Low-Paid, Liberal, Nonprofit Yuppies Unite!
September 29, 2007 10:08 PM   Subscribe

The Trap. Are you a young, college educated liberal who can't afford health care or a place to live? In his new book, Daniel Brook says you are getting screwed by being forced to choose between a job that you would actually like or selling out so you can have a middle class lifestyle.
posted by afu (114 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow, and I thought Sophie's Choice was a heartbreaker.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:17 PM on September 29, 2007 [3 favorites]


welcome to how the other half live - except of course, we don't get to work at a socially conscious job OR one that allows us a middle class lifestyle

this really sickens me - young college educated liberals are getting the shaft and NOW people notice that there are people getting shafted in this society
posted by pyramid termite at 10:22 PM on September 29, 2007 [5 favorites]


Guess you should've gone to college!
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 10:24 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


And people call the Baby Boomers whiners? Obviously, this is the real scandal in America today. Barbara Ehrenreich eat your heart out.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:26 PM on September 29, 2007


Guess you should've gone to college!

that's not a sufficient answer for this society's problems, any more than "i guess i should learn how to make bombs" would be

think about that
posted by pyramid termite at 10:28 PM on September 29, 2007


...beautiful and unique snowflake...
posted by Kickstart70 at 10:29 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


No, I suppose you'd prefer a handout from those of us who did go to college.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 10:30 PM on September 29, 2007


Helping a business grow and creating value in society is not selling out. Fucking "liberal" whiners should try to figure out who pays the taxes that pave the roads and fund schools. People who work in real jobs do. Companies that earn a profit and pay taxes on that profit do. There is no choice but to work hard and use your brains and your creativity.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:33 PM on September 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


starting salaries for first year law school grads are North of 150,000/year in NYC? I got that from the first paragraph of the link behind the words "Daniel Brook." I'm not disputing it, but it does make me feel worse about my own salary...
posted by jonson at 10:33 PM on September 29, 2007


Perhaps not, PT, but you can't argue with the fact there would be a certain gratification in sending people like Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America out to work in the fields and depriving them of bourgeois accoutrements like their reading glasses.

America: Year Zero.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:34 PM on September 29, 2007


greetings, corporate slaves! i've been telling people for years this would happen.
posted by bruce at 10:34 PM on September 29, 2007


I used to work as a contractor at a non-profit, by the way. I made close to double what I do now. I found out where the money was and negotiated my own hourly rate, which was quite good.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:35 PM on September 29, 2007


Yes, starting salaries for associates at many law firms (both in NYC and other areas) is up to $160,000.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 10:35 PM on September 29, 2007


From TFA:
And so a generation of young, educated people who want to do good in the world is forced to choose between material sacrifice (Claire) and spiritual sacrifice, or "selling out" (Pam).
I'm not sure why the author thinks this is a phenomenon unique to either our time or our country; it seems like it's probably more the rule historically than the exception.

'Doing good in the world' has rarely been a profitable or materially rewarding endeavor (except sometimes by happy accident), and I can think of many periods in history when setting out to do such a thing would have resulted in worse than "selling out," it could have resulted in starvation. Most people just don't have the luxury of such existential crises.

It's something of a testament to the current political/social/economic regime that an average person can even consider such a path for themselves without living the life of a true ascetic or depending wholly on the charity of others.

At least the reviewer seems to notice this:
I think Brook probably overstates the extent to which the dilemma he writes about is new, charming us with nostalgic tales like that of the writer who in the '60s "could support herself in the East Village for months on the fee from one mainstream magazine feature."
Of course, what's not said is that if you were living a comfortable, middle-class existence in the 1960s, you were probably a sellout. In fact, if you're living a comfortable middle-class existence anywhere, at any time, you're probably a sellout, because in order to live a comfortable middle-class existence, you almost certainly have bought into the system and have decided to play by the rules. That is practically the definition of selling out.

Comfortable, middle class living is basically how society rewards individuals for playing by the rules and not rocking the boat too much. What Brook seems to be lamenting is that, over time, the rules have changed, and the behaviors that are rewarded are different. That's probably true, but it borders on trite; that's just another way of saying that the society of the 1960s isn't the same as the society of the 1990s. Everything else is his subjective opinion of which one is superior.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:35 PM on September 29, 2007 [9 favorites]


No, I suppose you'd prefer a handout from those of us who did go to college.

no, i'd prefer universal health care, a living wage and a society that didn't treat its citizens like dirt as they do the jobs that are necessary to keep it running

instead we've got a country run by snide cliche ridden jerks like you who refuse to see that the social fabric of our society has been fraying badly

you seem to think that this can continue on like this without consequences to yourself

you are wrong - you already are paying "handouts" in the form of increased prison occupancy, social upheaval and lack of faith in our system
posted by pyramid termite at 10:36 PM on September 29, 2007 [25 favorites]


Perhaps not, PT, but you can't argue with the fact there would be a certain gratification in sending people like Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America out to work in the fields and depriving them of bourgeois accoutrements like their reading glasses.

I started out working in the fields! I didn't like it, though, so I went to college.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 10:36 PM on September 29, 2007


Perhaps not, PT, but you can't argue with the fact there would be a certain gratification in sending people like Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America out to work in the fields and depriving them of bourgeois accoutrements like their reading glasses.

i could argue with that and in fact, i have to

what scares me is others may not be so willing to forgo such gratification - and no, mr president whatever, it will not come in this country as "communism" but in the form of demagogic fascism which will cherry pick the best promises from the right and the left and run with them

there are worse evils than paying "handouts" to people you don't respect
posted by pyramid termite at 10:43 PM on September 29, 2007


Fucking "liberal" whiners should try to figure out who pays the taxes that pave the roads and fund schools. People who work in real jobs do.

This has nothing to do with liberals, and everything to do with the repulsive sense of entitlement inherent in the American middle classes. The rest of the world pretty well knows from long, hard experience that the only way to get wealth is to actually create it or to play a role in creating it. Young Americans, in contrast, seem to think that money grows on trees, falling so easily, as it does, from their parents credit cards.

I see precisely the same sense of entitlement in young Americans of the opposite political persuasion: the only difference is that they want to whore for a law company or a lobbying firm rather than for a non-profit. These industries are just as parasitical, in that they don't actually create wealth but leech off the backs of those who do. However, they've figured out a way to extract some surplus value in a way that the non-profits haven't managed.

If I were a young American liberal, I think I'd want to start my own Boot Camp. There's a way to make a decent living by working for a 'non-profit'. Charge the wealthy a fortune to torture their brat kids. They get the sense of exclusivity by having their kids dodge juvenile hall and by paying through the nose for punishment disguised as 'therapy'. You get the big dollars *and* get to pretend that you work in a fulfilling non-profit that provides a valuable social service.

Win/win for everybody concerned.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:48 PM on September 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


This isn't some competition. "The poor have it worse" is not an answer to "if you're not super-rich, you can't buy a house."
There was a time when an American could hold a public-sector job, afford a home in a major city, and stay more or less in the middle class...

...Brook is saying that, [now] in certain important places, the cost of a few basic goods has become prohibitively expensive
In San Francisco, the "affordable housing" the mayor is trying to get built is for people who make $100,000 / year and can't afford to buy homes.

The income gap doubled in the past 25 years. Income inequality is at levels not seen since the 1920s.
posted by salvia at 10:49 PM on September 29, 2007 [3 favorites]


And so a generation of young, educated people who want to do good in the world is forced to choose between material sacrifice (Claire) and spiritual sacrifice, or "selling out" (Pam).

Unlike in 1950, when your college dean asked you what really made you feel most happy and fulfilled and ensured that you would be paid to do exactly that, after making certain that you would also receive enthusiastic blowjobs from mermaids every day. Or vigorous rogering by unicorns if that was more your bag.

Certainly it wasn't the case that college graduates in those days, including ones who'd just spent the last few years beating the crap out of Hitler and Tojo while watching their friends die, emerged with no real alternatives except soul-crushingly boring corporate jobs and more poverty.

What Brook was getting at when he asked whether I could buy my parents' house was that things haven't always been this way. There was a time when an American could hold a public-sector job, afford a home in a major city, and stay more or less in the middle class.

Which is nice, except that "reporter for free weekly" is not a public-sector job, and in general is pretty fucking far from "attorney for the city"

Even more annoying is that it completely omits the third choice... you can be a do-gooder who's poor, or sell out and get a house, or work for a nonprofit in Dallas or Buffalo or Pittsburgh or Cleveland or St. Louis or Atlanta, and still get a fucking house.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:52 PM on September 29, 2007 [6 favorites]


Fucking "liberal" whiners should try to figure out who pays the taxes that pave the roads and fund schools....
posted by KokuRyu at 12:33 AM on September 30 [+] [!]


