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Some people drink a beer (or two or three) while watching football. I tend to catch up on my econ reading. It's a personality flaw, I know. I'll probably end up in therapy.

But the reason for the counseling wouldn't be my below-average intake of alcohol. Rather, it's my above-average proclivity to get pretty livid about what's there, in the numbers, printed in black and white and all sorts of fancy colors and charts and sidebars and footnotes, that gets me into trouble. When combined with the main danger of (relative) youth, not having learned to accept yet that the world is as it is and can't be changed, it compels speaking out about what's going on. This information I think is very similar to the stories told about ourselves and our world through all the major forms of human expression, from music to painting to theater and so forth.

Like any other kind of expression, you have to know what you're looking for, otherwise it's easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information, or be distracted from the broader themes by a particular bit of noise. In fact, one of the aspects of highly skilled practitioners I find most interesting is that the experts in the field are most likely to get sidetracked by blemishes in the performance. Go see a movie with a film critic. Listen to a choir concert with a classically trained vocalist. Visit a museum with a painter. Talk about the meaning of life with a philosophy major.

Discuss political economy with someone who has a PhD in economics...**

It can be very rewarding and eye opening. But, it can also be distracting, because sometimes what's most important are the major themes, the 'big picture', not the intricate details and flaws and statistical noise and notes that were slightly off key and camera angles that should have been better and blocking that wasn't done perfectly and so forth.

What I want to do this afternoon is draw a few bits of information out of a couple reports, to purposefully take them out of context, because that allows us to be jarred and shaken by their sheer absurdity. In many ways, the story of our time is that we allow so much to happen in our country even though we know it's happening and have the tools to change it. That's how it's been; it undermines our capacity to be outraged that it continues to be. This is important for Democratic party politics because we are firmly in charge. We are responsible for our actions or inactions in addressing where we stand today. Most of us are familiar at some level with the main problem in our society, wealth concentration, that has been destabilizing both our economy and our democracy. I hope that this helps illustrate some particular ways of visualizing and understanding this foundational challenge. Often times, our online commentary is driven by trying to be the quickest to report on some fleetingly breaking event, but I think it's also valuable to go back and look in more detail at items made available during the year.

The two main documents I'm pulling from are the Changes in U.S. Family Finances from 2004 to 2007: Evidence from the Survey of Consumer Finances [PDF warning] from the Federal Reserve this February and the Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2008 [PDF warning] from the Census Bureau this September. The econ and finance world is pretty good about covering these things. What intrigues me is that the impact on our political discourse seems to be pretty fleeting most of the time.

Storyline #1: Median wages have never before fallen over an entire decade.

As David Leonhardt summarized:

Median household fell to $50,303 last year, from $52,163 in 2007. In 1998, median income was $51,295. All these numbers are adjusted for inflation.

The post war economy, where public policy was actively employed to link productivity and wages, is over. In our new economy, all the gains from work accrue to those at the very top. There is no market reason for this. This is because government has changed policy from rewarding work to rewarding wealth. The fundamental justification of capitalism is that it raises living standards over time. If it were capitalism that were broken, we'd need to find something else, and no one is quite sure what that would be. But our position, fortunately, is much easier to address. What is broken is public policy, and we have many easy policy fixes at our disposal. All we have to do is choose to use them (no easy task itself, of course, as the wealthy rather like owning most of the country).

Storyline #2: Homeowners are significantly wealthier than renters and homeless persons.

This of course is an aggregate statement. The richest renter is wealthier than the poorest homeowner. But the data is very clear. The disparities between these two groups are astonishingly overwhelming.

The Fed study pegged median homeowner net worth at $234,000, while the median net worth of those who don't own a home is $5,000. The mean figures are $778,000 for homeowners, $71,000 for renters/other.

Every time you hear some lobbyist from the National Association of Realtors or the National Association of Home Builders or the Mortgage Bankers Association or some other special interest group claim that taxpayer dollars should be used to support home ownership, keep this in mind. The home mortgage interest deduction, capital gains tax exemptions, low interest loans, unprecedented expansion of government guarantees of mortgages, loose prosecution of fraud, and so forth, collectively amount to a massively regressive transfer of wealth.

