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Equality versus Feeding the Hungry

The recently released Vatican document on finance and economics, Oeconomicae et pecuniariae quaestiones, seems as much calculated to balance some of Pope Francis’ statements on the topic as to contribute a Catholic voice to discussion of the role of finance in the 2008 crisis. The document’s tone is notable, as is whom the document addresses, not simply governments and how they might respond, but also individuals pursuing vocations in finance and business.

Yet the document’s analysis also has weaknesses. Most notably, while the document nods at the stunning decline in extreme poverty in recent decades – around 1 billion souls moved out of extreme poverty – the document quickly moves past this development to focus on inequality as something that is, in itself, “harmful to human society.”

The document avers:

Although global economic well-being appears to have increased in the second half of the twentieth century with an unprecedented magnitude and speed, at the same time inequalities proliferate between various countries and within them. Moreover, the number of people who live in conditions of extreme poverty continues to be enormous.

The next paragraph decries limp responses to the financial crisis of 2008, “the response seems at times like a return to the heights of myopic egoism, limited by an inadequate framework that, excluding the common good, also excludes from its horizons the concern to create and spread wealth, and to eliminate the inequality so pronounced today.”

I accept commentators often use “inequality” as a synonym for “poverty.” But this document, as do others more generally, both Catholic and not, glosses beyond this, presenting bare inequality as something illicit in principle. To be sure, inequality can result from illicit actions. But economic inequality need not result from injustice.

Rapping inequality as inherently unjust means the document glosses over an important aspect of today’s economies: The document discusses inter- and intra-national economic inequality as phenomena unconnected to the global decrease in extreme poverty. Yet the same engine that generated the huge reduction in global poverty almost certainly generated rising (relative) inequality. Failing to recognize this possibility means the document talks past not-so-subtle subtleties in the global economy, and fails to recognize tradeoffs inherent in its analysis, particularly the need to trade off further decreases in poverty if we heed the call to reduce bare economic inequality.

Are we really to think, or does Catholic social thought really hold, that a world in which perfect equality holds and every family subsists on, say, $15,000 a year is preferable to a world in which 90 percent of families live on $30,000 a year while ten percent of families enjoy $150,000 a year, or even $1.5 million a year? Is it really worse for everyone to eat more in a world with economic inequality than for everyone to eat less, but equal in their hunger?

To be sure, Catholic social teaching affirms, along with many natural rights philosophers, the “universal destination of goods.” This is the idea that the world, and all the world’s goods, are for the use of all of humanity. Affirming this does not run counter to a strong belief in private property in Catholic social thought or elsewhere. Quite the opposite. Private property provides an incentive compatible means of distributing the world’s goods to all, or at least distributing the world’s goods to more people than alternative systems.

To be sure, there is a limitation of title in case of extreme need, but that, too, is consistent with a strong commitment to private property. John Locke, for example, in his First Treatise, appeals implicitly to the idea of the universal destination of goods: “God, the Lord and Father of all, has given no one of his children such a property in his peculiar portion of the things of this world, but that he has given his needy brother a right to the surplusage of his goods; so that it cannot justly be denied him, when his pressing wants call for it.”

The universal destination of goods is often taken to imply once some folks have gotten rich enough then that’s enough and the surplus needs to be redistributed. But that’s too static a notion of the use and generation of wealth. After all, we want talented entrepreneurs to accumulate and use capital. While inequality increases with entrepreneurial success, society gains by growing the size of the pie. Everyone gets to eat more as a result of the activity, even if the proportion of the pie they receive is less in relative terms.

Catholic social thought articulated this possibility in the past. Pius XI, for example, included this passage in his 1931 social encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno:

The grave obligations of charity, beneficence and liberality which rest upon the wealth are constantly insisted upon in telling words by Holy Scripture and the Fathers of the Church.

However, the investment of superfluous income in developing favorable opportunities for employment, provided the labor employed produces results which are really useful, is to be considered according to the teachings of the Angelic Doctor an act of real liberality particularly appropriate to the needs of our time.

It is a good thing for a talented entrepreneur to employ his or her capital and thereby profitably to provide employment to people. That said, to the extent that the entrepreneur profitably employs people, which is the only means by which a going concern can be sustained, then he or she will also make a profit. This, however, leads to increasing the entrepreneur’s capital stock, which funds yet new entrepreneurial projects and employ even more people, but also, necessarily, leads to increasing economic inequality. Any apt concern for the “least of these” counsels, at least in part, that capital accumulation can be socially valuable, even if economic inequality results as an incident to increased prosperity. That is, if what concerns us most is that the hungry actually get fed.

This is not to go to the opposite extreme in suggesting that inequality, in itself, is necessarily a good thing. The issue is from where the inequality derives, from unjust activities or from permissible activities. But if inequality results from injustice, what is of concern is the injustice itself, not the inegalitarian symptom.

