March 23, 2010

Relative Income Inequality

carter.JPG
did i make things worse?

Part 1
Part 2

Reiterated: Wilkinson finds that one judges equality against people in their own nation; and absolute income is not nearly as important as relative income inequality.

we looked at life expectancy, mental illness, teen birthrates, violence, the percent of populations in prison, and drug use. They were all not just a little bit worse, but much worse, in more unequal countries.

...what matters aren't the incomes themselves but how unequal they are. If you're a more unequal state, the same level of income produces a higher death rate.
It's such a simple argument that it is easy to think he's saying something else.  He's not talking about an inability to access basic services or buy food and shelter-- not "haves" and "have nots" but the "psychosocial" (his word) effects of inequality.

There are problems that we think of as problems of poverty because they're in the poorest areas of society, but a country like the U.S. can be twice as rich... and the problems are no better even though Americans are able to buy twice as much of everything as the poorer developed societies.
The income inequality matters because we are a social species and relate not to absolutes but to each other in our own nation.

So, is he right?

Of course he's right.  You don't need any of his data to know resentment is always relative to the other, frustration is synonymous with a impeded will, and that both of these exact a biological and psychological toll.  I don't need anyone to tell me that massive executive pay drives people bananas.  And as I've hopefully made obvious by this point, most people's anger about policies, politics, and problems are really about our relation to some other group of people.

But slow down.  The mistake everyone is making is conflating the problem-- income inequality-- with the proposed solution-- income redistribution.

II.

First, while the hard data point to "income inequality" because it's the only measurable statistic for the real issue of income justice,  i.e., getting what you deserve and deserving what you get.  When people talk about the social effects of income inequality in America, they always bring up CEOs but never, not once, ever, bring up Warren Buffet.  Or baseball players.  Or the Kennedys.  Or Sandra Bullock.  As much as Sandra Bullock drives me insane I have never set fire to a trash can or impregnated a teenager because she made what is obviously way too much money for agreeing to be in the worst movies ever scripted by spider monkeys.

However, we have some (obviously warped) sense that these people deserved their incomes.  So what we're really wanting isn't income redistribution but a sense of distributive justice.

Well, good luck on that one: who is going to be trusted to redistribute?  "The government" isn't a spirit, it's a bunch of people that seem to be selected for infidelity.  And people  Americans are rightly suspicious of the criminal justice system; why would the distributive justice system be perceived to be any more fair?  It doesn't matter a lick whether it is actually fair or not because it will be filtered through a lifetime of prejudices and cognitive biases.  As one rambling fool put it, it's the Stroop test applied to public policy.

I've not seen anyone bring up a point that will be obvious the moment I say it: rich people can get angry, too.  If people get angry because they don't have what they think they deserve, imagine the anger that will manifest when people have things taken away from them.  Don't yell at me: it matters not at all whether "the rich" are entitled to their anger or justified in their purchase of a Cessna, only that it is a fact that they will be angry. 

You can't pretend social unrest only comes from the bottom up; when a group of feel unfairly  branded as "the problem" by the likes of people whom they believe have never actually produced anything (i.e. congressmen), and what they feel they've earned taken from them, well, they won't be breaking store windows and flipping cars over, but your society will be transformed all the same.

Again, I am not justifying their anger, I am warning against what you think is so obvious a solution.  I am describing reality: rich people can buy guns, too.  And Congressmen. This is a fight that you cannot win, not here and not for at least two more generations.

If you attempt income redistribution, not only will you fail, the country will bury you for 25  years.  It happened to Jimmy Carter.  It will happen again.


III.

The second reason income redistribution will fail is that you change its value by redistributing it. 

If you run Wilkinson's book through Babel Fish, you see that when he writes "income inequality" he actually means "relative inability to participate in society."  In other words, the disparity isn't income, it's consumption.
 
Income inequality seems to explain why America has more social ills than, say, Costa Rica but it's because income means something completely different to Americans than it does to Costa Ricans.

To any nominally poor nation-- take your pick, from African subcontinent to nearly integrated industrialized Romania-- income is only a supplement to an existence.  In America, it represents expectations, potential, identity, everything.  Even the least materialistic American makes judgments about other people based on this income, even if the judgments are inverse ones ("the rich are bad" etc) or about himself ("I'm not like other Americans, I don't need an income.")

Income represents the potential for consumption, and this potential is the measure of social equality.

Wilkinson strolls right up to this point, has his face bitten off by it, and walks away oblivious:

Status competition causes problems all the way up; we're all very sensitive to how we're judged. Think about Robert Frank's books Luxury Fever or Falling Behind, or the great French sociologist Bourdieu--they show how much of consumption is about status competition. People spend thousands of pounds on a handbag with the right labels to make statements about themselves. In more unequal countries, people are more likely to get into debt. They save less of their income and spend more.
That's what his data actually shows, but he falls back on income inequality.  Status competition, personal branding, attempts at self identification.  Even nearly perfect redistribution of income will not affect these social ills because people will find something else to set themselves apart from the rest.  High school students manage to create a viciously unequal society that drives some kids to suicide and others to Columbine and others to group sex and it has nothing to do with income at all.  Or are we still blaming genetics for all that?

IV.

When I tell you that narcissism is the biggest epidemic this generation faces, I'm not looking to get on Oprah, I mean it.   Any tentative political solution-- redistribution of income, modification of entitlements (either more or less), focusing on education, whatever-- while these are all noble approaches that likely will have some immediate impact-- long term all of them will fail.  All of them.  The problem is deeper than incomes, it is expectations, and you can't redistribute expectations.

You could hand every American $10M in gold bullion right now, free and clear-- you could take it right out of a CEOs pocket and call it social justice-- and nothing will change except that they will drink more.

I'm not constructing a conservative argument against a liberal policy, I'm not choosing an economic ideology;  I am taking a strictly realist's perspective that income redistribution will fail.  And it will fail also in China and in Brazil and yes, even Scandinavia.  Everywhere, it is inevitable.

There's a very specific reason for this, Wilkinson hits it but refuses to pursue it to its conclusion; instead, he falls back on income inequality:

If you grow up in an unequal society, your actual experience of human relationships is different. Your idea of human nature changes. If you grow up in a consumerist society, you think of human beings as self-interested. In fact, consumerism is so powerful because we're so highly social. It's not that we actually have an overwhelming desire to accumulate property, it's that we're concerned with how we're seen all the time. So actually, we're misunderstanding consumerism. It's not material self-interest, it's that we're so sensitive. We experience ourselves through each other's eyes--and that's the reason for the labels and the clothes and the cars.

(Part 4 soon.)





Comments

I sorta can't help but feel... (Below threshold)

March 23, 2010 3:22 AM | Posted by MH: | Reply

I sorta can't help but feel like a what point to people decide that society should even be changed? "We're going to change the world." Why?

I remember a little quote from Hillary Clinton when she proudly exclaimed "We're going to take [oil companie's] profits, and invest it..."

What is this "take?" You don't get to "take." What does it take for a person to come to the point in their lives when they feel they should be "taking?" Or giving, for that matter.

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- My needs aren't... (Below threshold)

March 23, 2010 7:17 AM | Posted by Larry Koubiak: | Reply


- My needs aren't being met!!
- Drop some of your needs.

George Carlin - Back in Town

Income redistribution is indeed a doomed attempt at social justice, as it coerces the rich into giving away their "hard-earned" cash, which doesn't seem to be that appealing of an idea to them.
This is why communism failed, this is why socialism in Europe is failing, and dare i say this is why Obama's supposed social policies will fail too.

The conservatives, republicans or even right-wing liberals don't offer anything better, forcing harsher work conditions and lower pays in the name of competitivity and more recently, global economic recession. You might be laughing at France or Greece from the other side of the pond, blaming riots on lack of values and liberal/socialist government. But those riots will soon be heading your way too, when the only thing the workers will be left with are their anger and hunger.

