Desperate Effort by Tyler Cowen and Megan McArdle to Silence Discussion about Income Inequality

A tangible sign that the issue of income inequality is taking hold in the American psyche: Tyler Cowen has made a patently ridiculous effort to try to change the topic, and Megan McArdle is dutifully amplifying it (aside: par for the course, McArdle has a remarkably uninformed discussion of thyroid treatment at the top of her short piece. I won’t waste reader time with a discussion, but suffice it to say I have personal experience with the exact symptom pattern she describes, and she’s misrepresenting both the diagnostic approach and endocrinologists’ responses).

Cowen’s contribution falls into the category of agnotology, which is “culturally induced ignorance,” or to put it in crasser terms, consciously seeking to make people stupider. His argument:

I get uneasy when I read sentences such as “inequality caused X.” “Inequality” didn’t cause anything. Inequality is a statistical residue of some other actual processes. It is better to say what caused X (say “the rage and poverty of inner city residents”) and, if relevant, connect this to inequality as well. Except that the cyclically adjusted deficit is an even more problematic causal concept than “inequality” because it relies on measurement of a modal, namely potential output.

This is actually not trivial to unpack. Cowen is basically arguing that because inequality is defined and measured statistically, it is not a real phenomenon of its own, but results from something else, ergo, we should go after the “something else”. But that’s a false causal chain. If we accept his logic, no statistically measured phenomenon should be examined on its face. That’s patently ridiculous. Tail risk in financial markets is a statistically defined phenomenon too. No one would suggest it is either feasible or possible to decompose all the causes; Mandelbrot would laugh him out of the room, particularly since these distributions (and the resulting fat tails) are actually random, but a not-normal (non-Gaussian) sort of randomness.

And his demand, that people who discuss inequality go after root causes and tie those to specific outcomes, is a deliberate effort to muddy debate. Cowen can’t pretend not to know that inequality is the result of numerous causes, including tax, education and employment policies, and social safety nets. And it’s not hard to notice how he makes a not very subtle appeal to prejudice, with his evocation of angry poor urban people (those brown and black underclass types!) as problems in and of themselves.

Now a much fairer question to raise is that a lot of the complaints about the effects of inequality are based on correlations and may not be causal. But he does not say that. He asserts that there must be some underlying, other cause(s), and it’s incumbent on researchers to find that. But, strangely enough, most of the time, economists are perfectly content to treat correlations as causal on far more immediate policy debates, and Serious Economists rarely engage in pushback. One of the worst current examples (which heterodox economists and folks like yours truly have criticized repeatedly) is the manner in which recent work by Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff has found that countries that reach a 90% national government debt to GDP ratio show lower growth levels. That 90% figure has served as the mother of deficit hysteria. Yet it’s garbage: it conflates gold standard countries with fiat currency countries, and it appears most often that the causality does not run in the manner asserted. In most cases, the spike up in debt levels was the result of a financial crisis, which resulted in low growth (cue Japan and balance sheet recessions generally).

The second problem with the Cowen/McArdle argument is that in fact, there are plenty of social outcomes that do seem to correlate strongly with inequality (as in more inequality leads to worse social outcomes), which bolsters the idea that inequality in and of itself may be the driver. If you look at broader indicators of social well being, you see the same finding: greater income inequality is associated with worse outcomes. From a presentation by Kate Pickett, Senior lecturer at the University of York and author of The Spirit Level, at the INET conference in April 2010:

Picture 52

And there is reason to think this relationship is causal. One oft unrecognized factor is that alienation and social stress are directly related to income inequality. This is hardly a new finding among public health experts, but it seldom gets media coverage in the plutocratic US. And it has concrete, measurable costs. As Michael Prowse explained in the Financial Times (this before Greece was put on the austerity rack):

…..if you look for differences between countries, the relationship between income and health largely disintegrates. Rich Americans, for instance, are healthier on average than poor Americans, as measured by life expectancy. But, although the US is a much richer country than, say, Greece, Americans on average have a lower life expectancy than Greeks. More income, it seems, gives you a health advantage with respect to your fellow citizens, but not with respect to people living in other countries….

