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Andrew Sullivan points to Ron Brownstein on the Census Bureau report on income, poverty and health insurance coverage in 2008 to find that on every major measurement…

…the country lost ground during Bush’s two terms. While Bush was in office, the median household income declined, poverty increased, childhood poverty increased even more, and the number of Americans without health insurance spiked. By contrast, the country’s condition improved on each of those measures during Bill Clinton’s two terms, often substantially. […]

That leaves Bush with the dubious distinction of becoming the only president in recent history to preside over an income decline through two presidential terms, notes Lawrence Mishel, president of the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. The median household income increased during the two terms of Clinton (by 14 per cent, as we’ll see in more detail below), Ronald Reagan (8.1 per cent), and Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford (3.9 per cent). As Mishel notes, although the global recession decidedly deepened the hole-the percentage decline in the median income from 2007 to 2008 is the largest single year fall on record-average families were already worse off in 2007 than they were in 2000, a remarkable result through an entire business expansion. “What is phenomenal about the years under Bush is that through the entire business cycle from 2000 through 2007, even before this recession…working families were worse off at the end of the recovery, in the best of times during that period, than they were in 2000 before he took office,” Mishel says.

I first came upon that census report via John Dickerson in The Slate Political Gabfest. Dickerson was struck by the increase in the poverty rate, to 13.2%, which is the first statistically significant annual increase since 2004. The definition of poverty used for the poverty rate, he explained, is $22,000 for a family of four; $17,000 for a family of three; $14,000 for a family of two.

Think about that for a second. 13.2% of Americans, more than 1 in 10 of us, make that little money.

But it was income inequality (which did not go up from 2007 to 2008) that appears to be why Dickerson paid particular attention to the census report. His example was this WaPo piece that asked 100 Washingtonians from all walks of life what they made. There you can compare Grover Norquist to Sonia Sotomayor or the police chief to the panhandler or Marion Barry to…

I was struck by Dickerson’s observations because back in April I sent the Gabfest folks an email pointing to the book, The Spirit Level: why more equal societies almost always do better. In it two British academics, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, find that almost every modern social and environmental problem — ill-health, lack of community life, violence, drugs, obesity, teen pregnancy, mental illness, long working hours, big prison populations — is more likely to occur in a less equal society.

The chart at the top of this post is from the book (click for a larger view). Jeff Ritterman, M.D., has read it. He observes:

In the Gilded Age of the robber barons, income distribution in the U.S. was very unequal (see the graphic below). This was one of the causes of the Great Depression. FDR’s New Deal can be interpreted, in large measure, as a program to reverse income inequality.

In a stunningly short time, called the Great Compression by economic historians Claudia Goldin and Robert Margo, America underwent a significant redistribution of income. While historians offer a variety of explanations for the Great Compression, what is clear is that income was much more fairly distributed.

This relative equality produced the middle class America that I grew up in. Of course, there were rich and poor people, but nothing like the extremes of wealth and poverty that we see today. This middle-class America lasted until the late 1970s, when the trend toward greater inequality began to accelerate.

Today, we are faced with the same degree of income inequality as existed during the Great Depression. We can take our cue from FDR. It’s time for another great compression.

I got an email back from Jefferson Pestronk, a now former Gabfest intern, thanking me for my thoughts and assuring me that “Emily, John, and David read every email that comes in to the Gabfest and really value the feedback they receive from all the loyal listeners.” I’m guessing they’ll talk about the book when it’s released in the U.S. on December 22.

Today the topic of income redistribution is red meat for the Palin crowd. But if Wilkinson and Pickett’s research holds up, greater equality holds the key to life expectancy, decreased infant mortality, improved child well-being, reduced obesity, lower homicide rates, decreased school dropout rates, lower teen pregnancy, increased levels of civic trust, improved voter turnout, decreased drug abuse, lower incarceration rates, decreased rates of mental illness, and improved social mobility based on merit.

For more on The Spirit Level, go to Wilkinson and Pickett’s Web site.

JOE WINDISH, Technology Editor
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Copyright 2009 The Moderate Voice
  • DdW

    Joe:

    I was frankly stunned by the information in your post, especially : “Today, we are faced with the same degree of income inequality as existed during the Great Depression.”

    Since one of the sources is Lawrence Mishel, president of the “left-leaning” Economic Policy Institute, I am curious to see whether those who disagree with these findings will—in addition to, I am sure, pointing this source out and anecdotally disputing the stats–provide facts and data to contradict or discredit your post.

    In the back of my conscience I am hoping they will, as I really believe this is shameful.

  • Thanks, Joe, for this article. It seems that the saying about rising tides lifting all boats does seem to hold true…just not in the way it’s generally used. When I see numbers like this article shows, it makes me hope that those who think those of us who want to help the poor rise from poverty and strengthen the middle class because we think the rich undeserving of their great wealth will understand that that is not the case. Progressives don’t think this at all, we merely feel that a healthy and huge middle class is actually better for everyone, for those at the top and the bottom of the economic scale. These numbers seem to bear that out. Raise the tide, yes! But that means not leaving those at the bottom behind.

  • pacatrue

    Yeah, terrific post. I’m going to link this way from my own blog, which will bring you an additional 2 readers perhaps. The graph with the Great Compression is particularly remarkable.

    FWIW, I just checked the demographics in my birth town in rural Louisiana. 40% of families there are below the poverty level.

  • superdestroyer

    What else would you expect from the changing demographics of the U.S. More than 20 years ago, Ben Wattenberg pointed out that the families capable of providing the best homes for children are having the fewest children while the families least capable of caring for children have the most children. To avoid the negative impacts of unlimited illegal immigraiton and a growing underclass, the middle and upper middle class families are having fewer children while illegal aliens and the welfare class keep having children.

    Another point to be made is that if the U.S. had the demographics of Sweden or Norway, the U.S. would be better off while maintaining every else the same. Also, all of the countries listed are small compared to the U.S. A better comparison would be other countries with populations of more than 250 million and countries less than 70% white.

  • Dr J

    “FDR’s New Deal can be interpreted, in large measure, as a program to reverse income inequality.”Oh for crying out loud. I have no idea what’s plotted on the Y-axis of that graph, but it didn’t start compressing until we entered World War II, a decade after the New Deal.As for the rest of it, it’s a rather breathtaking jump from correlation to causation. I note that in the FAQ posted on equalitytrust’s website, virtually every question calls them on this point, and their answers are no more than a hand-wave. The poor couldn’t possibly be poor because they don’t work as hard, didn’t spend the time in school to pick up the skills needed for better jobs, or immigrated from countries where the opportunities to develop higher-paying skills didn’t exist; in fact that’s such a crazy idea we need not even entertain it. They’re equally open-minded about The Remedies, welcoming both kinds: both taxing *and* spending.However, could someone please explain why more taxing and spending has so far failed to reverse the trend in whatever-it-is, yet we may be confident that more will succeed?

    • kathykattenburg

      The poor couldn’t possibly be poor because they don’t work as hard, didn’t spend the time in school to pick up the skills needed for better jobs, or immigrated from countries where the opportunities to develop higher-paying skills didn’t exist; in fact that’s such a crazy idea we need not even entertain it.

      It’s definitely not the first, because poor people work harder than anyone else in society, at jobs that are consistently harder physically and that call for massive levels of emotional and psychic endurance as well.

      Lack of education, or lack of the right kind of education, is definitely a factor, but then again what’s the point of recognizing that if you’re going to oppose most if not all public spending to change it?

      • Dr J

        It’s definitely not the first, because poor people work harder than anyone else in society

        Do they? In some cases, certainly. But jobs that pay well often do so because they demand more time, and you don’t get to shut them off for evenings and weekends. Not everyone is willing to make those trade-offs.

