Posts tagged with: Economic inequality

saving-money-for-collegeSomeone should tell university administrators and educators that their primary purpose is to guarantee that graduates will have better incomes than those who are not fortunate enough to attend college. In addition, colleges and universities are now, it seems, supposed to be places where everyone equally becomes one of the “Joneses.”

In an article titled, “Rethinking the Rise of Inequality“, Eduardo Porter of the New York Times writes that college education is about solving the income disparity problem. Porter opens the story with this odd statement: “Many Americans have come to doubt the proposition that college delivers a path to prosperity.” What? Is that what college is about? Making people prosperous? What college has making graduates prosperous as its mission? Why would anyone go to college just to become economically “prosperous”?

Are colleges off the target then? Are they missing their new true calling? The mission of Brown University is “to serve the community, the nation, and the world by discovering, communicating, and preserving knowledge and understanding in a spirit of free inquiry, and by educating and preparing students to discharge the offices of life with usefulness and reputation.” Clemson University states, “Our primary purpose is educating undergraduate and graduate students to think deeply about and engage in the social, scientific, economic, and professional challenges of our times. The foundation of this mission is the generation, preservation, communication, and application of knowledge.” Fort Lewis College (Colorado), says that its mission is to offer “accessible, high quality, baccalaureate liberal arts education to a diverse student population, preparing citizens for the common good in an increasingly complex world.”

Do these colleges, and many others, simply not get it? It seems that these schools are primarily interested in student learning and the formation of good citizens, so when did college reduce to being a means of addressing “income inequality”?
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groupon-logoFor years I was unable to understand the reasoning behind the claims that income inequality is a moral issue that only applies at the group level. Then it came to me like an epiphany—or more accurately, as a Groupon email.

According to Wikipedia, the Groupon works as an assurance contract: If a certain number of people sign up for an offer, then the deal becomes available to all; if the predetermined minimum is not met, no one gets the deal that day.

The popular argument for claiming that income inequality is a moral issue appears to rely on a similar idea: If a certain number of people agree to abide by a moral obligation, then the obligation is required by all; if the predetermined minimum is not met, no is required to meet the obligation.

In the case of income inequality, few people are willing to agree that it even compels a moral obligation, much less one they must abide by. So the income inequality moralists believe that force must be factored into the equation. The formulation then becomes:
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This is a guest post by Michael Hendrix, following up on his previous post on the economic challenges of millennials, and my own post on the deeper vocational questions that persist for Christians. Michael serves as the director for emerging issues and research at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. He is a graduate of the University of St. Andrews and a Texas native.

By Michael Hendrix

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Twenty years from now, we will see an America where merit and reward are intertwined more than ever before. As I’ve written recently, those who win the future will significantly outpace their peers, leaving the rest to fight over the scraps until organizational innovations and human capital catches up once again.

If true, such a reality must be reckoned with. So what about those left behind? What will their futures look like? With decreases in gainful employment and the increasing disconnect between vocational aspirations and actual occupations, what other risks persist — economic, social, spiritual, and otherwise? Assuming we are not comfortable with such a future, what should we do about it?
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the_abyss_of_inequality_3075151Earlier this week I claimed you rarely hear progressives argue that income inequality is a problem since for them it just is an injustice. But there’s another reason you rarely hear them make arguments about why income inequality is morally wrong: their actual arguments are terrible.

CNN columnist John D. Sutter recently asked four people — Nigel Warburton, a freelance philosopher and writer; Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute; Thomas Pogge, director of the Global Justice Program at Yale; and Kentaro Toyama, researcher at the University of California at Berkeley — to answer the question, “Is income inequality ‘morally wrong’?”

Sutter only summarizes their arguments, but it’s doubtful they would become more coherent or persuasive if they were in book-length form. So let’s examine each of the summaries:

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income-inequalityWhen it comes to household income, progressives tend to start with their intuitive understanding of fairness (i.e., some people have a lot more income than others), move to the solution (redistribution of income and wealth from those who have more to those who have less), and only then to develop a metric that justifies implementing their solution: income inequality.

Because of this roundabout approach, you rarely hear progressives argue that income inequality is a problem since for them it just is an injustice — and that wealth redistribution is the primary solution. When conservatives and libertarians disagree about whether it even is an issue we should be concerned with, we are considered heart-hearted apologists for an immoral capitalist system.

The truth, however, is that we don’t care about income inequality because relative differences in income tell us nothing about fairness or the just distribution of wealth. What we care about — what everyone should care about — is whether people have adequate opportunities to increase their household’s income, and hence, improve their standard of living. While there is no truly adequate gauge to measure such opportunities, we can get a fair estimate based on measurements of social mobility.