And remember, this isn't a heartless statement caring not about homeowners. The three most important policies to help struggling homeowners have nothing to do with the tax code; they are universal unemployment insurance, universal health insurance, and equitable bankruptcy codes (these are the three main solutions that match up with the three main problems in housing: income shocks, unexpected medical bills, and negative equity).

Storyline #3: Our economy is, by definition, racist.

If #2 didn't make some people uncomfortable, perhaps this one will.

The Census Bureau has been tracking median household income by race for a few decades; Blacks about 4, Whites and Hispanics for 3, and Asians for 2. This past year, there are some clear differences by race:

Asians: $65,600
White, not Hispanic: $55,500
Hispanic, any race: $37,900
Black: $34,200

Now of course, it's possible that some sort of aberration occurred in 2008. One data point doesn't say a whole lot. There's a chart on page 7 that just absolutely has to be seen to fully grasp our history on this.

This ordering of race-based median household income holds in every year data is available. Every. Single. Year. The lines simply never cross.

If a private employer, or a housing association, or a government agency, or other such group operated this way, they'd be sued into oblivion. But when our economy as a whole operates this way, we largely just acclimate to it and move on. One of the great advances brought about through the 1950s and 1960s is widespread consensus that personal acts of racism are simply unacceptable in our social contract. Yet we have largely chosen to ignore (or even make worse) the racism institutionalized into our educational system, healthcare system, criminal justice system, environmental protection, and so forth. Again, this is an area where public policy is responsible for much of the situation. We could act, if we so desired, to change things for the better.

Storyline #4: There are broad regional differences in household income.

There's a natural tendency for some competition among people from different parts of the country. We like to take sides, form teams, and then go on about how our team's superior to your team. To a point, that can be fun and healthy. It would actually be kind of boring living in a world where no one was passionate about the place they call home.

There is also a tendency in our political discourse, though, to elevate these friendly outlets into something more profound and divisive, as if New York bankers must by definition be more financially literate than Kansas City bankers or Californians necessarily more liberal than Georgians.

Here's a list of median household income by broad region:

West: $55,100
Notheast: $54,300
Midwest: $50,100
South: $46,600

That strikes me as not insignificant. Some of the people who most need the protection of our United States, of our federal system of governance, are those who live in flyover country and the Bible Belt. And, these are also some of the people who have driven 'progressive' or 'populist' ideas the hardest. Not only should we not talk about abandoning some regions or some states because we have a duty to them, but also, because they make the Democratic Party stronger. We are not a party, or a country, of 20 or 30 states. We are 50 states, plus some other interesting territories and protectorates and whatnot. One of the primary reasons that more 'liberal' states are net exporters of tax dollars to less liberal ones, for example, is simply that the Midwest and South are poorer, relatively speaking.

Storyline #5: We take advantage of immigrants, not the other way around.

I get a kick out of the right-wingers who go on about immigrants taking our jobs. Generally speaking, it's our own public policy that is driving them here in the first place. To think that someone desires to leave their family, their home, their culture, their language, in short, everything that's familiar, and go somewhere else is funny. It's just laugh-out-loud, stand up comedy. The easy way to deal with immigration is to make gaining legal citizenship a clear, straightforward process, rewrite corporate trade pacts to be market-based trade pacts that reflect our values (like environmental protection, worker rights, health & safety standards, and so forth), and stop inflicting economic sanctions on foreign countries. Most Mexicans and Cubans and Haitians and so forth would much prefer to make their own country stronger, not migrate to the US.

And then, when immigrants get here, we don't even pay them well. Check out this category from the Census Bureau:

The median income of a native born citizen is $51,100.
The median income of a naturalized citizen is slightly higher, $51,500.
But the median income of foreign citizens is only $38,000.

Tell me again, who's getting the short end of the stick on that one?

Storyline #6: We have a suburban/everywhere else split, not an urban/rural split.

To me, one of the interesting developments in development is that neither cities nor the countryside are where our wealth is anymore. People of means choose to live in between, in these various suburbs and exurbs that neither enjoy the benefit of high density urbanization nor the natural charm of rural life.