Once a floor standard of living is attained, people tend to be healthier when three conditions hold: they are valued and respected by others; they feel ‘in control’ in their work and home lives; and they enjoy a dense network of social contacts. Economically unequal societies tend to do poorly in all three respects: they tend to be characterised by big status differences, by big differences in people’s sense of control and by low levels of civic participation….

Unequal societies, in other words, will remain unhealthy societies – and also unhappy societies – no matter how wealthy they become. Their advocates – those who see no reason whatever to curb ever-widening income differentials – have a lot of explaining to do.

As James Lardner pointed out in the New York Review of Books in June 2007, before the wheels started coming off the economy, the social contract in the US was pretty frayed, but a concerted propaganda campaign PR effort promoted the fiction that it was the best of all possible worlds. And Cowen and McArdle, both with strong ties to the Koch Brothers and Cato, look to be cogs in this well established messaging operation:

To gain their political ends, the robber barons and monopolists of the Gilded Age were content with corrupting officials and buying elections. Their modern counterparts have taken things a big step further, erecting a loose network of think tanks, corporate spokespeople, and friendly press commentators to shape the way Americans think about the economy…. the new communications apparatus wants us to believe that our economic wellbeing depends almost entirely on the so-called free market—a euphemism for letting the private sector set its own rules. The success of this great effort can be measured in the remarkable fact that, despite the corporate scandals and the social damage that these authors explore; despite three decades of deregulation and privatization and tax-and-benefit-slashing with, as the clearest single result, the relentless rise of economic inequality to levels so extreme that since 2001 “the economy” has racked up five straight years of impressive growth without producing any measurable income gains for most Americans—even now, discussions of solutions or alternatives can be stopped almost dead in their tracks by mention of the word government.

So it has finally reached the point that the fact that the ordinary person has been had is undeniable, but Cowen’s and McArdle’s approach is the equivalent of “Look, over there!” in order to muddy the discussion. Nice try, but we are well beyond the point where that will work on anyone other than those who have a keen interest in promoting denial.

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  1. jake chase

    There’s a surprise: poor people have more problems than rich people. Perhaps that is why the rich people invented money and and ingenious strategies for looting? Income of course is tied to work. Thus, liberals think the answer is increasing the availability of work, and we get all this job creation bunk. The real problem is unequal distribution of wealth. Sooner or later we need to take a run at that, or we will end up like South America. All the bogus options seem to have run out, two hundred fifty years of them.

    1. RT

      (…) or we will end up like South America (…)
      Is this a fear – or a hope?

      (…) Sooner or later we need to take a run at that (…)
      Agreed. Some of your fellow “southerners” already did just that, right? They kicked out predatory creditor institutions and hopefully don’t let them in again… bye-bye, IMF.

      1. armchair

        Exactly. Did this commentator last read about South America in the 80’s or is this based on a recent survey? Colombia is racked with inequality, but it does not equal all of South America.

        1. SqueakyRat

          The GINI coefficient for Latin America and the Caribbean region is almost exactly where it was in 1990. Wiki “GINI coefficient” and the UNESCO study it links to if you think I’m making this up.

      2. JamesW

        Thanks, RT – people tend to forget President Johnson’s Operation Brother Sam and the funding and munitions to the replacement of a democratic government in Brazil, and all the rampaging activities and murder during the Reagan Administration in Guatemala, Honduras, etc.

        Then there’s Panama invasion during the first Bush administration, and the recent financing of an overthrow of another democratic government in Honduras during the present administration.

        Central and South America had plenty of help for their oligarchs to arrive there, and then the people took action.

    2. harry

      All these looting strategies are a response to the failure of feudalism. If we still had feudal structures, the rich would still be rich but they wouldnt have to rip us off. They could just force us to pay with violence.

      I say end crony capitalism – Bring back feudalism!

      1. alex

        “If we still had feudal structures …”

        One feudal institution, serfdom, and it’s reciprocal obligations, only makes sense for the lords of the manor when there is a shortage of labor. That’s no longer the case.

