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Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Ref.: demeaning the poor

With age I have increasingly been convinced that conservative and some liberal's values of self-worth to be based on being better than others. A reader suggested earlier that liberals envied the rich. The opposite would be closer to the truth as I observe it. Liberals largely ignore the rich while it appears that many wealthy people anchor their whole being in how deserving they are compared to the poor or even middle class. Loose their job or their wealth and they are shattered whereas, we, and especially the poor, usually go on in similar circumstances enjoying life when we can.

This attitude of self-distinction has unfortunately deeper ramifications for society as most weath in a complex modern society is created by complex and interacting systems and very little by individual effort. We have seen that most recently in the stock and asset value collapse. All the most diligent efforts of individuals based on years of saving and prudent investment have gone up in smoke due to the efforts of a few, mostly wealthy individuals. Yet efforts to shore up the collective strength of social systems through prudent regulation better universal education and better health care, among other efforts are routinely undermined by the need of some to feel better than others. So the system creates large swaths of poverty to reinforce our sense of self-worth. This is another and not insignificant reason of why we go to war. I remember like it was yesterday when the Soviet Union imploded. Within days China which had been favorably viewed at the time as a "peaceful" nation which had never sought to expand beyond its borders, suddenly became an aspiring aggresor nation that had to be dealt with. We had the enemy that we needed, manufactured from whole cloth in no time at all.

Unfortunately try as we might liberals have never been able to find a cure for conservatives lack of self-esteem and love of lucre. Perhaps if we turned our attention to getting these children when they are young, sponsor obligatory programs that even the wealthiest children in private schools would have to attend that would teach them that money isn't everything and they don't have to feel bad about themselves if they see someone driving in the same fancy car. 
Maybe than they would grow up to be good citizens at peace with themselves and the world?



Thai said...

SS, please forgive the following comment but I think it needs saying as you address none of it in your post.

While I certainly agree with your statement "most wealth in a complex modern society is created by complex and interacting systems", this is very different than saying "and very little by individual effort" which I strongly disagree with.

I further agree with anyone who is basically saying "the things you own in life will ultimately own you".

But the problem I have with this post is it ignore the elephant in the room. e,g the idea that BOTH the group and the individual are simultaneously equally important.

To me it is "A and B", not "A or B".

Ignoring the contribution of the individual to the collective is ignoring reality and is every bit as dishonest as ignoring the contribution of the collective to the individual.

Capitalists with their Ann Rand manifesto are not wrong, they are just not completely right as it is always BOTH. The same is true of socialists.

In particular, the place where this post most falls apart for me is:

1. It fails to define what "lucre" is
2. It fails to admit the reality of scarcity

For take YOUR simple example of education.

My four boys attend the local public school system. 3 have finished the local public elementary school, 1 still attends. This elementary school has 37 full time teachers. 20 teachers are for regular students and 17 teachers are for special education students (and I am not including the approximately 40+ aids that many of the students have as additional 1:1 resources).

The school has approximately 500 students and 13% of these are special education students (i.e. 440 "regular" students and 60 special ed students).

In other words, the 440 "regular" students have a student to teacher ration of 22 (not that bad really so I am not complaining) while the special ed students have a teacher to student ratio of 3.5.

Anyway if our county awards an additional $100,000 to my school, and we divide it as is currently done, each special ed kid gets $756 while each regular kid gets $123 or a 6:1 spending ratio in favor of special ed.

So when you want to give more money to schools, you first need to define what you really want to give to.

For if you need reminding, private schools do not have such inequality in student abilities (at least at first glance this is the case) so it is much easier to give money to a private school and feel confident that the money will have a good change of reaching your own child.

Further, your post makes no allowance for scarcity issues like:

-IQ (do you know how few people have an IQ of 140?)
-willingness to work
-willingness to do things other people will not do
-willingness to move to places other people will not move to
-willingness to send kids to schools other people will not send their kids to
-willingness and ability to get along with others
-statistical "bad luck" such as illness, cancer, etc...
-differences in family structure
-differences in the number of children people want to have

All these things and many many others are very unequally distributed within populations and you dream of creating a better society takes none of these issues into account.