Those who live 'inside principal cities' had median income of $44,200.
Those who live entirely outside a Metropolitan Statistical Area had median income of $40,800.
Those who live in an MSA, but outside the principal cities, had median income of $57,900.

Storyline #7: Men still make $10,000 more than women.

I saved this one for last because what's notable about the gender gap is that it is closing. There has been progress made on this front. Women entering the workforce are in a much better position relative to men than those entering the workforce 20 or 30 or 50 years ago. Unfortunately, the primary reasons for this have been a harmonization downward of men's income, not exactly the ideal means of reaching equilibrium, and public policy that purposefully undermines service sector wages that are dominated by women, like daycare, home healthcare, housekeeping, and so forth. And it's still amazing to see the number. For full-time people employed for a full year, at the end of the day, men still earned 10 gees more than women.

For men: $46,400.
For women: $35,700.

To me, the most tragic differences are those we can do something about. We have lots of good options, from lots of brilliant people, to effect real change in our country. Hopefully you can pick out a storyline or two that's particularly meaningful to you, and you'll ask people you know what we're doing to make it better.

** Update: As this wanders off into perpetuity in the lovely eternal world of the intertubes, I want to explicitly append one bit of editorial commentary here. This is one of the reasons that I am a big defender of people like Paul Krugman, Dean Baker, Robert Kuttner, Elizabeth Warren, Joseph Stiglitz, Brad Delong, and so forth. Of course we're not going to agree with every word written and spoken (democracy is majority tyranny, not consensus tyranny, after all). What's valuable is the striving to bridge the gap between hyper-compartmentalized, mathematically fortified disciplines and popular understanding. We owe a lot to professionals like these who are willing to stick their necks out in their fields a bit to try and communicate with a broader audience (ie, us).

Update 2: Yves Smith posted a particularly poignant exploration today of one family's story that ties in nicely to this, both in the circumstances of the family and in how our perspectives shape our reactions to the situation. And James Kwak added some quite useful commentary to this theme.

Originally posted to washunate on Sat Oct 31, 2009 at 01:25 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  we have the data (18+ / 0-)

    we know our country can change

    will we?

    I think we will. I think ultimately, the excitement of possibility wins out. It's just a shame so much injustice has to happen while we dither.

    •  am a little lost at what conclusions you are (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NY brit expat, washunate

      drawing.

      The data is good, the story lines relevant, but are you saying that its bad to live in suburb, or that its bad that asians earn more than hispanics?

      Im just curious what you percieve as a problem that needs a solution - and what is merely curious observation.

      •  for a general post on policy solutions (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        jemjo

        from my perspective, I'd point here and here.

        As specifically to suburbia, no, I don't think it's bad to live there. Rather, I think it's important to be aware that that's where the wealth is. It affects our discourse and perspective.

        Specifically for race, yes, I absolutely think it's unhealthy for race to be a meaningful explanatory variable in household income.

        So, you might say the geographic distribution commentary is more about awareness, about how that impacts our point of view, while things like racial and gender differences, I think, should be proactively countered by public policy.

        For example, one of the reasons that our transportation policy disproportionately builds mass transit in suburbia is because that's where people with political influence live. Both inner cities and rural America would benefit from a comprehensive high speed rail network linked to urban subway systems. There is less demand for this in suburbia in no small part because we currently invest large amounts of resources building mass transit there, particularly in the form of major highways and commercial airports.

        •  I think you have to dig deeper into "race" (0+ / 0-)

          Why do you think Asians have a higher income?

          I suspect that our Visa requirements are directly responsible. The H1 program and Educational Visas.

          •  much deeper :) (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            DBunn

            There are four major social factors I would highlight, with the caveat that there are lots of smaller ones. Care to jump in with any of your own?

            1. The drug war (and our criminal justice system more broadly) disproportionately tears apart black and hispanic families.
            1. It requires significant resources to migrate from Asia to the US. This almost definitionally means that, in aggregate, the social strata of Asian-Americans is higher than Hispanic-Americans and African-Americans. This is true both in higher education and in the workplace.
            1. Cultural/family values. It's hard to say this in value neutral language without grossly oversimplifying, but in short, in aggregate, Asian families have pushed harder to break two important generational cycles: attaining higher educational achievement than their parents and staying together more tightly as a family unit. There are expectations that are imposed upon Asian youth that do not have equal weight on Hispanic and Black youth.
            1. There is less consistent hostility from Whites toward Asians than Hispanics and Blacks.

