Interview on inequality, with Eduardo Porter

by on July 31, 2014 at 12:38 am in Economics, History, Political Science, Religion, Uncategorized | Permalink

Eduardo Porter interviewed me in addition to his column, here is one excerpt:

What about other consequences of inequality? There is evidence that it hurts mobility, sapping young men’s incentives to succeed. Some have suggested it corrupts our political system and could fuel social unrest.

We know very little about what income inequality tends to cause in politics. We do see that income inequality is up considerably and crime is down considerably. We do know that older societies, as we are becoming, tend to be more peaceful and stable. We also see that a rising middle class often leads to political instability, such as in Thailand or Turkey or Brazil or for that matter the United States in the 1960s. Many young American men may be experiencing a crisis of confidence these days, but the problem lies in the absolute quality of their opportunities, not the gap between them and Bill Gates.

And this:

If we are looking for a remedy, a greater interest in strict religions would help many of the poor a lot — how about Mormonism for a start? Just look at the data. Many other religions prohibit or severely limit alcohol, drugs and gambling. That said, this has to happen privately rather than as a matter of state policy.

Here is the whole thing.

Steve Sailer July 31, 2014 at 12:55 am

The Mormons’ BYU is one of the most egalitarian private universities in the country. Tuition is relatively low. (There’s no magic secret — they just have big class sizes.) And, while most colleges serve a fairly narrow IQ range, BYU has one of the widest ranges between its 25th and 75th percentile test scores.

dearieme July 31, 2014 at 4:52 am

Big classes of great intellectual spread – doesn’t sound to me to be a recipe for a top educational experience.

Axa July 31, 2014 at 5:48 am

I’d go for a mediocre education if it’s cheap. Don’t kill the good in the name of perfect.

andrew' July 31, 2014 at 7:20 am

At the lower level the point us to keep kids off the streets and away from the adults.

Ryan July 31, 2014 at 8:14 am

Go look at the rankings. BYU does just fine.

Andrew' July 31, 2014 at 8:46 am

Because of signaling? Or because of not signaling?

Willitts July 31, 2014 at 12:40 pm

Isnt this typical of any large lecture hall college class?

A lecture is a public good. Students get out what they bring in and put in.

prior_approval July 31, 2014 at 1:04 am

NYT columnist interviewed by NYT reporter on NYT offshoot web site talking about NYT columnist’s opinions, with excerpts placed on NYT columnist’s web site two days in a row.

A bravura example of how to make sure that one is well positioned in a world where average is over.

delete pls July 31, 2014 at 1:41 am

this guy is literally insane. can’t his IP be blocked? It would improve the blog. Is there some vague free speech principle preventing this from happening?

Peter Schaeffer July 31, 2014 at 1:48 am

dp,

I don’t agree with prior_approval about much, however blocking his comments would be absurd. This isn’t the Brad DeLong ghetto where any dissenting opinion gets you banned (and a well-documented critique gets you immediately expelled).

andrew' July 31, 2014 at 5:16 am

Agreement with pa is not possible. He never actually says anything.

E g. Concern trolling about a reporter of a paper interviewing a contributor about a trendy topic. What is he even trying to insinuate? And about the NYT!?!

Just Another MR Blogger July 31, 2014 at 12:11 pm

Fortunately Prof. Cowen is never, ever guilty of concern trolling!

Willitts July 31, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Pa can be interesting when he isnt grinding his axe. Unfortunately, he spends most of his day as a blacksmith. Id recommend he change his schtick for his own mental health.

Andrew' July 31, 2014 at 8:47 am

The problem with trolls is it takes virtually zero to create something that requires me non-zero.

In fact, the more zero logic is, the more non-zero figuring out the illogic can be.

Andrew' July 31, 2014 at 8:49 am

The problem with smart trolls, and I’m making no accusations, is that they zero in on semi-plausible insinuations.

For example, “see, they censor my comments, so I must be onto something.”

Or, “you know, this person who tries to put everything in the public domain gets some funding from these secretive benefactors who are in the broadcasting their influence business.”

It’s stupidity, but it is almost free and they make it up on volume.

Peter Schaeffer July 31, 2014 at 11:59 pm

A,

For example, “see, they censor my comments, so I must be onto something.”

