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Movin' On Up in The Jobless Recovery: Not!
January 1, 2004 7:16 PM   Subscribe

Good Bye, Horatio Alger The other day I found myself reading a leftist rag that made outrageous claims about America. It said that we are becoming a society in which the poor tend to stay poor, no matter how hard they work; in which sons are much more likely to inherit the socioeconomic status of their father than they were a generation ago. The name of the leftist rag? Business Week, which published an article titled "Waking Up From the American Dream." The article summarizes recent research showing that social mobility in the United States (which was never as high as legend had it) has declined considerably over the past few decades. If you put that research together with other research that shows a drastic increase in income and wealth inequality, you reach an uncomfortable conclusion: America looks more and more like a class-ridden society. And guess what? Our political leaders are doing everything they can to fortify class inequality, while denouncing anyone who complains--or even points out what is happening--as a practitioner of "class warfare." So how do you move on up in the jobless recovery, anyhow?
posted by y2karl (118 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
turn on, tune in, and drop out.
posted by quonsar at 7:27 PM on January 1, 2004


Interestingly enough, the Horatio Alger story in general is usually misrepresented: in most of the tales, Horatio works hard, but only succeeds due to the kindness of a stranger. He's never rewarded for his hard work directly; rather, a rich factory owner (etc.) decides to help him out.

No word on whether the factory owner then cackles about Iberians or drinks the blood of the lower classes.
posted by jed at 7:36 PM on January 1, 2004


America looks more and more like a class-ridden society.

Always has been, always will be. It's perfectly OK to have "classes" in society. And the fact that some people aren't able to "change their station" in America doesn't mean that America is broken, or has failed to live up to the ideals of the founders.
posted by davidmsc at 7:46 PM on January 1, 2004


Not only "some people;" a growing super-majority of people. Not to say that America is broken, rather that some people are breaking it.
posted by crazy finger at 7:52 PM on January 1, 2004


When less and less of us can change our stations, it is broken. It's become more and more about a birth lottery--if you're born into an upper-middle class family or above, you're set, and otherwise you're stuck. (and the move to two-income families--yet at the same level one-income families were 30 years ago--says a lot about how it is nowadays for millions of americans)
posted by amberglow at 8:01 PM on January 1, 2004


This article is a waste of bandwidth. And consider how cheap that is thanks to the smart children of the dot com era who can't compete.
posted by stbalbach at 8:04 PM on January 1, 2004


davidmsc - This is a cop-out on y2karl's implicit question : what does the "American Dream" mean if America is dominated by a class which has inherited it's wealth and privilege?

There are many degrees in this American equation which is now shifting very fast towards the rentier class, but -

Come on now. Paris Hilton?
posted by troutfishing at 8:05 PM on January 1, 2004


When less and less of us can change our stations, it is broken

Is it because that people can't or people won't make the effort necessary?
posted by gyc at 8:09 PM on January 1, 2004


Yes, that must be it. Poor people are lazy and shiftless. So it has been from time immemorial. Enjoy your trust fund, share a brioche with Marie Antoinette, and don't give it another thought. (If the peasants show up with pitchforks and torches, the faithful constabulary will deal with them as they deserve.)
posted by languagehat at 8:21 PM on January 1, 2004


So, gyc, the fact that more two-income families are just struggling to get by, and that Americans are working longer and longer hours now, is somehow pointing to the idea that people aren't making the effort?

I'm really curious, I just don't understand how one can come to such a conclusion...
posted by Space Coyote at 8:22 PM on January 1, 2004


Old Money: The Mythology of Wealth in America

"..a new study from the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA SM) finds that inheritance is not a significant source of wealth. The study also finds that the U.S. has a very high level of wealth mobility, with poor people becoming rich and rich becoming poor in a short period of time.

"Rags to riches to rags again in three generations, is not an American myth," said Bruce Bartlett, an NCPA senior fellow and the author of the study. "It has been reality for many families."

According to the study, a significant percentage of the largest American fortunes were accumulated in a single generation.

80 percent of millionaires acquire their wealth in a single generation without the benefit of inheritance.Among the top 5 percent of households ranked by wealth, only 8 percent of their wealth came from inheritances (source)
posted by stbalbach at 8:35 PM on January 1, 2004


America looks more and more like a class-ridden society.

As davidmsc points out, this is nothing new.

This is a cop-out on y2karl's implicit question : what does the "American Dream" mean if America is dominated by a class which has inherited it's wealth and privilege?

It means no more or less than it did throughout our history, as America has always been dominated by a class which has inherited its wealth and privilege. The success of America hasn't been the closing of the gap between rich and poor, but that being middle-class in America is better and perhaps more accessible than elsewhere, I think.

I suspect that, for most of the people visiting this site, the American Dream is alive and well, despite all of the obvious flaws with our government and society.

So, gyc, the fact that more two-income families are just struggling to get by, and that Americans are working longer and longer hours now, is somehow pointing to the idea that people aren't making the effort?

On both of those points, my own anecdotal evidence at least points to a change in people's priorities, rather than a fundamental change in the class structure of society. I know lots of people who'd be aptly described by your question, but in many of their cases, they're working longer hours and "struggling to get by" because they want the bigger house, and the new car, and the bigger TV set, or whatever.
posted by me & my monkey at 8:38 PM on January 1, 2004


Inheretance is one thing, having your education in the best schools paid for by your parents, and then getting in at some high-paying position or other thanks to your school's name and your parents' connections isn't mentioned.
posted by Space Coyote at 8:38 PM on January 1, 2004


me & my monkey: I would argue that student debt is likely a much bigger factor than, say, the desire for a bigger tv.
posted by Space Coyote at 8:41 PM on January 1, 2004


so
paris hilton is going to dominate me with brioche?

sheesh
The Charles Nash story.

In 20 years he went from stuffing seat cushions to running the company.
posted by clavdivs at 8:45 PM on January 1, 2004


..like some monster reincarnation of Horatio Alger
posted by mikeh at 8:48 PM on January 1, 2004


After I graduated, I hated the idea of using connections; I thought I would be able to do find on my own merit and abilities if given the chance. Unfortunately, I was never given the chance. Finally I broke down and started pushing connections and now I'm on the fast track.

Lots of hard work = waste of time
Cronyism = fast track

Maybe that's how America has always been, but it doesn't make me very proud.
posted by crazy finger at 8:57 PM on January 1, 2004


People like gyc just make me nuts.

We're a two income family. Not because we want the bigger house (we have a modest abode); not because we want the newer/faster cars (13 and 11 years old our cars are) but because we want to save our house and be able to put gas in our cars and clothes on our kids.

gyc, to say that people don't want to put forth the effort is stupid and completely fucked. Most families we know are two income just because they have to be. Many have at least one if not two laid off adults (like us).

As you read this, I know that you and monkey and davidmc, et al, are rolling your eyes and wishing we second class citizens would shut the hell up and go away. Fuck you. Fuck all of you. I'm not a violent person, but I'd love nothing better than to just kick your ass lefthanded. Christ.

/going outside to get some air.
posted by damnitkage at 9:11 PM on January 1, 2004


What damnitkage said!
posted by Slimemonster at 9:29 PM on January 1, 2004


Oh, abso-freaking-lutely brilliant, damnitkage. You'd like nothing better than to "kick (my) ass." Just lovely. Please explain how my comment specifically incites such anger and violence in you? Did I make any reference to you? Did I make any reference to any person? Did I threaten you? Did I call names, or use foul language?

What gives?
posted by davidmsc at 9:32 PM on January 1, 2004


The myth of income mobility has always exceeded the reality: As a general rule, once they've reached their 30s, people don't move up and down the income ladder very much. Conservatives often cite studies like a 1992 report by Glenn Hubbard, a Treasury official under the elder Bush who later became chief economic adviser to the younger Bush, that purport to show large numbers of Americans moving from low-wage to high-wage jobs during their working lives. But what these studies measure, as the economist Kevin Murphy put it, is mainly "the guy who works in the college bookstore and has a real job by his early 30s." Serious studies that exclude this sort of pseudo-mobility show that inequality in average incomes over long periods isn't much smaller than inequality in annual incomes.

Krugman lost me here. Moving from working in a college bookstore to a "real job" (whatever Krugman thinks that means) isn't mobility? By what conceivable logic? Is he implying that the guy who works in the bookstore is in college and therefore this is a supplemental part time job, or ... what? Only income mobility late in life counts? I'm baffled.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 9:34 PM on January 1, 2004


turn on, tune in, and drop out.
posted by clavdivs at 9:41 PM on January 1, 2004


fwiw, here's that businessweek article! (along with the onion "parody" :)
posted by kliuless at 9:44 PM on January 1, 2004


He once rushed to the assembly floor to find the line stopped and three severed fingers laying next to a machine. A foreman explained that the rest of the workers were upset about the accident.