            A really good way of seeing this dynamically is to compare demographics of higher education institutions and correctional institutions.

    •  While visiting friends in Singapore (0+ / 0-)

      I read a headline in The Straits Times, to the effect that while government wages were being reduced by 10 percent, this was a good thing so as to equalize the wages between the public and private sectors.

      Way to spin it.

      Chaos. It's not just a theory.

      by PBnJ on Sat Oct 31, 2009 at 03:18:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you for these statistics and for (3+ / 0-)

    your comments.  

    It remains amazing to me how many, otherwise well-educated, people are removed from the truth of the economic realities of most Americans.  Would you consider putting up a poll asking people to describe their "economic class" - upper, middle, lower?  Most people will guess somewhere in the middle, regardless of where their household falls in the scale, it's the American myth.

    That most of the tv pundits, reporters, anchorbots, live in households way beyond the median income for most American households is part of the problem with the shaping of a fair economic system.  Their wealth, and the wealth of many politicians skew their ability to represent the truth.

    btw, the data on Asian households is not surprising, based on two factors - the value and sacrifice placed on higher education, and the very common multi-family household living situations for both more educated east & south asians, as well as for the less educated and poorer southeast asians. Per capita median data would interesting.  

    "Out of Many, One." This is the great promise of our nation -9.75 -6.87

    by Uncle Moji on Sat Oct 31, 2009 at 01:45:53 PM PDT

  •  Yea I hate the fact... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sparhawk, washunate

    that the Asians are taking advantage of the whites in this country.../snark

    Obama - Change I still believe in

    by dvogel001 on Sat Oct 31, 2009 at 01:52:18 PM PDT

    •  in all seriousness (2+ / 0-)

      I think this data point is helpful because it shows that the situation is more complex than 'whites vs. everybody else'. I think that's a very fruitful point from which to begin discussions on exactly why quantifiable racial differences exist.

      There are some things we can learn, as the commenter above points out, on factors that do, unfortunately, tend to vary by race, like cultural backgrounds, educational expectations, breaking generational cycles, having strong households, and so forth. In our educational system, criminal justice system, healthcare system, housing policies, and on and on, many Blacks and Hispanics are 'ghettoized' or segregated in ways that Asians are not. Or to put it differently, Asians have figured out how to blend into White suburbia in ways unavailable on a broad scale to Black and Hispanic families.

      •  Now you are stereotyping... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        washunate

        many asians live in asian majority communities in cities just like blacks and hispanics as well as other ethnic minorities in our country...

        Obama - Change I still believe in

        by dvogel001 on Sat Oct 31, 2009 at 02:10:54 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  ah, you're just trying to cause trouble :) (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          NY brit expat

          I don't disagree one bit with your comment. In fact, most Americans, even White Americans, live disproportionately with their ethnic/national origin heritages. Look at Irish or German or Bosnian or Polish or whomever.

          In aggregate, though, I'd argue it's pretty clear Asians are more integrated into the Whiter, wealthier streams of society than Blacks and Hispanics. The demographics of higher education institutions versus correctional institutions, I think, are a good illustration of this.

          •  I am not trying to cause trouble... (0+ / 0-)

            but I think it has to do with the fact that asians overall are more entreprenurial and more education focused than other races and ethnic groups in our country...

            Obama - Change I still believe in

            by dvogel001 on Sat Oct 31, 2009 at 02:56:59 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  Good diary, a few points (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        washunate
        1.  You also have to take age into account.  Go back and look at the household wealth broken down by age.  60 year olds are a lot wealthier than 30 year olds.  
        1.  You also have to take immigration into account.  The biggest immigrant group by far are Latinos, and needless to say they tend to arrive younger and poorer than average.  So a lot of what you are seeing is also the fact that on average, Spanish are immigrants and they are poorer, and haven't earned much wealth yet.
        1.  It's hard to say that Asians are being discriminated against. ;-)
        1.  Probably the best way to look at the data is to view it over time.  How are blacks/whites, men/women, 30 year olds/30 year olds doing now vs. 10, 20, 30 years ago.  Some of the news is really good, some is really depressing.