That’s a completely accurate description of the DeLong cesspool and (sadly) The Atlantic. This site and many others (H. Post, Think Progress, the NRO, etc.) are bastions of liberty. One site banned me for posting Census department public education funding statistics. Another site banned me for asking if agricultural subsidies were really such a big deal.

prior_approval July 31, 2014 at 2:06 am

Don’t worry, you only get to read some of my comments. If I had provided details about how NYT columnist links to his NYT columns on his own personally named web site, odds are you wouldn’t be able to read about it for very long.

andrew' July 31, 2014 at 5:07 am

Do you think anyone else finds it odd that a reporter would interview a contributor?

andrew' July 31, 2014 at 7:17 am

I don’t know how much papers do it but for news TV it is 90%+ of the content.

anon July 31, 2014 at 9:00 am

Guest 1 to Host at dinner party: “I really don’t like Guest 2. Can you please ask him to leave?”

Host to Guest 1: “Goodbye”

Bill July 31, 2014 at 6:39 pm

Well, Well, Well

Libertarian thought police in action.

My observation is that only a collection of weak people pile on one who is stronger than themselves alone.

You can disagree with some using humor for irony or reason.

derek July 31, 2014 at 8:18 pm

Heh, don’t get carried away. Someone has to play the banjo.

Jay July 31, 2014 at 1:34 am

If we are looking for a remedy, a greater interest in strict religions would help many of the poor a lot — how about Mormonism for a start? Just look at the data. Many other religions prohibit or severely limit alcohol, drugs and gambling. That said, this has to happen privately rather than as a matter of state policy.

With the emergent prominence of de facto polygyny (called “serial monogamy” by Holocaustian theologians aka “social scientists”) there is enormous pressure toward de jure polygyny. Islam is currently the only major sect filling this role in the West. The Mormons could have filled that role if, instead of capitulating to the anti-white demands of Holocaustianity’s theocracy, it had taken advantage of the anti-monogamy demands of Holocaustianity’s theocracy. Although, I can’t fault them for doing as they did since they most certainly would have been targeted for utter destruction by the Holocaustian theocracy.

So control of the West comes down to a battle between the Holocaustian theocrats and the Muslim theocrats.

msgkings July 31, 2014 at 5:09 pm

This kind of crazy should win a prize. Not joking, it’s more entertaining than 90% of the posts here. Way better than p_a and JAMRC and the like…

Kon July 31, 2014 at 1:39 am

What about other consequences of inequality? There is evidence that it hurts mobility, sapping young men’s incentives to succeed.

Down here in southwest Iowa last Friday night, karaoke at the local bar featured a string of 3 songs sung by obese — and no I don’t mean merely morbidly obese — I mean “OMFG” obese girls about exploiting if not killing men. The first was “Gunpowder and Lead” The next was “Hell on Heels” and the third was “Goodbye Earl”. I really pity the young men that frequent these bars. Some of these guys are vets back from the Middle East and this is their homecoming serenade. The Sunnis pray for this kind of evangelism and Allah grants it.

At this point, it isn’t clear why any male in the world wouldn’t throw down their guns and run if pitted by our current erocidal dysgenic elites against the Sunnis.

anon July 31, 2014 at 9:05 am

WWRD

(What Would Raylan Do?)

msgkings July 31, 2014 at 5:11 pm

Why would those guys be there instead of at a good strip club? Their own fault for making that wrong choice….

Daniel July 31, 2014 at 2:04 am

We’ll be fortunate if the political instability is limited to the kind we see in Turkey, Brazil, Thailand, etc. The dynamics are in place for something potentially much worse.

Since the Federal government increasingly considers middle American young men the enemy, the middle American young men may eventually sabotage transport of grain shipments out of the heartland in an attempt to destabilize the Federal government. Attempts to import replacement feedstocks from abroad collides with decreasing global arable land combined with the saturation of the Green Revolution. Geopolitical upheavals result worldwide. The US military intervention abroad to control food supplies saps its ability to suppress the domestic rebellion. Foreigners are inducted into the US military to suppress the domestic rebellion. Civil war erupts with the US military’s logistics infrastructure becoming the primary target. This includes anything that supplies the US military with manufacturing capacity of equipment such as drones. The middle Americans destroy all silicon fabs in the US. The US military becomes completely dependent on foreign manufacturing as well as increasingly dependent on foreign personnel. The bulk of the Boomers were indoctrinated by the motion picture industry, so they side with the Fed. Govt. The middle Americans who are fighting an existential battle sees the Boomers as traitors. Boomers are killed en masse along with the elites who thought they could play the same game that the Boomers were playing. The war then becomes a matter of who can kill most efficiently within the collapsing infrastructure.

dead serious July 31, 2014 at 7:50 am

“We do see that income inequality is up considerably and crime is down considerably.”

