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01/30/2011

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Mc Sporrans

"The data on happiness and on health show conclusively that higher income persons are both happier and in much better health than others." Interesting that the evidence points to these conclusions. Take, for instance, criminal law proceedings, where rich defendants have much more capital and, thus, better ability to hire a better lawyer for their defence. Arguably the State can correct such problems, but that would appear to be the theory rather than the practice.

Criminal Defence Lawyers in Edinburgh

Mc Sporrans

"The data on happiness and on health show conclusively that higher income persons are both happier and in much better health than others." Interesting that the evidence points to these conclusions. Take, for instance, criminal law proceedings, where rich defendants have much more capital and, thus, better ability to hire a better lawyer for their defence. Arguably the State can correct such problems, but that would appear to be the theory rather than the practice.

Best wishes, http://www.mcsporrans.com/

Christopher Graves

John, I am glad to see that I have stirred you up. I have not said that the poor should not be helped. I am simply calling into question policies to forcibly redistribute income and wealth to the point that the distribution of income and wealth approaches equality of result.

Also, I do not see the rise of an influential leisure class in the U.S. dedicated to the improvement of the civility of their community nor to cultivate taste in the greater society. It varies from one community to the other, but, what I saw in Atlanta, Georgia when I lived there was the "old money" funded the arts and their own country clubs, etc., but they had little influence in the popular culture. They largely kept to themselves.

This public withdrawal of the old rich also goes on throughout the country. Withdrawal from the public sphere by people who have the ability to provide an uplift to the general culture is also taking place in the academic world. Referring back to a previous week's discussion, I was complaining about most academics withdrawing from the popular culture in favor of a self-imposed marginalization for the joys of belonging to a secret society of intellectuals. I have attended top-tier universities in the South, and what I saw there was the older professors were more cultured individuals who took a personal interest in students being replaced with "young Turk" workaholics who were exclusively focused on making a name for themselves within their discipline. These younger profs tend to speak in incoherent elliptical aphorisms demonstrating an indifference or even aversion to influencing their students. They were also more leftist in their political orientation with little interest in building up the culture. In fact, their egalitarianism led them to see it as oppressive.

The rich are more out in the open in Dallas, where I currently live. But I do not see them as having much influence in the greater community. In Fort Worth, a number of billionaires have taken the "bull by the horns" as they have openly funded and encouraged the tasteful development of downtown Fort Worth. They have also taken the lead in funding a set of very highly regarded fine art museums that include the Kimbell Art Museum. Atlanta has recently greatly expanded its art museum that includes an association with the Louvre, but I did not see the arts as prominently pushed in Atlanta as they are in Fort Worth. I think other communities need more of the attitude of the billionaires in Fort Worth.

But the influence of a hereditary aristocracy that was more prevalent in Europe in the past and might have had a spillover to America seems to have had, and to this day in Europe still has to a degree, a greater influence in popular tastes there today. There is a slower, more reflective pace of life in Europe than in the United States that allows people the opportunity to take up a more cultivated attitude toward their amusements. Returning to my experience in Atlanta to provide a contrast, life is so frenetic there as money-making is the prime concern, it is understandable that those who are seeking a more genteel way of life must marginalize themselves to keep out of the fray.

One of the humanities that has traditionally broad appeal in the South is history. Tragically, this interest shared by wide segments of the public has actively been suppressed by business interests, government, academia, and the Media because a public discussion of Atlanta's history has been viewed as "racist" in these influential quarters. This suppression of interest in Atlanta's history is inspired by an egalitarian impulse. Consequently, Atlanta has become the icon of monoculture for this reason among others.

