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Observer: I was trying to mirror yours on the costly nature of being driven to suburbs further and further out.

Ha -- CA's further exacerbate the long commute problem with the idiotic Jarvis Prop 13 deal which gives long term holders of R/E the property tax cost of two decades ago; newbies can pay up to ten times that of the next door neighbor. The retired couple who SHOULD move out to the beach, golf course or whatever, instead remain in their long held home near the commercial areas leaving young workers no choice but to live WAY out..... with the result being "freeways" gridlocked in BOTH directions.

Here? Ha! The BTnowhere would save a few single digit miles for SOME commuters for about $1.5 billion. It would not pencil on tolls for a tenth that amount; "conservative" PORK

an observer


The point of the piece is the opposite---that commuting is not that expensive relative to the benefits---that, therefore, implicitly, we should expect urban centers like that of Baltimore to fail.

I live in a major urban area. It has failed. The rents in our highest, newest, most modern office building are $14 a month. The reason it has failed is that there is not means or method for the most important of urban functions---the easy transfer of ideas---to take place there.

There is no there, there.

The people left are Bourbons who never learn and never forget. Thus, for example, even with rents so low, the City Gov't is still trying to get new office buildings constructed.

Christopher Graves

The key shortcoming of both Professor Becker and Judge Posner's analysis is that they neglect the foundational principle when considering issues of distributive justice, and that principle is self-ownership. People own their own bodies and minds that they are endowed with. Along with these endowments come potential talents and abilities. These, too, are owned by the individual even if these innate abilities must be developed in conjunction with the assistance of other people within social structures that have built up over time. Talents ultimately develop because of the individual efforts and insights of the individual who possesses them. Persons then acquire property, broadly conceived, with their labor which they are entitled to. Forcible redistribution of income by the state is logically incompatible with this Lockean account of income and wealth distribution.

One could simply deny the account of wealth acquisition that I outlined in the previous paragraph, but taking that tack would also lead one to the denial of the natural rights of the individual entirely. Both Becker and Posner are assuming a utilitarian ethic that rejects the Lockean moral framework at its core with a commitment to the collective ownership of the personal attributes of all people that can be redistributed by a central governing power. On the utilitarian view, persons are nothing but conduits for pleasure and pain. While utilitarian considerations might be appropriate within certain bounds that include what Robert Nozick termed "Kantian side-constraints," a full-blown philosophical utilitarianism is grossly incompatible with respect for the individual human person and the theory of natural rights.


Chris: Becker AND Posner comment on UNDESERVING inequality. It's farce to think that the conglomeration of "The Market", PORK being ladled for the privileged, a long history of racism and a short history of near token levels of "affirmative action" for "them" while the REAL affirmative action is that of how Bush and Quayle got into Ivy colleges and used family connections to provide them with a cush spot in which to sit out the years of the "unavoidable" draft lottery.

IF......... the above is not convincing to those having long ago given up "christian ideals" my fall back is that we HAVE experimented with a gross consolidation of the wealth and income in the hands of the very, very few and it has ALWAYS met with the failures any economic theorist/historian would predict.

Marx, while his solution has never worked in the real world, accurately predicted the consolidation of wealth, power and MORE wealth in the hands of the self-serving few, leading to the revolution narrowly avoided by FDR, and the labor movement's "New Deal".

Some...... will recall the attraction "communism" and the socialism the UK adopted, held for those 30% unemployed or in grinding poverty.

IF we are to harness (for THE people) the innate power of HONEST capitalism to generate REAL wealth, WE, in democratic fashion must provide the major direction, establish, AND rigorously ENFORCE the rules of the game.

If football and other ball games are the metaphor for "competition" the instant the rules and regs are not enforce, the competitors are no longer playing the game. "Wins" by those cheating with performance enhancing drugs are a meaningless as the fortunes recently stolen by our Wall Street thieves, in terms of reflecting "success" as value to our society.

Rob Swanson

Prof. Becker,

You fail to attribute very little causal effect to the increasing concentration in business sectors. Home Depot replaces six neighborhood hardware stores; Borders, then Amazon, the local bookstore (which in fact Borders was in 1981 in Ann Arbor); and so on.

