Posts tagged with: Economic inequality

patricia-arquette-oscars-acceptance-speech-w724During last night’s Oscar ceremony, Best Supporting Actress winner Patricia Arquette used her acceptance speech to rail against unfair pay for women:

To every women who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time … to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.

The wage equality that Arquette is referring to is the gender wage gap—the difference between male and female earnings expressed as a percentage of male earnings. Because she frames the issue as a matter of equal rights, Arquette presumably believes that the problem is caused by intentional discrimination.

The gender wage gap certainly exists, but there is considerable debate about the size of the gap and whether it is caused primary by discrimination or by other factors, such as education and work hours. Much of the confusion is caused by the use of misleading statistics by politically motivated groups. For example, last night the Department of Labor (DOL) posted on their Twitter account:

pic_giant_020915_SM_Paul-Preaching-Raphael“Christianity undergirded the development of Western liberalism (in the old, good sense of the word),” says Rich Lowry. In fact, without Christianity there would probably not be anything like what we conceive as true liberty:

The indispensable role of Christianity in the creation of individual rights and ultimately of secularism itself is the subject of the revelatory new intellectual history Inventing the Individual by Larry Siedentop. Here’s hoping that President Obama gives it a quick skim before he next takes the podium at a prayer breakfast.

Siedentop begins his story with the ancients. The Greeks and Romans of pre-history weren’t secular; the family was, as Siedentop calls it, a religious cult run by the paterfamilias and suffused with ritual and assumptions of social inequality. We are all pro-family, but we can agree that ancestor worship takes it a little far.

At this time, Siedentop points out, the key distinction wasn’t between the public and private spheres, but between the public and domestic spheres, the latter characterized by the family with its rigidly defined hierarchical roles. There was no space for the individual with his or her own rights.

Read more . . .

unbalanced“The bottom half of the world’s population owns the same as the richest 85 people in the world.”

The stat was quoted last month in a report by the development organization Oxfam, but similar claims have become common. You’ve probably seen this statistic—or one like it—before in articles about economic inequality and assumed they must be somewhat true.

But they aren’t. In reality, they are completely meaningless.

One of the problems is that the comparisons are based on net worth (assets minus liabilities). If you aggregate all the people who have a negative net worth into one category and call them the “bottom half” then you come up with some peculiar conclusions. As Felix Salmon says, “My niece, who just got her first 50 cents in pocket money, has more money than the poorest 2 billion people in the world combined.”

socialmobility-121One of the most important important socio-economic factors in America is also one of the least talked about: social mobility.

Social mobility is the ability of an individual or family to improve (or lower) their economic status. The two main types of social mobility are intergenerational (i.e., a person is better off than their parents or grandparents) or intragenerational (i.e., income changes within a person or group’s lifetime). While there is no truly adequate gauge to measure such opportunities, we can get a fair estimate based on measurements of social mobility.

And by that measure, African Americans are fairing poorly. The Brookings Institute recently highlighted three disturbing facts about the social mobility of black Americans:

noun_86179_ccToday at Think Christian I reflect on President Obama’s State of the Union message last night. I think it was perhaps the best speech I have heard him give in terms of delivery and general tone. There are numerous things that one might quibble with in a speech of that length, of course.

My TC piece is an attempt to help us to put into proper perspective political promises and policy proposals. I look particularly at the question of economic inequality and the assumptions underlying the government’s redistributive actions.

As Danielle Kurtzleben puts it, “Obama is making a case that the economy’s distribution engine is broken, and that the recovery simply won’t fix it. His solution is for government to approach redistribution as a positive good rather than a necessary evil.”

o-man-taller-facebookFor most of my life I was, at 5-foot-10, of exactly average height. But in the span of one day in 1989 I became freakishly tall.

While I hadn’t grown an inch upward, I had moved 6,000 miles eastward to Okinawa, Japan. Since the average height of native Okinawans was only 5-foot-2, I towered over most every native islander by 8 inches. It was the equivalent of being 6-foot-6 in the United States.

Unfortunately, when I would leave the towns of Okinawa and step back onto the military base I instantly shrunk back to average height. My height advantage only lasted as long as I got to choose my point of reference.

Where did the truth lie? Was I truly tall or only of average height? The answer was completely dependent on my point of reference. Height, after all, is just a statistical artifact.

While this example may seem silly and rather obvious, it highlights how we our choice of what is a relevant standard of comparison can shape our thinking on important matters of economic policy. Take, for instance, the issue of poverty and income inequality. As Robert Higgs explains,

lego-people“Can you explain that important economic concept using Legos?”

Apparently, someone must have said that to Richard Reeves, an economist at the Brookings Institution economist, because he’s made a brief video using Legos to visualize social mobility.

There are two reasons I really appreciate this video. First, I love to see important economic issues explained in an accessible and entertaining manner. Second, as I’ve repeatedly said to anyone who will listen, social mobility — specifically getting people out of poverty — is infinitely more important than focusing income inequality, a topic that gets far too much attention nowadays.