This is not to wave away the issue of underlying causes as an unimportant sidelight to the issue of economic inequality. Quite the opposite. Indeed, conservatives in the U.S. today are beginning to grapple with the question of the role crony capitalism (that is, factious state intervention on the side of capital), might play in creating, sustaining, and exacerbating patterns of economic inequality in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Nonetheless, it is simply too pat to point to bare economic inequality and decry it as necessarily unjust. Pius XI’s discussion in Quadragesimo Anno is more careful. Adam Smith could put it no better than Pius XI does in his encyclical. Indeed, if anything, Smith writes of the rich more cynically, suggesting in The Theory of Moral Sentiments we leave them to their “baubles and trinkets” because, in doing so, they provide the rest of us “that share of the necessaries of life, which [we] would in vain have expected from [their] humanity or [] justice.”

Reader Discussion

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on May 24, 2018 at 11:46:49 am

"Nonetheless, it is simply too pat to point to bare economic inequality and decry it as necessarily unjust. Pius XI’s discussion in Quadragesimo Anno is more careful."

Hmmm! Perhaps, Francis is also being careful here (to not make clear his real intent).
Borrowed from Damon Linker on Pope Francis's *long Game*:

"But I think the pope's strategy for a longer game displays greater psychological acuity — and Machiavellian cunning. Francis may be betting that once the church stops preaching those doctrines that conflict most severely with modern moral norms, the number of people who uphold and revere them will decline rapidly (within a generation or two). Once that has happened, officially changing the doctrine will be much easier and much less likely to provoke a schism (or at least a major one) than it is in the present."

While linker is discussing Franci's views on Catholic teaching on sexual issues, it is apparent that Francis is quite comfortable with "masking" his real intentions, and consequently the direction he wishes to steer the church, in other areas, i.e., economics and finance. Frnacis here is directly contradicting Pius's teaching / pronouncements on economic matters and equality, yet does so in a manner designed to not provoke conflict / disagreement - all with a long view toward imposing his Liberation Theology fantasies upon the Church.

None of my business, but I a'int buying it, Frannie!

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Guttenburgs Press and Brewery
on May 24, 2018 at 12:08:13 pm

Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Yet the expert in the law replied, “But the Samaritan played no role in the man’s misfortune. I see no evidence that the Samaritan’s relative superior status arose from any wrongdoing on his part. By what authority would you presume to suggest that there is virtue in a relatively well-off person sharing his hard-earned resources with a relatively poorer person? Who is to say that the Samaritan wouldn’t use those resources better? Have you not read our sacred texts from Adam Smith?”

Jesus wept.

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nobody.really
on May 24, 2018 at 12:35:37 pm

Ahh! But Zarathustra said:

"Let he who wishes to be merciful, be merciful but let not that compassion lead to the destitution of others also dependent upon that compassion. Let it not be REQUIRED of him, but let it be that which emanates from a good and generous spirit. the Law is neither merciful nor can it compel mercy."

And Zarathustra chuckled (and jiggled some coins in his flowing garments.

nobody.really believes that mercy is compulsory and legally enforceable.
It would appear that the Pope believes what nobody really believes - or does anybody?

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gabe
on May 24, 2018 at 13:25:04 pm

Somewhat less snarkily:

I agree with Rogers’s general thesis: We might expect the Catholic Church to focus its concerns first to promoting the welfare of “the least of these my brothers,” and global capitalism has been the greatest vehicle for achieving that end. Yet global capitalism has also generated much of the great wealth disparities we now observe. It is unclear that you can have the one without the other.

But how MUCH of the other?

The universal destination of goods is often taken to imply once some folks have gotten rich enough then that’s enough and the surplus needs to be redistributed. But that’s too static a notion of the use and generation of wealth. After all, we want talented entrepreneurs to accumulate and use capital. While inequality increases with entrepreneurial success, society gains by growing the size of the pie.

I concur that we may not want to adopt a static understanding of wealth. But likewise I don’t favor adopting a static understanding of poverty.

That said, I know of no evidence, or even argument, suggesting that capital markets discriminate against the rich, so that rich people find they cannot acquire debt/equity financing and thus must self-finance their operations. And once we acknowledge that capital markets work pretty well for the rich, the idea that rich people need ever greater personal wealth in order to finance their operations falls flat.

Indeed, the best evidence points in the opposite direction: The world’s economy is not suffering for a lack of capital available to rich capitalists. To the contrary, the dot-com bubble and the housing market bubble both arose because there is SO DAMN MUCH MONEY looking for a place to be invested that people were willing to invest in crazy shit rather than simply by government bonds offering 0.1% returns. (Indeed, some national bonds were even offering negative returns.)

What have we observed since the recent tax cut shoveled more money into the pockets of the rich? More investment? Well, I expect there’s been some. But mostly we’ve observed rich firms buying back their own stock. How much innovation is that causing? How many jobs is that creating? And how helpful will this be when, in the future, we must raise taxes to pay for all of this effort to promote inequality?

So, if shoveling more money into the pockets of the rich won’t actually stimulate more investment, what would? What firms complain about is not lack of capital, but lack of DEMAND. That is, people are too damn poor to buy what the firms are trying to sell. There are people who need drugs, and there are firms willing to sell drugs, but the people who need the drugs can’t afford the drugs. Yet we conclude that their welfare depends upon preserving the prerogatives of the Koch Bros to buy yet another yacht? I’m not persuaded.

If we want to stimulate the economy, let’s get more money into the hands of people who have actual needs. The research on simply giving people cash has been pretty promising.