      2. Roland

        Feudal overlordship came with more checks and balances than capitalist overlordship. Serfs couldn’t be evicted very easily.

        There were also a larger number of distinct classes in a feudal society, which occasionally meant that merchants, priests, and barons could be played off against each other.

        But since the bourgeoisie have cleaned out the rival oppressor classes, all the s.o.b.’s are better coordinated.

        1. rotter

          im not promoting medieval feudalism, but it was the bourgeousie class rather than the peasant class who benefitted most(by far) from the overthrow of the old feudal system and its replacement with capitalism. The medieval peasant class had much more of a claim on the aristocracy than the poor do now (some is always more than none), but that had a lot to do with the medieval church as well. The “reformation” was the first of the bourgeousie revolutions..One of the first things henry 8 did was to confiscate all the land and property of the monastaries and add it to his personal wealth, or dole it out to his sycophants. this also took place all over “reformed” Europe. The monastaries were sometimes refuges for dead weight and criminal members of the clergy but they did, generally, well serve the peasant class providing food, shelter, and sanctuary from vindictive prosecutions and tax collection, and they were an oblique path of upward class mobility – especially in the the late middle ages.One of the only ways a member of the peasant class could become literate was through the agency of a monastary.

    3. CaitlinO

      We’re already ending up like South America. Both Venezuela and Guyana have lower Gini coefficients (less income inequality) than the US. As do numerous African countries.

      We owe the greatly increased awareness of this problem in the general population to Occupy and their coining of the 99% phrase.

      What needs to be more widely understood before a widespread movement to resolve this can develop is the terrible danger these levels of inequality represent to a secure middle class, efficient economy and our democracy.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        This level of wealth inequality means there is no middle class. Its just a more self-deluded bourgeois living on the edge who don’t want to admit they have supported the destruction of the middle class for some short term gains. The middle class isn’t an economic level as much as it represents the concept of a people who live in a society where wealth doesn’t lead to positions of authority and people aren’t living on charity or the attention of the wealthy. Most politicians are describing the bourgeois when they say “middle class.”

    4. telee

      The US is already like South American dictatorships. I didn’t see the US on the above graph but according to Joseph Stiglitz we now have the greatest inequality and least amount of upward mobility of all the developed countries.

      1. JCC

        telee, you probably missed the U.S. in the graph because it is the outlier, way up in the upper right hand corner. Which, of course, is the whole point.

    5. Nelson Alexander

      One thing to remember about national income inequality is that there is no such animal as a national economy. The class division between labor in general (anyone who must work) and core shareholders or rentiers in general (anyone who can live off managed interest) is global. The so-called “American Economy” includes those peasants in India whose labor helps support the Indian back-office worker whose labor helps support the American telecom firm. Pundits who love to point out how many American ghetto dwellers own flat screen TV’s are mendacious at best. Why does inequality matter in toto? First, because wealth is relative and rivalrous. Bill Gates may be personally benign, but he makes every banker and hedge fund manager feel woefully underpaid, with sociopathic effects. Second, because money makes money. The more you have, the higher the returns, which enters into a destabilizing spiral of concentration. Third, those returns don’t grow on trees. They come somehow and somewhere from “labor in general,” not from the magic wands of “wealth creators.” If the returns are outpacing population and the real rate of global productivity (about 3% per year), they are syphoning real value away from someone somewhere, limiting their health, lifespan, possibilities, retained property, security, and more. Finally, inequality creates a democracy in which the most powerful live in a global bubble. They do not depend on government functions most people depend on. They don’t need social security, they don’t need public schools, they don’t need mass transit or commercial airlines, they don’t need FEMA, the don’t need public medical facilities. They don’t need the public. No amount of magical thinking and rain dancing among neoconservative Tank Thinkers will fix that increasingly dangerous, potentially violent civil divide.

  2. bulfinch

    You’re right. a re-leveled playing field with static goal posts. This *might* just help relieve the fear of poverty and disposession that all Americans are born drunk with and reek of, (including myself).