Mary Rose's project of restoring Margaret Mitchell's house in mid-town Atlanta is an exception that has met with success. But Mary Rose is exactly the type of person I have in mind in our discussion here. As you may know, Mary Rose was married to Charlie Rose. She was an news anchor on a local station in Atlanta. She and Charlie divorced, according to her account, solely due to the pulls of their careers. Upon re-marrying to a wealthy businessman in Atlanta, she immediately retired from journalism to protect her second marriage. On her final newscast, she explicitly said the failure of her first marriage due to the pressures of her career was the reason for her retirement. But upon retiring from the stresses of news broadcasting, she became a cultural leader in Atlanta. Mary Rose in an exemplar of what I hope is possible if we saw more of such high quality leadership in the community.

http://www.margaretmitchellhouse.com/

From the Renaissance until just after World War I, we see an improvement in the arts and sciences of European cultures. We also can see an general improvement in the quality of life of the average person as their wealth and opportunities increased. The literacy rate soared as did an appreciation of the finer things in life among increasing segments of the population. For some reason, this progress has stalled in all of these areas except for science since the early 20th Century. I do not know all the reasons for this cultural decline, but it is there, nevertheless. While there are a number of factors leading to this decline including scientism as Edmund Husserl suggested, egalitarianism, I believe, has also played a crucial role. Alexis de Tocqueville warned us of the dangers of placing too much emphasis on equality.

Christopher Graves

Thanks for your comments on my posts, Jack. I think much of what I said in reply to John also applies to your replies to me on culture. I would also add that elites have abdicated their responsibility to influence the production of art as well as influence the tastes of the general population. One reason for the upper classes in Europe and the United States pulling back in shaping the work of the creative classes might be guilt. They do not want to view themselves or be seen by others as reigning in creative genius in the way that the Académie des Beaux-Arts wrongly attempted to do in late Nineteenth Century France with the rise of the Impressionist painters.

Another reason might be the Philistine tendencies of the Nouveau Riche who run corporations hiring architects and turning them loose to design buildings any which way they choose deeming themselves inadequate to countermand the "expert" in architecture. The same might also be the case in modern art as it has become so esoteric that it takes a specially trained art critic to make sense of the work of art. Again, we have a lack of self-confidence by the patrons to provide structure to the creative class who are deemed beyond criticism by the intelligent, tasteful layman. Tom Wolfe makes these points in his books, *From Bauhaus to Your House* and *The Painted Word.*

There are other developments along these lines in modernism, but they all involve an oddly fluctuating imbalance between the Dionysian and the Apollonian. These terms encapsulate a distinction made by Nietzsche between the wild, energetic, unconscious aspects of the human psyche and its rational, controlled, structured, restrained aspects. Nietzsche observed that without a balance between these two opposing forces, the Dionysian tends to self-destruction by burning itself out in a frenzy of undirected outbursts while the Apollonian implodes from lack of vitality and innovation. In the past, the creative classes' work was brought into greater balance along these lines by the church and the upper and middle classes.

I mention Edmund Husserl above as arguing that the underlying problem that is leading to the decline of Western culture is the over-reliance on science. It has sapped the vigor of the particular in favor of dry abstraction. Paradoxically, the scientist in his success has neutered the culture that fosters his exploration of the natural world and the social world as he eviscerates it. We can also see this same imbalance, paradoxically, in modern art, especially, cubism and its derivatives, that have decontextualized art from the living pulse of the immediate and the particular. So, we have simultaneously, too much Apollonian and too much Dionysian (in certain regards). Again, there is a certain balance that we need, and we are missing the mark.

http://www.users.cloud9.net/~bradmcc/husserl_philcris.html

Now, this line of discussion takes us back to equality of result or even certain conceptions of equality of opportunity in contrast to a moral equality among individuals. Equality in any sense assumes that people are the same along certain lines. Moral equality takes people to be equal in regard to their formal worth as persons. In no other sense are people considered the same on this view. On the other hand, more expansive notions of equality of opportunity and equality of result assume that people share an equal potential in talent, intelligence, and drive if given the right circumstances. People are seen as fungible. This is part and parcel of the scientism that Husserl is arguing that is decimating individual's and people's humanity and the culture that they are embedded in. On the egalitarian view, persons' idiosyncrasies, flaws, and distinctions are assumed away or action should be taken to remove them as should the contingencies of life, so as to produce the enforced actual, concrete equality and enforced Fraternity that the more concrete notions of equality seek to impose. This is why the depersonalization of the so-called Blue Model discussed by Walter Russell Mead is accepted by many egalitarians. But it is just this overly Apollonian model that conservative critic David Reisman found so destructive of the human spirit in his discussion of the Mass Man in the 1950's. But lying at the heart of the egalitarian conception of justice and the human condition is a commitment to a nihilism that rejects the natural purposes and order of Creation. Natural purpose is replaced with ungrounded formulas such as equality of result that must be imposed on people. But without natural distinction and public recognition of these distinctions, a social order cannot flourish. Without liberty, people cannot reasonably and spontaneously respond to contingency that is part and parcel of the human condition. In fact, without distinction and liberty, a culture cannot continue to survive.