Yet these programs encounter enormous resistance—not due to the behavior of the recipients, but from the attitudes of the observers. Many people (including Rogers?) trot out apparent economic objections that, upon inspection, prove to be bogus. But if their arguments aren’t supported, why do they embrace these arguments? That’s the nature of religion—the embrace of unsupported argument.

This is not to go to the opposite extreme in suggesting that inequality, in itself, is necessarily a good thing. The issue is from where the inequality derives, from unjust activities or from permissible activities. But if inequality results from injustice, what is of concern is the injustice itself, not the inegalitarian symptom.

Agreed. Now, reflect on the great variety of people’s lived circumstances throughout the world, and over time. How much of the variation can be explained by people’s own conduct? And how much of it can be explained by their context, their genetic makeup, their era, etc?

I again trot out my favorite example: Which person achieved greater wealth—J.S. Bach or Justin Bieber—and why? A defy anyone to say that Bieber has achieved greater wealth than Bach though his superior merit.

Or look at the list of the world’s billionaires: What percentage of them are male? White? From developed countries? Intelligent? Able-bodied? Raised in an English-speaking household? And what did these billionaire do to achieve these attributes?

Or consider my hero, Michael Jordon. Whatever the drivers of success are, he’s got ‘em. Yet all the attributes that contributed to his prodigious success in basketball proved inadequate when he turned his sights to baseball. The Michael Jordon story illustrates the cold facts: He succeeded because he was imbued with attributes peculiar to the arbitrary rules of basketball. Other people have failed to achieve his success because they were not so imbued. And when Jordon shifted his attention to baseball, people who were imbued with attributes peculiar to that sport kicked his ass. In short, the capacity for success is bestowed arbitrarily.

This is the point of John Rawls’s Theory of Justice: The OVERWHELMING drivers of our lived circumstances have little to do with anything we control. They are the result of an arbitrary allocation of attributes. There IS no justice in nature. Justice, to the extent it is achievable at all, is the result of human intervention in nature.

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nobody.really
on May 24, 2018 at 15:47:45 pm

Yep to much of what you say:

The dolts in the managerial class have (apparently / argumentatively?) wasted the *new* riches they have been allowed to *retain*. And yep even more, this is a function of the financial incentives present (and dominant?) in our economic system where managerial compensation is too often tied to rising share values. and no, such stock purchases do NOTHING to expand investment, development or recapitalization of industries, especially those confronting severe competition from foreign sources.

And NO, the example of simply giving money to people is not all that salutary. WHAT does work is affording the poor, especially in Third World countries access to "small loans". This has shown remarkable success and one wonders why it is not done here in the States. Then again, some corporate behemoths such as Amazon have provided a worldwide market for isolated villagers. Consider that a poor weaver in the backwaters of India or Pakistan (is there anything but backwaters there) is now able to offer for sale a fine rug to a distant consumer such as you or I - AND we do buy such merchandise. Consider again how a small loan to help her acquire a computer and internet access coupled with a website can help bring her out of dire poverty.

So do we still blame Amazon? Do we blame the small banks that provide such *mini*loans?

2) "Yet we conclude that their welfare depends upon preserving the prerogatives of the Koch Bros to buy yet another yacht? I’m not persuaded. "

Let us be fair here and add the name of George Soros. He also benefits as does another favorite of the Left, Warren Buffett, the man who made his fortune off the grieving heirs of innumerable small business owners / farmers unable to pay inheritance tax.

3) "In short, the capacity for success is bestowed arbitrarily. "

While it may be somewhat arbitrary, recall that the *CAPACITY* may be bestowed arbitrarily not the end result, i.e., actual success. This, regrettably for the likes of common knuckleheads such as you and I, may very well be a function of culture, discipline, ambition and like it or not, emotional intelligence. The loud, butt-showing jeans wearing hipster is more likely than not to end up on the short end of the stick. and yet, many who come from similar circumstances MAKE a conscious / reasoned decision to ESCAPE that fate and succeed to varying degrees.
Let us not completely eliminate personal responsibility for one's condition.

And let us not also assume that it is the primary responsibility of the successful to correct for the mistakes / misfortune of others.

God (does) help those who help themselves. Thus, I am fully supportive of mini-loans, business guidance / training, etc. I have observed as did the Swedes recently that simply giving money away is both far too expensive and tends to conditions opposite from what was intended.

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gabe
on May 24, 2018 at 16:40:16 pm

And of BTW: re: Michael Jordan & your hero:

What manner of hero is this for one so compassionate (I mean that sincerely) as you to have a hero who as one sportswriter euphemistically termed it, in his acceptance speech to the NBA Hall of Fame, demonstrated that he "was a *sore winner*" demonstrating neither understanding nor recognition of the talents of his feloow competitors.
And again, on Jordan and baseball.
You claim that it was simply a question of utilizing his talents in the right way.

No, Sirree, Bob!
1) Baseball is a far more difficult game. consider how difficult it is to hit a 97 mph fastball or a 95 mph "cutter." This is not something that talent alone will enable. (Ask my boyhood friends / teammates who in high school hit 440 ft home runs). It is amazingly difficult AND IT REQUIRES years of hard work, practice and study.