        Moreover if that income graph is based on IRS data, that’s reported by household rather than individual. The top 20% of households actually has more individuals in it than the bottom 20%, nearly twice as many wage earners, and more hours worked per wage earner to boot. These statistics are tricky to do properly, so a graph with a mysterious label like “Share (in %)” is hard to interpret fairly.

        What’s the point of recognizing that if you’re going to oppose most if not all public spending to change it?

        School funding is the one class of spending I generally vote for, but it would be a lot easier if I saw more responsibility and accountability in the system I’m funding. The New Yorker article I linked above about teachers unions’ surreal (and largely successful) campaign against accountability was especially discouraging.

  • pacatrue

    Lots of issues in Dr_J’s comment. I agree with him that one cannot immediately conclude that the proper response to the inequality is for the federal government to redistribute. That could be the case, but more argument is needed. However, many of the ideas that Dr J presents don’t hold up either without more argumentation. If the poor are poor because they don’t work as hard, why did they start getting lazier around 1987? Same with: why did they decide to not pick up skills or to immigrate right around 1987? Of course something like immigration from specific nations COULD have picked up in the mid to late 80s, but we’d have to have evidence this is true.

    My own total speculation is that this was the period in which the U.S. economy re-shaped itself from a manufacturing base to a service / knowledge base. From WWII until the mid 80s, millions of people with basic high school diplomas could get a decent paying job. But starting around the 80s, it’s those jobs which have disappeared. Now, people end up more in low paying service jobs (Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest employer comes to mind as it spread around the nation right around this time) or well-paying but highly educated positions. So I’m suggesting that people didn’t stop picking up skills: They acted the same way they always have regarding education, but the good jobs they used to be able to get left.

    But that’s speculation as well, so people should feel free to point out that this hypothesis doesn’t work with the timeline either.

    • adelinesdad

      “Of course something like immigration from specific nations COULD have picked up in the mid to late 80s, but we’d have to have evidence this is true.”

      Fair enough. http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/statistics/yearbook/2008/ois_yb_2008.pdf (page 13 of the PDF) shows that “Persons Obtaining Legal Permanent Resident Status” from Mexico was almost 3 times larger in the 90s than it was in the 80s. And that’s only counting legal immigration (I don’t know if the numbers in the Census Bureau income illegal immigrants or not). I think it’s fair to say globalization has had an impact on our income distribution, as lower-skilled workers are coming up against increased global competition for their jobs.

  • sandymchoots

    The analysis cited in this post is breathtakingly bad. Jeff Ritterman, M.D. really thinks that the Gilded Age caused the Great Depression? The Depression has been analyzed by lots of economists for decades, but I’m not aware of any who attribute it to the distribution of income.

    As another commenter has noted, the “index” plotted on the vertical axis of the diagram is completely unspecified. It is entirely possible that the weights attached to each item in the index were chosen in order to generate the desired correlation with income inequality. That is not an unknown practice in such studies.

    Does any sensible person seriously think that the only thing keeping the U.S. from achieving Japanese crime rates and obesity levels is our comparative income inequality? What about the obvious reverse causation running from social dysfunction to poverty? What about the comparative influx of relatively low-wage immigrants into the U.S. over time compared to Japan or the Scandinavian countries? The same households simply do not stay mired at the bottom of the U.S. income distribution–there is ample evidence on this point.

    FInally, the sample of countries in the graph as shown omits all the world’s poor countries and its fastest-growing countries. I wonder if you can guess what their inclusion might do to that lovely correlation line.

  • Leonidas

    My own total speculation is that this was the period in which the U.S. economy re-shaped itself from a manufacturing base to a service / knowledge base. From WWII until the mid 80s, millions of people with basic high school diplomas could get a decent paying job. But starting around the 80s, it’s those jobs which have disappeared. Now, people end up more in low paying service jobs (Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest employer comes to mind as it spread around the nation right around this time) or well-paying but highly educated positions. So I’m suggesting that people didn’t stop picking up skills: They acted the same way they always have regarding education, but the good jobs they used to be able to get left.But that’s speculation as well, so people should feel free to point out that this hypothesis doesn’t work with the timeline either.

    I think thats a pretty good speculation there, and likely is a good part of the reason. Also one has to consider globalization, and the technology age. The rest of the industrialized world has caught up with us to a large degree and the rise of the economies in Asia have surely impacted our manufacturing sector and blue collar jobs. Technology just escalates this as manpower is less in demand.

    • Don Quijote

      To which I would add five more factors:

      1) Weak Unions that have been unable to force their employers to share the profits from the technological gains in their paycheck or in time off. (Cheap Labor Conservatism)

      2) A flattening of the management structure which prevents employees from moving up the corporate ladder.

      3) An automobile based society which makes it very difficult for those without access to an automobile to function like full members of society. ( Hard to get a job in the suburbs, hard to shop at BJs/Costco/Sams Club/etc…)

      4) NAFTA, It has destroyed small scale farming in Mexico, sending hundreds of thousands into the cities and creating a wave of immigration into the US that is destroying any leverage that labor may have had. (Cheap Labor Conservatism)

      5) H1Bs which does the same thing to the technical classes in the US. (Cheap Labor Conservatism)

      • Dr J

        No Don, NAFTA didn’t destroy small scale farming in Mexico. When NAFTA passed in 1994, the price of corn had already fallen 75% from what it was in 1974 as agriculture turned to mechanization and economies of scale. The writing had been on the wall for small farmers for years.

        Similarly, to the extent the income gap in America has been widening, it’s because the productivity gap has been widening. The best paying jobs in our economy require a higher order of skills than the best paying jobs did a few decades ago, and too many people are caught under-skilled. They’re paid less, relatively, because they’re less productive. The solution is not to force someone to pay more for lower productivity, but to help these workers raise their productivity.

        Education is the one remedy on Wilkinson and Pickett’s site I agree with. Unfortunately you can’t in the same breath call for stronger unions, since teachers’ unions are way too powerful in our education system.

        • Don Quijote

          No Don, NAFTA didn’t destroy small scale farming in Mexico.

          Fourteen Years of NAFTA and the Tortilla Crisis

          The population working in the primary sector (agriculture, livestock, forestry, hunting, and fishing) fell drastically, from 8.2 million people in 1991 to 6.1 million in 2006. This was intended by the authors of neoliberal policies, who believed that national development depended on a reduction in the size of the population working in the agricultural and forestry sectors. Those working in the primary sector represented 26.8% of the total working population in 1991 but only 14.6% in 2006.10 According to a study commissioned by the government, the number of agricultural households diminished from 2.3 million in 1992 to 575,000 in 2002, and those with mixed incomes dropped from 1.5 million to 900,000 over the same period.11 Mexico’s inability to compete with the United States in the agrifood sector has spurred the recurrent migration of farm workers and threatens to eliminate the future generation of farmers.

          Unfortunately you can’t in the same breath call for stronger unions, since teachers’ unions are way too powerful in our education system.

          Since the South-East is predominantly right to work States, one would assume that having either no Unions or very weak unions their school systems would be superior to those of the North which have strong unions.
          US Chamber of Commerce – Education Report Card
          Best High Schools: State by State Statistics

          Funny, I don’t see any Southern States at the top of that list…

          So maybe we can stop arguing that Unionization is a major factor in poorly run schools…

          Now knowing that many Corporations have committed crimes over the years and have abused the privileges incorporation gives them, when are you going to call for the elimination of the Publicly Traded Corporation?

