then even if I was factually wrong I would still be operating in the realm of legitimate debate.

                No, you actually disputed my conception of liberalism, not the description of the world which (may or may not mistakenly) justifies my conception of liberalism. No biggie, tho. I mean, we’ve moved way past that, right? 🙂Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Stillwater,

                Do you mean when I objected to the claim that liberalism wasn’t based on any a priori, or first, principles?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                The heart of “separate but equal” was libertarian philosophy, just as the “libertarian” response to slavery itself was to ensure that “the states” had the right to define slavery and to sanction it or not to sanction it.

                There is a subset of libertarians, a pretty small subset, that favors states’ rights in a racist way. Ron Paul has some connections to that crowd, which is why I’ll never vote for him.

                But you’re dead wrong in attributing this view to libertarianism generally. Jim Crow was not just personal and social segregation (which many libertarians would allow, and which of course liberals thinks is to their discredit), but a legally required segregation, which very few libertarians would allow. And most libertarians would say that states can’t have rights, only powers. It is only individuals who can have rights.

                So, once again, M.A., you’re preaching quite a sermon about the evils of libertarianism, but you haven’t got your facts straight.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                Jim Crow was not just personal and social segregation (which many libertarians would allow, and which of course liberals thinks is to their discredit), but a legally required segregation, which very few libertarians would allow.

                The personal and social segregation came first, buttressed by “free association” rights of whites-only businesses to deny service “to any they choose.”

                The enforced, widespread segregation came later, buttressed again by the “right of the majority” and “states’ rights” to codify their “free association” into law. Libertarian groups to this day stand opposed to anti-discrimination laws whether on the basis of sex, race, or age, claiming the “market” will somehow redress the issues when it has clearly failed to do so time and again.

                It was all very libertarian, and to claim otherwise is dishonesty.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                M.A.,

                Would the average libertarian support government mandated segregation? Two examples of what I mean, which you can take together or deal with separately, as you wish:

                1) If I’m operating an fitness facility, and I want to allow blacks and whites in on an even basis, but the state says I must have separate entrances, separate showers, and separate exercise rooms for blacks and whites.

                2) If the municipality operates a public swimming pool, but only allows whites in, or allows blacks in only on Monday evenings from 7 to 8 p.m.

                How would the average libertarian respond to either policy?Report

              • The thought occurs to me that it would be helpful for Reason or some other libertarian organization to take polls of their readership or membership on this matter.

                The libertarian ideology, as I understand it, would say that it’s not okay for the government to force a swimming pool to segregate based on race, but that a private swimming pool would have the right to do so.

                Back when I was flirting with libertarianism, this was one of the conflicts I had to think a lot about. Not whether the state should force it (I was always against that), but what latitude private owners should have.

                To MA, and many others, this may be a distinction without a difference, but from a position of ideological understanding, it would be good to know if my assumptions are correct.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                The libertarian ideology, as I understand it, would say that it’s not okay for the government to force a swimming pool to segregate based on race, but that a private swimming pool would have the right to do so.

                That’s correct. And I fully understand liberals’ objection to allowing a private swimming pool to segregate. In fact very few libertarians would advocate for private racial segregation–they, too, tend to be very uncomfortable with it. But they generally treat it as they might treat marijuana, not something they actually approve of, but willing to allow it because they don’t want to impose their code of behavior on others.

                And libertarians are fond of pointing out the ways that the market has promoted integration, particularly in sports and music. There’s an old saying that the Irish earned respectability because they had pretty girls and football starts, and something of the same seems to be true for blacks.

                Also important is the effect of Brown v. Board of Education, which prohibited segregation in public schools (government segregation, not private), which resulted in more white kids growing up in close proximity to black kids.

                But, to be fair, I don’t think we can ignore the effects of the 1964 Civil Rights act. I think most libertarians would prefer that integration occur because society had left its foolish biases behind, but of course (I think “of course” is warranted), government played a role in causing society to drop (well, diminish) those biases. If I can refuse to hire a black person, I may never become aware that they’re not innately inferior, whereas if I can’t avoid hiring them, I may learn and adjust, and teach my kids what I’ve learned.Report

              • This is sort of something I struggle with on the issue of gay marriage and gay rights, though I now look at it as being more through the prism of religious/moral pluralism rather than the right of a vendor to discriminate.

                The hammer hitting the head on “this” when it comes to whether or not wedding photographers should be allowed to boycott gay weddings. The relatively non-ideological conclusion I’ve come to is that you force it the discrimination forces an access issue. If only a few would so discriminate, then forcing them to take on clients they don’t want seems like a solution in search of a problem. If, however, this is a universal thing, I favor intervention.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                Will Truman,

                It is a distinction without a difference. Libertarians want to privatize almost anything they can find. If they say they have a problem with a public pool in the county parks system banning blacks but no problem with a private (or HOA-owned) pool doing the same, they also argue that the government should not be in the business of public parks and public pools, or most other currently public goods.

                If I can refuse to hire a black person, I may never become aware that they’re not innately inferior, whereas if I can’t avoid hiring them, I may learn and adjust, and teach my kids what I’ve learned.

                One of the larger unacknowledged-by-libertarians issues innate to this discussion is the fact that blacks and hispanics are caught more than any other race in the traps of poverty. Redlining and reverse redlining still exist today; the presence of predatory payday loan outfits only in poor neighborhoods, never in middle class or rich neighborhoods, shows distinctively how some of this occurs. Mark and I discussed at length the ways in which the rich can socially segregate from the middle class and the poor, and provided evidence that it is occurring. This social segregation necessarily perpetuates racial segregation to a degree, and combined with policies that target the poor in other ways continues a history of discrimination that economically and socially leaves a class of people with the deck stacked against them from the moment of birth.

                In the same line of thinking we have the libertarian response to Brown v. Board of Education: the Segregation Academy. At first it was just not admitting blacks; later it was relying on rigged testing; later still it was simply pricing them out of the market along with poorer whites. The resegregation of schools and districts is a disheartening reality today.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Ecch, M.A. — someone has to ask “Can the market do this job? Does society really need a government solution in this case?” It’s a great pity nobody but the Libertarians are asking these hard-nosed questions.Report

              • Avatar Trumwill Mobile says:

                MA, to me there is quite a difference between the government saying you can discriminate and saying you have to.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                they also argue that the government should not be in the business of public parks and public pools, or most other currently public goods.

                Jesus, M.A. Will you please stop trying to tell us what libertarians think, when you obviously don’t know your ass from your elbow?

                In the pantheon of things libertarians are worried about, the public provision of parks and pools is at the bottom of the list. Heck, just a few weeks ago I went camping in a state park with a friend who is also a libertarian. One subject that did not come up is whether the park should be privatized.

                Also, parks and pools aren’t public goods, they’re just publicly provided goods. To the extent there is an argument for privatizing them, it rests on that distinction.

                the libertarian response to Brown v. Board of Education: the Segregation Academy.

                Hogwash. Those were set up by southern conservatives, not libertarians. As defined by Daniel Elezar, the south has a traditionalist political culture. To whit:
                This reflects an older attitude that embraces a hierarchical society as part of the natural order of things. Government is seen as an actor with a positive role in the community, but the role is largely limited to securing the maintenance of the existing social order.
                That is anything but libertarian.Report

              • Let me try again. I was responding to can/must rather than public versus private discrimination, which was the point you were making.

                The difference, for me, is that I have a stake in government functions. So, for instance, if a government discriminates, it’s part of a web I am more closely aligned to than a private entity doing the same. I can boycott a business, but I can’t boycott a government.

                Libertarians do indeed want to retract the public sphere and expand the private. I sometimes agree with them, sometimes not. I can see where this, in combination with the belief that private should be allowed to discriminate, is problematic. That’s still not the same thing, to me personally, as supporting discrimination for public entities that do exist (and will continue to exist, regardless of what libertarians want). So long as libertarians support non-discrimination in public institutions (for instance, “I think marriage should be privatized, but if we’re going to have government recognition of marriage, gays should be allowed to marry.”), I think they are on more solid footing, even if I disagree with them about privatizing marriage, than someone who says that the government itself should discriminate.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                I think we’re still waiting for an answer to “Would the average libertarian support government mandated segregation?”

                I’d actually kind of like to see one, rather than just a “when both are against you, pound on the table” derail.Report

              • Avatar Trumwill Mobile says:

                Duck, who is that response aimed at? MA or James and myself?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Will, I agree.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                The question was asked of M.A.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                I can boycott a business, but I can’t boycott a government.

                That gets harder and harder as time goes on and corporate acquisitions take hold. It also gets harder and harder with fake-competing brands. I could avoid Nike for sweatshop labor but I also – if I want to be consistent – have to then avoid Hurley, Converse, Cole Haan, Umbro, and Jordan.

                Avoiding the list of Phillip Morris aka “Altria” brands would probably exceed the character limit of LOOG posts.

                With banking mergers, I can’t even avoid the banks I originally set out to avoid. “So just cancel it” is a fine response to finding out that Bank of America bought the bank holding your credit card, until you find out that canceling the card and taking your business elsewhere comes with a 50-point hit to your credit score thanks to the rigged banking system.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                So long as libertarians support non-discrimination in public institutions (for instance, “I think marriage should be privatized, but if we’re going to have government recognition of marriage, gays should be allowed to marry.”), I think they are on more solid footing, even if I disagree with them about privatizing marriage, than someone who says that the government itself should discriminate.