        Agree with you about the Big Picture about economics.  Where is the money going?  The rest is, relatively speaking, noise.

        "When the going gets tough, the tough get 'too big to fail'."

        by New Deal democrat on Sun Nov 01, 2009 at 03:37:46 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I very much agree (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          New Deal democrat

          I think the data is motivation to ask those kinds of questions. I didn't give a lot of guidance on my thoughts of answers to those kinds of questions :)

          I think point one is particularly important from a political perspective. Our corporate bailouts and housing subsidies and so forth are going to the people who were least supportive of the Democrats in the last couple election cycles. That's a bizarre way of thanking young people, women, minorities, and so forth, who form the core of rank and file voters.

          Indeed, it's almost as if the public policy responses have been designed to make core Democratic constituencies more cynical about our whole system...

  •  #4 significantly correlated with education (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NY brit expat, washunate

    we need to increase educational opportunities for all.

    The best way is by improving our K-12 schools.

  •  All of these stats are well-known, differences (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sberel, washunate

    arise in explaining the reasons for why this is case.

    Clearly some differences in region are explainable by the industries that are located in those regions, the level of unionisation, and cost of living in the regions. However, other considerations are also important and these are historical and social rather than solely economic. In fact, I would argue that we need to understand political and social considerations in addressing a number of these points you raise.

    In points 3 and 7, is the economy racist and sexist or is it the society we live in? or both? Does income actually reward work and talent? Not necessarily. It doesn't necessarily reward education and human capital arguments really do not stand up empirical observation. This is important for policy considerations as clearly equality of opportunity is insufficient for ensuring equality of income and wealth; that means that increasing opportunities for access to the best universities is insufficient to eliminate this problem.

    In terms of median income, there is no question that blacks are poorer and working in lower-paying jobs, as such, even though there is a developed black middle class, the bottom will drag down the rest. Moreover, the highest black earners still do not have the accumulated wealth of extremely wealth whites, so even if income altered that will not eliminate the differences brought about by increasing access to education and the best schools that can increase earning power. Undoubtedly, racism plays an important role in hiring for all positions, but especially management level positions. What data is missing is comparable income for the same or equal work between different groups, that will tell you what we are examining. Different jobs will have different pay levels, so we need to be sure we are comparing the same things.

    It is not only availability of jobs in point 7, as women doing the same or equal work still make less money. An interesting point is that it is not only higher level jobs that women may not have access to, they are underpaid (compared to men) at all levels. Add to that the fact that women are often forced into part-time work (without benefits such as health insurance, holidays and sick-leave) to ensure family responsibilities are covered and you are literally examining a poverty trap for working poor women. People constantly talk about a glass-ceiling and there is more going on here than simply that problem.

    Just a few comments to essentially say that we need more clarification to actually be able to discuss these stats intelligently and that we need to examine historical, social and political conditions to actually understand the situation and to come up with answers on how to address these problems.

    No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable (Adam Smith, 1776, I, p. 96).

    by NY brit expat on Sat Oct 31, 2009 at 02:15:25 PM PDT

    •  unfortunately, I agree (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sberel, NY brit expat

      Just a few comments to essentially say that we need more clarification to actually be able to discuss these stats intelligently and that we need to examine historical, social and political conditions to actually understand the situation and to come up with answers on how to address these problems.

      2,000 words later, we still have to do all that stuff. There is infinitely more data to understand the matter perfectly than can be studied in a person's lifetime.

      One of the fascinating paradoxes of decision-making, the tension between paralyisis-by-analysis and rushes to judgment.

      •  Didn't mean to cause paralysis by any means ... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        sberel

        just that we actually do need some more information and clarification on some of these stats; some of them actually do not sufficiently address the question you want considered. I have been extremely frustrated by how equality has been recently addressed by New Labour and liberals. The problems go way beyond equality of opportunity discussions that address these issues. Deliberate policies wrt redistribution of wealth and income need to be done, the social welfare state needs to be bolstered, and everyone seems to be suspicious about interfering in the labour market. Extremely frustrating. I agree that things need to change, the question is what policies to adopt and how to sell them to politicians and the people after being told for so long that these things are communist or socialist and that is the greatest threat to humanity since the plague.