Let’s try a few others, since it seems like such a fun game:

“We do see that income inequality is up and the domestic wheat price is down considerably.”
“We do see that income inequality is up and the teen birth rate is down considerably.”
“We do see that income inequality is up and the value of the dollar relative to other currencies is down considerably.”

I should be an economics professor. Shooting from the hip is a rip-roaring good time!

dsgntd_plyr July 31, 2014 at 10:43 am

“middle american young men?” you mean white guys? no need to be so pc at marginal revolution.

Herb July 31, 2014 at 2:46 am

This is getting ridiculous.

“If we are looking for a remedy, a greater interest in strict religions would help many of the poor a lot”

Add that to the pile of useless advice.

Tom July 31, 2014 at 4:58 am

I’d say it’s fairly good advice, actually. Though personally I’d be more selective than just “strict” religion.

RZ0 July 31, 2014 at 6:13 am

ISIS seems pretty strict. Have you hugged your burqa today?

Ricardo July 31, 2014 at 9:53 am

But inequality in Iraq is really really low.

Btone July 31, 2014 at 12:15 pm

+1

Slappy McFee July 31, 2014 at 2:35 pm

And Ricardo for the win!!!

Herb July 31, 2014 at 9:54 am

Fairly good advice in what context? “Eat your vegetables” is fairly good advice too. Shall we say that eating more vegetables would “help the poor?” Considering that eating one’s vegetables can fill a belly faster than a prayer, maybe we should.

Michelle Obama July 31, 2014 at 3:09 pm

Way ahead of ya.

momama July 31, 2014 at 4:42 am

Profs. Cowen and Tabarrok, I still enjoy your blog and posts, but the comments on this site have really taken a turn into looney land. Please, never turn off the RSS feed…

dearieme July 31, 2014 at 4:56 am

It happened to the comments thread at Naked Capitalism too. It means I read the blog’s links but not its comments.

andrew' July 31, 2014 at 5:11 am

Comments should work like a filterable and sortable spread sheet with multiple voting and categorizing dimensions.

AndrewL July 31, 2014 at 10:17 am

like slashdot?

Andrew' July 31, 2014 at 12:50 pm

Like if the kill file raped the slashdot and it had a child that raped Wikipedia and that kid was a comment system.

Jan July 31, 2014 at 6:29 am

If we are looking for a remedy, a greater interest in strict religions would help many of the poor a lot — how about Mormonism for a start? Just look at the data. Many other religions prohibit or severely limit alcohol, drugs and gambling. That said, this has to happen privately rather than as a matter of state policy.

Fair enough, I am convinced by the data on Mormons, if only because it matches what I have seen. But can we say that other strict religions also have this impact, among Muslims or what I like to call Extreme Christians? Both of these groups have pretty large sample sizes in the US, and there are a lot of people who have converted to them.

Millian July 31, 2014 at 7:46 am

Of course, it’s preposterously ridiculous to claim that religion causes behaviour when religion is chosen to reflect behaviour. But it lets Cowen affiliate with Republicans and internet anti-modernist reactionaries, so yay.

anon July 31, 2014 at 9:02 am

You forgot to mention the Koch Brothers….

Squirrel!

A Definite Beta Guy July 31, 2014 at 9:47 am

“it’s preposterously ridiculous to claim that religion causes behaviour when religion is chosen to reflect behaviour”
Religion is not chosen, it is endowed.

Clover July 31, 2014 at 3:46 pm

Yeah, because people “choose” their religion?

As if no one actually believes in their religion.

(Not That) Bill O'Reilly July 31, 2014 at 1:45 pm

My intuition is that “strictness” is a necessary but not a sufficient condition to use religion as a vehicle for improving one’s lot. Mormonism (and to a lesser extent Judaism and Catholicism) benefit from being strict with regard to productivity-enhancing habits (don’t drink, don’t smoke, get an education, etc.) while also taking a more cosmopolitan worldview that allows for stepping outside of the religion to put those habits to good use in the broader economy.

It seems to me that where a productive, God-fearing Catholic might be encouraged to become a lawyer, his Baptist counterpart is more encouraged to become a minister (for a host of reasons).