                The trap here is the assumption that a non-discriminatory company or product would exist in the market.

                As I touched on a little while ago, banking consolidation is going on regularly and the march of takeovers and mergers is a song of many sectors of the economy. Marriage may be an outside rarity in that you’re certainly going to find religions willing to marry gays as well as religions fundamentally opposed – but how many religions are willing to hold a wedding ceremony for two avowed atheists?

                Take a city where the city public parks system is responsible for maintaining public swimming pools, and granting equal access to all. Now take a city where the park system does NOT maintain public parks, but instead HOAs separated by redlining and economic tactics put in pools and maintain them… if they can afford to.

                What’s the result? In the first scenario, all citizens have equal access to pools. In the second scenario those who rent in apartments have lesser access or no access at all, those who rent or own in lower income areas have lesser access, those who rent or buy in medium income neighborhoods have medium access, and those who rent or buy in the upper scale neighborhoods have upper scale access.

                Segregated access, flowing directly from the privatization aspect.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                …so that’s government mandated segregation, then?Report

              • MA, maybe a non-discriminatory product wouldn’t exist in the market. But I know it won’t if the government prohibits non-discrimination. Pullman wanted to allow integrated cabins. The government didn’t. If the libertarians side with Pullman, that matters. I may still disagree with libertarians on anti-discrimination law, but it becomes inaccurate to say that they are in the same place as people who want to legally prohibit non-discrimination.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                The trap here is the assumption that a non-discriminatory company or product would exist in the market.

                It wasn’t the Civil Rights act that first put black football players on the field/court in D1 sports; it was the desire to win. It’s not affirmative action that made Morgan Freeman, Will Smith, and Sam Jackson movie stars; it was the desire for cold hard cash profits.

                Would there be discriminatory companies in a free market? Sure. No doubt about it.

                But the idea that there would be no non-disriminatory companies? That very single business owner is so racist they’d forgo profits just to feed their racism? That’s insane, not just hyperbolic, but insane. Over the rainbow, bars on the window insane.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Stillwater,

                Just because utility can’t be measured perfectly, especially when more than one person is concerned, does not mean we cannot observe economic prosperity.

                I could attempt to give a deep answer, which relates to the nature of progress. But will confine myself to a shallower response on the nature of prosperity.

                Although we cannot measure utility, humans are the product of 3.8 billion years of evolutionary learning on how to weigh relative gains of our actions. Rational adults are pretty good at evaluating whether an action improves or harms their position according to their goals and context. Not perfect, but better than the alternatives in most cases, and they can learn from their mistakes via feedback. In addition people are rarely tempted to exploit themselves.

                Thus a useful rule of thumb for identifying utility gains is to observe what rational adults tend to choose to do, especially if they have freedom of alternatives from which to select. Where more than one person is involved, the best way to identify gains is by mutually voluntary actions. As long as externalities are accounted for, as the pace and scope of voluntary interactions increases, utility gains can be expected to rise. Economics measures this imperfectly.

                The other way to measure prosperity is to note that humans tend to want similar things. We tend to want health, not sickness, wealth not poverty, long life not short, good food not starvation, living kids not dead ones, clean environments not filthy, unsanitary ones, education not illiteracy, freedom not slavery.

                To the extent these things measurably increase for more and more people, it is pretty clear we are becoming more prosperous and that utility gains are occurring.Report

              • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

                As such, there’s a very existentialist angle to the whole poverty thing.

                Not so much. If we all agree that the key to exiting poverty is to get a decent job, and nowadays you need X (e.g. internet access) to get a decent job, lack of X makes you poor.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                If we all agree that the key to exiting poverty is to get a decent job, and nowadays you need X (e.g. internet access) to get a decent job, lack of X makes you poor.

                But we don’t.

                The concept of “eliminating poverty” is one that makes sense to me… but my definition of poverty has to deal with a certain amount of nutrition, housing, some degree of health care, some degree of education, and some degree of stuff mentioned in that Heritage article (refrigerators, etc).Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              If the government is to inject any money into the economy, it stands to reason it ought to start at the very bottom, so it can percolate through as many layers of the economy as possible.

              Wages aren’t zero sum. If a job is worth doing, it’s worth paying someone to do it. Minimum- or sub-minimum wage jobs are just subsidising the customers who patronise that establishment.

              Let’s put aside the scrooge debate. I’ve already reason why tax cuts for the wealthy haven’t translated into gains for anyone farther down the food chain. The poor don’t squirrel their money away: they spend it all. They have to. This spending does benefit the economy.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                The poor don’t squirrel their money away:

                The rich don’t squirrel their money away, either. Scrooge McDuck’s vault full of gold coins is a cartoon, not reality.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                More econ for you, James. And more accounting, too. Christ, it’s as if some people don’t know how to read a balance sheet. What’s the difference between an asset account and a capital account, James?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Blaise, Shall we get into a battle to see who can be more condescending toward the other?

                Yes, I do know the difference. And it has nothing to do with the question of whether the rich “squirrel” their money so that it has no economic affect. Perhaps you can explain why you think it does. (Holds breath, crosses fingers, anticipates Blaise P. going off on a long rambling tangent.)Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Then what’s the difference between capital accounting and asset accounting? Hint: Cash is an asset.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Ah, no long rambling digression (damn, lost my bet), but an avoidance of answering my question.

                Sigh. A capital account is the difference between assets and liabilities. An asset account is any of a variety of assets, including cash, but also inventory, office supplies, accounts and notes receivable (what others owe to you).

                Now, how does that indicate that the wealthy put their cash where it doesn’t do any good for the economy? Because, again, the cash in an asset account is mostly not in a company vault but in a financial institution. It’s

                So, please, explain. And please, for once, just give a straightforward bare-bones explanation without getting all flowery and normative.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                So how do we book a stock purchase from primary market? Debit cash and credit ….Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                I asked for a clear explanation. I know little about the details of accounting, and I don’t pretend otherwise. So I’m requesting, sincerely, that you explain yourself. Because from my perspective it doesn’t appear that you’ve explained that the rich keep their money out of the economy.

                What it looks like is that you think if you present an accounting question I don’t understand, that you’ll have proved your point. But all you’ll have proved is there’s an accounting question I don’t understand, and that’s about as grand an achievement as beating up a two-year old.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                > Because from my perspective it doesn’t
                > appear that you’ve explained that the
                > rich keep their money out of the economy.

                Curiosity, James:

                Right now, I find this difficult to explain because I look at the economy and I see the liquid capital being punted around in the marginal areas of the economy because everyone is terrified of risk. It seems almost self-evident that nearly everyone (rich, and proxy rich) is trying to keep their money out of everything but the safest possible bets, e.g. Treasuries.

                When the U.S. government is selling 30 year bonds at an effective negative interest rate relative to inflation, and the market for them is *hopping*, that tells me that something effin’ weird is going on.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Pat,

                Yes, something weird is going on, no doubt. I’ve been struggling to understand it for several years now, but am bamboozled by conflicting arguments of people far more knowledgeable than I am. That’s one of the reasons why I get a bit riled by non-experts who make confident claims about what (they think) is going on.

                But, safest bets are not the same as not putting money into the economy. If you buy a T-bill, the money does not leave the economy. The government spends it, somehow, somewhere, whether on paying an economist in the NBER to try to figure out how to boost the economy, or on concrete for a road project, or for a few screws for an F-35, or whatever.

                Is it the best investment in terms of boosting the economy? I don’t know, and I’m not claiming it is. But “squirreling” my money away in treasuries is fundamentally different than “squirreling” it away in Scrooge McDuck’s bedroom.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                > But, safest bets are not the same as not
                > putting money into the economy. If
                > you buy a T-bill, the money does not
                > leave the economy.

                Tell that to the Tea Party 😛

                I think you and Blaise are (as often) talking past each other on this thread – you two do have a tendency to go off to hammers really quickly.

                His original point on this sub-thread was, “If the government is to inject any money into the economy, it stands to reason it ought to start at the very bottom, so it can percolate through as many layers of the economy as possible.”

                I think, given the current scenario, this is an eminently plausible bit of probably good advice. You responded with:

                “The rich don’t squirrel their money away, either.”

                Which is generically true, of course, but again, in *this current scenario*, this is a less pertinent bit of observation that isn’t as generally useful as the original point.

                The rich, currently, are not putting their money into highly liquid activities, which Blaise was (I think rightfully) pointing out with the capital vs. asset accounting comment.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Well, I can’t explain how capitalism works to someone who doesn’t understand how capital works. This is where Libertarian’s britches are always falling down: they simply do not have the foggiest grasp of how capitalism works.

                The whole point of capitalism is to get money to make more money. Nobody gets rich working for a living unless you’re in charge of someone else’s money. I recommend Fabozzi and Modigliani’s text on Capital Markets: Institutions and Instruments in the third edition as a good starting point.

                There’s lots more to learn, but it will disabuse you of these ideas about what rich people really do with their money. Their money doesn’t re-enter the retail market space, where you debit cash and credit sales and stock gets reordered. That’s the part of the economy where money does any good, but it will always trickle up, in accordance with the fundamentals of capitalism. So inject tax money as low as you can in the equation.