Did someone hijack your account, or do you hold an, erm, eclectic set of beliefs?
posted by Kwantsar at 10:53 PM on September 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


no, i'd prefer universal health care, a living wage and a society that didn't treat its citizens like dirt as they do the jobs that are necessary to keep it running

Which is all very good and all, but that's just a nice way of saying, "C'mon people, now smile on your brother, ev'ry-body get together, try to love one another right now."

In other words, noise.

Now tell us how to pay for universal health care and living wages for all in a way that doesn't involve "evil, greedy corporations" having a Grinch-like change of heart. Because that's neither human nature (because even the most evil of corporations is still run by humans), nor is it realistic. And you know what they say about wishing it were so? You can wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which one fills up faster.

Money quote:

Couldn't Pam move to Cleveland? Brook is fairly up front about the fact that the phenomenon he's bemoaning is a metropolitan one, and offers up some good defenses for why it still matters: for one thing, major cities are industry centers, and afford people an opportunity to make an impact that other places don't—Claire can't move to Cleveland because she needs to be in New York to lobby the UN.

Hear that, people of Cleveland? The best and the brightest shouldn't bother themselves with your woes. Your concerns are beneath their notice. Besides, you don't have enough cool bars and restaurants.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:56 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


kill the lawyers, burn the banks, dismantle the power structure, start over.

we have more than an overclass here in the usa. we have a cultish worship of wealth. It must stop.
posted by vrakatar at 10:56 PM on September 29, 2007 [4 favorites]


I'm sure there's a nice school in Wyoming that needs an English teacher.

No, it's not just that these people don't want to "sell out"; they want to live in the most expensive cities in the world, have dinner at fabulous restaurants, and dress like extras in Sex and the City. I'm not sure that qualifies as not "selling out".

There are lots and lots of jobs in the world that make a difference; maybe they should go to a trade school and pick up plumbing or electical. Maybe become a dry waller, build houses for the homeless! It's not just that the world doesn't value "important" jobs, it's also that these people apparently can't see the value in work that's outside the tiny little bubble of their own definitions. It's got to be high profile and it's got to keep your hands (literally) clean or it's beneath these middle-class, fancily-educated kids? Sorry, who sold who out here?

I agree with the basic premise that the US needs universal health care. That would cut down on the growing culture of fear down south, I'm sure of it. But this book in question (not having read it, mind, just based on what the article says) really does sound to me like middle-class whining.
posted by Hildegarde at 10:59 PM on September 29, 2007 [3 favorites]


Money shot

But he argues—convincingly, I think—that the situation is more serious than just "the whining of a pampered generation." For one thing, he says, it's bad for society for creative and public service work to be relegated to a cadre of "moral giants, mental midgets, and trust fund babies." If capable accountants are lured away from government jobs into the private sector, there will be no one to catch the Enrons. If no competent lawyer can afford to work as an assistant district attorney, there will be no one to prosecute murders.

Yup.
posted by lalochezia at 10:59 PM on September 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


interesting idea, peter

but what i'd really like to know from mr president etc etc, not to mention our real president is

how come defending those troublesome and for the most part non-college going iraqis is alright with a "handout" of 190 billion bucks, but 25 billion for our nation's children isn't?

oh (slaps head) that's right

it's the fault of all those uninsured children because they haven't gone to college yet

salvia -

This isn't some competition.

don't be so naive, of course it is - any time the middle class stands up and demands a solution to their problems, the poor's problems are going to take a back seat to that

"The poor have it worse" is not an answer to "if you're not super-rich, you can't buy a house."

it's not an answer, it's a deal breaker

papa cool bell -

Which is all very good and all, but that's just a nice way of saying, "C'mon people, now smile on your brother, ev'ry-body get together, try to love one another right now."

it's a specific proposal - i'd call your statement a straw man argument, but you didn't put enough thought into it to make it an argument

Now tell us how to pay for universal health care and living wages for all in a way that doesn't involve "evil, greedy corporations" having a Grinch-like change of heart.

higher taxes and an isolationist foreign policy, as far as military adventures go

how much money have we spend on the iraq war? - that alone would have paid for it

what's more important? your country or their country? which comes first?
posted by pyramid termite at 11:06 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


Helping a business grow and creating value in society is not selling out.

....

Companies that earn a profit and pay taxes on that profit do.


The growth of large corporations, in my opinion, doesn't create much value for society today and often serves to harm society. E.g. the company discussed that advises Wal-Mart. There's nothing good about Wal-Mart.

And specifically, large corporations tend to evade taxes as much as possible. To stick with Wal-Mart, recently they were caught having one subsidiary #1 own the land under the Wal-Mart while subsidiary #2 rented the land from #1 to operate the store. Wal-Mart then took a huge tax deduction on the rent it was paying to itself.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:06 PM on September 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


Guess you should've gone to college!

The problem is not that people are undereducated — if anything, USian culture sends its kids to college whether they're capable or not (partly thanks to subsidized loans).

Add to that the expectation society places on everyone for consuming at a level well incommensurate with their incomes.

Add to that the reality that middle-class earners can no longer afford homes their wages could have bought 20 years ago.

Ultimately you get a back pressure of debt-ridden, overworked, overeducated renters who are, at the end of the day, miserable, and who have little to lose by complaining about their situation.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:12 PM on September 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


If capable accountants are lured away from government jobs into the private sector, there will be no one to catch the Enrons. If no competent lawyer can afford to work as an assistant district attorney, there will be no one to prosecute murders.

If the system is run by the bullies and psychos of the world, why not sell out?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:14 PM on September 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


Did someone hijack your account, or do you hold an, erm, eclectic set of beliefs?

Nope. It's just that the entire 'choose between selling out or doing good but living a life of poverty' ethos has really fucked up my life. All of my college friends are lefties. Very, very few have kids. They pretend to hate kids, but the real reason is that they cannot afford to have them because they choose to have jobs that pay very little. I was a teacher. I discovered that it is impossible to save to buy a house and support a family on a teacher's salary. I embraced capitalism. My friends think I am strange. They do not trust capitalists. But someone has to pay money for social services. So, whenever I hear a 'liberal' (or 'lefty', in Canadian parlance) complain about greedy corporations, it makes me want to barf. Money = the power to affect change.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:15 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


For one thing, he says, it's bad for society for creative and public service work to be relegated to a cadre of "moral giants, mental midgets, and trust fund babies."

This isn't a new thing. This has always been true.

Anecdote: One of the driving plot points of the movie It's a Wonderful Life concerns how George Bailey doesn't ever leave Bedford Falls and has to stick around to take care of his family (and most of the town). His best friend Sam Wainwright goes off and makes millions in the plastics industry. His brother Harry goes off to college, marries a rich woman and eventually becomes a war hero.

These are the same themes touched on here -- because of a lack of opportunity, Bedford Falls is deprived of Sam and Harry's talent, and is left with George, who really wishes he could leave, but won't because he's a "moral giant."

This movie was made in 1946.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:15 PM on September 29, 2007 [3 favorites]


The capable government accountants who caught Enron weren't accountants, and didn't work for the government.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:18 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


pyramid termite, what I'm saying is that this sentence is an adequate description of reality: "Between 1980 and 2005, the income gap doubled. The middle class had it bad. And the poor had it worse." The third sentence and the second sentence aren't mutually exclusive.

any time the middle class stands up and demands a solution to their problems, the poor's problems are going to take a back seat to that

Except that they're largely the same problems -- health care costs, child care costs, housing, etc. As the problems of the poor have crept up to the middle class, more people have started working to pass policies like guaranteed health insurance, which is more likely to help the poor than hurt them.
posted by salvia at 11:20 PM on September 29, 2007


There's nothing good about Wal-Mart.

Despite some flaws, Wal-Mart embodies the argument that the free market is self-optimizing; it thrives on the basis that a single entity is more efficient (requires fewer man-hours and resources) than 80,000 mom-and-pop stores, all with different relationships with distributors, all with different processes, all with different hours, all with different blueprints, all with different store layouts, all with different inventories and supply chains.

