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Roughly 1 in 4 Americans is employed to keep fellow citizens in line and protect private wealth
February 5, 2010 11:37 AM   Subscribe

“Being willing to sit in a boring classroom for 12 years, and then sign up for four more years and then sign up for three or more years after that—well, that’s a pretty good measure of your willingness to essentially do what you’re told,” - The Santa Fe Reporter talks to Economist Samuel Bowles about New Mexico's income gap, welfare, social mobility, and a radical way to help. (Via)
posted by The Whelk (47 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm not an economics guy, but I still found that fascinating. Thanks for posting it.
posted by Shepherd at 11:50 AM on February 5, 2010


I'd be quite willing to experiment with this receiving $250,000 plan. I'll be in the beta.
posted by haveanicesummer at 12:02 PM on February 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


Excellent article. I totally did not know about this guy, and I find myself agreeing with just about everything he says. Which probably means none of it will ever be implemented but whatever.
posted by localroger at 12:06 PM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


huh, I read this in the print edition of the Reporter yesterday. Bowles' wealth-redistribution idea would be wonderful, but it'll never happen short of violent revolution and/or social collapse, precisely because roughly 1 in 4 Americans are employed to keep fellow citizens in line and protect private wealth. Also, unless you get rid of inheritance entirely, I suspect that $250K would become the new zero within a few generations...

That said: when a guy with degrees from Harvard and Yale bemoans wealth inequality by telling the local rag that higher education is, like, so pointless and mainstream, all in a town filled with $200+K faux-dobe houses "just like" the real ones that cost $50-80K everywhere else in the state, you know you're in Santa Fe.
posted by vorfeed at 12:10 PM on February 5, 2010 [10 favorites]


After reading one page I didn't feel like reading the other four to find out what happens if you blow your $250K. Do you get another shot?
posted by digsrus at 12:32 PM on February 5, 2010


You know who else advocated for wealth redistribution?

Martin Luther King Jr.


Also, the link doesn't seem to be working for me? It just goes to a blank page, no matter how much I refresh...
posted by muddgirl at 12:32 PM on February 5, 2010


Hell, even Friedman supported a guaranteed minimum income.
posted by kenko at 12:42 PM on February 5, 2010


After reading one page I didn't feel like reading the other four to find out what happens if you blow your $250K. Do you get another shot?

No.

"[...]what if somebody starts a business that fails, buys a home that falls in value or decides to study a vanishing trade (say, journalism)?

This is where Bowles has yet to be heard.

Liberals tend to think of inequality as a matter of class and race—and that’s true, he says. But individual success hinges on a big X factor: “There’s a lot of luck involved,” Bowles says.

No politician’s promise can remove that element of unpredictability. Which means the smart policy, in Bowles’ view, is for the government to care for people who suffer misfortune through no fault of their own. This is social security in the small “s” sense—an idea that was forgotten when the dominant Chicago School put thinkers like Bowles in exile.

“The whole idea of social security,” Bowles says, “is to insure the unlucky by having the lucky pay a little extra.”"
posted by vorfeed at 12:43 PM on February 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Great ideas. A lot of evil, greedy, moronic, sniveling assholes out there willing to do whatever it takes to protect and promote the current system though - in academia, government and business - the trolls are in control, so to speak.
posted by peppito at 1:03 PM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


I wonder if his thinking has considered the immense opportunity for the fleecing of 18 year olds for their $250,000. I imagine huge emergent growth industries of luxury goods and services being taylor made and marketed for young adults. This way the money would be re-redistributed to the right people. If you think that popular culture displays a fetishization of youth now, imagine if the young all were guaranteed to come into a quarter of a million dollars.
posted by dobie at 1:18 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wonder if his thinking has considered the immense opportunity for the fleecing of 18 year olds for their $250,000. I imagine huge emergent growth industries of luxury goods and services being taylor made and marketed for young adults.


Huh?
There’s also promise in some Bowlesian projects that are already underway.

For instance, in the past few years, Community Action New Mexico has helped approximately 800 New Mexicans set up “individual development accounts”—basically savings accounts on steroids. After completing a financial-ed class, IDA holders eventually have their savings matched 4-to-1, giving them a start toward buying a home, paying tuition or starting a business. ....The IDAs aren’t ideal. Not everyone qualifies. And what if somebody starts a business that fails, buys a home that falls in value or decides to study a vanishing trade (say, journalism)?