Jack

Chris: Whew! that's quite a construct! First off I have NEVER met ANYONE favoring "equality of result" by any means, much less "forcibly" So why even trot that one out? Even equality of opportunity is unrealistic, though I do discuss it in another post here.

I'm not sure you can make a case for "old money" having done more and better in the past either. Seems arguable.

Your next has some truth to it. Ahh, yes, that of those at the leading edge of our soaring wage/wealth gap hiding away in gated compounds. Yep, "click" and "we" are insulated from "them" and the crime rates and other social problems, many of which are directly related to 30 years of stagnant wages for the working folk.

Universities do seem to have a problem with the noted Profs off doing something else while interns provide much of the $100k educational product.

The "aristocracy of Europe" that Ha! spawned quotes such as "Drunk as a Lord" is also arguable.

As for the history of Atlanta and GA much of it was racist as was and IS the case for much of our nation. De Tocqueville deemed racism "America's Achilles Heel" and he's been right for centuries.

I think you get into deep water trying to single out the "Mary Rose's" as there have been and are today many examples of such community effort and leadership. Hard to measure too, for example perhaps Charlie Rose by bringing a bit of adult conversation to millions (on Public TV, funded half by direct viewer donations of regular working folk.

If improvements in literacy rates seemed to stall in the 20th century it may be that changes from 3% to under one percent are difficult to notice. See chart at the bottom:

http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:vyic8k4UoWwJ:nces.ed.gov/naal/lit_history.asp+us+literacy+rates+by+year&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&source=www.google.com

Culture and the arts? My town of Anchorage, a tent city a century ago boasts well attended Performing Arts Center productions 2nd to few other cities, museums and a vibrant arts and music scene, much as does modern day Tulsa, OK, another relatively small city, familiar to me. Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin too are coming of age. Nah........ think you'd have a hard time making a case for the depth or breadth of culture being in decline, and science? it seems it move faster in some weeks than in a decade in the past.

Emlak

Our society has been divided in a way that has never been seen before in america. I agree my friend.

Christopher Graves

Jack, would you like to narrow the "soaring wage/wealth gap" by governmental action such as redistributive taxation policy? If so, how is that not attempting to move us toward the goal of equality of result? Notice in a previous post, you also commented about disparities in income due to people with generic skills being in the position of "price takers," and so remedial action was necessary. How far would these policies take us? How would you know when they have gone far enough if you do not take something like a Lorenz Curve as a metric? Finally on this line of inquiry, are not these interventions taken by government coercive?

I do not object to a role for government to set the basic rules of order, but I do object to government constantly monitoring distributions to judge them against some standard such as moving toward or away from equality of result and then tinkering with the rules in order to alter the distribution of income, wealth, or status. Such constant tinkering is a threat to the rule of law, which lies at the heart of a free society.

Next, I do think Mary Rose is an exceptional figure in Atlanta in her willingness to stand up to the powers that be to preserve our history. I do not see an appreciation of Southern history as "racist." Also, Mary Rose has the time, energy, taste, personal grace, intelligence, and standing to to challenge this kind of "group think" and preserve culture. I do not see that going on in Atlanta much in such a public way. That is the problem that I was pointing to. Not whether people such as Mary Rose with money and taste do not exist elsewhere. The problem is that these people frequently only make a marginal difference. I am talking about getting out front and changing the the culture. That is not currently going on in very many communities in the U.S. as far as I can see. Some of the rich in Fort Worth also have taken steps to change the cultural climate for the better, as I pointed out above. I see a need for this kind of influence to be much more aggressive and assume an leadership role in the community rather than merely working quietly behind the scenes and turning the core of these projects over to the "experts."