So matter if you look on the left or the right wing of politics, they all offer the same shit with a different smell to it. They both are determined to coerce everyone into fitting to their ideology, by propaganda or by force. That will always leave people disgruntled, mad, envious about one another. Right now most countries have their mob in control, using the stick of unemployment over the working class head and the iPod carrot to keep it in place.

So i guess we are fucked indeed, at least as long as we're ready to take shit in exchange of a burger/HDTV/iPod/trip to Hawaii. Unless we start reflecting on how we can work together to lower
those goddamn expectations and just agree on what a decent life can consist of. Yeah, laugh your ass off, call me commie, hippie, delusional, naive, fucking stupid,...
But i'm just not ready to hand out my free will and life to those corporation cocksuckers in exchange of another TV, i'm more than all set by now and have 40 years left to work.

So i'll be at home with the whiskey trying to make sense of all that shit. Feel free to join.

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And feel free to disregard ... (Below threshold)

March 23, 2010 7:33 AM | Posted by Larry Koubiak: | Reply

And feel free to disregard that long-winded comment, this is what you get for writing from the office after 3 hours of shallow sleep : self-righteous bullshit that i've been ironically condemning above. I'm not even sure it made a lot of sense, if any.
Thank god i can't fly planes.

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The historian Will Durant s... (Below threshold)

March 23, 2010 7:36 AM | Posted by rbh: | Reply

The historian Will Durant said that when the gap between rich and poor gets too big a society much choose one of two courses: redistribute the wealth through legislation or redistribute the poverty through revolution. This seems to me to be true for every society west of Greece since ancient times. The USA already redistributed the wealth once during the Great Depression. If we're smart, we'll do it again soon. Backlash from rich anger doesn't surprise me, or scare me. They have too much to lose to get violent. Maybe they will all leave the country, which would relieve the inequality you're talking about. Win-win!

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Alone, you missed the obvio... (Below threshold)

March 23, 2010 8:08 AM | Posted by nwt: | Reply

Alone, you missed the obvious reference to Dave Chappelle's "Black Reparations" sketch.

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The old saying, "we never k... (Below threshold)

March 23, 2010 9:02 AM | Posted by medsvstherapy: | Reply

The old saying, "we never knew we were poor," is very relevant for figuring out what possibly could be causing these problems.

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it seems to me that until a... (Below threshold)

March 23, 2010 9:31 AM | Posted by Perry: | Reply

it seems to me that until ability can be distributed equally, equal expectations are doomed, just like you said. But even if equality of distribution is fatally flawed, and you are persuasive, the interim time can be really difficult endurance-wise.

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There is at least one good ... (Below threshold)

March 23, 2010 11:31 AM | Posted, in reply to Larry Koubiak's comment, by Sfon: | Reply

There is at least one good point you sort of made, I think, I'll try to salvage it here: Our social problems won't go away until we all become mature, have realistic expectations, value what we can have, et cetera. Left or right, no-one has a magic wand to make that happen.

I firmly believe that anyone who claims to have such a wand is lying. Maybe that means it can never happen, but if so that is just reality.

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What if we tried teaching c... (Below threshold)

March 23, 2010 12:15 PM | Posted by Shannon: | Reply

What if we tried teaching children from a very early age that value is derived from a person's ability to satisfy their own needs with as little outside help as possible (chop your own wood, build or at least maintain your house, grow/catch/cook your own food, teach yourself amusing skills in your free time), and that the more a person relies on external signifiers to prevent them from devaluing themselves, the more they are a sissy-lipped good-for-nothing man-baby? You know, reverse the trend that evidence of uselessness (long nails, soft hands, impractical clothing, expensive watches that measure barometric pressure etc.) are emblems of status.

The sense of superiority that "strong/independent/self-reliant" people can indulge in "guilt-free" must be at least as persuasive as the euphoria of opening the packaging of a new iPod.

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The problem with that, Shan... (Below threshold)

March 23, 2010 1:04 PM | Posted, in reply to Shannon's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

The problem with that, Shannon, is that uselessness has been a measure of status for a long time. Probably from the earliest days of civilization. Look at a statue of a Pharoah -- I don't think you could plow a field or fish in that outfit, it's heavy and full of gold and jewels. Hell, Roman emperors were so "useless" that they had a slave put on their togas for them. Any medieval king is much the same rediculously combersome fashions, expensive and useless collections, and so on.

If there is a constant to human behavior it's that uselessness and wastefulness are status symbols. If you won't touch a piece of meat unless the cow is killed in front of you, and you have long manicured fingernails, you'll be seen as higher status than a person who reheats leftovers bought on sale, and has dirt under his nails.

The only time I've seen simplicity really taken seriously is in religious communes -- hare khrishnas, buddhist, sufis, etc. But then again people will seek status -- by being percieved as the most holy person around.

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"Much of the actual inequal... (Below threshold)

March 23, 2010 4:41 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

"Much of the actual inequality derives from imperfections of the market. There is every reason to adjust the rules of the game so as to eliminate these sources of inequality."

-Milton Friedman

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Income redistribution - you... (Below threshold)

March 23, 2010 6:00 PM | Posted by berit: | Reply

Income redistribution - you are having it on a grand scale:

By moving manufacturing out of US, American corporations and stockholders are reaping huge profits by employing low-paid Chinese workers, to the detriment of American workers and society.

By going to war, levelling parts of Iraq to rubble, engaging Cheneys Halliburton and the whole military-industrial complex in the tasks of destroying and rebuilding, huge profits are made by corporate America, to the detriment of Iraqis and American individuals, families, public services at home and civil society, and then the other war, in Afghanistan....

By bailing out big banks and Wall Street, also paid for by you, the people.

So it seems that USA can have income redistribution on the grandest scale, benefiting robber barons, but can't have redistribution to benefit ordinary people and civil society, by taxation of the rich and super-rich, levelling the unequal playing field somewhat. ?

Waiting for Alone's final installment, I'd like to quote Wilkinson directly, page 151 in The Impact of Inequality:

Where income differences are greater, then more people at the bottom are deprived of the money, jobs, housing, cars, and all the things that serve as markers of status and command respect. Without them you are more likely to experience people looking down on you, more likely to become highly sensitive to being regarded as inferior, and increasingly locked into a battle to defend your pride and dignity...
..The struggle for respect is a struggle for human recognition, for social existence itself, and violence is the mother tongue of dominance.

I look forward to seeing Alone's esses, always provocatively interesting.

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The distribution of inequal... (Below threshold)

March 23, 2010 6:47 PM | Posted by David: | Reply

The distribution of inequality just needs to be more even-else the common people will become unpleasant. In 2007, in terms of total net worth, the top 1% held 34.6%, the next 19% held 50.5% and the bottom 80% held the remaining 15%. Also, in 2007, in terms of financial wealth, the top 1% held 42.7%, the next 19% held 50.3%, leaving the bottom 80% splitting up the remaining 7%. Ouch to 247,000,000 americans. Do I need to add the single most predominant mechanism of wealth is inheritance? I guess not.

How does that gap between the haves and have-nots (relatively speaking), play out historically? By the early 2000s, the average income of the top 20 percent of families in 32 states was at least 6.4 times higher than that of low-income families. That's a big change since the early 1980s, when no state had a "top to bottom" ratio exceeding 6.4.

Well that's all just the dregs of society, eh? What about our vaunted middle class? Since the early 1980s, the gap between high-income and middle-income households also rose. The report noted that the top 20 percent of households had incomes more than 2.3 times greater than that of middle-income households in 36 states by the early 2000s. Again, that's a huge difference compared with the early '80s, when that was the case in only one state.

So the inequality just needs to be spread out a bit-that's all. Otherwise, people are liable to get unreasonable. And good luck chopping wood, hunting deer and building houses in Chicago ... your fingers are probably too darn soft, you "sissy-lipped good-for-nothing man-babies." (gotta admit, that gem made my day)

Figures extracted from the marxist media known as CNN Money.