Large companies may have flaws, but they can do things cheaper, and often better, than a thousand small ones.
posted by blenderfish at 11:21 PM on September 29, 2007


Not to discount the rest of the article (though I have a hard time mustering much sympathy for the lawyers who have to choose between the $80K government job and the $150K private-sector job), but this was interesting to me:
Most said he was right on the basics; urban expert Joel Kotkin offered the important caveat that cities are becoming less tenable living places because of inequality, yes, but also because there are more people and not enough new cities to put them in.
I think this is important. What Brooks is talking about is, largely, an urban phenomenon; and what really scares the shit out of me as someone who can't imagine not living in some kind of city1 is that cities are antiques. They are historical artifacts; they are not making them anymore. And we're really only 50 years or so into suburbanization; it's early days, still, and already normal people can't live in Manhattan. You can still live in second-tier cities on a decent "middle-class" income — but with a decidedly sub-middle-class standard of living, and for how long? This isn't going to change, New Urbanist ersatz "cities" notwithstanding, unless cars become untenable, which is unlikely, peak oil or no peak oil; the renewable energy sources are out there, and we'll start to take them seriously when the oil really starts to run out. How long do we have until cities like (to quote Blazecock Pileon) "Dallas or Buffalo or Pittsburgh or Cleveland or St. Louis or Atlanta" become as inaccessible to mortals as Manhattan? Not long, I think; I hope someone will show me why I'm wrong.

1. Not necessarily a large city; but some sort of urban environment, even if it's the old-fashioned downtown/CBD of a small, regional city.
posted by enn at 11:24 PM on September 29, 2007 [3 favorites]


If it weren't for Wal-Mart, where would an entire underclass go to buy underwear? Maybe I'm feeling a disconnect here because the context of this thread is America (or USia, I guess some of us might cockily say), while I live in Canada, which is experiencing its greatest period of opportunity in more than a generation. If you don't like your job, there are endless opportunities to do better (unless you live in post-imperial Ontario).
posted by KokuRyu at 11:27 PM on September 29, 2007


Wal-Mart embodies the argument that the free market is self-optimizing

The free market as implemented today is self-optimizing for the corporation, not self-optimizing for society. It's hard to find a multinational corporation that isn't constantly engaged in screwing over everyone they can get away with. Seriously, if you have an example, I'd like to see it.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:29 PM on September 29, 2007 [6 favorites]


how much money have we spend on the iraq war? - that alone would have paid for it

According to this, it's roughly $450 billion.

Congrats, you've paid for a single year of non-military federal spending, with about $100 billion left over. Note that you still have a $9 trillion debt. And you have some tough choices to make. I mean, NASA's budget alone is $17 billion...

So, what's the plan for next year? How many more wars can we not have? Of course, we could raise taxes by $500 billion. That's about $2,000 per person. You got an extra two grand lying around? Cuz' I'm fresh out...

i'd call your statement a straw man argument

Oh for fuck's sake, will all MeFites please go look up the definition of a strawman fallacy, so they can accurately make that claim.

posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:32 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


You really don't think they are still building cities, enn? What about places like Fairfax, Virginia, that have popped up in the last couple decades and other places like that. Do they not count for you since they are car-oriented and not old-fashioned downtowns? (I'm asking sincerely, not snarkily.)
posted by salvia at 11:36 PM on September 29, 2007


Helping a business grow and creating value in society is not selling out.

When I arrived at work on Friday, I learned that there was a box on top of one of our shelves (against the wall) and that, in the advent of a fire, this box would prevent the water from the sprinkler from hitting said wall (steel struts, gypsum wall board) and that this was a safety violation and needed to be remediated.

Said remediation took the attention of a director and three PhDs. Gypsum AND refractory get a quarter of a million hits via Google. Since I need to have a will to live on Monday, please tell me how this is helping a business grow or creating value.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:38 PM on September 29, 2007


How long do we have until cities like (to quote Blazecock Pileon) "Dallas or Buffalo or Pittsburgh or Cleveland or St. Louis or Atlanta" become as inaccessible to mortals as Manhattan? Not long, I think; I hope someone will show me why I'm wrong.

What you're asking is "how long before geography is irrelevant?" How long before an urban center becomes less desirable as place to live?

To a certain degree, that will never happen -- location will always matter when it comes to real estate.

But ... there are plenty of tech savvy guys in India and other far-flung places that are already making geography irrelevant. And there's oodles of work to be done in the U.S. in terms of urban transportation infrastructure to make commuting a better option, which can lower the desirability of living right downtown.

But lefties generally hate both of those options, because they represent loosening globalization policies and old-school, high dollar "hard" infrastructure spending, instead of protectionism and "soft" social spending.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:41 PM on September 29, 2007


It's hard to find a multinational corporation anyone that isn't constantly engaged in screwing over everyone they can get away with.

Fixed that for you; it's not just multinational corporations that screw each other over -- individuals will do it as well, and do it with gusto. Corporations allow essential human greed to be writ larger, but at the end of the day they're being driven by the same impulses that might drive one general store to undercut the prices of another down the road.

But fundamentally I agree with you; there's no reason why we should retain an incentive structure if it consistently produces outcomes that are undesirable for almost everyone. There's just no point in blaming it on 'multinational corporations,' as if they're the disease rather than a symptom.

If we don't like what they're doing, then we should probably consider what we could do to make what they're doing less profitable, and make a better course of action more profitable. Anything else is trying to get water to run uphill.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:46 PM on September 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


Fucking "liberal" whiners should try to figure out who pays the taxes that pave the roads and fund schools. People who work in real jobs do.

Speaking as a well paid corporate whore, if my taxes were actually being used to pave roads and fund schools I wouldn't need to whine.

I was a teacher. I discovered that it is impossible to save to buy a house and support a family on a teacher's salary.

Ah, we fund schools not teachers, I get it now.
posted by doctor_negative at 11:48 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wal-Mart embodies the argument that the free market is self-optimizing

Wal-Mart defines market efficiency only by setting or otherwise greatly influencing market-wide prices for what it buys (monopsony). As such, it is only "efficient" in a pyrrhic sense, by virtue of being capable of setting the terms on which the entire market operates. Indeed, they can be so "efficient" that they can help put a supplier out of business.

There was a study done that Wal-Mart actually doesn't ultimately save consumers much money at all, anyway, which should happen if the market is optimized. On the consumer side, they offer "low" prices on some products, while charging a premium for others. Meanwhile, they can use their purchasing power with suppliers to control market prices for nearly all of what they resell.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:50 PM on September 29, 2007 [6 favorites]


From some letters found a few years ago in some relatives' old farmhouse:

Dec. 18, 1934: Neil is teaching school at Forgan, Sask., which is 128 miles by highway from here.

Dec 18, 1936: Neil is principal of Anglia, Sask. School.

Dec 19, 1937: Neil, our only surviving son, is at home with us just now although he plans on going back to Vancouver in the spring. For the past three years he taught school in Saskatchewan; but, this year, teachers are not receiving their salaries so Neil did not apply for a school.

Dec 23, 1939: Neil operates our farm and he is managing well.
posted by TimTypeZed at 11:51 PM on September 29, 2007 [5 favorites]


If I didn't need to worry about making a living, I would have studied anthropology instead of computer science. But guess what? The world needs more computer programmers, and it does not need more anthropologists. That's why you can make a good living in IT, while most people with anthro degrees don't even work in their field.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:57 PM on September 29, 2007


salvia: the short answer is: no, I don't. It's interesting that you linked to Garreau; just took another look at the inside front cover of my copy of Edge City (a photograph of Tysons Corner, VA, in Fairfax County), and I don't see anything indicative of the things that make cities worth living in for me. Is Fairfax a city in terms of having a large number of people and a huge amount of capital? Sure, and I'm not anti-business; those are good things. But it's not a city the way I know them; there are no neighborhoods, there is no street life, no getting to know the guys who run the corner store, no stumbling across interesting shops or bars or restaurants or people because you walk past them on your way to buy groceries. Joel Garreau thinks this is the future of cities, and he may be right, but I hope to hell I die before that's all that's left.

I don't mean to be anti-progress, and I don't hate cars per se — but I hate what they've done to the geography of America. Cities are about serendipity, for me, and the fact that you might have to spend some time in an unfamiliar neighborhood to get somewhere, that you see things or meet people you wouldn't have sought out because everything is so densely clustered that you can't avoid it. It's just not possible, in the city, to mediate your experiences as it is in a car-based sprawl culture. I realize that this is not for everyone, and i don't begrudge sprawl its fans; it just depresses me that the expansion or creation of the kind of cities i like is no longer economically viable.

Again, nothing would make me happier than to end up looking at this post in 20 years and laughing at myself; I'd love to see Fairfax turn into the kind of city I know, or even some new kind of city which retains the strengths of New York or Chicago while taking a novel form. But I can't see that happening.

Cool Papa Bell:
What you're asking is "how long before geography is irrelevant?" How long before an urban center becomes less desirable as place to live?

