General complaints about economic inequality do not seem to spur action

by on March 14, 2017 at 1:56 pm in Philosophy, Political Science | Permalink

This article presents a national measure of Americans’ level of concern about economic inequality from 1966 to 2015, and analyzes the relationship between this construct and public support for government intervention in the economy. Current research argues that concerns about economic inequality are associated with a desire for increased government action, but this relationship has only been formally tested using cross-sectional analyses. I first use a form of dynamic factor analysis to develop a measure of national concern over time. Using an error correction model I then show that an increase in national concern about economic inequality does not lead to a subsequent increase in support for government intervention in the economy. Instead there is some evidence that, once confounding factors are accounted for, an increase in concern could lead to reduced support for government intervention.

That is from a new paper by Graham Wright, via the excellent Rolf Degen.  I think of one possible mechanism for this result in these terms.  As one group of commentators repeats the message: “Group X doesn’t have enough,” or “Group X is being ripped off,” in fact many voters process the message as “Group X is actually a low status group.”  And so they do not end up supporting more redistribution to Group X.

“Be careful how complain” is one of the overarching points here, and it is a point which is not heeded so very often.

1 EmanuelNoriega March 14, 2017 at 2:13 pm

Can anyone here point me to some examplars from across the spectrum regarding inequality?

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2 mulp March 14, 2017 at 2:30 pm

Parents with kids back living at home because the kids can’t earn enough to pay for their own housing, …

…primarily because their parents seek out the cheapest goods and services so workers must be paid much less than the parents were paid in their 20s to produce the equivalent goods and services.

Since Reagan, workers and consumers are logically disconnected in political economics.

The way to improve life for consumers is to cut the prices of everything, which requires cutting labor costs, which are the only cost that can be cut.

Cutting labor costs only cuts income to workers which are a huge burden on consumers, so the more worker incomes are cut, the better off consumers are.

I grew up in the 50s and 60s when the key to economic growth was paying workers more. I remember Milton Friedman complaining that government policies that increased worker pay caused too much consumption, too much production, thus too much demand for higher incomes, thus driving up prices, thus inflation resulted. Inflation confuses both producers and consumers who both produce too much and consume too much before, respectively, wages and prices go up.

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3 Milo Fan March 14, 2017 at 3:36 pm

If employers don’t pay their workers enough, it’s because they can. They didn’t need Reagan toexplain the benefit to them.

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4 Doug March 14, 2017 at 3:54 pm

> I remember Milton Friedman complaining that government policies that increased worker pay caused too much consumption, too much production,

[citation needed]

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5 The Other Jim March 14, 2017 at 4:49 pm

He grew up in the 50s and 60s. What other proof do you need?

And it’s not like anything has changed. If he recalls that something “worked” then, it will obviously work now.

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6 Ed March 14, 2017 at 3:56 pm

This “inequality” theme is standard Marxist leftism. It has been around for 150 years with endless discussion and promotion. This article adds absolutely nothing of value.

“National Concern” is a faint, subjective, political abstraction that can not be measured. Plain old political hot air.

If “Be careful how complain” was so important… it would have been worth at least one sentence of introductory explanation.

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7 Dzhaughn March 14, 2017 at 4:01 pm

Asking that question in this forum is…optimistic.

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8 Doug March 14, 2017 at 2:13 pm

> As one group of commentators repeats the message: “Group X doesn’t have enough,” or “Group X is being ripped off,” in fact many voters process the message as “Group X is actually a low status group.”

Sophisticated agitators seem to be at least sub-coxciously aware of this effect. You see this when they combine “Group X is being ripped off” with “Group X is the future, because Group Y is old and dying off.” The implication is that X may be temporarily low status, but will soon rise to power and prominence. So it’s better to align ourselves with them now, while the cost of allegiance is still cheap.

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9 Dzhaughn March 14, 2017 at 4:18 pm

Maybe you can share your examples of such groups and agitators.

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10 Pedro Cerrano March 14, 2017 at 7:08 pm

In California, Group X would be Hispanics and Group Y would be Anglos.

