Re: Economic Decency

1

But but refrigerators! Cell phones! Why, even billionaires couldn't buy those things 100 years ago so how can you say anyone with such things isn't living decently!
Point being- there is no argument you can make that will prevent the hacks from going Max Mendacious.


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 3:08 PM
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Yes, but we don't have to make it so easy for them.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 3:11 PM
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Mormons are decent.


Posted by: myler bowen | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 3:18 PM
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What we recognize as acceptable for ourselves changes as technology changes. 20 years ago no one had a smart phone, 30 years from now, those who don't will be objects of pity.

The best, realest argument against inequality is the same thing it's always been: the stupid crap rich people buy to show off. Ahem, I mean the diminishing marginal returns to money.


Posted by: torque | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 3:21 PM
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If the poorest50%-60%had enough to support themselves in a way we could recognize as acceptable for ourselvesa reasonable level of prosperity and stability, very few people should care about the "obscenely" rich.

My correction, anyway. But even this misstates the issues somewhat, and concedes too much too assholes like Cowen. The kind of society that is likely to lead to these massive wealth disparities is also one that's likely to put massive pressure on the middle class and make life for the poor unbearable. To have anything else, we'd need either massive economic growth that we're not going to get (as to which the obscenely wealthy are either neutral, or, much more likely, a hindrance, and that in any event would make the massive accumulations less likely) or distribution from the top. The scenario of immensely and increasingly unequal superclass+everyone else is substantially better off and the poor get a decent standard of living is just not a realistic one.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 3:23 PM
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Yeah, I don't really disagree, and I wasn't sketching a solution, just clarifying what pisses people off.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 3:27 PM
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The OP is right. As a society, we should be concerned about the material and regular health of all of us, and the fact that that's barely a priority is a problem. The existence of kabillionaires is merely infuriating. The specifics of our kabillionaires is that they rig the system in their favor and against the good of the whole, but sure, hypothetical kabillaires are harmless.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 3:28 PM
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Ion.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 3:28 PM
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"The scenario of immensely and increasingly unequal superclass+everyone else is substantially better off and the poor get a decent standard of living is just not a realistic one."

Why on earth not? All it would take is a drastically more progressive tax system.


Posted by: torque | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 3:33 PM
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Presumably because you're not going to get that tax system when money is speech and a few people own all the speech.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 3:40 PM
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You know, I also disagree with myself in 7. If we hypothetically had no one worth, say, a billion dollars, but everyone else had exactly their same wealth, I think things would seem less egregious.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 3:40 PM
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7 -- Yes, but the existence of a superclass of increasingly-relatively-wealthy kabillionaires is both (a) a defining symptom of a society that clearly isn't providing for the material health of the bulk of its population and (b) an enormous, probably fatal, political obstacle to providing for the material well-being of the bulk of the population. Which is why the focus on the 1% vs 99% is right -- you can't solve that problem without doing better for everyone else, and you need to solve that problem in order to do better for everyone else.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 3:43 PM
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10 is true, but, also, a drastically more progressive tax system (actually, it doesn't even have to be massively more progressive, it just has to tax the fuck out of capital) used to fund social services and other socialist goodies for everyone counts in my book as redistribution; the important thing is greater equality in after-tax income, also accounting for the benefits to all from public goods.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 3:46 PM
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I should have said "after tax wealth" in 13, not income. Important thing is to use the tax system to appropriately redistribute wealth.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 3:48 PM
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The problem with all the super-rich isn't so much the money, it's the power. If they could be relied on to spend their money on tropical island hideaways and yachts, rather than on buying politicians, and if they didn't insist on using their power to break society and the natural environment, immiserating the rest of us, I wouldn't care so much about the inequality of money.

To put it another way, an accusation that gets thrown around is that leftists want the rich to be worse off even if it doesn't make the poor better off. And while that's not strictly true -- my motivation is to make the poor better off -- I think I could effectively do that if I were allowed to destroy most of the financial assets of the extremely wealthy without directly transferring them to poorer people. Poorer people in the US would be better off if there were fewer wealthy people with the power to injure them (as by destroying unions, opposing the provision of health care, and so on).


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 3:49 PM
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Oh, I'm mostly pwned by Halford.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 3:50 PM
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I really feel like the theory that there's an important tradeoff between economic growth and economic equality is the BIG HUGE LIE that has completely fucked up the world in my lifetime. The ur-piece of conservative bullshit is this: "Liberals want to worry about how to divide up the pie. We like our equality-harming free market policies, not because we are evil, but because they will grow the size of the economy for everyone." LIES LIES LIES. Someday I will build my monument in Washington DC, which will say in huge capital letters outside the capital: THERE IS NO EVIDENCE THAT RIGHT WING ECONOMIC POLICIES PROMOTE ECONOMIC GROWTH. Even mentioning a possible growth vs. equality tradeoff plays into the big lie. I'm pretty fanatical about this.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 4:00 PM
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Maybe "Grow The Pie Lie" or GTPL is the right shorthand. But it's not there yet, and I'm sure we can do better.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 4:02 PM
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That's not very pithy. How about "RIGHT WING ECONOMIC POLICIES HINDER ECONOMIC GROWTH."?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 4:03 PM
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19 is shorter but the evidence for it is weaker.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 4:04 PM
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How about "If People Have Money They Can Spend It At Businesses".


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 4:04 PM
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There is a preponderance of evidence that you should just state, loudly and often, what you wish was true, when you're trying to convince other people.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 4:06 PM
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An interesting hypothetical was presented to me in The Golden Age by John C. Wright (back when he was just a libertarian and not as crazy): a far-future post-scarcity society that still had a market economy. (As in, a few hours of simple labor earn living expenses for a month.) But despite great prosperity and comfort for everyone, the combination of immortality and infinite-length IP protections meant that people who had gotten extremely rich and powerful retained their advantages for millennia. The narrator was, and the author seemed, seemed completely fine with that; I decided I wasn't.

Inequality is more than people being badly off due to it. But it's misleading to talk about whether it's okay for person A to be X times richer than person B, because that frame takes them both as individuals disconnected to anything else, rather than parts of society at large. Even if everyone had bread, roses, and replicators, it would still be a problem for a few people to have a lion's share, because you get inappropriate and inefficient control over everyone else.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 4:08 PM
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In more general terms, it's kind of the same argumentative move as defending torture:

"You have to admit that if X is true, then Y, unattractive as you find it, would be justified."