The operative word here being "work" One must work at ones chosen endeavor to be successful at it. (BTW: Try 'splainin' that to 1st year Associates - Hah!) Hard, unrelenting work and dedication will in SOME case allow one to be successful at baseball (as an example); so too for law or physics or business (absent some family inheritance that Warren Buffet has not bought out). Indeed, it is condescending to argue that "talent" alone is what made Michael Jordan (or Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams) great athletes. It was predominantly the result of hard sustained WORK.

And the decision to make that effort, to so apply oneself that they are fully in command of their sport, or their discipline, business is a personal one. It is the mark of responsibility. Yes, one may have a cultural / economic background that facilitates such a decision - BUT how many actually do make that decision?

It is impossible to know what would have resulted had Michael Jordan focused his energies on baseball. Perhaps he would have been a great ballplayer - perhaps, not? All that we may rightly conclude (and he has said this as well) is that he applied himself with a singular focus and determination that coupled with some natural ability allowed him to succeed beyond his boyhood imaginings.

My grandfather once told me a lesson I have never forgotten. This from a former Sicilian serf with no education (none!) and with no inheritance to provide and one who struggled through the Great Depression:
"Meestah Gabe, don you ever begrudge a man his success."
Grandpa, you were right and i have not forgotten!

How about you?

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gabe
on May 25, 2018 at 01:40:22 am

it is condescending to argue that “talent” alone is what made Michael Jordan (or Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams) great athletes. It was predominantly the result of hard sustained WORK.

Lovely homily, reverend. Now, do you actually know anything about the subject you’re discussing?

1. Baseball’s most famous player was Babe Ruth—a guy who ballooned to 260 pounds and was famous for drinking, carousing, and ending up in the hospital for months at a time. But he could still hit home runs.

2. Did you read Money Ball--about how even major league baseball scouts picked players based on their looks, not on their performance? And why is it that only white players played in the major leagues until 1947? I guess no players of color ever exhibited hard sustained WORK, huh?

3. Have you read any of the works on the economics of life in the minor leagues? There you will find multiple layers of farm teams, with hundreds of players, and only about 10% ever make it to a single at-bat in the major leagues. The rest will spend a decade of their life traveling far from loved ones for seven months a year, earning $800/month (that’s $300/month after housing, taxes, clubhouse dues, and insurance).

"Most players in the minor leagues are paid less than $7500 for the entire year," said one critical advocate for the Minor League players that wished to remain anonymous. "Even in Double-A--two steps from the major leagues-- most guys are making wages that put them below the federal poverty guidelines. And regardless of the level, players are not paid during spring training; in essence they are required to work for 50+ hours per week for free.

Indeed, it’s so bad that minor league players started a class action lawsuit because their compensation is less than minimum wage. But thankfully that’s all resolved: The Trump Administration signed a bill exempting the players from minimum wage laws, so now their low salaries are perfectly legal.

Given all this, why would these players put themselves through all this agony—when they could simply take gabe’s advice and put in “hard sustained WORK” they’d magically be transported to the major leagues? Gosh, they must truly be stupid—or lazy in a pretty unobvious way.

4. But let’s assume they finally get a clue and all start engaging in sustain hard WORK. Now they’re all major league-quality players. True, there are roughly 10 times as many of them as there are slots on the rosters of all major league teams combined. But not to worry: gabe assures us that the PREDOMINANT determinate of success is hard sustained WORK--math be damned.

Gabe, apparently it has not occurred to you that slaves worked hard. That miners worked hard. That people who pick our produce work hard. And NONE of them get rich doing it.

I’m sure baseball players exert a lot of effort, too. But I’m not persuaded that what determines whether someone becomes a major league star or not is determined by how hard they work. If hard work is the predictive variable, it explains roughly 100000% of the outcome observed.

Let’s make this simpler: How many 5-foot-tall guys play professional basketball? Is that because 5-foot-tall guys are just too damn lazy?

Yes, hard work contributes to success. But it is only a part of what determines success. So why do we obsess over it? Because it feeds our belief in meritocracy—which we rely on to justify our indifference to our fellow man. After all, if people in foreign countries were as meritorious as we are, they wouldn’t get malaria, would they? And we resist acknowledging all the other factors that go into success because they erode our faith in meritocracy, and cause us to acknowledge that “there, but for the grace of God, go I.”

My grandfather once told me a lesson I have never forgotten. This from a former Sicilian serf with no education (none!) and with no inheritance to provide and one who struggled through the Great Depression:
“Meestah Gabe, don you ever begrudge a man his success.”

Grandpa, you were right and i have not forgotten!

That’s lovely. And doubtless your grandfather achieved a modicum of success.

Please remind us, how did your grandfather—a former Sicilian serve is no education (none!) and no inheritance—learn to speak English? Did he, perchance, immigrate to the US? And was he accepted and granted citizenship? And are there now millions of others who are seeking to do precisely the same thing, yet are being excluded? Indeed, isn’t there a movement to exclude specifically immigrants who are poor and uneducated?

Yes, do lecture us all about how meritorious your grandfather was, and how his success was entirely due to his sustained hard WORK, while all those no-good immigrants on our borders clearly lack your grandfather’s merit. Keep telling yourself the comforting story of meritocracy. Because, when picking what to believe, the most important consideration is what makes you comfortable….

