None dare call it redistribution

Rebecca M. Blank was a top candidate in 2011 to lead President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, but then the White House turned up something politically dangerous.

“A commitment to economic justice necessarily implies a commitment to the redistribution of economic resources, so that the poor and the dispossessed are more fully included in the economic system,” Ms. Blank, a noted poverty researcher, wrote in 1992. With advisers wary of airing those views in a nomination fight, Mr. Obama passed over Ms. Blank, then a top Commerce Department official and now the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin. Instead he chose Alan Krueger, a Princeton economist.

“Redistribution is a loaded word that conjures up all sorts of unfairness in people’s minds,” said William M. Daley, who was Mr. Obama’s chief of staff at the time. Republicans wield it “as a hammer” against Democrats, he said, adding, “It’s a word that, in the political world, you just don’t use.”

There is more here.


I don't think the word "redistribution" should be used on its own. It would be better to say "redistribution from market outcomes, which are arbitrary from the point of view of justice", but that's probably a bit clunky.

“redistribution from market outcomes, which are arbitrary from the point of view of justice to redistribution by government, which is arbitrary from the point of view of justice"

There FIFY

I'm sure you're just being droll but obviously the government is free to distribute according to principles of justice and fairness or not. The market, in contrast, does not have that ability (if surveys on what a just distribution of wealth would be are accurate).

It depends on whether you define a just distribution of wealth on the basis of the process by which it's created or on the basis of how equally it is divided. Surveys suggest that Americans believe that a more equal distribution would be more just, but also that government redistribution is an unjust method of achieving that result.

Perhaps if it was framed as "distribution" instead of "redistribution" the public might not be so upset about the method. I believe the confusion arises because the general public think, quite naturally given the discourse, that market outcomes are somehow natural. The government is every bit as responsible for market outcomes as it is for non-market outcomes. The idea that markets spontaneously generate wealth is pernicious in this regard but it is a daft system, practically speaking, that gives people wealth and then takes it away through taxation and expects people to be happy about it. It practically begs people to think they "deserve" whatever the market outcome is.

The UBI discussion sheds some interesting perspective on this. When UBI is assumed to be funded through income taxation it is viewed as redistribution. When funded by a land tax (Georgist) or direct from the treasurer (post-Keynesian?), it's not.

Despite the variety of fiscal sources and expenditures, if people can draw a line from productive income to non-productive income, they see redistribution.

Yes of course, people are so confused to think that the money they earn by working hard and improving the lives of others through voluntary exchanges is somehow just or fair. Thanks for clarifying that really the government "distributed" this money to them and they don't deserve it.

In every business income in redistributed. The executives or people with power take all the income and distribute as they see fit. When they do this the workers for the most part have no say on where the income goes. I find it ironic that people find it bad that we distribute income via democracy vrs dictatorship

The link (I don't read the NYT) is 'dont-dare-call-the-health-law-redistribution' - WTF???

Being American, but living in a place (well, continent, actually) where health care is considered something a civilized society provides to its citizens - and a smart society definitely provides to all children - this is the sort of framing that makes me wonder just how exceptional Americans really are.

But it is redistribution. And in fact it's the wrong kind of redistribution, as it takes money from young poor people and gives it to old rich people.

So, you are opposed to education because that is wealth redistributed from the old to the young??

As for giving healthcare to rich old people, are you arguing that under Obamacare Warren Buffett will not be paying enough for his health care, which assuming an income of $20 million will mean he's paying $600,000 for health care in taxes plus $310 in Part B monthly premium (or his employer health benefit will get a lower Medicare credit for the benefit provided to Medicare eligible employees). Should Buffett be charged a million a year for his health care?

I guess the question I have is why did the young and healthy chose to become old or unhealthy if the penalties of being old or unhealthy were so high? If your idea of economic incentives worked, the US would be like 90% under the age of 30 and almost entirely healthy. Like in Logan's Run, THX1138, or Zardoz showing I'm not under 30.

> > And in fact it’s the wrong kind of redistribution, as it takes money from young poor people and gives it to old rich people.

> So, you are opposed to education because that is wealth redistributed from the old to the young??