This is where Bowles has yet to be heard.
posted by peppito at 1:37 PM on February 5, 2010


I wish this article had received more editing. It covers a fascinating topic, but drowns it in murky prose and odd construction. I mean, "Reading between the lines, Bowles’ choice reveals the hidden symbolism of each medium: If the paperback is Karl Marx, the Kindle is Ayn Rand"?

Yikes.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 1:48 PM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


So, 25% of the US labor force is guard labor. More here. Boy that sounds like a lot! Wonder what that means? Takes some digging but it seems to mean:

Protective Guard Labor: Police Employees at all levels of Government and Judicial and Corrections Employees at all Levels of Government and Private Guards. Fair enough

Defense Related Employment: Active Duty Military Personnel and Civilian Employees of the Department of Defenseand Indirect Employment from Defense Related Expenditure OK, again guys with guns keeping us down

Supervision: Either (Definition 1) Non-Production and Supervisory Employees in Private Non Agricultural Industries, or (Definition 2) Employees in occupations coded in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles as having supervisory or related relations to people. So Apu at the kwiki mart is part of the garrison?

Unemployment: Unemployed Individuals and Discouraged Laborers Um, isn't this supposed to be the reserve army of the unemployed?

Prisoners: Prisoners in Federal Correctional Institutions and Prisoners in State Correctional Institution prisoners themselves are guards. That's how sinister it is!
posted by shothotbot at 1:50 PM on February 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


I like the inequality breeds inefficiency through 'guard jobs' * discussion, but I think the $250,000 would be better as an annual series of payouts, and even then you could never sell it over a program like EIC.

* although it may be worth noting that Utah despite its good gini score has the second lowest GDP per capita among US states, and DC with its outrageous gini score has the highest per capita GDP.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:55 PM on February 5, 2010


Also:

#Random Number

Now I will explain this number to you, like I am Steven Levitt. Surprise! I do this because I'm not confident that my subject would be interesting to you if I spoke about it directly.

posted by evidenceofabsence at 1:57 PM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also, I've generally gotten the impression that poor people are the primary victims of theft and robbery and the at best tertiary priority of their ostensible protectors.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:58 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm already fascinated (and I haven't finished yet), but I do have to stop to make one correction, regarding his comment on education: sitting in a classroom and doing what you are told does make for success for the first 12 years, but during the next 4 this doesn't work anymore -- you need to sit in classrooms and libraries/labs and then do NOT what you are told, but better than you are told, and the following 3-10 years (should you go there) really are impossible for people who excel at just following rules because suddently the rules are taken away entirely and you are supposed to be writing them and be imaginative and original.

Education can be a very powerful source of social mobility. But it only works for people of a certain set of talents, and it only takes them into certain professions and you only need a certain number of people in those professions. The United States does lack in social mobility compared to the rest of the developed world, but the problem that Bowles is addressing isn't mobility but inequality. Education changes your personal relationship with the job market, potentially getting you to the "good end", but it does nothing to change the structure of our society and economy, and thus doesn't address the inequality.

And the fact is that even if all people were equally suited for the types of jobs high education takes you to (which is not true) -- there is a ceiling on the numbers of highly educated people our society can employ. We will still need all sorts of people to cook food, clean buildings, drive buses and build houses. We will always need that. If we want equality, we need to start respecting ALL labour as being equally valuable to society, and reward it accordingly. Otherwise, we just create a new aristocracy of those who manage to get those highly-paid professional jobs, which is no no better than an aristocracy of birth.

Can I cite Michael Young again? I think I've linked to his Rise of the Meritocracy like 16 times already on this site : )
posted by jb at 1:59 PM on February 5, 2010 [7 favorites]


Liberals tend to think of inequality as a matter of class and race—and that’s true, he says. But individual success hinges on a big X factor: “There’s a lot of luck involved,” Bowles says.

another way to think of luck is "redundant resources." for example, if you get $250k and blow it all in some mistake - bad investment, business fails, etc., but you still have the will and energy to try again, it's possible that some of your friends and family - who also each got $250k and who may not have lost it yet - might risk a little of theirs on your second chance.

the problem for energetic, focused people who are poor in capital is that they can't afford to take risks the way other, similarly gifted people can who are more redundantly capitalized.
posted by toodleydoodley at 2:05 PM on February 5, 2010


The Gini index is cool. The estimated Gini index of Puerto Rico is 86.5, by the way, >BrotherCaine, so you really can't get away with implying correlation between increased Gini and increased per-capita income.
posted by Michael Roberts at 2:10 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Muddgirl, check this out from the article:

"Bowles’ course was set in 1968, when he was an assistant professor at Harvard, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to his department looking for advice on the next stage of his social justice campaign.
“We were just elated that we could use economics, which we had so painstakingly learned, to answer questions that Dr. King thought were important,” Bowles tells SFR. “We were also extremely angry that we were totally unable to answer the questions on the basis of having gotten a PhD at Harvard.”