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nobody.really
on May 25, 2018 at 10:46:07 am

Briefly:

Your points on baseball ONLY prove my point. While it DOES REQUIRE hard work and deciation, that in and of itself DOES NOT guarantee success. All those minor leaguers who do not make it to the majors may in fact lack sufficient talent to attain major league status. simply because they work hard does not guarantee success - but the ones who do make have worked their butts off - not at all dissimilar from a corporate executive or a top notch lawyer.
No one denies that chance plays a role. As an example, a 1st round quarterback drafted by a team with a horrible coach or one that employs an offensive scheme that does not match the players talents. That is chance. then again, THERE is Tom Brady. You may recall seeing a video of this skinny, uncommonly "common" looking young man, appearing to be more of a fan in his physical appearance than an athlete. And where does Mr Brady now rank. THE GOAT!!!! (greatest of all time). Ask him how much he works? Ask him (and his coaches and his teammates) how his physical talents compare to other quarterbacks. Nope, it is hard work, dedication and sacrifice that is the most salient characteristic of success.

As for immigrants - YEP AGAIN. Hard work is required - no different from my own grandfather. So yes, the element of *fortuna* in my grandfathers story was his immigrating to America. Yet, it was not simply *fortuna*. HE HAD TO MAKE A CHOICE to do so and that choice came with considerable hardship. He made that choice and he endeavored to make a solid life for himself and his family through hard (and I mean HARD) work, fiscal responsibility and EMBRACING his new home.
A little different from what you advocate - or for that matter how you yourself have (presumably) lived your own life.
Consider even your disparagement of "meritocracy"
A simple question for you:

In all your articulate commentaries, do you quote some landscaper or bricklayer (such as my grandfather) or do you quote someone with some *merit*, i.e., an accomplished law professor, physicist or historian? Even you my friend recognize "meritocracy"

Nope, as always, we propose that others ought to live by standards that we ourselves cannot live by. That is the summation of Leftist theorizing.

Have a nice Memorial Day. Hopefully, you will not once again slander those whose hard work and SACRIFICE enable(d) you to denigrate your homeland.

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gabe
on May 25, 2018 at 12:18:47 pm

BTW, nobody:

1) I do know baseball AND i base my arguments upon the (now) sad history of my boyhood friends, remarkably talented all, but NONE had sufficient talent AND drive / dedication to make it to the bigs!

2) Taken your argument to its end point(s), i.e., that it is only *fortuna*, chance, circumstance that determines success leads to some questionable outcomes.

If no *merit* is to be given to individual effort, to conscious rational choice, i.e., decision to work hard, and we are limited in our observations to "causative factors" beyond our control, i.e., genetics, chance, etc then we are reduced to the product of our conditions.
This would appear to be an updated version of B> F> Skinner's *operant conditioning* (which is itself an expansion of Pavlov's Dog) where all behavior may be explained by a review of the "operants", the stimuli, that impinged upon the consciousness of the subject and the rewards consequent to those responses.

Fair enough - if so limited. Yet we must also examine the effects of accepting such a (foolish) conception of human intercourse, and in this instance, success. If one warrants no merit for his / her achievements and it is only due to the peculiar nature of the *operants* under which and by which this person has achieved some measure of success, then, of course, it becomes incumbent upon us to examine all those operants in order for us to assure success for others.
This is the underlying thesis of our "redistributionists", of those who would denigrate individual achievement in pursuit of their grand vision of an Equal and Just world. It is the epitome of Enlightenment / Progressive arrogance - but it is indeed what so many of our "scientific" positivist policy advocates desire.

Oddly enough, it is a refutation of the very Enlightenment principles from which it was conceived. All is now chance, reason plays no part whatsoever. You are the product of your *operants* - nothing more!

Even odder, is the inability of those advocating such a position to recognize that in their efforts to "discover" all these *operants* they must employ reason, discrimination, and judgment. How is that to be done? Would not their *operants* predetermine the outcome?

And thus why would / should anyone accept the *operant* determined observation / analyses of one *operant conditioned* human over another *operant conditioned* human.

Even more fundamentally, who the hell is observant enough to know all operants?

So we are back to chance AND NOT reason. Ah, the enlightenment turned on its bloody head.
Well that is reason for you. Actually, it is not reason but PRESUMPTION, a characteristic attribute of the Progressive left!

seeya

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gabe
on May 25, 2018 at 13:41:26 pm

And then there is THIS wherein we find that the principal cause of poverty in the US is the "failure to work" even if at a minimum wage; so much for your false slanders against the "samaritan" who chooses to keep some capital in order to keep others employed.

http://thefederalist.com/2018/05/24/study-no-1-reason-americans-poor-theyre-not-working/

so keep right on preaching, nobody. As always there is something suspect in the peculiar gospels you deliver.

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gabe
on May 25, 2018 at 17:31:01 pm

I definitely agree with the point of the article, and I wish more people realized the inherent connection between the rate of the growth of the pie and the distribution of sizes of the pie. In economics, everything is intertwined, any investment comes at a price. What people should be asking more is not, "Why does this billionaire live so well, why I don't? I deserve a chunk of his wealth!", but, "How can we eventually get to the point where everyone lives as well or better than this billionaire?" A different question would lead to a different approach to the economical system.