Sometimes it's like mulp isn't even trying. :(

Obamacare subsidies for those in the single market come from a tax on income above 300k and from cuts in medicare that arise from paying based on quality rather then quantity. So if your statement were to be reworded to reflect relative it would be, "And in fact it’s the wrong kind of redistribution, as it takes money from rich people who pay less taxes then poor people and inefficient hospitals and gives it to poor people to provide them with health care"

You do know that no one in the US is refused health care, right?

True: ample confusion, both foreign and domestic, over the concepts "health care" and "health insurance" in the American struggle over . . . resource (re)distribution. Lots of glib usage also carries the implicit meaning of "comprehensive health insurance" when not so many Americans want or need such extensive coverage, no matter the deductibles or the co-pays, et cetera.

Probably not. Lack of awareness of S-Chip is a dead giveaway. Also, Europeans in particular view medical providers asking for payment as unseemly, and frequently confuse it with denial of care.

Is that sarcasm? Because if so, it's a bit dangerous; yes it's nonsense but some people nevertheless believe it. (In my experience, this is basically those people under a complete misapprehension about what emergency rooms must and do provide by law.) Or did you mean a different point?

No one in the US is refused health care at the emergency room. Try getting a planned course of cancer treatments via the emergency room. You'll be dead.

I received a planned course of cancer treatment via emergency room, and i'm very much alive. Emergency room conducted initial diagnosis, then checked me into the main ward for full battery of test, which then led to oncologist and specialist surgeons. Surgery was set for 3 weeks later, and done along with convalescence in the main wards. But yes, Emergency rom handled initial diagnosis and initiated the intake sequence.

Maybe emergency care. And of that doesn't mean the bills from that care aren't bankrupting people, which of course they are.

actually I didn't know that. Following the US healthcare debates from Europe, I'm bound to end up confused!

Then please move to one of these civilized societies and leave us barbarians to be consumed by our own iniquities.

We will sack you later.

health care is considered something a civilized society provides to its citizens

American society provides far more health care to its citizens, including twice as many MRIs and organ transplants. Of course, a continent that was fertile ground for Nazism and Communism probably doesn't do as well at objective economic evaluation.

The real problem is the cult of the individual.

For the wealthy libertarian minded, they have their success and wealth as a result of their individual greatness. Redistributions away from them, therefore, are an injustice and an offense against their brilliance.

For the wealthy capitalist, social democratic, socialist, and pretty much anyone who isn't a libertarian, they have their success and wealth as a result of their individual abilities, luck, and a conducive marketplace that is created and mitigated by governments. Thus society has had some impact on their individual success, and they have a moral obligation to give some back.

This is why taxation debates aren't really divided by class--poor and rich libertarians agree that tax is redistribution at the threat of a gun, and poor and rich everyone else agree that tax is redistribution to counterbalance amoral markets.

I suppose if we want to make redistribution seem less horrendous, we need to have a debate about just how important laws, roads, infrastructure, government protections, and so on are to the success of an individual business.

As a libertarian leaning individual, I have a much bigger problem with the paternalistic nature of the welfare state than the redistributive aspect. I'm no fan of large amounts of redistribution, but, if we are to redistribute, I would prefer we do direct cash transfers instead of large, paternalistic programs that oftentimes fail to improve lives.

I read this critique of single payer health care recently:

I found myself largely in agreement. Instead of advocating single payer, I wonder if the left would settle for a redistributive program of direct cash transfers that would allow individuals the resources to purchase catastrophic insurance and finance an HSA.

It seems that direct cash transfers would do more with the same amount of resources to help the poor and middle class than programs like single payer would.

The question, in my mind, relates to whether the left is more committed to paternalism or actually helping the poor. The answer to that question is far from clear.

Problem with cash transfers is that fewer jobs and unions are created. These folks form voter blocs which rival the distributions themselves in importance.

Entrenched interest groups (like unions) blocking reform that would help the nation as a whole. Familiar story. Unfortunately, what you say it entirely correct.

Although, to be fair, people tend to have a natural opposition to unconditional transfers. There is a sense that they will be "wasted". People are more or less ok with devoting government resources to the poor, but they demand the government decide how poor people use these resources. I think this is a terrible way to approach poverty, but it is popular.

"There is a sense that they will be “wasted”."