That's not what I'm asking at all. I see an increase, not a decrease, in the desirability of urban centers. What I'm asking is: how long until middle-class people who want to live in urban centers can't live there, however much they might want to? How long before sprawl is the only option for those not born into wealth?
posted by enn at 12:05 AM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Threads like this make me want to shoot myself.

"Do something you really enjoy and barely eek out a living for yourself while constantly being shat upon by The Man, or else be The Man, work at a job you only tolerate or even despise -- and do the shitting while earning a hearty salary. Pick one."

I'll have neither.

*bang!*
posted by Avenger at 12:20 AM on September 30, 2007 [4 favorites]


In his new book, Daniel Brook says you are getting screwed by being forced to choose between a job that you would actually like or selling out so you can have a middle class lifestyle.

Really? You mean people won't pay you to do whatever the fuck you want? They expect that paying you should help them make money?

Fucking Bush.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:35 AM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wait, what was the subject again? Oh yeah, life is about making a bunch of decisions on what is more important for you. For some folks it's about making as much money as possible. Other folks it's making a social difference. If buying a house is important to you, then yes, you need to find a job that pays you enough to afford that. If it's more important to you to be a social worker, then perhaps owning a house isn't in your future. I think the problem lies in the fact that people equate success and satisfaction with financial gain. The united states, in spite of what you might hear otherwise, runs on the worship of the dollar. Not god, not Jesus, but the dollar. And, even the liberal educated young folks buy into this. Until people realize that there's more to life than earning cash then things like the subject of this thread are going to continue, and I'm going to keep earning all the cash I can so I can pay for my house. No plasma teevee or fancy car though, but lots of treats for my doggie.
posted by Eekacat at 12:37 AM on September 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


Good lord. It is a rather big damn deal that you can't be a public school teacher or social worker or civil servant in many of our most densely populated cities and expect to be able to afford housing, contribute adequately to retirement, or have decent insurance. Anyone sensible entering public service expects to make sacrifices. But housing isn't a luxury item, nor is health care, nor is a retirement free from poverty. How can it be a point of controversy to assert that people who work hard to competently perform public service jobs deserve to afford those things?

This discussion is missing a major point: it's the least fortunate who rely most on public service and it's they who suffer most when we devalue people who work in social services. Poor kids need well educated social workers protecting them and excellent teachers and people in nonprofits working for their benefit, and these are the people who are being forced leave their fields in order to simply make a living wage or have their own families. Please tell me that we've not internalized free market palaver to the point where we can call the desire of people who work for the public good to afford a living wage "middle-class whining."

The sharpest disagreement I heard was from Jason Furman of the Brookings Institution, who argued that, while the cost of certain important goods (heath care, housing, education) has indeed gone up over the last thirty years, the cost of other necessities (food, clothing) has dropped, resulting in a near wash for the middle class.

That's the exact sentence where I lost my mind. Cheap food and clothes are not a fair trade for an education that an average middle class person can't afford without getting swallowed up in debt, and affordable housing and health care. I don't expect genius from the Brookings Institution, but bullshit of such reek and volume has rarely been seen outside the streets of Pamplona.

This has nothing to do with liberals, and everything to do with the repulsive sense of entitlement inherent in the American middle classes.

PeterMcDermott, you live in a country with government-subsidized health care and pensions and you're lecturing young Americans who want to be able to go to the doctor without going into hock and who fear an impoverished old age? I hate to say it, but now I'm just a little sorry my grandpa saved you from the Jerries. Not David Bowie or Marc Bolan or Posh Spice, don't get me wrong -- just you.
posted by melissa may at 12:43 AM on September 30, 2007 [33 favorites]


you are getting screwed by being forced to choose between a job that you would actually like or selling out so you can have a middle class lifestyle.

when the hell was this not the case?

It seems to me that there are simply more "do-gooder" jobs out there nowadays, so people are more keenly aware that there is a material sacrifice/spiritual sacrifice choice to be made, as opposed to the good ole days when the vast majority of people knew to support a family, they were headed for a lifetime of excruitiating boredom working in insurance sales; and they dealt with it.
posted by milestogo at 12:49 AM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


This isn't a new thing. This has always been true.

This keeps being said, but that doesn't make it true. From comments by Brook

In 1972, starting salaries at Manhattan corporate law firms were $16,000 while the federal government offered its newly minted lawyers $13,300 and Legal Aid of New York paid $12,500. Today, the public sector/private sector salary gap is $100,000 as shown by the latest figures from the National Association of Law Placement.


The teacher-lawyer comparison is similar: In 1970, starting New York City teachers made just $2,000 less than starting Wall Street lawyers. They now make $100,000 less. Today, teacher-headed households are priced out of more than 90% of the region's census tracts.


In 1980, the City of Chicago paid its starting teachers $13,770, more than two and a half times the annual tuition at the University of Chicago. Today, U of C tuition is almost equal to teacher pay, tuition having tripled in real dollars in a generation.


In the US health care costs, tuition, housing costs have all risen without a cooresponding rise in income, except for people working high end corporate jobs. This did not happen by accident and it isn't the way things have to be forever.
posted by afu at 12:53 AM on September 30, 2007 [13 favorites]


Most of the grownups I know are living lives that try to strike an acceptable balance between personal fulfillment and their bank account balance.

The point about the salaries of public-sector workers is valid. I'd happily fork over higher taxes if I thought it meant that hardworking folks like (for example, and not an exhaustive list) cops, firefighters and teachers, who perform vitally important roles in society, could make a better wage and have a higher standard of living.

The notion that anyone who is making decent money in this society has, perforce, "sold out to the Man" and is living a life of soulless drudgery, having sacrificed their ideals on the altar of Mammon, is laughably wrong and wildly at variance with both my own experience and that of most people I know.
posted by enrevanche at 1:18 AM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


There is a huge disconnect between people who make good money and the rest who don't. I have friends who feel their combined $200K a year income puts them squarely in the middle class. That's ridiculous.

Everyone in America got much wealthier when there was a strong middle class. There will always be some poverty and some real wealth, but it doesn't even take a room temperature IQ to recognize that paying your police, firemen, teachers, factory workers and everyone else a salary that lets them own a home and save for retirement raises all boats.

I blame it all on Robin Leach. I think about the way my parents and my friends parents lived, growing up 30 years ago. We didn't have a new car every two years (or even every ten years), we didn't have 4000 square foot houses or a TV in every room. Those were things for the upper middle classes.

I tell ya, the income gap is going to lead to Bad Things as it gets bigger. The larger the gap, the fewer the people on the "good" side and the more on the bad side. At some point, that model breaks and the guillotines get dusted off and everyone suffers.
posted by maxwelton at 1:31 AM on September 30, 2007 [5 favorites]


It's hard to find a multinational corporation that isn't constantly engaged in screwing over everyone they can get away with. Seriously, if you have an example, I'd like to see it.

Costco
posted by Poolio at 1:57 AM on September 30, 2007 [5 favorites]


This thread seems made to troll, so I'm glad people like melissa may and afu have noticed the underlying issue - which is recent, fairly unique to the USA, and serious. Paying teachers, police, nurses, etc a fair wage not only improves the lives of the people doing the job, but it improves their appeal and therefore the quality of the employee and the quality of the service provided. Doubling the salaries of teachers would more than double the quality of education provided, because then they would become appealing to people who would otherwise pursue soul-crushing jobs so they can afford to own a home or have children.

A rewarding job with decent pay? It's only a fairy tale because we've made it one.
posted by mek at 2:01 AM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


TheOnlyCoolTim: The free market as implemented today is self-optimizing for the corporation, not self-optimizing for society

Yes. Because 'optimizing for the corporation' is where you (most of the time) increase profits by 'doing more with less.' This is an objective thing, which benefits society by making us all richer (less total work done by society, but the same or greater goods/services available.)

'Optimizing for society' is a game where you try to please some fraction of people (since, it turns out, everyone disagrees what 'good for society' means) as much as you can. Eventually a pair of socks costs 30$ because thats a 'green/recycled/carbon-neutral/vegan/fair-trade' price, and they were legally not allowed to fire their vendor because the company is run by war-widows, and the truck that delivers them runs on Unicorn farts, and you can only buy it from 12-5 on Mondays through Wednesdays because that's a 'fair' work week. So nobody can afford socks, but hey, society is GREAT.

Blazecock Pileon:
Wal-Mart defines market efficiency only by setting or otherwise greatly influencing market-wide prices for what it buys (monopsony). As such, it is only "efficient" in a pyrrhic sense, by virtue of being capable of setting the terms on which the entire market operates.