I do want to mention one of the inherent problems with economical inequality, however. While it could be argued that this particular problem has to do not with inequality itself, but with how humans react to it - ultimately, every single problem in the human society should take human reactions to it into account by default. The problem is the fragmentation of society into smaller, and mutually not interacting, social circles. Billionaires spend time with other billionaires on private parties, the poor instead spend time with other poor people, middle class spends time with middle class... In the end, the entire society can be represented as a large set of fragments floating in the air with rarely touching each other - leading, in the end, to increasing social tensions and unrest.

However, it is worth noting that the fragmentation problem exists in any society. Even if the equality of income would be perfect and applicable to every single member of the society, we would still see the situation where farmers interact with farmers, lawyers interact with lawyers, women spend more time with women, men spend more time with men... Economical inequality adds to this fragmentation, not causes it. Besides, the fragmentation also has positive sides (isolated tight groups can more easily coordinate their efforts towards achieving a desirable goal, than one large group with different members striving for different goals).

To summarize, there are arguments towards eradicating economical inequality, but they all should be viewed within the relevant context, and the downsides of enforcing equality tend to significantly surpass the upsides of maintaining the status quo.

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May
on May 25, 2018 at 17:35:18 pm

Gabe, gabe, gabe…. Do you even read the articles you link to? And if so, do you understand them?

A single mother who has two children and works merely 30 hours per week at the minimum wage will earn enough income to place her family above the federal poverty level, the study says.

Yup, sure enough. But let’s be generous: Let’s assume that the mom can even get 40 hrs/wk. Admittedly, that can be a challenge because employers have an incentive NOT to schedule people at that level, so as to avoid paying benefits. But let’s assume she does work 40 hrs/wk.

So now, after paying social security and Medicare taxes (not income taxes), she’s earning just over $1150/mo. Query: What did our single mom do with her kids while she’s working?

She dropped them off at daycare—which, on average, costs $972/mo., or more than $1500/mo. if you live in a large city. PER KID. Add onto that the fact that our single mom, by having an income of $1150/mo, no longer qualifies for a variety of assistance, and you can do the math.

Which is more than I can say for the people at The Federalist. What suggestions do they have for where our single mother of two should park her kids? As good acolytes of Ayn Rand, they simply ignore the idea that there ARE such things as kids. Or sick people. Or elderly people. They build a worldview around the idea that everyone is healthy and capable, and the only possible explanation for anyone not behaving as in the manner they anticipate is that some people are simply evil, lazy, and envious.

While “A whopping 82 percent of Americans support requirements that all able-bodied adults work … as a condition of receiving food stamps,” only 38 percent of such recipients currently work at all.

In support of this claim, The Federalist’s article provides a link to … a Federalist editorial which fails to mention the 38 percent figure. So I can’t assess that statistic.

The latest official poverty rate, for example, is higher than it was when President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty began….

The Federalilst provides no citation in support of this assertion—which isn’t surprising, given that it's false.

The U.S. poverty rate is only as high as it is because it is calculated based on income from work. It leaves out welfare income….

Actually, this strikes me as a fair criticism. But this revision would only compound the boneheaded error that the poverty rate has increased since the War on Poverty began.

The federal government annually spends about $1 trillion on more than 200 poverty programs, which amounts to about $20,000 per so-called poor person, or $60,000 for a single mom with two kids. That’s more than the median annual U.S. income.

I don’t know if this is accurate. But if so, it supports my (and Charles Murray’s) thesis that it would be more efficient to eliminate many anti-poverty programs and SIMPLY GIVE PEOPLE CASH. But, alas, doing so would offend gabe’s religious worldview, so we’re stuck with subsidizing people in inefficient ways instead.

Americans who graduate high school, work full time (even at minimum wage), and marry before having kids are essentially guaranteed to not live in poverty. These are all choices, not happenstance.

This “Success Sequence” has been widely criticized. Yes, following the sequence correlates with success. But do people succeed because they follow the sequence? Or do they follow the sequence because they live in circumstances that enable them to succeed?

Let’s say you are determined to follow the sequence. So you refuse to have sex before marriage. That strategy may well impede your ability to get married, as potential mates will date other people who ARE willing to have sex. And a failure to get married violates the success sequence. But if you DO have sex before marriage, you run the risk of having a kid outside of marriage—which ALSO violates the success sequence.

Also, rightly or wrongly, the people who are most likely to marry black women are black men. Yet black men are disproportionately likely to be killed or incarcerated, rendering them unattractive marriage prospects. As a result, there are only about 77 marriage-eligible black men for every 100 marriage-eligible black women. Thus, many black women face a choice: 1) have kids out of wedlock, 2) marry a guy who will be a burden to you and have kids with him, or 3) don’t have kids. Confronted with these options, is it surprising that many black women choose to have kids out of wedlock? The fact that they make that choice does not knock them off the success sequence. Rather, their lived circumstance knocked them off the sequence; they’re just making the best of a bad situation.

The Federalist's article then cites graphs showing that men’s labor force participation rate has declined since WWII. And another graph showing that WOMEN’s labor force participation rate has increased over this same period. Gosh, it’s almost as if the ever-increasing labor supply caused ever more male workers to be displaced by ever more female workers. Who’da thunk? Well, pretty much anyone, right?