More than just a sense. My experience as a lifelong resident of Alaska, home of the Permanent Fund Dividend, and in frequent contact with people on government support (in fact, I am one), is that cash handouts do tend to be allocated to impulsive wants more than needs by too many; their kids may need new clothes, but they spend their PFD checks, and the kids' checks, on a new snowmobile, a big-screen TV, or just a lot of booze. Remember, many poor are poor because they lack the future time orientation and impulse control needed to manage money responsibly.

When was the last time unions were a powerful political force?

Kevin C.

Not sure how to orient this to make it a reply to your comment, and I'm late to the party, but wanted to relate a perspective on what you wrote.

The relatively well off tend to think the poor stay poor because they don't know how to put off acquiring non-necessities until necessities are all met. What they often don't understand is that either in perception or in stone cold fact those necessities will never, ever *be* met in full. So we are not really telling that poor person he should wait until he's not poor to have a big TV. We are telling him he needs to never have a big TV.

That changes the way people evaluate what a need is. Middle class folks consider pants that are long enough to cover the ankles a need -- ill fitting clothes would be humiliating to their kids. But a lower class kid is probably already in the humiliation category, what's a little more? Particularly if taking a few hits like that every season means that one day when there's a check -- snowmobile!!

(I totally recognize, btw, that you are more likely talking about kids who don't have boots, important stuff, I just picked pant length as an extreme to show what I mean.)

So the down side to not furnishing "necessities" is not as far down (we're pretty close to bottom anyway, not as far to fall) and the up side to getting a luxury is far more up (rather than getting something sooner, for the poor it means getting it at all).

Again, people tend to make decisions fairly rationally, for their situation, it's just often a situation we don't have an instinct for.

I ran into this first when a woman I worked with had her home foreclosed on, and she was on the phone trying to negotiate with the cable company to continue cable at their new rental, despite being behind on payments. I thought, I don't have cable! Why is she buying cable if she can't pay her mortgage?!

But she was buying cable precisely because she couldn't pay her mortgage. She had a low paying job and a husband who couldn't or wouldn't hold one at all. She was never going to own a home. But she could have cable, that was possible.

Kevin C. -- F*** 'em. Give them the money anyway. Give it to everyone, rich or poor, and let them make the best or worst of it. Coercion just creates more problems.

O.k., TallDave, or don't. Go with no welfare at all, or go with welfare administered with so many strings you need to hire five bureaucrats for every welfare recipient to keep track of it all (I can point you to some areas where we're close to that, already).

But I can tell you, if you try to change the behavior of the poor with your money, without understanding the perfectly rational reasons the poor make the decisions they make, you're likely to not get the results you're looking for. If you'd rather just keep doing the same thing and getting results you hate because you can't give up on the idea that the poor behave irrationally (or immorally, or whatever floats your boat), go for it.

The new marshmallow test:

What union jobs are you referring to that welfare programs "create" which would not exist if you instead move to a cash transfer programs? The old Medicaid doctors union? The American food stamp workers of America? The Medicare Advantage insurance company workers union?

The Raleigh News and Observer reported on executive salaries at various housing authorities in North Carolina. These agencies receive 75% of their funding from the federal government (through HUD I believe), but claim to be non-profits that can pay their executives whatever they want. We could just give poor people money, and then these 'affordable housing' bureaucrats would need to find something else to do. While not a union, these employees have a vested interest in non-cash transfers. Maybe Mungowitz will write about this specific topic (maybe he already has).

This makes it sound as though they didn't contribute at all to the building of the infrastructure, benefited from said infrastructure, and are now refusing to share wealth that was gained at the expense of those who built the infrastructure. It ignores the fact that laws, roads, and infrastructure were paid for by these very people (and numerous other people, of course) during the course of growing their wealth.

Perhaps my take is too charitable, but I believe that most people who oppose "redistribution" believe that they have already paid enough for laws, roads and infrastructure, rather than being naively oblivious to the benefits afforded to them by society. This also makes a farce out of the rather more reasonable argument that most libertarians would make which is that perhaps the enormous bureaucracy that is the federal government isn't the best mechanism for implementing some of these social goods.

Yes, you are being too charitable.

Businesses invest when and only when that investment will result in greater revenue or earnings in the future. Side benefits to society aren't a consideration, no matter how much lip service to the contrary about "social responsibility", which is really just marketing.