"I suppose so..."

"Great. Now that you've conceded that X is true, you've committed to consenting to Y!"

For torture, X is "Torturing this guy would guaranteed save thousands of innocent lives."
Economically, X is "Funnelling more wealth to the wealthy will make everyone else better off as well". But it's basically the same argument.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 4:10 PM
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I thought X was acquaintance rape and Y was stranger rape with a knife.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 4:12 PM
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Yes, 24 is right. But the false premise --"Funnelling more wealth to the wealthy will [in some undefined time span] make everyone else better off as well" -- has been pretty much accepted as true by the entire policy-making class, Democrat and Republican, for my entire goddamn life.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 4:16 PM
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A RISING TIDE DOES NOT LIFT ALL BOATS, ESPECIALLY IF YOU HAVE A LITTLE BOAT AND THOSE MEGAYACHTS KEEP SLAMMING INTO IT.


Posted by: OPINIONATED GRANDMA | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 4:17 PM
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has been pretty much accepted as true by the entire policy-making class, Democrat and Republican exactly those people who benefit from it for my entire goddamn life.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 4:21 PM
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I think the issue should be framed as one of economic "fairness" -- tax policies have to be "fair" so that everyone gets a shot, etc. etc.


Posted by: Just Plain Jane | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 4:28 PM
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I don't think fairness works, because that just leads to attacks on the lazy poor--is it fair for them to have enough when other people are working so hard, etc. Decency (not that I expect this to catch on) puts the focus on the rich.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 4:42 PM
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To agree with the OP: distribute resources, burdens, responsibilities and entitlements so as to maximize satisfaction of needs and free development of capabilities, while minimizing suffering and toil. Don't much care what the resulting curve looks like.


Posted by: Zombie Mill | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 4:45 PM
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30: Is it possible to avoid attacks on the lazy poor? Sadly, I suspect it is not. I think "decency" sounds like some lefty-Jesuit-social-justice thing (which I would support! but I don't think it works in the current American political climate).


Posted by: Just Plain Jane | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 5:47 PM
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There's a way to settle this: you hold the fairness placard, I'll hold the decency placard, and we'll see who gets more air time.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 6:05 PM
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30: Ogged, I don't see the difference between fairness arguments and decency arguments.

I also think, per Halford in 5, that abandoning the "economic inequality" argument in favor of "decency" language concedes too much to assholes like Cowen.

Redistribution really needs to be the focus. I mentioned elsewhere that Sen. Carl Levin has a bill to stop corporate inversions, for example.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 6:07 PM
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Is it possible to avoid attacks on the lazy poor?

Of course they can't be avoided. They can, however, be countered with the observation that many of the poor are actually working poor. You guys are giving up too soon.

I don't have time to look up the references now, but

Okay:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/clareoconnor/2014/04/15/report-walmart-workers-cost-taxpayers-6-2-billion-in-public-assistance/

and

http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-mh-walmarts-dependence-20140324-story.html

Sorry for failure to embed those links: the short version is that not only does Walmart (just one example) generate members of the working poor, but it serves them: significant percentages of Walmart workers, as well as customers, are on food stamps.

I really don't see why an economic inequality argument is not up to the task of addressing the plight of the working poor.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 6:22 PM
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I think people care more about themselves and their friends than about the poorest 5%.


Posted by: David the Unfogged Commenter | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 6:26 PM
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Honestly, the "we are the 99%" language is about 90x better than anything in this thread. It's perfect and gets to the real problem. I have my issues with whatever "Occupy" was but that was a fucking great and important slogan.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 6:34 PM
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If you want some really unappealing arguments for redistribution that make the speaker sound like a terrible person, I've got a good one.

As a snobbish and nervous member of the bourgeoisie, I dislike having severely poor people around, for all the social pathology reasons people talk about: violence, irresponsibility, and so on. Really, I'd like to eliminate them completely from society, allowing me to associate solely with members of my own social class. My sense of the easiest way to do this is a generous welfare state and serious income redistribution: while individual results may vary, statistically, if people have a secure income, a decent place to live, and access to a solid education, health care, and the like, they're pretty likely to rapidly turn into the sort of people I'm comfortable having around. (I mean, some demographic groups will remain violent whatever the level of economic support, but there's not much to be done about the Scots.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 6:47 PM
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Redistribution really needs to be the focus.

At first I read this as "Retribution really needs to be the focus." I was okay with that.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 6:55 PM
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38 is the My Fair Lady case for social progress.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 6:56 PM
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Pretty much. "The difference between a duchess and a flower girl isn't how she acts, it's how she's treated."


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 6:59 PM
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"Put the FAIR back in My Fair Lady!"


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 7:01 PM
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38: I dislike having severely poor people around

Again: LB, it's not as though there are the middle and upper middle classes on the one hand, and the severely poor on the other. There is a large swathe of the populace who are working poor; they are not particularly violent or irresponsible. They need redistributive efforts.

Ogged's OP sounds like he feels that an argument from noblesse oblige is the best way to go: I'm suggesting that such a view assumes that the needy people in our society are what LB's calling the severely poor. They're not.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 7:15 PM
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The problem with trying to frame arguments against rightwing arguments is that nobody, including rightwingers, takes rightwing arguments seriously.

The 47% are living off of government largesse, says the Medicare recipient. People should have to work to get money, says Paris Hilton.

You want to stop government handouts? Take back the money that the government gave Bill Gates by granting him an IP monopoly.

The United States is run by people who are glad to avoid economic growth if their piece of the pie isn't threatened. The people who don't run the country are happy to cut their own throats as long as some undeserving wretch also gets stabbed.

Appeal to Americans' human decency, and they look for somebody to drop a bomb on.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 7:18 PM
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There is a large swathe of the populace who are working poor; they are not particularly violent or irresponsible.

Sure. They're still disturbingly tense and insecure about things, given their economic difficulties, and that annoys me too -- I don't want them around either. Redistribution until everyone's placidly secure!


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 7:31 PM
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45: Ok. That walks you away from the hint of a whiff of a suggestion that the needy are horrible violent people (who maybe should get religion or something in order to correct their bad behavior). I hereby forgive you.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 7:36 PM
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There's a way to settle this: you hold the fairness placard, I'll hold the decency placard, and we'll see who gets more air time.