Work following on the AER article by Emmanuel Saez shows that a great deal of the concentration of income inequality in the top 1/10th and 1/100th of 1 percent of earners is due to those who are, in short, financiers (Wall Street) and top executives (CEOs and their direct reports). The fraction of corporate earnings represented by the top 1000 companies in America, as a percentage of corporate earnings in the Commerce Department's national income accounts, has increased dramatically since 1970 (the business concentration point). The top 1/100th of 1 percent of earners earned roughly 1.5% of income from 1980-1982 and now earn 5.5% - an astonishing figure. The top 1/10th of 1 percent of earners now earn about 9% of income, almost as much as the top 1% from 1980-1982. Another astonishing figure. In fact, the top 1/10th of 1% now earn almost as much as the next 9/10th of 1% of earners.

All astonishing. One can see much of the causes, or make reasonable inferences about them, if one studies closely the spreadsheets that are linked on Saez's academic homepage.

(You may also want to share this with Posner).


Christopher Graves

Jack, thanks for your reply to my more deontological approach to this issue. I do agree that it matters how one acquires wealth. On the other hand, I do not think it matters for concerns of legitimate acquisition how hard one works or exactly what one's talent is for the acquisition to be fair. There are simply too many problems to take into account with comparing work efforts or talents for the government to set up a system to enforce distributions based on these factors besides the dubious nature of their consideration. For example, I have to work harder at things that I am not good at due to either inexperience or a lack of a knack for doing a particular line of work. I believe generally people are like me on this score. Consequently, the labor theory of value would seem to encourage us to specialize in labor that we are ill-suited to perform and avoid work that we have a comparative advantage in. We would also pay the novice more than the expert.

I am arguing that considerations of dessert are out of place in discussions of social justice. I agree that we do have intuitions about dessert, and I wish we could consider them legally. But I know of no practical way of doing so and preserve our rights as well as the practical aspects of consistently and justly implementing a system based on dessert such as defended by Aristotle. But if you are an egalitarian, which you certainly sound as you are, then considerations of dessert would be even more out of place on your philosophical foundations than on mine. You might be able to redistribute some wealth on considerations of dessert as traditionally understood, but it might very well go in directions you would not be comfortable with.

While I have no sympathy with redistributive policies to fit people into a pattern of equality because of its unnatural and unjust nature, I do agree that the kind of equality referred to by Judge Posner as forming the basis of a classless society, of the sort that we have had in America, are both just and practicable. Each person has been created by God as special in his eyes. We are all equally valuable in our moral and spiritual worth even as we are created somewhat differently for different purposes. And this conception of equality is practicable as we have seen from our two-hundred years of experience in the United States as well as in such nations as Switzerland and, to a lesser extent, the Netherlands. But it is important to distinguish these conflicting conceptions of equality especially in this discussion. As F.A. Hayek observed it is one thing to treat people alike and quite another to make them alike.

What I am arguing for here is an "entitlement" theory of social justice along the lines articulated by Locke and cultivated by Robert Nozick in his *Anarchy, State, and Utopia.* On Nozick's theory, one is entitled to keep the fruits of one's labor based on the principle of self-ownership. One is likewise entitled to his property in cases where he gains his holdings in a fair process of exchange with others who have all acquired their property fairly. So, I agree with you that the government can legitimately set certain rules to regulate the process of wealth acquisition and enforce them. I also agree in certain cases with the principle of paying reparation. What I am objecting to is the state setting a certain distributional goal and then interjecting itself in social and economic affairs of consenting individuals and organic social processes in the name of achieving equality.

Christopher Graves

Correction to my previous post: "dessert" should be "desert" as in merit--Freudian slip. I was about to fix supper.


Chris, thanks for the response:

"So, I agree with you that the government can legitimately set certain rules to regulate the process of wealth acquisition and enforce them. I also agree in certain cases with the principle of paying reparation. What I am objecting to is the state setting a certain distributional goal and then interjecting itself in social and economic affairs of consenting individuals and organic social processes in the name of achieving equality."