          • Dr J

            Don, if you want to prove NAFTA caused a problem, you need to analyze what happened with it versus what would have happened without it. Studies that have done this carefully if anything embarrass us liberal trade advocates in the other direction: NAFTA’s effects have been generally positive but far more modest than we might have hoped. In the case of small farmers, they had been getting less competitive for decades–both in the US and in Mexico–and many have disappeared in both places. You cannot plausibly claim it wouldn’t have happened without NAFTA.So maybe we can stop arguing that Unionization is a major factor in poorly run schools…If you’d like to exonerate unions, it’s not enough to show that there are some states with even bigger problems in their schools (which you only made a start at), you need to show unions aren’t culpable elsewhere. If you read that New Yorker article, you will find that hard to do.

          • Don Quijote

            if you want to prove NAFTA caused a problem

            I don’t have to prove anything, other’s have done it and basically NAFTA has been a disaster for Mexico… If you have any doubt

            Hope that NAFTA would enable Mexico to export its way to prosperity has largely vanished. In order to relieve the pressures of unemployment, Fox has been badgering George W. Bush to liberalize migration, create guest-worker programs, and provide Mexican migrants with civil rights and social benefits. The Mexican president regularly refers to migrants in the United States as “heroes,” and their remittances have become one of the country’s most important sources of foreign earnings.The White House has been unresponsive. After Fox — facing a July election with 80 percent of Mexicans opposed to the invasion of Iraq — declined to join Bush’s war coalition, Washington is even less interested.In time White House pique will fade. But, in any event, Mexico cannot develop by sending its most ambitious and industrious workers to the United States. It is not the poorest and least educated that migrate; it is the working-class risk takers — those who save up the $2,000 to pay a smuggler to take them across the river and who, once in the United States, sacrifice to send home their exploitation wages. Mexico needs these people. It paid for the cost of their upbringing and education, in effect subsidizing U.S. consumers of low-wage work.The Mexican government, aided by some U.S. foundations and nongovernmental organizations, is attempting to channel migrant remittances into quasi-governmental credit unions that would provide capital to businesses and local governments. This may be useful. But migrants send money home for immediate consumption to maintain the living standards of parents, grandparents and children in a depressed domestic economy. It is an odd notion of economic development that rests on the meager savings of low-wage Mexican workers in America while wealthy Mexicans regularly ship their capital to New York, London and Zurich.In fact, for Mexico’s oligarchs, the public focus on the condition of Mexican workers in the United States has the great virtue of diverting political attention from the condition of Mexican workers in Mexico. Fox has been eloquent on the maltreatment of undocumented migrants at U.S. farms and factories. Rightly so. But he has been silent about the harsh and brutal conditions suffered by Mexico’s own domestic migrants, including those as young as 11 years old who were found — after Fox’s election — to be working in his own vegetable packing plant.

            NAFTA and Mexico’s Agrarian Apocalypse

            The migration of impoverished subsistence farmers from southern Mexico that swelled the Mexico City misery belt in sprawling slums like Nezahualcoytl was the first concrete evidence of the evisceration of the “campo”, ventures Harvard professor John Womack in a recent e-mail. Womack is the author of the definitive biography of Emiliano Zapata, the incorruptible farmer-general who remains emblematic of the campesinos’ struggle for land.

            NAFTA-TLCAN, which, after all, is an integral part of the same scheme of “structural adjustments” to globalize Mexico’s agricultural sector and force dependence on export cropping, has only accelerated the stampede from the countryside and into the migration stream. By the trade treaty’s 10th anniversary in 2004, NAFTA-TLCAN had driven 1.2 million farmers off the land, according to a Carnegie Endowment evaluation of the pact’s impacts issued that year. Since each farm family averages out to six people, the total number of expulsees from the campo hovers around 6 million.

            In 1993, just before NAFTA-TLCAN became fact, Mexico’s Secretary of Agriculture contracted UCLA professor Raul Hinojosa to calculate the fallout amongst poor farmers. The researcher’s worst-case scenario was the diaspora of 10 million campesinos. Now, with the reduction of NAFTA-TLCAN tariffs to zero, that “goal” is just around the corner.

            Where do they go? During ex-president Vicente Fox’s six year term in office, 2.4 million Mexicans, 70% of them reportedly displaced farmers, migrated to the U.S. despite the formidable barriers erected by Washington to keep them out. U.S. anti-immigration pundits like Lou Dobbs and Republican and Democratic presidential hopefuls that beat up on undocumented Mexican workers might do better to pin the tail on the correct donkey – the North American Free Trade Agreement.

            According to CONAPI, Mexico’s Council on Population, 29 million Mexicans and Mexican descendants now live in the United States, two million more than live out in the Mexican campo from which so many of them have fled. Ironically, those 27 million who remain on the land back home are sustained by the $22,000,000,000 USD in “remisas” that those who have gone north send back, Mexico’s second source of Yanqui dollars behind $100 barrel petroleum. Which is to say the Mexican agricultural sector is supported by those who have abandoned it.

            Probably Mexico’s first source of Yanqui dollars now that the price of a barrel petroleum has gone back down.

            And that says it all…

            If you’d like to exonerate unions,

            You’re asking me to prove a negative, it can’t be done… But I am eagerly waiting for you to apply the same standards to Corporate America. Generally speaking when it comes to social policy in the US proximity to the Canadian Border can be used determine it’s quality. The closer a state is to the Canadian border, the likelier it’s school system, health care system and welfare system is to be good to high quality, and the reverse is also true, the further one is from the Canadian border, the more screwed up a state will be.

          • Dr J

            Don, what that article says is “it will be hard to ignore how much in Mexico has not changed under Nafta.” That suggests unfulfilled hopes, but it isn’t evidence of a disaster. Again, you have to compare what happened with NAFTA to what speculations about would realistically have happened without it, not best-case scenarios people hoped for or even that politicians promised.

            You’re asking me to prove a negative, it can’t be done…

            Huh? That was the negative you asked me to agree with. You claimed to have proved it with some argument about right-to-work, remember? “Maybe we can stop arguing that Unionization is a major factor in poorly run schools,” you said. Now you’re saying it can’t be proved at all?

            Relax, it’s quite provable, you just have to show some other problem matters more. We only have 50 states, and hey, I’ll settle for the one I linked the article about.

          • Don Quijote

            That suggests unfulfilled hopes, but it isn’t evidence of a disaster.

            When a country exports 2.4 million people in a ten year period, and has as it’s major source of hard currency, the remittance of those people, you have a disaster on you hands…

          • Dr J

            How many would have emigrated without NAFTA?

          • Don Quijote

            How many would have emigrated without NAFTA?

            A lot less… Subsidized US corn would not have destroyed the local farming industry in a mere ten years.

          • Dr J

            A lot less…

            How do you know?

          • Don Quijote

            Huh? That was the negative you asked me to agree with. You claimed to have proved it with some argument about right-to-work, remember? “Maybe we can stop arguing that Unionization is a major factor in poorly run schools,” you said. Now you’re saying it can’t be proved at all?

            You claimed that Unionization leads to bad school systems, I pointed out that most of the states with weak or no unions have worse school systems than the states with strong unions. Looking at the educational outcomes, one would be tempted to say that school systems with strong unions produce better results than those with weak unions.

            When a right-to-work state has a better educational system than Massachusetts, Minnesota or Vermont, you may have an argument against Teacher’s Unions, but so far you don’t.

          • Dr J

            You claimed that Unionization leads to bad school systems, I pointed out that most of the states with weak or no unions have worse school systems than the states with strong unions.

            And you might well come to that conclusion if you’re not going to investigate any more deeply than that.

            The fact remains California schools are struggling in no small part because of our teachers’ unions. As in New York, it’s virtually impossible to get rid of poor teachers, yet teacher quality is the number one determinant of how well students do.

            But hey, feel free to stick with your latitude theory, I’m sure it will lead to great ideas for improving our schools. Starting, presumably, with relocating them north.

          • Don Quijote

            But hey, feel free to stick with your latitude theory, I’m sure it will lead to great ideas for improving our schools. Starting, presumably, with relocating them north.