Clover July 31, 2014 at 3:50 pm

Muslims are almost all non-White and/or Middle Eastern, so that’s an apples to oranges comparison.

Among extreme Christians I would say the burden is on those who claim that they don’t have very low rates of drug addiction, single motherhood, gambling, ect.(I talk here about extreme Christians, not just any White girl from the South who claims to believe in Jesus)

Benny Lava July 31, 2014 at 8:24 am

I love it when Tyler tries to promote his beantopia with the argument that the middle class is bad. This is what libertarianism look like!

rayward July 31, 2014 at 8:36 am

Cowen has become an influential economist, so he should be interviewed by Porter for his views on inequality. My impression is that Cowen is politically conservative, but that hasn’t restricted his reading list, which is all over the spectrum and the primary reason I am a regular reader of this blog. I’m not sure why Cowen would suggest that becoming a Mormon would help low income people overcome their plight. Maybe Cowen was being provocative. Maybe he was being facetious. Maybe he was bored. Maybe he believes it. It does surprise me that he didn’t include his statement in the interview that the rate of return on capital has been falling for 30 years, and that it has to be taken into account in evaluating rising inequality. It was given in the context of inequality and Piketty’s thesis (r > g), but it just as well could have been about financial instability. I have commented many times about the correlation between low r, the resulting preference for speculation and risk by owners of capital, and financial instability, a correlation studied by at least one Nobel laureate (now dead) who suggested the additional correlation of excessive inequality. Cowen has (sort of) acknowledged the correlation, but says correlation does not prove causation. True enough. But does the correlation between being a Mormon and experiencing relatively higher income mean that the former actually causes the latter? The Mormon faith might be a fine choice, but I’m much more concerned about whether excessive inequality means we are doomed to recurring financial crises. Piketty seems to accept that we are, but he also assumes that governments and central banks will always intervene, as they did in 2007-08, and prevent the value of financial assets from plummeting and thereby avoid another great depression. I’m not so sure. If I were, I’d be a lot less concerned about inequality. If Piketty is right about inequality and financial crises but wrong in his assumption about intervention by governments and central banks, then who’s to blame for the policy failure.

dsgntd_plyr July 31, 2014 at 10:49 am

I’m not sure why Cowen would suggest that becoming a Mormon would help low income people overcome their plight.

Tyler is smart enough to recognize that poverty is not simply a lack of money. There are behaviors that increase/decrease one’s odds of falling into, or getting out of, poverty. Fat drunk and stupid is no way to get through life. The Mormons avoid doing dumb things, therefore, it’s hard to meet a poor Mormon.

Here’s a relevant Megan McArdle piece from 2 days ago (read the links and comments): http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2014-07-29/self-control-makes-for-savvy-saving

Beliavsky July 31, 2014 at 9:01 am

Is the increase in the number of Europeans practicing the “strict” religion of Islam causing per capita income to rise there?

Clover July 31, 2014 at 3:39 pm

Apples and Oranges.

Brian Donohue July 31, 2014 at 9:08 am

Last thread on the subject, lefties hurled veiled threats of revolution or confiscation at the ‘inequality sweepsatakes winners’.

Today, we are treated to similar fantasies from the right.

Meh.

Actually July 31, 2014 at 9:19 am

Mormon family income is quite low, especially if you adjust for their being much whiter than Catholics or Protestants. Why not Hinduism, Tyler? Oh, yeah, gotta keep sucking up to the head-choppers.

http://www.pewforum.org/2009/01/30/income-distribution-within-us-religious-groups/

Really? July 31, 2014 at 9:51 am

Do you think that Hindus and Buddhists in America are representative of Hinduism and Buddhism generally? Either India and China are richer than I thought, or there are selection mechanisms that result in American Hindus and Buddhists being well off on average.

john July 31, 2014 at 9:53 am

I don’t think that was the question. The congregation you join here is Tyler’s focus.

Really? July 31, 2014 at 9:56 am

I think Tyler’s point is that Mormons have strong social norms prohibiting the vices that, in Tyler’s view, make poverty and other bad outcomes more likely. Alcohol, gambling, etc. The fact that the cream of the crop from Asia who are able to migrate to the US have higher income doesn’t seem super relevant.

john July 31, 2014 at 10:07 am

I definitely get that. Here in Utah I have been hearing stories of Mormons watching each other, and even heard the joke “always invite two Mormons, because one will drink all your beer.” Maybe a little cruel.

john July 31, 2014 at 10:10 am

But also of course business contacts and role models come from your congregation. We see it in every stripe of congratulation we visit.