Yet somehow Walmart stays in business, and somehow other similar companies spring up (like Target), and somehow suppliers still keep them supplied, and somehow new suppliers keep springing up, and somehow consumers still come in, and somehow prices are as low as they've ever been. Seems tenable so far.

Anyway, I didn't mean to turn into some kind of Wal-mart apologist, and I really do think they do bad things with regard to labor and foreign trade, but to say that corporations, even one as maligned as Wal-mart, provide no benefit to our society is needlessly polarized thinking.
posted by blenderfish at 2:25 AM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


But housing isn't a luxury item, nor is health care, nor is a retirement free from poverty.

Not yet, but enormous progress has been made in that direction, and continues to be made. For many people, that goal has been reached. Sometimes, you can see a hint of a smile behind Dick Cheney's scowl.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:45 AM on September 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


KokuRyu writes "Helping a business grow and creating value in society is not selling out. Fucking 'liberal' whiners should try to figure out who pays the taxes that pave the roads and fund schools. People who work in real jobs do. Companies that earn a profit and pay taxes on that profit do. There is no choice but to work hard and use your brains and your creativity."

Ahhh the refreshing smell of indoctrination !

1. Helping a business grow : well if you wanna help , why do you want to get paid ? You could help a lot more by not asking any wage and that's un-fucking-deniable. Or you just wanted the money, but want to grandstand and pose like you are THE company asset ? Puuuuleee-ze.

2. to figure out who pays the taxes : the masses do, the greatest part. Companies usually evade or elude taxes (why fund thesel liberal stuff like education ?) but given that they usually pay an higher (in absolute value) amount of money it really looks like they are doing all the paying ! You see, underfunding education really helps keeping people in awe of big numbers....ooohh they paid one millions taxes, you paid only $2000 you LIBERAL LOSER LAMER (LOLLOL)

3. People who work in real jobs do : oh my that's the commie rap on real men doing the real tought jobs, like lifting weights and driving trucks ! They do the real job, why do they get paid so little ? It must be the liberal cabal fault ? WHAT, the Boss is a staunch Republican ? Ummmhh....uhhhmm.....uhhhmmm....I'll better go back to flipping burgers, this thinking thing is difficult.

4.work hard and use your brains and your creativity : now that makes sense, but one wonders : if all our fathers and mothers worked very hard and with a lot of brains, why did they hate us and didn't help us live JUST a little better ? Not much, JUST a little ? Why are we going back and we need to choose between which finger we want reattached, why do working people have shitty insurances and can't afford, but die ?

Could it be that all of this is possible, but we misled into thinking we need to DESERVE all of this , doing ALL our job plus all the job of our fathers and mothers back to the 3rd generation ? Something just doesn't follow.
posted by elpapacito at 3:21 AM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


enrevanche: I'd happily fork over higher taxes if I thought it meant that hardworking folks like (for example, and not an exhaustive list) cops, firefighters and teachers, who perform vitally important roles in society, could make a better wage and have a higher standard of living.

I don't know where you live but in south Florida cops and firefighters both make fine wages. There are plenty of cops and firefighters that own a home and support a family, even in the very pricey house market here. Teachers get paid less because there are such an over-abundance of them, which seems to me a good indication that they aren't over-paid. If you want to see something exciting, look up the average GPA of a teacher and the average GPA of a lawyer, you'll notice that, perhaps, one is quite a bit different than the other.

I don't want to suggest that there is some correlation between aptitude and earning potential, but who knows?

An argument that I find more appealing is "Do we want our children educated by people who may have good hearts but weren't qualified/capable to do much other than teach?" I'd love to see teacher's paid based on skill and experience, rather than the one size fits all approach we currently employ, but that would indicate that we were rewarding people for their previous work and their general aptitude and not for the socially meritorious work they were doing.
posted by BackwardsHatClub at 3:39 AM on September 30, 2007


Poolio, the only corporate stock (as opposed to an index fund) that I own is Costco, for that very reason. They seem to be a "moral" corporation. They also save us a bundle.
posted by maxwelton at 3:56 AM on September 30, 2007


The cop / fireman / nurse thing is a red herring. The article is about highly educated children of professionals taking $25,000 jobs with no benefits instead of going onto Wall Street while still trying to live in hip neighborhoods. Not exactly the option set or background or living preference of your typical cop, nurse or fireman. And those jobs pay a lot better than $25,000, and in the case of cops and firemen have great retirement and health care benefits too.

I also think that the supposed "misery" of the "sellouts" is way overdone. Most of the liberals I know long ago made a choice to pursue success in the private sector, and, far from being miserable with it, are entirely happy with their choices. Those who spent significant time in the non-profit or government sector first are almost unanimous in their belief that their private sector employers are more focused, better run, and more personally satisfying.
posted by MattD at 4:00 AM on September 30, 2007


I work in a library, and most of the librarians I know are doing pretty well even though our salaries are... well, good public library salaries, but inspiring a certain amount of "I did six years of higher education for this?"

They're married.

It's the same way for teachers' salaries; if you expect that your employees are mostly going to be married women whose husbands make decent money, you can get away with not paying them much.

I think the social pressure on women to be in altruistic jobs is one of the elephants in the room.
posted by Jeanne at 4:55 AM on September 30, 2007 [10 favorites]


Those who spent significant time in the non-profit or government sector first are almost unanimous in their belief that their private sector employers are more focused, better run, and more personally satisfying.


This deserves to be repeated; the in-fighting, tiny kingdoms, and rank inefficiency of many Not-For-Profits is sickening.
posted by BackwardsHatClub at 5:07 AM on September 30, 2007


Jeanne is absolutely right-- many of these 'non-profit' or social service jobs are populated by married women whose husbands make the 'real' money.

But the real elephant in the room is health insurance. To purchase a decent policy independently can cost easily as much as a month's rent in a mid-sized city. My employer currently covers most of the cost for my husband and me-- which comes to over $900 a month. That's more than the rent on a 1-br apartment here in Portland (ME).

That's the real issue-- not the poor liberal types, or the ridiculous debate over 'selling out' or whatever. The fact is that most Americans-- at least those in the lower and middle classes-- are utterly screwed when it comes to making rational decisions about their jobs, because of the insane system of 'health care' in this country.

It gets worse the less money you make, of course, but everyone suffers in these scenarios. Even if you're in a family making $200k a year, I'd think that paying $1500-2000 to insure a family of four would put a pretty big bite into your income.

And that's income that could be spent on other things, which presumably would boost the economy. (I'm no economist, but I imagine additional disposable income would be a boon to the consumer side of the economy.)
posted by miss tea at 5:51 AM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Aside from the other problems with the article, the premise that people don't enjoy or find rewarding jobs that make them a lot of money is itself flawed.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 6:09 AM on September 30, 2007


Fixed that for you; it's not just multinational corporations that screw each other over -- individuals will do it as well, and do it with gusto.

Oh, certainly. And politicians and churches, hospitals and news organizations and schools. The list goes on.

Everyone's getting royally fucked. Even dipshit expat misfits like me who refused to keep taking it in the metaphorical ass and dropped out of the system altogether. We lose too, just in different ways.

There's nobody who is not being lied to and manipulated by those with more money and power, further up the tree of pain, organizations and individuals both. It is the way of it; it's never been any different, except that now, in North America, the lies that tell people that most of them can be anything but treadmill-bound debt vassals are that much more risibly in contradiction to the realities of life than ever. And the tools for convincing people that shit tastes like manna are more sophisticated than ever. We're fatter than ever 'cause we wolf that super-sized shit down by the ton. And still, somehow, people seem to want to believe that it's our best interests rather than our willingness to keep the engines of the economy greased with our blood that gives us value in the societies we've built.

Sure. And Hitler painted roses.

It's not all bad, though, by any means. There's a lot of fun to be had fucking around while staying ostensibly within the 'rules'. But the majority of people have always been bovine slaves to whatever Powers, earthly or otherwise, they willingly ceded their aquiescence. Most don't have a whole hell of a lot of choice, after a certain point. They've spent themselves into wealth bondage.

They do provide a useful service with their subprime mortgages and their SUVs and iPhones and 'disposable income', though: useful shields of economic meat that keep the baleful gaze of the herders off of the rest of us.

Oh, and I didn't read the article. As summarized by afu, it sounds like a self-evident sophomoric load of bollocks. Sue me!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:13 AM on September 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


If you want to see something exciting, look up the average GPA of a teacher and the average GPA of a lawyer, you'll notice that, perhaps, one is quite a bit different than the other.