How will your proposal solve the following issue:

Society decided as a collective to go the way of technological growth in order to avoid having to deal with the mass "die off" land carrying capacities would have forced upon us had we decided to stop technological innovation around (say) 1500.

Go back to my little elementary school school example. How will you solve society's problem?

Justice is very important but it does not trump economics at all costs for all scenarios. Just as economic value is a very important, but it does not trump justice at all costs for all scenarios.

Where do you take this into account?????

Thai said...

PS- I have never done the math on this until this very moment so please don't think this is some kind of burning issue for me as it is not.

I ran the numbers of my own school to make the point your whole philosophical model assumes a linear word without scarcity when the reality could not be further from the truth. (you can do them or not for your own kid's school as you so choose).

You assume you have kids who will be able to attend Swarthmore. Do you know how few people can even realistically dream of this ?

You model's failure (to me) reflects an inability to see the vast non-linearity of the world itself. Non-linearity is a world with tremendous scarcity by definition.

Debra said...

SS, I think that you are idealizing the poor, and the liberals.
On my self help forum with my loony friends (I am a loony right along with the others, so this is very democratic...) these people are living on less than 400€ a month in the big cities, and this is NOT a lot of money. It's safe to say that this is poverty, real poverty.
And they are not enjoying their poverty, and all those idle hours spent wondering what to do with their time without work, meaningful work in a non-stressful environment. And some of them tend to light into all of society's loafers, just the way the rich conservatives do...
For the schools issue, way back int the 60's when our upper middle class family moved into the heart of Philadelphia, and going to public school meant being the only white kid in a class of 40 blacks, momma and daddy thought best to send me to one of those private schools that you seem to be griping about...
What should they have done ? What would YOU have done in those circumstances ? (And by the way, I PAID FOR THAT PRIVILEDGE later, when I was two years ahead of all the other little kiddies in junior high school elsewhere... They mad my life HELL on EARTH for knowing stuff already that they didn't.)
Conservative people are no more attached to their filthy lucre than all those "raving" liberals.
Look at Thai, he's over there on the other forum defending the Protestant work ethic...
I agree with Dink, it's not an either/or problem...

SS said...

@ Debra, Thai

Please recall I said:" been convinced that conservative and some liberal's values of self-worth"

I'm talking about psychology in this post not the resolution of all the problems you underline. The only solution I propose here is "boot camp" for poor little rich kids that would be like Socialist Pioneers and help them know about social values and how the other half lives.

As for unemployment I believe employment for the able bodied is a right and a duty and should be guaranteed by a Socialist society.


Thai said...

SS, I misunderstood. I think there is absolutely an element of truth to what you are saying though I am mixed on whether it would make much of a difference on a global level- Certainly what you suggest is what most modern religions are trying to do.

I do have a question: where does the boundary between the collective and the individual exist for you?

Dink said...

" agree with Dink, it's not an either/or problem"

Whoa, cowgirl, whoa!!! Please clarify "our" position so I know what it is ;)

Man, so much I want to say...

I attended public schools in neighborhoods where educational quality was insisted upon. The only reason kids got sent to private school was if they really hosed something up (felony, pregnancy, substance abuse, etc.) and their parents were very rich. This surely wasn't always the case, but this was the sentiment of us underclass urchins ;)

And to discuss SS's post, it seems to be pointing out that wealth division results in ego distortion on both sides. I imagine any societal division brings this tribal mentality, really.

I was a Navy brat. Since people in the Armed Forces get transferred around a lot, there are housing units. The one I grew up in (San Diego) abutted a wealthy neighborhood. My mom decided that I should be in the nerd classes at the elementary school in the other side of the village. Fine. Until 6th grade when all the kids in the village went to the same middle school. So did I hang out with classmates or neighbor kids? Well, long story short the neighbor kids felt I thought I was better than them. Banishment. Of course this tale of ego entanglement doesn't mention the whole nerd vs. regular class division.

Anyhoo, division doesn't have to mean estrangement. Some people are over 5' 10" and the others are under. Voila, a division that nature provides, but that doesn't really socially separate people (and I already know what Thai is going to bring up).

Can a society ego-engineer its citizen's not to have defective information structures?

The Most Fabulous Objects In The World

  • Hitchhiker's Guide To The Universe trilogy
  • Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • Flight of the Conchords
  • Time Bandits