If a company builds an infrastructure that makes society better, that doesn't negate their original reliance on pre-existing infrastructure. Google is a great example--here's a company that's created the most powerful infrastructural innovation since the invention of the internet. But that was a government provided asset, and a necessary asset for Google's new infrastructure. No, Google didn't pay enough to society when building itself up, because that was a happy side effect--they were building up their own profit engines.


Good point on google.

The stunning success of the obamcare website launch clearly shows that when it come to the internet and IT the government is the standard of excellence private industry should strive for.

I'm not sure Google is the best example since society gets to use the search engine for free, and the internet was created by tax dollars. It wasn't created out of the goodness of the government's heart. Government employees got paid to do a job and when they were done the results of their labor were made available to the public. That sounds like the point of the government to me anyway, the public paying for things to benefit the public. The internet turned out to be a very useful invention, but it would be far, far less useful without search engines(and its the search engine, not the internet, that Google is profiting from). I see your point that Google wouldn't exist without the internet, but the internet would suck without Google. It hardly seems fair for the government to decide after the fact that something it created was actually more valuable than they thought it was and charge companies for that, especially when so much of the value was created by Google.

Besides that, it is wrong to look at the government as a profit seeking entity. The government isn't entitled to a return on its investment. It exists to serve the taxpayers, not the other way around. It isn't unfair that the government didn't get paid for how extraordinary the internet turned out to be (though I think it did actually get paid), it is exactly as it should be. There is an argument here against libertarianism that the government created something so useful. There is not, however, an argument against capitalism. I don't believe it is morally wrong for taxpayers to use taxpayer funded public goods to create wealth, especially when the public good is essentially limitless, like the internet. The government shouldn't be trying to get even with people who benefit disproportionately from public goods, it should be happy it helped its citizens help themselves.

The vast majority of the infrastructure used for Internet (submarine and land cables, IXPs, routers, etc) was not built or funded by the government

> I’m not sure Google is the best example since society gets to use the search engine for free

Advertisers are not part of society, I take it. Frankly, I'm not a huge fan of them either, but this seems a little harsh.

Emil -- the claims are bizarre when you consider them on their face, as though defining the protocols for driving were equivalent to creating the auto industry.

Production must precede consumption.

The ONLY way to raise the general standard of living in a population is human production of more goods & services. Increasing capital within that population is the only way to increase production.

Redistribution adds nothing to production, instead it strongly discourage it.

All that good government can do to improve material well-being of the masses is to foster progressive accumulation of new capital to improve technical methods of production. Better wages can only be permanently achieved by increasing worker productivity with capital investment.

Obama and his social democrats wrongly believe that government has mystical power to improve the masses’ standard of living -- merely by forced equalization of incomes/wealth, confiscatory taxation, and other major economic interventions (ObamaCare).
Greater production is the key, not greater government coercion against producers.

That's a nice mix of falsehoods, half truths, and unsupported bare assertion you've got there.

Awesome fact filled rebuttal. GiT.

Sanders, you pretty much hit the nail on the head.

Greater production is the key,

And since production is only useful if it's consumed, and will only be consumed if offers marginal utility, the process of increasing production is fraught with risk and failure.

That's why government fails -- because it cannot.

Whence comes your asserted categorical imperative: "they have a moral obligation to give some back"?

Somehow, I prefer not to (have to) rely on self-evident deontological ethics.

It's not my self-evident deontological ethic, but theirs. I'm describing their train of thought, not my own.

"Redistributions away from them" Confiscation is a more economical use of phonemes.
" a conducive marketplace that is created and mitigated by governments." Governments don't create marketplaces, which come into being when two entities wish to make a voluntary exchange. No government needed.

Two people making a voluntary exchange isn't a market.

Corporate/philanthropic rhetoric is paradoxically responsible for this idea. "We've decided to give back to the greater Chicago area this year by donating 20% of our sales to..."

It is simply untenable to say that everything that contributes to success necessarily creates some moral obligation to give back. By your logic, the construction company that built the garage of Bill Gates' parents is entitled to some share of Bill Gates' fortune. After all, that garage is where he started his business and contributed to his success.

Furthermore, it is those very people who were successful who paid for all the infrastructure, which nevertheless is enjoyed equally by the less wealthy. So how can there possible be a moral obligation for the successful to subsidize the less successful even more than they already do because of progressive taxation?