King’s assassination that year cut short the equality movement."

posted by whimsicalnymph at 2:35 PM on February 5, 2010


I'm still reading this, and it seems like an interesting subject but awfully written.

Theoryland may be the only place the “equality-efficiency trade-off” really works. Just to prove it wrong, Bowles charts the concept on a whiteboard at SFI.

The vertical axis is economic output. The horizontal axis is equality. The curve shows the theoretical trade-off. “So we’re here”—point A, high on the curve—“and we want to go to point B because we’re egalitarian. And [the theory says] that’s kind of too bad because we’re going to suffer the loss of income,” he says.

Bowles draws another dot inside the curve—point C—symbolically destroying the clean, simple world represented by the model. “Basically, it assumes that the economy is already efficiently organized,” Bowles explains. “But most economies are at point C. They have both more inequality and less income than they could have because they’re inefficient.”


This proves... that the real world deviates slightly from a model. Surprise!

I'm guessing that Bowles was making a real point that was lost in translation.

on preview: what evidenceofabsence said.
posted by ripley_ at 2:35 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


you really can't get away with implying correlation between increased Gini and increased per-capita income.

No, but it does mean that a better gini score won't necessarily guarantee positive results or economic efficiency. Unless the historic data for Utah and DC have a lot more fluctuation than I suspect.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:53 PM on February 5, 2010


Is this one of the 1 in 4 polls we can trust?

I'm asking here so I can be informed.
posted by clvrmnky at 3:04 PM on February 5, 2010


Yeah, still can't access the article for some reason? So I'm just bullshitting here.

IIRC, King's favored strategy wasn't a one-time payment, but rather a national living wage. Bowles may address the pros and cons at some point. I don't know.

Oh wait, adding a "www" to the front of the address finally resolved the article for me.
posted by muddgirl at 3:12 PM on February 5, 2010


"That said: when a guy with degrees from Harvard and Yale bemoans wealth inequality by telling the local rag that higher education is, like, so pointless and mainstream, all in a town filled with $200+K faux-dobe houses "just like" the real ones that cost $50-80K everywhere else in the state, you know you're in Santa Fe."

1) He did not say higher education was pointless and mainstream, he implied that it was often conformist in nature.

2) I sincerely doubt that there is a correlation between criticizing higher education and the bloated cost of housing in Santa Fe.

3) As pretentious as it can sometimes be, Santa Fe is probably the only town in New Mexico where you can sit down next to someone and have a truly educated, interesting, and intelligent conversation--be it with the barmaid, the homeless guy, or the boys from the Los Alamos labs out on a bender.

4) The problem with almost all discussions of economics in America is that the argument is only allowed to exist within the confines of a capitalist model, and therein lies the problem.

Cheers. :&)
posted by rougy at 3:17 PM on February 5, 2010


There's some interesting stuff in here, and giving everyone a lump-sum cash "welfare" payment is not a terrible idea (although politically impossible because you'd have to fund it out of existing entitlement monies). But Bowles and the writer kinda conspired to disappear all the problems with his ideas. The number of times where at least one of them is being intellectually dishonest is staggering. If the ideas are strong -- and some of them may be interesting -- they should be allowed to stand without this kind of sleight of hand.
posted by grobstein at 3:23 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm missing the logic that make Apu at Kwiki Mart a guard. Doesn't he do EVERYTHING at Kwiki Mart?

Now if he hired Bart to run the register and then spent his day in the back room watching Bart's every move on a closed circuit TV, well, then The Simpsons would be a lot more realistic.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:25 PM on February 5, 2010


1) He did not say higher education was pointless and mainstream, he implied that it was often conformist in nature.

He was actually doing something much more insidious -- look where that passage shows up in the piece:
The single most important factor to success in America is “one’s choice of parents. . . .”

What about natural intelligence? . . .

What about education?
Bowles needs to dismiss the possibility that something other than class explains the heritability of income, so he has to take on education (which mainstream economics believes to be a very large input into income). He needs to paint education as not merely "often conformist" but as only conformist and lacking other value, so that it doesn't get in the way of the story he's telling.
posted by grobstein at 3:31 PM on February 5, 2010


What about natural intelligence? . . .