I think appeals to decency work well in personal conversation, but don't translate well into abstract debates about policy. Fairness holds up better as an abstract principle... except that people have different notions of what is fair.


Posted by: torrey pine | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 7:38 PM
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LB, you acknowledged that this is really not a very sympathetic-sounding argument. So I'm not sure where you're going with this. Are you just noting that it's actually the reason that you, personally, are in most favor of redistribution--to lessen your discomfort about being around economically anxious people and to make you feel safer on the streets? Which, if so, sure why not I guess, as long as you realize there are plenty of other compelling reasons to support redistribution, besides making you and people like you more comfortable. (And I know you do realize this.)


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 7:40 PM
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It's not going to win any PR awards, though.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 7:42 PM
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I've mentioned this before, but the practical political problem with "We are the 99%" was clarified for me when I read Jed Purdy's breakdown of our class structure in his review of Piketty (this is a direct block quote I am breaking up):

(1) There's a small set of the super-wealthy, with powerful influence in culture and politics. These people control capital.

(2) Then there is a slice of professionals and mid-level executives, as well as some small-business owners, who generally own their houses and save some significant financial assets over their lifetimes - the nine percent.

(3) The true middle class, 40 or 50 percent, owns a house but not much else.

(4) Many of the rest have negative or neutral net value and live month-to-month.

Life is just rarely going to be bad enough for (2) and (3) to join in solidarity with (4) and take part in the kind of intensive mass politics that would actually produce the radical reforms that it would take to wrest power away from (1). Maybe if the indebtedness, precarity, and high unemployment of millennials is still going strong 15 to 20 years from now, but not soon.


Posted by: Criminally Bulgur | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 7:44 PM
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48 -- I assumed it was a half-hearted attempt at trolling, but LB just lacks the true spirit of the troll.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 7:51 PM
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I doubt LB needs any piling on. The best argument for a more equitable distribution of wealth is pretty simple: consumer spending is the primary driver of economic health and prosperity society-wide; workers need to earn enough to be able to spend, which increases demand, which creates or at least sustains jobs, blah blah blah. You know the drill. Plus a more equitable distribution of wealth makes for a happier, less unstable and snarly society, etc. etc., psycho-socially speaking. Plus decency.

We really don't need to get fancy about this.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 7:52 PM
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A) I was kind of kidding around. It is, in fact, phrased as I put it, an awful sounding argument. But B) something along those lines is how I genuinely feel. Yes, justice, decency, and all that, I'm on board.

But from a perfectly selfish point of view, as a placidly economically secure person who's never really had to worry about money in her life, it's unpleasant having to be aware that a large part of the population isn't in a similar position, but is actually suffering for lack of resources, and I'd prefer not to be. The traditional method of not being aware, if that kind of thing bothers you, is just managing to ignore it, preferably by arranging your life so you don't have to see poor people. But redistribution sufficient to make the unpleasant facts not true any more works even better.

Shouldn't we be getting the comfortable on board by appealing to their self-interest? That's a direct appeal to self-interest.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 7:54 PM
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Thanks for 50, CB. I've not been a big fan of the "we are the 99%" routine, and that clarifies my annoyance. I'll have to look at it again later -- it's late now -- but thanks.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 7:56 PM
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Fairness holds up better as an abstract principle... except that people have different notions of what is fair.

Right. And my notion of what is fair (roughly shared by almost everyone commenting here, no doubt) does not align with (is significantly to the left of) any notion of fairness that is going to resonate with a broad enough segment of the American public. But some notion of "fairness" ("the system should be fair") does at least have some appeal, whereas "equality" is seen as socialist, and "decency," I suspect, is also too social-justice-y to gain any real traction.

To put it another way, I think the only way to gain support for policies that promote equality of outcome is to use the language of equality of opportunity (which many Americans do support). The system should be fair. Everyone should get a fair shot.


Posted by: Just Plain Jane | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 7:58 PM
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One basic problem is that we're a super intensely competitive society. One reason that, emotionally, people don't want a more egalitarian society is that people feel like they'll lose their fragile status, and we're a bunch of insecure assholes.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 7:58 PM
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Which in particular keeps 50.2 and 50.3 from joining in solidarity with 50.4.

That said, I don't at all agree with 50 as a criticism of the 99% rhetoric. But I also don't really want to dredge that all over again.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:02 PM
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53: I doubt the liberal/progressive caucus needs to land on one single form of argument. Just target your approach to the audience most likely to be receptive to it.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:08 PM
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Shouldn't we be getting the comfortable on board by appealing to their self-interest? That's a direct appeal to self-interest.

Well, yes, but a lot of economically comfortable people either aren't disturbed by the existence of poor people or are disturbed but would rather solve it some other way that removes the poor people from their own daily lives without making them not-poor (e.g., gentrifying their neighborhoods or throwing them in jail).


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:15 PM
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50: That breakdown is very reasonable and conventional, but the point of the 99% rhetoric is to build the solidarity that you're saying doesn't already exist. You're right. It doesn't already exist. But not much effective is going to happen unless we have some way to create it.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:16 PM
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The self-interest angle should be "no one can spend more money than the mass of people in the lower 50%. If you want to get rich, you need the lower 50% to have enough money to be the engine of the economy."


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:16 PM
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Don't look too closely at the actual math in 61.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:17 PM
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no one can spend more money than the mass of people in the lower 50%.

What about the mass of people in the upper 50%?


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:18 PM
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I mean, there's the same number of them, and by definition they have more money.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:19 PM
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62 to 63.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:19 PM
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I guess that was the question 62 was trying to head off.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:19 PM
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65 to 66.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:19 PM
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68 to 69.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:20 PM
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69

Have you figured out what 68 points to?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:21 PM
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I think the Ogged line is correct that "fair" gets you pretty much nowhere, rhetorically, in the America we have before us. One value in the "decency" line is that it lets you attack people/policies for having no decency. Sounds much better than whining that they are unfair.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:21 PM
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You just have to think of yourself as on the attack, not on the defensive. "This isn't fair!": weak. "You disgust me!": now you're geting somewhere.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:21 PM
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I think that's probably true. One sounds whiny and the other sounds like you've got the moral high ground.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:23 PM
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Make the pie higher!