In the U.S. we have a unique spirit of philanthropy and many successful people are extremely generous. To denigrate those people by saying they owed that money to others anyway is pathetic.

It's not just individualists. Community-minded types praise the private charity model built on voluntary efforts and contributions, but shun a government charity model based on the idea that whomever wields political strength can impose their viewpoint of "fairness" and "morality" on others and justify coercive seizure of another man's money and therefore voice in the matter. I don't think anyone disagrees that free markets have amoral qualities and aren't perfect but who should have a say in correcting that: The left would say whomever manages to obtain the political leverage to enforce it, because that tends to be them. The right crowd would generally say that the people be more directly engaged in the form of groups and communities.

Unbelievable. And to think that LBJ openly used it in speeches about the Great Society - that's crazy.

Someone should ask Republicans what they think agro-subsidies are. Or Medicaid.

Yes, I would dearly love to see the political opponents of the Republicans bring up these issues.

Only one group is not so entrenched that they would touch those programs. That would be the tea party.

God help us all....

The real problem is the cult of the individual.

The toxic mindset neatly encapsulated in that short sentence has killed millions of people.

To be fair, other cults--to personalities, ideas, races--have killed millions more. But thanks.

The real problem is the cult of the individual.

Is the toxic gem at base of the other genocides you mention.

Good to see you acknowledge the destructiveness of

The real problem is the cult of the individual.

Interesting that you continue to embrace it in spite of the destruction you admit it has caused.

Not sure how you glean from anything I've written that I embrace anything at all. I think you're arguing with the demons in your head--not me.

Pretty obvious from the framing in your writing that you favor redistribution

What is ironic is Obama spoke to Joe the Plumber using the phrase "spread the wealth" by creating more opportunity and Joe the Plumber became the symbol of the oppressed by Obama's redistributionist policies, except Joe the Plumber has greatly benefited from Obama giving him lots more job opportunities than he had under Republican rule.

Don't know if Joe is better off today than six years ago, but it isn't because Obama didn't give him lots of opportunities to get some of the billions in wealth spread around the political campaigns.

Joe Wurtzelwhatever was a private contractor with concrete skills who managed a team. If you think "Obama gave him lots more job opportunities", you're in a really scary level of schizophrenic delusion.

I would love to hear what additional opportunities you think Obama gave Joe.

But even that aside, there is nothing hypocritical about voting against one's own naked self-interest. The most noble vote one can make is to vote against one's self interest and for the greater good.

He's referring to the celebrity the guy enjoyed. It was probably a short-term bump, but I don't doubt for a second that he came out pretty well in the whole exchange.

That redistribution mostly favors the poor is a total canard.

Redistribution of property taxes mostly favors the breeders' children.

Obamacare redistribution taxes young, healthy, childfree males in order to support breeding and hypochondriac females, regardless of their level of poverty.

Public support of national parks and forests redistributes wealth from Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans in favor of Whites in general, and retired Whites in particular.

Social Security and Medicare redistribute wealth from singles and the childfree to indolent spouses and the breeders' kids.

It's 2013 and gays are still referring to normal people as "breeders".

I think he's referring to anyone who has children as "breeders", since the distinction he makes isn't a gay/straight one but a "childfree" vs. "breeders" one.

Even those who adopt?

It's such a silly word though- breeders. Like it's some new sect. Where did all these breeders come from anyway?

I suspect Jimbino comes from a long line of breeders himself, of whom he doubtless sternly disapproves.

You sound crazy, but I have to admit you've got a point.

Well it certainly does. To the extent it favors children, I applaud that as desirable

As the above comments indicate we have been redistributing since ~1976 and like crazy since the "tax reform" of 1987.

"A commitment to economic justice necessarily implies a commitment to the redistribution of economic resources..."

So 'justice' is when the government takes your money and property and gives it to someone else- after taking their cut in administrative costs.

And this person is now a university chancellor.

Social justice = redistribution? who knew?

Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Barack Obama

Pope Francis, too.

And, if you believe in trickle down, Ronald Reagan.

trickle down is not redistribution.

How many divisions does Pope Francis have?

Agreed. Pope Francis relies on voluntary contributions.