There is a general decline in culture in America. Just look around and compare what we live in to the past. Consider the quality of the popular music, movies, plays, celebrities now. We are rotting from the inside out.

Jack

Chris, thanks for responding, let me see if I can clarify, and perhaps find areas of agreement.

"Jack, would you like to narrow the "soaring wage/wealth gap" by governmental action such as redistributive taxation policy?"

JJJJ: First off, it's my view that redistributive tax policy is what took place when Reagan, HW, and GW led the way to unaffordable, deficit creating tax breaks largely benefiting the wealthy, whose share of total incomes have dramatically increased during those three decades.

I suspect were we to have "overs" with foresight, we'd agree that the small percentage of taxation it would have taken to keep deficits and the growth of nation tanking debt in proper relationship would not have hurt anything. Wouldn't it be nice to have say a third or less the debt we have as we try to pick up the pieces and have, as an option, government spending, on the many worth projects from delayed infrastructure maintenance to embarking the long delayed energy conservation and transition to more sustainable sources?

Additionally, (I've posted the graphs here) the one tax that has gone up considerably is that of SS which takes nearly 15% out of the wage package of those under $106,000. There are two problems here, one is that of a higher bite being taken out of stagnant incomes even as h/c and energy increases have taken much larger bites -- not replaced by higher wages. Second problem is that of the income that accrues to those over $106,000, instead of those below that figure escaping SS contributions. A trend not predictable when Sens Moynihan and Heinz led passage of the reforms in 1983 that were signed into law by President Reagan.

BTW even at the time they worried about the needed surpluses to handle the "boomer retirements" being "borrowed" for other governmental purposes. Well, we're indeed a nation of (in this case) savers and borrowers, so I see nothing inherently wrong with the Gov borrowing from its SS contributors and recipients, as compared to foreign nations, but it IS debt and must be handled as such.

But more to your point? As wages have gotten SO out of whack that things simply will NOT work, though I'd have strongly favored:

A. Min wage, at least keeping up with inflation, or better yet, sharing in some fraction of the doubling of worker productivity of those decades.

C. Stronger (any?) collective bargaining that would have helped incomes of the growing "service sector" maintain some parity to the diminishing mfg jobs. (When you stop to think about it the skills and labors of those in the service sector are largely on par with those who once toiled (for better pay) in mfg jobs. The dff being the difficulty of organizing service labor -- especially after the Reagan era gutting of labor laws. You'll recall such as Walmart shuttering a store rather than "allow" union representation.

Against such a skewed backdrop? Tax policy? Yeah. For starters, to claw back at least a token fraction:

A. Modify SS, not to take a full 15% all the way up from $106K but at least a slice to recapture SS on the incomes that escaped working folks pay envelopes, and a bit more to lessen the extreme regressivity of SS on stagnant incomes today.

B. Forget the H/C "mandates" and complex subsidies for those who can't afford the premiums to the wasteful paper mill of the insurance parasite industry and pay for H/C out of taxes. I'd like to see a voucher system with PROVIDERS competing on a basis of service for the vouchers held by every citizen.

There are gains for ALL as some bit of spendable income again accrues to some 80% of earners who've hardly participated in the gains made by a doubling of productivity in this era. Those paying a bit more in taxes who're over $200k or so? If they're bright and competitive enough to get that far, think what they can do when those who make up our consumer based economy have a buck to spare!


If so, how is that not attempting to move us toward the goal of equality of result?

JJJ: Ha! logically... any move to claw back or increase our, currently, declining rate of upward mobility or provide a more level playing field ie increased equality of opportunity would tend to lead TOWARD equality of result. But at this point that's a LOT better than the predictable end of the game when the rich have Board Walk, Park Place and all of the railroads.

Notice in a previous post, you also commented about disparities in income due to people with generic skills being in the position of "price takers," and so remedial action was necessary. How far would these policies take us?