                If that money is moving around in venture capital markets, it’s going to purchase a corporation in whole or in part and that’s first market. Once the stock goes public, it enters secondary markets.

                Gotta learn the fundamentals of capital before you can talk about capitalism.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Pat,

                I don’t know whether injecting money at the top, middle, or bottom has the best effect. I doubt Blaise does, either. I doubt anyone here does, with the possible exception of James K, and I suspect he’d be hesitant to make a strong stand on it.

                But as evidence for his claim Blaise said “the poor don’t squirrel their money away,” which implies that the rich do. And my point is that this is false. The claim may be true, but if so, it’s not true for that reason.

                That is, his argument doesn’t provide support for his case, so we don’t know for sure if it is “an eminently plausible bit of probably good advice.”

                As to concerns about the rich putting their money in treasuries, anyone who wants government to spend more to stimulate the economy really can’t complain about that. If people didn’t buy treasuries the government couldn’t borrow in order to that spending. Now I’m not sure where you stand on fiscal stimulus, so that’s not necessarily directed at you. But it’s just to say that a person can’t simultaneously support more government spending and oppose the rich buying treasuries without being inconsistent. And I suspect more than a few people do in fact hold both positions simultaneously.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Ah, now I get the long rambling tangent.

                If you can’t answer the question, don’t try to blame me.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Their money doesn’t re-enter the retail market space, where you debit cash and credit sales and stock gets reordered. That’s the part of the economy where money does any good,

                See, that’s not an explanation, it’s simply another assertion. “That’s the part of the economy where money does any good,” is presented without giving evidence for why it doesn’t do good anywhere else. So really this is just an obfuscation. I’ve read too many student papers where assertions are simply repeated in different words, without ever getting to an actual explanation, to not have this kind of thing just jump right out at me.

                If that money is moving around in venture capital markets, it’s going to purchase a corporation in whole or in part and that’s first market. Once the stock goes public, it enters secondary markets.

                Yeah, the first market and secondary market isn’t what’s critical here. What’s critical is what the venture capital money does. When you say “purchase a corporation,” you make it sound like they’re buying GE or Mattel. It’s too vague, so it’s misleading. Venture capital frequently flows into startups, companies that wouldn’t really be able to get going without that investment.

                And in the secondary market, it’s true that buying a stock doesn’t directly create economic growth. And if you sell a stock and reinvest it in other stocks, you’re not directly creating economic growth. But somewhere along that line somebody is taking their earnings in the stock market out of that market and doing something else with it. If you stop with the first-order transaction, it’s easy to pretend nothing economically meaningful is going on. When you start tracing the actions of real individuals, that changes.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                It is an explanation, not an assertion. I’m not going to discuss the basic mechanics of capitalism with someone who lacks the fundamental vocabulary of accounting. You Libertarians think you can redefine every word in the dictionary, that’s your problem. You toss around words like Coercion and Free Markets without the foggiest idea of what those words actually mean. I am neither vague nor misleading. This is standard Accounting 201, Creation of a Corporation, it applies to every for-profit corporation in the USA.

                There are three ways to drive up the bottom line.

                1. Increase sales.
                2. Reduce overhead.
                3. Obtain investment capital.

                These represent the three parts of a balance sheet, assets, liability and capital. If a corporation is wise, it will look to sales first as a measure of corporate health, for sales produce profits. But if management is only driven by the stock price, especially if the stock price doesn’t move with sales, problems begin to appear and short sighted decisions might harm the company’s ability to make long term profits.

                You don’t understand the role of a VC. Only a handful of investors play the VC market, usually industry insiders. A couple of scruffy bright guys from Duke go down to the incubators at Research Triangle Park, who’s going to know these guys are going to create the Next Great Thing? I’ll tell you who, his faculty advisor and department chairman. The VC is rather like a record label: if you’re any good, they’ll find you.

                The VC market isn’t to be confused with the secondary market, where money moves around and only the financial industry makes any profit from it. Those profits do not re-enter the economy. The little guy with his 401(k) is not the beneficiary. Even if his investments make money, it’s locked into the system until he’s old and he’s only enriching the guys who manage his investments in the mean time.

                But this is all irrelevant. Money flows up. That’s where it stays.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                I do think it’s worth asking what Warren Buffet expected to do with forty-five billion dollars. (As it turned out, he used it to buy a secular indulgence.)Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Thank you, Blaise. It’s never a complete conversation with you until you’ve blustered, obfuscated, and blamed me for your inability to answer a simple question.

                You know I never actually expect an answer anymore. It’s just kind of fun leading you down the garden path until you entrap yourself.Report

            • Avatar M.A. says:

              Whatever their moral failures, the wealthy don’t stick their money under their mattress.

              This.

              It’s the paradox of thrift in action. There are a large number of companies sitting on some incredibly large cash reserves right now, which they are not spending while still getting massive tax subsidies and incredibly low tax rates in general. In Germany, Merkel’s government actually had to strongarm companies and demand that they increase hiring as repayment for the generous tax breaks they were given under Agenda 2010 or see the tax breaks repealed, but in the USA the republicans would never stand for something similar.

              The wealthy DO hoard; they hoard by simple hoarding of cash reserves, and they hoard by “investing” in vehicles that are only available and of benefit to other wealthy individuals.

              Increase the buying/investment power generally, for a larger number of people and you increase liberty for a larger number of people. I fail to see why it is a “libertarian” has a problem with that concept, except that libertarianism isn’t really a philosophy of liberty, it’s a religious doctrine that ignores reality.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                M.A., I’d explain the concept of investment for you, but I don’t think you’d get it.

                The wealthy do not hoard. Cash reserves sit in banks; banks make loans based on the cash they have. It’s true that banks have unusually high levels of reserves right now, but in general, no. You have a serious misunderstanding of what cash reserves means–it’s not stacks of dollars sitting in a company vault.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                “Investment”, in that most generalized sense, concentrates wealth from the bottom up. Especially when we get to the part where “capital gains” are a privileged set of income subject to much lower interest rates, and in which the ultra-wealthy can hide the vast portion of their income at that same lower rate.

                This is hoarding; both holding on to noninvested “liquid capital” and hoarding wealth in untaxed overseas accounts.

                Let’s try fixing the system. Screw treating capital gains as privileged income for the overprivileged, screw treating overseas assets as if they weren’t held by a US corporation. Treat it all the same and stop allowing the loopholes and the hoarding.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                “Investment”, in that most generalized sense, concentrates wealth from the bottom up.

                Now you’re shifting the goal posts. We were talking about whether investment creates economic activity. You appear to find that ground untenable, so you’ve dropped that claim, but without having the decency to admit it, and moved the goalposts to a different claim.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                “Investment” creates far less economic activity than would an increase in utility and liberty for far more people on the lower end of the spectrum. Much “investment” cycles directly back into the ranks of the upper level instead.

                There IS hoarding, which you refuse to admit. Right wing politicians and pundits like to scream all the time about companies “hoarding cash” and “not investing” because of a supposed “fear of what Obama might do.”

                You just want to have it both ways. If they’re not increasing jobs, they’re supposedly “investing” in other ways? Lending activity is at an all-time low. Multiple government programs since 2007 have been targeted to trying to get lending to increase because small businesses, the ones closer to the ground and with less income disparity between the top and bottom, were being choked off by banks themselves refusing to lend money.

                If that’s not the definition of hoarding, I’d like to hear you define what WOULD sastify your definition, Mr. Goalposts-Strapped-To-A-Golf-Cart.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                “Investment” creates far less economic activity than would an increase in utility and liberty for far more people on the lower end of the spectrum.

                That’s an assertion which you cannot demonstrate.

                In fact investment is what leads to increases in utility, because without investment all those things we consumers like–and which by definition increase our utility, else we would not exchange our dollars for them–would not exist. Before consumers could buy microwave ovens, before workers could buy them, somebody had to make an investment.

                I’m not arguing investment is superior to purchasing in terms of the overall economy. I’m arguing that neither ought to be seen as superior; neither ought to be privileged. People invest because others will buy; others are able to buy become some people invested.

                Lending activity is at an all-time low.

                I just love how you make this point without acknowledging that I basically made it before you did. But let’s ask ourselves, why is lending at an all time low? First of all, it’s not all the big corporations that are refusing to lend. Any big corp with cash reserves has them in a bank–they are lending it to the bank. So if there are low levels of lending going on, then it is either because the bank doesn’t want to lend or because people don’t want to borrow.

                Why would a bank choose not to lend? They have to pay interest on deposits, which they cover (and more) by loaning the money out to others, at higher rates of interest than they pay depositors. So if they’re not lending the deposits, they’re losing money on them. The only reason they could have for being willing to lose money by not lending is that they’re even more afraid of losing money by lending; that is, they are uncertain enough about repayment, whether because of the qualifications of the potential borrower or because of the state of the economy, that they expect to lose more by loaning than by not. (There’s actually another, exogenous, reason, but I’ll come back to that.)

                Or it could be that people are unwilling to borrow because they don’t see economic prospects as that great. They’re worried about ability to repay.

                In either case, it’s not hoarding in any meaningful sense. The financial institutions would prefer to loan, and potential borrowers would prefer to borrow, but either or both don’t see the conditions as being favorable toward that action right now.

                We’re not totally sure what’s going on. Interest rates are pretty low right now, so there ought to be more borrowing, but there isn’t, and economists are still debating the reasons.