The word to use is predistribution since the distribution is established through all those laws and practices that should be modified.

prior_approval said

Being American, but living in a place (well, continent, actually) where health care is considered something a civilized society provides to its citizens

Providing does not equal delivering either healthcare or good results.

The rationing through wait list seen in countries with government run healthcare and the superior outcomes provided by the US private health system clearly show this.

The Myth of Americans' Poor Life Expectancy

If you really want to measure health outcomes, the best way to do it is at the point of medical intervention. In 2008, a group of investigators conducted a worldwide study of cancer survival rates, called CONCORD.

They looked at 5-year survival rates for breast cancer, colon and rectal cancer, and prostate cancer. I compiled their data for the U.S., Canada, Australia, Japan, and western Europe. Guess who came out number one? USA

I posted this same link somewhere above, but lost it:

It makes the same point that government run health care ultimately fails to improve the lot of the average man.

Isn't the point to improve the lot of the massively disadvantaged man rather than the one who's doing okay?

I wonder how many of those survivors went bankrupt compared to the others areas ....

'Providing does not equal delivering either healthcare or good results'

This was already discussed in the French thread - but America does not stack up well compared to a number of other countries. Though Americans always have a fascinating way of looking at things (excluding deaths from accidents to adjust mortality rates comes to mind as a recent, and sadly funny, one), so that regardless of the data, America always comes out ahead - at least in American eyes.

It was fatal accidents by the way. Yes because a country that drives far more than other countries being compared to should have it's healthcare system penalized by not controlling for it in the numbers and that is "sadly funny"?

The passage illustrates what most of us with open eyes have known all along: liberals are closeted socialists. They plan on the same goals and means as Marx, Lenin, Mao, and Ho, but employ better marketing techniques.

As an out-of-the-closet socialist, I disagree. American liberals (or "progressives" as they prefer to be called these days, which probably brands them more closely to their European counterparts) do not think like socialists. Note the double-think in this passage: "a commitment to the redistribution of economic resources, so that the poor and the dispossessed are more fully included in the economic system". So even after economic redistribution, the poor and dispossessed are somehow still "the poor and dispossessed". Such thinking has no end game. The goal of a more worthy form of socialism is to have few poor folks in the first place.

I used to think the free market was the best way to lift all boats, but since that doesn't appear to be working I've changed my politics.

Um... China?

China is still a developing country. Read my comments below and you'll see I am talking about developed countries, where the median citizen is losing ground.

I'll add that the real goal should be democracy not equality. Relative economic equality is the best means for achieving democracy. Dignity is more important than money.

"Dignity is more important than money."

I notice this sentiment is frequently expressed by those who obsess about people they'll never meet having "too much money".

nah, mike. read this woman's story: for example:
"None of it matters. We don't plan long-term because if we do we'll just get our hearts broken. It's best not to hope. You just take what you can get as you spot it." that and other parts sound to me like a life lacking dignity and self-worth but it also sounds light years from spiting others for their financial success. there's no need to peddle in extremes when modest adjustments would do much good.

I've noticed it expressed in the wisest literature throughout the ages.

Anon - It's not the poor who think this way. It's people who feel guilty about the wealth and advantage they inherited (albeit not so guilty they're interested in giving that wealth up...), and/or people who for whatever reason are apoplectic that those they believe less worthy are nonetheless wealthier and more respected than they. They are mostly college educated, and usually upper middle class or higher on the economic ladder, with a healthy sprinkling of people broke because of poor educational choices. In any case, it's mainly people from the 90th+ percentile who obsess about the 99th percentile having too much wealth, not those from the 20th.

Dignity doesn't put food on the table or a roof over your head, money does. People who write the "wisest literature" think dignity is more important than money; people without money know better.

J1 did you read the linked piece? That was written by someone who fit none of your descriptions. Of course money matters, but a few thousand dollars out of my checking account into hers each month would probably give her some breathing room and keep me puffing along too. And still leave us differentially materially rewarded (not a socialist). Let people live their lives but make sure they actually can with some reasonable effort, that's dignity. Also I am sure there's a way to give people money that strips them of their dignity .... dignity trumps money and we shouldn't be testing that premise.

"In any case, it’s mainly people from the 90th+ percentile who obsess about the 99th percentile having too much wealth, not those from the 20th."

