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Old 04-13-2010, 09:56 AM   #1
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Malaysian taxi drivers have a better standard of living than YOU?

The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger

Quote:
RICHARD WILKINSON: Well, what we've discovered is health is just one of many issues which are worse in more unequal societies, including violence or teenage births and all sorts of other problems. These are not just a little bit worse in more unequal societies, but are much worse.

Also among their findings:
  • The most unequal countries have more homicide, more obesity, more mental illness, more teen pregnancy, more high-school dropouts, and more people in prison.
  • The more equal the society, the longer its people live.
  • The United States has the greatest inequality of income of any developed country except Singapore.

Bill Moyers Journal . Transcripts | PBS

It's worth reading that whole transcript. It's not new information per se, but a compelling, evidence-based presentation of what all of us articulate in very different ways.

An a-ha for me is that conservatives who are accused of being simple and nostalgic for the good old days have a point. The more equal income/wealth distribution of decades past DID make for a stronger society.
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Old 04-13-2010, 10:09 AM   #2
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An a-ha for me is that conservatives who are accused of being simple and nostalgic for the good old days have a point. The more equal income/wealth distribution of decades past DID make for a stronger society.
Well which good old days are you referring to?
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Old 04-13-2010, 10:15 AM   #3
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Read the transcript. When the US was among the most (income) equal of the developed Western countries - 1940s to 1970s.
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Old 04-13-2010, 10:23 AM   #4
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Read the transcript. When the US was among the most (income) equal of the developed Western countries - 1940s to 1970s.
I did, but I think slapping the label "stronger society" on that time period is extremely short sighted.

Even if just looking at income it's extremely short sighted. The average white household made twice as much as the average black household in the 50's.

The overall sentiment of the article I agree with, but I don't agree with applying it backwards.
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Old 04-13-2010, 10:43 AM   #5
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Read the transcript. When the US was among the most (income) equal of the developed Western countries - 1940s to 1970s.

Poverty rates in the United States were much higher back in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Poverty rates in the United States in the 1950s were above 20% each year. African Americans in the south in the 1950s still used horses and wagons for transportation. The standard of living of average Americans today is much better than it was back then. There are far more opportunities for African Americans and Women today than there were in the period from the 1940s to the 1970s. Just because Bill Gates makes an enormous sum of money does not mean it comes at the expense of those in the bottom 10% of income earners. Although I do think the top 10% of income earners in the United States need to pay more in taxes.

Americans also have a much higher life expectancy rate TODAY than they did back in the 1940s-1970s.
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Old 04-13-2010, 10:53 AM   #6
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The most unequal countries have more homicide, more obesity, more mental illness, more teen pregnancy, more high-school dropouts, and more people in prison.
The other reason I think it's dangerous to try and apply this logic backwards is that how do you compare some of these things?

How do you compare teenage pregancy to decades of the past when kids were getting married at 17 years old in decades past?

How do you compare the crime rates? Do you think something like spousal abuse got reported in the 40's at the same rate it does now?

Mental illness? Really? Not even comparable...
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Old 04-13-2010, 11:34 AM   #7
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I did, but I think slapping the label "stronger society" on that time period is extremely short sighted.
As compared to other societies at the time, it is correct.

I realize you're all bent out of shape at the mere notion of a conservative viewpoint having any validity whatsoever, but I'm not applying anything backwards.
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Old 04-13-2010, 11:43 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by Strongbow View Post
Just because Bill Gates makes an enormous sum of money does not mean it comes at the expense of those in the bottom 10%of income earners.
Oh no?

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Although I do think the top 10% of income earners in the United States need to pay more in taxes.
Then why is this necessary?


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Americans also have a much higher life expectancy rate TODAY than they did back in the 1940s-1970s.
The point isn't that Americans live longer now, ALL of us live longer now. It's that slipping from the top of the modern democracy list TO THE BOTTOM is correlated with the divide widening dramatically between rich and poor.
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Old 04-13-2010, 12:44 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by AliEnvy View Post
As compared to other societies at the time, it is correct.
Where is that side by side comparison, I didn't see that in the transcript.

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I realize you're all bent out of shape at the mere notion of a conservative viewpoint having any validity whatsoever, but I'm not applying anything backwards.
Oh please! I've shown you reasoning of why this can't be applied that way, and I see nothing in the article or in your posts that show otherwise.

In fact I think I take stronger issue with your rather poorly defined "stronger society", than I do some "conservative viewpoint having any validity".
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Old 04-13-2010, 08:45 PM   #10
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Where is that side by side comparison, I didn't see that in the transcript.
Silly writer...Q&A interview, paragraph style...where are the VISUALS?!!

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In fact I think I take stronger issue with your rather poorly defined "stronger society",
I didn't write the book or make the definition.

Inequality is presented as the income gap and stronger society is defined by health and social outcomes.

Quote:
KATE PICKETT: We are talking about the gap between the rich and the poor; the income gap. In our book, we look at the scale of income differences across 21 to 23 different rich, developed market democracies. And we look at the income of the richest 20 percent, the top fifth, compared to the income of the bottom 20 percent, the bottom fifth. And we compare health and social outcomes to that scale of income inequality.
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Old 04-13-2010, 09:47 PM   #11
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Silly writer...Q&A interview, paragraph style...where are the VISUALS?!!
My point is you said that compared to other societies "it is correct", but that point was never made in the link you provided.
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Old 04-14-2010, 03:45 AM   #12
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^ I believe the comparison she's referring to was made in this portion of the transcript:
Quote:
KATE PICKETT: ...I think you're forgetting your more recent past where you were a much more equal country than you are now, among the most equal of the Western developed countries.