"Brush them off and keep going," Nash ordered and turned the assembly line back on.

posted by sgt.serenity at 9:48 PM on January 1, 2004


I gotta go with Damnitkage and Slimemonster on this,

For some one who has seen both poverty and stability.
It is NOT hard work that does it, Its, chance, luck, connections, and for many I know, Deceit that gets you ahead.
posted by Elim at 9:52 PM on January 1, 2004


Ishmael, the point is that working in a college bookstore at Harvard or Yale (and hence filing a tax return showing a $4,000 annual income for a year or two, en route to a $250,000 job at Uncle Lou's law firm) looks superficially the same as someone making $4,000 a year as a part-time clerk at Walmart or a fruit picker. The reality is that those clerks and fruit-pickers don't go on to $250,000 jobs, ever, and the Yale man working in the bookstore was never really a member of their fiscal/social stratum. It isn't mobility because the Yale guy was never, not even for an instant, down in the $4,000/year stratum - his family was rich, there was no question that he would be rich, etc.

In the bad old days - we called it "feudalism" - you were born into a certain amount of wealth and power and almost always, remained at that level until you died. There was a certain amount of mobility of course - a Count could aspire to be a Duke, a serf could aspire to be a well-treated serf - but for the most part, there was little mixing of the strata. No serfs, no matter how hard they worked, became Dukes.

In the U.S., the conservative mythos is that there are no barriers to becoming fabulously wealthy. This mythos has to be maintained, because the Republicans want to favor the richest of the rich, and the poor citizens who vote Republican have to believe that they too could become one of the ruling elite - have to, or else it's not logical to vote Republican. If you really believe that you too could become a Bush or a Kennedy, then it doesn't bother you much that the Republicans are screwing over all the poor (which is to say, you).

Business Week and Krugman are pointing out that the emperor has no clothes, that the mythos is just a myth. People are always saying things like "Bill Gates didn't inherit his money! He rose from rags to riches!" Well, guess what. Bill Gates (actually William Henry Gates III) was born to hugely rich family, went to an incredibly expensive private prep school and Harvard on his parent's dime, etc. etc. Not to say he hasn't been successful - he has. But he did the equivalent of moving from Count to Duke status, not serf to Duke. William Henry Gates III was destined to be a rather rich and powerful man even if he had never touched a computer in his life.

In a similar manner, connections and wealth keep you on top even if you aren't deserving. GWB: drunkard, cocaine addict, and a bit of a dim bulb. He should therefore, according to the conservative mythos, be poor and powerless. Hasn't worked out that way...
posted by jellicle at 10:17 PM on January 1, 2004 [1 favorite]


So, gyc, the fact that more two-income families are just struggling to get by, and that Americans are working longer and longer hours now, is somehow pointing to the idea that people aren't making the effort?

I'm really curious, I just don't understand how one can come to such a conclusion...


I'm talking about income mobility, not about struggling two-income families. While they do have a tangential relation, I fail to see how what you're talking about has any direct relation with what I'm talking about, which is income mobility.
posted by gyc at 10:27 PM on January 1, 2004


So hard work and income mobility have little to nothing to do with each other? Sounds like we agree.

Now, the question is, what is the reason for the reduction in income mobility, and why are people still buying the notion of the American Dream?
posted by Space Coyote at 10:35 PM on January 1, 2004


When less and less of us can change our stations, it is broken...

Is it because that people can't or people won't make the effort necessary?


Sounds like that's exactly what you were talking about, gyc - to me "changing stations" could be taken to mean "crossing over to the right side of the tracks". Explain what, exactly, you mean by income mobility then? Rich people becoming richer? Poor people becoming poorer? I don't think there's much of a problem in these areas.

If you really believe that you too could become a Bush or a Kennedy, then it doesn't bother you much that the Republicans are screwing over all the poor (which is to say, you).

This is the biggest swindle going - the success of convincing people whos children's public school is barely keeping afloat that "taxes on the rich are bad, mmkay?". Surely we can make the reverse concept gather momentum - convincing rich people to contribute to the public purse, because well fed, well educated poor people are less likely to mug them.
posted by Jimbob at 10:40 PM on January 1, 2004


So all the Microsoft programmers went from Count to Duke as well? All of the kids tinkering in their basements with homebuilt pc's and Sinclairs and Apple I's? What about the PA's and so forth at the dot-coms who chose to get paid in stocks? Maybe none of those people would have been given a chance at Goldman Sachs or the other companies which keep the meritocracy in BMW's and Thomas Pink, but they were still smart and aggressive enough to change their positions.
posted by Spacelegoman at 10:41 PM on January 1, 2004


Don't worry, Spacelegoman, outsourcing is taking care of that little anomoly rather nicely.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:55 PM on January 1, 2004


that more two-income families are just struggling to get by, and that Americans are working longer and longer hours now, is somehow pointing to the idea that people aren't making the effort?
Exactly! Just because they work hard, does not mean they are making the effort to improve their lot.

Are they taking classes? No.
Are they seeking better positions? No.
Are they looking for business opportunities on which to capitalize? No.

Are they putting in their 40+ hours and saying that's enough? Yes.
posted by mischief at 11:00 PM on January 1, 2004


People are always saying things like "Bill Gates didn't inherit his money! He rose from rags to riches!" Well, guess what. Bill Gates (actually William Henry Gates III) was born to hugely rich family, went to an incredibly expensive private prep school and Harvard on his parent's dime, etc. etc.

Fair enough, but what about Steve Jobs? He came from far humbler roots than Bill, yet was worth $2.3 billion as of September 2003.
posted by Scoo at 11:03 PM on January 1, 2004


The best statistic on this topic, IMO oc, is the vastly increased multiple of the average wage paid to the average CEO. One would think that, even for the extra effort, skill and intelligence necessary to run the company, 50x, 75x, or at the outside 100x would be sufficient. but the one thinking that would be off by nearly an order of magnitude.

Furthermore, citing Jobs, Gates or any one or five other individuals is meaningless because in any system of 300 million participants there will be a tiny percentage of outliers, the equivalent of six 9s.
posted by billsaysthis at 11:08 PM on January 1, 2004


Ah, I thought this sounded familiar.

Are they taking classes? No.

In fact, many people are taking classes to gain more marketable skills. Oh yeah, and because student loans are a more steady income than job-of-the-week club. This also on paper puts them out of the unemployment figures.

Are they seeking better positions? No.

Funny thing about working your ass off, it leaves little time to find a better job. If your paycheck barely covers your expenses -- lousy place to be but lots of people are there now -- you can't afford to take off work in search of some magic dream job which may or may not exist.

Are they looking for business opportunities on which to capitalize? No.

Oh now that's a funny one. Let me pull myself together before answering this one. "Business opportunities on which to capitalize" take seed capital, right? If you have crappy job, if you lost good job and have burned through your savings while trying to find a new job, if you simply aren't wealthy to begin with, you need to borrow money from somewhere. Venture capitalists are not waiting to talk to unemployed people who want to follow their dream of owning a bookstore. That brings us back to the loan department of the bank. Perhaps you are unaware that the SBA is primarily in the business of guaranteeing second mortgages. Indeed, it is a vote of no confidence if your bank wants to get the SBA involved. Renters need not apply, of course. It leaves the savvy would-be businessman wondering why he should fill out the paperwork instead of calling Di-Tech.

Are they putting in their 40+ hours and saying that's enough? Yes.

Frankly, there are a lot of people who would be delighted to work a whole 40 hours per week. After all, if they were full time, they would get health insurance.
posted by ilsa at 11:15 PM on January 1, 2004


Surely we can make the reverse concept gather momentum - convincing rich people to contribute to the public purse, because well fed, well educated poor people are less likely to mug them.

It takes very little skills to use a gun and say 'gimmie your money'. And if you think 'dealing with the idiots' of your life is now, imagine if the idiots of the world were illiterate idiots.
posted by rough ashlar at 11:28 PM on January 1, 2004


amberglow: When less and less of us can change our stations, it is broken. It's become more and more about a birth lottery

Very well put, and the current insane rants and ravings regarding stopping the estate tax (and other death taxes) only reinforces this pathetic situation.
posted by skallas at 11:34 PM on January 1, 2004


Probably the best advice I can offer anyone who thinks the thing preventing class advancement as a whole is laziness or lack of motivation, read the first few paragraphs of "The Great Gatsby." It's easily to look advantages any of us have had.
posted by drezdn at 11:45 PM on January 1, 2004


overlook advantages any of us have had...
posted by drezdn at 11:46 PM on January 1, 2004


relax everybody, i'm sure any minute now faith-based organizations will spring forth to assist those suffering acute economic malaise. can i get you a bottled water? seen LOTR yet? and how about them nicks?
posted by quonsar at 11:51 PM on January 1, 2004


"Eat the rich." (Abby Hoffman)
posted by Goofyy at 12:21 AM on January 2, 2004


many people are taking classes

'Many' is such a relative term; too bad you cannot substitute 'a significant number of' in your sentence and maintain fact.