        No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable (Adam Smith, 1776, I, p. 96).

        by NY brit expat on Sat Oct 31, 2009 at 02:54:59 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  oh, not at all (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          sberel, NY brit expat

          I like your commentary. Indeed, my main desire is for these kinds of issues simply to be talked about. I think good solutions tend to bubble up when an issue is kept in the spotlight for some time.

          I mean, I don't claim any particular insights or experience; I don't think there's a whole lot of need to reinvent the wheel here. People before us have already come up with lots of solutions that can either be applied as is or adapted to particular circumstances today.

          •  I agree completely, but we need to be clear on (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            sberel, washunate

            what we are talking about and not give them a chance to escape the conclusions or policies we are suggesting.

            No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable (Adam Smith, 1776, I, p. 96).

            by NY brit expat on Sat Oct 31, 2009 at 03:14:30 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  yeah, this is something I've been chewing on (0+ / 0-)

              so to speak.

              I've been wondering if it would be helpful to make some kind of an index or catalogue of ideas that are floating around. As hollow as the 'Contract with America' was, it was superficially at least a neat rhetorical ploy. (Seriously, this is still on the House website?)

              Maybe we can elaborate a kind of 'Playbook for America' that could organize specific policy suggestions and give brief summaries of the need and how it would work. You might have sparked me into looking into this a little more specifically. The main message is basically

              1. There are some things that are not working well.
              1. People have already come up with ideas to make things better.
              1. These ideas are popular and can work; we just have to implement them.
  •  #2 (0+ / 0-)

    I think you are falsely attributing homeowners wealth as the result of public policies, and incorrectly labeling tax deductions as wealth transfer.

    This statistic could just as easily be summarized as "High income earners choose to purchase homes". Nothing startling there at all.

    •  are you saying public policy (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sberel

      doesn't transfer wealth from poorer Americans to wealthier Americans through tax policies that affect real estate ownership? That's direct causation; wealth transfers don't get much more blatant than that.

      I absolutely agree, though, that much of this is correlation as well as causation. After all, one of the biggest reasons home owners are wealthier is that they're older, in their prime earning years.

      If you've noticed in our policy discourse these past couple years, the housing crisis has been one of the prime movers of policy. Here, the correlation, I'd argue, is precisely what's relevant.

      As you say

      "High income earners choose to purchase homes". Nothing startling there at all.

      So why isn't it startling when politicians suggest that the way to solve our problems...is to give more money to high income earners?

      •  Because (0+ / 0-)

        first of all, there is a significant difference between "giving" someone money and allowing them to keep what they already have.

        So no, public policy is not about transferring wealth from the poor to the wealthy - unless of course you have a very weak tolerance of private property. I suppose if you felt that the wealth of a nation was community property, then earned and retained wealth would be synonymous with having it "given".  

    •  part of this (0+ / 0-)

      is because of the increase in value of real estate that occurs that is unearned by the homeowner.  So essentially, if you got into the market (especially in the past decade) then your worth went up without you having to do anything.  So it could be both -- high income earners chose to buy and not rent, and buying then makes you wealthier. The end result in any case is a two tier system.

  •  The thing about prejudice is that any (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Paul Ferguson, Marja E, washunate

    new information that's supportive is confirming and contradictory evidence is the "exception that proves the rule."  So, all the data about the impoverished groups is not likely to bring about a change.

    What seems to have happened in large part in response to calls for equality is that some segment of the hereditary/financial elite decided that "if they want to be equal, let them all be equally deprived."  Deprivation is the key.  
    People are poor because they have no money and the reason they have no money is that there's a class of people fixated on depriving them of access to it and relieving them of any they get as quickly as possible.