                When we strip away the moralistic language, and stop assuming the worst about people, their actions are more understandable. We get a better sense of what’s really going on in the world. But we have to sacrifice the emotional satisfaction we get from moral outrage, and for some people that’s too great a sacrifice.

                Now, the exogenous reason for not loaning. A few years back the Fed started paying interest on reserves deposited with them. If you’re a banker in uncertain economic times, do you take a risk on a borrower or take the certain return from investing with the Fed? I’m not anti-Fed myself (a point where I differ with a great many libertarians), but I think this is a serious mistake on their part. That’s not to say that ending the payment of interest on reserves would suddenly lead to full economic recovery. I make no such grandiose claim, only that doing so would give banks more incentive to make loans.Report

              • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

                I’d guess that banks aren’t lending because they’ve lost their confidence about knowing good from bad investments, and are waiting for what gamblers who don’t shy from that name call a stone cold lock.

                At this point, I’m quite happy to fire them all, and let banks be run by the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                As I said, I don’t really know what’s going on with you, but I’m inclined to agree that this is a significant part of it. If they felt confident that they could distinguish good and bad prospects, they’d surely stop settling for (low) interest from the Fed and chase those good prospects. I’d only add–and I doubt you’ll disagree–that you should have said “unwarranted” confidence.

                At this point, I’m quite happy to fire them all, and let banks be run by the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory.

                You have that much confidence in the Adamses?Report

              • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

                Very nice. And confidence unwarranted to the point of Greek tragedy. Literally.

                (I used to work with a guy whose name was John Adams, and the rumor was that his middle name was “Quincy” and he was one of those Adamses. Given that he was a research chemical engineering, yes, I’d have more confidence in his competence than in anybody’s from Lehman. I would have heard if he’d blown anything up.)Report

  9. Avatar M.A. says:

    Many of these things are true; they fall upon the poor no matter what race.

    The Invisble Knapsack, a list of real effects that the writer ascribes to “white privilege.”

    Your example of changes in your work is important. I’ve seen the same thing. In a salaried position if I need to go home because of a sick parent or grandparent, the response of management is generally “take the time you need.” There are even special categories in which to note the leave time down that don’t eat my vacation days.

    Working hourly somewhere? Worse yet, part-time? I’ve had friends in that position. The response of their management is generally “be back by 7AM 3 days from now or look for a new job.”

    Of course my job has its own trade-offs. Trying to prove you can put in more unpaid overtime than the next guy, in order to avoid layoffs, isn’t exactly conducive to “dignity” either.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      It’s funny how anecdotes count as arguments but only if they’re used to show how white/libertarian/male/rich/American people are awful.Report

  10. Avatar Roger says:

    Erik writes: “The problem with inequality isn’t the gap between rich and poor, even though the word “inequality” suggests as much. The real problem with economic inequality is that we’ve created a system that’s structurally rigged against economic mobility. Of course, not everyone can be helped, and there’s truth to the “teach a man to fish” parable, but plenty of other countries have done a better job at improving economic mobility through more robust safety nets and better universal access to dignity-increasing-services, while maintaining market economies and hewing to basic market principles.”

    Though I basically agree, we need to clarify that mobility in the US has not gotten worse, nor is it out of line with other nations, except for a small sub class of the chronically poor.

    See Scott Winship’s data in this post or the links that Creon provided in the comments.

    https://ordinary-times.com/blog/2012/06/17/dont-eat-the-marshmallow/

    The mobility problem seems confined to a sub segment of the bottom quintile. There is a group of chronically poor people, and the issue is especially severe with a class of young males.

    The poor are getting just south of a trillion dollars in mean tested income transfers. Any way you divide it, that means that the income poor are not by any means poor according to consumption standards. Indeed, the data seems to show that poorly designed transfer programs are part of the problem with making the chronically poor so dependent.

    Erik : “People complain about welfare, but the real scandal is that so much money is spent to maintain a shameful status quo. Part of this is a problem with our government, and part of it is a problem with our culture.”

    Agreed 100%.

    Erik : “Inequality is not just about how much money we make, it’s about how we’re treated in society. Our prisons are not filled with young, middle-class men. White college kids who get busted for pot rarely do time in jail. This honor is reserved for the poor. Our system is structurally rigged against the least among us in ways that go far beyond our paychecks. We talk about freedom a great deal in our political discourse, and spend far too little time on human dignity.”

    Note that we never really had a conservative post on Inequality. My take on Charles Murray, oddly enough, is that he makes pretty much the same conclusion as Erik. The poor need dignity. What Murray adds is that dignity comes from accomplishment and responsibility.

    Murray writes that “People need self respect, but self-respect must be earned… And the only way to earn anything is to achieve it in the face of the possibility of failing…Responsibility for the consequences of actions is not the price of freedom, but one of its rewards. Knowing that we have responsibility for the consequences of our actions is a major part of what makes life worth living.”

    I read Murray based on the suggestion of Mark. His views are very different than mine and different from Erik’s. Yet in some ways we all see the problem similarly.Report

    • Avatar Erik Kain says:

      Very interesting, Roger. I agree that responsibility and hard work create a sense of self-worth and that these are extremely important. But I think we can work to create a better baseline without creating welfare traps in the process.Report

      • Avatar Roger says:

        I totally agree. We are wealthy enough to provide safety nets for everyone in the country. The key is designing nets that don’t trap or destroy dignity. Better yet, what would safety nets look like that actually promoted responsibility and dignity?

        Anyone care to weigh in?Report

        • Avatar M.A. says:

          I weighed in above and you were too much of a coward to respond again but sure.

          Key ways to design a safety net that doesn’t entrap or destroy dignity:

          #1 – stop the bullshit of spending too much time navigating the system proving you are “looking for work.”

          #2 – stop the bullshit of being forced to take menial-labor jobs, jobs that are outside your field, or jobs well below normal pay/benefits in your field because you’re at risk of losing unemployment for “turning down work.”

          #3 – Stop assuming that everyone can wind up going back to work the very next week. Getting fired is emotionally draining. Figuring out what happened, if you did something wrong, if it was just office politics, if it was a completely “impersonal” matter of corporate-raider layoffs to make quarterly stock reports look better… getting confidence back takes some time. GIVE people that time.

          #4 – Likewise implement stronger protections against age discrimination, racial discrimination, gender discrimination, and discrimination against the unemployed.

          #5 – Along with social safety nets, real reforms to help prevent crime and keep neighborhoods safe. Much of the problem for the USA is entire generations of lower-income kids who didn’t get what they should have out of their educations because they were too busy worried about not getting shot or robbed.

          #6 – Implement working wages, not just minimum wages. Kids raised in latchkey situations by two parents on menial salaries do poorly. Kids raised by parents trying to make ends meet in the revolving settings like Erik describes from his factory days don’t get quality time with their parents even when they get “time” with a tired-out parent.

          #7 – Go ahead and make some of the aid category-specific. Housing stipend, Food stipend, and a miscellaneous column. Can we stop every little abuse, or people playing games in the system? Of course not. Can we at least make it so that those who are playing by the rules have enough to get by with dignity intact? Yes.

          #8 – Accept that maybe-just-maybe, government jobs aren’t all bad. Private-sector job gains have been continually offset by public sector layoffs and the benefits have only flowed to the rich. Meanwhile, conservatives constantly scream about “making the unemployed work for their benefits.

          How about we just restore the government jobs they were working AT?Report

          • Avatar Stillwater says:

            MA, just a note. Roger isn’t a coward. He’s right here, arguing for his views, defending them, critiquing others, dialoguing. If he’s not conceding your arguments, it’s because he disagrees with them and not because he’s afraid to admit that you’re right.Report

            • Avatar M.A. says:

              He’s said he refuses to engage me. Fine. He can be a coward and ignore any point that is damaging to his arguments, but I’ll call him on it.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Fair enough. I hit on that below a bit as well, and it is a sticky problem. This might be one of those situations Hanley has talked about before: where one side argues their ideal against the other sides reality, and vice-versa. Problem is, libertarians are more or less willing to say that their ideal has never been realized – since it’s a grand vision – when that works for them as well. Ideals v realities. It’s hard to use one against the other without begging questions.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                their ideal has never been realized

                Nothing ever ends. There is no stopping point.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Sure. But that just means libertarianism is an inclination, a force, a perspective, moving political economy in a certain direction independently of how close or far it is to the ideal. And what is the ideal? Well, I won’t speak for libertarians about that, but it often takes the form of being a (dynamic) end-state. Libertopia.

                And that’s what’s used to argue against the evidence liberals provide to justify their views. So evidence derived from actual practices is dismissed as constituting a refutation of Libertopia because those practices wouldn’t exist in libertopia. And if so, there’s no way an evidential argument – the types of arguments which justify liberal policy positions – could be used to refute a libertarian proposal. The rejection of the evidence is circularly and question-beggingly justified by the prior acceptance of precisely the thing at issue: libertopia.

                I think that’s a pretty big problem.