What about education?


Yes, well education is definitely correlated to class, pretty much causally. It is almost as important as access to capital in financial success. Natural intelligence can only manifest itself as success when coupled with luck and opportunity. This runs counter to our society's myth that all you need is smarts and pluck to make it; we often tell ourselves famous anecdotes to support that myth, but a quick glance around pretty much dispels it. I think his argument is that natural intelligence is often denied access to those two commodities disproportionately related to race and class and that shouldn't be.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:59 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Bowles needs to dismiss the possibility that something other than class explains the heritability of income, so he has to take on education (which mainstream economics believes to be a very large input into income)...."

I think that's a bit dubious.

One could argue that a Harvard education equals the best education that money could buy.

But at the same time, it is only the upper crust of our society, i.e. the people who are already rich, who can afford to go there to begin with.

In that sense, a Harvard education would be less a means to wealth as it is the proof of wealth's pre existence.
posted by rougy at 4:15 PM on February 5, 2010


The estimated Gini index of Puerto Rico is 86.5

For the record, it's more like .53 - .57:
http://www.drclas.harvard.edu/revista/articles/view/1075
posted by mubba at 4:18 PM on February 5, 2010


rougy: Santa Fe is probably the only town in New Mexico where you can sit down next to someone and have a truly educated, interesting, and intelligent conversation...

See this? This is why people think Santa Fe is pretentious.
posted by joedan at 4:20 PM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


1) He did not say higher education was pointless and mainstream, he implied that it was often conformist in nature.

As grobstein pointed out, Bowles is indeed implying that education is pointless. Which, in a poor state like New Mexico, is a nigh-unto-disgusting statement. I know several New Mexicans who went to NM Tech on the free lottery scholarship, graduated, and went from living with their parents in trailers and/or run-down houses to making more than their parents have ever made. And a good number of them are still living and working in NM, putting most of that money back into the local economy.

No, they're never going to be "rich"... but they're way ahead of most people in NM, and higher education got them there. The problem with this part of Bowles' argument is that it entirely ignores the gigantic subjective and objective difference between, say, making 25K a year and making 45K, or making 40K versus 80K. That difference doesn't quite take someone from the "poor" section up into the "middle class" section, or the "middle class" to the "rich", so it doesn't matter according to Bowles... but it sure as hell does matter for someone who's living it. This is the sort of difference education can and does make for people in New Mexico.

2) I sincerely doubt that there is a correlation between criticizing higher education and the bloated cost of housing in Santa Fe.

The "correlation" between criticizing higher education and the bloated cost of housing in Santa Fe is that both stem from an isolated, romanticized, silver-spoon view of New Mexico which often has little or nothing to do with the reality of everybody else trying to make a living here. This "if they can't afford organic free-trade tortillas, then let them eat cake at Chocolate Maven!" attitude is something you don't see much of in most other parts of the state. Speaking of which...

3) As pretentious as it can sometimes be, Santa Fe is probably the only town in New Mexico where you can sit down next to someone and have a truly educated, interesting, and intelligent conversation--be it with the barmaid, the homeless guy, or the boys from the Los Alamos labs out on a bender.

No way. I've met people from Socorro, Albuquerque, Belen, Vallecitos, Dixon, Ojo Caliente, Espanola, Silver City, TorC, Carlsbad, Alamogordo, Los Alamos, and Santa Fe who can give you a "truly educated, interesting, and intelligent conversation". In fact, I've never been anywhere in this state where that didn't hold true. Likewise, I've met plenty of vacuous and ignorant people in Santa Fe (and, to be equally fair, elsewhere).
posted by vorfeed at 5:14 PM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


As pretentious as it can sometimes be, Santa Fe is probably the only town in New Mexico where you can sit down next to someone and have a truly educated, interesting, and intelligent conversation--be it with the barmaid, the homeless guy, or the boys from the Los Alamos labs out on a bender.

Yup, it's a load of horseshit. People from Alamogordo and Las Cruces do a lot of the heavy lifting at White Sands Missile Range, and I'm willing to bet they're better educated than most of the artisans and "Nuevo Mejico" food restauranteurs in Santa Fe.
posted by hippybear at 5:15 PM on February 5, 2010


About 35 years ago I decided I never wanted to have children. I am 46 years old as I write this. You can do the math.