    There are all kinds of strategies that contribute to the deprivation.  If you start with the poorest who aren't actually homeless, they get housing assistance, school lunches, medicaid, food stamps, but no money.  Without the ability to accumulate money/cash, the poor cannot save to get out of their dependent status.  If they should happen to do that, there's a host of predatory lenders, appliance and furniture dealers, check cashers and gouging merchants who strip their cash from them.  If they are able to move up to the house ownership level, there's another cadre of predatory realtors, mortgage providers, insurance agents, surveyors, appraisers waiting to give them a raw deal.  The sub-prime mortgage scam is just an extrapolation to a new class of what had been done to the lowest classes for years.  Even urban renewal programs had a part in moving land from minority populations into the hands of developers of commercial property.
    Money has become the screen behind which discrimination against traditional targets could go forward virtually unobserved.

    And then there's the problem that money is the last taboo and hardly anybody talks about how much people need and have.  How did it happen that Liddy Ledbetter worked for 17 years without a clue that she was underpaid?

    Some people do not want to be equal and will do all in their power to see that equality does not prevail.

    How do you tell a predator from a protector? The predator will eat you sooner rather than later.

    by hannah on Sat Oct 31, 2009 at 02:57:36 PM PDT

  •  Re (0+ / 0-)

    Unfortunately, the primary reasons for this have been a harmonization downward of men's income, not exactly the ideal means of reaching equilibrium, and public policy that purposefully undermines service sector wages that are dominated by women, like daycare, home healthcare, housekeeping, and so forth. And it's still amazing to see the number. For full-time people employed for a full year, at the end of the day, men still earned 10 gees more than women.

    For men: $46,400.
    For women: $35,700.

    This isn't exactly a "problem", as long as discrimination isn't the reason that women tend not to go to engineering school.

    Female engineers with similar work experience make approximately the same salary as male engineers. The $10k differential tends to reflect the fact that women tend to choose lower-paying jobs and that they take time out to have kids. Neither of these things implies a problem to be solved: as long as women are provided the same opportunities as men, the fact that they choose lower-paying professions is not a concern.

    (And yes, you have a theory that "public policy choices" specifically artificially devalue service sector work, but you haven't explained how this theory of yours works. To me, service sector jobs are devalued because they require no skills and thus can be done by almost anyone...)

    •  I would be very curious (0+ / 0-)

      for you to come up with a list of what you think are 'high skilled' and 'low skilled' careers. We could then compare them with compensation data to see if the two are aligned.

      A lot of this is value judgment, of course. If you define working with children as being low-skilled, then of course, anything dealing with children will show up as your low-skilled positions. If you define investment banking as a high skill, then of course, anything involving investment banking will show up as a high skill. But is that really what you're advocating? That working with money is a 'skill' that's more valuable or more difficult to develop than working with children?

      What I would point out is that an efficient labor market wouldn't care what the relative skills are. It's the supply and demand of labor that, theoretically, determines the equilibrium price.

      As far as the government's influence, I would love for you to name a high-wage or 'high skill' industry that is not impacted significantly by public policy.

  •  Great diary, washunate! The problem we humans (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    washunate

    deal with are rarely exposed although they aren't hidden in the first place.

    We say we think while the truth is we NEVER actually think. Thought is borrowed from others at best and very rarely given its due.

    We say we care when actually we couldn't care less. Any poor hungry kid can tell us about the hypocracy we blah blah about each day.

    Men make more then women? Since the beginning of time. Could it be resolved? Yes but that would require thought, deliberate thought and we don't know how to do that.

    Could the net worth of both owners and renters be equal? Again, yes. But we would have to address a thingy called value and we know how much we disprespect and/or ignore value.

    Will the world change? No. Not by employing the current methods we love while denying that such methods even exist.

    I have written the following on dkos at least a dozen times ...

    Everything in life contains value of a financial nature. This value is acknowledged by usage. Whenever said value is given a singular purpose usage then value is accorded a one dimensional respect while the search for true value is stopped.

    It's the shame of all mankind to demean value on any level at any time.

    The dozen of times have yielded no real meaningful response, no real interest. Hell, even the me me crowd chooses to ignore any attempt to understand their life could be sooooooooo much better.

    I agree that your data is complete, correct and powerful. However, mankind really doesn't give a shit about such.

    Man deserves his/her fate. We all seem to be very comfortable in bitching about justice, truth, etc while doing everything possible to continue the daily bullshit.

