Posts Tagged ‘inequality’
Talk about inequality is in the air. Everyone seems to agree it’s a problem, although a lot of people seem to offering the same old policy proposals to address it. It’s almost as if they are simply attaching what they already want to do to the rhetoric of today’s demands. But maybe the problem is that we misunderstand what exactly the problem of inequality is as far as elites are concerned.
On the same day that the President spoke eloquently and fervently about the rising income inequality in the United States, the ever-contractor-friendly Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) increased the maximum amount of contractor compensation that can be charged to government contracts from a mere$763,029 per employee per year to what OFPP apparently considers a much more reasonable $952,308 per employee per year. This increase primarily affects the employees of the largest government contractors—most notably defense and information technology firms. So taxpayers are now on the hook for paying up to nearly $1 million for every one of these contractor executives or employees every year.
The Birmingham superintendent puts it this way. “The Detroit schools need more money. The solution is not to take it from Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills.” And, again, one wonders where else one would take it from if not from where it is.
The Ann Arbor superintendent ridicules what he describes as “simple-minded solutions [that attempt] to make things equal.”
But of course, the need is not “to make things equal.” He would be correct to call this “simple-minded.” Funding and resources should be equal to the needs that children face. The children of Detroit have greater needs than those of children in Ann Arbor. They should get more than children in Ann Arbor, more than kids in Bloomfield Hills or Birmingham. Calling ethics “simple-minded” is consistent with the tendency to label obvious solutions, that might cost us something, unsophisticated and to favor more diffuse solutions that will cost us nothing and, in any case, will not be implemented….More spending on public education, said [President George H. W. Bush] isn’t “the best answer.” Mr. Bush went on to caution parents of poor children who see money “as a cure” for education problems. “A society that worships money…” said the president, “is a society in peril.”
Jonathan Kozol, Savage Inequalities
For reasons that are somewhat baffling, the coverage of Senator Rand Paul’s plagiarism in speeches and writings got wall-to-wall coverage for some time, although it has now died down. I’m not a fan of Paul, and I don’t think this sort of rampant taking of other people’s words and passing them off as his own is acceptable. Yet I find the whole episode strange. Now that it’s over, I wanted to step back to ruminate on the reaction to this and what it means for the left.
Two claims, largely implicit, have become quite common in Democratic-leaning circles, which are in tension. First, is the idea that libertarians pose an existential threat to the country. Often, libertarian here is used interchangeably for ‘Tea Party,” and while that doesn’t always make sense, it might when it comes to Paul. And while some would make this same claim about the GOP as a whole, libertarians are singled out for particular scorn. Paul, then, is treated as far more threatening that the senior senator from Kentucky, Mitch McConnell.
Now, I’m not sure how I would rate the two senators from Kentucky. I’m sure one could make a case here. But it strikes me that the case is generally presumed, and the differences in terms of whose worse are generally presumed to be really large. This is even more troublesome give that, as minority leader, McConnell likely has a great deal more power in the Senate, regardless of what the comparison might tell us in the abstract. Read the rest of this entry »
There must be a better way [than luck egalitarianism] to conceive of the point of equality. To do so it is helpful to recall how egalitarian political movements have historically conceived of their aims. What have been the inegalitarian systems that they have opposed? Inegalitarianism asserted the justice or necessity of basing the social order on a hierarchy of human beings, ranked according to intrinsic worth. Inequality referred not so much to the distributions of goods as to relations between superior and inferior persons. Those of superior rank were thought entitled to inflict violence on inferiors, to exclude or segregate them from social life, to treat them with contempt, to force them to obey, work without reciprocation, and abandon their own cultures. These are what Iris Young has identified as the faces of oppression: marginalization, status hierarchy, domination, exploitation, and cultural imperialism. Such unequal social relations generate, and were thought to justify, inequalities in the distribution of freedoms, resources, and welfare. This is the core of inegalitarian ideologies of racism, sexism, nationalism, caste, class, and eugenics.
Egalitarian political movements oppose such hierarchies.
Elizabeth S. Anderson, What is the Point of Equality? (pdf)
My hope for Independence Day is that we can start with the small step of calling this day Independence Day, not Fourth of July. It strikes me how odd it is to refer to the day by its date. I suspect it’s partly because of its political content – like so much political language, this seems to be an example of “blunt[ing] the too sharply pointed.”
From there, I hope that we can reconnect with the meaning of today and other holidays – like Martin Luther King Day and Labor Day. Perhaps we might also use this day as a chance to think about the ways we have yet to root out royalism / aristocracy in our culture – whether that is the way we treat presidents, senators, celebrities, or the rich. If we get past the fireworks and barbecue, we often just lionize the people at the top of the American Revolution (who did not make the Revolution, they were only a part of it.) It’s also worth remembering that those who made the Revolution were putting principle over their loyalty to the country—those who chose the opposite path were not called patriots, they were called loyalists.