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Fancy thinking the Beast wa... (Below threshold)

March 23, 2010 7:09 PM | Posted by Beelzebub: | Reply

Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill! You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why things are what they are?

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If the problem is with perc... (Below threshold)

March 23, 2010 10:12 PM | Posted by Tommy: | Reply

If the problem is with perception, then why not just change the perception? We could redistribute the wealth, but most of the rich people I see are on TV. So why not just convince the decision makers in Hollywood that they should show more "average" people and few if any rich people on their programs. This way the only ones that would have to do anything are the ones trying to avoid losing their wealth due to social unrest.

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For some reason, shows that... (Below threshold)

March 24, 2010 3:25 AM | Posted, in reply to Tommy's comment, by MH: | Reply

For some reason, shows that feature rich idiots (the Kardashians), or poor idiots (Survivor) are what get ratings. After all, if I wanted to see average people, why would I need a TV?

Not that I know...just a thought.

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Milton Freedman?The ... (Below threshold)

March 24, 2010 4:52 AM | Posted by berit: | Reply

Milton Freedman?
The markets are imperfect and unjust, designed to give the strong, fast cynics the upper hand. That lesson has been taught once again by another financial debacle brought to ordinary people in US, much of Europe and other places in the world, thank you, by unregulated greed, unregulated banks, so-called free markets, hailed by 'expert' economists like Milton Freedman...Wilkinson by far a better guide.

The only forces strong enough to balance the marauding robbers, are the informed people, free, not-stolen, fair elections, securing civil rights minded governments, the people/voters holding politicians to account.

Congratulations on the health care bill being passed, at step towards less brutality, a more civilized USA, hopefully.

Utopia is as discredited as free markets. But in between there are lots of sensible possibilities, always imperfect, some better than others. Scandinavia is far from perfect, still peaceful, mostly good, we'll have to take care, could get lost here too...by way of ignorance and fear.

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Why distribute the wealth a... (Below threshold)

March 24, 2010 10:13 AM | Posted by medsvstherapy: | Reply

Why distribute the wealth at all? That implies that there is something inherently wrong with wealth, or who manages it. "David" pulls out a bunch of old sawhorses about relative inequality, the tiny percent holding all the welath, etc. OK: true. So what? Truly ask yourself: so what? Take whatever the PROBLEM is, and go address it. If the problem with a few holding great wealth is that they get unfair favor from govt, then make govt more open and fair. If the problem is that they hide their wealth from taxes so they do not contribute to the common good yet gain from it - things such as roads, fire departments, etc., then address the tax system to capture that fair portion. WE citizems have just voted yet again a set of legislators who support the status quo regarding our fed tax system, WE just piled on MORE complications to the fed tax system, AND we just chose to have 17,000 more agents out there hunting down US. Do you think they will go after the big fish? No: the money the big fish have is already overseas.

Is the PROBLEM with relative income gap that the great portion of us do not have access to capital? for borrowing money so we can get that college degree, buy that house, start that business, expand that business? This is nonsense. A rich guy takes his money and either parks it somewhere or spends it. When he parks it, it is called "capital," and whomever he parks it with is EAGER to loan it out and make money off of it. Who borrows this parked money? Me and you. If the rich guy spends the money, where does he spend it? where we work. Duh.

All of this "kill the rich" mentality is simply Marx trying to push anyone and everyone toward "revolution."

There are societal inequities that CAN result from a wealth gap. but these can be addressed directly, rather than deciding to TAKE that wealth and give it to the fed govt to play with.

WE JUST SAW Obama toying with various ideas for what to do as bank bailout money gets repaid. In other words, he himself was palying with our money, with no regard for a proper way to manage it - balance the books. Instead, he was toying with various interests and hobbies like Jay Leno plays with his car collection.

BTW: I have no problem with Jay Leno owning a stable full of exotic cars.

So: please answer, "David," or someone: what is it about the "inequality" gap, other than the fact that your college professors told you it is bad, that makes it bad in and of itself? And why is it not better to go address THAT problem, rather than deciding to "kill the rich?"

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Why not go and find answers... (Below threshold)

March 24, 2010 11:20 AM | Posted, in reply to medsvstherapy's comment, by berit: | Reply

Why not go and find answers yourself? Could be a fascinating journey -just learning. There are great history books in the libraries and in bookstores. I heartily recommend your American/European historian Tony Judt. Great background to make up ones own mind on Richard G. Wilkinsons research and theories - at least untill TLP gives his?
Good luck, sister!

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Great post. It is impossibl... (Below threshold)

March 24, 2010 11:22 AM | Posted by Eddie Sylvano: | Reply

Great post. It is impossible to make everyone equal on a fundamental level. You can make them equal on paper, but the motivation to distinguish oneself will invariably lead to some new incarnation of status. You can't make everyone attractive or intelligent or free of disease or famous or funny. You can't please the people who don't agree with the "improved" system. You're only cutting the grass when you redistribute wealth. It will grow back uneven.

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@medsvstherapy: I was wonde... (Below threshold)

March 24, 2010 1:04 PM | Posted by David: | Reply

@medsvstherapy: I was wondering when you would respond. Notice I didn't suggest anything other than spread the inequality a tad bit more evenly or the "common people" are apt to get cranky and take it out on those they perceive to be causing that inequality to be maintained or increased year after year. That's all. Other than self-preservation by the economic elite, there's no reason to address economic inequality.

Check out some history books to see how this dynamic works. Unless you need a professor to tell you what to think, you'll be able to grok the big picture. Finally, would it be possible for people like you to address the issues of income inequality without using the word Marx? It's so Pavlovian .... Good luck!

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No it's not about resentmen... (Below threshold)

March 24, 2010 3:32 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

No it's not about resentment. People in the US are far more isolated from one another than people generally are in the third world. This causes all kinds of problems. You're completely off on this one.

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Yes, JimmahYou mad... (Below threshold)

March 24, 2010 3:35 PM | Posted by Jack Coupal: | Reply

Yes, Jimmah

You made a lot of things worse.

And, all those things include ones made after the horrible 1970s.

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First came the automobile a... (Below threshold)

March 24, 2010 3:39 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

First came the automobile and then TV and finally the internet. The isolation trifecta. See Bowling Alone for highly detailed statistics about the isolation trend in the US in the last 40 years especially.

"we looked at life expectancy, mental illness, teen birthrates, violence, the percent of populations in prison, and drug use. They were all not just a little bit worse, but much worse, in more unequal countries.

...what matters aren't the incomes themselves but how unequal they are. If you're a more unequal state, the same level of income produces a higher death rate."
Equal countries furthermore have better health care systems thus a higher life expectancy. Mental illness is largely the result of isolation. Worst in big cities where you're surrounded by people and utterly Alone, hence high rates of schizophrenia and awful recovery rates compared to the third world.
Violence/prison is the result of the isolation again. The introduction of TV coincided with a huge increase in violence which has been proven was not the result of violent TV so much as just TV period.
Drug use has been repeatedly shown to be highest in areas where people are just unhappy. They've gone so far as to reproduce this even with rats. This also is higher in the industrialized/isolated world.

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Coming from an economic bac... (Below threshold)

March 24, 2010 6:11 PM | Posted by Cindy: | Reply

Coming from an economic background, I say okay, I can understand our emotional need to define self by marginal superiority leading to a strong consumption driven market. I can also buy the subsequent social inequality. I don't think this sufficiently addresses the highly polarized social disparity. There has to be more.