  3. Max424

    Japan, doing terrible! Doing way worse than anybody else!

    Pardon? My scatter plot is upside down?

    Oh, thank you.

    Wow, Japan doing really good, doing way better than anybody else!

    What’s up with that, Messrs. R & R?

  4. ambrit

    Spot on. I began wondering about the editors of The Atlantic after reading some of McArdles pieces in their rag. The latest issue, with Bloomberg on the cover, has been the nail in the coffin for me. NC will in future get the monies I used to spend on the magazine putatively “of no party or clique.” That they feel compelled to highlight that “fact” is reason enough to break out the smelling salts.
    Personally, I’m with bulfinch above. I have found myself making unusually stupid decisions lately, which, upon reflection, seem to stem from anger at the utter insanity of the corporocrats running the DIY Boxxstore I presently work at. A child of the Protestant Work Ethic, I feel betrayed and abused by the system presently in place. Income Inequality, no matter the underlying “root cause,” is a glaring and all too easily grasped “evil other” to focus inchoate rage against. These elites had better watch out. They are creating their own worst enemies. If history is any guide, such strategies always end badly.

    1. armchair

      Work ethic? What’s wrong with you? Are you against risk takers? Gamblers should run society and gamblers should harvest all of the produce.

      I similarly became to nauseated from reading McArdle, but I scored a twofer in unsubsrcibing. My mom used to give the Atlantic as a Christmas gift and subscribe for herself too. I convinced her to discontinue both subscriptions.

      1. ambrit

        Dear armchair;
        Oh frabjous day! A two bagger! Thanks for that. As for the ‘gamblers’ reaping what others sow; why not get our nomenclature right and start calling them The Hairys,(Latin: ceasers.) This from the fact that they continuously refuse to take Haircuts.

        1. armchair

          A contract is sacred if a Hairy stands to benefit. A contract can always be re-negotiated if a Hairy stands to benefit.

      2. CaitlinO

        I thought McArdle left Atlantic last summer, followed by Andrew Sullivan? At any rate, I think they’re both now writing for Newsweek/The Daily Beast.

    2. citalopram

      Well, if workers don’t organize, the beatings shall continue. Of course, if management catches whisperings of such activities, retribution is a sure thing.

      So what to do? Can’t organize because your fellow comrades are neolibs? Only work hard enough not to get fired. This is especially true if raises aren’t in the picture, or if they’re too paltry to matter:

      Peter Gibbons: The thing is, Bob, it’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care.

      Bob Porter: Don’t… don’t care?

      Peter Gibbons: It’s a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my ass off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don’t see another dime, so where’s the motivation? And here’s something else, Bob: I have eight different bosses right now.

      Bob Slydell: I beg your pardon?

      Peter Gibbons: Eight bosses.

      Bob Slydell: Eight?

      Peter Gibbons: Eight, Bob. So that means that when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That’s my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.

    3. harry

      The Atlantic might be biased? OMG!

      Well thank god we still have Larry Kudlow’s “no spin zone”.

  5. Thorstein

    Or alternatively one might say that income inequality and the lower-class ills that accompany it are the direct result of a single cause–class warfare waged by the new nobility against their serfs. Of course Cowen/McArdle are not likely to accept this analysis either. They *love* their serfs–almost as much as their poodles, even!

    1. Sufferin' Succotash

      Cowan and McCardle’s underlying assumption is that no one will have the gall to cite “corporate finance capitalism” as a possible cause of inequality–a correct assumption on their home-world.

  6. MGK

    One element that is rarely discussed, but seems likely to play a major role is the degree of homogeneity within a partcular population. If you look at the graph, the countries at the left end tend towards homogeneity in their populations. This makes policy solutions simpler and controls costs. There’s also a tendency towards more social pressure to conform. On the other hand, countries on the right side tend towards the greatest heterogeneity which complicates policy approaches for dealing with social issues.

    One might also consider immigration differences between then two extremes which will also excerbate inequality. While I understand the concern with Tyler’s assertion, I tend to agree with his overall intent: that there is a more critical root cause that needs to be dealt with that will also address income inequality.