Funny thing about working your ass off, it leaves little time to find a better job.

That's an excuse. Excuses are for losers.

"Business opportunities on which to capitalize" take seed capital

Not necessarily. 'Sweat equity' applies to more than residential real estate. Anecdotal yes, but I personally know a no-account high-school dropout who, at 22, started a cleaning service borrowing his friends' cleaning gear and bumming rides. Now four years later, he owns outright two $200K houses on either coast of Florida. All this during a 'bum' economy. Still, it only takes one example to disprove your assertion.

a lot of people who would be delighted to work a whole 40 hours per week

How many of them then are putting 40 hours each week into finding such a job?

No matter how you rationalize it, if people do not look for a better opportunity, they will not find it.

drezdn: such a convenient reference; I'm sure everyone has a copy of Gatsby. Still, the first paragraphs summarize to an excuse, and for excuses, see above. Also, if you trace back through the family trees of all those with 'advantage', you will eventually stumble across a dirt poor ancestor who made something of himself or herself.
posted by mischief at 12:21 AM on January 2, 2004


Interesting to note that the concept of an increasingly unbridgeable gap between a large, growing working class and a small, shrinking upper class was more or less analysed by Marx 150 years ago. The rulers changed (feudal barons, capitalists etc.) but the basic structure remained the same. (He also saw this historical conditions for the emergence of a classless society as achievable, but it didn't work out like that; the party bosses just became another ruling class).
posted by plep at 12:34 AM on January 2, 2004


Sorry to throw a tiny bit more gasoline on the fire, quonsar, but here goes:

Spacelegoman: So all the Microsoft programmers went from Count to Duke as well? All of the kids tinkering in their basements with homebuilt pc's and Sinclairs and Apple I's?

I was once one of those kids that tinkered with a Timex Sinclair and sometimes a teletype machine. I got to do this because my dad is a mechanical engineer and let the kids play with his toys. I know a lot of computer nerds, as it were, and their parents are all engineers, doctors, or some other type of professional. About half my high school was first- and second-generation Hispanic immigrants, and I never knew any of them to have grown up tinkering with a computer, much less enroll in a college-prep class, unless their parent was also a professional.
posted by halonine at 12:44 AM on January 2, 2004


The L-Curve should be noted.
posted by y2karl at 12:46 AM on January 2, 2004


For every fat cat, there must be a bunch of skinny ones. There can not be a bunch of fat cats and no skinny ones. The food dish is not bottomless.

What we can control is whether any cat starves to death. There is enough food to keep all us cats alive, and I believe there's actually enough to keep us all quite well-fed.

In our society, though, we have some cats that are starving to death and some cats that are so beyond morbidly obese that they've transmoggyfied into an obscene mockery of catdom. They're not merely fat cats -- they're beyond fat, to the point where the fatness of it isn't even comprehensible.

We've all seen chubby cats, and we've all seen outrageously fat cats ("my god," you think, "that poor, poor thing! it must weigh 30 pounds!"), but these colossal cats take it many orders of magnitude beyond that -- not merely a 300lb cat, not even a 3000lb cat, but a 30 000lb cat, a cat as large as a large house. A cat so big it's beyond cat.

The crazy cat lady who feeds us is obviously in need of a rubber room or an ethics course, because at the same time hundreds of cats are starving to death, right in front of her very eyes, she actually watches it as it happens, this monstrously fat fucking cat is gobbling up all the cat chow.

Fingers crossed that the SPCA steps in, I guess.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:08 AM on January 2, 2004


Jeffrey Madrick's interview with Stephen J. Rose: The Truth About Social Mobility

And from the New York Times in March, 1996: The Downsizing of America. And the chart there for Comparing Layoffs by Yearly Income.

These come from the website for Frontline: Does America Still Work?
posted by y2karl at 1:12 AM on January 2, 2004


Damn, I forgot to add:

Cronyism, networking, same thing.
...and...
Getting ahead also involves willingness to take some risk, a bit of sacrifice, and a goodly amount of self-discipline. Poker players understand these concepts quite well.
posted by mischief at 1:17 AM on January 2, 2004


mischief: Cronyism, networking, same thing.

Okay, lets put down the bong for a sec.

Cronyism is favoritism WITHOUT regard to another's qualifications or abilities. e.g. I'm hiring Jane because she's an old friend.

Networking is a social process to DETERMINE another's qualifications or abilities. e.g. I'm hiring Jane because she's experienced and skilled in the things my company needs to do.

Grok?
posted by skallas at 1:29 AM on January 2, 2004


Sure, skallas, just go on believing that. Did you ever consider that perhaps Jane 1 is a friend because of her qualifications and abilities? Or, do you make friends with just anyone?

Oh, and this looks like a good place to insert that old standby: "If people would just put the energy they spend whining into something more constructive..."
posted by mischief at 1:52 AM on January 2, 2004


billsaysthis: The best statistic on this topic, IMO oc, is the vastly increased multiple of the average wage paid to the average CEO. One would think that, even for the extra effort, skill and intelligence necessary to run the company, 50x, 75x, or at the outside 100x would be sufficient. but the one thinking that would be off by nearly an order of magnitude.

Some figures:
Between 1980 and 2000, CEO pay in America increased from approximately 42 times that of the average worker to 531 times

So a good order of magnitude on your low estimate but only half way there on your high estimate.

Anyone out there think there is a person on this planet worth more than 10 million a year? By that I mean do they actually create more than 10 million of value or is their value becuase they are sitting on a huge pile of capital. If you do, are those people CEOs? Baseball players? Scientists? Doctors? President of the USA?
posted by Mitheral at 1:57 AM on January 2, 2004


Obviously someone thinks CEOs are worth $10 million or they wouldn't have hired them in the first place.
posted by mischief at 2:03 AM on January 2, 2004


>Did you ever consider that perhaps Jane 1 is a friend because of her qualifications and abilities? Or, do you make friends with just anyone?

Why yes I do. Friendship, family, etc have nothing to do with how well these people can perform needs for my company, projects, etc. I feel sorry for you if you can't grasp this basic concept or if you sphere of friends is purely professional.

Cute teleological argument though. Follow through with a nice Ad Hoc and be done with it. Here's a suggestion:

"I hired Jane because she was a friend and she did a great job. Thus cronyism works!"
posted by skallas at 2:07 AM on January 2, 2004


Jane 1 is a friend because of her qualifications and abilities

heh. chrome. trailer hitch. *cough*
posted by quonsar at 2:22 AM on January 2, 2004


It would be interesting to compare the backgrounds of the last few British Prime Ministers against the background of the last few American Presidents. My guess is that British Prime Ministers tend to come from a poorer background.

If Krugman is correct, then maybe the reason is that Americans consistently vote for policies that help the rich. I can't remember which analyst it was, but he said something of the lines that Americans vote for policies that reflect their social aspirations, rather than their social reality. So the result is that policies that hurt the top 10% are widely opposed, because 25% of the population believe themselves to be in that top 10%, and another 25% expect to be there in the next 10 years.
posted by salmacis at 3:05 AM on January 2, 2004


Obviously someone thinks CEOs are worth $10 million or they wouldn't have hired them in the first place.
posted by mischief


True.

Ok, reposition: Does anyone who thinks CEOs are worth more than 10 million a year make less than 1 million a year?
posted by Mitheral at 3:21 AM on January 2, 2004


There is much to be concerned about in the increasing gap between the upper 1%, 10% and everyone else.

Part of the problem is how hard it is to manage money. The educational process in this country doesn't emphasize money management enough. Shop classes and drama get more QT than money management, investment, and tax law do.

Add to this that it appears that the very rich have an unfair advantage, i.e. recent scandals involving special after hours trading privileges.

Add to that the failure by many people to recognize the economic impact of personal choices, i.e. family size, watching sports instead of markets, wearing out as opposed to wearing this year's.

I am making more money now than my parents combined when I was growing up. Other than real estate and car costs, that standard of life stays with me, but I work and mingle with people who think nothing of 1000 dollar window treatments, keeping up with the Jones, more clothing than closets, and eating out 3 or 4 times a week.

I'm not saying that the rules don't favor the rich - changes like a living wage and investor involvment to restrict CEO salaries - but so many people these days want more than they can afford, more luxuries and entertainments than their parents would have been satisfied with.

How do we fix that?
posted by ewkpates at 6:53 AM on January 2, 2004


Does anyone who thinks CEOs are worth more than 10 million a year make less than 1 million a year?

I do.