Many on the social justice warrior front could be seen as the agitators, but really you could put the Democratic Party in there as well.

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11 Dzhaughn March 14, 2017 at 8:16 pm

Without question, Hispanics are growing in numbers, and any statewide candidates wants to connect with them at some level. But do you really hear that Hispanics are being “ripped off?” (Trump and Sanders would say any working class citizen is getting ripped off, but that only incidentally skews to Hispanic citizens. In Trump’s case, it is hardly a calculated appeal to Hispanics.)

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12 rayward March 14, 2017 at 2:28 pm

A reason, maybe the main reason, there’s little support for redistributionist policies is that they are viewed as benefiting, well, those people (Group X). And that applies among both Republicans and Democrats. On the other hand, America has several large and popular policies that are in fact redistributionist but the beneficiaries don’t consider them as such. And that includes Medicare, subsidized student loans, and subsidized mortgage loans. It’s all in the perception. Now here’s the irony: Trump’s most loyal supporters are beneficiaries of redistribution, in particular expanded Medicaid and Obamacare. Ryancare, if it were to pass, would shine a very bright light on Trump’s betrayal of his supporters. Trump’s no fool. I expect Trump to abandon Ryancare and come out in support of universal health care in the form of Medicaid For All. It took a Republican (Nixon) to go to China, and it will take a Republican (Trump) to deliver universal health care. Crazy? http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/3/14/14923784/christopher-ruddy-medicaid

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13 TMC March 14, 2017 at 3:00 pm

“Trump’s most loyal supporters are beneficiaries of redistribution, in particular expanded Medicaid and Obamacare”

Vs the Hillary voters, I don’t think so.

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14 JWatts March 14, 2017 at 3:26 pm

Agreed, I’ve seen no hard evidence that Trump voters are more likely to be using an exchange policy or the Medicaid expansion than Hillary voters.

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15 kevin March 14, 2017 at 4:10 pm

Right, both groups received subsidies. The difference is one group derided them while the other championed even more

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16 Thomas March 14, 2017 at 5:38 pm

Back in reality, Trump is a uniquely pro-entitlement Republican President who was put over the top by working class whites in a few states who were promised help by Trump and hatred by Clinton.

17 Doug March 14, 2017 at 3:51 pm

> Trump’s most loyal supporters are beneficiaries of redistribution, in particular expanded Medicaid and Obamacare.

The only argument I’ve seen for this is by looking at county level data. But relations that hold at the county level don’t hold at the individual level. It’s more than possible that Hillary voters still use more welfare, as long as Hillary voters (or non-voters) in red counties use more welfare than Hillary voters (or non-voters) in blue counties.

This isn’t just hypothetical. States like Mississippi and Louisiana are frequently cited as examples of red states that suck up welfare. But these states are also the blackest in the union. It’s well documented that blacks 1) use welfare at significantly higher rates, and 2) vote Democrat at nearly unanimous rates. Mississippi consumes a lot of welfare, but it’s not at all obvious that Mississippi Republicans use unusually high amounts of welfare. The impact of Mississippi’s black population is so large that you can’t reason about anything without adjusting for race. Mississippi has a relatively small percentage of blue voters, but they’re almost all black democrats on welfare. That’s a very demographic than other core Democratic groups like Indian software engineers in New Jersey.

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18 Cooper March 14, 2017 at 6:10 pm

While I certainly agree that the bulk of the Republican vote in the South tends to come from whites with above average incomes, we should keep in mind the southern Appalachian region as a counter example. Eastern Kentucky, West Virginia and parts of eastern Tennessee are among the poorest AND most Republican parts of the country.

Kentucky in particular is an example of a state that greatly expanded Medicaid and is especially dependent on the existing Obamacare subsidies. Trump got 62.5% of the vote in Kentucky as a whole but upwards of 80% in Pike, Martin and Lawrence counties along the WV border. Lots of poor white folk up in those hills.

If they cut off the Medicaid expansions, Kentucky’s poor Appalachian Republicans will be devastated.