    1. Malmo

      Looks like for the most part the more socialistic the better. Simple as that. It does appear the homegenetity of the population allows for a greater degree of socialism too, hence I shudder for America’s prospects going forward.

    2. Synopticist

      Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands do not tend towards homogeniety. Not any more. They may have been entirelly tall blond people 30 years ago, but those days are long gone.

    3. NotTimothyGeithner

      The Ottoman and Roman Empires at their heights would disagree with this assessment. They were multi-ethnic but managed incredible standards of living. Constantine himself was from a frontier of the Empire, not a gilded marble palace, but Briton. Take white areas of the American South. They never experienced the post-1700 white immigration, and they are still backwards hell holes on the local level. They couldn’t help each other when they were all white. Take the arab states as a flip example. Egypt has a relatively homogeneous population for ages and they go through periods of regression and progression.

      Going back to the Nordic countries. One they are off the beaten path which means they aren’t trendy to parasites of wealth. There are no books about Norway conquering through soft power. Two, they weren’t as nice as they are today just 40 years ago. Three, I think the central European state (Germany, greater Poland, the Holy Roman Empire, proto-Viking gangs) would inevitably become involved with that part of the world, but Germany fancies itself a global economy, has better worker protections, and is guaranteed territorial sovereignty by the U.S. and NATO. The path to the world is South not North. They aren’t being raided by outside powers.

      The English came to the new world and settled in two major kinds of communities. One reflected the aristocratic areas, and one reflected the towns of England, West and East became North and South. Just look at any Red vs. Blue state ignoring VA which is the beneficiary of federal spending. English immigration stopped in 1700, and those non-English immigrants flooded the northern colonies. In many ways, the societies are still reflective of where the original English immigrants came. I happen to think soil conditions mattered a great deal because it meant the early colonists couldn’t employ slaves in rocky New England soil because slaves can’t do difficult work without dying or quitting and women couldn’t tend those fields the way they could in the South or Europe because the strength requirements for plows altered the labor pool and allowed women to learn to read and teach the kids and force people to find and pay for labor savor devices. This is just my view.

      I think this idea of an ethnic homogenous population isn’t as important as the need for a one man/one vote philosophy and the ability for anyone to participate full in civil society. Rome and other successful empires during their successful periods uplifted the conquered people. The Ottomans were welcomed because they didn’t force conversion and they were way less oppressive than the late Byzantines or any other local thug, and they promised to send their 100,000 man army to deal with a problem negating the need for costly walls. I’m not suggesting they weren’t perfect, but the Soviets governed for a fairly long time because they were better than the previous regimes in many places even though they were Russians and not locals. In many ways, they only lost because people wanted nicer stuff, but there wasn’t an anti-Russian war or a Russian relocation after the fall of the Soviet Empire.

      1. propertius

        Constantine himself was from a frontier of the Empire, not a gilded marble palace, but Briton.

        He was born in Naissus, in present-day Serbia, not in Britain. Still definitely the frontier, though. His father, Constantius I, died in Britain (which may be where you got the idea from).

        Constantine may have been born in the sticks, but he hardly came from an underprivileged background.

  7. TK421

    My god the U.S. is so far to the edge of the scale that I didn’t even see it the first time I looked at that chart.

    1. Max424

      When I had my plot upside down, the USA was in first place, not by a little, but by several country miles!

      That’s when I realized something was wrong.

    2. CaitlinO

      Me, too. I had to go through the countries one by one in a search for the US before I finally noticed it. I wonder how much the placement of the US is impacting the regression line.

  8. Matthew G. Saroff

    While I agree that Tyler Cowen should be engaged, at least to the degree that anyone at George Mason, the East Coast version of a right wing petri dish (Pepperdine is the California version) should be engaged, but Megan “Math is Hard” McArdle is simply a clown, and a dishonest one at that, and should not be engaged, because it only serves to grant her credibility.