The CEO of Coca-Cola makes about 6mm per year. Coca-Cola's profit last year was 3.5 billion dollars. His salary represents one fifth of a percent of Coke's earnings.

If he's capable of growing profits 6 million over and above what the next-most-capable guy is, he's certainly "worth it", and 6 million dollars, to Coke, is a drop in the bucket.

If he worked for free, and just gave his salary equally to all of Coke's employees, he'd fatten their wallets by $107 each. Of course, this would mean a revenue loss for the government, because instead of taxing him at 38.6%, they'd be taxing the employees at a rate about half that, on average.

There are many reasons for entrenched classism in America, but I don't think CEO pay is the best place to start the fight against it. Why not fight the cartel of, say, doctors, lawyers, taxicab owners, or auto dealers?
posted by trharlan at 6:57 AM on January 2, 2004


And for Bill Gates Sr. - who runs his son's $24 billion foundation focused on world health - wealth concentration is more than just an economic argument. It's a cultural-political one.
Too much concentration, he argues, risks creating a plutocracy that can skew the entire system against opportunities for the masses. But America is moving in that direction. A key federal indicator of wealth concentration - the Gini index - shows gradually growing wealth concentration since the 1970s - and a big jump in the 1990s. The index works like this: 1.000 represents all the money in the country being held by one person, while 0.000 signals absolute equality among all citizens. For household income in 1970, the index was 0.394. In 1980, 0.403. In 1990: 0.428. In 2000: 0.460.
Some think the power concentration is already too strong - and that there's potential for a rebellion akin to the progressive movement at the turn of the last century.
"If this year is in the pits economically, you're going to start to see an impact," says Republican sage Kevin Phillips, a critic of the Bush tax cut. The drop in pension security, corporate corruption, and big money in politics all provide fodder. If any politicians can frame these issues, he says, "They could really get somewhere."

posted by matteo at 7:07 AM on January 2, 2004


I'd like to reiterate:

Anything less than 100k a year is the ghetto.
posted by the fire you left me at 7:18 AM on January 2, 2004


me & my monkey: I would argue that student debt is likely a much bigger factor than, say, the desire for a bigger tv.

Really? Why is there so much student debt? What is the student's goal when attending, say, law school?

As you read this, I know that you and monkey and davidmc, et al, are rolling your eyes and wishing we second class citizens would shut the hell up and go away. Fuck you. Fuck all of you. I'm not a violent person, but I'd love nothing better than to just kick your ass lefthanded. Christ.

I can't speak for gyc or davidmsc, but for my own sake, and to reply in kind: blow me. You know nothing about me. If you read what I wrote, you wouldn't find anything about how great things are - just that this lack of mobility isn't anything new.

It's evident when you've reached the bottom of the rhetorical barrel with online discussions - some pinhead says "I'm not a violent person, but I'd love to kick your ass." Good luck with that, ok?
posted by me & my monkey at 7:49 AM on January 2, 2004


America: the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.

So much effort is devoted to making everyone middle class. The destitute poor are written off, Darwin has it in for them. The working poor are constantly prodded to improve their station. The moderately rich still live in middle class neighborhoods and are first generation workaholics. The noveau riche buy $12 sunglasses for $200. The old rich never have more than $1M in cash, investing the rest.

The lastest fad of the wealthy but not PWT is to have a really big house with lots of rooms, less out of ostentation or to hold big get-togethers with their friends, than the thing in itself, a memorial to big houses. Call it "extreme but thankfully not incredibly tacky, even if it doesn't look like any other house within 100 miles, just like every other house in their neighborhood home design."

In other words, the biggest pink flamingo wins.

In the US, to become "wealthy" you can either be a workaholic or win the lottery--based on money being your sole criteria for happiness. However, if you want all that other stuff: a life, a family, exploration, knowledge, religion, charity, hobbies, crafts, community and friends, money can't be your sole priority.

In economics, it is what is called "opportunity costs". In real life, it's not turning out all mucked up, like Paris Hilton, Pamela Anderson, or Rosie O'Donnell.

Just remember:

"Money can't buy you happiness, but when you're poor, you can't buy shit, and nobody will loan you happiness."
posted by kablam at 8:19 AM on January 2, 2004


I got to this discussion rather late, which is too bad because a have a big fat computer folder of recent research on income mobility, class stratification, changes in the GINI index in the US, and so on.

I'm feeling like I shouldn't post it this material because there's a fundamental confusion so deeply embedded in this discussion that I think it might make more sense for me to save the ammunition and do my own post and so set the overall parameters of discussion by way of mentioning, at it's onset, that - while personal anecdotes are welcome, they should not be confused with profiles derived from responsible social and economic research.

This comes down to personal narrative vs. scientifically derived profiles of social and economic trends in society.

Here's the confusion : the difference between empirically driven research on the issue (class mobility, wealth stratification, and so on), and anecdotal evidence

It's always easy to find individual stories which contradict a larger, composite profile which is the result of responsible, empirical research.

This is true quite simply because research of this sort is a statistically balanced aggregate of many, many personal stories. The line worker who rises to become a company head, and the many whose economic status changes little if at all over several decades, as well as the family which slowly sinks into poverty : these individual stories are all entered into the aggregate statistical picture.

Metafilter is supposed to be a highbrow intellectual venue, I suppose, but over half of the people who have commented on this discussion are still caught up in the fundamental confusion which Ronald Reagan, once upon a time, milked so effectively with his stories of the Cadilllac-driving welfare queens of the American ghettoes. There may even have been one or two of those, I'd grant, though Reagan was quite deceptive for the fact that he neglected to tell counterbalancing anecdotal tales of rich americans who also - by milking fat government contracts - were sucking far more greedily at the collective government teat than were the "welfare queens".

As a high school Russian language teacher once told me, repeatedly (because I was awful at Russian, especially at 8 AM) - THIMK!

(in the Cyrillic alphabet, the English "M" symbol does the phonetic job of the English "N")
posted by troutfishing at 8:22 AM on January 2, 2004


I'd like to see an income distribution on the pro/con sides of this little argument.

...extra points for tossing in charts of political stance vs. income, and parental income vs. personal income.
posted by aramaic at 8:23 AM on January 2, 2004


...and parental income vs. personal income.
Just last week I was reading somewhere that most people almost always only get to within a very small range of what their parents made, adjusted for inflation--I'll try to dig it up.
posted by amberglow at 8:31 AM on January 2, 2004


You really are awful trout-M is M in Cyrillic, H is N.
posted by quercus at 8:34 AM on January 2, 2004


Great me & my monkey, now I can't get the final scene of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back out of my head.

For those who haven't seen it a couple of stoners, the aformentioned Jay and Bob, come into a stack of cash and proceed to blow it flying around the world pummelling people who were bad mouthing them (well, fictional characters based on them) on the internet.

Troutfishing I'd love to see what you have either here or in a seperate post.
posted by Mitheral at 8:43 AM on January 2, 2004


Ishmael, the point is that working in a college bookstore at Harvard or Yale (and hence filing a tax return showing a $4,000 annual income for a year or two, en route to a $250,000 job at Uncle Lou's law firm) looks superficially the same as someone making $4,000 a year as a part-time clerk at Walmart or a fruit picker. The reality is that those clerks and fruit-pickers don't go on to $250,000 jobs, ever, and the Yale man working in the bookstore was never really a member of their fiscal/social stratum. It isn't mobility because the Yale guy was never, not even for an instant, down in the $4,000/year stratum - his family was rich, there was no question that he would be rich, etc.

So you are assuming that the college bookstore employee is also a student? Because otherwise I don't see how you can distinguish between "works at a bookstore" and "clerks" at Wal-Mart — I've worked at a college bookstore and believe me, it didn't pay any better than Wal-Mart does.

Troutfishing, I don't think we're as stupid as all that and I think we can distinguish between empirical and anecdotal evidence. The question is, I think, how empirical evidence can tell us what I, at least, really want to know: is moving up possible? Whether or not people do, and how many of them, and by how much, is helpful, but doesn't really answer the core question.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 8:54 AM on January 2, 2004


Horatio Alger story in general is usually misrepresented

It's true that the protagonist of Alger's books was often helped by a third party, but it was only after the protagonist had passed a kind of test, either of his honesty, work ethic, or both. The antagonist in the books were often brought into contact with this benevolent third party, but through laziness, arrogance, or both, was deemed unworthy of the benefactor's largesse.

Also what seems to be of paramount importance in Alger's fictional world is the importance of physiognomy - as far as I can tell, every single one of his protagonists are described as having "an honest face." I finished reading Struggling Upward, or, Luke Larkin's Luck only days ago, and one of the benefactors in it remarks to Luke Larkin that he believes himself to be an excellent "judge of physiognomy." Thus does his extend his trust to Luke.