.......... Our Anchorage paper today reported that just 30% of HS grads went on to college, and just 7.9% from low income homes did the same. Now remember even those sad figures are after a significant dropout rate. See this stagnant income mess is not about "large flat screens", it's instead about the very seed corn or our future. IF?? we believe our rap of the future being greatly enhanced by higher educations for more of our youth, if incomes are to continue to be pounded down, then "somehow" a pathway for yet more kids from low income homes must be found. Otherwise? just duct tape shut the pie holes of those "sincerely" advocating higher educational achievements.

Your state of Texas with its refusal to adopt and income tax on those "nice" billionaires which leaves it perpetually short of budgets for education and other social needs is an egregious case and reaps much of what it sows with SAT scores of the cherry-picked 40% of post-drop out grads who take them being among the worst few states in the union. Something that as Texas nears ten percent of our population OUGHT to soon be remedied.


How would you know when they have gone far enough if you do not take something like a Lorenz Curve as a metric? Finally on this line of inquiry, are not these interventions taken by government coercive?

JJJJ: Coercive?? Haha! You don't even want to know what I'd set aside for military hardware P O R K were I not coerced! Despite my personal preferences a FUNCTIONING democracy should mean OUR funds and agreed upon governance working well for the "general welfare" of it's citizens............ NOT just a class of financiers and other rent seekers fleecing a large caste of serfs who no longer are participating in the wealth produced by increased PER CAPITA productivity.


I do not object to a role for government to set the basic rules of order, but I do object to government constantly monitoring distributions to judge them against some standard such as moving toward or away from equality of result and then tinkering with the rules in order to alter the distribution of income, wealth, or status. Such constant tinkering is a threat to the rule of law, which lies at the heart of a free society.

.......... Indeed! The iconic "capitalist" game of football would hardly be a competitive game were it not for rules. Once one side "opted" to use a bulldozer it's a very different game. And the rules are tweaked from time to time. Ha! can't resist sharing a chuckle that this "icon of competition" exists Hahaha! under and exemption from anti-trust laws! If Alaska were to devote a chunk of its Permanent Fund to fielding a team, we'd not be allowed to challenge "the best" but would have lobby for, and await, an invite to be an "expansion team". Great, eh?

Next, I do think Mary Rose is an exceptional figure in Atlanta in her willingness to stand up to the powers that be to preserve our history.

JJJJ Sorry, I didn't intend to demean her or the many similar angels.

I do not see an appreciation of Southern history as "racist."

JJJ: I'm not sure what part of S. history you mean..... but I tire of the Civil War series on the History Chn. though one WOULD hope we'd have learned something about settling our differences from that SENSELESS carnage. To think that thousands endured such misery and met their deaths as some "brave" generals prodded them to take some small hill, and continue the massacre for years over a thinly disguised "state's right" to own and oppress other human beings for profit even as most of the rest of the world had turned away from capturing and indenturing slaves.

Also, Mary Rose has the time, energy, taste, personal grace, intelligence, and standing to to challenge this kind of "group think" and preserve culture.

JJJJJ: Hmm, not sure if you've defined "group think" or exactly what she's doing. In much of the south (and to be fair some other regions as well, various forms of school RE-segregation is taking place and NOT to good ends. If she or anyone else is pushing back against such trends I'm all for it.

BTW good to see TX having finally lost all of its courtroom pleas to continue its long tradition of prejudiciously short-fund "certain" of its over 1,000 school districts. Guess they're calling the long awaited reform "Robin Hood?" Perhaps in a decade or so we'll see an uptick in SAT scores?


I do not see that going on in Atlanta much in such a public way. That is the problem that I was pointing to. Not whether people such as Mary Rose with money and taste do not exist elsewhere.

JJJJ: Indeed! and in my limited experience, I've not found "money" and "taste" to be congruent.


The problem is that these people frequently only make a marginal difference. I am talking about getting out front and changing the the culture. That is not currently going on in very many communities in the U.S. as far as I can see. Some of the rich in Fort Worth also have taken steps to change the cultural climate for the better, as I pointed out above.