            Not my theory, Senator Patrick Moynahan’s theory.

            Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once puckishly said that data indicated that the leading determinant of the quality of public schools, measured by standardized tests, was the schools’ proximity to Canada.

            The fact remains California schools are struggling in no small part because of our teachers’ unions. As in New York, it’s virtually impossible to get rid of poor teachers, yet teacher quality is the number one determinant of how well students do.

            California has Unions, and Schools that are not performing up to standards, ergo it’s the fault of the Unions.
            Mississippi has no Unions, and Schools that are not even close to performing up to standards, ergo it’s the fault of the ???????.

            Since there are no Unions to blame in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida could we actually proceed to determine what is their cause of failure? Funding? Demographics? Bad Management? Crappy Curriculum? Poorly Trained Teachers?

  • DLS

    “Jeff Ritterman, M.D. really thinks that the Gilded Age caused the Great Depression? ”

    It’s just another round of myths and whining. I suppose someone desperate will try to extend this somehow to health care, our current “racist” as well as insufficiently egalitarian system, et cetera.

    Insisting on revival of the 1960s is retarded as well as long obsolescent (like living in the Detroit automaker bubble — which is still alive and well, and related to that, the presence of city unions and bad city government in the case of Detroit and its failing school system, among other things).

  • DLS

    “Andrew Sullivan”

    Is he going to whine and lisp about this predicament on the Diane Rehm show (on NPR), too?

  • DLS

    “to the extent the income gap in America has been widening, it’s because the productivity gap has been widening”

    This book, written by a sane Democrat in the 1990s, discusses it, and even quotes liberal political writers (more than economists!) such as Robert Reich and Lester Thurow to support his description of the way things are now. It’s not a 1950s and 1960s with no foreign competition, a world of people paid excessively to tighten bolts on assembly lines (one bolt-tightener is about as good as any other), but now a global market place, where there’s a vast disparity in individual productivity and ability to earn compensation, and where unskilled and low-skilled work that can be done cheaply in other nations will be done there or for comparable rates here in the USA, or not at all.

    (The following book also discusses the failure of trying to have government substitute for the family.)

    http://books.google.com/books?id=gxYdofJnAmkC&dq=%22tragedies+of+our+own+making%22+neely&printsec=frontcover&source=bl&ots=F2cm0ElQVT&sig=BsEndxwJ1tyIZMvWHZ6R2hWRwFI&hl=en&ei=wJSuSuLlE4j8MMWqrfIN&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1#v=onepage&q=&f=false

  • DLS

    I got a copy of Wattenberg’s “The Birth Dearth” years ago. (A more contemporary work is Phillip Longman’s “The Empty Cradle.”) While the activists insist on being ignorant of the truth, since 1960 the fertility rate in nearly all the world has plummeted (not limited to the OECD nations) and many nations already are below replacement level fertility. The UN as well as other organizations knows that a major problem most of the world is going to face this century is that of population aging and even population (and economic) decline.

  • DLS

    “When I see numbers like this article shows, it makes me hope that those who think those of us who want to help the poor rise from poverty and strengthen the middle class because we think the rich undeserving of their great wealth will understand that that is not the case.”

    Everything has to be kept in proper context.

    We’ll never have absolute equality, or the approximation of it under totalitarian command-and-control regimentation (even if some lib Dems still believe in it and want it for us, exempting them from the results, of course).

    I wouldn’t have faith in anyone nowadays at Census or elsewhere to do any up-to-date research into poverty (including its definition and establishing an up-to-date real-world federal poverty level, which I’ve been interested in for quite some time). This is the Census that is likely to be manipulated and corrupted next year by the likes of ACORN and activists in the Bureau, similar to gun control or to global warming lunatics corrupting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, etc.

    I would have no faith that any current government agency would properly derive an income (or wealth) equality or inequality (deviation) measure based on a log-normal distribution of income (or wealth) or another real-world measure rather than a plain Gini coefficient, which is divorced from reality and which is misused.

    I have no faith in any of the notorious people in Washington now to make the distinction between the inequality resulting from the premium on education and skills and great disparity in productivity now versus an obsolescent state of affairs decades ago, and inequality in undeveloped nations that arises from cultural failure, “failed states” as functionining societies, or from despotism as well as corruption and other ways people abuse each other.

    I fear that we’re too likely to see people in Washington behaving as the likes of these people,

    http://ourfinancialsecurity.org/issues/

    with even more sinister threats of extra-national (global) extension of government economic mischief.

    (We won’t see reform in Michigan, either)

    http://www.businessleadersformichigan.com/files/MichiganTurnaroundPlanFINAL9-9-09.pdf

    Washington makes the people at Responsible Wealth non-threatening, by comparison.

  • kathykattenburg

    But jobs that pay well often do so because they demand more time, and you don’t get to shut them off for evenings and weekends. Not everyone is willing to make those trade-offs.

    I’m kind of dumbfounded here. I don’t know what kind of jobs you imagine poor people work at that can be shut off evenings and weekends.Cleaning offices and hospitals? Making beds and cleaning rooms in a hotel? Custodial work? Working in a restaurant kitchen? You think work like that can be turned off on evenings and weekends? Not to mention the fact that many, if not most people who fall below or hover just above, at, or near the poverty line have to work more than one job to have any chance of making ends meet, *and* not to mention the fact that many families classified as working class fall into that group only because the adult members of the family are working multiple jobs and would fall into poverty if they did not.

    The major difference in what “working hard” means for poor people and upper middle class to wealthy people is that the latter get to do their extra hours in a comfortable office or in the club car of a suburban train or in their office at home, and the former get to do those extra hours in the same place they do every other hour — in a hot kitchen, in the bus or train station scrubbing floors, or maybe in an illegal sweatshop assembling widgets or dolls or toys.

    School funding is the one class of spending I generally vote for, but it would be a lot easier if I saw more responsibility and accountability in the system I’m funding.

    I’m glad, but I have to tell you that it’s easy to call for more responsibility and accountability from teachers (which is, I am guessing, the class of school employees you have in mind when you talk about responsibility and accountability) and forget, or never realize in the first place, that in the vast majority of school districts, teachers do not get even a minimal amount of support from the system they’re working in to do their job responsibly — and yet by far most of them DO. In fact, many of them go well beyond just meeting their responsibilities.

    I know this from personal observation, having been in the NYC school system for about a year. I was training to be a teacher through an alternate certification program, and I had to leave the program because I could not find a teaching job. That in itself is extraordinary in a system that needs teachers as badly as NYC’s does. But that’s the least of it. During my months of student teaching and classroom observation, I did not see a single teacher who was not dedicated, responsible, hard-working, and passionate about doing whatever it took to enhance learning. Even my supervising teacher, whose classroom I worked in, whom I could not stand to work with because she was a total control freak and would not let me do any teaching on my own, was a gifted teacher. She had problems delegating and managing adult assistants, but she was a very good teacher. And these were the most difficult of difficult students to teach — inner city kids with, in many cases, anywhere from terrible to profoundly tragic home lives and personal histories, filled with anger, and having multiple learning deficits. I don’t know how she did it.

    • adelinesdad

      That’s the problem with simplifying the debate down to who works harder. The famous/infamous “invisible hand” of the market encompasses way more than just hours worked. It involves making good and productive decisions. Society benefits when I make a good risk/benefit decisions (like starting a successful small business). And so it rewards those decisions. If I decide to invest my money in something less productive and/or more risky, I’m likely to lose money and have to work harder to make up the difference. So the debate over “who works harder” I think misses the point.