  9. readerOfTeaLeaves

    Interesting timing by McMegan and Cowan: also breaking news this week, the Congressional Budget Office was pressured to withdraw a policy analysis that shredded the notion that tax cuts for the rich magically and mysteriously ‘create jobs’. Apparently, “that noted econometrician Mitch McConnell”*, leader of the GOP bananaRepublicans in the US Senate, questioned the methodology used by the Congressional Budget Office. In other words, the CBO analysis so thoroughly exposed as fraudulent the idea that tax cuts at the top ‘create jobs’, that no less an elected than the GOP Senate Leader was enlisted to try and bury the analysis.

    As if on cue, we see McMegan and Cowan argue with the methodologies in work that identifies relationships between prosperity, public health, and inequality. Is McMegan also a noted econometrician? If so, it’s news to me ;-)

    Barry Ritholtz skewered this craziness with his usual ferocious wit and clarity:

    Add into this recent news mix a new video out of the group on the topic of job creation (and inequality), and I’d say McMegan and Cowan are fighting a rearguard battle, and are losing credibility by the day.

    If the Koch interests are reduced to sending McMegan out to whine and complain about ‘methodologies’, at the same time that a man as utterly unqualified as GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell is whining about the methodologies of CBO, then I’d say the intellectual battle over the economic implications of inequality is finally being engaged. It’s taken 30 years to get this conversation going, and it’s long overdue.

    Those who seek to perpetuate inequality have more resources, but it’s early days yet. Those going up against inequality have wit, agility, and the facts on their side. Game on!

    Here’s the very interesting policy document from CBO:

    *as described by economist Jared Bernstein in his On The Economy (OTE) blog.

  10. harry

    I have figured it out. By paying benefits, we have incentivised poverty. If we want to reduce poverty we must eliminate all goverment transfers to the poor, and instead have government transfers to the RICH. By doing this, we will increase the incentive to be rich, thus encouraging more people to be rich and simultaneously discouraging people from being poor.

    If any rich people would like to sponsor more of this type of “research and analysis”, then I can be reached at my email address Why pay the talentless McArdle, when you could pay Shameless Seamus?


  11. Gil Gamesh

    Americans for Inequality will no doubt extend props to Cowen and McArdle for their stirring defense of wealth inequality, and implicitly, predation and early death for most Americans.
    A champagne toast to Tyler and Megan, foot soldiers for privilege. (They do get paid well, right?)

  12. skeptonomist

    OK, we could say that the ultimate cause is class warfare, or the desire of rich people always to have more money and more power. But more to the economic point, I think that many economists, especially those who are obsessed with monetary policy, should pay less attention to the total quantity of money and more to its distribution – that is the inequality of money distribution. There is not much point in having a central bank “create” money (or is that create “money”?) when it just sits in reserves because businesspeople see no opportunity to make money immediately by constructive investment. A lot of economic effort has been wasted on addressing nonexistent problems of total money when the real problem is its distribution.

  13. Kokuanani

    ***”McArdle has a remarkably uninformed discussion of thyroid treatment at the top of her short piece”***

    McArdle is one of the STUPIDEST people on the planet!!!

    It never ceases to amaze me that ANYONE would give her a forum to spout her inanities and inaccuracies.

    1. Capo Regime

      Only Ezra Klein is worse. Of course there is also Ana Marie Cox. Cowen should know better. I will say this–Cowen is an excellent food and restaurant reviewer for the D.C. area. Really, he is better than the WAPO critics. He should retire and do restaurant reviews full time.

    2. Elliot

      except in this case, she’s not wrong about thyroid and docs treating the test not the patient. I’ve had docs try to tell me that exact thing, but when I am untreated because my levels suit their “normal” readings, my hair falls out. Return to thyroid brings back my hair.

      On the protection of the status quo tho’, she’s nobody I would defend.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Are you seeing an endocrinologist or a GP?

        An endocrinologist would run a full thyroid panel. It is not unheard of for someone to have normal TSH and low T4 or T3.

        There are sound reasons not to hand out thyroid casually. First, your body quits making it if your dose is too high, your TSH is “suppressed”.