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:38 PM
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no one can spend more money than the mass of people in the lower 50%. If you want to get rich, you need the lower 50% to have enough money to be the engine of the economy."

Except you also need them to be poor enough to profit off the surplus value from their labor. Contradiction!


Posted by: Zombie Marx | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:43 PM
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73: a rising pie lifts all plums.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:51 PM
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74: SOMEONE didn't read closely enough about Masket Barket.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:55 PM
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Now, how are you going to feed the balance of the people? What's Morgan and Baruch and Rockefeller and Mellon going to do with all that grub? They can't eat it, they can't wear the clothes, they can't live in the houses.

Giv'em a yacht! Giv'em a Palace! Send 'em to Reno and give them a new wife when they want it, if that's what they want. [Laughter] But when they've got everything on God's loving earth that they can eat and they can wear and they can live in, and all that their children can live in and wear and eat, and all of their children's children can use, then we've got to call Mr. Morgan and Mr. Mellon an Mr. Rockefeller back and say, come back here, put that stuff back on this table here that you took away from here that you don't need. Leave something else for the American people to consume. And that's the program.

(video, partial text)


Posted by: Huey Long | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:56 PM
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I know I'm the "give me a transcript" guy, but the video in 77 is really worth watching, especially since there doesn't seem to be an easily findable full transcript.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:59 PM
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"Who would want to kill Mr. Warbucks?"
"The Bolsheviks, dear. He's living proof that the American system really works and the Bolsheviks don't want anyone to know about that."


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 8:59 PM
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The 99% language builds solidarity in part by identifying an enemy who, conveniently enough, is the actual enemy. The middle class is already feeling economic pressure; the republicans have been supplying scapegoats for decades to prevent any kind of solidarity between the poor and the middle class.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 9:09 PM
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Reading this discussion makes me think of The Spirit Level (which I haven't read, but see http://www.ideasfestival.co.uk/archive/past-events/book-reviews/book-reviews-the-spirit-level-by-richard-wilkinson-kate-pickett/ ).

I do think it's tough to make the argument that equality is good, in and of itself, and that it is to the benefit of even the wealthy members of society. I appreciate that they attempted that, even though it probably didn't convince anybody who wasn't already sympathetic.

There's also a quote by Thomas Geoghegan about how good egalitarian European cities are for the middle class. LB would appreciate it, I'll look it up tomorrow.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 9:11 PM
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80 gets it exactly right, as does 77, of course.

50 gets the basic categories of wealth right, but misses the dynamic -- each of categories (3) and (4) (90% of the population!) has been steadily losing actual ground, and category (2) has been losing relative ground fast enough compared to category (1) to get plenty angry.

It's also interesting how actually (semi-realistically obtainable) egalitarian societies, like the 1970s Sweden described by Nworb in his awesome book, were founded on an abiding and actual hatred of the rich (probably not just the 1%, but also the 10%) and wealthy show-offs. Getting actively angry at the 1% is both justified in reality and necessary for change.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 9:18 PM
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This week I've realized I'm much more comfortable giving money out of my pocket to random people on the street who ask for it than giving money that's only kind of mine to grad students who ask for it.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 9:29 PM
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81, 53: That argument has kind of worked on some rightwingers when I describe it as living in a nice old black & white movie; walk down your street, say hi to the neighbors, all meet as equals at the PTA, dignity of honest labor, evening in good coat at the symphony.

I doubt I've actually shifted anyone's policy preference, and too often racism bubbles up, but sometimes I get across a view of the good life that's neither completely privatized nor Brave New World.

Then Fear of Falling comes roaring back in.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 9:30 PM
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Today I had a student nearly break down in tears in my office with some story about how the dean told him that I have to pay him in the fall because of his odd attempts to bypass the usual US immigration route. It was very confusing.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 9:33 PM
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My boy scout troop had this activity that was kind of like a scavenger hunt but was really more of an adventure race, I guess. The idea was that you'd get a note with clues to where to find the next note and so on until the end. At camp it was a multi-day thing and pseudo-military, with points for "sighting" the other patrols and various other incentives for sneaking around. Notes might be hidden in man-made rock formations, or regular cracks in rocks, or in fallen trees, or on islands in the middle of lakes, or in ziploc bags floating on a lake that was anchored to the lake bed using rope and duct tape and a rock.

For the city we had a mini version that took place entirely within the normal time of a meeting, which was always held on Friday nights. Notes were hidden in parks, phone booths, etc. These events always started by surprise and one year, at the Halloween party, we managed to hide the notes in the pumpkins, to be found during the carving. Everyone had to stop what they were doing, quickly clean up, and then run around the city looking for more notes. We were all in costume for the party, but it was not actually October 31, so we stuck out a bit. The whole thing came to an end when the people working at the last hiding place - some order-at-the-counter restaurant - opened the envelope with the final note and berated the first place team when they came in because the note had profanity in it.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 9:55 PM
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Uh, and then we engaged in class war. Ok, now that comment is in the right thread.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 9:57 PM
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Seeing the OP, all I can think is that Max Mendacious must be an evil magician in a comic strip somewhere.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 11:14 PM
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I assume it's just Tyler Cowen's alter ego.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 11:17 PM
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Vaguely related to economic decency, someone assure me that Robert's rancid ideologues aren't really going to go through with this (a petition for review from the side that lost in the Fourth Circuit). Rational me says no way, but the lizard brain smells fat on the fire and is getting twitchy and scanning the horizon for any hint of a "special session" in the offing. The petitioners included some of the most brazenly, cynical language since the power-of-bad-textual-interpretation-compel-us buffoonery from the DC Circuit*.

"The resulting uncertainty over this major plank of ACA implementation means that millions of people have no idea whether they may rely on IRS's promise to subsidize their health coverage, or if that money will be clawed back. Employers in 36 states have no idea whether they will be penalized under the ACA's employer mandate, or are effectively exempt from it.
"Insurers have no idea if their customers will pay for health coverage in which they enrolled, or if large numbers will default. And the Treasury has no idea if billions of dollars being spent each month were authorized by Congress, of if these expenditures are illegal. Only this Court can definitively resolve the matter; it is imperative that the Court do so as soon as possible. [JPS -- that is, before the DC Circuit en banc ridicules makes it look even more foolish.]"