I agree. Actual poor people care about having better jobs and more money for themselves not about rich people having less. Progressives who obsess about the 1% having too much money have inverted values. But Cowen predicts (somewhat convincingly) that we are headed toward a future where 15% of the people grow very rich while the middle class disappears. You don't have to be a sentimental liberal to have a problem with that state of affairs. You merely have to be a normal American with normal American values to have a problem with that.

Some libertarians think super-meritocracy is awesome. You are going to find yourselves up against some stiff political opposition in coming years, despite what Cowen has predicted will be the case.

Yes, I did. Including the third paragraph from the end, which says:

"I am making a few things clear: not all of this piece is about me. That is why I said that they were observations".

Just to be clear, when I say "a healthy sprinkling of people broke because of poor educational choices", I'm talking about people from the upper middle class who made poor choices.

Since an increasing number of people from the middle-class are making "poor choices", we are going to have a real socialist movement soon.

I know how to cook. I had to take Home Ec to graduate high school. Most people on my level didn't. Broccoli is intimidating. You have to have a working stove, and pots, and spices, and you'll have to do the dishes no matter how tired you are or they'll attract bugs.

Broccoli does not even need to be cooked. Carrots are cheaper than broccoli and are much better uncooked than cooked. Lots of delicious cheap food does not need cooking. I have lived on trail mix for days at a time. Citrus is cheap and needs no cooking. Peppers need no cooking. This woman has a husband, kids and sex which some people do not have she is not so bad off. IMHO she needs to open her eyes and practice trying to be happy.

What's with the knee-jerk positive view of democracy? That's what's gotten the US into the silly situation it's in. If it has to be assumed that 50% + 1 of a voting population, many of whom have no skin in the game, others who are voting to increase their own wealth, have the right to determine the lives of the rest there isn't much use in discussing the details.

What's the alternative? Less than 50% + 1 determining the lives of the rest?

American liberals love regulations and bureaucracy. As an American socialist, I loathe both of those things, but believe the government sector should be much, much larger in terms of employment. We should get rid of most of our laws, but we should also employ many more people with the public purse. Regulations: bad. Taxes: good.

What is loathsome about regulations? How would something like environmental or workplace protections work out? Even in a socialist society, there will still be private actors.

The goal of socialism is to have few poor folks?

Ironically enough, socialism has actually increased poverty substantially wherever tried.

And, also quite ironic, socialists like yourself tend to denigrate free markets. Yet, free markets are the only institution that have consistently reduced poverty.

If socialists were really interested in reducing poverty, they would not be socialists. Of course, that would require socialists to actually understand economic theory or even just look at very basic empirical evidence.

Having said all of that, I agree that progressives are not socialists. But, they do share a similar ignorance about economics with socialists.

Socialism has never been tried. We've had some totalitarians use the word "socialist", but if I call myself a parrot that doesn't mean I'm a parrot.

Isn't socialism inherently totalitarian? Or at least pretty far in that direction?

Socialism has never been tried.

I see quotes like that and realize some people will dismiss any inconvenient fact. Usually the logic behind it turns out to be some kind of "No true Scotsman" fallacy.

Progressivism is inherently totalitarian, in that it requires getting in all the cracks to regulate the behavior of others. America is becoming much more Soviet. But socialism can be different. Remember that all capitalist countries are alike while each socialist country is socialist in its own way. Progressives in America are probably a greater enemy to a good socialism than are conservatives, since conservatives tend to be more practical in the economic sphere.

Again: regulations bad, taxes good. That may be my new American Socialist mantra. Anyway, I'll keep repeating it til it takes hold.

One could say that Reagan was in practice (though not in speech) an American Socialist. He grew the economy with massive government spending. The good news is we don't need to spend that much on the military anymore and can therefore spend it in other sectors.

It's not that socialism has never been tried. It's that socialism has never worked.

This is just a classic example of "no true scotsman fallacy".

What about the Acts of the Apostles?

Socialism of varying types has been tried and has been incredibly successful in many places. Medicare is socialism. Social Security is socialism. The EITC is even socialism-lite. Plenty of European countries have even more socialist programs and policies in place.

A full-blown socialist society in the post-industrial world? Maybe not, but we've definitely got a mix of socialism in many places.