And I have no children. I met a nice girl who, for different reasons, shared my attitude toward procreation, and we have with the help of modern medical technology managed to avoid the default procreative condition.

The reason I didn't want children is that I felt a society that did not protect its weakest and provide for everybody, particularly with the technology we had managed to acquire, was full of fail and likely to self-destruct. I still feel that way. I am on record saying that I don't think we are capable of governing ourselves and that we will probably destroy ourselves if we don't build machines that are smart enough to fix our stupidity for us and benevolent enough not to exterminate us like cockroaches.

I must admit the free $250K idea never occurred to me, probably because I was thinking more along the lines of technology progressing toward unlimited surplus where everybody get as many ponies as they want just for being born. But even today I think you could do the $250K thing, and then for the people who get unlucky even on that guarantee add a guaranteed income that would provide for an apartment, heating oil, and food. Then if you're frugal and work a bit you might be able to save up another egg for another go. I think that's a system that would actually work and eliminate most of the abject misery our current system creates.

Unfortunately, the bit about not being able to govern ourselves includes the inability to switch to such an enlightened system because the entrenched interests won't let it happen unless we go all French Revolution on them, and that won't happen because they have such effective mass psychological control mechanisms now.

So basically, I was right at the age of 11 and we're fucked.
posted by localroger at 5:39 PM on February 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Here, one number will suffice.

$250,000.

OK, that’s a figure Bowles picked out of the air. It’s how much each person might receive under a key economic reform he supports: universal welfare.
...

Can you hear the Friedmanites groaning? “It sounds very radical,” Bowles says, “but it’s very consistent with economic ideas.”


Actually, this proposal isn't that far away from something Milton Friedman proposed. Friedman's version you might argue is a bit more paternalistic; instead of a lump sum you're given a large annual tax credit. I don't have immediate access to Friedman's proposal, but I understand it was around 10k which is a reasonable interest rate on $250,000. But I do appreciate the idea of instant access, which income tax credits don't offer.

Of course both Friedman and this guy insist that we should immediately cut off old welfare plans. This seems highly unlikely politically.
posted by pwnguin at 6:55 PM on February 5, 2010


What if all jobs paid roughly the same - if you do well (by some metric), you get the keep the job. If you do poorly, you have to find another job?

If you're extremely talented, you get to do a job you enjoy. If you're incompetent or lazy, you're either stuck with a job that you don't enjoy (or is easy enough for you to meet minimum criteria, even if the job is unpleasant) or are unemployed.

/really stupid idea, totally unenforceable, criteria for minimum performance would be impossible to set, quis custodiet ipsos custodes (or the Harrison Bergeron syndrome), there'd likely be a huge class of criminal elements (but that opens up a special class of law enforcement to combat that), would anyway require a Vetinari-level tyrant and a mythical world, and onenoes commieism doesn't work!

(why, yes, my 16-year-old self longed for philosopher kings)
posted by porpoise at 7:59 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I sat in a boring classroom for 23 three years, then spent seven years to get tenure. I am now the most compliant person on earth.
posted by mecran01 at 8:37 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, there are lots of interesting, impractical ideas for fixing the world.
posted by delmoi at 9:24 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


If the paperback is Karl Marx, the Kindle is Ayn Rand

Don't know about the Kindle being Rand, but it's true that Marx would have interesting things to say about the internet and proprietary formats like Kindle books and iTunes songs. A lot of people seem to think that "the internet" is something that is shared, "a cloud" that just is, when it is obviously not. The internet has a very tangible and strategically important infrastructure:

- the cables are owned by someone, and it's not us. Rather it will be combinations of large corporations, nation states, armies and intelligence services.
- the servers are owned by MegaCorps like Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Google, Sun, etc.

Marx says that suprastructure (power, or the way power is organized) follows infrastructure (the means of production, or the way they are organized).

And wouldn't you say that instead of having thousands of flowers (artists, creative people, companies) that bloom (the long tail idea) the internet has instead led to even more centralized power? Google owns search, Apple (through iTunes) owns music distribution and thus music, Amazon owns book distribution and thus books. Dan Brown sells more books much faster now that Amazon exists than he could ever have in the sixties, and it's even harder for writers to break through and get noticed on Amazon than it was when there were local bookshops everywhere. The tail is growing ever shorter.
posted by NekulturnY at 4:22 AM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Of course both Friedman and this guy insist that we should immediately cut off old welfare plans.