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In response to Eddie:... (Below threshold)

March 24, 2010 7:09 PM | Posted by Phi: | Reply

In response to Eddie:

As I see it, it is not even the inequality itself that is the problem. Rather, it is the pervasive belief that the way to elevate your own sense of well-being (and your social status) is by degrading others. It is not enough to possess huge amounts of all of the "good" qualities (regardless of what these qualities may be). Rather, to feel that one has high value and high status, one is drawn to dwell upon how many people are beneath one's status and how few are above. We care not for how "good" we are, only for how much "better" we are than others. To use a sports comparison, we as a society believe that the only way for a winning team to exist is if there is a losing team for them to defeat.

In short, what I think that we REALLY need is to reduce the stigma of being non-elite--to stop ourselves from scoffing at the racer in second place as "the first loser". We must stop believing that to be less than everything is to be nothing at all; that to be other than a king is to be a serf.

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Who do you want to be? What... (Below threshold)

March 24, 2010 9:43 PM | Posted by Andrew: | Reply

Who do you want to be? What do we want a nation to be? Social norms? People, what are you're ideals? Think about it. Why are you doing what you're doing right now?

Where's Plato when you need him. The answers to those questions don't matter. Just ask them. People are the problem. Can we create a new reality? You betcha.

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A film just out, about a ch... (Below threshold)

March 25, 2010 9:31 AM | Posted by Harman: | Reply

A film just out, about a chronic narcissist:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1234654/

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How comfortable a place the... (Below threshold)

March 25, 2010 12:36 PM | Posted by The Rambling Fool: | Reply

How comfortable a place the rich have carved for themselves, when they have effectively widened the income gap even farther, and when subsequent movements try and fix the disproportionate gap, they are able to denounce them as "income redistribution", somehow deluding and gaining the support of those middle class who were hurt the most.

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Rambling Fool - It is prett... (Below threshold)

March 25, 2010 1:41 PM | Posted, in reply to The Rambling Fool's comment, by brainchild: | Reply

Rambling Fool - It is pretty incredible but they also have the support of quite a lot of poor white people. I suspect it's mainly because so many Americans are quite deluded in thinking they're going to be either incredibly rich or famous one day (and some strange delusion that very wealthy people worked for their wealth when most often it's inherited or due to the kind of market con we just saw on Wall St). Oh, wait, are we back to narcissism?

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If we look at it all as an ... (Below threshold)

March 25, 2010 2:39 PM | Posted by Antibubba: | Reply

If we look at it all as an "epidemic of narcissism", which is a recurring theme at this site, then the question arises, "How do we treat this epidemic?" Is there a treatment for mass narcissism?

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Prescription:Gover... (Below threshold)

March 25, 2010 7:44 PM | Posted, in reply to Antibubba's comment, by berit: | Reply

Prescription:

Government of the people, by the people, for the greater common good of all the people.

We are responsible for each other and the quality (lack of quality) of our societies, as taught in ancient texts and recent human rights treaties.

Is not bought in pharmacies. Has to be worked for and won by every generation. No quick fix can uphold democracy, freedom, egality, humane society, only people organizing and working together to achieve greater common good.

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First of all, is there some... (Below threshold)

March 25, 2010 9:26 PM | Posted by Andrew: | Reply

First of all, is there some society you know of that doesn't run on greed? Does Russia not run on greed? Does China? Of course, none of us are greedy, it's the other guy...

The great achievements of civilization haven't come from government bureaus. Einstein didn't construct his theories under order of a bureaucrat. Henry Ford didn't revolutionize the automobile industry that way.

The only places where masses of people have escaped grinding poverty are countries where they had capitalism and largely free trade. The societies that part from that have the worst off people. Look around the globe, the record of history is absolutely crystal clear.

Does free enterprise reward virtue? There are great masses of people who think it doesn't. But do you think American presidents reward virtue? Do YOU reward virtue? Is political self-interest is nobler somehow than economic self-interest?

Please show me where these angels are that are going to organize society for us. I think you're taking a lot for granted.

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Seems to me that you mix to... (Below threshold)

March 26, 2010 3:05 AM | Posted, in reply to Andrew's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Seems to me that you mix together efficient manufacture, scientific endeavour and functions of state.

Democracy is not a hinder to creativity in science and manufacture, on the contrary.

Run-away capitalism and overwhelming state/weak democracy is. You get what you have got.

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There are no angels doing t... (Below threshold)

March 26, 2010 3:34 AM | Posted, in reply to Andrew's comment, by berit: | Reply

There are no angels doing the job for us. You'll have to pitch in.

Incredible what men can do - working together. Can even put men on the moon, for reasons other than the common good, pride possibly ?

Can develop and use weapons too, for reasons other than the common good. Fear possibly, greed and dominance too ?

Examples of good governance are to be had, though imperfect, always. That's why people have to do the job, not once and for all, again and again. We don't get it when thinking we can just sit still and expect to get it.

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this post is dead on. incom... (Below threshold)

March 26, 2010 11:56 AM | Posted by Riley: | Reply

this post is dead on. income redistribution is a joke. it is all about expectation. growing up dirt poor and having parents that teach you to work hard and save what you earn is the best education you could get in America.

in any case, I am of the belief that humans are greedy and selfish by nature. that's why I think capitalism (real capitalism...not the pick-and-choose political capitalism from Washington) provides the most people the best opporunity to have a comfortable life. why? because capitalism is the only system that benefits the most people from your own personal greed and self-interest.

i.e. I want to make good money to buy a nice house, etc. so I work hard at my career, advance, and earn more. my employer wants his company to make more than theIr competitors, so they hire the best employees (like me) and pay them well so they don't leave and work for their competion. etc. etc. By working hard for my own self-interest, the company flourishes. as a result, the business grows (because it is pursuing it's own self interest), creates more jobs, etc.

tell me a modern example of a failure in capitalism where the government didn't already have some kind of involvment beforehand. when te government steps in, it stops being capitalism, and the system doesn't work the way it should. individuals keep working for their own self-interests, yes (they always will), but it no longer benefits others (think: bailouts).

Of course bad things happen. But that's just life. It has nothing to do with a failure in capitalism. No one owes you a job, or anything else. and if you think differently, the problem is with your expectations. and like the author said, you can't redistribute expectations.

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Berit, I underst... (Below threshold)

March 26, 2010 2:25 PM | Posted by Antibubba: | Reply

Berit,

I understand the elements of what such a society should be based upon. What I want to know is, what steps do we take to get from our current narcissociety to the other (I can't even come up with a word for that society, which is not a good sign). Is narcissism a psychiatric illness, with a basis in brain chemistry, or is it mimetic, which is best treated with psychology?

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Andrew, well put. You're a ... (Below threshold)

March 26, 2010 5:25 PM | Posted, in reply to Andrew's comment, by Milton Friedman: | Reply

Andrew, well put. You're a seemingly intelligent boy.

However, in the future, I would appreciate you giving credit where credit is due when quoting me verbatim from my 1979 appearance on the Phil Donahue Show.

I will say, I do get a rather big kick out of seeing myself on YouTube... Thanks for pointing everyone in that direction.

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@beritThere is no ... (Below threshold)

March 26, 2010 5:35 PM | Posted, in reply to berit's comment, by Andrew: | Reply

@berit

There is no societal system that can hold a candle to the productive activities unleashed by free enterprise. It's what got us to the moon, and yes it's what makes our weapons (both rise out of self-interest). Yet those are two blips that barely register on the dazzling spectrum of human endeavor.

From reading your previous posts, I know you look fondly on the government's intervention into the economy. And I know there's no convincing you otherwise.

But going in the spirit of this blog, don't you think it's narcissistic for someone to assume they know better how to live someone else's life? How better to spend their money? How to behave and which products to buy?

The world turns by individuals pursuing their separate self-interests; why should your self interest be placed above anyone else's? Why should anyone else's be placed above yours?

Government intervention is narcissism, and its effects are far-reaching and destructive. Yes, even more destructive than capitalism.