                On the other hand, if libertarianism is just the inclination make sure coercive policy is justified given some reasonable metrics and moral properties, then I wouldn’t have any problem with it. But that’s usually (often, Jason K is certainly an exception, James H often is too) not how arguments are constructed. If they were, you’d see libertarians admit that liberals have met a burden of evidence to sustain their views – or better yet, you’d see an articulation of what evidence could sustain the liberals views. In fact, however, the opposite occurs. What ought to be considered reliable evidence based on reasonable metrics and moral properties is rejected by libertarians – again, circularly and question-beggingly – because the metrics and moral issues the liberal employs wouldn’t exist if libertopia obtained.

                So the takeaway is that libertarianism cannot be refuted, and liberal’s policy prescriptions cannot in principle meet the burden of evidence required to justify them. For the libertarian, libertarianism cannot fail and liberalism necessarily does.

                So the arguments go flying past one another without ever making contact.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                A “vector”?

                Because it’s a vector, it tends to be discussed as a direction we ought to go in. I’ve noticed that, in my discussions, it’s a vector we ought to go in rather than the one we’re going in.

                People ask me about the AnaCap Libertopia (a word I’ve seen used about as unironically by Liberterians as, say, “Politically Correct” was used by lefties in the 90’s) and I always feel like that’s not the point. It’s never been the point. Certainly not when compared to, say, The PPACA. As if the only options were the PPACA and the AnaCap Libertopia! (There’s also, say, America circa 2009.)

                So the takeaway is that libertarianism cannot be refuted, and liberal’s policy prescriptions cannot in principle meet the burden of evidence required to justify them. For the libertarian, libertarianism cannot fail and liberalism necessarily does.

                Surely the fact that liberalism always wins the policy argument and gets to implement laws must provide *SOME* consolation.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                The last time liberals got to put forth a “liberal” economic policy was the early 70’s. Obama’s basic economic plan has been George H.W. Bush with more Medicaid funding.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Surely the fact that liberalism always wins the policy argument and gets to implement laws must provide *SOME* consolation.

                This misses the point of the comment entirely.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                This deserves to be a front-page post.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                The problem with your vectors is that they map onto force (desire) irrespective of evidence.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                “The problem with your vectors is that they map onto force (desire) irrespective of evidence.”

                Were I to provide evidence of the importance of vectors (say, the existence of East Germany right next to West Germany), would that count for anything?

                Or would you argue that East Germany’s vectors don’t map, in any way, to your vectors in relationship to how West Germany’s vectors might map to mine?

                (Perhaps how my vectors take me to Somalia?)Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                You once again, as you like to do, skipped right past my objection to your view as if it was only a mirage or passing gas cloud of confusion in favor of reasserting your view. As if reasserting it answered my objection.

                That’s the part that gets very tiring JB. I don’t think I like playing with you any more, except if its on my terms. Sorry about that.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                So I even offered evidence and it wasn’t accepted.

                Is there *ANYTHING* that you would accept? Other than apologies and agreement (on, as you say, your terms)?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                JB, read the comment again. Here, I’ll paste the important part: “irrespective of evidence.”

                What the comment means: your conception of vectors is that they’re defined by political desires independent of evidence supporting them.

                What the comment doesn’t mean: there is no evidence for your conception of vectors.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                The fact that we have so much evidence that any new evidence we get is waved away as being reduntant by some of us should not be held against the rest of us.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                This entirely misses the point being made.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                The point is only entirely missed by some of us.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              Tho, I will give you some credit here as well. It’s hard to know exactly what constitutes sufficient evidence to refute a libertarian view, since the goal posts seem to change quite a bit…Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Part of the problem is that goalposts are set by the individuals in individual situations themselves.

                And, I dunno if you know any individuals, but the ones I know are about as sharp as a bowling ball and who are capable of regretting something the moment they get it.

                As such, *OF COURSE* the goal posts change quite a bit.Report

            • Avatar Roger says:

              Stillwater,

              As you know, you and I often disagree. However, when we disagree we do not start calling each other names or send FU video links or say the other one is a lying a..hole. Every conversation with MA degrades to him doing some combination of those three things. I ask him to stop and he refuses to comply with the spirit of this forum. I wish him well.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                I know Roger. I think you’ve been more than patient and fair. And I didn’t mean that last comment to be a criticism of you specifically. It’s more to reflect that I (think I) know what MA is trying to accomplish by citing evidence and what not and he thinks he’s made his evidential case, yet there’s no movement from libertarians in his direction.

                Maybe if he showed a little movement in ya’lls direction things would be different. But. No.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                To be real honest. I actually think he makes good points once in a while and he sometimes links good reference material. This is why it is tempting to engage him. It just always ends real badly.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                “Always” ends real badly.

                Like the time one of your friends took a “quote” from me, inserted a word, and then used it to accuse me of anti-semitism.

                Like the myriad times James Hanley has insisted that everyone else “has it wrong” about libertarianism without bothering to explain what he thinks they have wrong in favor of just shouting “wrong wrong wrong” over and over.

                Like the number of times you’ve made allusions to lazy, or greedy, teachers’ unions when the one time you actually engaged, I was able to show you all the evidence on the situation you were putting forth, show you the numbers, and you had to admit that you had no leg to stand on and that you were misquoting the “private sector union” member friend of yours. At which point you ran away and announced you refused to engage any more and went back to tossing out random insults at “greedy public unions.”

                And you wonder why I call you a coward.Report

              • Like the myriad times James Hanley has insisted that everyone else “has it wrong” about libertarianism without bothering to explain what he thinks they have wrong in favor of just shouting “wrong wrong wrong” over and over.

                Except for the myriad times he explains what he thinks they have wrong. You say “pot-ah-to,” I say “straw man.” Let’s call the….never mind.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                Dude, you really need to stop with the whole using “coward” when people don’t agree with you thing.

                It undermines whatever good points you’ve made.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                If he disagrees, and puts forth a rational basis for his disagreement and debates it fairly, no problem.

                If he’s going to ignore points made, or worse yet admit to being proven wrong only to an hour later go right back to “but damnit those greedy leeching evil public unions” as he did before…Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                FWIW, I suspect that the use of words like “coward” have more to do with his choosing not to engage you then your arguments. This is not a Roger thing, this is a human thing.

                So if you really want him to engage, try dialing down calling people’s manhood into question. Or if you really want to all people’s manhood into question, know that they will not engage you for long.Report

              • Avatar Mr. Blue says:

                It doesn’t take cowardice to refuse to engage with a bully. It takes common sense (that isn’t very common) and a respect for one own’s time (which, admittedly, I sometimes lack for).Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Like the myriad times James Hanley has insisted that everyone else “has it wrong” about libertarianism without bothering to explain what he thinks they have wrong

                What’s funny about this is that I’m pretty sure there’s more than a few people here who are sick of my going on and on with my explanations of libertarianism. 😉Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

                I actually think he makes good points once in a while

                [Citation Needed]Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                I’d agree with that, actually. I thought some of his stats about the poor and personal bank accounts above (or below?) were overstated, but on the whole I thought his main point was strong.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                I don’t know, Tod. Noting that the poor have diminished access to X is not exactly new. And he contradicted himself by complaining that urban blacks didn’t have access, then using a quote that suggested they didn’t want that access due to cultural norms.

                Obviously it’s not quite that simple. Make banks more available and eventually the cultural norm will change. But still, you can’t blame a business for not opening up shop where it’s not going to get much business, eh? It’s sort of a vicious cycle, suspicion leads to no banks which leads to more suspicion. But it’s not exactly the case, by his own selected quotation, that this is wholly a burden thrust upon the poor against their will.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                It’s not just that the poor have diminished access to X. It’s that the poor have diminished access to necessary institutions that are leaving them behind to cater to our desire for convenience.

                If you make $1,000/month after taxes a $25 monthly fee to have a checking account it s big eff-ing deal. And if you are not allowed a second chance after you bounce a check, the way you and I would be, that’s a huge deal. I’m not sure how other parts in the country are going, but there are now places in portland where you can’t buy things without plastic of one kind or another, and that’s a growing trend. A growing number of banks make fees to push us to do things like auto deposit, keeping 4 figures with their institution, or internet banking – and as time goes on those penalties for not allowing them to reduce personnel get harsher and harsher. It’s painless – if not awesome – for most of us, but if you don’t make enough to keep four figures in the bank or have internet access or a computer, you’re getting left behind.

                Is that the responsibility of the businesses to make sure they don’t get left behind? No, I would say not. But it is, I would argue, the responsibility of society at large to notice these things and find ways to do work arounds. Partially for the reasons of dignity Erik spoke so eloquently about, and partially because you’re society can’t be sustainable if you don’t and that subset of castaways constantly grows.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                “If you make $1,000/month after taxes a $25 monthly fee to have a checking account it s big eff-ing deal. And if you are not allowed a second chance after you bounce a check, the way you and I would be, that’s a huge deal.”

                I agree with your argument that everyone who buys car insurance should have exactly the same rate forever, no matter how badly they or persons similar to them drive.Report

          • Avatar Kolohe says:

            “#5 – Along with social safety nets, real reforms to help prevent crime and keep neighborhoods safe. Much of the problem for the USA is entire generations of lower-income kids who didn’t get what they should have out of their educations because they were too busy worried about not getting shot or robbed”

            That’s some mighty fine hand waving you got there. Also seems contrary to the fact that crime is currently at 40 to 50 year lows.Report

        • Avatar M.A. says:

          I had a reply placed but I must have used too many links. Would someone mind pulling it up?Report

  11. Avatar Kolohe says:

    “Indeed, although some may see a more robust welfare state as anathema to freedom, I see the trade-off as more than reasonable. If we can toss in an end to the war on drugs, corporate subsidies, and the wasteful, destructive trillion-dollar defense budget,

    A quibble with the last part. The military is one of the last places where a person with just a high school education can get a steady job – with family health benefits. Plus, some opportunities for promotion, and if he sticks around, a defined benefit pension. The reason why the DoD toys are so expensive is that they’re made and repaired with highly skilled -and highly paid – but fundamentally working class labor (with a not-insignificant union presence). And don’t forget, war socialism is what got us out of (at least) one economic mess and set the stage for the post-war model which everybody seems to be pining for.