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19 Rags March 14, 2017 at 4:29 pm

I have no idea what Trump is up to. If he signs the bill and makes Ryancare into Trumpcare, it seems a great gamble. The models predict tens of millions losing insurance, and at least a few million seem likely. Elections are decided by a few million.

If the cult is strong, I suppose poor Trump voters can throw themselves under the bus, and consider themselves the despised underclass, but really? Can tribalism be that strong?

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20 Thomas March 14, 2017 at 5:46 pm

The model predicts people choosing not to buy insurance in the absence of a mandate, according to today’s WSJ. Are they lying or are you?

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21 Rags March 14, 2017 at 6:41 pm

Kai Ryssdal did a nice bit about truth on the internet, and how hard it is to combat falsehood.

False information on the internet is hiding the truth about onions

If I may say so, self-recommending. It includes the tidbit that Google is trying to auto-detect truth, and blurb it in response to questions. That isn’t working so well with today’s artificial (but not quite) intelligence.

As regards your question, “everybody” is saying that older workers will have much higher premiums. Older workers are a Trump demographic.

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22 Thomas March 14, 2017 at 9:37 pm

Thr WSJ claims most losing their insurance are those who choose to go without in the absence of a mandate. Who is lying, the WSJ or you? You are a notorious liar, Anon.

23 prior_test2 March 14, 2017 at 2:31 pm

Or, as long status quo is the rich are getting richer, no reason to rock the boat, right?

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24 Tom T. March 14, 2017 at 8:02 pm

This seems to be a better exemplar than Tyler’s example. Activists more often couch inequality arguments less as “Group X doesn’t have enough” and more as “Group Y has too much.” That argument never gets much traction in this country, either because people hope that someday they’ll be part of Group Y, or they fear that if the government can go after Group Y, it can go after them too sometime.

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25 Harun March 14, 2017 at 2:51 pm

My theory is that in rich countries, no one actually cares that much about inequality, except maybe in theory.

Bill Gates chilling on his yacht is horrible if you’re starving, but not that bad if you’re watching funny videos on youtube while eating chips before working in a climate controlled coffee shop.

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26 MOFO March 14, 2017 at 3:23 pm

Exactly this. The left was pushing income inequality as the most important thing ever for a while, but i think they realized that its hard to start a political revolution over the injustice of someone having a Ferrari while you have to slum it with a Honda Accord. Or maybe they are just really fickle.

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27 EmanuelNoriega March 14, 2017 at 6:58 pm

If everyone on this blog is right— that irrational resentment is the the cause of revolution— then you are totally wrong.

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28 Doug March 14, 2017 at 3:53 pm

People dislike inequality, but the kind they dislike is their brother-in-law making more money than them or their next-door neighbor getting a nicer car. Nobody gives a crap if Jeff Bezos is worth $10 billion or $50 billion.

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29 EmanuelNoriega March 14, 2017 at 7:01 pm

People care about billionaires being able to offshore their money while paying public affairs officials to manipulate discourses. I think that might be why rational people care about inequality.

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30 Doug March 14, 2017 at 8:26 pm

Only a very small percentage of voters would, without prompting, list those issues as major concerns. The majority of people don’t even know what “offshoring” money means.

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31 EmanuelNoriega March 14, 2017 at 8:51 pm

Thanks Doug for replying.

Is the concern I am describing one that any economist actually seems to address? For example I cannot find the technical term for an offshore holding which can distort or an economy.

I hope no one scolds me instead of helping to lead me to a paper…

32 Rags March 14, 2017 at 4:45 pm

I agree, “inequality” is poor marketing. In some ways it shows a success. We don’t have “starving” people in the US, a stronger claim for aid. “Poverty” too is a good sell, but hard to demonstrate today.

I think the welfare system needs another revamp, but to improve efficiency and fill the gaps, how to sell that? As a way to identify cheaters?

(“Homelessness” is a real problem, but I am not sure it has a stigma or a classification problem.)