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Are we in this world to "un... (Below threshold)

March 26, 2010 7:10 PM | Posted, in reply to Andrew's comment, by berit: | Reply

Are we in this world to "unleash" productive activities? hotly competitive to come out atop? Quite a few people think and worry that we are overreaching, going way beyond mother natures limits of sustainability.

I do not look fondly on government intervention into anything other than the collective setting of as fair rules as we have wisdom to - at any point in time, and upholding them, to benefit the common good.

Who would like to go by plane or car without any preset, respected rules of traffic? It would be a mess, as seen in business and finance having worshiped at the shrines of Milton Friedman's market ideology with Ronald Reagan, GWB&Cheney and their ilk, or following totalitarian tyrants Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolino, Pol Pot, Pinochet...all promises and grasping greed for power, the ultimate aphrodisiac, better than gold, better than any viagra. No women there, by the way..

A way out of individualized, narcissistic isolation? There are many. Smash mirrors, find actual other living beings to connect to, plant trees, talk with strangers, read poetry, sing, write, organize..clean up some of the mess.. use our fabulously creative brains to more than unleashing economic calculations and power play. Have fun. Live. Oh, I forgot about psychiatry and psychology. May TLP be the last.

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Are we in this world to "un... (Below threshold)

March 26, 2010 7:12 PM | Posted, in reply to Andrew's comment, by berit: | Reply

Are we in this world to "unleash" productive activities? hotly competitive to come out atop? Quite a few people think and worry that we are overreaching, going way beyond mother natures limits of sustainability.

I do not look fondly on government intervention into anything other than the collective setting of as fair rules as we have wisdom to - at any point in time, and upholding them, to benefit the common good.

Who would like to go by plane or car without any preset, respected rules of traffic? It would be a mess, as seen in business and finance having worshiped at the shrines of Milton Friedman's market ideology with Ronald Reagan, GWB&Cheney and their ilk, or following totalitarian tyrants Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolino, Pol Pot, Pinochet...all promises and grasping greed for power, the ultimate aphrodisiac, better than gold, better than any viagra. No women there, by the way..

A way out of individualized, narcissistic isolation? There are many. Smash mirrors, find actual other living beings to connect to, plant trees, talk with strangers, read poetry, sing, write, organize..clean up some of the mess.. use our fabulously creative brains to more than unleashing economic calculations and power play. Have fun. Live. Oh, I forgot about psychiatry and psychology. May TLP be the last.

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Are we in this world to "un... (Below threshold)

March 26, 2010 7:14 PM | Posted, in reply to Andrew's comment, by berit: | Reply

Are we in this world to "unleash" productive activities? hotly competitive to come out atop? Quite a few people think and worry that we are overreaching, going way beyond mother natures limits of sustainability.

I do not look fondly on government intervention into anything other than the collective setting of as fair rules as we have wisdom to - at any point in time, and upholding them, to benefit the common good.

Who would like to go by plane or car without any preset, respected rules of traffic? It would be a mess, as seen in business and finance having worshiped at the shrines of Milton Friedman's market ideology with Ronald Reagan, GWB&Cheney and their ilk, or following totalitarian tyrants Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolino, Pol Pot, Pinochet...all promises and grasping greed for power, the ultimate aphrodisiac, better than gold, better than any viagra. No women there, by the way..

A way out of individualized, narcissistic isolation? There are many. Smash mirrors, find actual other living beings to connect to, plant trees, talk with strangers, read poetry, sing, write, organize..clean up some of the mess.. use our fabulously creative brains to more than unleashing economic calculations and power play. Have fun. Live. Oh, I forgot about psychiatry and psychology. May TLP be the last.

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Are we in this world to "un... (Below threshold)

March 26, 2010 7:21 PM | Posted, in reply to Andrew's comment, by berit: | Reply

Are we in this world to "unleash" productive activities? hotly competitive to come out atop? Quite a few people think and worry that we are overreaching, going way beyond mother natures limits of sustainability.

I do not look fondly on government intervention into anything other than the collective setting of as fair rules as we have wisdom to - at any point in time, and upholding them, to benefit the common good.

Who would like to go by plane or car without any preset, respected rules of traffic? It would be a mess, as seen in business and finance having worshiped at the shrines of Milton Friedman's market ideology with Ronald Reagan, GWB&Cheney and their ilk, or following totalitarian tyrants Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolino, Pol Pot, Pinochet...all promises and grasping greed for power, the ultimate aphrodisiac, better than gold, better than any viagra. No women there, by the way..

A way out of individualized, narcissistic isolation? There are many. Smash mirrors, find actual other living beings to connect to, plant trees, talk with strangers, read poetry, sing, write, organize..clean up some of the mess.. use our fabulously creative brains to more than unleashing economic calculations and power play. Have fun. Live. Oh, I forgot about psychiatry and psychology. May TLP be the last.

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Are we in this world to "un... (Below threshold)

March 26, 2010 7:26 PM | Posted, in reply to Andrew's comment, by berit: | Reply

Are we in this world to "unleash" productive activities? hotly competitive to come out atop? Quite a few people think and worry that we are overreaching, going way beyond mother natures limits of sustainability.

I do not look fondly on government intervention into anything other than the collective setting of as fair rules as we have wisdom to - at any point in time, and upholding them, to benefit the common good.

Who would like to go by plane or car without any preset, respected rules of traffic? It would be a mess, as seen in business and finance having worshiped at the shrines of Milton Friedman's market ideology with Ronald Reagan, GWB&Cheney and their ilk, or following totalitarian tyrants Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolino, Pol Pot, Pinochet...all promises and grasping greed for power, the ultimate aphrodisiac, better than gold, better than any viagra. No women there, by the way..

A way out of individualized, narcissistic isolation? There must be many. Smash mirrors, find actual other living beings to connect to, plant trees, talk with strangers, read poetry, sing, write, organize..clean up some of the mess.. use our fabulously creative brains to more than unleashing economic calculations and power play. Have fun. Live. Oh, I forgot about psychiatry and psychology. May TLP be the last.

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Are we in this world to "un... (Below threshold)

March 26, 2010 7:29 PM | Posted, in reply to Andrew's comment, by berit: | Reply

Are we in this world to "unleash" productive activities? hotly competitive to come out atop? Quite a few people think and worry that we are overreaching, going way beyond mother natures limits of sustainability.

I do not look fondly on government intervention into anything other than the collective setting of as fair rules as we have wisdom to - at any point in time, and upholding them, to benefit the common good.

Who would like to go by plane or car without any preset, respected rules of traffic? It would be a mess, as seen in business and finance having worshiped at the shrines of Milton Friedman's market ideology with Ronald Reagan, GWB&Cheney and their ilk, or following totalitarian tyrants Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolino, Pol Pot, Pinochet...all promises and grasping greed for power, the ultimate aphrodisiac, better than gold, better than any viagra. No women there, by the way..

A way out of individualized, narcissistic isolation? There must be many. Smash mirrors, find actual other living beings to connect to, plant trees, talk with strangers, read poetry, sing, write, organize..clean up some of the mess.. use our fabulously creative brains to more than unleashing economic calculations and power play. Have fun. Live. Oh, I forgot about psychiatry and psychology. May TLP be the last.

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Are we in this world to "un... (Below threshold)

March 26, 2010 7:35 PM | Posted, in reply to Andrew's comment, by berit: | Reply

Are we in this world to "unleash" productive activities? hotly competitive to come out atop? Quite a few people think and worry that we are overreaching, going way beyond mother natures limits of sustainability.

I do not look fondly on government intervention into anything other than the collective setting of as fair rules as we have wisdom to - at any point in time, and upholding them, to benefit the common good.

Who would like to go by plane or car without any preset, respected rules of traffic? It would be a mess, as seen in business and finance having worshiped at the shrines of Milton Friedman's market ideology with Ronald Reagan, GWB&Cheney and their ilk, or following totalitarian tyrants Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolino, Pol Pot, Pinochet...all promises and grasping greed for power, the ultimate aphrodisiac, better than gold, better than any viagra. No women there, by the way..