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 11:18 PM
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90.*: As a reminder:

We reach this conclusion, frankly, with reluctance. At least until states that wish to can set up Exchanges, our ruling will likely have significant consequences both for the millions of individuals receiving tax credits through federal Exchanges and for health insurance markets more broadly. But, high as those stakes are, the principle of legislative supremacy that guides us is higher still. Within constitutional limits, Congress is supreme in matters of policy, and the consequence of that supremacy is that our duty when interpreting a statute is to ascertain the meaning of the words of the statute duly enacted through the formal legislative process. This limited role serves democratic interests by ensuring that policy is made by elected, politically accountable representatives, not by appointed, life-tenured judges.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 11:25 PM
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Dude, what kind of masochist are you? Why bother if not professionally semi-obligated? To 90, I think it's very unlikely that the Supreme Court grants quick review before an en banc DC Circuit decision, but (a) reasonably likely (maybe more than 50%) that after such a decision the Court takes it up and (b) (here I think much less likely, though still way way too close for sanity or comfort, say 30%) that the conservative 5 adopts some version of the insane DC Circuit panel opinion.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 11:30 PM
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I just happened to see the SCOTUSblog tweet on it, and then read the post, and it just struck me as potentially such a perfect "fuck you" that I became convinced that they will do it. Actually, I agree:

1) Not likely to be a quick review.
and
2) Roberts is probably too worried that insurance companies might get harmed in the course of this wingnuttery so he won't go along.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 07-31-14 11:41 PM
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I think part of the problem here is that there are a few similar but not quite the same claims that get conflated. For example:

1a) Income inequality is a problem for our political process, to be remedied with redistribution.
1b) Income inequality is an opportunity to massively improve total well-being by redistribution.
1c) Income inequality is intrinsically wrong, independent of how poor the poor are.
1d) Stagnation in income and well-being for most people is a problem, and the growth in wealth of the few richest people masks this in aggregate statistics.

I'm not sure how you'd show conclusively that 1a is true, though it certainly seems plausible. It implies support for a policy specifically targeted at making it impossible for people to be extremely rich, even if this isn't the revenue-maximizing tax policy.

However, 1a seems to have another problem - if the problem with having the very rich is that they can block assistance to poor and middle-income people, shouldn't punitive taxation to destroy the very rich be at least as difficult to implement as assistance to poor and middle-income people, if not moreso?

1b seems obviously true, and it would still be true even in a world where the poor were doing kind of okay but not very well. However, it supports a very different sort of tax policy - it shouldn't make you care about minimizing the wealth of the wealthiest, just maximizing the total size of the transfer (approximately).

Another thing about 1b is that to the extent it's not just an economic stimulus policy, you'll want to reduce consumption by the rich - once you reach full employment, anything that doesn't reduce consumption by the rich just raises prices, it doesn't free up resources for the poor to consume.

I know people (libertarianish, mostly) who are sympathetic to 1a, think 1b is wrong but a reasonable point of view for a person to have, but 1c is morally repugnant.

On the other hand, at least Heebie here seems to endorse 1c. So this isn't a case where moral intuitions are universal.

1d seems very similar to 1b in implications, although some people seem to think that action is obligatory when there's badness to alleviate, but supererogatory when there's merely insufficient goodness to augment. Those people would treat 1d as stronger support for redistribution or other policies to help the non-rich, than 1b is.

Then there's a second set of similar but distinct claims:

2a) At the current margin, income-reducing policies do not materially harm economic growth (and may even increase it).
2b) There is no tradeoff between growth and equality whatsoever. Perfect equality is compatible with the maximum rate of growth of real wealth.

2a seems obviously true, 2b seems false, and I think a lot of people who affirm 2b really just mean 2a, and a lot of people who claim to merely deny 2b are pulling a bait-and-switch, and pretend that this implies that 2a is false.

For example, Halford in 7 seems to be literally claiming 2b, but my guess is that this is just a loosely worded statement intended to assert 2a - that for any likely near-term decisions there's no tradeoff. That's just a guess, though; I'm not sure!

What am I missing?


Posted by: Benquo | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 1:10 AM
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71: I hadn't thought of it that way, but I think this is correct. On economic issues, the left suffers from an outrage gap compared to the right.

I'm old enough to remember when political candidates could talk about ameliorating poverty. They actually talked about poor people.

Nowadays, politicians who might be concerned about the poor mask that by talking about the middle class.

I would propose, however, that we can still talk about "fairness," but we should call it "justice." You ask for fairness. You demand justice.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 6:26 AM
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If you want some really unappealing arguments for redistribution that make the speaker sound like a terrible person, I've got a good one. As a snobbish and nervous member of the bourgeoisie, I dislike having severely poor people around, for all the social pathology reasons people talk about: violence, irresponsibility, and so on.

I have heard this argument made in earnest by affluent Europeans with respect to their welfare states. One said bluntly (paraphrased to be best of my recollection) "10% of my income is paid in taxes that I get back through benefits, 20% is taxes to run the state, and 20% is taxes to maintain the social peace. As long as the morons in [poor area] have a roof over their head, money for beer, and enough left over to go to the whorehouse once in a while, they aren't breaking into my house and stealing my stuff. That's worth 20% of my income."

One problem with this sentiment (apart from the obvious one) is that it tends to congrue with opposition to immigration: "Fine, I'll pay to support the domestic poors if I must, but don't bring any more into the country."


Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 7:31 AM
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Coming late to the thread, but to 50: I think the reason the 99% rhetoric is effective now where it might not have been in, say, 1995, is that the various crashes - and especially the real estate crash, since so many middle class people have much of their net wealth wrapped up in their homes - have forcibly reminded a lot of people in categories 2 and 3 that they are not nearly as far away from 4 as they would like to believe.

Granted, a lot of people are assholes and so they respond to this insecurity by wanting kick the people in group 4 even harder. It's magical thinking: "If I hate those people enough, that will guarantee that I can't ever become one of them". But I'm hopeful that it's becoming clearer to more and more people that that sort of magic doesn't actually work.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 7:33 AM
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94 is interesting and worth thinking about.

