Posts tagged with: Income distribution

consumptionWhat if told you that between 90-100 percent of Americans are living in “healthcare poverty.” You would probably object and say that while the country certainly has a healthcare crisis, my numbers are surely inflated. After all, most people in the U.S. have access to healthcare.

In reply, I explain that while it’s true most people are able to consume healthcare services, they are still in poverty since those services are paid for at least partially by the government or private insurance. You would probably respond that I seem very confused on this issue. And you’d be right.

Yet when we hear reports that between 14 and 16 percent of  Americans are living in poverty, few people bother to ask, “Are they talking about consumption or income?”

The reason it matters is the same reason that most Americans are not in “healthcare poverty”: they are able to consume more goods and services than they are able to pay for with their income. As James X. Sullivan, an economics professor at Notre Dame, has explained:
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Sales-taxImagine you’re at the checkout line at the supermarket and the clerk asks how much income your family earns each year. Offended, you ask why that is any of her business.

“We need to know to determine how much sales tax you need to pay,” the checker politely explains. “If you’re classified as the ‘working poor’ you need to pay more sales tax.”

“I think you have that backwards,” you helpfully add. “You mean the working poor need to pay less sales tax, right?”

“Oh, no sir,” she say, still blissfully cheerful. “It’s a new anti-poverty program initiated by the federal government that helps the poor by making them pay an addition sales tax on their groceries.”

Although it isn’t stated so clearly or applied so directly, the federal government has in fact implemented an “anti-poverty” initiative that does just that. As economist Thomas Macurdy says, “Most Americans wouldn’t cheer this program, nor would most political leaders champion it. Yet that is what happens when Congress raises the minimum wage.”

Earlier this year Macurdy published a study in the Journal of Political Economy that examined the effect of the minimum wage on the poor. As he explains in the Wall Street Journal, his findings show that the minimum wage serves as a tax on the poor:
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300px-GeocentrismGeocentrism was the belief that the sun, the planets, and all the stars revolve around the Earth. The alternative view—heliocentricism—had been around since the 3 BC but was not taken seriously until the 16th century AD. What seems obvious to us now was a matter of heated debated for almost two thousand years.

Economist Don Boudreaux says the minimum-wage debate in economics is rather like the reverse of this debate that took place centuries ago among astronomers.

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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:
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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.”
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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.”