        Second, overly high thyroid levels lead to osterperosis and can produce heart palpations, even heart attacks.

        A lot of people think fatigue is thyroid. It’s often stress.

        The way you can tell if it MIGHT by thyroid is if you feel RADICALLY better on thyroid. People with low thyroid (Hashimoto’s disease) see a night and day difference when they are on thyroid.

        I had some hair loss and breakage, and fatigue, and I have to tell you, even high doses didn’t do squat.

  14. John

    Excellent interview at + two relevant old articles:

    Running Against the Grain (Part I)

    Who Stole the American Dream? coverFormer New York Times Washington Bureau Chief, two time Pulitzer and Emmy winning reporter Hedrick Smith has written a wonderful book, Who Stole the American Dream? (Random House, 2012). I must say, if a seventy nine year old pillar of the journalistic establishment can find his way to a nearly 100% correct policy assessment of many of our biggest problems then others in the mainstream media may yet also see the light. There’s more. Hedrick believes, passionately, that our solution is not elections but mass action: millions of people resisting, demanding solutions. We have some different views about what tools are needed for successful mass action but that’s immaterial. Hedrick’s gotten to the heart of the problem and he’s right. Total runtime forty three minutes. (Part II of our conversation, a further twenty five minutes, will be broadcast next Monday morning.)


    Following up on Gardner’s quote in the interview:

    Ill Fares the Land–Tony Judt

    November 16, 2011
    ‘The Pivotal Role of Public Television’–Bill Moyers

    1. LeonovaBalletRusse

      Upcoming Events
      Presidential Debate with moderator Ralph Nader
      Sunday, November 04, 2012 at 07:30 PM
      Busboys and Poets
      Free and Equal Debate with Jill Stein [and Gary Johnson]
      Monday, November 05, 2012 at 09:00 PM
      RT America studio in Washington DC, DC
      Election night victory party at Jill Stein for President HQ
      Tuesday, November 06, 2012 at 08:30 PM
      The Fountain in Madison, WI

  15. scraping_by

    The right wing noise machine is profiting from mislabeling a cycle a straight line causation. Inequality breeds social problems, and people mired in social problems can’t do much toward changing inequality.

    Those of us riding this unhappy downward spiral (everyone) can either look for simple one cause one effect slogans or for ways to break the cycle. Hint: the weakest point of this cycle is the kleptocratic elite.

    New Deal/Great Society anyone?

  16. casino implosion

    “So it has finally reached the point that the fact that the ordinary person has been had…”

    Had to read that about 6 times.

  17. Nyeve

    Well, saying inequality caused something does seem a little bit bewildering, like saying the inequality between gravity and lift allowed the Wright brothers to fly. However perhaps this just means that real understanding of economics is under-developed. After starting to read about Modern Monetary Theory, government spending is starting to look a lot more like a control knob, like in an engineering control theory for a plant, where the flow of money controls work. There seems to be a side-effect where the money collects in stagnant pools where it doesn’t do any good.

  18. LeonovaBalletRusse

    Yves, you could almost claim that there is ONE striking measure of Inequality and its Outcomes: The ability to find and obtain Excellent Dentistry from birth to death. Extensive research on the deleterious effects of “inflammation” due to poor dental health reveals a HUGE bed rock connection between Inequality and Fundamental Health, between the Haves and the Have-nots.

    It should be obvious why dentistry is not included in Medicare. How have the Europeans handled this “health” issue?

  19. A Real Black Person

    NotTimothyGeithner and Nelson Alexander have the most insight on this issue.

    NotTimothyGeithner says: “Most politicians are describing the bourgeois when they say “middle class.” ” Even if they are refer to blue collar workers during their speeches, their polices reflect the wishes of owners or managers. The ultimate owners are the owners of capital.
    It’s no surprise that the owners of capital, best reflected by financial companies, put in significant funding into the last two U.S. presidential elections. Some favored Republicans and some favored Democrats. Some like Republicans because Republicans will allow for less regulation. Some like Democrats because Democrats have very less objection to intervening to protect the value of junk assets than Republicans would. Junk assets, in current times includes, retirement funds of older Americans, a demographic both Republicans and Democrats don’t want to alienate by letting the assets of older Americans deflate to their true value. Some of these older Americans are very affluent, but many are not but what unites them is their desire to have the government protect their assets from losing value in a free market system. This is ,ironically, un-capitalistic.