It seems pretty clear that this is not an immutable fact about the nature of the two jobs. You could even speculate that the difference in pay causes people with high GPAs to choose law over teaching!
posted by escabeche at 6:14 AM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


The article should be better defined -- it's talking about the problems for low-paid, liberal, non-profit yuppies in a handful of large cities in the US, not a general issue regarding housing and opportunity for people who wish to enter public service, or do creative work or whatever.

Protestations to the contrary, it is in fact rather easy to not to live in NYC/SF/DC/etc and still do creative or fulfilling work and yet also have a more than decent standard of living; I've been doing it for years. What's more, thanks to this handy thing called the internet it's entirely possible to work with people in NYC/SF/DC/etc while still living elsewhere; I've also been doing it for years.

People who want to lobby the UN need to live in NYC. But that's a fairly specific gig. People who want to make a difference in their communities or do creative work in a general sense can live damn near anywhere. Much of the US is surprisingly livable and affordable, and it's myopia and snobbery, both overt and unconscious, that keeps people from recognizing that. I sympathize with the problems folks in NYC/SF/DC/etc face, but a lot of those problems are ones that have a reasonably simple solution if one opens up the possibility that there is life outside of certain urban corridors.

And that's the point. In the case of this article, there's a conflation of problems relating to certain cities with problems of individual educated socially-minded or creative people in general. The issue of NYC/SF/DC/etc pricing themselves out of the range of normal human beings is a problem, to be sure. But it doesn't mean that a specific educated individual who wants to make a difference to people and communities, or be creative, while not having to live like a pauper, can't in so do so. You can.
posted by jscalzi at 6:39 AM on September 30, 2007


Despite some flaws, Wal-Mart embodies the argument that the free market is self-optimizing; it thrives on the basis that a single entity is more efficient (requires fewer man-hours and resources) than 80,000 mom-and-pop stores, all with different relationships with distributors, all with different processes, all with different hours, all with different blueprints, all with different store layouts, all with different inventories and supply chains.

Large companies may have flaws, but they can do things cheaper, and often better, than a thousand small ones.


Thanks, unpaid hordes of Chinese child laborers!
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 6:59 AM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Yeah, uh, this is bullshit. It's not complete bullshit -- it's not that no valid points are raised -- but let's be honest here: Only people who came out of a background of privilege could possibly consider the dilemma of doing the job you like (for a mere $35K a year!) vs. the job that pays (maybe as much as six figures...but it will eat your soul!) a "trap". That's not a trap; that's a choice. If you're really in fear for your soul, build up a decent bank account (if you're making six figures, it shouldn't be hard), quit your job, and let Starbucks save your life, okay? You have that option. In fact, the more money you have, the more options you get. If you have money -- if you have the potential to earn money, even -- you are not trapped. The trapped people are the ones who make eight bucks an hour, live in shitholes, and don't have the option to "sell out," and any one of them would trade places with your poor little disillusioned self in a heartbeat. Oh, it'd be bad for their souls? I'm sure they could work something out. You have all kinds of time to worry about your soul when your stomach is full.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:00 AM on September 30, 2007 [3 favorites]


I think the social pressure on women to be in altruistic jobs is one of the elephants in the room.

When I was at the School of Social Work at Columbia I had this crusty old Marxist radical professor named Richard Cloward who would always growl that "social work is women's work." He was right; Columbia's gender breakdown at the SSW was about 80-20 women to men. I think that generally holds across the spectrum of social work graduate schools.

A lot of the women at Columbia were very into working the B-School and Law School mixers and were clearly hoping to couple with someone who was set to blast off, financially. More power to them, I guess.

The other elephant in the room is the role of gay men and women in the social services. Of the 20% men attending Columbia's SSW when I was there I'd wager the breakdown among those was also 80-20 gay to straight. This cuts to the heart of the issue of the fear surrounding providing for a multi-child family on a social worker's salary; a lot of straight men simply won't consider it, even if they desperately want to. Gay men and women fill that void admirably in a lot of urban centers and can because their long-term cost of living profile is far lower without children and perhaps a partner's second income to augment a social service salary.

There were also a couple ex-lawyers and ex-Wall Streeters in my class at Columbia who presumably built up nest eggs before deciding to follow their hearts. That's not uncommon.

I think what you see is a lot of straight men making the jump to non-profit late in life after all these expenditures were talking about are behind them. Many wind up on the policy or management side because they have a lot of relevant private sector expertise to bring to the table. The CEO of the agency I work for now used to be the CEO of a hotel in Vegas.

I think the real question upwardly mobile USian liberal professionals need to ask themsevles really is how much time do you dedicate outside of your "sell out" to social justice work? Be honest. I keep pounding the table with this in here but only because I feel so strongly about it: if your only involvement with the poor and working class in this country is talking about them on metafilter and you proclaim yourself a liberal then there's a problem. This shit isn't coffee talk, you know?
posted by The Straightener at 7:26 AM on September 30, 2007


I think the elephant in the room is not the gender breakdown of social workers, but rather the fact that our society considers doing social work to be a luxury.
posted by DenOfSizer at 7:34 AM on September 30, 2007 [3 favorites]


Contrary to popular belief, there are plenty of people who enjoy what they do and make a middle class wage doing it.
posted by chipsotoole at 7:34 AM on September 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


I remember hearing oe (supporting) point that nobody has brought up - the Reagan white house purposefully moved aid from grants to student loans so that people just out of college would have to take jobs to pay them back instead of volunteering for the democratic party.

I saw someone from the Reagan administration (Baker, Weinberger?) brag on one of the talking head shows a few years back once that that was the idea that he'd had that he was most proud of.

Can anybody with better Google skills than me find it?
posted by overhauser at 7:56 AM on September 30, 2007


According to this, it's roughly $450 billion.

Congrats, you've paid for a single year of non-military federal spending, with about $100 billion left over.


real sloppy thinking there - i was proposing national health insurance and a living wage, not funding the entire government

Note that you still have a $9 trillion debt.

that's another issue - and it's one that so called conservatives can take as much blame for as so called liberals

Of course, we could raise taxes by $500 billion.

i'm not sure it would cost this much - remember that a national health insurance plan would include what we're already paying for medicaid and medicare

That's about $2,000 per person. You got an extra two grand lying around?

as a matter of fact, i do - i pay 50 bucks a week for my employer's health insurance - 50*52 = 2600 bucks, so if they have to raise my taxes 2000 bucks to pay for that, i save 600 bucks, because the government's paying for the health insurance now

oh, yeah, my employer pays less to employ me, too, so they win, too

of course, you're just pulling figures out of your ass so it hardly matters

and you haven't answered my major point - how is it that we can spend 190 billion for this asinine war but can't spend 25 billion for children's health care?

Oh for fuck's sake, will all MeFites please go look up the definition of a strawman fallacy

you read as well as you think - i said that your "arguments" weren't even good enough to be labeled straw men
posted by pyramid termite at 8:23 AM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


and you haven't answered my major point - how is it that we can spend 190 billion for this asinine war but can't spend 25 billion for children's health care?

Given the way we've botched the "liberation" of Iraq, what makes you think the US government could pull off a successful health care program?

Not that I'd object to trying - a broken health care program will almost certainly be less expensive than a broken war.

I'm sure Blackwater would be happy to expand their medical services business.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:54 AM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Claire can't move to Cleveland because she needs to be in New York to lobby the UN

Someone should sit down with Claire and patiently and monosyllabically explain that those shiny things in the sky are not giant birds, but instead machines that can whisk you godlike from Cleveland, where you live and plan and write emails and phone people, to New York, where you have face to face conversations with diplomats.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:59 AM on September 30, 2007


Contrary to popular belief, there are plenty of people who enjoy what they do and make a middle class wage doing it.

Right now my "career" is at a non-profit in D.C. I'm making low 40's, which for someone in his mid-20's doesn't really feel that bad. My dream job would involve making enough of a living off of my own artwork, or in an arts field. If I am lucky- lucky- I will make roughly the same amount.

I have friends who, as noted above, did law school and at the same age as me will be making $150,000 starting salary, and probably be millionaires by 30. They would also make it in careers I would rather stab myself in the eye with a fork than have.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:08 AM on September 30, 2007


Given the way we've botched the "liberation" of Iraq, what makes you think the US government could pull off a successful health care program?

Given that it isn't the entire U.S. government that screwed up Iraq, but the component of it that believes government can't do anything well (and has worked hard to prove it), there's no reason to think a government run by a more capable group could not do what all those other ones have done.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:29 AM on September 30, 2007


An argument that I find more appealing is 'Do we want our children educated by people who may have good hearts but weren't qualified/capable to do much other than teach?'

