Archive for the ‘Equality’ Category

Robert Samuelson reports (HT: Greg Mankiw):

t is widely assumed that health care, like most aspects of American life, shamefully shortchanges the poor. This is less true than it seems. Economist Gary Burtless of the Brookings Institution recently discovered this astonishing data: on average, annual health spending per person — from all private and government sources — is equal for the poorest and the richest Americans. In 2003, it was $4,477 for the poorest fifth and $4,451 for the richest.

Probably in no other area, notes Burtless, is spending so equal — not in housing, clothes, transportation or anything. Why? One reason: government already insures more than a quarter of the population, including many poor. Medicare covers the elderly; Medicaid, many of the poor and their children; SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program), more children. Another reason stems from the skewing of health spending toward the very sick; 10 percent of patients account for two-thirds of spending. Regardless of income, people get thrust onto a conveyor belt of costly care: long hospital stays, many tests, therapies and surgeries.

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Racism in the Cradle

I’ve been trying to stay away from blogging so that I can get some work done, but I can’t resist this one. An agency of the British government is warning against racist babies. Toddlers who reject spicy food are going to be designated as racists and subjected to censure. Their daycare centers are going to be rewarded for turning them in.

Glenn Reynolds: “Jesus. Tar and feathers are too good for these people. Well, maybe.”

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Richard D. Kahlenburg urges Barack Obama to propose ending race-based affirmative action, substituting class-based affirmative action in its place—mostly as a political ploy to move “beyond race” while still channeling mopst fo the program’s benefits to minorities. Commenters give some arguments that Kahlenburg’s political analysis leaves out:

There’s no conflict between academic merit and the goals of racial and SES affirmative action, if one drops the SAT (which is academically useless but positively favors high SES youths) and instead relies on high school grades and class rank.

This, unfortunately, is nonsense. The SAT is not useless; it predicts college performance better than grades, class rank, and letters of recommendation. Evidence that the SAT favors high SES students, though often cited, is weak. The most crucial point, however, is that SES when applying to college simply doesn’t correlate very significantly with educational achievement, later income, or other measures of success. Coming from a low-income household, contrary to leftist stereotypes, isn’t much of a barrier in American society. In short, working-class Americans don’t need affirmative action. They’re doing fine without it.

I don’t see this as a big winner, politically, mostly because I don’t think working-class Americans will see it as likely to benefit them.  “We’ve been discriminating against you for all these years.  Tell you what—we’ll start discriminating for you!”  The obvious reaction is, Why not just stop discriminating?

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Megan McArdle writes disapprovingly of the minimum wage:

Both at Crooked Timber, and in my own beloved comment threads, the suggestion has been made that the minimum wage is really swell because it gets rid of low-productivity jobs that only pay the minimum wage.

This sounds lovely–if you are the kind of person who has the skills to get one of the higher productivity jobs. Not so great if you’re a high-school dropout with no appreciable credentials. In effect what you’re talking about is a massive transfer from the weakest members of society.

Let’s say raising the minimum wage makes them unemployable, while creating new, higher skilled jobs making and maintaining the equipment that replaces them. Good for skilled workers. Possibly good for society in some sense, though raising unemployment is rarely a net boon. Definitely awful for the lowest skilled workers, who now can’t get a legal job.

Helping the moderately paid worker by forcing the least skilled out of the legal job market is a very, very bad policy. Whether or not you think that the government ought to be in the business of transferring wealth from one segment of society to another, I hope we can all agree that at least the transfers oughtn’t to go upwards.

This is a crucial but often overlooked point. In fact, it played an important role in my own political formation. The Democratic party, which bills itself as looking out for the “little guy,” increasingly stands for upward transfers—”updrafts,” let’s call them—rather than the downward transfers their rhetoric advocates. The minimum wage transfers from the least advantaged to the not-quite-least-advantaged workers. Support for unions transfers from less-advantaged nonunion workers (often minorities) to more-advantaged union workers. Restrictions on trade transfer from foreign workers and domestic workers lacking political clout to domestic workers with political clout. Support for the arts and humanities, to take something closer to me, takes from the average taxpayer and gives to professionals with advanced degrees and impressive academic affiliations. The current housing bailout takes from the average taxpayer and transfers to people who made risky investments in housing (mostly in California and Florida) and in mortgage-backed securities. And so on. The “heartless” budget cuts proposed by conservatives of yore mostly affected these updrafts, and could have been defended on distributive grounds alone.

I sometimes think that conservatives should base more of their arguments on Rawlsian premises. Conservative policies are better for the least advantaged, giving them pathways to greater advantage, while liberal policies too often take from the least advantaged to give to the politically well-placed while taking away those pathways.