....... I do think we'd all agree with opposition to wealth by dealing oneself political advantage or not following the rules. Introducing a bulldozed to the gridiron makes it a different game.

.......... While "objecting to the state setting distributional goals" suppose, as IS clearly the case the (claimed) "natural distribution" continues, as we've seen with distribution continuing inexorably to concentrations that, in at least two past Depressions to result in the collapse of the system? The final rounds of a Monopoly game?

.... Virtually EVERY one of today's curious brand of "conservatives" that I've read or corresponded with makes a LOT of fuss about "incentives" for those "scarce" CEO and upper management skills (once available for 30 times worker pay to over 400 times today) but think "feel??" that no such incentives or inclusion in the profit sharing is needed for those doing the actual work.

It's obvious to me that such a national policy will NOT work and IS a major facet of what is wrong today.

The first and most practical reason is that of anything much below median HH income ($52,000) simnply will not pay household bills, nor allow enough folks to heed the former President's exhortation to "Go shopping".

Second perhaps? Is that folks know what you point out here:

"We are all equally valuable in our moral and spiritual worth even as we are created somewhat differently for different purposes."

While capitalism relies on rewarding higher skills, creativity and successful entrepreneurship with more economic reward, it's neither moral nor spiritual for the surgeon to insist on a million bucks a year, while those angels who care for our aged are expected to live on $15/20 per hour. Nor is it the least bit moral for WMT with the fattest bottom line in history to so underpay its 2,000,000 "valued associates" so poorly that WE taxpayers have to chuck in One Billion/year as they trigger the transfer payments meant for the truly destitute.

What is to be done about it? First with full knowledge of lower skilled folk having NO market power, but similar biological needs for food, shelter, clothing, transportation and medical care, the min wage (with few exceptions for trainees of short duration and those of HS age living at home) must be something close to a living wage. Other civilized nations manage it and we must do so as well. Instead of participation, at all, in the "rising tide" of a doubling of productivity, the purchasing power of the min wage is LESS than it was in 1980. Wrong. Immoral and dumb.

For most of the rest, I'd MUCH rather see collective bargaining that would begin to bring others up with the "rising tide" than state policy for several reasons:

One, as compared to tax exemptions or "targeted govvie subsidies" the employee and his family have the actual dollars to spend or invest as wisely as they can.

Secondly, those paying the somewhat higher wages will have incentives to use labor wisely, (perhaps even train them better?) and continue to seek wealth generating mechanization. As we ARE a nation, community, team and typically part of a company, the labor saving gains made by robotics et al can NOT entirely accrue to the few managers at the top and "stock holders", instead those employees devoting THEIR lives and energies to the company should participate..... ideally with shares of stock or other payments reflecting their investment in the wealth of the company.

Third: I don't like the idea of increasing numbers NOT paying taxes, and instead receiving subsidies and EITC et al any more than you do. In the days before 1980 the wage disparity was FAR smaller and MOST folks could grumble about paying taxes, but also feel a bit of pride for pitching in their share of gov expenses, and most likely feel a bit more committed to helping to decide how those hard won dollars would be spent. But, considering #1 above, there are few choices other than those below median income gaining a larger share of the income........... or doing so by Gov Tax policy.

The most ideal at this point would be that of pay for H/C via tax policy and subsidizing those at or near the bottom of the wage scale. The other -- which I suspect is so obvious that it will be done soon, is that of "re-fixing" SS by reaching upward to gain the contributions that WOULD have been contributed by those under $107,000 but for the wage stagnation below, and the income Moynihan and others counted on, escaping to the paychecks of those WELL above the $107,000 cut off.

In regard to the theories of Locke, Hayek and other theoreticians, I, as with more of a mechanical bent, respond to the fact of the machinery breaking down as the lubricant required to make keep the lower end working is doing us no good by there being too much at the top. Immoral and the machine IS breaking down.


I am not an economist - but what you wrote seems right to me , even I wish there were no people living so poor...