JJJ Not quite sure how you would like to "change the culture" but in ALL of the cities in which I've lived or spent time wealthy notables have made considerable contributions. It's often said that such is one (legitimate) aspect of American excellence.


I see a need for this kind of influence to be much more aggressive and assume an leadership role in the community rather than merely working quietly behind the scenes and turning the core of these projects over to the "experts."

JJJJ: Ha! perhaps what we long for in slightly differing ways, is that long ago "promise" of a "rising tide that lifted all of the boats" and rewarded us working folk with increasing incomes and shorter working week, and TIME to devote to family, RE-CREATION, and good civic works. Remember, just as with economic issues, culture is based upon d e m a n d. And demand is not "wants" but a number of folk with the time and wherewithal to support the arts and intellectual pursuits.

There is a general decline in culture in America. Just look around and compare what we live in to the past. Consider the quality of the popular music, movies, plays, celebrities now. We are rotting from the inside out.

JJJJ: One thing I learned while serving in Korea and observing the often crude and ugly behavior of many of my fellow troops, is that we have (or had) a relatively wealthy peasantry. While in a third world nation, or the era you seem to lust for, the "unwashed peasants" might be huddled over a peat fire smoking a perhaps poached rabbit from the lord's game preserve.......... in America they may well be at the next table at almost any level of restaurant or vacation spot.

I'm perhaps the last to try to defend the formulaic crap emanating from an overly consolidated corporate motion picture mill, but there are alternatives if you're willing to duck the 12 plex of corpiedom and watch some Indie, perhaps Sundance films down at some dusty old building or rent them on DVD. In music it's much the same; while rap and vulgar vids are not my thing -- I know why it has existed longer than I'd have predicted and it's not unrelated to the protest and rock music of the 60's of another generation.

And.......... Ha! As I hope we'll see in Egypt and at home, from decaying fallen trees comes ........... new growth!

Jodie

John Rawls argues that the only justifiable inequality is that which can be shown to benefit the worst off. This is somewhat similar to what the author argues in terms of incentives to work hard and produce things of value to not only to the individual but to the community more broadly. In this sense having some inequality is justifiable because the worst off in this society should be better off than they would be in a society with total equality.
Having said that, the inequality evident in many western capitalist societies including America is probably far more than is required to provide the desired incentives. Certainly I believe that once you are talking about individuals earning very high amounts per year - over $500,000; the money earnt is usually not the main driver of their activity and taxing them a little more would not be enough to make them withdraw or put in less effort etc...

Christopher Graves

Jodie, the problem with Rawls is the same as what I identified as being problematic with any version of equality of result, and that is it fails to take account of the individual and his entitlement to his own particular life and personhood. Rawls argues that all resources are collectively owned including the personal talents and skills of each individual. The government can then redistribute income, wealth, and status to achieve equality of result unless allowing some inequality of outcome to better the position of those worst off in a society, as you describe above.

While Rawls does present an elaborate justification for what seems to be a disregard for the rights of the individual and organic social processes, in the end even with his appeal to the consent of the rational individual, each actual individual's rights to property and the spontaneous development of social unions are compromised by his commitment to what he terms "democratic equality," which approaches equality of result as closely as possible. In Rawls' attempt to justify an extensive welfare state or democratic socialism, he argues that an abstract, de-contextualized "rational contractor" would agree to extensive state intrusions into one's private sphere. Real persons and lived situations do not enter into Rawls' philosophy.

At least Rawls does grapple with these concerns in a forthright way. I am afraid to say that most on the liberal left do not even begin to see the moral difficulties with their state-enforced egalitarianism as we can see from the comments in this discussion.

Jack

Chris: IF we WERE in an ivory tower discussing philosophy to while away the hours the concerns of Rawls and others would surely be a part of the conversation.

But this is the "market leading" US in the throws of deep depression that few seem to understand while others use the vacuum to pump and agenda replete with a longing for yesteryear.

"Rawls" may not have noticed the massive shifts of income and accretion of wealth over the last three decades and few of today's "right" will even acknowledge that the "class war" was fought and those in the top few percent won. Big time.

