Blog 122c -Non-Causes of Poverty, Jobs, Welfare Responses


Blog #122c – Non-Causes of Poverty, Jobs, Welfare Responses

Why is there poverty in the United States today?[1] Most anti-poverty policies rely on one or more of four theories about the causes of poverty: the lack of jobs, the shiftlessness of the poor, the changing technological composition of production, or the scarcity of resources to provide for all. None of the four holds up.

We don’t have enough jobs. Not so. “Unless we create more jobs, there will be unemployed and thus poverty,” many believe. But unemployment is low, whatever the weaknesses of its measure, and most poor people are already employed. They already have “jobs,” or at least work, and very often hard work, often part- time, insecure, without benefits, almost always devalued. It is the substandard quality of the jobs we have that undergirds poverty.[2]  Killer jobs, not job killers, are the real problem.

And that so many jobs are substandard is not by accident. Simple economics dictates that employers will always push wages as low as they can: wages to workers are income to employees, but expenses for employers.  Matthew Desmond’s trenchant article[3] provides the figures, and lays out the consequences, in well reasoned and human terms. What’s needed are good jobs, paying living wages, secure over time, organized so as to be manageable along with meeting all the other obligations of complicated lives

They are poor because they are lazy. Not so. “They don’t want to work, or they drink, or are addicted, or mentally ill,” some argue. But, as noted above, most poor are in fact working, but at jobs with less than living wages or unsustainable working conditions Blaming the victims for their poverty will not work

Technological change requires workers with skills the poor don’t have. Yes but. A high school education may be increasingly needed to get a good job, but lack of a high school education is not voluntary for most without it. Getting a good education is not so simple for many, and especially for those that begin poor. Lack of good schools, of health care, of transportation, of housing, of physical security, of social encouragement, all play large roles. There is no evidence that, given the opportunity, poor people are not able to handle work that requires a post-high-school education. The poor may indeed have less education than those better off, but not because they are stupid.

Technological advances should in fact increasingly be able to provide enough for all, so that there would be no such thing as poverty, if they were appropriately socially organized.

There will always be winners and losers. The poor are simply the losers. No longer so. “The poor will always be with us is an old argument. It is increasingly wrong. Our societies are able to produce enough so that no one needs to live without adequate housing, food, clothing, rest, security, or the other things a decent standard of living in a technologically advanced society can produce. The statistics on inequality are clear. Even a modest redistribution from the top 1% would mean that all of the other 99% could live well above poverty levels.

 If none of these four explanations accounts for the widespread existence of poverty today, what does?

Two factors basically explain the existence of poverty today.

First, major real conflicts of material interest underlie poverty.  As pointed out above, simple economics dictates that for-profit businesses will always push wages as low as they can: wages to workers are income to workers, but expenses for for-profit businesses. Thus, poverty benefits powerful economic and political interests, powerful both in establishing economic relations, and in politically establishing governmental policies that further business interests opposing the steps necessary to eliminate poverty.  And,

Second, the necessity of dealing with immediate and critical human problems detracts from confronting these real conflicts, creating an incentive to downplay the existence of these conflicts politically as well as ideologically, even among well-meaning advocates of policies challenging the underlying causes of the conditions whose consequences they seek to ameliorate, so-called anti-poverty and social welfare programs.

So what is to be done to reduce and ultimately eliminate poverty from rich societies such as ours?

 Immediate actions. We have some limited but moderately effective social-mobility programs: minimum wage laws, restrictions on hours of labor and unhealthy working conditions, subsidized health care, unemployment benefits, public financing of elementary education. They need to be adequately and securely funded.[4] They should be championed, expanded, and stripped of any draconian and counterproductive work requirements. But more is needed.

Ultimate goals must be kept on the agenda as ultimately needed, goals such as a real right to housing, to free medical care, to free public education through college, an adequate income should be considered, and seen as obvious governmental functions, just as are police or fire services or streets and highways or sanitation or environmental controls or providing for holding democratic elections or public parks or clean water. So one might consider adopting as ultimate asocial goals for social action the elimination of poverty entirely and the provision of a right to a comfortable standard of living commensurate with what society is already in a position to provide, given a commitment to use it so that its wealth is distributed equitably among all individuals and groups in the society, commensurate with individual and group needs and desires. The even broader goal might be expressed as the just and democratic control of the economy as a whole and in its parts.