It’s also not just about our country, it’s about each one of us and about people around the globe – who have every right to self-determination that our political ancestors had. Merely using the name Independence Day rather than 4th of July is a small step – thinking and talking about what independence is about today, for all of us, is the key. Read the rest of this entry »
Laura Bassett and Dave Jamieson have a piece on Democratic strategy, Minimum Wage, Sick Leave Rebranded As Women’s Issues To Pressure GOP that I find troubling (the strategy, not the piece).
Pelosi and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) met with House freshmen two weeks ago to brief them on the new “women’s economic agenda,” which includes raising the minimum wage, guaranteeing workers the opportunity to earn paid sick leave, expanding affordable child care programs and passing the Paycheck Fairness Act.
Democrats have long supported such worker-friendly reforms. What’s changing this year are their political tactics. Rather than frame these issues in the traditional terms of economic fairness, they’ll be repackaging them as a matter of gender equality and family stability. As they push specific pieces of legislation, Democrats plan to roll out an aggressive communications effort to pressure Republicans who’ve declared the workplace measures job killers.
The strategy takes a cue from last November: If Democrats have managed to trounce Republicans with women voters, then why not turn labor issues into gender issues in pursuit of progressive reforms?
I’d love for Democrats to push harder on these issues. And I’m definitely for connecting issue of economic fairness to gender equality is a good one. I want to see more of that. The various issues that make up left politics are not a series of disconnected issue positions, as they are often framed, but are rather connected. At the core of both of these things is the question of who counts as a full and equal person. The answer should be everyone. But if we don’t draw the connections across these different areas, we’re operating at a serious political disadvantage. Certainly the right appreciates these connections. When we make the connections, people are more likely to see the issues that affect them personally as related to those that affect others. It helps them see these as a similar struggle. It helps produces solidarity.
But that isn’t what this story is about. Rather, it’s about replacing the economic framing with the gender framing (see my emphasis above). Read the rest of this entry »
So people are casting about for the means to protect themselves against that insecurity. They are looking for a way to not only afford decent housing but to buy the house in the neighborhood that feeds into the good k-12 schools that will give their own kids a better chance at a life not marred by the insecurity that keeps them up nights. They are looking for a way to be respected at work, to be respected in their communities, to locate their position in the larger social structure and to find it congruent with their ideal selves. They are looking for dignity and rest. That we have constructed the only means for achieving those things as credential hoarding can be understood as “market demand” but I would call it mass insecurity. Again, language, tools, kings and masters.
If we accept my story of profit and higher education market we get to different kinds of questions that lead to different kinds of policies. Rather than disrupting higher education because it does not serve the needs of the market we can ask the market why it does not serve the interests of human beings. Why, as corporations increasingly use their moral authority and political will to limit their tax exposure and their contribution to social institutions like k-12 schools, why is public education being refashioned to provide them the “human capital” they require to continue their abdication of the greater social good?
Tressie McMillan Cottom, Profit, HigherEd and Lessons on the Prestige Cartel
As far I am concerned, there is no moral or political difference between the two. Predistributive institutions and redistributive institutions are both just institutions. What matters is achieving greater economic equality, not so much the precise institutional regime that we use to get there. If anything, I tend to find so-called redistributive institutions more attractive because they are easier to fine tune and strike me as more liberating.
I certainly agree on the ‘no difference’ point. Why is it more viable?
But, as Hacker correctly points out, my view is almost certainly an outlying one. For cultural or other reasons, Americans tend to be more supportive of equality-producing measures that get baked into paychecks than they are of equality-producing measures that go through more overt government channels. As a result, the US has a very stingy welfare state and delivers much of its government spending through opaque, submerged mechanisms like tax credits.
The great Mark Price has a piece in the Guardian today, Wealth inequality will keep growing unless workers demand better, that gets to the heart of the problem with our broken economy’s failure to provide the security, opportunity, and basic needs we all deserve. Two points are worth mentioning. First, it’s taken as a matter of faith that conservative prescriptions for the economy are easy to understand and more left-leaning approaches are more complex. I think that’s rubbish. Read Mark here. It’s not difficult at all. If people don’t have jobs, they can’t spend, and we all suffer. If there are way more applicants then there are jobs, there’s no way out of this mess. Inequality is the problem, equality the solution. It’s not that hard. (I made the same point about Robert Reich before). He also discards the silly notion that government has been trying to fix this problem, or that the solutions are unclear. Read the rest of this entry »