Trouble is, down at the pragmatic level, mired in a declining economy 70% dependent on consumer spending it won't work.

Those who are supposed to "go shopping" have already found their wallets flattened by the combo of stagnant wages, mailing off much of what remains to OPEC, while, trying, to keep up with, not only increasing H/C costs, but that higher and higher percentages of that hefty burden has and is being shifted from their employer to them.

Figure in the additional 5-6% unemployment (over the typical base rate) plus those 10% hanging on in low paid "underemployment" jobs and you've a recipe for further decline.

Looking back, and I'm not sure how you'd want to rank it in terms of "state enforced egalitarianism", what finally broke the last depression was that of massive federal spending on WWII, the crude tools of price controls to limit inflation, and the often mentioned 90% margin tax rate.

Today, to be sure things are different, but the entire world is counting on our economy regaining its strength and the spending of our consumers, but! if they remain as they are, hunkered down in survival mode, even what the starry-eyed pundits call a "slow recovery" will sputter out and become a long slow decline.

As in the last depression ideologues have their place but it's the pragmatists with vision that should take the field.

Christopher Graves

Jack, I still am not seeing how you justify redistributing income and wealth to bring the overall societal pattern closer to equality other than you believe that it will benefit people in the aggregate. It sounds as though you are implicitly arguing for some version of utilitarianism. Rawls (no scare quotes added here) pointed out the fundamental problem with utilitarianism (and its derivations) by observing that such political/ethical theories do not take the individual seriously. I believe that the same criticism can be made of Rawls' Second Principle that Jodie cites above.

By the way, ethical and political theories are not necessarily 'ideology.' Philosophical ethical theories seek to rationally justify normative principles of human conduct. Philosophy is not synonymous with ideology. Ideology is a set of ideas and proposals that seeks to answer every possible question and resolve every possible problem. There is no room for reasonable disagreement or empirical challenge. Think here of Karl Popper's characterization of Marx's political theory as being rendered immune from reasonable objection as it sought to make sense of every issue and offer perfect solutions to every problem, if only we would adopt the Marxist paradigm. I have to say, some libertarians fall into this problem. Some radical feminists would also serve as an example of ideology. Here is a link to a discussion of 'ideology' by political scientist Kenneth Minogue:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-CIOSkrfRC4

Jack

Chris: Yup! That's it! "other than you believe that it will benefit people in the aggregate."

And as studies confirm, increases in income at the always strapped for cash level increases happiness (and decreases stress, desperation and related illnesses) but additional income in the higher income levels buys little or no additional happiness, indeed! the overall "general welfare" of our citizens is increased, in the aggregate and individually.

Well, you've one debating tactic down that I've observed being routinely employed by PhD's in political confrontations here, which is to pretend, selectively, that the status quo is ordained by a higher being, that we got here by magic, or the result of theories such as you posit above working harmoniously as "god" intended.

But! truth is no such thing took place. Again, I refer you to these couple of graphs depicting a tremendous rate of accretion of income, and yet more so, wealth in the top 1-2%. Neither this consolidation nor the truly frightening percentages carved off by the "financial sector" came about by efficient market mechanisms at all related to Adam Smith's "invisible hand".

http://lanekenworthy.net/2008/03/09/the-best-inequality-graph/

The most suitable reason for CEO compensation having soared from an already high ratio in the world of 30 times worker pay to over 400 times in just 30 years is that of a "class" of which most slept together at Ivy fraternities, are board sitters on interlocking boards and "salary oversight" committees and take care of each other. Stockholder input? Ha! There again those holding enough stock to influence anything are themselves highly paid managers of mutual funds and pension plan trustees.

A substantial increase in inequity took place after Sen Phil Gramm and other lobbyist driven accessories repealed Glass-Steagal in the name of "modernization" but put NO modernized safeguards in its place. Huge family fortunes have been stolen as the entire "financial industry" from grass roots loan originators to bond raters, to legions packaging billions in utter crap to pawn off on the rest of the world.