It is doubtful that the modern gaggle of ethicists will be able to come up with a unified theory of moral solutions to every dilemma, why don't we go back to the ten commandments as a pretty good set of life's guidelines. As I have said before, the culture in the United States is based on a somewhat mean reality and there will always be folks at the top who will find a way to stay at the top regardless and who really don't care what happens in the lower reaches. Forcing them off their perches might work but it will not change overall class distinctions. In a recent discussion of rights with a distinguished ethicist, he proffered that everyone has a right to health care. I asked if a person alone on a desert (sic) island had that right and if so who was it had the corresponding onligation to provide it. His answer was that of course the cast away had the right. In fact, good luck to that individual. Jack, we could pick someone, say the million dollar surgeon, force him/her to go to the island and provide care in perpetuity. That might be a violation of the surgeon's rights and autonomy. No problem; we will simply take away the surgeon's right to practice. That will really solve the problem

Bryan Moves

Very interesting and valuable information.I am curious to know which are the countries with minimal VAT?


Jim: In "theory" an honest capitalism wouldn't require gaggles of ethicists any more than would a football team that is supposed to compete under well known and respected rules.

" the culture in the United States is based on a somewhat mean reality and there will always be folks at the top who will find a way to stay at the top regardless and who really don't care what happens in the lower reaches. "

............. symptomatic of a greatly flawed democracy. There is NO reason in "rule by THE people" for the few to garner most of the wealth, privilege AND clearly unaffordable, unrealistic tax discounts to boot.

Hmmm....... "right to H/C" Well indeed such does not seem a basic tenet of our C. But wise? for a society? Medicine was in its infancy when slavery was in fashion. But with an "owner" having about the price of a new SUV tied up in "his" slave, it would have seemed wise and in his self-interest to feed and house "his property" and provide a bit of the rudimentary H/C available at the time, and especially so if as seemed somewhat common she was carrying his progeny.

Today? As a practical matter the horse is well out of the barn. Note that those working for large corpies, ALL levels of government, the military, those on welfare, those retired or otherwise eligible for Medicare all have some sort of "coverage".

So why is it in our best interest to leave out those working for the smaller of small business which all admit ARE our greatest job generators? And clearly, some number of middle aged guys, perhaps with "pre-existing" (existing?) conditions are discouraged from jumping ship and starting off on their own due to the immense friction of not being able to find affordable "coverage" in the individual "market".

Consider; more than half or more of the paperwork that causes US H/C to have 11 clerks to Canada's ONE is due to sorting those "covered" and of course the often frustrating for all concerned WHAT is "covered".

And........... yet another of my friends in small biz, was recently cancelled after having had the misfortune of costing the (parasites) a fair sized bill.

BTW using "Johnny Castaway" in your "rights argument" seems, at least awkward. Those of us who travel in remote regions or ply the distant oceans well know that whatEVER access to medical care we have is left behind, for the most part, when we step off the highway system.

Truth is though, here in Alaska our fishermen and remote working folk can be "choppered" to an airport where Jet-Alaska's flying Learjet ambulance can quickly transport them to a small airport minutes from several hospitals. Costly? Yep, but then "we" are out there providing much of America's oil and seafood.


Kate -- Ha! often you're better off with your human intuition than "being an economist". Our Profs often seem to miss the human element in a forest of principles and ideology.

Cash for Cars Florida

It would be great to get far more sources very next time!

Charlotte Attorney

There are so much more poor people in the US than in Europe. And when the government tries to solve that problem, they call them communists... Europe isn't even socialist, they have kind of a socialist culture compared to the US though, and it's working pretty well..!




Ugh, I hate when people yammer on ignorantly about "European" socialism, or how we're going to "become France" and this is some terrible thing. Two things, people:

1. France, and Europe generally, is a great place to live. You just sound like an idiot complaining about this country turning into France. Sure, France isn't perfect, but it's not a third world shithole like 75% of the world. Notice that there aren't a whole lot of people trying to leave France and come to the United States. That should tell you something.

2. In case you haven't noticed, the parts of the United States that are the most screwed up are also the least European. Detroit and Baltimore, as mentioned above, and Los Angeles are good examples. You're worried about "becoming France", when large parts of your country are turning into Africa and Mexico. If you let this continue, you will be begging to move to France in a few years.


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