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From Main Currents of Marxism by Leszek Kolakowski (1927-2009):

Kolakowski

Kolakowski

Marx took over the romantic ideal of social unity, and Communism realized it in the only way feasible in an industrial society, namely, by a despotic system of government. The origin of this dream is to be found in the idealized image of the Greek city-state popularized by Winckelmann and others in the eighteenth century and subsequently taken up by German philosophers. Marx seems to have imagined that once capitalists were done away with the whole world could become a kind of Athenian agora: one had only to forbid private ownership of machines or land and, as if by magic, human beings would cease to be selfish and their interests would coincide in perfect harmony. Marxism affords no explanation of how this prophecy is founded, or what reason there is to think that human interests will cease to conflict as soon as the means of production are nationalized. (more…)

Questions about poverty and social teaching are on the forefront of Pope Francis’ mind, as he’s made convincingly clear in his young papacy. This calls for cogent thinking on the topic, according to Fr. John Flynn, LC in “Francis and Catholic Social Teaching: Debates About Economy, Equality and Poverty Sure to Continue.”

Flynn cites Jerry Z. Muller, professor of History at the Catholic University of America, who gives credit to the astonishing “leap in human progress” that capitalism has brought about, but cautions that some find the disparity between rich and poor, the powerful and the dispossessed, to be grounds for anti-capitalist sentiment. Muller points out that this type of inequality seems to be growing internationally. (more…)

Over at the National Catholic Reporter, Michael Sean Winters makes some comments about my book Becoming Europe based on a review he had read by Fr. C.J. McCloskey. Here are the most pertinent of his observations:

I know that American exceptionalism lives on both the left and the right, but when did the right become so Europhobic? And why? National Catholic Register has a review of a new book by the Acton Institute’s Samuel Gregg entitled Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, & How America Can Avoid a European Future. I confess, come August, when Europeans sensibly take the month off and head to the beach or the mountains for time with their families, I am envious of them, not scornful. When I look at Europe’s lower rates of income inequality, I am envious, not scornful. When I look at the creative ways Germany minimized unemployment during the recent economic downturn, I was deeply envious.

Of course, given the fact that Gregg works for the libertarian Acton Institute, where the false god of the market is worshipped day in and day out, it should not surprise that he misses the Catholic and Christian roots of the modern social welfare state as it exists in Europe.  And the fact that Rev. C. John McCloskey misunderstands the Christian roots of the modern social welfare state shows the degree to which some members of the Catholic clergy have bought into what can best be described as the Glenn Beck narrative of the relationship of faith and culture.

Alas, Mr. Winters apparently hasn’t actually read the book. Because if he had, he would know that Becoming Europe (1) notes several good economic things happening in Europe (such as in Germany and Sweden) and (2) addresses at considerable length the various Catholic and Christian contributions to the development of European welfare states and the European social model more generally. In the case of the latter, I’d direct his attention to Chapters 2 and 3 of Becoming Europe where these matters are discussed extensively. The point is that it is always prudent to perhaps read a book before venturing criticisms of its arguments.

Then there is the label of “libertarian.” Again, if Mr. Winters took a moment to read a few of my writings, he’d know that, in books such as On Ordered Liberty, I‘ve articulated critiques of libertarian thought, especially with regard to the way that libertarian thinkers approach, for instance, moral questions. Figures such as Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Milton Friedman have many interesting economic insights. But I have always viewed their philosophical positions (which include, among others, commitments to nominalism, epicurism, utilitarianism, social-evolutionism, and social contractarianism) to be less-than-adequate. In many ways, their conceptions of the human person are virtually indistinguishable from modern liberals such as John Rawls. (more…)

Margaret Thatcher once told an interviewer, “Of course, I am obstinate in defending our liberties and our law. That is why I carry a big handbag.” During her time as Prime Minister, Thatcher’s handbag became an iconic symbol of her ability to handle opponents. The term “handbagging” even entered the Oxford English Dictionary (the verb “to handbag” is defined as: (of a woman politician), treat (a person, idea etc) ruthlessly or insensitively) to describe her rhetorical style.

Thatcher’s handbagging usually occurred during Question Time, the hour every day when members of the parliament ask questions of government ministers—including the prime minister—which they are obliged to answer. A prime example is in her last appearance as Prime Minister in the House of Commons, on November 22, 1990. Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes taunts her on the subject of income inequality.
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A recent national Pew Research Center survey has found conflicting opinions regarding many Americans’ view of the rich:

As Republicans gather for their national convention in Tampa to nominate a presidential candidate known, in part, as a wealthy businessman, a new nationwide Pew Research Center survey finds that many Americans believe the rich are different than other people. They are viewed as more intelligent and more hardworking but also greedier and less honest.

Nearly six-in-ten survey respondents (58%) also say the rich pay too little in taxes, while 26% say they pay their fair share, and just 8% say they pay too much. Even among those who describe themselves as upper or upper-middle class … 52% say upper-income Americans don’t pay enough in taxes.

In spite of these views, overwhelming majorities of self-described middle- and lower-class Americans say they admire people who get rich by working hard (92% and 84%, respectively). (more…)