My mom's been an elementary school teacher for 35 years and she's had an incredibly positive impact on thousands and thousands of kids. People graduate college and remember her as their best teacher, then their kids graduate college and also remember her as their best teacher. I vehemently disagree with your characterization of teaching.
(Several less-polite formulations deleted.)

it's one that so called conservatives can take as much blame for as so called liberals

President Clinton left office with a record surplus. President Bush converted that to a record deficit in absolute terms.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:11 AM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


jscalzi wrote:

Protestations to the contrary, it is in fact rather easy to not to live in NYC/SF/DC/etc and still do creative or fulfilling work and yet also have a more than decent standard of living; I've been doing it for years. What's more, thanks to this handy thing called the internet it's entirely possible to work with people in NYC/SF/DC/etc while still living elsewhere; I've also been doing it for years.

Bingo (IMHO).
posted by MarshallPoe at 10:20 AM on September 30, 2007


I remember hearing oe (supporting) point that nobody has brought up - the Reagan white house purposefully moved aid from grants to student loans so that people just out of college would have to take jobs to pay them back instead of volunteering for the democratic party.

This is fascinating! I would really love to see a source on this, if anyone can find one.
posted by naoko at 10:32 AM on September 30, 2007


Cool Papa Bell writes "But lefties generally hate both of those options, because they represent loosening globalization policies and old-school, high dollar 'hard' infrastructure spending, instead of protectionism and 'soft' social spending."

Actually, I think the basis of the argument against is that, although capital can move freely around the world, labor can't. Yes, it gives the programmer in India an opportunity, but does that mean we have to survive on the median salary in India to compete? The idea that the bottom line is the only important factor is not the only way of running a business.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:38 AM on September 30, 2007


b1tr0t writes "Given the way we've botched the 'liberation' of Iraq, what makes you think the US government could pull off a successful health care program?"

Bush and his cronies do not represent the US government for all time. I am not convinced anyone could have pulled off a successful invasion of Iraq, but certainly not a government lead by Bush. The government does have its inherent problems, but the libertarian idea that government is never efficient or capable is flat out wrong. Government, like business, is a collection of people and their intent. You can also use the Enron example of why not to trust business with people's lives (including their employees and the citizens of California during the phony energy crisis, both of whom were totally ripped off).
posted by krinklyfig at 10:44 AM on September 30, 2007


enn, thanks for the explanation. I figured you'd read Edge Cities but was curious. I feel similarly about what makes a good place to live.
posted by salvia at 10:45 AM on September 30, 2007


Cool Papa Bell writes "So, what's the plan for next year? How many more wars can we not have? Of course, we could raise taxes by $500 billion. That's about $2,000 per person. You got an extra two grand lying around? Cuz' I'm fresh out..."

I wonder if there is anyone who is in the top 10% for who 20K would be even noticeable?

BackwardsHatClub writes "If you want to see something exciting, look up the average GPA of a teacher and the average GPA of a lawyer, you'll notice that, perhaps, one is quite a bit different than the other."

So what your saying is grade inflation at law schools is worse than that for education?
posted by Mitheral at 10:49 AM on September 30, 2007


I wonder if there is anyone who is in the top 10% for who 20K would be even noticeable?

In 2004, making a bit less than $90,000 would put you in the top 10%, by income. So, yeah, I'd say that $20,000 would be noticeable.

Anyway, just looking at income doesn't always give a clear picture. Personally, if you just look at my salary and bonus, I'm probably around top 5%. If you factor in my student loans and the cost of living in the area, though, I live a much less luxurious lifestyle than is available to someone living elsewhere, student loan-free on a lower salary.

I'm not complaining, of course. I'm happy with my choices, but I don't like being characterized as "rich" because I really can't afford it.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 11:09 AM on September 30, 2007


I wonder if there is anyone who is in the top 10% for who 20K would be even noticeable?

In 2004, making a bit less than $90,000 would put you in the top 10%, by income. So, yeah, I'd say that $20,000 would be noticeable.


It just requires a little playing with the numbers and giving up some of the glorification of wealth. Taking 20K out of 100K is 20% but probably a bit nasty. Taking 75M out of 100M is 75%, but fuck it, they've still got 25 million dollars. If I was making that much, I wouldn't give a fuck if I had 100 million or 25 million. Of course, that's why I'll probably never make 100 million.

Right now, our marginal tax rates stop increasing at 35% for $350,000 - basically, you're punished for making more money unless you reach the top 1% - 0.5%.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:31 AM on September 30, 2007


I think I agree.

The marginal utility of a dollar is still pretty high for someone who is making $90,000, particularly if they have low (or negative) net worth, but I also can't imagine what I'd do with $100 million that I can't do with $25 million.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 11:38 AM on September 30, 2007


how'd we move up from 2,000 bucks to 20,000?
posted by pyramid termite at 11:46 AM on September 30, 2007


pyramid termite, I think the idea was that rather than having everyone pay $2000, we'd have the top 10% pay $20,000 and the bottom 90% pay nothing. My objection is that $20,000 is rather a lot of money for much of the top 10%.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 11:49 AM on September 30, 2007


you're probably paying that anyway

i don't think the bottom 90% should pay nothing - if they're not paying anything, they're not going to care how the money is spent

people at or below the poverty line should pay nothing - every dollar above that should be taxed at one rate - then every dollar above, say, 100,000 taxed at a higher rate - then say above 500,000 at the highest rate and that's it

and 35% for the highest rate seems good enough to me - we can argue all day about exact rates and dollar amounts but the old thing about taking 90% of a millionaire's income out in taxes always seemed absurd to me - well, as absurd as the belief that anyone's worth that much

i might note that according to the figures you linked to, i'm actually in the top half, barely

i'm asking for a better society - i GOT mine, jack, i don't need a handout
posted by pyramid termite at 12:02 PM on September 30, 2007


I'll support your proposal if you support my proposal to make student loan interest entirely deductible and principal partially deductible, to offset the rising cost of college.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 12:10 PM on September 30, 2007


that's workable, although i'd rather do away with most deductions and lower the overall tax rate

i'd certainly like to see a less burdensome way of financing education for people - this IS getting out of control
posted by pyramid termite at 12:27 PM on September 30, 2007


i'd certainly like to see a less burdensome way of financing education for people - this IS getting out of control

Agreed. But moreover, I'd like the "Stop Subsidizing Stupid Shit Doctrine" attached to the plan. It makes zero sense to find less burdensome ways to finance education if there's no associated metric attached to it. Why should I dig deep in my pocket to subsidize someone's right to a degree in Liberal Arts and Womyn's Studies?

btw, termite, that's indeed a strawman argument right there, in case you're still not hip to what that is

But seriously, it's like paying someone to paint your house and then stabbing yourself in the eye so you can't see it.

So how about we agree to fund education for "Clare," and in return, she teaches math in Cleveland (with housing) for five years? There are already programs that do exactly that, and they could be expanded.

But still ... Cleveland isn't very sexy.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:43 PM on September 30, 2007


I see what your saying, but deductions can be necessary for an income tax to be neutral (i.e. not favoring some activities over others).

Say, for example, that you can either take job A, which pays $40k, or take courses to qualify for a certificate which will allow you to take job B, which pays $55k. You don't have any money, though, so you're going to have to borrow to pay for the courses, so you'll be paying $12k/year for a while afterwards to pay them off.

Now, without taxes, job B seems like a good deal. You'll be making $55k - $12k, or $43k, which is still more than job A.

However, let's throw in a 25% income tax with no deductions. Suddenly, after taxes and loans, job B will give you $55k * .75 - $12k, or $29.25k, while job A will give you $40k * .75, or $30k.

Taxes turned what was economically a good investment into a bad one. If you spend or borrow money now with the idea of earning it back later, but are unable to deduct that expenditure as you earn it back, it's a hidden, inflated cost that can turn an otherwise good investment (in yourself) into a bad one.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 12:54 PM on September 30, 2007


Wait wait wait - wtf is Americorps for anyway? Do we have to reinvent the goddam morality wheel everytime political power changes hands?
posted by DenOfSizer at 12:54 PM on September 30, 2007


Oh, and to respond to Cool Papa Bell, a degree in women's studies will never pay for itself, so even if you view deductible student loans as a tax expenditure (and I don't think this is universally true), the expenditure is going to be much less than paying for the women's studies degree upfront.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 12:56 PM on September 30, 2007


Yet somehow Walmart stays in business, and somehow other similar companies spring up (like Target), and somehow suppliers still keep them supplied, and somehow new suppliers keep springing up, and somehow consumers still come in, and somehow prices are as low as they've ever been. Seems tenable so far.