    (but to be sure, some of the geographic incidence of current war socialism spending is why many right wingers tend to have a blind spot for this sort of spending or its socialistic attributes)Report

    • Avatar Roger says:

      I’d rather we had them dig ditches with spoons or cut the lawn with nail clippers.

      A concerned as I am with inefficiency and bloat in government, at least a lot of our transfer payments actually go to buying medical care or supporting senior citizens. I would love to see our military spending go down to about a fourth of what it is. The horror stories I hear on waste and inefficiencies from family members in the service.Report

      • Avatar Scott says:

        Roger:

        “I’d rather we had them dig ditches with spoons or cut the lawn with nail clippers. ”

        Why is that so much better than joining the military and learning a skill? All most any job you find in civilian life can be found in the military. Not to mention that the military will pay you while they you train to do the job.Report

        • Avatar Roger says:

          I was being facetious. I am all for learning skills, I just prefer it not to be learned while invading nations.

          I believe the military could do a great job defending us for a tiny fraction of what it spends.Report

          • Avatar Scott says:

            Roger:

            Surely you know that the job training the military offers has nothing to do with the order given to them by the politicians, so please don;t confuse them.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 says:

      We outspend the rest of the world on defense. We could cut the defense budget in half, and still have all that awesome +skills +jobs +super-great ego boosting soldier stuff.

      What we wouldn’t get would be massive profits for Lockheed, 30 years wasted on a “missile defense” shield that’s never going to freaking work (despite getting NASA’s budget and more each year)…

      Oh, and fighter planes that can fly in the rain. Unlike our F-22s, designed to fight against an entire class of planes that never actually got built. We’ve lapped the world on technology.

      And what did we learn? We needed boots, not planes to fight non-existant Russian fighters. Drones worked better (but fighter jocks are cooler and make Lockheed more money!).

      The future of military is such that frankly the smart move for the US is to slash the defense budget, jettison the bulk of new systems, and focus on the real world. Not how many gizmos we can fit into a plane or carrier — despite the fact that our planes and carriers from 30 years ago are still capable of destroying the next best in the world without actually trying.

      Double the size of the Army. Slash the air force. Retask the Navy. Heck, double the marines. Oh, and deprivatize all that “logistics” stuff. (That’ll save you real money, and your troops won’t die trying to turn on the shower).

      Waste, fraud and abuse are the go-to words for every branch of government BUT defense. Is it any wonder that defense is where all the fat actually is? No one dares trim it.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        Defense industry profits (at what I believe was their peak) was only 25 billion. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/15/defense-industry-profits-911_n_927596.html Leaving over 600 billion on everything and everyone else. You cut defense spending, you cut jobs. Some of which people have worked all their lives. But I’m a heartless libertarian, so I don’t particularly care. But a government job is a government job in the Keynesian sense.

        “Double the size of the Army.”
        To do what?

        “Slash the air force”
        No problem

        “Retask the Navy”

        To do what? (or rather, what do you think they are doing now?)

        (if you want to hear my dream scenario, it would be to abolish the active duty army, double the Marines, fold all Army and Marine aviation assets in the Air Force, and keep the rest of the Navy pretty much the way it is. (‘cept give CO of the carriers to the surface fleet; the CAG is part of the Air Force now)).Report

        • Avatar M.A. says:

          “Double the size of the Army.”
          To do what?

          I don’t care if we stick surplus army members on civil projects. Hell, we could double the size of the army and have many of them working on those much-vaunted “winning hearts and minds” projects we seem to love overseas so much. Maybe leave a few of the places we “bombed back into the stone age” with working water and electrical?

          “Retask the Navy”
          To do what? (or rather, what do you think they are doing now?)

          Most of what the US Navy today seems to do is run around the world providing taxi service for the marines or air force, or occasionally trying to scare off pirates around Africa. Now I’m all for shooting down or scaring off the pirates, but it seems if we are the only ones doing it and we take all the cost then something is seriously fished up.

          (if you want to hear my dream scenario, it would be to abolish the active duty army, double the Marines, fold all Army and Marine aviation assets in the Air Force, and keep the rest of the Navy pretty much the way it is. (‘cept give CO of the carriers to the surface fleet; the CAG is part of the Air Force now)).

          I wouldn’t abolish the active duty army; like I said, if we have to, put ’em on projects that don’t involve killing people for a while.

          Double the Marines? Don’t know about that.

          Folding all aviation assets into the Air Force? Well, that’s more or less how it was originally. But you’ll have to break down the institutional walls between the groups.

          Personally I’d take the Marines, Army Rangers, and Navy Seals and fold them all into one service; we don’t need three different special-forces groups. Likewise the split of the “Coast Guard” and “Navy” seems kind of silly. We could really bring it down to just 3 groups; Army, Air Force, Navy and let the Army hold the special-forces group.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            The military is the worst investment of tax dollars, bar none. The military is an Un-Corporation. Every make-work campaign is doomed: for every job worth doing thus created, you’re only taking that job from the private sector. Richelieu and the Rope.

            The Romans used their army as engineers but their projects had strategic value: roads, bridges, walls, fortified encampments and the like. If they put up some temples, those had political value, of a sort.

            As for your rejiggering of the order of battle, the military is constantly doing that, anyway.Report

            • Avatar M.A. says:

              The Romans used their army as engineers but their projects had strategic value: roads, bridges, walls, fortified encampments and the like. If they put up some temples, those had political value, of a sort.

              Great. Let’s quintuple the size of the Army Corps of Engineers, cut the rest of our bloated military in half, and get the assholes to work fixing the decades-old decaying infrastructure around the country.

              Wouldn’t that be a better use of our resources than bombing some poor country out of the stone age and back into the cave age?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                No. You are creating make-work jobs. A soldier or sailor or Marine or airman has an MOS, a job description. Having him do anything but his job is the worst possible idea. All your little Engineer Corpsies are taking jobs away from legitimate, tax-payin’ companies perfectly capable and willing of doing those jobs. Corps of Engineers is not in the business of repairing crumbling infrastructure beyond their mandate of levees.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                And Mr. P is entirely right on this. Furthermore, while people mostly join the military for the educational benefits, they put up with a lot of the B.S. because every so often they get to do cool things like blow stuff up. If it becomes *all* ditch digging, you’re going to find a heck of lot fewer volunteers and/or people that stick with it.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                You are creating make-work jobs. A soldier or sailor or Marine or airman has an MOS, a job description.

                We need less soldiers, less sailors, less Marines, less airmen, and more engineers. Make ’em retrain.

                All your little Engineer Corpsies are taking jobs away from legitimate, tax-payin’ companies perfectly capable and willing of doing those jobs.

                And given the rates of fraud in those companies? The rates at which infrastructure has crumbled because nobody has spent the money hiring them? We can either put the money into companies where some asshole will eat 30% off the top, or we can do it without a 30% middleman overcharge. I suggest the latter, we’ll employ more people than they do and we’ll get the job done better too.

                Corps of Engineers is not in the business of repairing crumbling infrastructure beyond their mandate of levees.

                The National Road, until 1838.
                Panama Canal.
                Bonneville Dam.
                Manhattan Project.
                NASA facilities.
                Everglades restoration plan.
                Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.

                Washington Monument.

                There are a hell of a lot of things they CAN do. Restricting them to mostly levees and waterways is a fishing stupid idea. Broaden the scope, and if you have to change somebody’s MOS and retrain them when you reduce one section of the military and transfer them to a new department, for fish’s sake just DO it rather than bitching about it.

                Unless you’re of the “once a preprogrammed killer, always a preprogrammed killer” opinion, in which case we need a section of the US to house our preprogrammed killers away from the general population once we’ve used them up.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                This Fraud line of argument goes nowhere with me. The first abuse of government power, the one part of this debate the Libertarians have right, is government distorting markets for goods and services.

                Even FDR at his socialist worst did not propose to enlarge the scope of the military. He confined the WPA and CCC and all the rest of his seemingly-socialist employment schemes to applications the market could not solve. What’s next? Government grocery stores?

                In the days of Cardinal Richelieu, when the Sun King ruled as the most powerful autocrat Europe ever knew, France was behind in the Naval Arms Race and Great Britain was way ahead. France had lumber to build ships but the shipwright is a skilled trade. But sailing ships of the day required miles of rope. Richelieu set the poor of France to making rope.

                This enterprise damned near bankrupted all the legitimate rope makers of France, who petitioned the King, who summoned Richelieu. To his credit, Richelieu realised his error and thus we have the parable of Richelieu and the Rope: while government can employ people to do the nation’s business: soldiering and the like — for every worthwhile job thus created, one job is removed from the private sector.