Transformational Measures. But to achieve such goals, shorter-term steps also need to be pursued, measures that move in these directions but that do not promise more than are immediately political feasible yet can contribute to meeting long-term goals.. [5] We should not neglect the importance of the poverty fixes we already have. Safety-net programs that help families confront food insecurity, housing unaffordability and unemployment spells lift tens of millions of people above the poverty line each year. By itself, SNAP annually pulls over eight million people out of poverty. According to a 2015 study, without federal tax benefits and transfers, the number of Americans living in deep poverty (half below the poverty threshold) would jump from 5 percent to almost 19 percent.[6]

  1. Improving minimum wage laws. Moving towards the ultimate goal of stablishing a standard of living for all that guarantees not only the necessities of life but at a level consistent with a comfortable and secure standard of living and a level commensurate with the productive capacity of society, appropriately organized to fullfill social needs and enforced well enough to prevent destructive competition- among businesses based on how little they pay their workers.
  2. Strengthening workers’ rights, moving in the direction of fair wages for all, including strengthening requirements for fair labor standards in the work place. Encouraging self- organization workers and poor households along diverse lines needing publii representation..
  3. Expanding the public and non-profits sectors, in the direction of recognizing the benefits of using social contribution as the motivation of provision of goods and services, rather than profit to be made by furnishing them, e.g. in housing, health care, education, recreation, transportation, environmental amenities, creative arts.
  4. Terminating public expenditures whose motivation is economic development and growth for their own sake, and focusing them on their contribution to meeting social goals, including provision of socially desired levels of goods and services. Publicly subsidized job creation as part of and motivated by economic development interests will simply benefit employers unless coupled with living wage and decent working condition requirements. Adding a work requirement to the receipt of social benefits is likewise a painfully ironic was of reducing such benefits to their recipients in a system in which if they do not produce profits for an employer, over and above their wages they will not be hired.[7]
  5. Making the tax system strongly progressive, lower at the bottom, higher at the top, moving towards the broad reduction of inequality and targeting them to the encouragement of socially desirable activities.
  6. Weighing the advantages and disadvantages of imaginatively recasting budget priorities, specifically reducing the military budget, funding anew climate -change-centered civilian conservation corps, increasing foreign aid aimed at alleviating conditions that lead to emigration etc.
  7. Recasting the public thinking about the meaning and values of work, the causes of poverty, the values implicit in alternative approaches to inequality and injustice. [8]

In Matthew Desmond’s eloquent words, “We need a new language for talking about poverty. ‘Nobody who works should be poor,’ we say. That’s not good enough. Nobody in America should be poor, period.”  He’s right.[9]

[1] The official poverty rate is 12.7 percent, based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 estimates. That year, an estimated 43.1 million Americans lived in poverty

 [3] Matthew Desmond, “Americans Want to Believe Jobs Are the Solution to Poverty. They’re Not,” concludes simply: “the able-bodied, poor and idle adult remains a rare creature “Why Work Doesn’t Work Any More,” The New York Times  Magazine, p. 36ff. Available at                             https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/11/magazine/americans-jobs-poverty-homeless.html

[4]

[5] For a further discussion of the concept of transformative measures, see pmarcuse .wordpress.com, blogs 81a-81e, 97, and 99, Towards Transformative Approaches to Unjust Inequality.

[6] Mathew Desmond, op. cit., p. 49.

[7] Mathew Desmond in a factual, tightly argued, and very persuasive article effectively demonstrates the futility of work requirements attached to the receipt of social benefits. Today, 41.7 million laborers — nearly a third of the American work force — earn less than $12 an hour. the New York Times Magazine of September 11, 2018,

[8] Matthew Desmond, op. cit., writes ”No single mother struggling to raise children on her own; no formerly incarcerated man who has served his time; no young heroin user struggling with addiction and pain; no retired bus driver whose pension was squandered; nobody. And if we respect hard work, then we should reward it, instead of deploying this value to shame the poor and justify our unconscionable and growing inequality.”  And Joanna Scuffs, in a rich and provocative article , writes of ”the slipperiness of the term ”work”, from work  as a daily grind into work as “life’s work “oeuvre, art,  the reason you’re here on earth.” The’Linguistic Chamelion” of Work,In These Times, April  2018, [[. 65ff.

[9] Op. cit., p. 9.