      In general I’m a free market supporter (not a popular position these days), but I have to agree with both Dr. J and Kathy that education is one of the keys here. The labor market doesn’t work well unless everyone starts with reasonably equal opportunity. I can’t look at a high school with an over 50% drop-out rate and think that those kids have anywhere near the opportunity that others have. I’m glad we’ve found common ground on this. Better education is likely to decrease the income gap (in the good way–not the way the recession has), as well as address some of the social problems. So, regardless of where you fall on the causality issue, that’s a win-win.

    • Dr J

      I don’t know what kind of jobs you imagine poor people work at that can be shut off evenings and weekends.

      Well, take bus drivers here in San Francisco. Terrific people as a rule who deal with more traffic frustration than I’d wish on anyone. They work their shift, they go home, they’re done. What’s more, their union has negotiated lax enough attendance requirements that they can simply blow off work 10% of the time (in other words, more than a whole month out of the year–in addition to scheduled vacation) with no consequences. As a result scheduled buses often don’t appear, since there’s no one to drive them.

      So compared with my 60-hour weeks, they don’t seem to be working that hard. And to be fair, it’s a stretch to call them “poor” as the average salary is $70,000.

      In the vast majority of school districts, teachers do not get even a minimal amount of support from the system they’re working in to do their job responsibly.

      I agree, and what we give them instead is a lot of micromanagement. California dictates all sorts of things about how teachers can do their jobs, and the No Child Left Behind program has layered a whole new set of requirements on top of that. It’s all insane, yet it could all be quickly straightened out if we just started measuring results. I find opposition to doing so (and it comes loudest from teachers’ unions) simply inexcusable.

  • adelinesdad

    I do think the growing income gap is a problem, but I agree with previous commenters that the omission of the fact that causality is not shown in this post is striking. I can’t prove it (causality is notoriously difficult to prove) but it seems to me to be just as likely (if not more so) that it is the social ills that are causing the income disparity, rather than the other way around. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t do anything about the social ills or the income disparity. Both are problems, and they are probably related, but I don’t have much confidence that redistributing income is going to have a great impact on social problems.

  • pacatrue

    I agree that causality hasn’t been demonstrated (which is why one should read the actual book), but I don’t think we can dismiss it easily either. I’ve said this a bunch of times now, but most humans are indeed social animals. It’s often not the exact things we have that we measure ourselves by, but how we fit in with those around us. When we feel like we aren’t getting a fair deal, many, many of us choose to drop out or get angry, etc.

    “What’s the point of getting this degree, it’s not like someone like me is going to ever be hired.” And so on.

    Later we come along and say, reasonably, “well, he never got that education he needed like others, so that’s what’s caused his low income.” By itself, this could be true, but it was the perception of no hope which made him choose not to get the education.

  • kathykattenburg

    The famous/infamous “invisible hand” of the market encompasses way more than just hours worked. It involves making good and productive decisions. Society benefits when I make a good risk/benefit decisions (like starting a successful small business). And so it rewards those decisions. If I decide to invest my money in something less productive and/or more risky, I’m likely to lose money and have to work harder to make up the difference. So the debate over “who works harder” I think misses the point.

    But doesn’t that kind of beg the question of what makes a small business successful? In other words, you say the “invisible hand” of the market rewards those decisions that produce success. But by the time the success comes, the decisions have been made already. How does the “invisible hand” know in advance that the decisions will be successful?

    This is not intended snarkily. The “invisible hand” concept has never made sense to me.

    • sandymchoots

      The uncertainty about the ultimate success of a new venture can be daunting. Small-scale entrepreneurs may put their life savings on the line in hopes of success. When they do succeed, they join the ranks of the rich, and become objects of envy. When they fail, they either rejoin the ranks of ordinary workers or try to finance another venture. The “Invisible Hand” metaphor is Adam Smith’s way of describing how entrepreneurs’ quest for wealth is likeliest to end well if they are good at discerning what customers will want before the customers themselves are offered new choices. There is no predetermination in the concept.

    • Dr J

      How does the “invisible hand” know in advance that the decisions will be successful?It’s a good question that I’d approach from the demand side. In a well-running market, demand creates supply, as if by magic. If you go to the store hoping to buy rice, they have it. Need an affordable place to live? You won’t find your dream castle for nothing, but you’ll have a range of choices at a range of price points. Want illegal drugs? Visit the right corner of town, and it turns out a bunch of criminals have gone to extraordinary trouble to make some available. This all sounds simple, but gathering all the data on who wants what and how much they’re willing to pay and who can be engaged to produce it and when it will appear and how much it will cost is extremely complex. When a central agency tries to take it all on, they never do it well. You get bread shortages in stores. You get rent control giving existing tenants a sweet deal, while people who need a place to live can’t find one at any price. Some things get priced too cheap and they run out. Other things are priced too high, nobody buys them, and they go to waste.The invisible hand doesn’t “know” anything in advance; its advantage over the central agency is flexibility. When people start to need things (or when someone anticipates people will start to need things), suppliers can react quickly to provide them. When there’s a bumper crop of avocados, or an unusually lean harvest, prices adjust quickly to throttle demand so it matches supply. When someone starts a business with a good idea that meets people’s needs well, they get rewarded. When someone starts one with a bad idea that no one wants, they quickly are forced to close their doors, and the people and capital freed to find something useful to do.

      Given a finite number of people and money to put to work, where to allocate resources for the greatest overall benefit is a daunting, almost hopeless problem. Until you distribute the problem to millions of people and let each of them solve a little piece of it. That’s the secret of the invisible hand.

      • kathykattenburg

        Dr J, you absolutely astound me. You can look around you at the actual world that exists outside your door and conclude that the “invisible hand” of the market is working this way?All I can say, for now (because I’m sort of truly tongue-tied at the moment) is that when I was being evicted and had no money to move anywhere, and couldn’t find any job at all, even one that paid crap, the “invisible hand” of the market did not “sense my need” — even though, I hasten to add, I was hardly the only one to whom these things were happening. I lived in fear (terror, really) of being homeless, of having to sleep on a bench or live in a homeless shelter, until I decided to try applying for Social Security Disability (because my disability, clinical depression, is a significant part of what makes it so difficult for me to hold a job), and was blessedly fortunate enough to be approved without having to appeal. Now I am getting a monthly check, and will continue to get a monthly check, indefinitely — not huge but enough to pay my rent and have a few hundred left over for essential or important expenses — and I will (hopefully) never have to worry about being evicted again. In addition, in two years I will qualify for Medicare, and when I reach retirement age, in three years, my SSD check will automatically convert to retirement benefits. The amount will not change (except for cost-of-living adjustments), but I will not have to re-apply.It wasn’t the “invisible hand” of the market that did this for me, Dr J. It was the government. And I thank God that the country I live in still has some semblance of an understanding that government is good, not bad, and that it’s there (or should be) to help people when the “invisible hand” of the free market lets them down.Thank *God* for government. All praise for government. I celebrate government. I cannot praise government highly enough.

        • sandymchoots

          You didn’t comprehend a single word I wrote to you, did you? The “Invisible Hand” metaphor has nothing at all to do with enabling people to live rent-free. I foolishly took your request for help in understanding the concept as a sincere one, but you don’t seem interested at all in reconsidering your own views.

          It would save you a lot of back-and-forth with people like Dr. J and me if you would stop thanking “government” for paying your rent and thank “taxpayers” instead. If you’re old enough to be nearing Medicare eligibility, you’re too old to believe in the Tooth Fairy.

          And before you start tarring me with the brush of “angry mob member,” let me point out that nothing I’ve written says that you should or shouldn’t get your rent paid by others. All I’m asking is that you stop pretending that it’s not being paid for by your fellow citizens, and start comprehending the economic system that generates the income that your deity, the government, taxes in response to your prayers.

          • kathykattenburg

            … and thank “taxpayers” instead

            One of which was me for many years. And while I was paying those taxes I was paying into the Social Security system that now, when I need it, is helping me. That’s government, and it’s a good thing.

            if you would stop thanking “government” for paying your rent and thank “taxpayers” instead.

