Sunday, August 5, 2012

Must read: We really are all egalitarians

In another fascinating piece in The Atlantic, researchers report on a large, broad group study designed to uncover how Americans really feel about income distribution, with surprising results:

Americans Want to Live in a Much More Equal Country (They Just Don't Realize It)


David Lundy said...

The crux is found in the last sentence: "Awareness of the disparity between what we have and what we want implies that, ultimately, we as a society need to face the problem and find a solution." First, I would say that as a society we need to agree that it IS a problem. Mere awareness of the disparity doesn't necessarily make it a problem. Secondly, if it is a problem, it should be agreed that solution-finding "society" is comprised of people, not government.

Steven Ayres said...

Following this logic, you might also say that mere awareness of lung cancer doesn't make it a problem.

Do you really not see the vast societal problems we suffer daily because of the accumulation of wealth to a tiny minority?

In a self-governing society, government is the method by which the people address problems as a group, so the distinction you make, while common, is nonsensical. The dysfunction we see in government reflects dysfunction in the society at large, aggravated consciously by powerful interests working to reduce the political power of the people at large, motivated entirely by the pathological need to accumulate yet more wealth and resources.

This is a disease.

David Lundy said...

1. I am aware of my children. It does not make them a problem.
2. You clearly, by your question, perceive accumulated wealth to a few to be a problem.
3. Your next paragraph explains you believe the government, not the citizens, should be the agent of change.
4. Do you believe the government should limit the amount of wealth one may have?
5. Would the problem you perceive to be caused concentrated wealth, be “solved” by removing wealth from the wealthy? If so, the have nots would still have not.
6. Would the government give the confiscated wealth to the have nots?
7. Is there a limited amount of wealth? If few have more, will the have nots be deprived of the opportunity to have? If the wealthy are deprived of their wealth, will the have nots be afforded more opportunity to then have? (Presumably they would be forbidden to become wealthy.)
8. Should all wealth be taken by the government? If not, who gets to decide who may be wealthy?
9. Will we all be better off if everybody is equal? Who will hire us? Who will pay us? Ah, the omniscient and beneficent government.
10. Really?

Steven Ayres said...

I don't think you've absorbed the implications of the findings here.

The disparity illuminated by the study is the difference between what people everywhere agree is a healthy range of wealth accumulation and the true state of our society, which most people estimate wrongly. The identification of the disparity therefore identifies a problem, in that we as a society are not getting what we (all of us, all kinds) want.

You continue to base your ideas on a separation between government and the citizens. I don't accept that separation. Government is a tool of society, not a separate society, and it is the only tool available to address the problem if it is to be addressed.

I think your image of the solution as wholesale confiscation of wealth is far too limited and fear-based, and your image of wealth as an infinite resource is a bit starry-eyed.

The accumulation of wealth removes it from the economic circulatory system, impoverishing the entire society to an extent. Inputs to the system like free natural resources and free labor are no longer available to anything like the degree that made this country so rich. So I think it's reasonable to see a societal interest in a more open circulation.

If we compare our current taxation regime with that of the 1950s and '60s, it's obvious that the marginal tax burden has greatly shifted to the middle class as wealth accumulation to the small minority has risen hyperbolically. Returning to something like the old ways, under which our economy clearly did well, would begin to recirculate idle money back into jobs, infrastructure, research, energy, health care, education and other needs to boost the wealth of our society across the board. This is not a simplistic rich-to-poor transfer.

The widely shared goal discovered in this study is not everyone being equally wealthy, but rather a lot less unequally wealthy. Would we be better off? As we see in real life, less unequal societies are indeed better off in terms of real quality of life. Really.

Anonymous said...

This study was calculated to reach the result that it did. You ask someone what kind of society he would like if he were randomly placed in some tier, yes they would prefer a more equal distribution. The more important question to ask is whether they want to live in a society in which their income is determined by their effort or is "equal" to everyone else, regardless of effort as enforced by the government. Meaningless tripe.

David Lundy said...

I have spent all the time on this I can afford, however I would say that you may be the starry-eyed one if you make the statement that government is not a separate society. I'm sure the members of Congress feel that way too, but their actions and non-actions tell a different story.

Steven Ayres said...

Simplistic and false dichotomy like this illustrates a failure to even begin to think about the issue.

Steven Ayres said...

Cynicism has never solved a problem.

Zig E. said...

6 members of one family ( Waltons ) hold more wealth than 124,636,800 Americans. And you don't see a problem ? When things are that out of balance it becomes the governments duty to try to level the field. A little reading of history might clue you in as to what the end result will be if the course is not corrected. Like a pendulum it won't stop at midway.

Zig E. said...

So Steven - two quick comments, though they aren't necessarily on topic: First, maybe it's me but it seems that the Courier has gotten much better with their censoring policy as of late. Haven't had any issues recently and I notice them letting comments or phrases go that before I think they would have censored. A very positive move in my opinion.

Second - I've been thinking about the hyper partisanship that is evident, not only in this paper, but nationally as well. Now I'm not trying to be " wacky " here but I'm beginning to see how this country could easily slip into another civil war. Bare with me for a moment. It doesn't seem implausible that when Obama gets re-elected that some state, or Governor, would defy a federal mandate or law and thereby force the fed's hand. Considering the recent acts of violence in the news it doesn't seem like a stretch to see certain " people " grabbing their guns and acting out. Next thing you know you've got the National Guard closing state borders. Then things start really unraveling and martial law is put in place. States rights issues come into play again as sides are picked. I think you see where I'm heading. Not good.

So this is just something that has been in the back of my mind for a while, but I'd be interested in your take. But it doesn't seem to far fetched to me.

Steven Ayres said...

Another civil war? Let's see, symptoms:

Large groups of citizens believe fervently that:

1. The government is run by illegitimate representatives or a hidden cabal working against the national interest.

2. The government is actively oppressing them and reducing their liberties: religion, guns, speech, access to courts, etc.

3. They have an inherent right to rule the country because of their family heritage, and others don't.

4. They have Gad on their side, making their opponents evil and deserving of destruction.

5. Constitutional concepts that were used in the past to justify armed rebellion, like state's rights, nullification, federal oppression and white/religious hegemony, are legitimate issues.

6. Publicly characterizing a political adversary as a traitor or his ideas as treasonous is a legitimate and normal form of discourse.

So yeah, I think the ground is well prepared. Next:

7. People take up arms individually in acts of political terrorism or sabotage on a large scale.

This is of course happening ever more often. Mass shootings are becoming, if not yet commonplace, regular news-cycle attractions. With each new Democratic administration, right-wing "militias" and more straightforward hate groups increase in numbers, arms in their control, and inflammatory rhetoric.

I think it's legitimate to ask whether we aren't experiencing the beginnings of a civil war already.