I’ve been trying to get this video to embed on my post, but it just isn’t happening. So here’s a link to it instead. Professor Epstein was one of my law school professors, and he is a brilliant man with a different outlook on mnay topics. I thought his discussion of the benefits of income inequality is first-rate, and even though this clip is a little long (8+ minutes), it’s worth listening to in order to hear a different view of wealth distribution. I particularly like his observation about equality of opportunity as opposed to equality of outcome.
It’s also fun to watch because he absolutely runs circles around the interviewer. I’m not sure the interviewer yet knows what hit him!
At a million-dollar San Francisco fundraiser today, President Obama warned his recession-battered supporters that if he loses the 2012 election it could herald a new, painful era of self-reliance in America.
“The one thing that we absolutely know for sure is that if we don’t work even harder than we did in 2008, then we’re going to have a government that tells the American people, ‘you are on your own,’” Obama told a crowd of 200 donors over lunch at the W Hotel.
“If you get sick, you’re on your own. If you can’t afford college, you’re on your own. If you don’t like that some corporation is polluting your air or the air that your child breathes, then you’re on your own,” he said. “That’s not the America I believe in. It’s not the America you believe in.”
Hmmm. The America I believe in is the one founded by people trying to get away from government control and tyranny. The America I believe in is one that broke away from England and declared independence because of a distant, unresponsive government that imposed onerous taxes and regulations. The America I believe in is one that provides us all with the opportunity to succeed or fail based upon our merits. The America I believe in is one that believes that the government that governs best, governs least. (Thank you Thomas Paine and Henry David Thoreau.) The America I believe in is one where self-reliance isn’t a concern, or a problem, or a threat, or a bad thing. The America I believe in is one filled with strong, self-reliant citizens.
One of us is out-of-touch. I hope it’s not me.
From Reason Magazine:
Barack Obama has joined George W. Bush in a dubious category. They are the only two presidents besides Herbert Hoover to see the number of job-holding Americans decline on their watch.
The parallels with Hoover don’t end there. It’s commonly believed Hoover took a hands-off approach to the country’s economic distress, and that his administration’s tight-fisted refusal to spend prolonged the misery. But Hoover was about as stingy with a government dollar as “Jersey Shore” is with hairspray.
Hoover increased federal spending by more than 50 percent, signed the biggest peacetime tax increase to that point, lavished money on public works, and signed the disastrous Smoot-Hawley protectionist tariff. FDR slammed Hoover’s “reckless and extravagant” spending and accused him of wanting to “center control of everything in Washington as rapidly as possible.” Roosevelt’s running mate, John Nance Garner, denounced Hoover for “leading the country down the path of socialism.”
Hoover’s massive government interventionism did not end the Great Depression. George W. Bush’s rapid spending increases did not forestall the current malaise. And the massive government outlays of the past three years—federal spending has increased 30 percent; despite layoffs, state and local spending has grown, not shrunk—have not cured the country’s economic ills, either. Yet the answer, say countless voices in the prestige press, is to stop Washington’s ruinous “austerity” and start spending.
Outside Madurai, we visited an organization called the Tata-Dhan Academy, which is affiliated with DHAN Foundation, the Development of Humane Action Foundation. They took us to visit a Self-Help Group they support, and we talked with some amazing women.
This is the first of a series of pictures of women and children at the DHAN Self Help Group outside Madurai.
A few posts ago I said that I was glad our system was still one where the top levels of income and success were still: “open to anyone who has the will and drive and luck to succeed.” In America, wealth, income, and status are not fixed but are mobile and fluid. Some of the rich become poor, and people can still go from nothing to the heights. At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. And I really like it when I’m right. Basically, for those who don’t want to figure out statistical and economic mumbo-jumbo, this study says that if you divide people into 5 groups based on income, about 60% change which group they are in, and that this hasn’t changed in many years. So it’s not that the rich stay rich, the middle class stays middle class, and the poor stay poor. Instead, in America, the “class” you’re in economically and financially changes. It’s not where you start, it’s what you do with your life that matters.
Here’s a summary of a report on economic mobility from the Pew Center’s “Economic Mobility Project.”
We examine trends in U.S. intragenerational income mobility over the past two decades. Specifically, we focus on how the economic positions of 25- to 44-year-olds change over a decade relative to one another, as well as in absolute terms (whether they are doing better or worse at the end of the decade than they were at the start). In addition, we compare intragenerational mobility rates over two periods, 1984 to 1994 and 1994 to 2004.
We find that mobility rates have not changed very much between these two time periods. This finding is somewhat surprising given the changes in the economy in the 1980s and 1990s, such as the ongoing shift from manufacturing to service-sector jobs, rising immigrant populations, and extended periods of growth.
Emphasis added. This study uses data that predates the current recession but that sort of time lag is typical of such studies, which sift through the Panel Survey of Income Dynamics (PSID), a database of households and individuals who are tracked over time. However bad the current economy has been for the past few years, there is no reason to think that we have entered a brave new world in which the basic trends of the past many decades will stop cold in their tracks. From the summary again:
We find that 60.4 percent of all 25- to 44-year-olds moved up or down income quintiles relative to their peers between 1984 and 1994, and 60.5 percent did so between 1994 and 2004. Absolute mobility rates have also been fairly stable over time. Between 1984 and 1994, 61.1 percent of individuals experienced income changes that moved them across their 1984 income quintile boundaries; between 1994 and 2004, absolute income mobility was 62.6 percent.
You might complain that those rates of relative and absolute mobility are not good enough, but you can’t argue that they are smaller than they used to be.
Isn’t science great?
NASA is involved in a competition involving scientific teams proposals to send robotic spacecraft to the moon to explore and collect data, and they are very interested in having the spacecraft visit prior NASA landing sites. One of the investigations they are interested in involves astronaut poop.
“Six crews landed on lunar surface between 1969 and 1972, leaving behind descent modules, communications antennas, rovers and yes, even bags with feces. The Apollo artifacts are part of a larger collection of relics that also include Soviet-era spacecraft and crashed NASA probes.
“Astrobiologists, for example, are interested in studying how bacteria in the astronauts’ feces have fared after 40 years and if they have undergone gene mutation. Microbes also existed in clothes, food containers and other gear left behind on the moon.
“The crews put their feces bags, urine bags, food containers, their clothes, in a bag and would jettison that out of the hatch prior to liftoff as they tried to shed as much weight for ascent performance,” [Rob] Kelso, [director of NASA’s lunar commercial services program at the Johnson Space Center in Houston] said.”
Science marches on!