            Yes, Sandy, that is how government of the people, by the people, and for the people works. The government IS the people. We choose the people who make the government so that the government can carry out what *we* decide the priorities should be. Government is not there to make a profit. Government is there to serve the people that created it and maintain it. Government is there to provide the infrastructure for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, to promote the general welfare of the people and to implement policy in service of the public good. Taxes are how we pay for that. It’s a cliche by now, but apparently people like you still need to be asked: Are you fond of your local police, fire, and garbage pick-up services? Are there public schools where you live?

            I’m truly sorry that you are so stung by my unreasonable and stubborn failure to “reconsider my own views” upon your explanation of the “invisible hand” of the market. In fact, I already was familiar with the concept; I simply don’t see that it works the way you and others like Dr J are convinced that it works. Is there some reason why you feel that it is more incumbent upon me to “reconsider” my views than it is incumbent upon you to reconsider yours? They are no more or less valid than mine are.

          • sandymchoots

            You forgot to quote Oliver Wendell Holmes: “Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.” But nobody here is arguing for anarchy. The more relevant version of Holmes today is, “Taxes are the price we pay for government spending.” If the value of the fire department exceeds its cost, that’s wonderful. But there’s a limit to how many fire trucks people are willing to pay for. Just saying “I like the fire department” doesn’t get you very far.

            I can be quite enthusiastic about the fire department without subscribing at all to your astonishing claim that “The government IS the people.” Bearing in mind Godwin’s Law, I nonetheless have to say that a statement like yours comes a little too close to “ein reich, ein volk” for my taste. The government is an agency of a majority of voters. It can do some things well, but determining the allocation of all resources in an economy is way above its pay grade.

          • kathykattenburg

            You forgot to quote Oliver Wendell Holmes: “Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.” Yes, I did forget that quote. Thank you for reminding me. It’s a good one.I can be quite enthusiastic about the fire department without subscribing at all to your astonishing claim that “The government IS the people.”What an incredibly bizarre statement. Here, read this, maybe it’ll sound familiar to you:

            We hold these truths to be self-evident:That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. …

            Bearing in mind Godwin’s Law, I nonetheless have to say that a statement like yours comes a little too close to “ein reich, ein volk” for my taste.Only if you think that Nazi Germany is synonymous with the very concept of government. And since you’re new here, I’ll just let you know that your comparison is not only ahistorical, but deeply offensive to me personally, since my parents were Holocaust survivors. My father believed deeply in the importance of government and governance, and in the ability of government to improve people’s lives — and my father was not, as you might guess, an admirer of Nazi Germany. The government is an agency of a majority of voters. It can do some things well, but determining the allocation of all resources in an economy is way above its pay grade.Government can do a significant number of things better than the “free market,” and I did not at any point say or suggest that government should determine the allocation of all resources in an economy. I don’t know where you picked that up from, but it wasn’t from anything I wrote.

          • adelinesdad

            “Government can do a significant number of things better than the “free market,” and I did not at any point say or suggest that government should determine the allocation of all resources in an economy. I don’t know where you picked that up from, but it wasn’t from anything I wrote.”

            I take your word for it, but when you write things like this, in response to Dr. J’s description of the free market model and why it has merit, it leaves room for some to wonder:

            “The above is a fantasy.”

            I think there is room for both sides to be more clear in their positions, as I attempted to do in my last comment.

          • kathykattenburg

            Point taken, although in my own defense, I did expand on that initial statement.

          • sandymchoots

            If you honestly think that quote from the Declaration of Independence is equivalent to saying “the government IS the people,” I see no point in trying to engage you further in this discussion. Actually, that passage makes Jefferson seem like a very dangerous “tea bagger” who lacks sufficient respect for and appreciation of the government. Which is pretty much what he was.

            As for your views on the role of government in resource allocation, you wrote:

            “We choose the people who make the government so that the government can carry out what *we* decide the priorities should be.”

            You appear to be supremely confident in your ability to discern what “we the people” want in the way of all sorts of policies. I suggest that you google the phrase “Arrow’s impossibility theorem” and give the whole concept of the “people’s will” a bit of sober reflection.

            Finally, you continue to categorize people as either “for” or “against” government. That’s absurd, for reasons I’ve already pointed out and you choose to ignore. In fact, it’s not merely absurd, it’s a McCarthyite tactic.

        • Dr J

          You can look around you at the actual world that exists outside your door and conclude that the “invisible hand” of the market is working this way?You asked for an explanation of the model, Kathy, and that’s how the model works. How reality works is liberals see a market in action, declare the proceedings insufficiently fair, and insist the government start steering it. Politicians pass laws on the basis of what will make the best sound bites and which lobbyists are crossing their palms, leaving the system more wasteful and less fair than when they started. “Ha, see?” the liberals crow, “I told you free markets didn’t work.”What markets don’t do, what no one ever claimed they do, and where I support government intervention, is charitable redistribution of the sort you describe in your story.

          You will also find your TV set won’t fix your breakfast. That’s not what it’s for, and criticism that it fails to is misplaced.

          • kathykattenburg

            A model is not reality, Dr J. That’s the point. And you set it forth — despite using the word “model” — as if that was the way it actually works. Let me remind you of what you wrote:

            In a well-running market, demand creates supply, as if by magic. If you go to the store hoping to buy rice, they have it. Need an affordable place to live? You won’t find your dream castle for nothing, but you’ll have a range of choices at a range of price points. Want illegal drugs? Visit the right corner of town, and it turns out a bunch of criminals have gone to extraordinary trouble to make some available.This all sounds simple, but gathering all the data on who wants what and how much they’re willing to pay and who can be engaged to produce it and when it will appear and how much it will cost is extremely complex. When a central agency tries to take it all on, they never do it well. You get bread shortages in stores. You get rent control giving existing tenants a sweet deal, while people who need a place to live can’t find one at any price. Some things get priced too cheap and they run out. Other things are priced too high, nobody buys them, and they go to waste.The invisible hand doesn’t “know” anything in advance; its advantage over the central agency is flexibility. When people start to need things (or when someone anticipates people will start to need things), suppliers can react quickly to provide them. When there’s a bumper crop of avocados, or an unusually lean harvest, prices adjust quickly to throttle demand so it matches supply. When someone starts a business with a good idea that meets people’s needs well, they get rewarded. When someone starts one with a bad idea that no one wants, they quickly are forced to close their doors, and the people and capital freed to find something useful to do.Given a finite number of people and money to put to work, where to allocate resources for the greatest overall benefit is a daunting, almost hopeless problem. Until you distribute the problem to millions of people and let each of them solve a little piece of it. That’s the secret of the invisible hand.

            The above is a fantasy. It’s not reality. First of all, the “free market” you describe here does not work for anyone who does not have the money to buy into it. If the “market” decides that you are not conducive to profit, your scenario does not do a thing to help. Thus, the concept of affordable housing is a complete non-starter for the “free market” unless government steps in to provide incentives. There may be, and in fact are, millions of Americans who need subsidized housing. Doesn’t matter how many there are — the “invisible hand” is not going to have anything for those people.That’s just one example, but the bottom line is that any societal need that does not or is not likely to generate profit is not going to be adequately met by the “invisible hand” of the free market. And by the way, nothing in what you wrote above even gives so much as a suggestion of a hint that you understand the “free market” cannot fix things it was not designed to fix. The entire thrust of your original comment is that the “free market” steps in to fill the public’s needs in a highly efficient, focused way. A need comes up, the market responds and meets it. That’s what you describe. And it just ain’t so.Politicians pass laws on the basis of what will make the best sound bites and which lobbyists are crossing their palms, leaving the system more wasteful and less fair than when they started. “Ha, see?” the liberals crow, “I told you free markets didn’t work.”Well, I’m glad to know that you are aware of how thoroughly intertwined government and private business are. I’m glad to know you want to end, or at least seriously reform, the incredibly corrupt relationship between corporate lobbyists and government. Dick Cheney’s secret energy task force, top-level connections between the Enron scandal and the Bush administration, the savings and loan scandal in the Reagan administration, the millions of dollars oil companies give to the campaigns of friendly politicians — I would never have guessed you felt the same way about that as I do.There is some common ground, at least, eh?