For LB, here's part of the Geoghegan quote I mentioned earlier (I started to type this up a while back and then realized it's vaguely obnoxious out of context. But, hey, that fits with LB's trolling):

Still, as I walked the streets [of Zurich], I had to gasp: My God! I had never seen a city not just opulent but opulent in such an elegantly intelligent way. ... It's not the per capita on paper. It's the per capita in the street. I mean, these are social democracies. The richest, like Sweden, are the most Red, i.e., on the left. Which means everybody's got dough. That's why in a social democracy even plain old Cologne has a whiff of cologne, while out in the parks even our most elegent cities have a whiff of urine. Just count the poor . . . . So think of "US v. Europe" not in terms of graphs and tables, but sensually. Sight. Touch. Even smell. . . .

Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 7:43 AM
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56 and 71 are both really good. The ingrained idea of competition is a real problem.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 7:52 AM
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94 is extremely well done. 1b, 1d, and 2a are true, 1c and 2b are false (and I hope people are only claiming them rhetorically), and 1a is probably true though I have no idea how we'd measure it.


Posted by: torque | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 8:02 AM
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94: 2a) At the current margin, income-reducing policies do not materially harm economic growth (and may even increase it).
2b) There is no tradeoff between growth and equality whatsoever. Perfect equality is compatible with the maximum rate of growth of real wealth.
2a seems obviously true, 2b seems false,

What do you mean when you say that 2b seems false? If you mean that perfect equality and maximum rate of growth are both really strong claims, and we have no idea at all how to approach either, so we haven't got much of a basis for saying that these two completely hypothetical states, both of which are inaccessible in reality, are compatible with each other? Sure, that's fair enough, but it has no real world consequences and is almost completely uninteresting.

If you're using "2b seems false" to mean anything that meaningfully informs real world decisionmaking, I'm not sure either what you mean by it, or what your evidence is.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 8:04 AM
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We have a great idea of how to get to perfect equality: set all tax rates to 100% and then give everyone some fixed amount, ie Communism. Which we have pretty good evidence would reduce growth.

And even a tax rate of 99%, you'll probably agree wouldn't really give people enough incentive to work at their full potential.

So there's clearly some sort of tradeoff.


Posted by: torque | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 8:14 AM
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I would quibble about whether that counts as perfect equality without an assessment of varying needs, which is not at all a trivial problem. And I would further quibble about whether 100% redistribution of monetary resources is really going to be sufficient by itself to achieve 'perfect equality', which would seem to me to require perfect equality of utility, rather than of money, which is a much harder problem.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 8:26 AM
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Equality of utility is quite the goal. We'd have to have to go around finding congenitally cheerful people and punching them in the face, while giving grouches a lift to work.

Maybe it's easier to argue for/accept this stronger version of the negation of 2b: even before we reach "full equality" (which I agree is hard to define), we'll start running into a tradeoff between equality and growth.


Posted by: torque | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 8:36 AM
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Well, perfection is quite the goal, which is my point -- I don't think it makes sense to say that because mindlessly crude redistribution of money would break the functioning of the economy, that you can use that to say much about the effects of meaningfully perfect equality.

Once you're making statements about "perfect equality" and "maximum growth", you're bullshitting.

If you want a version of 2b that I think is meaningful, stated positively, how about "There are at least some policies that would both increase inequality and reduce growth." And I'd agree with that. But I don't think you're going to get anyone stupid enough to endorse the negative of that, so you don't need to worry about it.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 8:42 AM
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"10% of my income is paid in taxes that I get back through benefits, 20% is taxes to run the state, and 20% is taxes to maintain the social peace. . . . That's worth 20% of my income."

It's hard to believe that social services are 40% of the state budget, but that is an endearingly cynical support for an activist state.

One problem with this sentiment (apart from the obvious one) is that it tends to congrue with opposition to immigration:

That makes sense.

I wonder if part of the difference that makes that attitude possible in Europe and not (so much) in the US, other that simply history, is the sense of the US as a physically large country where there's room for people to get away from each other. The US has been (and is) a much more rural country.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 8:49 AM
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Another way to put my thinking on this is that "we'll start running into a tradeoff between equality and growth" implies that for all economic policies, there's an a priori reason to believe that if it increases equality it decreases growth, and vice versa. Not that it's inevitably going to be true, but that that's a reliable rule of thumb, and cases where it's not true are cases where we're finding slop in the system -- in a cleanly functioning economy, this is the tradeoff we expect.

And that's a very strong assumption, and I don't see a good basis for it.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 8:50 AM
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While I like framing things in terms of equality, I agree that it's a tricky approach to take in the US. To many people here listened to "The Trees" growing up and thought it was deep political philosophy.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 8:51 AM
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Was it dsquared who pointed out that it's false as a matter of aboriculture? Maples grow faster and would shade out oaks?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 8:52 AM
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108: The song by Rush? We already have a thread for Canadian atrocities!


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 8:54 AM
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Canadian atrocities!

Justin Bieber doing cover versions of Rush songs?


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 9:00 AM
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That'd be ironic.


Posted by: Alanis Morrissette | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 9:05 AM
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15 is very good. I'd add that in situations of wealth inequality, not only are politicians bought; access to all kinds of influential (and rewarding) positions in society is restricted. The rich can be rich in many ways, doing many things: the poor can only be poor in standard, constrained ways. If you're serious about the general wellbeing, you will want to tear down entrenched advantage simply in order to allow others to progress. Meeting the basic material needs of all is never going to go far enough to produce a tolerably happy society.


Posted by: Charlie W | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 9:09 AM
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Existing state communism a la the USSSR didn't produce anything like "equality" (and also had very high growth rate, but whatever).

The (accurate) claim is that in any left-right range remotely politically available in modern industrialized countries, up to and probably going beyond the level of egalitarianism and redistribution you had in eg 1970s Sweden, meaning that for the purpose of any remotely realistic political discussion there is no growth/egalitarianism trade off, and attempts to point to one are mostly abstract reasoning bullshit done by assholes trying to justify inequality.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 9:15 AM
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107 also is right.


Posted by: RH | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 9:16 AM
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U S S S S S S beki beki stan stan R.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 9:19 AM
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implies that for all economic policies, there's an a priori reason to believe that if it increases equality it decreases growth, and vice versa.

I have a vague memory of someone sending in a guest post - LW maybe? Knecht? - about how there was empirical evidence that growth periods were shorter in countries with greater inequality.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 9:20 AM
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It's hard to believe that social services are 40% of the state budget

Between 43 and 50% in the relevant jurisdiction, depending on how broadly you define social services.


Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 9:35 AM
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One problem with this sentiment (apart from the obvious one) is that it tends to congrue with opposition to immigration:

I have no way to prove this is wrong, but I'm very skeptical. It may be a common and rhetorically useful pretext for opposing immigration, but I don't think you'd find anyone holding this sentiment suddenly softening on their stance toward immigration if their domestic welfare state were dismantled. Certainly doing jack shit for the poor in the US hasn't made us more welcoming towards immigrants.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 9:58 AM
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U S S S S S S beki beki stan stan R.

we're saving all our money for a cadillac-lac-lac-lac-lac-lac-lac-lac-lac...


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 10:01 AM
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I know people (libertarianish, mostly) who are sympathetic to 1a, think 1b is wrong but a reasonable point of view for a person to have, but 1c is morally repugnant.
On the other hand, at least Heebie here seems to endorse 1c. So this isn't a case where moral intuitions are universal.

As opposed to all those other cases where moral intuitions are universal, I assume.

In this case, however, it's pretty easy to draw lines: your libertarianish acquaintances are moral retrogrades with degenerate and incoherent moral reasoning, whereas heebie is a decent person and is right about 1c.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 10:06 AM
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I don't think you'd find anyone holding this sentiment suddenly softening on their stance toward immigration if their domestic welfare state were dismantled

Thus do you dismantle a claim no one made. The claim was that public support for robust social democratic welfare states is to some degree contingent on limited immigration, and there is plenty of contemporary evidence for that.


Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 10:08 AM
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I have a vague memory of someone sending in a guest post - LW maybe? Knecht? - about how there was empirical evidence that growth periods were shorter in countries with greater inequality.

It looks like that was me but I would have forgotten about that if you hadn't mentioned it.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 10:10 AM
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Right! Sorry about the misattribution, Nick-o.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 10:12 AM
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I certainly agree with 122. I did not understand that to be the claim you were making. I thought the claim was that public support for robust social democratic welfare states which is motivated by appeals to base self-interest of the affluent, ie as buying social peace, is to some degree what leads persons of that mindset to support tight limits on immigration, which I rather doubt.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 10:28 AM
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Honest to god, I don't even remember what claim 1c said, but I really don't need to check--if the libertarians are on one side of it, and heebie's on the other, what more information to you need?


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 10:30 AM
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Stuck in the middle with you.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 10:38 AM
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I initially read 124 as "Sorry about the masturbation."


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 10:40 AM
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One need never apologize for that.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 10:41 AM
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I keep on reading this post's title as "Economic Damacy." Rolling everyone up into a ball would be a form of equality, but probably wouldn't help social tension.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 10:42 AM
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If you read 1c ("Income inequality is intrinsically wrong, independent of how poor the poor are.") as implying that a 100% tax rate and total redistribution is immediately morally required, then I'd have to be on the side of disagreeing with it. But I think stating it in absolutely terms like that is tendentious, and I'd agree with "Significant income inequality is intrinsically wrong".


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 10:45 AM
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Yep to 131. And to 121 for that matter.


Posted by: RH | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 10:47 AM
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129: even if it's to a dead person?


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 10:51 AM
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Or at a wedding?


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 11:33 AM
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I guess at a funeral would worse.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 11:33 AM
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Who would have a funeral behind a deck tennis court on a sunny weekend day?


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 11:41 AM
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94 seems like it makes promising distinctions. I don't know why LB is objecting to it on the grounds that 2b is meaningless or bullshit or unknowable (as opposed to merely false); seems like that's grist for Benquo's mill. Conflating something so out there as to be meaningless, or so unknowable as to be impractical, with what you're arguing against, seems about as rhetorically good as conflating something clearly false with what you're arguing against. Whoever it is gets to say that 2b is bullshit, or so far from being knowable that it shouldn't guide our actions, and then implicitly act like they've shown that 2a is bullshit, or shouldn't guide our actions.

1c [ 1c) Income inequality is intrinsically wrong, independent of how poor the poor are.] and 2b are false (and I hope people are only claiming them rhetorically

It's not obvious to me that 1c is false, but it's obvious to me that it's not obvious (in general) that 1c is false. Why such a summary dismissal? Immediately falling back on "differing moral intuitions" is giving up rather quickly; this seems like a claim that can be argued over like any other (most others?).

If you read 1c ("Income inequality is intrinsically wrong, independent of how poor the poor are.") as implying that a 100% tax rate and total redistribution is immediately morally required, then I'd have to be on the side of disagreeing with it. But I think stating it in absolutely terms like that is tendentious, and I'd agree with "Significant income inequality is intrinsically wrong".

Not to put words in Benquo's mouth, but I suspect the contrast intended with "intrinsically" is "contextually" or "based on its consequences," not "not absolutely." E.g., I think that killing someone is intrinsically wrong. Doesn't mean the wrongness is never overruled by other considerations, or that it's true that one should never kill no matter what---just means that regardless of context or effect of the action, that some action is killing is a moral reason not to do it.

...which is maybe what you meant by the "tendentious" sentence, anyway.


Posted by: remy | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 2:40 PM
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One basic problem is that we're a super intensely competitive society. One reason that, emotionally, people don't want a more egalitarian society is that people feel like they'll lose their fragile status, and we're a bunch of insecure assholes.

This seems very right, both the remark about competitiveness and our tendency to treat economic class as correlated with individual worth. It's hard for me not to hear the latter, if not so much the competitiveness, behind what knecht's earnest affluent European said and, to a lesser extent, LB's unappealing argument.


Posted by: remy | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 3:04 PM
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10% of my income is paid in taxes that I get back through benefits, 20% is taxes to run the state, and 20% is taxes to maintain the social peace.