                Which isn’t to say American infrastructure doesn’t need investment: it does and the problem’s getting worse. It’s rather like someone coming to the doctor with gangrene when that injury might have been treated with two stitches and some antibiotic. What might have been easily fixed with a million dollars now costs ten million because ongoing maintenance wasn’t done.

                Planning the order of battle is always troublesome. Though every armchair general will emit cheap bromides about how the military is always fighting the last war, it’s hard to predict what sort of war we’ll face in the future. I favour an order of battle driven by intelligence, not a bunch of Pentagon Types with vested interests in continuing the latest Truncheon Bomber program.Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                First of all, the kinds of things combat engineers are taned to do is very different from the kinds of things civil engineers are trained to do.

                The kinds of things that lie outside a combat engineer’s ambit of training have little combat utility (which is one reason why they are not trained as such) That’s why civil engneers don’t really have a place in the military.

                i.e. since you are basically proposing to nationalise a massive section of the enginering industry, I wonder why you think it necessary to incorporate said nationalised industry into the military. As BlaiseP has noted above, militaries are among one of the leastt efficient organisations in the world.

                Also, WTF? you want to freaking nationalise the civil engineering industry? are you nuts?

                http://economicsonline.co.uk/Business_economics/Nationalisation.html

                Make ‘em retrain

                You know, this really costs you the argument. If in order for your proposed solution to work, you need to force people to take up particular jobs, you know sothing has gone really wrong.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                Murali,
                your ignorance is showing. What a combat engineer knows is surprisingly similar to a civilian job… just not engineering. Put ’em to work in quarries, and other places where blasting is what’s needed. (limited public works).Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                I see. This explains the large number of job requirements I see for mine clearing personnel.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                All true, but M.A. is right in that it would, albeit wasteful, at least be less wasteful than what we’re currently doing with the military. 😉Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                ARGLE! so speaks someone with no clue how much the Army Corps of Engineers live to destroy things. Seriously. “flood control” my tuchus!Report

        • Avatar Morat20 says:

          Double the size of the Army to do what?

          Have you been sleeping the past decade, or what? The Army practically broke itself trying to handle Iraq and Afghanistan, and that was meeting troop committments that everyone and their dog knew was a fraction of the size they needed.

          We need boots more than tanks these days, because warfare isn’t going to be heavy armor divisions fighting each other.

          Retask the Navy? Frankly, most of the Navy seems to exist to support aircraft carriers, which seem to exist solely to menace the snot out of other countries with our planes. Get rid of them — the future of air warfare lies in unmanned aircraft, which free from the requirements to support a meatbag pilot, are far superior.

          Once you get rid of the carriers you can slash the snot out of the rest of the Navy. heck you could replace most of the heavy firepower with submarines loaded with GPS cruise missiles and still need only a fraction of the ships. Retask it for pure logistics and anti-submarine warfare. Maybe some specialists for mines and the like.

          But again, the future ain’t carrier battles either.

          Double the marines? Back to boots on the ground here. Manpower.Report

          • Avatar Kolohe says:

            Well, the obvious solution to the problem of handling Iraq was not to handle Iraq. Another practical solution to handling Iraq and Afghanistan is to call the problem handled when we got done with the part we’re good at and get the fish out.

            It seems odd that we’re really bad at nation building, but really good at keeping state actors on their sides of the lines on the maps, but you wish to double down on the former and dismantle the latter.

            And was a problem with the Libya Operation that we didn’t send enough (or any ground troops?) Likewise that we didn’t send a mass of ground troops to Kosovo, vice the 700-1000 that we’ve had there for a decade http://www.nato.int/kfor/structur/nations/placemap/kfor_placemat.pdf

            Btw the Air Force is half logisitics – so you really can’t ‘slash’ the Air Force if you actually want to insource the logistic chain. But I’m with you on the future of aviation in unmanned assets. It was really the height of turf protection when it was fine for tech sergeants to pilot the flying killer robots in the R&D phase, but once they went operational, they needed an officer with wings on his uniform and who went to SEER school.

            I’m all for increasing submarines, it’s how I used to earn a living, and may be how I earn a living in the future. but they ain’t cheap either, bout 2 billion dollars apiece at last accounting, and that’s just to buy them. Maintenance and operational costs are not trivial either.

            and the anti-piracy ops are indeed part of a mulitnational mission http://www.cusnc.navy.mil/cmf/150/index.htmlReport

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              The Air Force should be split in two: Space Command and Everything Else. Everything Else can be subsumed into the Navy without too much troubleReport

            • Avatar Morat20 says:

              They’re cheaper than carriers + escorts, which is an outmoded concept. And they’re naturally better suited to handle enemy subs and aircraft, which is pretty much why a carrier is surrounded by escorts.

              And you can say “The obvious answer to Iraq was nto to go there” but we did. And even fi we didn’t, that doesn’t change the fact that we’re facing a world where our military interventions are going to boil down to two sorts: Those carried out by unmanned aircraft, and those involving occupations and pacifications.

              The former means you can ditch the bulk of the air force, especially the pointless expensive bits. The latter means you need a lot more soldiers, a lot more armored transport, but a lot less tanks.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                I’ve often heard the quip ‘cruise missile liberal’ but never think I would see ‘cannon fodder liberal’

                Also, remember Pentagon Wars staring Sideshow Bob and the Dread Pirate Roberts? http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0144550/

                It’s the (mostly) true story of the clusterfish of a project developing an armored transport. So your plans are probably not going to eliminate wasteful defense spending, just shift it around the complex.Report

  12. Avatar Miss Mary says:

    I’m glad you posted this, even if it was a little late ;). This reminds me that I need to read your stuff more often.Report

  13. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    These may seem like small things, but then again, how much do you value your access to the internet at work?

    Negatively, actually. For me it was always more of an unwanted distraction than a valued perquisite.Report

  14. Avatar James K says:

    This is an excellent piece Erik.Report

  15. Avatar Kyle says:

    Time for my semi-annual, ‘oh hey I have time and miss the League’ post. Great post, this is par for the course, naturally, but still an enjoyable post, Erik.

    I was interested in this comment/question:

    “Managers do face a different kind of stress and responsibility, but this is more than made up for (typically) by increases in pay, autonomy, power, and self-satisfaction. Meanwhile, those at the bottom rungs have little access to small perks…These may seem like small things, but then again, how much do you value your access to the internet at work? … And how do you suppose these small indignities and miniature restrictions to your autonomy add up?”

    I question the assumptions at play here. One of the things my mother has repeatedly mentioned is that some of the times of her life when she was the poorest were also the happiest. In fact, she’s always had a healthy skepticism of wealth accumulation that I think operates from the assumption that ‘mo’ money’ invariably comes with ‘mo problems.’ But it goes to illustrate that what constitutes valuable autonomy and freedom is highly subjective. More importantly, I think by laying out a continuum of dignity using money and class as an axis, obscures a lot of the work that culture plays at all ends of that continuum.

    Take for example, an interracial or same-sex couple. A lower class worker might be restricted from having their cellphone out, or lack access to the internet, or have a highly regimented work schedule, but be otherwise completely free to form the interpersonal relationships they want without any impact on their wage-earning profession. The higher up one goes, the more social expectations that largely conform to heteronormative, monoracial ideals govern and affect your professional life. So coming back to the couple, they might have more autonomy and convenience in their day-to-day wage earning life, but at the cost of greater scrutiny of their personal life. Thereby trading the indignity of the “iPhone restriction” for the indignity of wondering, “will my spouse be accepted by my coworkers?” in an environment where that’s required for advancement, comfort, or even just keeping a job.

    This post is a good comment on of the uniquely limiting and disabling effect of poverty on human dignity and autonomy. However, it feels very much like a middle class critique, concerned that the problem with inequality is that the poor are not free to live their lives in ways that the middle/upper-middle class value. I worry that such a focus loses sight of the way that culture affects human dignity and autonomy and the very real ways in which cultural norms in America support human dignity across classes in ways that can be unique even compared to other Western democracies that might have more equitable wealth distribution. I don’t think there’s necessarily a trade-off or even clear connection between wealth and culture as it relates to human dignity and freedom, but I think there’s more to explore here.Report

    • KYLE!!!!

      The League misses you, too.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Dude! Show up more often!Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      I think you’re right about the middle-classness of some elements of Ed’s post, though I think his focus shows that he has a genuine sympathy for the working class and poor. With all the focus so far being on income or wealth inequality, it’s very easy to lose sight of very real issues that are only tangentially related to wealth, and I think focusing on dignity, or something like it, helps to open up some windows that, when we are focusing only on material wealth, get completely obscured behind curtains (or big screen TVs with Xboxes).

      Which brings me to this:
      I worry that such a focus loses sight of the way that culture affects human dignity and autonomy and the very real ways in which cultural norms in America support human dignity across classes in ways that can be unique even compared to other Western democracies that might have more equitable wealth distribution.

      I wonder if you could expand on this a bit, particularly on where you see the U.S. doing better than other Western democracies. My experience has been the opposite, in part because in the U.S., inequality is so deeply tied to race, but also because of the rise of our prison state, the war on drugs, the increased villification (starting in earnest in the 80s) of certain social programs associated with poverty (food stamps and welfare, e.g.), the near death of organized labor, etc. But perhaps you see things from an angle I’m missing.Report

      • Avatar Kyle says:

        Oh, I agree, I didn’t mean to imply that Erik wasn’t sincerely concerned about the working class and poor. More that we tend to accept upper middle-class values as normative and define the problems of inequality in relation to that baseline without questioning whether they ought to be.