True, recently we’ve observed a declining labor force participation rate for both men and women. And we’ve also observed that one of our largest cohorts, the Baby Boomers, are retirement age. Gosh, who’da thunk that old people might retire and leave the labor force? Well, pretty much anyone, right?

And true, we observe a growing number of able-bodied people taking disability. But again, that’s precisely what we’d expect in a world of increasing technological change--but I'll admit that the connection is not as obvious. “Disability” does not mean a lack of ability to do ANY job; it means incapable of doing the job for which you’ve been trained. For example, think of those 60-yr-old Trump-voting coal minors who used to earn $60K/yr: When the mines close, we can tell them to all go become Walmart greeters—or we can give them disability and send them home. Rightly or not, we’ve chosen Option 2.

Now, I acknowledge that I’m not entirely happy with this remedy. It treats similarly-situated people differently based on their employment histories. In short, it panders to the grievances of the formerly middle class while ignoring the grievances of people who were never middle class. Again, I’d prefer a policy of simply GIVING PEOPLE CASH regardless of their past work histories. But again, we face religious objections….

In short, it’s easy to criticize people when you’re ignorant of their circumstances and constraints. We face a choice between Herman Melville (“Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well housed, well warmed, and well fed.”) and Marie Antoinette (“The poor have no bread? Let them eat cake!”). I find Melville pretty persuasive—but obviously, that’s not a universally held view.

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nobody.really
on May 26, 2018 at 12:54:32 pm

nobody.really,

I have some questions for you. These are not a segue to an argument, but honest-to-God, I-value-your-opinion,- what-do-you-think? questions.

It seems that the answers to many economic problems are not the most obvious, e.g. wage and price controls to control inflation. It also seems that there are "obvious" solutions to poverty that won't work, and I would like your opinion as to the mechanisms of why they would not.

1. Why couldn't the government simply print twenty-five $20 bills for each person in America who is below the poverty line and give them the "money?"

2. What if Jeff Bezos or Warren Buffet took a "teach a man to fish" approach and decided to teach welding to any person in the United States who wanted to learn? What would that do to poverty and what would it do to those who already know how to weld?

3. In ancient Rome, philanthropists were lauded for gifts to the city for games, spectacles and so forth. Yet, if money were to be provided to our impoverished and they spent it on games and spectacles and so forth, that would presumably be frowned upon. Why?

4. We often hear of "paper wealth." The wealth of Bezos and Buffet presumably consists in corporate stock, the real value of which is the expectation of shareholders in future earnings. This being the case, is this wealth available for either philanthropy or subject to taxation for public ends? Could Jeff Bezos give five shares of Amazon stock to each poor person? Would this be different from scenario 1?

5. Charitable institutions, and I am thinking here of Catholic colleges and hospitals, as well as public medical schools, seem to lose their charitable character and become indistinguishable from for-profit counterparts over time. Why is that? Is that an economic phenomenon, a social phenomenon, both?

I would appreciate learning what you think.

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z9z99
on May 27, 2018 at 12:56:11 pm

1. Why couldn’t the government simply print twenty-five $20 bills for each person in America who is below the poverty line and give them the “money?”

A. Would this be good policy? Don’t know—but I advocated it!

Today 43.1 million Americans live in poverty. Giving each of them $500 would cost $21.5 billion, which would increase the M0 money supply by roughly 0.5%. That might suggest that this policy would be quite inflationary—increasing the number of dollars without also increasing the number of things to be bought—until you realize that the amount of currency is a small percentage of the amount of money in circulation. The M3 money supply is nearly $14 trillion, and I couldn’t even find an estimate of the US’s M4 money supply. By these standards, adding $21.5 billion to the money supply would be trivial.

Similarly, adding $21.5 billion to the national debt of $14 trillion would be trivial.

The housing meltdown triggered concerns that our economy might lock up, as banks would no longer lend. Thus, the Fed adopted a policy of Quantitative Easing, buying back government bonds, so that (rich) people would be left with lots of cash which they’d have to do SOMETHING with. The result was that many, many banks remained in operation—but many private citizens and firms suffered.

What if, instead, the US had pumped money into the hands of ordinary citizens? They could have continued consuming. This would have maintained the demand for lots of firms that serve ordinary people. These firms would have continued doing business, depositing and borrowing, etc. Yes, many more big banks would have failed, and I can’t really know what the results would have been. But the harm to the economies of ordinary families—families that had NO RESPONSIBILITY for the meltdown—has been terrible.

B. As a matter of logistics, distributing that much money IN CASH would be challenging, and create an enormous opportunity for theft. The US has moved to issuing cash benefits via debit cards.

2. What if Jeff Bezos or Warren Buffet took a “teach a man to fish” approach and decided to teach welding to any person in the United States who wanted to learn? What would that do to poverty and what would it do to those who already know how to weld?

Dunno.

I suspect that lack of educational opportunities may not be the problem. Perhaps a lack of ADVERTISING to let people know what opportunities are available to them. And, until recently, a lack of demand for welders.

Again, lack of educational opportunities may not be the whole picture. Would the single mom be able to afford putting kids in daycare in order to take advantage of such opportunities? We may need intervention on a number of fronts simultaneously. Organizations such as the Harlem Children’s Zone are basically carpet-bombing bad neighborhoods with social interventions. We’ll see what happens.