One can look at this as a Rawlsian-veil price, not just Danegeld; how well off one needs to make the worst off for everyone to agree to the system.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 08- 1-14 4:40 PM
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how well off one needs to make the worst off for everyone to agree to the system

I doubt this thread is anything but dead by now, but it's worth noting that this is a moving target: you can make the worst off get used to a hell of a lot of life-shittiness without taking up pitchforks -- more shittiness than they might have been willing to put up with 10 or 20 or 30 years ago. Part of what's going on these days is that the worst off are beginning to notice that the wellness disparity (translated as income inequality for the most part, though it's not limited to that) is maybe not as acceptable as they'd thought. Occupy was/is treated as rabble-rousers precisely because they insisted on pointing out that things are not okay, and that we should not agree to this system: they were/are trying to foment unrest where it might not have existed before.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 08- 2-14 9:38 AM
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To followup to the responses to 50, I understand that "we are the 99%" is right analytically, where this means that Piketty-type analysis shows how (2) and (3) have lost ground in the last 30 years relative to (1). That's why I said "the practical political problem" with the slogan, rather than "the reason 'we are the 99%' is wrong". What has the putative anger and resentment of (2) and (3) at (1) translated into politically? I'll give you De Blasio as mayor of NYC. And yet 3 years after Occupy and 7 years after the global financial collapse, we're facing what's currently projected as a Republican takeover of the Senate, while wonks earnestly engage with Paul Ryan's poverty plan (and while, internationally, most welfare democracies have embraced varieties of austerity). There are lots of reasons for this that don't have much to do with where American opinion is at, among them: control over the political process by (1) and an inability to mobilize (4) for midterms, when they can be mobilized on a wide scale at all. Any hope for changing the political control exerted by (1) through things like publically funded elections (i.e., radical reforms) is going to require not only mobilizing (4) widely for elections but sustained political pressure after elections by everyone. The only real prospect I see for that is empowering (4) through things like worker centers and mobilizing them politically the way Tea Party does the Republican base. And that's the point where I see the 99% as a category of solidarity failing. The people who staff worker centers and do commmunity organizing are usually some combination of professional activists, the lefty religious, and people with natural leadership qualities in the relevant communities and economic sectors. Getting members of (2) and (3) to come out on a mass scale and do something like rally with fast food workers for a living wage runs up against a lived experience gap (in a way that Tea Partiers--most of whom are (2) and (3)--don't face any experience gap in living out and organizing around the angry fantasy that they're losing ground at the hands of "the takers").


Posted by: Criminally Bulgur | Link to this comment | 08- 2-14 12:57 PM
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Any hope for changing the political control exerted by (1) through things like publically funded elections (i.e., radical reforms) is going to require not only mobilizing (4) widely for elections but sustained political pressure after elections by everyone. The only real prospect I see for that is empowering (4) through things like worker centers and mobilizing them politically the way Tea Party does the
Republican base. And that's the point where I see the 99% as a category of solidarity failing. The people who staff worker centers and do commmunity organizing are usually some combination of professional activists, the lefty religious, and people with natural leadership qualities in the relevant communities and economic sectors. Getting members of (2) and (3) to come out on a mass scale and do something like rally with fast food workers for a living wage runs up against a lived experience gap

Pretty much agreed here, and that lived experience gap is among the reasons I dislike the 99% rhetoric: it supposes that the top 10% or 20% have anything at all in common with the bottom 50%. But I've said this before: if, as a 10 or 20 percenter, you're not putting effort into raising the minimum wage, fighting voter disenfranchisement efforts, supporting universal pre-K education, and frankly any number of other efforts to increase voter participation among (4) and actually (3) as well, your claim to solidarity is entirely hollow.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 08- 3-14 11:45 AM
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128, 129: Somebody should tell that to those uptight assholes at Barnes & Noble, then.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 08- 3-14 11:56 AM
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143: What?


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 08- 3-14 12:10 PM
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It's an allegory.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 3-14 12:26 PM
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144: sensing an opportunity to regain market share? But I understand such establishments still exist, along highways and whatnot.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 08- 3-14 12:35 PM
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What? What does this have to do with Barnes & Noble?

Well, never mind.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 08- 3-14 12:37 PM
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143: A lot of authors they stock are dead, you creep.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08- 3-14 12:48 PM
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147: Apo was joking, by implying that he had been asked to leave a Barnes & Noble for partaking in the activity alluded to in the comments whose numbers he referenced. Jokes are not uncommon in the comment threads here, if you pay attention and have some minimal familiarity with the concept.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 08- 3-14 1:00 PM
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I see. I was blocking because I'm in the book trade, so reference to Barnes & Noble is loaded. For me.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 08- 3-14 1:07 PM
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Thanks for explaining the concept of jokes, though, essear.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 08- 3-14 1:09 PM
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I dislike the 99% rhetoric: it supposes that the top 10% or 20% have anything at all in common with the bottom 50%.

But the do have something in common: they're all very vulnerable to the predations of the 1%. Hence the need for some kind of minimal solidarity.

if, as a 10 or 20 percenter, you're not putting effort into raising the minimum wage, fighting voter disenfranchisement efforts, supporting universal pre-K education, and frankly any number of other efforts to increase voter participation among (4) and actually (3) as well, your claim to solidarity is entirely hollow.

True, but I think nearly everyone who identifies with the 99% rhetoric would at least support these sorts of efforts with their vote. If you're saying that they need to be on the ground activists, then we're doomed because the majority of people are never going to be on the ground activists.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 08- 3-14 1:11 PM
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1% of the people do 99% of the activism.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 08- 3-14 1:51 PM
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149: It didn't seem funny at the time.


Posted by: Opinionated Barnes and Noble manager | Link to this comment | 08- 3-14 2:38 PM
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I had been been voting for progressive candidates and such, but after Chappaquiddick 142 I see that I should just vote for the GOP and quit thinking I have anything in common with the common.

False consciousness. It isn't just for the proletariat.


Posted by: md 20/400 | Link to this comment | 08- 3-14 4:07 PM
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No, no. Keep voting progressive. Just don't deceive yourself into thinking that your vote isn't hollow.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 3-14 4:08 PM
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142 is awesome. You make $50k a year? Prove your bona fides, plutocrat!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08- 3-14 4:33 PM
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137 describes what I meant by "intrinsically" - that hypothetically even if it maximized total utility, and the poor were basically okay, there would still be something repugnant about large amounts of inequality.

To LizardBreath in 101, 2b seems like something some people have literally said. I think they just meant 2a, but am unwilling to change the words in someone else's mouth for them.


Posted by: Benquo | Link to this comment | 08- 7-14 8:03 AM
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The practical relevance of 2b is that in practice sometimes suboptimal policies are proposed. Sure, there are ways (currently being blocked by people with wrong political opinions) to equalize wealth with little or no adverse effect on the total quantity of wealth, but there are ALSO worse ways to do it.


Posted by: Benquo | Link to this comment | 08- 7-14 8:06 AM
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