    I’m going like to close by repeating a very well repeated phrase and apply NotTimothyGeithner theory about the Middle Class referred to so often as being the bourgeois to it.
    The often-repeated phrase is
    “the middle class is shrinking”.
    This is true. The number of owners of is shrinking as businesses consolidate, consolidate, and consolidate. Most people are finding that despite their expenses on education, and their efforts to climb to management ladder throughout various private corporations, who are increasingly employing more and more large of the global population of well educated people with marketable skills,they are still ‘workers’. They don’t own their work, and if they do own their own work, they find that the business environment lends itself to small-scale owners o selling their business to a larger-scale one.

    The bourgeois class have managed to successfully confuse most people into thinking that private consolidation of resources and the growth of government, government regulation, are the same thing. The bourgeois have convinced half the population of the United States that it is the government that has caused the consolidation of resources, which is half-true. The government permits it.

  20. Kunst

    This is why we need a very strong estate tax. Money is good for three things:
    1. Survival
    2. Luxury
    3. Power
    Most of us don’t begrudge the “successful” luxury, the ability the buy unnecessary but enjoyable things and experiences. Most but not all agree that people should not die due to lack of money. The real problem is when money turns into political power, which can be used to rig the system in favor of the rich, and can be passed down from generation to generation, creating a herediary aristocracy. When you leave this world, you can’t take your money with you. An estate tax of, say, 50% above $5 million, with no sneaky work-arounds, would decease inheritance of political power in the form of unearned wealth. And just maybe it could be used to keep the poor’s heads above water.

  21. A Real Black Person

    skeptonomist says:

    “OK, we could say that the ultimate cause is class warfare, or the desire of rich people always to have more money and more power.” Phrases such as “class warfare” should be discarded. In any civilization, there is social stratification. Depending on the performance of the tertiary sector, the amount of resources may fluctuate. If resources run low in supply, those who have more than enough often choose not to share what they have with the poor who really need a handout during times of scarcity. Their reasoning behind not sharing can range from a sense of privilege to blaming the poor for not saving for a rainy day.

    In our modern society, the owners, the capitalists, the investors, are legally required to be given more wealth every quarter. Investors can sue a company for not maximizing its earnings. On a planet with clear finite resources, that growth in income for a company cannot come from finding new resources to exploit (i.e. expanding markets) alone. Earnings growth in an economy where growth is finite must come from “cost-saving” measures as well. “Cost-saving” measures, refers to actions that force workers to take a quarterly pay-cut if growth rates are too slow. Slowing economic growth means that economic and social interactions will increasingly become more of a zero-sum game in a given society.

    Kunst says:
    November 3, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    “Most of us don’t begrudge the “successful” luxury, the ability the buy unnecessary but enjoyable things and experiences. Most but not all agree that people should not die due to lack of money. The real problem is when money turns into political power, which can be used to rig the system in favor of the rich, and can be passed down from generation to generation, creating a hereditary aristocracy.”
    I can’t say it for sure, but I would bet the reason why most people want to be wealthy is to gain what was referred to as “political power” and “hereditary aristocracy” in your post Most people desire wealth so that their shortcomings won’t doom them to a life of hard work, thrift, hunger, etc. If you are poor and have low capabilities , you are doomed to a meager living in most modern societies…but if you are wealthy and have low capabilities…the money protects you from living a harsher life. In the case of George W. Bush, being wealthy and having low capabilities suddenly makes you qualified for President. He’s not the only person guilty of riding on the coattails of his inherited wealth and status. Several million people people are getting by on being at the right place at the right time, and knowing the right people, but not “working hard.” These millions of people are not wealthy, they just are taking advantage of their advantages.

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