They seem to use quite a number of anti-free-market techniques to game the system in their favor. Maybe this is tenable in the long run, maybe not.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:58 PM on September 30, 2007


Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America writes "I think the idea was that rather than having everyone pay $2000, we'd have the top 10% pay $20,000 and the bottom 90% pay nothing. My objection is that $20,000 is rather a lot of money for much of the top 10%."

That is what I was counter proposing so that 6 day old orphans aren't hit with a $2000 tax bill. Of course a real tax system should be more nuanced1 so that people like MPDSEA who are just barely over the line would pay a smaller fraction and those pulling down a $25M salary pay more.

pyramid termite writes "and 35% for the highest rate seems good enough to me - we can argue all day about exact rates and dollar amounts but the old thing about taking 90% of a millionaire's income out in taxes always seemed absurd to me"

We'll have to agree to disagree on this one. I think the top marginal tax rate should be significantly higher. I also think the estate tax should be progressive as well, much more so than it is. Those who have most benefited from society should give back the most. I think Warren Buffet has a great thought experiment on this:
Now people who think they do it all themselves, I pose to them the problem of let’s just assume they were in the womb as one of two identical twins—same DNA, same wiring, everything the same—and a genie came along and said one of you is going to be born in Bangladesh and one of you is going to be born in the United States. All the human qualities are the same. Which one will bid the higher percentage of the income they earn during their life to be the one born in the United States? The bidding would get very spirited. I mean, all these qualities of luck and pluck and all these things that are supposed to take us to the top—you know, like Horatio Alger—would not work as well in Bangladesh as here. This society delivers huge opportunities to people who happen to have the right wiring. And it delivers a pretty damn good result to people who could function here compared to the rest of the world and compared to a hundred years ago; but the disparity will widen absent the taxation system. That’s one of the things you need government for in my view.
Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America writes "I'll support your proposal if you support my proposal to make student loan interest entirely deductible and principal partially deductible, to offset the rising cost of college."

I'll go you one better, the vast majority of the institutional costs should be goverment funded. Just enough of a charge to deter people from signing up and then not showing up. Even for courses that "will never pay for themselves"2 as an educated populous is generally better in every way.

{1} At least it's obvious to all but the proponents of various flat tax schemes
{2} I don't think any learning is a waste. It only appears that way if the only metric is how much money can be immediately made back. No doubt people can not contribute to society but one can just as easily not contribute with a MA Eng. as with a MA Women's Studies.

posted by Mitheral at 2:05 PM on September 30, 2007


I don't think any learning is a waste. It only appears that way if the only metric is how much money can be immediately made back. No doubt people can not contribute to society but one can just as easily not contribute with a MA Eng. as with a MA Women's Studies.

Well, sure, learning (even for its own sake) isn't a waste. But in a world where resources are finite, we oughtn't take from working people to fund for the able-bodied and able-minded what amounts to little more than recreation.
posted by Kwantsar at 3:37 PM on September 30, 2007


while I live in Canada, which is experiencing its greatest period of opportunity in more than a generation. If you don't like your job, there are endless opportunities to do better (unless you live in post-imperial Ontario).

Just you wait for the Alberta Royalty Review recommendations to be put into law.
posted by Kwantsar at 3:40 PM on September 30, 2007


Hmm. Interesting conversation. Made it about halfway through the comments, but no time to complete them all.

My $.02. I left a gigantic firm for government, because I wanted "to do good". Fast forward a few years to the realization that most anywhere people in offices just push paper around and serve the status quo. The friends I left behind (not that long ago) are buying second houses. In Toronto. But whatever. It's not that, sure, people in my occupation couldn't have chosen a different one. It's that a person thinks they can choose their field and turn those skills to a good use, only to find out that the most common employers are big business. When I worked for a big firm, I largely did insurance. For whom? Well who can afford a large firm? Not the little guy. Every year loads of students graduate from law school having tailored their education toward being environmental lawyers, to find out that, whoops, the ones with the money are the logging, mining, hydro companies, and they're not out to protect anything but their own interests. And no money = no jobs.

It's not really that hard to understand, and I don't understand all the bile. You'd rather these young people embrace the system and support big business entirely? Or does it sound like whining? "Wah. I can't work full time for a philanthropic organization!" Well bully for them for caring enough to want to do so; many don't. And realize that even volunteering your time isn't easy. Manpower is readily available in the third world. What they need is expertise. Being young and religiously inclined helps; but a lot of the orgs that you find actively taking people want 5 years of Red Cross experience and the like. If the complaint is that not enough people considered these things before choosing their profession, well ok, that's probably true. The ICRC, for example, needs people in logistics, engineering, medicine, and translation, and not a whole lot else. No liberal arts degrees. No lawyers.

in a world where resources are finite, we oughtn't take from working people to fund for the able-bodied and able-minded what amounts to little more than recreation

This is a good point. And unless things have changed a lot since I was in school, it's still full of people who haven't and don't want to think about what happens after school gets out.
posted by dreamsign at 6:41 PM on September 30, 2007


For the last few years, I have:

a) been making a reasonable living as a freelance writer here in Toronto, and

b) a frequent flyer of our health-care system, which, on account of several worrying complaints, has seen me through all kinds of expensive and unpleasant testing.

I've often thought that I wouldn't be able to do what I do were it not for universal healthcare. I have the freedom to chart my own course so long as I can pay the rent. Surely this must be good for a country's creative sector?

I don't complain about my tax bill when it comes time to pay it.
posted by bicyclefish at 10:21 PM on September 30, 2007


I've often thought that I wouldn't be able to do what I do were it not for universal healthcare. I have the freedom to chart my own course so long as I can pay the rent. Surely this must be good for a country's creative sector?

Yeah, absolutely. When I moved from the States to Canada, the notion that I can take a few months off (as I plan to do), or work part-time (like my husband does) or so forth without having to sweat about HMOs blew my mind. It's a great stress-reducer, and we don't complain (much!) about our taxes either.
posted by jamesonandwater at 7:23 AM on October 1, 2007


Helping a business grow and creating value in society is not selling out.

No, but working somewhere like a hedge fund, which, if it's set up by anyone competent, always makes money, no matter what its investments do, and is liable to get bailed out if it doesn't do well (as is likely to happen with anyone that invested in securitized subprime mortgages), is. I think the point is that such a job may be creating value, but it's paid far better for the value it creates than the advocacy and non-profit jobs are.
posted by oaf at 11:14 AM on October 1, 2007


Young Americans…seem to think that money grows on trees, falling so easily, as it does, from their parents credit cards.

It's not just young Americans. Look at who's been using their homes as ATMs to buy crap they can't afford and don't need, and which has been fueling a false sense of a strong economy. Three quarters of our GDP is consumption expenditures.

Canada, which is experiencing its greatest period of opportunity in more than a generation

Canada's income inequality is currently increasing.
posted by oaf at 11:44 AM on October 1, 2007


When I moved from the States to Canada, the notion that I can take a few months off . . . without having to sweat about HMOs blew my mind . .

This is really important - and it's not just starving artists and writers who are affected- what about budding entrepreneurs and innovators who take safe jobs for health insurance instead of setting off on their own? Microsoft, Apple, etc are now 30 years old -would Gates and Jobs and company be taking the same risks now? You can argue that Google, YouTube et al are innovators but they're really working within an already defined field. I forsee a creativity drain in the US, starting with artists, anthro majors and the like and moving into business and entrepreneurialship, based on fear of not having health insurance.
posted by lovemusicwine at 12:21 AM on October 2, 2007


Well Gates would be, he has never been hurting for money.
posted by Mitheral at 7:44 AM on October 2, 2007


I meant when he was first starting out, although I don't know what his family's financial situation was like when he was young. would he risk not having the insurance etc of a job to start his own company today? It's more precarious than it was in the 70s.
posted by lovemusicwine at 8:56 PM on October 3, 2007


I don't know what his family's financial situation was like when he was young.

Bill Gates' father was one of the most highly successful corporate attorneys in Seattle. Gates attended the Lakeside School, a private school for the super-rich, where he met Paul Allen. The school was wealthy enough to purchase one of the fist computers used in classrooms.

would he risk not having the insurance etc of a job to start his own company today?

Dude, he dropped out of Harvard. He wasn't hurting. Ever.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:20 PM on October 3, 2007


Ya there is this weird impression amongest the general public that Bill and Paul starting Microsoft are the stereotypical middle class kids makes good. The reality is that at least some of their initial success is because of Bill Sr. contacts and money and the freedom of action afforded by not having to worry about food and healthcare.
posted by Mitheral at 12:59 AM on October 4, 2007


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