Poor congregations will have fewer of both.

Actually July 31, 2014 at 10:03 am

not sure what Asian masses have to do with my point. Why join low-income Mormons when you could hang w/ richer groups in the US?

john July 31, 2014 at 9:52 am

Good data there. As someone who has visited Reform Jewish communities of late, I could see that option working.

Of course where I am today in rural Utah is very beautiful. A bit of synchronicity in Tyler’s suggestion.

Clover July 31, 2014 at 3:40 pm

But at least Mormons actually have families.

Thomas Sewell August 1, 2014 at 6:16 pm

The study you cite also doesn’t adjust for family size, nor for geographic location, nor for how many earners there are in the family. It’s much more typical in a Mormon family for only the husband to work full time.

I’d be more interested in a per-capita number for those in the work force, adjusted for cost-of-living. i.e. how much potential earnings difference does it make for each individual.

Alternately, a measurement of family income that showed total non-work time (which captures single-income and large family modifications) would also work better.

dsgntd_plyr July 31, 2014 at 10:40 am

If we are looking for a remedy, a greater interest in strict religions would help many of the poor a lot — how about Mormonism for a start? Just look at the data. Many other religions prohibit or severely limit alcohol, drugs and gambling. That said, this has to happen privately rather than as a matter of state policy.

DON’T GIVE THEM ANY IDEAS!!!

But seriously, I do think stricter religions will win in the long-run. First, they have higher birth-rates, and religiosity is partly genetic. Second, there’s an emptiness in modern life that religion* can fill.

*Religion is defined broadly. Global warmi-, er climate change, hysteria, egalitarianism, lgbtxyz pride, celebrating diversity, the dark enlightenment, those can be substitutes. There’s no such thing as an agnostic or atheist.

Actually July 31, 2014 at 11:20 am

High birthrates are easily overwhelmed by adult defections once the lies are a keystroke away.

See, e.g.,

http://mormonthink.com/personalstories/Letter-to-a-CES-Director.pdf

Thomas Sewell August 2, 2014 at 11:48 am

Actually….how convenient for folks that you’ve pasted a direct link to a document full of lies.
See http://en.fairmormon.org/Criticism_of_Mormonism/Online_documents/Letter_to_a_CES_Director for a point by point response.

If the critics argument contains so many obvious lies, it makes you wonder what their motivation is…certainly not bringing people the truth.

Hadur July 31, 2014 at 12:43 pm

Tyler Cowen’s vision of the future continues to be the most effective argument for a socialist revolution that I have ever read.

Brian Donohue July 31, 2014 at 3:13 pm

Because nothing in the history of socialist theory or practice itself is very compelling, right?

rayward July 31, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Here’s Cowen’s proof that religion correlates with success: Marco Rubio, the child of a bellhop who grew up to be a United States Senator and, maybe, future President, was baptized in the Mormon Church, claims to be a Roman Catholic, and actually worships in an evangelical Protestant church. There, that should end the debate about the correlation between religion and success.

jseliger July 31, 2014 at 1:49 pm

By the way, the biggest inequalities are those across borders.

I also find the total and almost pathological focus on income inequality, rather than other kinds of inequality, interesting and perhaps revealing; I wrote some about that here, and note in particular the first comment.

Clover July 31, 2014 at 3:55 pm

One problem with extreme religions is that some of these religions have a very high fertility rate, which is of course a bad thing because of overpopulation, it also leads to high poverty rates because poverty as measured by the government increases as the number of children increases. That’s why Kiras Joel New York, a Hasidic community, has the highest poverty rate in the nation. Of course they also have next to no crime and no single motherhood, no drug and alcohol problems, ect.

http://www.recordonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090130/NEWS/901300361

Tim July 31, 2014 at 4:33 pm

Strict religions work great for those they work for. They also tend to have very high drug and suicide rates for those who “fail” at them. Being a successful person is also a really strong indicator of success. I prefer that we look into getting everyone the remedy of being successful.

Bill July 31, 2014 at 6:49 pm

Perhaps Tylers preference for Mormonism or socially tight religions really is an example of a state within a state using a network to support its members. But if you can assist your group, why shouldn’t be able to use your state or local government to provide the same services.

Thomas August 3, 2014 at 8:16 pm

Without missing a beat, another supporter of government expansion fails to recognize the difference between voluntary and involuntary association.

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