          • adelinesdad

            I agree, Kathy, insofar as the invisible hand does not always work to the benefit of each individual. And, I would also even agree that it is not always fair. The free market model is perfectly fair if we make certain assumptions, which are generally true but not always (that’s what makes it a model and not reality, as you point out). The free market model has been proven very effective at generating economic growth. In general, that economic growth benefits everyone, but the benefit is not necessarily always fairly distributed. Thus, we have people like you, who although presumably you’ve made a good effort to be a successful and productive member of society, you have not been sufficiently rewarded by the free market.

            So, yes, a balance does need to be struck. I support the free market, but government policy does need to step in to minimize the unfairness that can sometimes result. I’ve explained more about my views on this and why it means there is an important role for government, especially in the areas of education and health care, in this post: http://sovereignmind.wordpress.com/2008/10/11/freedom-vs-fairness/

            But, as we design government policy, we need to recognize that any attempt to level the playing field is implicitly restricting the free market’s ability to generate growth (efficiency vs. fairness), so that means that we have to:

            1) Balance the benefit of any particular goverment policy to create a more fair system against the detrimental affect to over-all growth. More fair does not always equal better (ie. if we’re both poor, that’s not better than one of us being poor and the other rich, of course. There are other more nuanced examples: if I can make a poor person 5% richer, but in doing so I make a rich person 25% poorer, is that a good trade-off? How about if I can make you 10% richer, but I have to restrict the freedom of everyone else? This is were the difficult questions come that separate most conservatives and liberals).

            2) Design the government policy carefully so that we don’t unnecessarily restrict growth (We are at risk of doing this when our motivation for the policy we want to enact is to punish the greedy free marketeers).

          • kathykattenburg

            I read your blog post, AD. Very interesting and thoughtfully written. I didn’t so much disagree with any of your points as I would have added to some of them, but overall I really liked your approach to this subject.

          • Dr J

            The bottom line is that any societal need that does not or is not likely to generate profit is not going to be adequately met by the “invisible hand” of the free market.Yes, Kathy, you’ve summarized it exactly. That’s where the market’s usefulness stops. The glass is half empty, or in other words half full.

  • kathykattenburg

    California dictates all sorts of things about how teachers can do their jobs, and the No Child Left Behind program has layered a whole new set of requirements on top of that. It’s all insane, yet it could all be quickly straightened out if we just started measuring results.I find opposition to doing so (and it comes loudest from teachers’ unions) simply inexcusable.

    Well, Dr J. I certainly cannot speak knowledgeably about California, but here in New Jersey, and also in New York State, we have this thing called “standardized testing.” Teachers spend the entire year teaching the material that’s on the tests, so that the students can pass the tests, so the school can report those results to the state and the federal government and thus get the funding that will be denied them if the test results do not reach a certain percentile. This process is what is known as “measuring results.” So you see, we do have “measuring results.” The results are scores on standardized tests. I realize it doesn’t tell you much about what or whether students have learned, but it IS a measurement of results.

    • Dr J

      So you see, we do have “measuring results.” The results are scores on standardized tests.

      Right…but how about measuring the teachers’ and the administrators’ results?

      • kathykattenburg

        That IS measuring the teachers’ and the administrators’ results, lol. The teachers whose students all pass the test get to keep their jobs. The teachers whose students don’t do so well on the tests are laid off or fired. It works very well. No one ever needs to ask *why* the students didn’t do so well, or whether firing the teacher will address the answer to that “why.”

        • Dr J

          Kathy, that’s rather different from what the New Yorker claims. According to them, teachers are virtually never fired.

          • kathykattenburg

            Okay, maybe I was wrong about that. I know that many teachers feel a lot of pressure to get their kids’ test scores up, so presumably there are consequences when that doesn’t happen, but perhaps the consequences have more to do with promotions or whether the teacher gets the supplies she needs, or whatever.There is still the broader question of whether standardized test scores are the best way to measure teacher performance or educational success in general, *if one defines educational success as having something to do with learning.* If it’s just about looking good and pushing the kids through, then never mind.

  • adelinesdad

    I think sandymchoots did a good job of describing what is meant by the “invisible hand”. I did not mean to say that one can decide to start a successful business (as opposed to deciding to start an unsuccessful one). I mean to say that one can decide to start a business that is run well and has a good business plan, which would lead it to be successful. Therefore, the entrepreneur’s skill at providing a good or service that people want (and therefore, by definition, improves their lives, at least as far as the customers are concerned) is rewarded, regardless of how many hours he or she works.

    As for teacher’s unions. I think there is a difference between supporting teachers and supporting teachers’ unions. Teachers’ unions don’t represent all teachers. They only represent the ones that are employed. If the teachers’ union had the interest of all teachers and students in mind, what would they have against some of them being replaced by better ones?

    I think teachers are great, and I understand why most of them support their union, but that doesn’t mean I have to think teachers’ unions are great.

  • DLS

    “Thank *God* for government. All praise for government. I celebrate government. I cannot praise government highly enough.”

    “Government is there to provide the infrastructure for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, to promote the general welfare of the people and to implement policy in service of the public good”

    [head in hands] To say the least, along with your refusal to face some realities, this view of yours is radical as well as post-modern.

    All that’s missing is your insisting on a new Preamble to the Constitution with lots of flowing rhetoric to further “justify” what you are writing here that the (naturally, federal) government “should” do.. Or you could be as extreme as the Nutty Law School Prof who claimed that the Preamble (which is not law in any way whatsoever), the Declaration of Independence, and “pursuit of happiness” should lead to a federal judiciary ruling finding that everyone in the USA has the right to a federally (i.e., taxpayer) guaranteed minimum income.

    Of course, all of this is extremism divorced from reality, but in modern and especially post-modern times, it has had a few enamored of such things.

  • What exactly is the Y axis on the last chart? Income of the top 5% of tax payers? wealthy families?

  • kathykattenburg

    If you honestly think that quote from the Declaration of Independence is equivalent to saying “the government IS the people,” Sandy, what do you think the government is? People, right? And where do those people come from? Mars?You appear to be supremely confident in your ability to discern what “we the people” want in the way of all sorts of policies.Well, I have never taken the phrase “we, the people” so literally that I think I am the entire people, but YMMV. I’m really not sure why the concept of the American people deciding what the priorities should be, as individuals, as groups, via the people they elect and the pressure they bring to bear on their elected officials, is such a difficult one to grasp. It doesn’t mean that 300 million people get together in a little meeting room. It means that we, as Americans, as citizens, as “the people,” get to decide what we think is most important to do in this country. I really don’t know how to make it any more clear than that, and I don’t know why it’s such an alien or foreign idea. I googled “Arrow’s impossibility theorem” and it looks to me like it’s about making up some faux-scientific-mathematical gobbledy-gook to declare impossible something that is the most basic element of a democracy: the people get to decide what kind of a country they want to have. Basically, what it seems to be saying is that you can’t have social welfare policies because you can never get every last individual in the country to agree on any one particular goal and still at the same time decide how to rank priorities in order of preference.And my response is, Say WHAT? I mean, what kind of garbage is that? We can’t have a particular public policy because you can’t have total agreement from 300 million Americans and people are going to disagree over ranked order preferences? That really is not a very well-thought-out conclusion there, Sandy. I would suggest that you take your own advice and think long and hard and carefully about what the implications might be of believing that it’s not possible for the citizens of a democracy to shape public policy and decide what those policies should be.