3. In ancient Rome, philanthropists were lauded for gifts to the city for games, spectacles and so forth. Yet, if money were to be provided to our impoverished and they spent it on games and spectacles and so forth, that would presumably be frowned upon. Why?

A. Well, people still laud those who contribute to games. The Olympics and the NFL still find plenty of sponsors.

B. True, many pass judgment on the spending habits of the poor. But people also pass judgment on the spending habits of the rich. What can I say? People are judgmental.

That said, I believe that consumers should get what they buy. And arguably, the consumer for public social welfare programs are not the poor; the consumers are voters who want to believe that our social policies are helping the poor. So even if a poor person would prefer to see money spent on raw chicken than on pre-cooked chicken in grocery stores, that may not matter if voters prefer to see it spent on spent on raw chicken.

Many public policies are designed not to reduce poverty, but to make it less apparent to those who are NOT poor. We can try to educate voters about the inefficient consequences of their preferences, and maybe their preferences will change. But in the meantime, we buy largely what voters value—whether or not it is valued by the people who are the purported beneficiaries.

<blockquotea.4. We often hear of “paper wealth.” The wealth of Bezos and Buffet presumably consists in corporate stock, the real value of which is the expectation of shareholders in future earnings. This being the case, is this wealth available for either philanthropy or subject to taxation for public ends? Could Jeff Bezos give five shares of Amazon stock to each poor person? Would this be different from scenario 1?

A. I expect that giving people stock would have some similar consequences to giving them cash. That is, I expect many people would sell the stock promptly and use the funds to buy the prescriptions they can’t currently afford, or whatever.

There’s be some issue involving control of the respective corporations. Distributing (voting?) shares so broadly would make control of the corporate board harder to predict. Not sure if that’s something you’re interested in.

B. In the US we mostly finance public expenditures based on INCOME TAX, not WEALTH TAX. Thus, we don’t generally tax a person’s stock ownership, even when the value of the stocks increase. (Note that we DO tax dividends as income; the stock of corporations that choose not to pay dividends will typically increase in value to reflect the fact that they have a big pile of cash—but, as I say, this increase will not, by itself, create a taxable event.)

There are other ways we could structure our public finances. We might move towards a consumption tax, such as the X Tax, which would tend to tax wealth more.

(We can understand property taxes as a kind of consumption tax. When I own property, I receive a stream of benefits from this fact. If I rent my house to someone, that person will receive a stream of housing benefits, and I'll receive rents--upon which I'll have to pay income tax. But if instead I choose to live in my house, I'll keep that stream of housing services for myself. Property taxes permit government to tax that stream of services that the owner receives as a kind of income.)

5. Charitable institutions, and I am thinking here of Catholic colleges and hospitals, as well as public medical schools, seem to lose their charitable character and become indistinguishable from for-profit counterparts over time. Why is that? Is that an economic phenomenon, a social phenomenon, both?

I don’t know what you’re talking about.

I understand that the quality of profit hospitals and nursing homes is lower than in not-for-profit hospitals and nursing homes. And the experience of for-profit colleges can in no sense be compared to the experience with not-for-profit colleges.

Don’t know about med schools.

Perhaps you’re remarking on the competitive dynamic whereby institutions of various origins discover successful strategies for competing, or adopt the successful strategies of their rivals. Now, if Catholic students, patients, professors, and doctors had a deep affinity for Catholic institutions, perhaps those institutions would find that Catholicism is a competitive advantage. But if these Catholic people don’t have a strong preference for Catholic institutions, and are instead attracted by pretty buildings, etc., then I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that all institutions invest in pretty buildings, regardless of their Catholic backgrounds.

Of course, this goes beyond pretty buildings. Often people lack much basis for choosing among institutions, and will instead rely on reputation and those who present themselves as experts in choosing among institutions. And reputation/experts may identify certain institutions as the best, and then judge all other institutions on the basis of how well they conform to the best one. Thus, when scouts look for excellent baseball players, they look for people who LOOK like past excellent baseball players. And when they look for excellent colleges, they look for colleges that LOOK like Harvard. This can lead to distortions.

That said: Catholic University competes to attract faculty and students. Perhaps for this reason, Catholic U publicly embraced the norms of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), which helped identify Catholic U with the most prestigious universities in the nation. But those norms involved permitting tenured faculty to teach as they see fit. When Prof. Charles A. Curran deviated from Catholic doctrine, the school stripped him of his teaching status. In this sense, we can say that Catholic U maintained its Catholic flavor, even at the expense of the secular norms of free speech and free inquiry (and it's own pledge to maintain academic norms). Whether that is something to celebrate, I leave to you.

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nobody.really
on May 27, 2018 at 14:09:27 pm

Thanks for your reply.

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z9z99
on May 28, 2018 at 02:37:20 am

Moreover, the number of people who live in conditions of extreme poverty continues to be enormous.

So? Jesus didn't wave His hand and make us all morally perfect as He ascended into Heaven either.

St. Paul also had something to say about "inequality" and he didn't condemn it out of hand. Bishops, take note.

Saints of the medieval School of Salamanca, please pray for us.

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Micha Elyi
on May 30, 2018 at 14:45:24 pm

"So?"

"The priest passed by on the far side of the road, and the Levite also."

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Gradgrind

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