BILL MOYERS: When was that?

PICKETT: The '40s through the '70s.

MOYERS: The '70s is when the wage gap began to open.

RICHARD WILKINSON: And you were very unequal in the 1920s. But from about the 1930 onwards, you've been becoming steadily more equal, until you get to sometime in the late 1970s. And then the inequality rises again. And, of course, in relation to Europe, one of the American values, what America stood for was not having this sort of feudal class system.
That is, we displayed greater overall economic mobility than European societies of the time did. And we're talking epidemiological analysis here, so specific forms of economic inequality within particular countries (e.g., mid-20th-century racial inequality in the US) would only be relevant to the comparison insofar as they affect overall economic inequality relative to other countries. (The specific other countries included in the study, that is--as Pickett explains in the transcript, "In our book, we look at the scale of income differences across 21 to 23 different rich, developed market democracies.")


I am having some difficulty seeing the alleged 'conservatism' in their thesis, though--most Americans, at least, wouldn't associate such a take on economic inequality with 'conservatism,' and it doesn't seem that the authors (nor Moyers) do either:
Quote:
PICKETT: ...There was an idea in the past that top earners deserved those incomes. That economic growth was very important. Because it would trickle down and benefit all of us. And I think what we're showing with our data is that that myth is not true. The pulling away of those top incomes at the top creates an inequality and a social dysfunction that affects all of us.

WILKINSON: But the banker, I think, was right talking about his childhood. At that time, you know, in the 1930s-- growth did matter. It really did improve the real quality of life for human beings. But, from about the '60s on, that stopped happening.

PICKETT: But let's dispel another myth about inequality which ties in with what that banker is saying. And that's that we need inequality to drive creativity and innovation and aspirations. The less you have that hierarchy, people won't struggle to get ahead. And, of course, there always are a fortunate few, like the banker whose father and grandfather were miners in Wales, who do manage to get ahead. But the vast majority of people won't get ahead in a more unequal society. Their aspirations will come to nothing. And we find actually that innovation seems to be lower in more unequal societies, not higher.

MOYERS: Well, that goes to the heart of what Libertarians in this country, in particular, but conservatives generally say, that the more you try to end inequality, the more you subdue innovation, that if you try too hard to cure inequality, you will kill innovation.

PICKETT: And I think what we just described proves that that isn't true.
Anyhow, interesting article--if I have time to return to this thread, there were a couple other points that stood out to me too. It's intriguing that they finger economic inequality as a cause rather than a consequence of declining "measures of social cohesion, how much people are involved in community life"--more commonly, we hear that outcome discussed as if it worked the other way around, or as if broadly declining social cohesion were an independent process caused by feminism/less religion in the public sphere/whatever.

BTW, the authors' website is here: Home | The Equality Trust
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Old 04-14-2010, 04:48 AM   #13
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Hi yolland

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Originally Posted by yolland View Post
I am having some difficulty seeing the alleged 'conservatism' in their thesis, though--most Americans, at least, wouldn't associate such a take on economic inequality with 'conservatism,' and it doesn't seem that the authors (nor Moyers) do either:
My take on the conservative nostalgia bit was related to the loss of social cohesion as you note here:

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Originally Posted by yolland View Post
It's intriguing that they finger economic inequality as a cause rather than a consequence of declining "measures of social cohesion, how much people are involved in community life"--,more commonly, we hear that outcome discussed as if it worked the other way around or as if broadly declining social cohesion were an independent process caused by feminism/less religion in the public sphere/whatever.
My a-ha being that if the income gap is the cause of our loss of social cohesion (not the civil rights movement or sexual revolution etc.) then we have some real common ground between conservatives and liberals to build political will to change public policy in a meaningful way. As noted on the authors' website:

There are two main ways of reducing income inequality:

* smaller differences in pay before tax (like in Japan)
* redistribution through taxes and benefits (like in Sweden)

EDIT: also from the author's website:

Quote:
Political will is however a precondition for success for the adoption of any effective policies to reduce inequality - political will among public and politicians alike. That will only be forthcoming when people recognise how important greater equality is to the quality of social relations - and so to the real quality of life - for the vast majority of the population.
Quote:
A major implication of the new research findings is that reducing inequality is no longer something which depends on the well-off adopting more altruistic attitudes to those in relative poverty: instead a more equal society benefits the vast majority of the population. A wider recognition of the way we all suffer the costs of inequality will lead to a growing desire for a more equal society. Our primary task is therefore to gain a widespread understanding the way inequality makes societies socially dysfunctional - right across the board.
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Old 04-14-2010, 06:12 PM   #14
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Well, I've been to KL and I'd wager Malaysian taxi drivers don't have a better standard of living than me or than the overwhelming majority of Americans either to be honest.
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Old 04-16-2010, 01:49 AM   #15
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I assume the taxi driver reference was meant as a lighthearted attention-getter, since Malaysia doesn't appear to be among the countries considered by the research in question anyhow. But yes, I wasn't particularly struck by the quality of life seemingly enjoyed by KL's taxi drivers, either. (Fun city to visit though, and Malaysian Borneo is even better...)

What did you think of the thesis, financeguy? You often enough touch on themes of declining social cohesion and social relations and their connection to other social problems.
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