So, no, we aren't beginning with a clean sheet upon which to, perhaps, apply some theory that ostensibly rewards wisdom, enterprise and ethical behavior. Instead we're trying to rescue a badly broken system and salvage what we can of an economic system in which most of our citizens can play a role and feel as though they are, again, (WWII?) part of team creating a nation and world that is better than they found it.

The alternative? Continue on a path of yet MORE concentration of wealth and income in the hands of the very, very few? and stagnant and declining wages for the rest? which unavoidably means a stagnant and declining consumer based economy for us and the world?

Christopher Graves

Jack, I am all for reforms that will increase fairness, defined in terms of process, or deal with some glitch that hinders people from cooperating to the fullest. For example, I agree with you on re-implementing a version of Glass-Steagall as long as we have bailouts, but what if we enacted this and other reasonable reforms and we still had a lot of inequality of income? I would argue in that case the only fair thing to do would be to leave the distribution alone. In fact, I would not even look at it. On my view, all we can do is set the fundamental rules and let the chips fall where they may. I know Rawls argues that what I am proposing, which I draw from Nozick and Hayek, is inadequate from a moral point of view. Rawls sees continual tinkering with the rules and institutions of society as necessary to approach equality and rid the market of economic rents. I see Rawls' over-concern for equality as inimical to both liberty and achieving a proper ordering for society.

I would like to see a distribution emerge that is based on merit, but I agree with you, that is not happening now. While I am quite clear in my own mind that equality of condition or enacting policies to push the overall distribution in that direction in disregard to merit and to liberty are unjust and ineffectual, I am conflicted on an entitlement view of social justice and a meritocracy along the lines of Aristotle's Politics or even Plato's. I do not see a natural aristocracy arising from a classically liberal regime as Jefferson and others had envisioned. I would not disagree with some of your points that you make above as well as making other criticisms of the status quo along the lines that we are moving down the path of social and moral decay. On the other hand, I continue to be persuaded by the arguments of David Hume that there is no realistic way to objectively enforce a meritocracy. I am open to suggestions, but as of now, I am reluctantly still in the Adam Smith-F.A. Hayek-David Hume-Robert Nozick camp on issues of social justice. Smith seemed conflicted on these issues along similar lines as I have raised. I remain opposed to the egalitarian left view.

Here is a link to an excellent discussion of these issues from a very well-informed philosophical framework. The lecturer is Michael Sandel, a professor at Harvard. This is his PBS series, *Justice,* where he teaches his class about the issues we are touching on by considering very difficult moral dilemmas and then following up with discussions of the philosophical theories of Rawls, Nozick, Locke, and Aristotle. I believe that there are 12 episodes in the series.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBdfcR-8hEY


Cj

I too as well as some people would also like more information available about I would definetly like more on Inequality

Sanjeev Sabhlok

Unfortunate that inequality jars academics and other intellectuals. The very idea that someone could be sitting in an ivory tower adding and subtracting people's incomes and passing moral judgements is offensive.

All we want is to ensure freedom (and a frugal social minimum) and let people live their lives in peace.

Inequality is a non-issue. I have explained this at great length in Breaking Free of Nehru and on my blog at http://sabhlokcity.com/2010/08/the-dangerous-idea-of-equality/ - plus extensively in my draft manuscript The Discovery of Freedom (all these available online)

To all 'intellectuals' who are busy counting other people's money, I say only this: mind your own business. Focus on ensuring greater freedom ONLY - after that just mind your own business. The world will take care of itself.

Kevin McGilly

Becker is right that people are rightly offended that financial industry professionals earn exhorbitant wages and bonuses when as a group they have destroyed vast amounts of wealth. But he is wrong that "most people are willing to accept huge incomes and vast amounts of wealth when they feel these are earned, such as with Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet." Most people are willing to accept that a few people will become extremely wealthy if the economic system that produced such outsize fortunes also works for the rest. If average household incomes in the U.S. had not stagnated for the last 30 years, and if total employment were not below the level it was *ten* years ago, even the obscene compensation packages of transparently inept figures like Lloyd Blankfein and Dick Fuld would get little notice. The problem is that their prosperity has come at the rest of the society's expense. That is the issue.

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Jack

Kevin: Amen!

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