We already did this, back in the '90s.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:34 AM on February 6, 2010


I agree that prisoners should be included as guard labor:

(1) They are clearly employed by society: my tax dollars are feeding and housing them.

(2) Given that they are employed be society I think that a guard role is an accurate. They serve as an example to others not in prison.

--carl
posted by ccoryell at 11:11 AM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Correct me if I'm wrong, but as soon as the $250k plan comes in, the following would happen: posted by acb at 1:34 PM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


"The price of housing would skyrocket, as many 18-year-olds would get the idea of using their $250k to get on the property ladder and give up renting. Soon, you'd be lucky if $250k covers the deposit on a mortgage."

There would be an amount of inflation caused by giving people this much money at once, but I'm not at all sold that enough 18 year olds would do this.

Let me offer a quick observational experiment. This system is essentially a way to use the government to finance things. The income you receive now is offset by higher taxes you will expect to pay later. So what have 18 year olds financed in the past? The empirical data is in the library (which closed an hour ago), but my hypothesis is that mostly they financed a college education, a small amount of credit card debt and a minuscule amount in real estate, even though mortgage credit was fantastically easy to come by. By and large, 18 year olds are renters (or live with parents).

The bigger problem I'd see is what happens when you give 18 year olds enough money that the interest earned from investing in treasuries covers food and rent. It'd put a weird dent in those jobs mainly done by highschoolers. One day you're flipping burgers, the next the government is giving you enough money to tell your boss to get lost.
posted by pwnguin at 4:12 PM on February 6, 2010


sit in a boring classroom for 12 years, and then sign up for four more years ... a pretty good measure of your willingness to essentially do what you’re told.

Screw you Bowles. I sat in a boring classroom for 12 years because * I was compelled to by law and parental fiat; * I (at that time) trusted the judgment of my elders. When I went to college, I stayed there * because someone was helping me to learn what I (thought I) wanted to learn (unlike K-12); * because it was better than getting my ass shot off; * because of the great people I got to hang with.

That said, in America (can't speak for elsewhere) people who think for themselves are not only wasted in huge numbers, but are constantly under attack by this culture. (Not by conspiracy, by inept design.) If it ain't who you know, you're either playing the game most of the time or you're really good at strategy.

But: is this country ever going to give everyone $250,000? Don't make me laugh. First: the US is broke, and lost in the dark, and all the king's horses ... But more importantly: it doesn't even care whether its sick and homeless live or die. Selfish, greedy, and increasingly stupid is no way to go through life.

Get used to *that*>
posted by Twang at 6:12 PM on February 6, 2010


Social Capital and Community Governance
Bowles' PUP book on microeconomics
posted by kliuless at 2:40 PM on February 7, 2010


A friend asked me about this post, and this was my response.

When I think about economics like this, I think in terms of aggregate demand. This would be the measure of how much money people have in a given economy to spend on goods and service. It's not in the individual interest of any business to improve aggregate demand - that would mean reducing profits to pay workers more. However, it's in everyone's interest that aggregate demand remain high, otherwise there's no one to sell crap to.

The theory of economics we've been living under for the past 30 years has been "supply-side" economics. Basically, instead of trying to improve aggregate demand, you make sure businesses have more money for investment. You do this by cutting the cost of labor with trade policies that let businesses move production overseas, cutting capital gains taxes, and cutting taxes on wealthy individuals. I don't think people of our generation realize what a radical shift that was from our previous ways of governing. George HW Bush called this "voodoo economics" when he campaigned against Reagan in the primaries, and I agree. It just seems like an elaborate scam to transfer wealth from the middle class to the wealthy, to me.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that inequality matters in a society, and that you can have a wealthy, productive economy without a high degree of inequality. For example, Robert Reich's lecture on inequality.

Anyway, so I agree with the entire article. As for the $250k grant idea, I suspect that's more bad writing. That suggestion is, of course, politically and perhaps practically impossible. I like the idea, maybe a different number would work. Instead, though, I'd say let's just make education free to all those who are capable, so our smartest doctors and engineers don't have to go into plastic surgery and finance to pay off their debts. Let's make sure everyone has health and unemployment insurance, so they can start businesses if they choose to.

The point is, you can say "give everyone $250k" or you can say "we, as a society, should invest about about $250k in each individual". I think those are both correct for the same reasons, but which you actually do is more of a practical question.

Oh, also, I totally agree with localroger - we're fucked unless we can build machines to govern us.
posted by heathkit at 3:12 PM on February 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


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