A way out of individualized, narcissistic isolation? There must be many. Smash mirrors, find actual other living beings to connect to, plant trees, talk with strangers, read poetry, sing, write, organize..clean up some of the mess.. use our fabulously creative brains to more than unleashing economic calculations and power play. Have fun. Live. Oh, I forgot about psychiatry and psychology. May TLP be the last.

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lol... (Below threshold)

March 27, 2010 12:52 AM | Posted, in reply to berit's comment, by Riley: | Reply

lol

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Saying "government interven... (Below threshold)

March 27, 2010 9:57 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Saying "government intervention is narcissism" is simply ridiculous and reveals a total misunderstanding of what narcissism is (and why it can't be applied to a government). As ridiculous as those tea party libertarians that decry socialism and then demand that the government intervene to create jobs. Clearly there's a total lack of understanding of what words actually mean amongst those who think they're fighting for "freedom" when they're just being manipulated by corporate interests via their narcissism/nationalism.

Nationalism may be narcissistic - and a form of collective narcissism - because it's about adopting a false external image as one's own identity but governments aren't narcissistic, people are. Many (if not most) politicians are narcissists, it's pretty safe to assume all dictators are, and Glen Beck who practices crying before he goes on camera is obviously a narcissist.

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tea party libertarians don'... (Below threshold)

March 27, 2010 8:33 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Riley: | Reply

tea party libertarians don't decry socialism and then demand that the government intervene to create jobs. quite the contrary. libertarians believe that the way to create jobs is for the government to stay out of it.

glenn beck is just as narcissistic as any other tv personality. but you're always welcome to single out only the ones who you disagree with politically, and exclude yourself and others who agree with you.

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Ah yes they do...though I s... (Below threshold)

March 28, 2010 10:41 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Ah yes they do...though I suspect most of them have no clue what Libertarianism or socialism actually are...even Carl Rove thinks the Tea Party types aren't too bright. Nationalism, it makes people so easy to manipulate (like all kinds of narcissism).
http://rawstory.com/rs/2010/0326/poll-antisocialist-tea-party-activists-government-create-jobs/

Sure TV is jam packed with narcissists but Glenn Beck is a special case because of just how shameless his attention seeking is - dude practices crying before going on air for goodness sake. And I haven't excluded any of the other talking heads or politicians - it's not like any of them are really that different or serve different masters (which aren't the people).

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That article gives no detai... (Below threshold)

March 28, 2010 11:35 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Riley: | Reply

That article gives no details about what the poll specifically asked tea party members in regards to whether they wanted "government action" to create jobs. The article simply says of tea party supporters: "[they] want a federal government that fosters job creation." By lowering taxes, perhaps? Wanting the government to lower taxes is not the same as calling on government to somehow "create" jobs by spending more money. I am telling you as a libertarian myself that libertarians in general believe the only way the government can "create" jobs and fix the economy is to reduce spending and lower taxes, i.e. taking a big step back.

Further, every statistic the article gave that was supposed to show tea party hypocrisy when it came to socialist programs, actually showed that tea party supporters were against every socialist program the poll asked about by over 50% (i.e the majority).

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Riley - Heh, 50% is pretty ... (Below threshold)

March 28, 2010 12:50 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Riley - Heh, 50% is pretty shoddy when you're talking extreme wings of any party/belief. The funniest thing is that obviously most tea party libertarians have no clue about what constitutes socialism or libertarianism, they're just following the script their masters write for them and transmit via Fox (which isn't owned by an American, Murdoch could care less about America or American nationalism other than as a means to get his business done). Interesting to watch America self-destruct in paroxysm of narcissistic/nationalistic rage though as it's false self image is challenged by reality...though it's interesting in a "wow, what a spectacular accident" kind of way. Pity because it's not like America couldn't evolve and regain some of that power if it could only grow up and get over itself (and not hate its true self so very, very much).

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Didn't Dr. Seuss break all ... (Below threshold)

March 28, 2010 2:23 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Didn't Dr. Seuss break all this down in The Sneeches?

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"Who would like to go by pl... (Below threshold)

March 28, 2010 2:43 PM | Posted, in reply to berit's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

"Who would like to go by plane or car without any preset, respected rules of traffic?"

No one would...which is why this is a strawman.

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To Riley.I sense t... (Below threshold)

March 28, 2010 6:20 PM | Posted by berit: | Reply

To Riley.

I sense that your "lol" might be derogatory. Unfortunately, my dictonary has no translation. I take no offense, I just find it odd that people should want to communicate so uncommunicatively.

To Andrew

If anyone pretends to know and do intervene heavily in other peoples lives, that surely is Big Business, Big Banks, Big US military/industrial/government smashing up countries and people to the tune of billions of dollars, that could have been put to better uses, benefitting ordinary citizens. Better bridges, clean water, improved education ...have your pick.

It has been registered that one civilian business thriving of late, is that of pharmaceuticals, socalled antidepressants and antipsychotis, socalled, hardly solving much, but keeping the bucks flowing from hardstrapped individuals into corporate coffers.

The business of making and selling guns is also hot, as the despicable phobia of labling and screaming abuse instead of civilized, respectful dialogue.

To TLP
Please excuse technological hiccups above. Could administrator please remove serial postings?

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Hi. The "lol" was in respo... (Below threshold)

March 28, 2010 11:18 PM | Posted, in reply to berit's comment, by Riley: | Reply

Hi. The "lol" was in response to your 7 identical posts.

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Your beef seems to be with ... (Below threshold)

March 28, 2010 11:33 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Riley: | Reply

Your beef seems to be with fox news and the tea party folks. You also seem to make some pretty big leaps, claiming to know what all tea party supporters do and do not know, when I am here speaking to the contrary. Of course, if your opinion is based on the crazy tea party people they show on MSNBC, then yeah I guess I understand your perspective. I could find youtube videos of crazy people of any viewpoint. As to those statistics, many of them were well over 50%. That article could be rewritten using the same data and sound complete different. Further, the view of free enterprise is not an extreme wing of anything.

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My apology. 7 identical pos... (Below threshold)

March 29, 2010 4:38 PM | Posted, in reply to Riley's comment, by berit: | Reply

My apology. 7 identical posts should be stricken off. Please, isn't there some responsible administrator - TLP?

Riley, I still do not understand the meaning of "lol", as what I know of American slang, learnt in the sixties by reading James Baldwin, clearly is amiss now.

This blog's take on Richard Wilkinson is somewhat lacking too.

Among tons of statistical data on all sorts of inequality Wilkinson found that unequal societies are male-dominated, women loosing out compared to men, except as to death rates. Men's lives were shortened by male dominance - male dominance most harmful to the men!

In Scandinavia researchers have found that the most happy and durable marriages are between cooperating, equal partners.

And there are interesting stories from USA, for instance about the small Italian American town Rosetan in Pennsylvania, with low death rates from heart disease, very strong family bonds and community cohesion, where those more affluent than others did not show off, where people had concern for neighbors and no one was ever abandoned, with striking absence of myocardial infarction and sudden death, compared to neighboring towns. Wilkinson attributes what in the 1960-70s was an egalitarian social ethos as the contributing factor, rather than actual equality.

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beritHowever more ... (Below threshold)

March 29, 2010 7:34 PM | Posted, in reply to berit's comment, by Andrew: | Reply

berit

However more pleasant and uncomplicated life might be if all sectors of the economy grew simultaneously at the same lockstep pace, that has never been the reality in any dynamic economy.

Put differently, the fact that some people, regions, or industries are being "left behind" or are not getting their "fair share" of the general prosperity is not necessarily a problem with a political solution, as abundant as such proposed solutions may be (especially during election year).