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33 Thomas March 14, 2017 at 5:52 pm

We do have starving people in the US, according to the DNC and every leftist media organization. This claim is based on a leftist-created stat that includes everyone from those dying of hunger, to those who have worried about one meal in the past few months, or have had a limited selection of food choices at some point in the last few months. Something like 30% of kids “go hungry” according to the liars you ally yourself with. Get with your program.

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34 rayward March 14, 2017 at 2:54 pm

Whether good Americans support redistribution is a political question, not an economic one. The economic question is whether inequality, at some level, causes bad things to happen, such as investors chasing rising asset prices rather than productive investment, excessive risk-taking, bubbles, and financial and economic instability. One can’t help but notice that many of the explanations for the financial crisis were political in nature, with those of a conservative bent blaming redistributionist policies. Let’s call them Conway Explanations, in honor of Kellyanne. While I don’t favor redistribution, I also don’t favor financial and economic instability. As I’ve commented many times, markets have a way of fixing things. And that would include excessive inequality. Ask Cowen’s Austrian friends at Mercatus. Complacency I would define as the belief that asset prices will rise tomorrow because they rose yesterday and today.

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35 The Other Jim March 14, 2017 at 4:59 pm

>in honor of Kellyanne

I don’t know. I get that she is a feminist hero, having shattered the glass ceiling by being the first woman to run a successful Presidential Campaign during the groundbreakingly historic 2016 election.

But I don’t know if that means we should name economic theories after her.

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36 Thomas March 14, 2017 at 5:58 pm

Kellyanne is the “mediocre negro” of women, to put it in the language of Democrats.

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37 The Sublingual Messenger March 14, 2017 at 10:55 pm

Buy NR now to save your skin and your soul

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38 TMC March 15, 2017 at 10:40 am

Re: “Conway Explanations”

How is it that you, a self-identified lawyer, doesn’t know a common legal phrase when another lawyer uses it?

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39 Bryan Willman March 14, 2017 at 3:02 pm

Redistribution will often do more harm than good, or transfer from the poorer to the richer – the US is very good at both, and not overy competent at redistribution that actually helps worthy receipients.
I’m not blowing a moral horn here, I’m talking about net economic reality.

Why is obamacare failing? It couldn’t extract enough money from young not-so-rich healthy people to cover the costs of not-big-company employee sick people. It didn’t/couldn’t remove the massive and perverse subsidies to employer provided health care, which include not only the tax dodges, but also splitting of the risk pools. In short, it robbed poor Bob to help even poorer Joe, while ignoring the sweet deal it had given Frank and Dave.

What do government subsidizes for college debt do? Force *all* students to take on greater expense, and virtually all (all but the very richest students) to graduate with too much debt. The moral choices of the student don’t matter – govt subsidies have forced up costs for *all* students. And so, government “redistributing” wealth (or merely dumping debt on people) is net bad for all.

Government (in its various convoluted layers) helps concentrate jobs in small areas, helps control housing density (at the wish of the well off like me), subsidizes lots of debt. So *everybody* is forced into high debt to have a decent dwelling near work and the best schools. If government didn’t manipulate the mortgage debt market, refrained from trying to force density of jobs, etc., literally almost everybody would be better off.

So now, before you tell me how deserving group X is, tell me how you will assure me that any possible government intervention will actually do X more good than harm on net over time, and will not actually destroy value for everybody else? (Recall, that banning employers from asking people if they have a felony conviction caused a DECREASE in the employment of black men….. If I were a black man I would seek rest from such “helpful intervention”)

We don’t even get to the in-group/out-group, high-status/low-status question.

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40 NPW March 14, 2017 at 8:09 pm

It may be that people are skeptical of the solutions being offered rather than being apathetic of the problem. The net results of federal redistribution have increased inequality with enough regularity to define it as a repeating pattern of failure.

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41 Picador March 14, 2017 at 3:04 pm

Good point about complaints from/about group X as they relate to perceived status.