Not long ago I would have agreed entirely with your middle three statements. But we are in a different historical stage now. Read Average Is Over. Capitalism is not in a stage of lifting boats in the first world; it is in a stage of sinking them. Free markets are probably best for developing countries and are preferable to a system full of bureaucratic obstacles, but for first world countries advanced in development like ours they are a flimsy foundation for society. Note that it's possible to have more free markets and more socialism at the same time: we could have a system with fewer regulations, allowing markets to do what they are best at, while also having a socialist system which "bats last", employing those who have no niche in the free market side of things.

+1 to dirk

I spent my teen years listening to talk radio and celebrating the Contract with America. A meritocracy made a lot of sense. That was 20 years ago.

Today, the path to success demands that you are highly above average. You need to know how to code. You need to be brilliant. You need to be aggressive and embrace risks. You need to create - you cannot be a follower. And you need to go into finance. That path cannot support a lot of feet. Let the free markets run but we need a large state to prop up everything else. Because the robots and the software aren't going to put food on billions of tables.

"the path to success demands that you are highly above average. You need to know how to code. You need to be brilliant. You need to be aggressive and embrace risks. You need to create – you cannot be a follower. And you need to go into finance."

Your statement is absolutely laughable hyperbole.

I've actually read "Average is Over".

I agree with virtually every sentence of the book, but I don't favor "more socialism".

Instead, I favor dramatic reform of the welfare state that would move it towards a smaller welfare state more targeted towards lower income Americans based more on direct cash transfers as well as liberalization of economic regulations.

I understand and respect your pragmatism. You have more than most progressives or socialists that I know, but I still do not think that "more socialism" is a good path.

"the path to success demands that you are highly above average."
All you need to be able to do is stay off drugs, and show up on time, and do some work.
Companies all over have a hard time filling the brain dead positions because a huge group of people out there can't even handle that.

You don't need centralized state-socialism to accomplish that. A Universal Basic Income would help alleviate the shortage of labor in structural unemployment without the need to grow the central state apparatus (and in fact shrink it).

"You need to create – you cannot be a follower. And you need to go into finance"

Does nobody else find that a funny juxtaposition?

There are few poor folks (in the U.S.) You're never going to get rid of "people who have less than the average person" without destroying the entire thing

And what happens when you destroy the "average"?

I don't buy Tyler's vision. To the extent 'average' is being destroyed (which is exaggerated anyway), it's being destroyed 'up'.

The fact that some people have been moving down: how much of that is a statistical artifact? In a poor country like the 1930s, there wasn't a lot of possibility for downward-movement among most folks. Over the past 40 years, there's simply much more scope for these stories, because of the starting point.

I thought redistribution of income was proposed as a payment for redistribution of carbon in the environment.


The problem with redistribution is twofold.

One is that, perhaps due to the success of Republican criticisms, Democrats won't let charity be charity but instead insist on some version of economics whereby the correct system of redistribution makes us all richer. That has led in practice to bureaucracy, rent seeking and also, to be fair, success in alleviating some of the worst conditions of poverty. But redistribution is a trade-off rather than a simple win for all.

The second is that redistribution got wrapped up in this quasi-religious/marxist "economic justice" talk. The best rationale for social welfare spending is that we may all find ourselves in unfortunate circumstances at some point, so having a baseline with which to work means people with industry and foresightedness don't stay poor for long. People without industry and foresightedness may stay poor, but at least they aren't suffering as badly.

I think the big problem with healthcare comes because no one can agree on the baseline, especially for the elderly.


Redistribution makes a lot of sense. Let's start with a 99% tax on lottery winnings. Think of how much that would raise.


Pure genius, Chuck. Many thanks!

Brilliant. Take the money from the poor, and give it back to them!

None dare call it redistribution nor welfare and thus the strange and inefficient structure of SS, FICA and now the PPACA.

Here is my plea to the world: please stop saying "redistribution" and start saying either "voluntary redistribution" or "forcible redistribution," depending on which you mean.

It's not just the word "redistribution", the underlying idea is what is offensive: There exists an elite few that decide what is fair and wield massive largely unchecked power of coercion to inflict their viewpoint on the masses who have been stripped of any meaningful way of engaging or influencing this process.

Seems made up.

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