This emphasis on personal appearance is largely remnants of the theories of Lombroso, a criminologist who believed different physical features indicated criminal temperaments.

If you throw out that emphasis on the "honest face," the dominant feature of Alger's narratives is the emphasis on the Protestant ethic: hard work, thrift, and modesty. These traits are rewarded.
posted by rocketman at 8:54 AM on January 2, 2004


kablam - Sure, money can't buy happiness. Sure - I totally agree - huge houses are ridiculous. But the proliferation of huge houses lately represents the new "Guilded Age" of American society as wealth concentrates, quite grotesquely so, at the very very top of the income distribution while the affluence of the majority stagnates or declines. That said, I think that Americans, in general, would be happier if they learned to live with less money. BUT.....there are certain bedrock issues at stake - such as access to affordable health care and educational opportunities, access to which - for many Americans - is declining. Further, the wellbeing of the American family - of American children - suffers from the absence of constantly working parents. And - yes - some of this workaholism is driven by the prioritization of materialistic obsessions over human needs, but many parents are working so much merely to make ends meet.

Anecdote - Both of my parents worked, my family was far from affluent. But the evil in this was not for the fact that I could only count on one new pair of shoes a year, or eating lots of tuna fish and surplus cheese. I didn't feel self conscious about my family's econmic station until, in high school, I had the opportunity to compare myself to truly affluent Americans, those who flew off to warm places on their winter vacations. No, the real mischief came from the fact that I grew up with very little parenting at all. My parents were too busy simply scraping together money to pay the home mortgage and the bills. So there can be a very real family toll exacted by the lack of money - this is not merely a matter of parental discretion.

quercus - I may have screwed up that formulation - what I was trying to express is that the English symbol "M" does different phonetic work in Cyrillic.

Mitheral - I'll give myself 15 minutes for some links. Then it's offer to the Hobbesian struggle of all against all, nature red in tooth and claw and all that jazz.

IshmaelGraves - "The question is, I think, how empirical evidence can tell us what I, at least, really want to know: is moving up possible?" - Sure, that's exactly it.
posted by troutfishing at 9:02 AM on January 2, 2004


Exactly! Just because they work hard, does not mean they are making the effort to improve their lot.

Are they taking classes? No.
Are they seeking better positions? No.
Are they looking for business opportunities on which to capitalize? No.

Are they putting in their 40+ hours and saying that's enough? Yes.

I must work harder! Napoleon is always right! What's it say on the side of that truck?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:10 AM on January 2, 2004


Are they putting in their 40+ hours and saying that's enough? Yes.

it very well should be. our complaint isn't that we aren't getting stinking rich at 40 hours a week, it's that we aren't getting proper health care and a steady source of meals for our families at 40 hours a week.
posted by mcsweetie at 9:16 AM on January 2, 2004


Rocketman -- That is so cool that you are reading Horatio Alger.
posted by Faze at 9:32 AM on January 2, 2004


Assuming arguendo wealth redistribution is desirable-why should it stop at America's borders?
I don't deny poverty exists in America, but everything is relative. Does being poor mean not having health insurance or not having access to running water?
Does being "rich" mean having a condo in Vail or a roof over your head? Depends on who you ask.
The poorest parts of American cities contain astounding material wealth (e.g. flush toilets) compared to say Mathare in Nairobi.

P.S. Trout-I'm not trying to torment you -well maybe I am ;)- but a cyrillic M is just like a Roman M-it's the same phoneme.
posted by quercus at 9:44 AM on January 2, 2004


Yeah, trout, give it up—M is one of the few letters that sounds pretty much exactly the same in Russian and English.
posted by languagehat at 10:08 AM on January 2, 2004


quercus - You're right. Oh no! Maybe I had the bad habit of substituting "M" and "H", in cyrillic, in Russian class over 20 years ago... I hope that doesn't turn into a new meme - THIMK!

But to answer your question with another, There is some evidence for a cumulative global wealth divergence

Meanwhile it seems that, in the US, the poor are getting more generous while the wealthy are getting stingier. Here's more corroboration for that claim

Here's a recent US Census Bureau update on wealth in America. Census Bureau graph - "Changes in Wealth Inequality, 1947-1998" Here's US Census 2001 Historical Income Data. US Family Income has been declining lately. Inequality.Org, though blatantly partisan, has a lot of reputable research on their site amidst their partisan broadsides.

Meanwhile, 42% of those in the Forbes 400 were born into that position, through inheritances.

We went through a lot of this material lately, on my Slouching towards Sierra Leone?" post (on changes in US income distribution). And the latest US Census updates confirm that the trend - bitterly disputed by some on that thread discussion - has likely accelerated.

Here are the Data Sources" from Paul Krugman's October 20th 2002 NYT Magazine Article, "The New gilded Age" - Krugman links to a sizeable amount of recent research into Income Distribution in the US.

Alan B. Krueger's research - cited by Krugman - was aired in the NYT recently, in Krueger's article The Apple Falls Close to The Tree" - "It turns out that the famous line attributed to Andrew Carnegie — "from shirt-sleeves to shirt-sleeves in three generations" — is an understatement. Five or six generations are probably required, on average, to erase the advantages or disadvantages of one's economic origins." - Five or six generations. Wow.

Here's a bit of stuff from my "Sierra Leone" post :

"The most egalitarian countries have a Gini index in the 20s. European
countries like Germany, Austria, Belgium, Hungary, Poland, Norway, and Sweden all fall in that
range, according to World Bank figures. Canada and Australia are just over 30. The United States
is around 40...Once inequality reaches 50 percent, disparities become glaringly obvious, to the
point where they undermine a society's sense of unity and common purpose....Sierra Leone takes
the prize
. At 63 percent, it offers the world's most extreme example of inequality."

By multiple measures, income
inequality
in the US is rapidly increasing, and 60% of Americans are sliding
towards poverty
. US Census Bureau
data: family income distribution, 1947 to 2001.

Here's Bernie Sanders - a partisan fer' sure - summarizing recent economic trends' impact on the US middle class Meanwhile, US child poverty rates seem to be rising, and the number in extreme poverty certainly is. But these trends can be hard to glean from US Census bureau data.

The mighty Steve Kangas mentions a whole slew of relevant research in his Liberal FAQ's, with such gems as Myth: The rich get rich because of their merit. Fact: Researchers have uncovered dozens of social factors that contribute to becoming rich.

One of those factors, it now seems, IS Prudence and good financial planning.
posted by troutfishing at 10:35 AM on January 2, 2004


Way to be with the links, troutfishing.

BUT.....there are certain bedrock issues at stake - such as access to affordable health care and educational opportunities, access to which - for many Americans - is declining.

Bingbingbingbing... we have a winner!

We can trot out all the anecdotal evidence we want, but as things such as affordable health care and educational opportunities get further out of reach for some folks, the resentment grows. The resentment is there now, in spades, I think, though it's not particularly pointed. I've always thought that the most amazing thing about a Rush Limbaugh is the fact that he's able to convince his listeners that their economic interests are indistinguishable from the wealthiest Americans. I like to think there will come a day when this will be realized for the lie that it is. When it does, I'd be a pitchfork and torch can play hell with a McMansion.
posted by kgasmart at 11:08 AM on January 2, 2004


mcsweetie: you have just described the "Chicken Thinker" problem. That being a terribly honest person who is hired by a corporation to think about chickens. One at a time and all day. Fully visualizing each and every chicken. For which they are paid 25 cents a chicken.
Now, the honest person only notes down chickens he can fully visualize, one at a time. The first day on the job he makes over $200!
But after a while, he can barely concentrate enough to think up $50/day worth of chickens. $250/wk.

Now, the problem here is NOT that the corporation has hired him to be a Chicken Thinker. And the problem is NOT that they only pay him 25 cents for each chicken. The problem is NOT his honesty OR his hard work. Truthfully, for such a nonsensical job, the corporation does NOT owe him health benefits, or even retirement. (NAFTA isn't his problem, either.)

So what *is* his problem? It's that he needs a different job. "But I'm only trained to be a Chicken Thinker!" doesn't cut it. "But I've only got the education to be a Chicken Thinker!" isn't a legitimate argument, either. "But I've got a family to support!" Sorry, tough.

And this is why Social Security was created in the first place. NOT as a retirement system for everybody, but ONLY for the Chicken Thinkers out there. And, truly, if they are that deficient, Social Security should be there, because there are a goodly number of deficient people out there.

But otherwise, and for everything but a flat paycheck, no other perks, you have to do something better. You have to work, not harder, but smarter. You have to compete and win. You can't be satisfied until you *are* satisfied, or else you are not doing your part. You can't wait for others to give you what you haven't earned.