This is a point that comes up in feminist and racial theory: that constant pleas of victimhood vis-a-vis a particular victimized group can be counter-productive insofar as they cement the notion of that group as natural victims. It’s an ugly fact about human nature that we see victims as contemptible, but it is a fact nonetheless.

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42 Dzhaughn March 14, 2017 at 4:37 pm

It’s dubious to elide the “more/less successful” axis to the “villain/victim” one. It removes the notion of agency, which is the mechanism by which the victim status is cemented. It also suggests that success consists in moral failure.

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43 Thomas March 14, 2017 at 6:05 pm

Some people get rich running a charity. Well, 3 people.

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44 Dzhaughn March 14, 2017 at 6:30 pm

At least 12 do. http://smartycents.com/articles/nonprofit-ceo-salaries/. They were probably already rich. They likely could have been much richer.

If everyone required being in the top 1% to be feel good about themselves, then at least 99% wouldn’t. But that is not the way.

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45 Thiago Ribeiro March 14, 2017 at 3:18 pm

“This article presents a national measure of Americans’ level of concern about economic inequality from 1966 to 2015, and analyzes the relationship between this construct and public support for government intervention in the economy (…) As one group of commentators repeats the message: ‘Group X doesn’t have enough,’ or ‘Group X is being ripped off,’ in fact many voters process the message as ‘Group X is actually a low status group.’ And so they do not end up supporting more redistribution to Group X.”

Until now, I hadn’t realized The Simpsons is a documentary:

Lisa – I’ve got a weekend job helping the poor, and I’m only eight.
Homer – [ Scoffs ] That’s not a job.
It’s a waste of time. What can poor people pay you? Nothin’! What satisfaction do you get from helping them? None! Who wants to help poor people anyway? Nobody!”
I really do not understand how people can live this way…

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46 JWatts March 14, 2017 at 3:30 pm

It’s really bizarre to read that the President of Brazil would flee the Presidential mansion to avoid ghosts.

“Brazilian President Michel Temer moves out of official residence because of ‘ghosts'”

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/brazil-michel-temer-ghosts-alvorada-palace-president-dilma-rousseff-crisis-petrobas-lava-jato-a7626336.html

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47 Thiago Ribeiro March 14, 2017 at 3:40 pm

It is not true, it is an anti-Brazilian slander! As the thoughtful article says, he was just joking about the creepness of the place. He just didn’t feel the presidential palace was to his taste. He didn’t like it, his wife, younger than half his age, didn’t like it, only his little son (who helped to choose the symbol of his administration) liked it – the boy probably was outvoted by his parents. He always felt better living at the vice presidential palace.

Many Brazilians presidentes hated the presidential palace. Dictator Figueiredo thought it too hot. President Lula favored the “Granja do Torto” field residence. President Fernando Henrique used to say he only missed from his terms as president the swimming pool.

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48 JWatts March 14, 2017 at 4:07 pm

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks”

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49 Thiago Ribeiro March 14, 2017 at 4:57 pm

No, she doesn’t. It is sad to see there still is so much anti-Brazilian prejudice.

50 Thiago Ribeiro March 14, 2017 at 8:55 pm

Former President Dilma Rousseff has just been reached by the press and stated in no uncertain terms there are no ghosts whatsoever inside the presidential palace (Palácio do Planalto). She has never seen any ghosts, she knows no one who has evet sern a host and says there is no reason whatsoever to believe any ghost exists among those hallowed walls. So much for Brazilians being superstitious fouls afraid of their own shadows!!

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51 Thiago Ribeiro March 14, 2017 at 8:56 pm

* who has ever seen a ghost and says

52 Rags March 14, 2017 at 6:45 pm

Wow. That “palace” looks like an abandoned department store. Maybe not haunted, but too ugly to stay.

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53 Thiago Ribeiro March 14, 2017 at 7:13 pm

No, it is not. It is much better than the vice presidential palace. I remember reading a magazine article when Mr. Temer was still a vice presidente saying it was in a sore state and it was being considered an example of how Mrs. Roussef despised him. Even the wine he was given was considered bad (I do not know, I do not drink), he received wine donations from political allies.