The guy who was the whiz typewriter manufacturer got "left behind" by Dell, as consumers started demanding computers instead of typewriters. Cars pushed out horse and buggies. Refrigerators pushed out ice trucks. Lamentable, maybe, but necessary for them to relinquish resources and change what themselves are doing.

Big Pharma, Big Business, Big Banks, Big Government (the last one reinforces, not diminishes my point)....why aren't they "left behind"? Because the regulations and rules called for so shrilly by pro-interventionists *******reduces competition in their industry*******. The extra costs simply can't be borne by entrepreneurs and start ups; there isn't a reason to compete for consumers' dollars. They get fat and lazy from the protection. This is Political Capitalism. Take away the special treatment from the government and you'd see a lot of large, inefficient corporations fall.

What happens when competition is stunted in an industry? Well, you have a pretty good idea - the consumer gets bent over a barrel.

Talk about an uneven playing field ;)


- Andrew

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What has been left behind, ... (Below threshold)

March 30, 2010 3:24 AM | Posted, in reply to Andrew's comment, by berit: | Reply

What has been left behind, in USA and other most unequal societies, are large segment of the population, millions of citizens. Citizens are human beings, not mere consumers.

Life never was uncomplicated, ever pleasant. We are inhabiting a natural world with many forces at play, often enough uncontrollably against man. Some of these uncontrolled forces are man-made.

What Wilkinson and his co-researchers have statistical data for, is that more equal, co-operative societies, we are in this world together, not just in competition for dominance over limited resources, these societies are more peaceful, in better health and the citizens are more trusting.

The paradox of USA is the passionate preaching of free market ideology, while at the same time, this systematic ripping off of millions of ordinary citizens, the majority, and civil society to the benefit of the biggest operators, corporations, banks, military industries, taking place under the helm of rightwing-republicans, the loudest preachers of economic laissez-faire.

Together with totalitarian, draconian systems of surveillance and punishments of the populace, you/we are in danger of becoming not free at all, and no number of therapists and new medications can save you/us, unless we save and invigorates our democratic institutions. It's up to the citizens. Mere consumers are/will be toast.

Thanks for the discussion!

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I can agree with your last ... (Below threshold)

March 30, 2010 7:13 PM | Posted, in reply to berit's comment, by Andrew: | Reply

I can agree with your last paragraph to some extent. I have to draw the line at Republicans as champions of laissez-faire economics. For all intents and purposes, Republicans and Democrats are two sides of the Big Government coin. Onward...

No one likes to see fellow human beings living in poverty and squalor, and many are prepared to do something about it, as shown by the vast billions of dollars that are donated to a wide range of charities every year, on top of the additional billions spent by governments in an attempt to better the condition of poor people.

These socially important activities occur alongside an economy coordinated by prices, but the two things serve different purposes.

Attempts to make prices, including the prices of people's labor and talents, be something other than signals to guide resources to their most valued uses, make those prices less effective for their basic purpose, on which the prosperity of the whole society depends.

Ultimately, it is economic prosperity which makes it possible for billions of dollars to be devoted to helping the less fortunate. And what are the engines of prosperity? Innovation, small businesses, and profits.

And again the record of history is crystal clear: the societies that have managed to lift the masses of their people from poverty are those with capitalism and largely free trade.

Does that produce unequal outcomes in a society? Sure. It's called specialization. And it's specialization that makes a doctor more than a doctor: it makes them chiropractors, surgeons, psychiatrists, pediatricians, etc. -- you know, services supplied that people demand.

The societies that depart from that are the worst off around the world. Take a look.

There is a society you may have heard of whose members enjoy equality in all facets of their existence. They earn the same wages, eat the same food, wear the same clothes, and their possessions don't vary much from one to another.

What is this egalitarian utopia I'm referring to? Prison.

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Great series of posts, Andr... (Below threshold)

March 31, 2010 12:09 AM | Posted, in reply to Andrew's comment, by Riley: | Reply

Great series of posts, Andrew. I say that because I agree, yes, but also because they were well delivered. I hope some minds were swayed!

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Our seemingly fundamental d... (Below threshold)

March 31, 2010 12:16 PM | Posted, in reply to Andrew's comment, by berit: | Reply

Our seemingly fundamental differences might - to some degree - be attributed to very different experiences with government.

I'm a citizen of Norway, thinly populated, less than 5 millions of us, Social democrats in power for long periods, as the country slowly progressed from mostly poor, into one of the worlds richest today, thanks in large part to gradually better educated population, more lately, off-shore oil fields owned by the state, taking in huge revenue on behalf of the common good.

Social democratic politics have impacted the conservative parties -no government, no politicians could survive an attack on our universal, single-payer health care system and free education, unless in a state of emergency - as when selling war came first on the agenda of Bush and Blair after 9/11, doing irreparable harm to countless human beings - at home too.

That too many of your Democrats are as bad as the worst right-winger Republicans may be so. To me, that signals the need for a party on the left, to fight for the pressing concerns of our common environment, justice for all, excellent education and health care, affordable to all! And to stop those damned wars, creating nothing but misery to all but the few sociopaths prospering on death and destruction, your GWB a most awful example of stupidity in high places, useful only for those backing him into the presidency, with plans to do what they have done, making a mockery of American law, justice and democracy - and of America's standing in the world, somewhat better under Obama, still a way to go.

Which signals - to me - the need for more political activity from ordinary, decent American citizens, to take care of pressing civilian concerns for affordable homes, meaningful jobs, health care, education, justice, environmental improvement and conservation...invigorated democracy and peace. Big stuff. No government can possibly lift all that without widespread, vocal support from you as American citizens.

As for your prison as equality utopia example, I think you'd better check and reconsider. Which countries of the world have incarcerated the larger number of their populations? That's China, Russia, USA...land of the free?

Remember too that your Justice department under GWB bent the laws of war and interrogation to mirror laws of Nazi Germany, land of the free?

A nice and peaceful Easter holiday to you!

So in the name of capitalism and free markets you may continue clinging to illusions that all big governments are equally bad, or start demanding that government should benefit the common good, no one left abandoned, and benefit ordinary men and women, as Wilkinsons research convincingly demonstrates - to some of us.


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Norway dude, you live in a ... (Below threshold)

April 2, 2010 5:59 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Norway dude, you live in a country with a massive amount of land and natural resources and only 5 million inhabitants who are ethnically homogeneous. Stop deluding yourself that left-wing politics are the reason for your happiness. It's just as bad as a guy who inherits a billion dollar business thinking he's a self-made man.

By the way, why do foreigners (especially Europeans) feel like they have the right to lecture Americans on how America should be run? Despite what you might think from having seen a couple of Hollywood movies, you don't know jack-shit about this country. Comparing us to the Nazis? Really? What a retard.

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To anonymous 5:59.... (Below threshold)

April 2, 2010 12:30 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by berit: | Reply

To anonymous 5:59.

I have checked out you calling me "dude", understanding that it's use is unisex. Good, as I am female. I think you, anonymous, is male, by your intemperate retort. "Retard" I do not have to check.

If yours had been the standard of American discourse, your plight had been even worse than this elderly woman, neither ignorant nor demented - yet - would have known. But as a former resident of USA, with friends, family, a daughter over there, I feel quite up to your, I dare say, biased challenge.

Let me inform you that it is USA - by great military might and a globlal reach - that is trying to impose it's will and system of government on other countries, lately in Iraq and Afghanistan, by predatory economics in Greece and greater Europe. As a member of NATO, Norway has soldiers in America's war in Afghanistan, to support an ally, against popular resistance, spreading in Europe.

The main reason Norway grew from serious poverty to a welfare state is politics, the gradual making of more just laws, benefiting the common good, not a minority of predatory corporations, bankers, primitive fearmongering, hate-spewing right-wing politicans, tea-party instigators, all fleecing common people, the majority of working, under- and unemployed men and women.