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Blog #95 – Given the Electoral College, who “won” the 2016 Election


#95 – Given the Electoral College, who “won” the 2016 Election

This blog, and the blog after it, Blog #95a – Questioning “So-Called President” [1] Donald Trump’s Mandate: Immediate actions, Long-Term Possibilities, Constitutional Questions,–summarize the findings of Blogs #92a to #95. [1] on “so-called President” Donald Trump’s claim to have won the election as president of the United States, and suggests some Immediately practical reforms of the Election Process in the United States They raise some longer-term issues about the constitutionality of the Electoral College per se, issues whose results in the 2016 election deserve wide discussion

This blog argues that the figures as to who would have won the national election in 2016 if that election procedure had been fair are clear. If every vote was counted fairly, so at every non-Trump vote counted for the same Electoral College vote as every pro-Trump vote, if, for instance, the election were simply decided by the results of the present national popular ,Trump would not have won that election {See Blog #94}.

Under present procedures of the Electoral College:
For Trump, his actual popular vote 62,980,160, produced 304 Electoral College votes
Or one popular vote produced 0.0000048 Electoral College votes.
Thus it took only 207,172 actual votes to produce each of his Electoral votes.

But for Clinton, her actual popular vote, 65,845,063 produced only 227 Electoral College votes,[2]
Or one popular vote produced only 0.0000034 Electoral College votes.
Thus it took all of 290,066 popular votes to produce each of her Electoral votes.
Each of Clinton’s popular votes was worth only 34/48, or 71%, of what one of Trump’s popular votes was worth.

Result: Trump wins 2016 Electoral College vote Trump 304 Clinton 227, and gains the Presidency.

But if every actual vote cast by a voter counted for as much as every other vote, not the 34/48 ratio above,–if all persons’ votes were equal)[3] , Trump would come in a clear second, behind the first place winner by over 2,5000,000 votes. If each vote actually cast for Clinton carried the same weight in the Electoral College as each vote cast for Trump, the Electoral College vote would have been Trump 304, Clinton 314;[4]

Result: Clinton would have won the Presidency.

Trump “won” the Presidency in a procedurally unfair election. Only the distortions of the Electoral College, specifically its abandonment of the one person –one vote principle, permitted his victory.”
What difference do all these numbers (e.g, 71% weight given to a vote in one camp compared to 100% weight given to to the other) make, now that Trump has been inaugurated?
See Blog #95a – Possible Actions for Democratization and Questions of Constitutionality of Trump’s electoral “victory.”

[1 ] The six most relevant recent blogs, all at pmarcuse.wordpress.com, are:
#91 – Explaining the Election in 10 Sentences – Preliminary
#92a – Electoral Reform: Outing the 1%
#93 – Election Figures Show Trump with Only 27.2% of Eligible Voters-What Mandat
#94 – In What Ways is the Electoral College Illegitimate Today?
#95 – Given the Electoral College, who “won” the 2016 Election?
#95a – Questioning “So-Called President Donald Trump’s Mandate, Immediate Actions+
[2] Calculations based on http://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/national.php?year=2016 . http://www.270towin.com/news/2017/01/06/donald-trump-officially-wins-presidency-as-electoral-votes-counted-by-congress_440.html#.WIQkTn2kyio.
[3] As they are in the popular vote .
[4] Actually, the totals have to add to 538, so this would be 45.94%*538 = 247 Trump and 48.03%*538 = 258 Clinton . In either event, Clinton would have won .I thank Aaron Marcuse- Kubitza- for the point, and help generally on the calculations

Blog #93 – Election figures show Trump with only 27.2% of eligible voters: What Mandate?


Donald Trump aimed his New Year’s Eve tweet at “my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do.” Leaving aside the incredibly childish gloating over “his enemies,” from someone who occasionally talks about “bringing our nation together,” has Trump’s staff succeeded in keeping from him all knowledge of the actual vote counts in the 2016 election, in which his leading opponent, far from “losing badly” to him, in fact got 2,000,000 popular votes[1] more than he did?

Or has his staff not let him learn that, out of some 232,000,000 persons eligible to vote [2] in 2016, only 62,000,000 actually voted [3] for him, not only less than for Clinton , but also only 27.2% of those who were eligible [4]. 79% of those who were theoretically eligible to vote for him did not do so– less a glorious victory for Trump than a rejection of his candidacy by a large majority of Americans, a failure of the Trump campaign, hardly a victory.[5]

Or has his staff not let him learn that the roots of the compromise that resulted in Article Ii of the Constitution creating the Electoral College, was the founders’ distrust of grass-roots democracy and later white leaders concerned to hold down freed black voting impact, coupled with the gerrymandering of Republican-led legislatures o distort their states’ votes?[6] Or is Trump simply incapable of acknowledging facts that undermine his claims to have a broad popular mandate in this election?