The presidential palace is wonderful, one of the finest buidings in Brazil. It just happens that he does not like the place. The only real problem aside his and his wive’s subkective feelings is the hostile birds invasion. Since his son will not live there anymore, the protective web was taken out of the windows and bad birds invaded the palce. Anyway, the problem can be solved if he ever decides to live there again.

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54 coketown March 14, 2017 at 10:58 pm

“The presidential palace is wonderful, one of the finest buidings in Brazil.”

Similarly, I once dated the classiest woman in Portland.

No, but really, the palace is sterile and unmoving. A “No Credit, No Problem” sign out front would not be out of place. If I were a ghost I would haunt something more august, like the Municipal Theatre in Sao Paulo.

55 Thiago Ribeiro March 15, 2017 at 5:10 am

“No, but really, the palace is sterile and unmoving” No, it is not. It is one Mr. Oscar Niemeyer’s greatest architectural designs. It has even been declared a treasure of the Brazilian people and its facade can be changed. The net for Mr. Temer’s little son was only allowed because it wouldn’t affect the facade’s structure. Also, the place has gone through an extensive corrective maintenance effort to be fit to house Mr. Temer and his family and it is better than ever now.

56 TMC March 14, 2017 at 3:50 pm

“General complaints about economic inequality do not seem to spur action”

They were going to do something about it, but it just seemed like a lot of work.

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57 Thiago Ribeiro eats cum for money. March 14, 2017 at 7:04 pm

What is the most accepted economic theory for violent revolution?

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58 A Truth Seeker March 14, 2017 at 7:37 pm

No, he does not.

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59 Thiago hopes to eat food for money March 14, 2017 at 8:59 pm

Truth Seeker. Your name suggests that you could help answer my questions instead of making fun of me. Is there an empirical economic theory of revolution?

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60 A Truth Seeker March 15, 2017 at 5:11 am

No, he does not.

61 JWatts March 14, 2017 at 4:12 pm

“That is from a new paper by Graham Wright, via the excellent Rolf Degen. I think of one possible mechanism for this result in these terms. As one group of commentators repeats the message: “Group X doesn’t have enough,” or “Group X is being ripped off,” in fact many voters process the message as “Group X is actually a low status group.” And so they do not end up supporting more redistribution to Group X.”

Wouldn’t a simpler explanation be that, most people don’t value largely subjective inequality concerns as highly as objective poverty concerns. Despite the verbiage poor American’s are vastly better off than the poor in Bangladesh.

“Notice how the entire line for the United States resides in the top portion of the graph? That’s because the entire country is relatively rich. In fact, America’s bottom ventile is still richer than most of the world: That is, the typical person in the bottom 5 percent of the American income distribution is still richer than 68 percent of the world’s inhabitants.”

https://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2013/06/01/astonishing-numbers-americas-poor-still-live-better-than-most-of-the-rest-of-humanity/#3882376754ef

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62 Robert Lutton March 14, 2017 at 4:41 pm

HL Mencken said “Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

Today we have republicanism; the haunting fear that some unworthy person is getting away with something.

Thank god our fearless legislators dropped everything and spent vast amounts of ink in the new health care law to stop the dreaded curse of lottery winners getting away with subsidized medicine.

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63 Thomas March 14, 2017 at 6:11 pm

What is the argument in favor of lottery winners’ receiving health care subsidies? I’ll wait.

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64 mpledger March 14, 2017 at 6:51 pm

There is no argument in favor. There is an argument that the weight of government could have used it’s time to better effect given the trivial nature of the problem and the huge opportunity costs involved.

But I guess that’s what it takes to make “America Great Again”.

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65 coketown March 14, 2017 at 8:02 pm

The point of the lottery-winner provision is not to solve the problem of lottery winners living on the dole; it’s to offset spending increases elsewhere in the bill to maximize the headline deficit reduction number. Obamacare was positively stuffed with similar accounting gimmicks. This provision was supposed to be an uncontroversial way to help save ~$7 billion to be used elsewhere (like increasing the states’ Medicaid safety net) but the Left just can’t shut up about it, which makes me think we’re in far deeper fiscal shit than I could ever have imagined in my most hellish nightmares.