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I wrote earlier about Pew research findings that Republicans are happier than Democrats, and, generally, conservatives are happier than liberals. Here was my explanation:

I think it’s likely that happy people are more likely to be Republicans, while unhappy people are more likely to be Democrats, for unhappiness gives one an incentive to seek change, and happiness an incentive to resist it. But the causal link goes in the other direction as well, for Republicans stress freedom and individual responsibility, which lead people to feel in control and take action that changes their lives for the better, while Democrats assign blame to institutions, which makes people feel powerless and discourages them from undertaking ameliorative courses of action.

Now we get a new explanation:

Conservatives rationalize social and economic inequalities.

Regardless of marital status, income or church attendance, right-wing individuals reported greater life satisfaction and well-being than left-wingers, the new study found. Conservatives also scored highest on measures of rationalization, which gauge a person’s tendency to justify, or explain away, inequalities.

Oh, really? And how did they measure ‘rationalization’?

The rationalization measure included statements such as: “It is not really that big a problem if some people have more of a chance in life than others,” and “This country would be better off if we worried less about how equal people are.”

In other words, conservatives placed less value on equality than liberals. That’s not surprising, but it has nothing to do with rationalization.

And how do conservatives “rationalize” inequality?

To justify economic inequalities, a person could support the idea of meritocracy, in which people supposedly move up their economic status in society based on hard work and good performance. In that way, one’s social class attainment, whether upper, middle or lower, would be perceived as totally fair and justified.

Hard work? Good performance? Why is this “rationalization” rather than the adoption of an Aristotelian theory of distributive justice? Moreover, the researchers confuse descriptive and normative issues. Do conservatives think that hard work and good performance are rewarded (which doesn’t seem controversial to me) or that they should be rewarded (which, again, doesn’t seem controversial to me)? Which are the researchers denying by calling this rationalization?

Ann Althouse makes an additional point:

They [liberals] especially lack the rationalization powers that would allow them to frame conservatives as anything but ***holes. These liberals must starkly confront the brutal reality that conservatives are too heartless, stupid, greedy, or cowardly to perceive. At least that’s the way the liberals like to frame it.

Why couldn’t we reframe the issue as follows? Modern societies are immensely complex. Inequalities arise for many reasons—most of which are justifiable, and a few of which aren’t. Conservatives are capable of understanding complexity, so they recognize that inequality per se is not a good indicator of injustice. Liberals, who cannot understand complexity and, like children, insist on collapsing complex matters into simple categories, misunderstand this and see inequality itself as injustice. Conservatives don’t rationalize inequality; they understand it.

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Arnold Kling reflects on the fact that the Clintons made $109 million over the past seven years. (Maybe John Edwards is on to something with that “Two Americas” thing.) What’s remarkable is not the amount of private wealth, however, but the amount of wealth and power that government officials control:

Montgomery County, Maryland, has an annual budget of $3.8 billion. This sum is under the control of a County Council with nine members. On an average per-politician basis, each County Council member controls just over $400 million a year in spending.

To put an annual spending figure of $400 million in perspective, consider this: if you had $8 billion in assets and earned 5 percent per year on those assets, that would give you $400 million in annual income. And few Americans have that much. The world’s wealthiest person is Warren Buffett, with $62 billion (admittedly he has often been able to earn more than 5 percent per year from investments). Bill Gates has $58 billion. Fewer than 40 Americans have more than $8 billion in assets, and their names are largely familiar to us–the Waltons of Wal-Mart, Sergie Brin and Larry Page of Google, and so on.

Can you name the members of the County Council in Montgomery County, Maryland? I can’t name very many of them, and I live there. Still, getting elected to the County Council in Montogmery County, which is pretty far down the ladder in terms of political power in the United States, enables you to control more annual spending than the wealth of Donald Trump or Steven Jobs.

At the Federal level, the Budget is $3 trillion. If you divide that by 535 (the number of of Senators and Congressmen), then on average each legislator controls over $5 billion in spending per year. That is more than even the world’s richest person could spend annually.

Money, moreover, represents virtually all of a private individual’s power, but only a small fraction of the power of public officials, who can not only spend but also regulate, control, command, and punish. It’s good to remember that, no matter how rich or powerful someone is, there are many government officials who control far more financial resources and exercise far greater power.

Perhaps there are three Americas: the rich, the non-rich, and the bureaucrats, who tell those in the first two groups what to do.

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King v. Obama

Juan Williams contrasts the views of Barack Obama and Martin Luther King, Jr.

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