  • DLS

    “What an incredibly bizarre statement.”

    What Soft Irony. [chuckle]

    “We can’t have a particular public policy because you can’t have total agreement from 300 million Americans and people are going to disagree over ranked order preferences?”

    Don’t make that Soft Irony materialize again. We don’t require unanimity. However, what we don’t “require” and certainly don’t want is the current year’s experience of an increasingly extremist group of Democrats who are acting in ways that alienate the majority and do not do what the majority (fifty per cent plus one of the voters) want. The House climate bill was a remarkable example of this, and it and related misconduct has underpinned the broad intelligent public displeasure with the Dems and concern about what they may wish to do or threaten to do about health care.

    I won’t even bother adding much about the superiority of the approval vote, the applicability of proportional representation in a body like the House of Representatives, or what defines a supermajority where such a thing is appropriate in place of “fifty per cent plus one,” as you may not appreciate or even understand these or why they merit thought related to what is currently being discussed.

    And the guy who really did make those wacky claims to support a guaranteed minimum income really was a Nutty Law Professor. Thank goodness we may not have many of them in ObamaCo (or at least one fewer now, with the loss of Van Jones due to embarrassment and disgrace).

  • DLS

    “the whole concept of the ‘people’s will'”

    Rosseauian, and more (worse).

  • kathykattenburg

    So in other words, Dr J, this:

    In a well-running market, demand creates supply, as if by magic. If you go to the store hoping to buy rice, they have it. Need an affordable place to live? You won’t find your dream castle for nothing, but you’ll have a range of choices at a range of price points.

    And this:

    This all sounds simple, but gathering all the data on who wants what and how much they’re willing to pay and who can be engaged to produce it and when it will appear and how much it will cost is extremely complex. When a central agency tries to take it all on, they never do it well.

    And this:

    The invisible hand doesn’t “know” anything in advance; its advantage over the central agency is flexibility. When people start to need things (or when someone anticipates people will start to need things), suppliers can react quickly to provide them.

    and this:

    Given a finite number of people and money to put to work, where to allocate resources for the greatest overall benefit is a daunting, almost hopeless problem. Until you distribute the problem to millions of people and let each of them solve a little piece of it. That’s the secret of the invisible hand.

    is not true. At best, it is a misleading half-truth. You have presented it as absolute truth, with no qualifiers or caveats, and it is not true with no qualifiers or caveats. I have never argued that the free market is not good at providing goods and services to people who have good jobs and disposable income to spend. This entire discussion is about the societal needs that the free market CANNOT provide. And all along, you have been swearing up and down to me that the free market is absolutely and by far the best way and the only good way to provide, not just goods and services, but the necessities of life to those who cannot afford them. Like food, clothing, a safe and decent place to live, and, yes, access to basic health care if you have no money to pay for it, or if it’s priced at astronomically high levels way beyond the means of most Americans. And that was — you should pardon the expression — a lie. I’m angry, because I feel like you’re playing games with me. You know darn well that there are many human needs and public goods (goods as in benefits, not products) that the free market either cannot provide or cannot provide comprehensively or efficiently. Good public schools, public transportation, parks, bridges, highways, playgrounds, a place to live, garbage collection, police and fire services, are all things that government can provide more efficiently and comprehensively — far more so — than the free market, which functions around the principle of profit, not human need and/or the larger public good.So if you’re telling me now that you agree with me that this is true, that the free market is useful in only a limited circumscribed set of realities, then you’ve been playing games with me all this time, and I really resent it.Please don’t even post again to me on this if you’re just going to play the same game of pretending it was obvious all along that you meant B when you wrote A.

    • Dr J

      All, along, you have been swearing up and down to me that the free market is absolutely and by far the best way and the only good way to provide, not just goods and services, but the necessities of life to those who cannot afford them.Sorry, Kathy, I’ve repeatedly said the opposite. A functioning market works to everyone’s benefit, but it will not–and has no moral authority to–play a charitable role redistributing wealth from the rich to the poor. That’s properly government’s job, which it should not by donning a stethoscope itself, but by writing people checks. Remember our conversation about liquor and gigolos?I have never argued that the free market is not good at providing goods and services to people who have good jobs and disposable income to spend.Not precisely, no. But you’ve nevertheless lobbied long and hard against it, six times a day, for the “public good.” If it actually benefits the majority of the public that holds jobs and enjoys incomes, how do you justify trying so hard to tear it down?

    • adelinesdad

      “I have never argued that the free market is not good at providing goods and services to people who have good jobs and disposable income to spend. This entire discussion is about the societal needs that the free market CANNOT provide. And all along, you have been swearing up and down to me that the free market is absolutely and by far the best way and the only good way to provide, not just goods and services, but the necessities of life to those who cannot afford them.”

      I’d argue that the free market is generally very good at producing quality and driving down cost through competition, thus making products and services (including ones that are societal needs) more accessible to more people. Thus, the free market has an important role in providing even societal needs like health care.

      But, all of us agree that that does not mean that the free market can provide a service to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay. So if we, as a society, determine that a particular product or service is essential for everyone to have, no matter what, then yes, we will necessarily need government policy to help out (lacking private charities, which at least when it comes to health care have proven inadequate). But even then, the free market has a role in keeping costs down in order to save the taxpayer money.

      I think you and I probably disagree on the extent to which the free market keeps costs down in health care, and that’s a fair disagreement. I’d argue that much of the cost control problem we have has actually result of too much government distortion of the free market, but I imagine you see it differently. That’s fine. I’d be happy if you’d agree for now that, in general, the free market does have a role in providing people will basic needs (ie. keeping costs down to limit the amount of subsidies that the government has to pay to the poor).

  • jeffritterman

    Thanks so much for referencing my article in alternet http://www.alternet.org/story/141645 and the work of Professors Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. Richard and Kate have shown the corrosive effects of rising income inequality. The more unequal the income distribution the lower the life expectancy, the more homicide, the more prisoners, the more infant mortality, the more high school drop outs, the more obesity, the more mistrust, etc…In the case of trust, the data best fits causality not just correlation.This is not an issue of left or right. Sweden and Japan are both leaders in income equality and they have done so by completely different means. In Sweden, income is redistributed after taxes while in Japan income is fairly equally dustruted before taxes. Our present economic meltdown is due in large part to this maldistribution of income. The US is now the most unequal of all of the wealthy countries except for Singapore. We are also more unequal now than at anytime since record keeping started around WW I. We need the moderate voices to come out in favor of redressing the maldistribution and the recreation of a middle class society

  • kathykattenburg

    Because not everything that benefits the public is profitable. Because many things that benefit the public cannot be provided cheaply or efficiently enough by the “free” market. Health care is one of them. If a century of free market health care does not convince you of that, then I don’t flatter myself I can. I have never, ever suggested “tearing down” the “free market” to perform those functions which it performs well. The free market does malls extremely well. Health care, not so much. Government never proposed to “don a stethoscope.” That’s absolute nonsense, and completely untrue. I do remember our “conversation” about writing people checks, but it made no sense then, and it doesn’t make any more sense now. I’m done with this particular discussion.

    • Dr J

      Kathy, Uncle Sam already sports a stethoscope at VA hospitals, and you’re on record lobbying for him to take over the rest of the health care industry.

      If you’re now saying it’s absolute nonsense, well, I’m glad you’re coming around. Good night.

  • kathykattenburg

    I’d be happy if you’d agree for now that, in general, the free market does have a role in providing people will basic needs (ie. keeping costs down to limit the amount of subsidies that the government has to pay to the poor).

    Yes, I agree with that, in principle.