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66 Ray Lopez March 15, 2017 at 12:08 am

Along these lines, the “no pain no gain” (Puritanism) streak may also manifest itself in “austerity” drives during the Great Recession, and may be an alternative explanation to the one given by TC, about low status groups. Thus inequality is like the weather, everybody complains but nobody does anything about it, because they like it. Another confounding factor is that the sample period of the 1960s had a rising tide, no Great Stagnation?

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67 coketown March 14, 2017 at 4:57 pm

I don’t find the proposed mechanism very convincing, since “Group X” is almost always made to comprise a majority of the population, with the issue framed so that most people would, in fact, consider themselves members: “The 99% vs. the 1%,” or “the top .1% owning as much as the bottom 80%,” etc. More plausible, to me at least, is that those agitating for action on the issue are far outnumbered by those with a strong status quo bias (myself among them). The more forcefully they agitate, the more forcefully others resist. Raising awareness or the level of complaints may be counterproductive as each percentage point drafted from ‘no opinion’ to ‘support’ may simultaneously draft 2% from ‘no opinion’ to ‘oppose.’ People don’t like change, which is why Obamacare was so unpopular and its repeal is…also unpopular.

I think inequality will remain a non-issue for most Americans for three reasons:1) The Left is not in a position, as they were in 2009, to foist their pet issue on the rest of the country. 2) There is little agreement on whether the easily articulated effects of inequality (“the rich getting richer”) are perceived as being personally detrimental. For all the cultural changes of the last few decades, Americans still don’t covet the good fortunes of others and are more likely to admire success than envy it. I’ve read a few articles on what has motivated certain inequality activists into action, and it was abundantly clear our worldviews differ drastically. Typically (and I don’t think I’m being ungenerous), they were motivated by petty jealousy and perceived slights against their social status in public settings. For example, the lead author of that study claiming inequality leads to air rage. Personally I’ve never seethed at the people sitting in first class as I walk past. 3) The more obviously detrimental effects of inequality are abstract and difficult to translate into public moral outrage. “Our analysis lends support to the hypothesis that inequality may exacerbate a misallocation of investment away from human capital in high-income countries, contributing in the long run to lower GDP.” Quick–to the streets!

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68 mk March 14, 2017 at 5:24 pm

There is another dimension of “be careful how you complain.”

Democracy is often a zero-sum game between opposing parties, and issues become coupled with the people and teams involved.

If the president loudly calls attention to a specific issue, he raises its profile **and** raises the issue’s association with him. Many people on the “other team” oppose the president. Many of those people will start opposing the issue so they can win the game.

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69 Thomas March 14, 2017 at 6:16 pm

This was most amusing when Trump proposed a manned moon mission. Formerly space-groupie lefties: “WTF? I hate space now!”

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70 Rags March 14, 2017 at 6:50 pm

“In fact, as we dug through data archives of the National Opinion Research Center’s General Social Survey — which has been asking the public for 40 years about their views of space exploration and federal funding for it — we found that Americans are consistently more likely to say that the U.S. spends too much on space exploration than too little. At no time has more than 22% of the public said that the U.S. spends too little on space exploration.”

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/04/23/americans-keen-on-space-exploration-less-so-on-paying-for-it/

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71 Thomas March 14, 2017 at 9:41 pm

Cool, at what point in your response did you address space-groupie lefties?

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72 prior_test2 March 15, 2017 at 3:53 am

At what point did you identify those former ‘space-groupie lefties?’

Fever dreams are not a good empirical foundation for making statements.

73 Albigensian March 14, 2017 at 6:28 pm

The political purpose of defining inequality and not poverty as the core problem is to define poverty as relative deprivation and not as absolute deprivation. Thus creating more households “in poverty,” and thus in need of governmental intervention.