And this can even be justified by the Standard Distribution Curve. A "C" grade in a class in school rarely means solely that you made a "C" average on your tests. It means that you put in a "C" performance. You didn't go the extra mile, you didn't study extra, you didn't push yourself. Because if you did and you still got a "C", you were probably destined for an "F", and only got a "C" with your extra effort.

But the Chicken Thinker worked darn hard for his money. Shouldn't he be rewarded for his hard work? No. Because even though he trodded to work every day and did his job, that's all he ever did. That, and want somebody else to pay for his being a Chicken Thinker. Including his health benefits and retirement.
posted by kablam at 11:11 AM on January 2, 2004


Interesting that rising out of poverty through hard work and determination is compared to pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.

Put it this way: Suppose that you actually liked a caste society, and you were seeking ways to use your control of the government to further entrench the advantages of the haves against the have-nots. What would you do?

While I agree with Krugman's sentiment (y2karl's link), I didn't find his rhetoric very satisfying. He indirectly argues that by increasing taxes on corporate profits and capital gains and spending this money on education and healthcare that social mobility will be increased, but pussyfoots around the assertion and fails to provide any information to support it.
posted by eddydamascene at 11:36 AM on January 2, 2004


eddy - Here is an analysis of the correlation between the progressivity of the US tax code and income distribution equality, or inequality, in the period from 1945 to 1991

"...The following chart shows the effectiveness of a progressive tax system. When the top rates were truly high from 1950 to 1978, American income at all levels grew at about the same pace. But when progressivity was lost in the 80s, the income of the poor began falling, while that of the rich continued growing. "

Correlation is not causation, of course. But the seeming relationship is striking.
posted by troutfishing at 11:51 AM on January 2, 2004


So on the Gini index, the USA is heading towards Sierra Leone, and away from Canada and Europe.

One should think that that alone would be enough to give everyone pause.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:55 AM on January 2, 2004


Eddy - Also, you nailed it. If Krugman could have backed up that claim, he would have. I've no doubt it's speculative at this point. But the link I posted above points in that direction,

Still - issues of personal and corporate taxation aside, I think that Americans from all walks could agree on mandating a national economic literacy requirement for public schools. Even a Bill Gates sized fortune can be squandered through economic illiteracy. For example, there's a difference between looking rich and being rich. "Surprising twists like this are exactly what two Ph.D. researchers, Thomas Stanley and William Danko, found when they went looking for the rich in America. They wrote up the results in their best-selling book, "The Millionaire Next Door." What they found is that many of the people who are living rich really have few assets and need every bit of their substantial incomes to maintain the images of success that they think are so important. Even some entertainment celebrities and well known sports figures spend their money as fast as it comes in. The people with the real stores wealth, the solid bank accounts and investments, tend to be regular folk, who live in average neighborhoods and drive average well used American cars.

So the question is: Do you want to be a millionaire or just look like one?"
(from The Millionaire Next Door)
posted by troutfishing at 12:05 PM on January 2, 2004


Of course, a lot of that advice is moot if you don't have a job in the first place, or have just been laid off and are struggling to make ends meet at a very basic level .
posted by troutfishing at 12:08 PM on January 2, 2004


Still - issues of personal and corporate taxation aside, I think that Americans from all walks could agree on mandating a national economic literacy requirement for public schools

I have a nit to pick here. While a financial literacy requirement would probably be good (time value of money, investments, taxes and tax forms, personal finance, etc.), an economic literacy requirement would be an unmitigated disaster. My dullard high-school teachers might be able to teach supply and demand curves, but concepts such as marginal utility, Say's Law, and the battle between Ricardian Equivalence and Keynesian multipliers, are not things to be taught in a one-off class by a moonlighting chemistry teacher.
posted by trharlan at 12:15 PM on January 2, 2004


Okay kablam, I'm a teacher, so I'll chew on that analogy a little. First, that is not how I grade my students. I teach writing and literature at the college level. My students have to pass basic composition with a c- or better to move on to the next level, so I definitely do give credit for the hard work and effort. Passing to the next level with a c- or a B, what is the difference? I reward people for their effort. An A in my class means that you produced A work in my opnion, not that you aced all of my tests. An "A" on a writing assignment does not mean the student is ready to publish in Vanity Fair.

What about the people who don't have to even try and still get the A? Are they the George Bushes and Paris Hiltons of the world?

I think it is the sentiment underlying your statements that bothers me the most, that employees who do their jobs are expendable, easily replaceable unless they are "A+" employees. I've busted my butt at my job now for years (anecdotal evidence, here) and haven't had even a cost of living raise for three years, and then when I finally did get a raise, it was so small that it was insulting. And that was my reward for killing myself for 3 years to make the CEO richer with the hope that it would recognized when my time came.

Some companies use perks as incentives, to inspire, others use it to hold people hostage.
posted by archimago at 12:17 PM on January 2, 2004


trharlan - You're exactly right to correct me on that. I meant to write financial but wrote economic instead. It was an awful choice of words - my mistake.
posted by troutfishing at 12:20 PM on January 2, 2004


trharlan, why the hating on teachers? Are you a teacher? A high school teacher? Have you ever tried to excite and inspire a classroom full of already bored teenagers, especially on topics of economics? High school teachers are not moonlighters. It's a full time job, requiring state certification and teaching review boards.

I didn't think I would get into defending teachers, but I find it insulting when I am insulted. Every adult was a dullard when I was teenager. Especially the teachers, who were not there to entertain us but to teach a curriculum they were bound to.
posted by archimago at 12:25 PM on January 2, 2004


archimago-- Teaching is a difficult job, usually done quite poorly. For the most part, America's best and brightest do not become high school teachers. The vast majority of teachers that I personally know have little, if any, dedication to their professional development. There are few mechanisms in the administration of teachers that award good performance or punish bad performance.

A two-hundred day work year, gold-plated benefits, exceptional job security, and little accountability characterize the "profession", and it's no wonder that we have few teachers busting their asses, innovating, or even taking pride in their work.

They hold a position of authority over every one of their students, even those students who are brighter than their teachers. I would bet that a considerable swath of Metafilter had an English teacher who wouldn't know a dangling modifier if he were clubbed with it, a gym teacher who taught improper stretches, or a Spanish teacher with the command of Peggy Hill.

The term "moonlighting" was used to imply that few schools would be able to hire a dedicated Econ teacher, and therefore other teachers would be teaching out of their subjects.
posted by trharlan at 1:15 PM on January 2, 2004


Uh oh. I'd better scrutinize my grammar, spelling, and so on......

trharlan - that's a bit anecdotal, wouldn't you say?

Another way of framing things is - "You get what you pay for." Your assertion that teachers are perhaps overpaid clashes with your claim that the pool of applicants for teaching jobs is substandard. Although I think that the profession is somewhat stigmatized, simple market forces should create an equilibrium between financial incentives to go into teaching and the caliber of those who pursue that career.

Teaching is not an easy profession -

Teachers are saddled with a whole range of problems - stemming from overall societal dysfunction - which fall far outside their job descriptions or their career purview but they are often nonetheless singled out and blamed for poor student performance - in spite of the fact that student performance depends on many factors beyond their control. Lack of parental involvement, disruptive home conditions, crime.......

I read a startling statistic recently - that teachers (I can't remember whether at the high school level or not) spend on average somewhere between $500 and $1500 a year buying basic educational materials which have not been supplied for their classrooms.

I'm sure the profession has it's share of awful teachers. No doubt. Teaching quality has a lot to do with pay scales and certification requirements. I live in a state which is relatively close to the top of the national pay scale range and whose students tend to get the training and resources which prepare them for a college education. Such is not the case in many US states.
posted by troutfishing at 2:43 PM on January 2, 2004


Here is an analysis of the correlation between the progressivity of the US tax code and income distribution equality

Thanks for the data, troutfishing. It certainly doesn't prove causation, but it illustrates that this country is heading in the wrong direction. I found this interesting: average earnings in non-supervisory jobs (roughly 4/5 of the civilian workforce) dropped 19% from 1973 to 1992 (the last year in the study). Like Sanders says, the job market is more Walmart than GM now, and it appears the country is suffering because of it.
posted by eddydamascene at 4:11 PM on January 2, 2004


kablam,

So what *is* his problem? It's that he needs a different job.

So Mr. Chicken Thinker looks at the Help Wanted ads. He can become a Turkey Thinker ($.20/turkey thought), a Cow Thinker ($.22/cow thought), a Chicken Chaser ($.15/chicken chased) or a Cat Walker ($.10/cat walked). There are a few ads for Senior Goose Plucking Technician ($.40/goose) but that one requires a Masters Degree in Goose Pluckification and five years of work experience.

What wonderful options!
posted by kayjay at 5:27 PM on January 2, 2004


kayjay: fortunately, most of us don't live in Arkansas.

archimago: You address grading from the teacher's perspective, in which a "C" means the student understands the fundamentals of the course, a "B" means that they understand the subject in more depth, and an "A" means that they show prospects for a future using such a skill, possibly to include teaching it to others.