The argument in defense of the Electoral College, now sometimes made, that it did not affect the outcome in the 2016 election, even though a national popular vote shows Hillary Clinton winning over Donald Trump now by over 2,000,000 votes; if the rules had been to have the popular vote determine the result Trump would have campaigned differently and won anyway. Indeed, Trump may have campaigned differently and gotten a different result; but so would Clinton. There is no reason to believe it would have made more of a difference in the number of voters voting for Trump than the in the number of those voting for Clinton.

Conclusion:

So on the figures, it was Donald Trump who “lost so badly” in the 2016 national election, who often seems not to know what he will do, whose mandate, if he has one, is a negative mandate, a mandate to follow the wishes of the electorate and serve all of the people of the country, not just his friends, ignoring those who disagree with him as “his many enemies.” Susan Douglas lists multiple cases in which opinion surveys clearly reveal the majority differing from Trump on key police issues, speaking of them as an “anti-mandate” to his claims.[7] His true mandate, from the figures, is one to unite and to seek compromises and unity for the good of all Americans, inclusively.

[1]So on the figures, it was Donald Trump who “lost so badly” in the 2016 national election, who often seems not to know what he will do, whose mandate, if he has one, is a negative mandate, a mandate to follow the wishes of the electorate and serve all of the people of the country, not just his friends, ignoring those who disagree with him as “his many enemies.” Susan Douglas lists multiple cases in which opinion surveys clearly reveal the majority differing from Trump on key police issues, speaking of them as an “anti-mandate” to his claims.[7] His true mandate, from the figures, is one to unite and to seek compromises and unity for the good of all Americans, inclusively. > “Trump’s Antii-Mandate,” I These Times, January 2017, p. 8.
[2] The actual figure is “almost 3,000,000”: 65,844,954 – 62,979,879 =2,865,075
(http://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/national.php?year=2016).
The actual figure is 231,556,622 (http://www.electproject.org/2016g).
(http://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/national.php?year=2016).
[4](62,979,879 / 231,556,622) = 0.2719847891026844
[5] Why for whom they would have voted had they voted must necessarily remain speculation, logic suggests categories:
a. prevented from voting by deliberately restrictive provisions;
b. dissatisfied with all the alternatives , or
c. happy to let the then predicted if mistaken expectations of majorities for Hillary Clinton become effective without needing heir vote .
If a, they would hardly be likely to vote for the Republicans who by and large were behind the increasing voting restrictions ;
if b. believing their inaction would result in the victory of the predicted for Clinton, were satisfied with that second-best non-Trump result ; or
if c. supporting a Trump defeat, believed their votes not necessary to ensure that result.
In any of those cases, non-voting voters were logically more likely Trump critics than supporters
But ignore these speculations, the broad parameters of the argument that Trump has only minority support in the electorate, still stands.
[6] A good summary of the history is at http://www.freep.com/story/opinion/columnists/stephen-henderson/2016/11/19/electoral-college-race-problem/94079504/. For a more extended discussion see: . Perhaps it is now time to rid ourselves of the last constitutional vestige of the peculiar institution: the electoral college.” P. 1155, 1156. Finkelman, Paul, “The Proslavery Origins of the Electoral College” (2002). Cardozo Law Review, Vol. 23, 2002. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1447478. The author concludes: “Over one hundred and thirty-five years ago the United States rid itself of slavery. Perhaps it is now time to rid ourselves of the last constitutional vestige of the peculiar institution: the electoral college.”
[7] “Trump’s Anti-Mandate,” I These Times, January 2017, p. 8.

Blog #90 – The Paradox of Trump and his Followers


What follows is a Work in Progress  attempting to explain a quite  apparent paradox: how is it that Donald Trump, a billionaire real estate developer,  whose claim to fame includes popularizing the slogan : “You’re fired!” can  end up leading a right wing populist following that in fact is plagued by the very  activities he as businessman epitomizes? How it is so many people enthusiastically and vociferously support him, in apparent contradiction to their own interests?