The one drawback to the video is that it’s far too pessimistic. Yes, social mobility is still a huge problem. But the video makes clear, that social mobility is possible for almost all people. That has not been true for most of human history and it is not true in most parts of the world today.

Also, I am far less concerned with whether a person can go from the bottom quintile to the top as I am with going from the bottom quintile to the middle. Like many Americans, I was born in the bottom quintile and worked my way to the middle quintiles. The fact that I’m unlikely to ever join the top quintile is of absolutely no importance to may life. None at all. What we should care about is whether people can get out of poverty and flourish economically, not whether they can join Beyonce and Jay-Z in the billionaire’s club.

But those quibbles aside, I’m grateful this video is helping to spread the message about the importance of social mobility.

Earlier this month, I wrote a two part article for the Library of Law & Liberty, critiquing the uncritical condemnation of income inequality by world religious leaders.

In part 1, I pointed out that “while the Pope, the Patriarch, the Dalai Lama, and others are right about the increase in [global income] inequality, they are wrong to conclude that this causes global poverty—the latter is demonstrably on the decline. And that, I would add, is a good thing.”

F. A. Hayek

In part 2, drawing on the work of F. A. Hayek, I noted, “As societies learn to use their resources ‘more effectively and for new purposes,’ the cost of manufacturing luxury goods decreases, making them affordable to new markets of the middle class and, eventually, even for the poor.” I continue, “Such inequality not only accompanies the very economic progress that lifts the poor out of poverty, it is one essential factor that makes that progress possible.”

We may add to this two more ways in which focusing solely on income inequality can be misleading from article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday by Nicholas Eberstadt: increased equality in lifespan and education. He writes,

Given the close correspondence between life expectancy and the Gini index for age at death, we can be confident that the world-wide explosion in life expectancy over the past century has been accompanied by a monumental narrowing of world-wide differences in length of life. When a population’s life expectancy rises from 30 to 70, the Gini index drops by almost two-thirds—from well over 0.5 to well under 0.2.

This survival revolution—and the narrowing of inequalities in humanity’s life chances—is an epochal advance in the human condition. Since healthy life expectancy seems to track closely with overall life expectancy, a revolutionary reduction in health inequality may also have occurred over the past century. Improvements in global mortality for the poor have contributed to the very “economic inequality” so many now decry. This is another reason such measures can be deceiving.

The spread and distribution of education has had a similar impact. In 1950 roughly half of the world’s adults—and the overwhelming majority of the men and women from low-income regions—had never been exposed to schooling. By 2010 unschooled men and women 15 and older account for a mere one-seventh of the world’s adults, and about one-in-six from developing areas. (more…)

Francis (1)“If there is one thing that religious leaders around the world seem to agree on today,” says Acton research associate Dylan Pahman, “it is the evils of income inequality stemming from a globalized economy.” But as Pahman points out, there is a connection between inequality and poverty alleviation that affirms the moral merits of economic liberty:

It would seem the consensus is that economic inequalities have increased worldwide, and this is a clear moral evil. But when we examine the numbers, a somewhat different picture emerges. Even as inequality has increased, extreme poverty has simultaneously decreased—a clear moral good. Considered in this light, and with the help of Nassim Taleb and (in Part Two of this post) Friedrich Hayek, I will examine the connection between inequality and poverty alleviation and argue that the data affirm, rather than refute, the moral merits of economic liberty.

It stands to reason that if religious leaders are so willing to condemn global capitalism for its apparent evils, they ought to be even more eager to praise its actual goods. I will recommend a different moral metric, drawn from St. John Cassian and St. John Chrysostom, that would support people of faith in being attentive to the plight of the poor while prudently engaging the economic realities at hand.

Read more . . .

Participant in the Doe Fund, New York City

Participant in the Doe Fund, New York City

No one wants to be poor. No one enjoys figuring out how to stretch meals to last just three more days. No parent wants to tell their child they can’t play a sport or get a new backpack because there is simply no money. No one wants to be evicted. Poverty in America is a reality; so what are we going to do about it?

The American Enterprise Institute has a few ideas. They’ve taken a look at where we are 50 years after the War on Poverty was declared. The conclusion is that we’ve not been successful in that war. Poverty in America—and What to Do About It is a compilation of essays on the topic.

Aparna Mathur says the talk of late about “income inequality” is misleading. We must address poverty, not differences in individual income.

We are now in the fifth year of an economic recovery that does not seem like a recovery to most people in the labor market. There are more than 10 million unemployed workers, of which nearly 4 million have been jobless for longer than 27 weeks. In addition, there are another 10 million who are either in involuntary part-time jobs, or are too discouraged to look for work. Therefore, I would argue that the focus on income inequality is somewhat misplaced. This is essentially a problem of poverty.