    When I grow up, I want to be just like Keith Olbermann. ♥

    by 0hio on Sat Oct 31, 2009 at 06:00:15 PM PDT

  •  What do you think the impact of artificial intell (0+ / 0-)

    What do you think the impact of artificial intelligence and task-specific computer technologies will be on the workplace over the next decade?

    There's a good number of them explained on this site.

    Some background on the rate of technological change as it applies to decision making power of silicon microprocessors vs. cost.

    As exponential improvements in CPU value create more jobs in technology for those with with specific skill sets, they also open far more fields to applications utilizing inexpensive task specific applications of various kinds of automation.

    People have figured out that this insurance reform public option is a scam to preserve the insurers. The jig is up!

    by Andiamo on Sat Oct 31, 2009 at 08:13:00 PM PDT

    •  personally? not that much (0+ / 0-)

      What do you think the impact of artificial intelligence and task-specific computer technologies will be on the workplace over the next decade?

      Personally, I think most of the IT revolution's broad impacts on the workplace have been felt. If you think in terms of communications, recordkeeping, data gathering, document duplication, payment systems, and so forth, I think the areas where AI/targeted computing/etc will have an impact will be relatively specific, niche areas. I mean, in terms of raw computing potential, most people's workstations that sit on their desks are far more powerful than needed for most business tasks.

      You might say I think the developments to come will have more impacts in other areas: how we learn, how we socialize, perhaps how we transport ourselves. I think the workforce has largely gone through the formative parts of the transformation, and the next couple decades will largely be consolidating and refining the core IT developments.

      Of course, I claim no particular insight here. I fully grant it's possible something could come along in the next couple decades that revolutionizes the workplace as much as the cell phone, computer, internet, printers, copiers, etc have over the past couple decades.

      I can certainly think of some specific uses for artificial intelligence, for example. A little device you could plop in a meeting room that would automatically take minutes, proofread them, and send them to the participants via email would be pretty handy. But at the end of the day, computers are good for a specific purpose, doing what the user tells them to do. In a workplace setting, there really isn't that much need for 'intelligent' computers because they can't replace human decision making; no matter how smart, ultimately they depend upon human users telling them what to do (either in the sense of a programmer's guidelines, or specific user input in response to programming that's been set up). Now, if by artificial, you mean conscious, sentient beings that can operate outside the restrictions of their programmers, I'm not sure that's something we can ever develop. Being able to make a trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion calculations per second doesn't render something self-aware. It just means you can run a lot of Excel calculations. Unless you're doing something extremely intricate, and thus, by definition, not a widespread need, the 'obsolete' copy of Excel you owned 10 years ago will do everything you need it to do.

      I think that was one of the really important business observations that Bill Gates has made. Our IT revolution is far enough along that the biggest source of competition for new products is existing products because they work good enough for most tasks. The developments now are evolutionary, not revolutionary.

      One final way I could say this would be to observe that I do not see the 'knowledge economy' as a distinct sector. I think it's helpful to distinguish between the agriculture, manufacturing, and service sectors. However, I don't see the information economy as a fourth sector; rather, I see it as the natural development of the service sector. Inventory tracking and payment systems are just as critical to a 'lowly' retail cashier, daycare worker, home healthcare aide, food cafeteria staff, and so forth, as any 'high-skilled' employee of the 'knowledge economy'. I think primarily, this kind of jargon has been created and disseminated for the explicit purpose of creating justifications for why some jobs get considerable government protection while others are undermined in all sorts of ways. The skewing of public policy is so overwhelming that it's hard to control for its effect. I know it bursts some people's bubble to say this, but there's no market value for a defense contractor's products (many products, in fact, have a negative value; just think torture). An investment banker isn't doing anything more highly skilled than an auto mechanic. Plumbers do just as specialized work as computer programmers. People who watch children or take care of the sick or the elderly are performing services just as important and valuable as syndicated columnists for the New York Times. On and on, when one starts actually evaluating the knowledge economy, I'm not sure what more things like AI could do.

      Is AI going to find a better way of convincing politicians not to bail out failed corporations or to audit fraud at major defense contractors? That's the kind of stuff that would have an impact on the workplace, that would shake up the system we have now.

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