GWB and his ilk had DOJ-lawyers bend American law in order to "legalize" the presidential power-grab and avoid being reined in by the US constitution and international human rights treaties -mirroring exactly the totalitarian powergrab by Germany's Nazi party in the nineteen-thirties. John Yoo served his masters in the DOJ and White House, by emulating laws and ways of Carl Schmidt, Hitlers lawyerly henchman in the runup to WWII.

Anger, ignorance and fear is a potent, dangerous combination. All friends of USA wish democracy to be invigorated and the economy to improve, to the benefit of more than the folks on top of your shaky, most unequal nation, good for Americans, good for the world. We are in it together. Happy Easter!

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you need a serious history ... (Below threshold)

April 3, 2010 12:16 AM | Posted, in reply to berit's comment, by Riley: | Reply

you need a serious history lesson on Nazi Germany and WWII.

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It seems to me that what GW... (Below threshold)

April 3, 2010 3:04 AM | Posted, in reply to Riley's comment, by berit: | Reply

It seems to me that what GWB and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Yoo have done to actual human beings and did, started doing, to US law - most dangerous, undemocratic, totalitarian - have passed some Americans by.

You can look it up at the American Civil Liberties Union.

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Trillions of dollars, not b... (Below threshold)

April 3, 2010 9:57 AM | Posted by berit: | Reply

Trillions of dollars, not billions, wasted on unwinnable wars.

In an earlier posting I maintained that the US is smashing up countries and people to the tune of billions of dollars. Much too modest that claim, mere billions..

According to Nobel Peace laureate, economist Joseph Stiglitz and colleague Linda Bilmes, the US is spending 1/4 trillion dollars a year on war, 3 trillion dollars on the latest unwinnables.

I'm steeped in history, European and American, so I apologize for my mistake in modern war economics. Trillions!! I can't even put it correctly in numbers, without checking, so I spell instead. Three TRILLIONS.

I readily admit being shocked when looking up on manipulations of US Constitution and human rights law by John Yoo and his superiors in the DOJ, DOD and the White House. I sure checked it out. Yoo lifted the arguments asked for right off the books of Carl Schmitt, prominent professor of law in the Third Reich, "legalizing" Hitlers totalitarian grasp - situation of emergency needed to pull it off - for Hitler as for GWB. Utterly shocking. Anger absolutely called for --towards schemers, liers, cheaters high up, while less fortunate Americans are fighting (dying) abroad, opportunity, talent, resources and lives wasted, callously, greedily - at home too.

I wish all decent Americans would put the energy of rightful anger into securing American democracy, social justice and the common good. You have done it before. You can do it again!

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berit must think that all h... (Below threshold)

April 4, 2010 3:50 PM | Posted by Jack Coupal: | Reply

berit must think that all her comments are actually appearing on MoveOn.org

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I love how senile old ladie... (Below threshold)

April 4, 2010 6:00 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I love how senile old ladies seem to focus singlemindedly on the occupations. See Code Pink.

Crone from Norway,
If it weren't for the might of the U.S. military, you would probably be living under the Third Reich. You have no right to complain. The only reason you are able to hysterically shriek "Nazi" at George W Bush is because we defeated the real Nazis half a century ago.

I will give you credit for one thing though. Your tired boilerplate about Nazis, corporations, "social justice", totalitarians, fearmongering, bankers, "hate", etc nearly filled up my Left-Wing Rant Bingo card.

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"We defeated the real Nazis... (Below threshold)

April 4, 2010 9:32 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by berit: | Reply

"We defeated the real Nazis half a century ago."

America all alone, and you a veteran from that war, sir, not senile? Impressive! I feel safe now. Thank you.

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To anonymous 6.00Y... (Below threshold)

April 5, 2010 9:19 AM | Posted by BBJ: | Reply

To anonymous 6.00

You "defeated the real Nazis half a century ago"? Around 1960?
What war was that? Vietnam? Who were the real Nazis then, that you defeated? Vietcong?

To my memory US lost, as US have done under GWB - big time, and is loosing in trillion dollar wars of today.

If you won, why are war criminals Kissinger, Cheney, GWB at large?

Militarism, consumerism, ignorance are taking US down - maybe the rest of us too, an equality not in anybody's interest, except perhaps Mother Nature's. Too many dumb US/us creatures..

The devil comes in many guises, not ever beaten

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berit & BBJ,I'm an... (Below threshold)

April 9, 2010 11:54 AM | Posted by Jack Coupal: | Reply

berit & BBJ,

I'm an American who had a Norwegian citizen as a neighbor several years ago. When talking about oil drilling and refining from North Sea reserves, she said the Norwegian government kept a very low profile for its petroleum exploration activities.

Such activities however bring in huge amounts of oil money that the government then employs to fund lavish social justice policies characteristic of the Scandanavian countries.

Isn't it ironic that Obama and democrats hate the idea of offshore American oil reserves being developed? Think of all the lost royalties that could go to state and federal governments to fund our new social justice lifestyle if the ban on offshore drilling were lifted!

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Jack Coupal - "Isn't it iro... (Below threshold)

April 9, 2010 12:28 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Jack Coupal - "Isn't it ironic that Obama and democrats hate the idea of offshore American oil reserves being developed?"

It might be if they actually did. Obama is busy easing restrictions for off-shore drilling by multinational corporations so reality is not what you believe it to be...the Matrix, it offers the illusion of choice (but you only get to pick between Frankenberry and Count Chocula).

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/36110038/ns/business-oil_and_energy/

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A 6-page documentary in the... (Below threshold)

April 9, 2010 4:28 PM | Posted, in reply to Jack Coupal's comment, by BBJ: | Reply

A 6-page documentary in the weekly Morgenbladet today is telling the story of how the stateowned, but independent Norwegian 'oljefondet', meant for future generations, lost Nkr 663 billions on the global financial debacle, roots in American financial bubbles..

Loosing that fortune - top brass still took out golden paychecks - up to ten times the PM's paycheck of around Nkr 1 million. Oljefondet is still going strong at more than Nkr 2000 billion. Strickt caps on use in state budget - set by social-democrat PM and Parliament - constantly debated - too much, bad for overall economy - more can be put into building/improving rails, roads, education, health care, claimed by left and right. Hotly, loudly debated!! Constantly.

Motion just tabled, within government circles - let oil rest in the ground, safer, sustainable, instead of up into paper money and risky international financial games. Hotly debated!!

Investing in actual people and infrastructure is more gainful to the common good, in the longer run - than an anomalous stateowned, but independently run - Oljefond - skimmed off by some in the know, not by ordinary citizens -paying taxes, as always - to finance welfare.

In short: You were duped...as we are too, at times..

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(Part 4 soon.)... ... (Below threshold)

November 28, 2012 2:54 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

(Part 4 soon.)

... ... ...

I'll be drinking in the Tardis. Let me know when you're ready.

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so, where is part 4? ... (Below threshold)

March 24, 2013 8:23 PM | Posted by flash: | Reply

so, where is part 4?

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(Part 4 soon.)... (Below threshold)

December 24, 2013 9:13 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

(Part 4 soon.)

OP PLS RESPOND

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> You don't get to "take." ... (Below threshold)

January 3, 2014 4:53 PM | Posted, in reply to MH's comment, by SoccerChick617: | Reply

> You don't get to "take." What does it take for a person to come to the point in their lives when they feel they should be "taking?"

It takes a lifetime of living in a society in which consumption is valued over compassion. Nobody should want to "take" because nobody needs to "take" more than they need to live. What is it that we need live, exactly? Food, shelter, and human connection. The first two are bought and sold. Human connection, including sex, can be bought and sold as well, but this is akin to spending exorbitant sums of money on luxury home projector systems when they would be just as entertained when watching it on a small, cheap TV. What else is just as entertaining as those, but is free: sharing ideas with humans in more direct and interactive manners, such as conversation and sex.

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