The logic seems to be that even if I can afford to buy goods and services that are of good quality and more than sufficient for my needs that I must feel impoverished just because I know that others exist who possess vast stores of wealth (or at least incomes that are hundreds or thousands of times greater than mine).

Perhaps someone could explain why I should become disatisfied with my adequate-but-plain car if I see that my neighbor has bought a far more costly model, or why my hamburger should lose its flavor just because I know my neighbor may be eating a far costlier beefsteak?

The reason many Americans reject inequality politics is because they perceive the ultimate ugliness at the core of a political philosophy that is driven not only by a covetousness of what others posess but that logically must prefer a society in which all are equally immiserated to one in which only some are.

It is a philosophy that insists that your good fortune somehow makes my moderate fortune less, even if you haven’t actually taken anything from me, and therefore you owe me.

What follows from assuming that relative rather than absolute deprivation is the problem can only be demands that can never be met, for however much is taken from you and given to me will never be enough.

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74 EmanuelNorriega March 14, 2017 at 9:31 pm

No philosophy seeks to tell you that your adequate car becomes lesser when you percieve it relative to a fancier car owned by someone wealthier.

Some philosophy seeks to explain the ethical inadequacy of constructing systems in which functional shoes become socially derogatory.

The relative rather than absolute level of poverty is a function of growth and change in society.

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75 Lanigram March 14, 2017 at 11:30 pm

I did my complaining in the voting booth.

I love TC’s book, blog, MRU, and all of his podcasts and the Youtube videos of his interviews and presentations – he is brilliant. I just disagree with his assertion that the losers will go quietly into that good night. They will not. Exhibit A – the election.

Enjoy the ride!

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76 TMC March 15, 2017 at 10:54 am

I took the election as trying to shut the losers up.

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77 msgkings March 15, 2017 at 1:14 pm

How so? Wasn’t it the oh-so-put upon white working class that swung PA, MI, and WI for Trump?

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78 A.G.McDowell March 15, 2017 at 1:32 am

I am not surprised that campaigns to reduce inequality fall flat in the US, which is still strongly influenced by Christianity, a religion which, like Judaism, asks people not to covet and, if anything, is suspicious of the benefits of wealth – If it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, is it a problem for me if I don’t have as nice a house as my next door neighbor? On the other hand, campaigns that emphasized the responsibility of those who can help to feed the poor and heal the sick would be working with this strong cultural force.

IMHO they would also be focusing on a more worthwhile goal, which is important in a world where simple goals can often be achieved by sustained focused effort, albeit at the costs of unintended consequences.

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79 Troll me March 16, 2017 at 12:51 am

Good to hear that inequality is a “construct”.

All we have to do is ban the word and all problems related with “the construct of inequality” will disappear.

Or, is he referring to the fact that some indicator, any indicator, something or other that can be boxed in and discussed with specificty, must be invented before these issues can be discussed concretely for economic analysis purposes?

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80 polyglot March 16, 2017 at 10:00 am

Makes sense for India too. In the Fifties, there was an American ambassador who was puzzled as to why Nehru seemed to care so little for the peasants. It turned out that Nehru thought they were incapable of rising above bare subsistence because they were so stupid that they were bound to be swindled by money-lenders and merchants.
It was only after the Green Revolution when a class of wealthy farmers became visible- they came to the City to buy luxury products out of the reach of the urban intelligentsia- that Economic policy shifted to favouring this new ‘kulak’ class.
Currently, Narendra Modi- the first Prime Minister to come from a poor ‘educationally backward caste’- is trying to use Ebanking to give cash transfers to the poorest (generally landless) peasants. If he succeeds, these vulnerable sections will rise in status and there is good reason to believe they will gain increased ‘Voice’ in the system. This will involve the disintermediation of Political parties which claim to represent this suppressed section of Society. It is noteworthy, that post-demonetisation, the BSP (a party representing the lowest castes) has lost very badly in the U.P elections.

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81 Jackson Layers March 16, 2017 at 2:06 pm

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