The argument here begins by suggesting that Donald Trump is in fact operationally three different persons, three Trumps (perish the thought, if taken literally!), three entities he has struggled to keep separate: Trump the Individual, Trump the Businessman, and Trump the Political Campaigner. His individual psychological characteristics, idiosyncrasies, if not neuroses, have been extensively examined elsewhere, and are not examined here.

As Businessman, Trump’s activities are a combination of conventional exploitation, underpaying workers in the conventional businesses he operates, principally managing real estate, and an entrepreneurial instinct expanding profit-making by commodifying desires for consumption, for luxury activities providing status over and above actual use. He seeks support as a Political Campaigner for his political ambitions as well as for his businesses, by exploiting conventional aspirations for economic security and social safety, both linked to private enterprise and dreams of wealth accumulation.

As Political Campaigner Trump gains support by latching onto what might be called a Deep Story, an emotionally held ideology and set of values that explains, rationalizes, and legitimates how the world works. Such a Deep Story has long existed as to how the industrialized capitalist world works.  Trump has modified that old Story to proclaim a New version counting on the vulnerabilities of voters and popular media to changes in the economies of the world that have frightened masses of ordinary people seeking assurances that the supposed promises of the old Deep Reality, seemingly vanishing, could be restored quickly and easily by his authoritarian rule. He has used promises of “Making America Great Again” to propagate a new right-populism and a New Deep Story appealing to those susceptible to promises of quick and easy solutions to deeply threatening and hard to understand changes.

Major economic and social developments in the Deep Real Economy have underlain Trump’s success as a Businessman. In these developments profit is derived not primarily from industrial  production but also in the process of its realization in user consumption. The commodification of luxury consumption in which Trump specializes, and the financialization which he is adept at manipulating, is then justified by a New Deep Story resting on a widespread popularly accepted account of how the changed reality works.

I hope in the next week to flesh out the argument here in a series of perhaps six blogs, perhaps as follows

This Blog #90 – The Trump Series: The Paradox of Trump and His Followers

  1. Blog #90a – The Three Trumps: Individual, Campaigner, Businessman
  2. Blog #90b -Trump the Businessman: The Commodification of Luxurious Living
  3. Blog #90c – Trump the Campaigner and his Opposition
  4. Blog #90d – The Deep Realities and The Deep Story of Industrial Capitalism
  5. Blog #90e – The New Deep Realities of the New Economy and its New Deep Story
  6. Blog #90f The Philosophic Explanation of the Persuasive Power of the new Deep Story
  7. Blog #90g The Alternative Reactions to the New Deep Reality: Right, Middle, and Left

****   WORK IN PROGRESS   ****

Blog #81d – Inequality: A Radical Response


Blog #81d – Inequality: A Radical Response

A Radical response, in a traditional fully socialist view, would approach inequality in a quite different way. It would define unjust inequality not in terms of the quantitative mal-distribution of the wealth of society but in terms of the source of that mal-distribution, economically in the exploitation of labor by capital (which includes the maintenance of unemployment to create a “reserve army of the poor” at the bottom to buttress the power of employers), and politically in the oppression of the ruled by the rulers.  The injustice of inequality lies, in the Radical view, not in the quantitative dimensions of inequality, as in Piketty, or simply in the harm to those at the bottom, as in the Liberal view, to be dealt with by anti-poverty programming.The injustice  lies in how the mal-distribution of wealth and incomes came about in the first place — David Harvey formulates it that it was largely acquired  by the dispossession of the 99% by the 1% to begin with. Yet the Progressive view generally focuses simply in the quantitative differences in wealth and power per se, which are self-reinforcing and must be countered together. In the Radical view, by contrast, the injustice stems from the source of those differences: the actions of those at the top in depriving those at the bottom of the share of the common wealth which in a just society they should have.

Taking some of the wealth of the rich and using it for the poor is thus just, but it is not enough; it does not address the source of that wealth, the conduct of the 1% that created the inequality to begin with. Redistribution is a remedy that only ameliorates the consequences after the damage is done; it doesn’t prevent the damage. Ironically, it has similarities to the criminal justice system: it punishes the guilty and compensates the victims, but it doesn’t address the causes of crime.  It is fair, or, indeed, by definition, just, but it assumes the structural arrangements of the society in which it exists, in which exploitation and oppression are legally permitted, in fact essential parts of the system, if subject to some limits.  In the Radical view a revolution is needed really to address the structures that support unjust inequality, including such aspects as the definition and enforcement of property rights in the economic system and electoral arrangements in the political system that limit participatory democracy or render it ineffective. Radically, the argument goes.  A revolution is needed which continually seeks to end exploitation and oppression and regulate the conduct which creates them, going beyond simple amelioration of the unjust inequality which they quantitatively produce.