However, from the *students* point of view, they anticipate what they *want* to get from the course, and expend effort to that *that*, or better.

If they plod along, doing what is required, showing little initiative or aptitude, they (and probably you) expect "C" evaluation. They really shouldn't expect you to just give them a better grade for some reason, should they?

However, if they grasp the material, obviously put some effort into both knowing and letting you know (asking questions, for example), and show some degree of enthusiasm, it both demonstrates that they think they can do better than a "C", and they want you to know it. Granted, they may not be a real expert or have great aptitude, but they deserve, and have earned a "B".

And if they push themselves, doing more then is required, going beyond an understanding of the course work, maxing tests and pushing the envelope, they know and you know that they want, desire and expect an "A". It is not *given* to them, it is earned. They left the "C" and "B" students behind, and expect rewards commensurate with that work. And it doesn't matter if what you teach just happens to be their family business.

Now into your classroom enters someone who doesn't understand or appreciate this dynamic. He criticizes you for being terribly un-progressive and illiberal for not giving all students "A's". But that's not right.
posted by kablam at 6:06 PM on January 2, 2004


Great thread. Reasoned (and mostly non-trollish) arguments on both (all?) sides, and more that made sense to me in the previous 90-odd comments than in my last thirty years of trying to read economists from Friedman to Galbraith.

Going back to one of the first anecdotal examples in this thread, guess who's using their advertising dollars to promote the Upward Mobility Principle/Myth: Microsoft.

Disclaimer: I am a downwardly-mobile American whose 2001 income (in 2001 dollars) was less than my father's 1971 income (in 1971 dollars), I am now trying to overcome a near-pathological inability to 'network', and prior to my recent financial-personal-and-emotional total meltdown my job description was "Chicken Thinker".
posted by wendell at 6:51 PM on January 2, 2004


It's your own fault, wendell!!! ; >

How does the bad economy and negative job creation figure into Mr. Chicken Thinker's life, kablam? Are those things his fault too? Is he not trying hard enough?
posted by amberglow at 7:50 PM on January 2, 2004


Bye bye.
posted by hama7 at 8:41 PM on January 2, 2004


Of course the inherent implication of the "chicken thinker" is that his job produces nothing and is meaningless. We ahve no basis on which to judge the value of his work in real, market terms. I'm sure whoever cooked up this analogy (and I've heard it before in various places) meant for us to not shed too many tears at his loss of a job.
posted by Space Coyote at 8:50 PM on January 2, 2004


Don't worry folks. It's all for naught anyhow. Soon you will all be dead. Won't you be happier then? Exactly.

How many times do you need to be reminded that if it ain't fixed we certainly don't need uppity folk usin' their brains and pointing it out. It just gets too darned confusing that way. The upper crust hates, hates, to have to get involved because too many of you begin thinking there just might be something you can do about your lots in life. Constitution? Pshaw! Social Security? Hmmph. Serving whatever this thing called "justice" you cling to, to corporate criminals, no matter how rich, connected and cronyfied they are? Please, please people!

This is all for your benefit. You think this show is cheap to put on, day after day making things seem as though they're fair and equal in this here US of A? Do you think we enjoy having to go out of our way, yet again, to "prove to you" that the "cold hard reality" each of you seem to think you're facing isn't just a symptom of the recalcitrant, vile, eeeeeveeeeeel lie of socialism that we just can't seem to quash? Jesus, have a little sympathy. You see what we're up against don't you?

My suggestion is to stick with it. We'll have you rewarded in due time. Surely you must understand how difficult it is to be around to each and every one of you. Just bear with us. Believe me, if nobody else, that this will be a society well worth your while if you just let us finish with what we we have planned. You're getting a glimpse now of what's in store. Isn't it exciting?

Happy You Year!
posted by crasspastor at 9:22 PM on January 2, 2004


It's your own fault, wendell!!! ; >
I was planning to blame it all on quonsar...
posted by wendell at 9:25 PM on January 2, 2004


... said all the people with computers and internet access.
posted by fuq at 9:54 PM on January 2, 2004


Computers aren't that expensive anymore. Red herrings smell funny.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:35 PM on January 2, 2004


troutfishing, first off, great links. Second, much like you I think this thread is disappointing. Half the posts either think people are lazy or that "The Man" is using some great powers to keep people down. It's neither and it's both.

I like your comments about economic/financial education. I think it's a freakin' crime that Understanding Music is a university requirement (via the GE) but there's not even one course on basic financial management required of undergrads. Kids are leaving college unable to balance a damn checkbook (which really sucks if their major was accounting *grin*).

Another part of the equation (though certainly not the only) has to do with what we've done with education. More kids are going to college than they did 50 years ago and from a far more dynamic range of ethnic and economic backgrounds. Problem is, we've dumbed down college so we can claim we've given more people a college education.

While the number of students (percentage-wise) graduating with majors in science, economics, etc. has declined we've added all sorts of career dead-end majors. I'm not sure what the exact number of job openings are for Chicano Studies majors are but I'm quite sure it's far less than the number of students being graduated in any given year. Mind you, I'm not suggesting that any of these areas are not worth study or in any way passing judgment on the quality of the education but . . . what good is a college degree when the end result is $50,000 in student loans and a job that pays $28,500 a year? I have a friend who was a Women's Studies major at Berkley and what does she do now . . . she's a secretary, oops, I mean executive assistant. She makes about $35k a year. What's her goal? In her words: "I want to go back to school and get a real degree."

As I mentioned earlier, it's just one part of the problem but I do think that we need to start taking a hard look at some of these issues rather than pretending that some big bad evil guy is puppet-mastering the show (makes for a nice Marxist wet dream but isn't really applicable here). And at the same time not every person who doesn't make it is some stupid and lazy leech.

Lastly, troutfishing, though you've posted some excellent links, at the same time I do have some reservations about the analysis. A great deal of the wealth in this country is in constant churn. For instance, you cite the fact that 42% of the Forbes 400 are born into it but that means that 58% got there via their own hand. Hey, that doesn't sound too bad to me. It's not great but it's not like the hurdle is too high for any new people to make the list. How many people who have been on the Forbes 400 list are no longer there? How many have eventually died penniless?

But, in reality, we can't count the success of the system by who makes it to the very upper echelons. For every Bill Gates look at the thousands and thousands of people he created wealth for. I'm not idolizing the guy just pointing out it's not like he has $43 billion sitting in cash that fell out of the sky. He created tens of thousands of jobs, made thousands of people millionaires, made tens of thousands of people middle and upper-middle class. Same can be said of many of the people on the Forbes list. Yes, Paris Hilton parades around like a drunken slut but that weath she's inherited also provides fifty or a hundred thousand people jobs.

The fundamental problem with people who poo-poo trickle down theory is that they think it's a zero sum game. If I make $1 then someone else loses $1. If Bill Gates has $43 billion then that's $43 billion he's taken from the rest of us. The obvious solution (to them) is to re-distribute the wealth. Of course, if none of that wealth goes on to create more wealth and is simply spent then it ends up having very little impact. In fact, I was reading a story several years back (sorry, no link) about how many lotto winners end up broke. There's a huge business in buying out lotto winners guaranteed payments. They get that initial rush of cash and then can't stop spending (or lending to friends and family) and then comes along a nice man who offers to give you $5 million today to sign over that $20 million that was supposed to be paid out over 20 years.

Perhaps this all circles around to the need for financial education. Obviously re-distributing wealth does not translate into improved standards of living. People need to be made better aware of the difference between building wealth and merely having it.
posted by billman at 10:54 PM on January 2, 2004


kablam, if this chicken thinker's job is so worthless, why did you hire him in the first place? Seems to me that if you wanted chicken thinkers (presuming you couldn't outsource the work) and you find it necessary to pay them for the work, you might want to keep them healthy and maybe see that they are well trained to increase production (and quality of chicken-thoughts).

on preview: Billman, good point on the zero-sum, but if the wealth is redistributed and spent, someone is getting that money (and if it has been redistributed, it is probably the workers).
posted by jmgorman at 11:20 PM on January 2, 2004


This is an interesting discussion, which I haven't been able to read in entirety, but I have a few comments.

First, having the chance to move up isn't the same as having a guarantee that everyone will move up. We can't all become Bill Gateses, but obviously one man can pull it off.

Second, all the talk of connections/sliminess being more important to success than hard work comes off pretty bitter to me. Sure, you have to network to get ahead. Big surprise. This isn't mutually exclusive with hard work. You've got to use every angle you can if you really expect to change your station in life. Simply plodding forward at some wage job isn't going to do it for you.