        As for expanding on the comparative aspect, I should explain that I assume that inequality as relative, and we only care about inequality insofar as relative deprivation affects things we actually care about. This is why there are 310 comments on wealth inequality but virtually none on say inequality of charisma or beauty. So while it might be harder to be poor in the US than in say western Europe, I actually think it might be harder to be poor, young, and Muslim in say France than here, once you factor in the cultural component. Or Pakistani or Indian in the UK. Or Turkish in parts of German, etc… Consider also the relative power and acceptance of religious minorities between America and Europe. Anti-Islamic and anti-Semitic attitudes are constant on the continent, whereas here we have a Mormon with a legitimate shot at becoming President.

        Though imperfect in America (particularly along the black-white binary and with the alienation of some Latino communities) the discussion we’re not having about America is how there is a growing underclass of young, poor, minorities and how to integrate them into American culture. I think that’s important. Racial disproportionality, is a feature of American inequality but potentially less alienating than in Europe. By the same token, if you expand the comparison to other, non-western, non-democratic countries, the degree of personal freedom one has to choose a religion, choose a partner, etc… becomes more important and may simply matter much more to some people than material inequality. Importantly this goes both ways. It’s probably easier to be poor and gay in Western Europe than in America.

        Moreover, one thing that gets glossed over a bit in cross-Atlantic comparisons is the comparative power of European and American elites. If we look at political inequality, it exists everywhere. Yet, Washington seems to care a lot more about working class opinions and votes than Brussels does.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          I think Washington cares a great deal about working class votes. I’m not sure it cares even a tiny amount about working class opinions, except to the extent that so caring is required to get those votes. I don’t want to get embroiled in a discussion of what is, or is not, the matter with Kansas, if for no other reason than the fact that such discussions ignore the fact that liberals and conservatives both play a game in which lip service is paid to the social and even economic concerns of the working and middle classes (the poor? not so much), while underneath the workings are all about the upper classes. Because that’s what they really care about: the money that maintains the power, and the power that maintains the money.

          In Europe, the racial dynamics are definitely tricky, but I’d argue very similar to what we’re seeing with illegal migration from Latin America here, with one major difference. There, unlike here, immigration from Africa, central Asia, the subcontinent, and the middle East has overreached job availability, which has created a great deal of tension over and above the racial tension (and which has, in fact, reinforced the racial divides). The only thing more difficult for fairly a fairly culturally (and racially) heterogeneous society to deal with than a recent immigrant with a radically different cultural background is a recent immigrant with a radically different cultural background and no job. In the U.S., on the other hand, the available work for recently immigrated unskilled workers is effectively limitless. So we openly tolerate undocumented immigrants in the business world (see above about money and power) even as we vilify them in our political discourse (see above about paying lip service to the social and economic concerns of the working and middle classes).

          That said, Europe still has us beat, by a long ways, on things like the prison system, the welfare system, housing, food insecurity, health care, etc.

          On the other bit, I think the focus on wealth inequality is endemic: it’s how we view inequality because it’s how we view pretty much everything else. Materialism tends to blind us to, well, just about everything else. Hence the uproar, a few years ago, about homeless people with cell phones, to take one example. Don’t get me wrong, I think because of our system, wealth inequality is important. I know from my own life experience that a lack of wealth can trump just about everything else. It’s hard to worry about much else when you’re worried about how you’re going to buy food or pay the rent. I still remember the sense of relief, and of the lifting of a burden, the first time I got a pay check that covered more than just rent, food, and maybe electric. But much like our myopic focus on wealth in discussions of inequality, wealth inequality itself is a symptom of a broader form of inequality between classes, races, ethnicities, even regions, that our system maintains. I don’t know that “dignity,” which is both a subjective and somewhat nebulous concept, is going to help us to begin talking about inequality in a broader context, but at the very least it shows that it’s possible to talk about without focusing exclusively on wealth.Report

  16. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    What exactly does “dignity” mean, in this context?Report

    • Avatar Erik Kain says:

      I don’t think it means anything different than in any other context.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        Dignity, as I understand the term, refers to an intrinsic aspect of one’s character or behavior, rather than something you can get from a government program. The way it’s being used here suggests to me that you must have something else in mind.Report

        • Avatar M.A. says:

          When most Americans think “the poor”, they think of something like this. Or else PeopleofWalmart.com.

          We fail to acknowledge the number of people with untreated and even undiagnosed mental illness among the poor; this includes people with attention disorders, disorders that cause or contribute to paranoia, or disorders that make it extremely difficult to maintain a steady job. The poor are less likely to see doctors, less likely to get referred to mental health professionals, less likely to have medical insurance to cover it and coverage for therapeutic drugs if needed.

          We fail to help these people due to conservatives insisting that public programs “coddle” the poor. We fail to have adequate shelter arrangements, we fail to staff assisted living homes that could assist more of these people in staying regular on medication to help them live productive lives.

          Some people need more help than others, but we fail to account for this in favor of one size fits all approaches. That’s not dignified and dooms many in the system to repeated failure.Report

        • Avatar Erik Kain says:

          Brandon, your use of “government program” here is silly. You speak as though it’s a black and white issue, as though the many ways that the state and civil society interact and shape our lives all result merely in *choices* that then result in dignity or a lack thereof. Of course, this is not at all true. The ability to send your kids to a good public school isn’t necessarily something you gained through choices at all. More than likely, you also went to a good public school. Your family is comprised of people who went to good schools, etc; for poor families stuck in poor neighborhoods, those same choices don’t necessarily exist. Would a better public school (which, let’s face it, is a “government program”) help? I think so. Better roads (also “government programs”)? Better police? Dignity is partly gained through personal choices, hard work, etc. but it’s also largely circumstantial – the result of choices and actions far outside one’s own control.Report

          • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

            I wasn’t really intending for “government program” to carry any normative connotations there. I didn’t even mean to suggest that use of means-tested government programs might be negatively correlated with dignity. I just don’t see that dignity, as I understand the word, has anything to do with material wealth. I’m not at all sure we have the same definition in mind.

            The ability to send your kids to a good public school isn’t necessarily something you gained through choices at all.

            Sure it is. You choose where to live, and the set of places you can afford to live is a function of other choices. Ideally your school wouldn’t be tied to your residential address, but that’s the system we have, and it is very much possible to work the system through personal choice.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          This is the tension that I see when it comes to the Safety Net:

          It is possible to provide the bottom level of Maslow’s Hierarchy. It’s possible to provide some of the second level, to some degree.

          After that, those things get achieved by the individual (and I don’t see how we can really provide those things systematically). Dignity is one of those things in the upper tiers… and, ironically, it seems to me that it is taken away by such things as having the items in the lower levels regularly provided by the safety net.

          This is not to say that we shouldn’t have a safety net, mind… just that there are spiritual (for lack of a better word) costs to it in addition to the mere monetary costs.

          The legion/flood of petty indignities that come from being poor can be mitigated somewhat on a systematic level… ending the war on drugs would do a great deal to help with regards to crime (and free up funds for such things as libraries)… but the biggest culprit is culture and how people will fight to fill the upper levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy (even if the lower rungs aren’t stable)… and attempts to change the culture *WILL* result in a loss of stability for those higher levels.Report

          • Avatar DensityDuck says:

            Actually, welfare does indeed provide the higher levels of Maslow’s Heirarchy.

            to the welfare providers.

            The recipients, well, um, something something if you don’t want police then move to Somalia!Report

  17. I’m coming to this late, but this was a fantastic post, Erik.Report

  18. Avatar Pyre says:

    Jaybird’s blog is discussing the whole Mass Effect 3 thing again and, despite it’s intended purpose, it got me to thinking about this post.

    Namely, how much do we actually care about such inequalities? Sure, those of us who have time to read blogs may talk about it but do we actually care about it?

    When Occupy was trying to expand it’s reach among the minority community, one of the most common responses was (Paraphrased from sites such as Occupydahood) “When we were protesting, noone cared. Now that white college kids are feeling the crunch, we’re expected to stick our necks out to help them.”

    This year’s “Worst company in America” poll did not go to Bank of America for kicking people out of their homes or to Comcast for testing out how well they can skirt net neutrality rules or any of the other contestants. It went to EA because Mass Effect 3’s ending really sucked. Yes, there were other reasons and, in fact, Mr. Kain has written a number of articles on Forbes about those other reasons but, if we are honest about it, it was the Mass Effect 3 ending that had everyone vote.

    I just don’t think that a society that gets more worked up over ME3 than people getting kicked out of their homes really cares enough to actually alter the system. Sure, we may talk about it in the same way that Facebook talked about Kony or Justin Timberlake put up a Tumblr decrying child sex slavery but, at the end of the day, is anything really going to get done or will we just talk about it until Bioware screws up Dragon Age 3?Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      It went to EA because the kind of people who vote on things on the internet are far more likely to read about video games on weblogs than they are to have anything to do with Bank Of America beyond maybe a credit card.Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

        It is fair to point out that most people who report on games made fun of gamers for making EA the worst company in the world. Of course, since most people on the Internet who comment on things hate game journalists, that just made them more upset.Report

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