Lots of folks just keep their heads down, and are surprised to find they didn't get anywhere in ten years. everyone always thinks they work hard, so they conclude that hard work doesn't take you anywhere. I ask these folks just what they were expecting for playing it safe at some job?

I think if you really want to move up, you have to be willing to take some risks. I've recently considered several options in going into business for myself, but I can't afford the financial risks it would take right now. I can't afford to lose $50K on a bad idea, all my savings in 3-months flat, with nothing to show for it but some 80-hour work weeks and a few leftover debts.

People who do take that risk have greater opportunity for mobility. They're also the ones who provide the jobs the rest of us plod away at in relative security. Instead of respecting those who've taken the risk, wage-earners just punch in, punch out, collect their predictable checks, and then whine about being stuck in a class system. Well, if so, it's in your mind at least in part, and you're overlooking some of the security that it offers you while you moan about the mobility it doesn't offer you.

My Dad went from third world poverty to owning a house, car, and his own business. He didn't do it by plodding away at some wage job for someone else. He went to school, took overseas work, gambled on his own businesses, investments, scrimped, saved, moved the family around, suffered, overworked himself. He's called in a favor or two over the years, and helped out his friends and family when they needed it. If you really want to change your station in life, you need to bust your ass, and you better hope you know how to make friends.

Just punching a clock in the morning doesn't cut it, nor should it. You can't have both security and limitless opportunity for reward at the same time.

What the American Dream offers is the chance to take the risk, the chance to bust your ass, not some guarantee of personal wealth. This doesn't mean that everyone will or should take big risks going after big rewards. There's a lot to be said for just being able to score a job in a decent economy, and being able to afford to have kids at all. A struggle to clothe and feed them? You bet. A raw deal? I just don't know about that...
posted by scarabic at 12:40 AM on January 3, 2004


jmgorman: Good point. I should have been more specific. The money would be spent and someone would get it but it would most likely concentrate itself as it has today but perhaps in different hands. Concentrations of wealth create wealth creation opportunities thus sayings like "it takes money to make money" or my favorite by Edgar Bronfman:

"Turning $100 into $110 is hard work. Turning $100 million into $110 million is inevitable."

Thus re-distributing the wealth does nothing more than shake up the playing field. It would be like the NBA saying that having Kobe and Shaq on the same team is unfair to the other teams and that Shaq and Kobi should be given to the two worst teams in the league. Does that solve the problem of one team becoming dominant? No, but it sure makes all the teams who couldn't beat the Lakers feel a lot better for a while.

It also demonstrates the fallacy of the zero sum game. If Shaq scored 40 points in his last game can you theorize that if you had Shaq on your team that you can simply add 40 points to your final score to determine whether or not having him on the team would have lead to a win over your opponent in your last game? No. That even sounds absurd as a strawman argument but I REALLY believe that many of the re-distribution of wealth arguments sound that absurd to anybody who has even a passing understanding of Econ 101.

I think scarabic makes some good points about people willing to take risk and those who never want to take risk. I also think that that is the point of many of the false arguments on this topic. First, risk is a choice. I may want to work 20 years, get my pension, and retire. That's my choice. That's the level of risk I'm willing to live with. I'm not lazy. I'm not stupid. That's just the level of risk I feel that I can accept. On the other hand if I decide to ditch the easy 9 - 5 sure thing and start my own company, that is also my choice. The fact that those two choices may lead to different outcomes is just a reality people have to accept.

And to respond to the folks who feel that networking and cronism are somehow byproducts of a capitalist society one would be hard pressed to show me a society where privilege didn't concentrate itself. Even if communist countries they tend to be run by a bunch of cronies of those in power. Do you think that working your butt off in the former Russia, China, N. Korea, or Cuba gets you a cushy job? No. But if your dad was General and . . . . you get the picture.

For those claiming things are unfair, I'm sorry your parents didn't teach you the real facts of life but life is not fair. It never was nor will it ever be. It doesn't mean we have to go out of our way to be cruel to each other but it also doesn't mean that if your life sucks that some group of men sat around in a room smoking cigars and manically laughing as they doom you to your fate. Stuff just happens. When you buy that shirt made in Thailand you may be putting some textile worker in Georgia out of work when your decision is multiplied by 100,000 or a 1,000,000 people making a similar decision. It's not always a conspiracy.
posted by billman at 1:37 AM on January 3, 2004


This argument is unresolvable. As I read the comments I see one group of posters who are either struggling themselves or know (and by "know" I mean know, not "pass by while mentally sneering at") people who are struggling to get by, and another group who either does not know such people (and thus has no conception of what life is like for the "chicken thinkers"—nice dismissive term; might as well just call them "morlocks") or is so hypnotized by conservative rhetoric they truly believe everyone can get ahead if they just maximize their opportunities. This last group could peer through a trapdoor into hell, look at a sea of the damned trying desperately to keep their heads above the boiling filthwater, and holler "Be creative, network, get off your asses and you'll be fine!" I don't see much chance for a meeting of minds here. And to say "It's neither and it's both" is a false middle. The overwhelming truth is that a small group of people (larger in America than most places, but still small) manages the economy for their own benefit, and most of the rest are SOL no matter how hard they try; all the anecdotal evidence about hard-working grandfathers who became rich does not change that. And skip the red herrings about a "group of men [who] sat around in a room smoking cigars and manically laughing"; we're not children here, and nobody thinks that. The people who benefit from the system don't even have to know how and why it works for their benefit; they may even think their success is due to their native intelligence and hard work. (Bush, anyone?) All they have to do is keep it going, and they do that very well.

The motto of the first group is "We must love one another or die"; that of the second is "Life isn't fair."
posted by languagehat at 7:09 AM on January 3, 2004 [1 favorite]


Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well housed, well warmed, and well fed.

Herman Melville
posted by y2karl at 10:53 AM on January 3, 2004


...Excepting those criticisms made on the habits of the rich by the poor. Sheltered, warmed and fed with hate.

Dean voters.
posted by kablam at 1:08 PM on January 3, 2004


And with that, kablam's credibility bid its final farewell.
posted by Space Coyote at 1:26 PM on January 3, 2004


what credibility
posted by matteo at 1:38 PM on January 3, 2004


Exactly.
posted by y2karl at 1:50 PM on January 3, 2004


oh, and by the way, since we're discussing politics and the rich,

Neil Bush makes one-day profit over $170,000

President's brother exercised stock options in firm he advised
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush's brother Neil made at least $798,218 on three stock trades in a small U.S. high-tech company where he had been a consultant, according to his tax returns, including $171,370 buying and selling the company's shares in a single day.

...
Bush said he did not have any inside information from Kopin, and simply acted on a recommendation from his financial adviser.

posted by matteo at 2:32 PM on January 3, 2004


That's even more than Hillary made!

Except Bush bought low and sold high, which is legal, and millions of people do just that every day. And it was his own money he risked. Hillary used $1000 to bet $12,000 and make $100,000, when the price went up, she profited; when the price went down, other people lost money. Sounds fair.

I wonder if Hillary would have enjoyed her money as much if she knew she hadn't gotten it by hurting other people?

Kind of like when she was on the Wal-Mart Board and was always trying to get them to give up on "Buy American", and get products so much cheaper from 4th world slave labor children.

Such a nice lady.
posted by kablam at 4:54 PM on January 3, 2004


WTF does Hilary Clinton have to do with any sort of poverty or working-class issue? She's about as close to poverty as the Pope is to Buddhism.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:42 PM on January 3, 2004


Great thread folks . . . thanks.
Troutfishing; your links are wonderful.
Y2karl-Thanks for the L-curve link.
On the subject of wealth/income redistribution, there was a truly amazing shift (upward concentration) of wealth in this country during the Reagan administration. I remember being astounded in learning about it (and wondering why others were not as alarmed as I). . . now, I can't locate the figures. Anyone have numbers on this?

Oh, and yes, we must love one another or/and die.
posted by ahimsakid at 7:34 PM on January 3, 2004


Y2karl-Thanks for the L-curve link.

Thank troutfishing--he linked it here first.

And exercising stock options on an inside tip is not exactly using one's personal cash.
posted by y2karl at 8:16 PM on January 3, 2004


WTF does Hilary Clinton have to do with any sort of poverty or working-class issue?

remember the talking point during the whole trent lott thing? "well robert byrd was in the KKK!" it's the same sort of tactic.
posted by mcsweetie at 8:09 AM on January 4, 2004


also, I don't reckon this was necessary:

And with that, kablam's credibility bid its final farewell.

I actually enjoy his posts, far more than say hama7's or ParisParamus's.
posted by mcsweetie at 10:50 AM on January 4, 2004


mcsweetie: I agree, that's why seeing him go off on a 'democrats are breeding more voters in the inner cities' rant was rather surprising.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:02 AM on January 4, 2004


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