The Radical response to quantitative  inequality  is to seek it sources in the structures of the status quo, and to pursue an economic as well as political revolution to limit inequality only to just inequality.

The kinds of goals a radical/socialist answer to inequality might lead to might include (for suggestive purposes only!):

  • A guaranteed annual income to all, at a standard commensurate with the real capacities of the productive system, perhaps something above today’s Average Metropolitan Income;
  • Either direct government or non-profit voluntary private responsibility for the production of the goods and services minimally required for that standard of living;
  • Nationalization of all major productive enterprises, with compensation limited to non-financialized values or less;
  • Confinement of profit-motivated activities to minor production of goods and service over and above the necessary , and for research and development above that level;
  • A sharply progressive to confiscatory tax on incomes and wealth over some socially defined ceiling;
  • Education at all necessary social levels public and guaranteed free, above that voluntarily undertaken;
  • Cessation of productions of all munitions;
  • Procedures for fully participatory and democratic decision-making at all levels of public action, with public support for the necessary implementation;
  • Environmental standards set and implemented at levels to maintain fully sustainable levels of desired health for all;
  • Recognition that the unjust inequalities produced by exploitation and oppression are linked together, and must be treated as a whole, and the process of undoing them must be comprehensive in scope and depth;

And, importantly:

  • The issue of unjust inequality would then simply disappear, because, with all having enough for a really fulfilling life and limits established on wasteful excesses of privatized wealth, the incentive to exploit or oppress, would imply disappear, and there would be  no reason for concern s about  comparative incomes or wealth that logically fuel current concerns about inequality.

These are obviously utopian goals, and practically relevant only in so far as they may provide a standard for evaluating the desirability of pursing specific realistically achievable goals. But to thinking through and visualizing alternatives to the existing along the above lines – playing with reality-based alternatives  for an ideal society, as was common in critical parts of human history in the past but has virtually disappeared from today’s intellectual or artistic life, might indeed be a generally  welcome development .

In the context of the present presidential electoral campaign in the United States, no major figure would espouse such goals, but neither would any explicitly defend the level of quantitative inequality that exists today. The more moderate wing of the Republican Party and the more conservative side of the Democratic Party espouse a Liberal approach, differing from each other mostly in the extent of its implementation. The further left voices in the Democratic Party lay claim to a Progressive response, in rhetoric sometimes similar to that of the Radical, but pragmatically toned down, so that revolution is spoken as reform of the political system, not in basic economic structures.

Politically, on the electoral campaign the view on the Republican side is conservative and the existing inequality, if acknowledged at all, is not seen as a major problem.

On the Democratic side the Liberal position is widely seen as desirable in principle but subject to a touchy debate to be resolved by compromise in realistic political terms;

The Progressive position is seen to have significant popular support, but unlikely to gather enough political momentum to be implementable to the extent necessary;

The Radical position is not seriously considered, however idealistically it may be discussed at the fringes of present realities, and espousing it may in fact weaken even serious Liberal and Progressive attempts at change.

A different response is needed. Blog # 81e – Other Forms of Radical Responses: Towards a Transformative Approach to Unjust Inequality, will suggest a possible step toward such a different response.

——————————

This blog is one of a set of five dealing with Unjust Inequality:

Blog #81a: What’s the Problem? Not Just Inequality

Blog #81b: Inequality: What’s the Answer? Economic or Racial? Conservative or Liberal-Clinton?

Blog #81c – From Clinton Liberal to Sanders Progressive Responses

Blog #81d – Inequality: A Radical Response

Blog #81e. – Towards Transformative Approaches to Unjust Inequality.

 

 

 

Blog #81b: Inequality: What’s the Answer? Economic or Racial? Conservative or Liberal-Clinton?


Blog #81b: What’s the Answer? Economic or Racial? Conservative or Liberal?

The debate on the Democratic side in the United States election campaign has seemed at times to be between  answers addressing, on the one said , economic inequality (held to be Bernie Sanders view) and on the other, racial and ethnic disparities (Black Lives Matter often taken to hold that view, and Hillary Clinton’s frequent emphasis). The answer of course depends on the analysis of the problem. If the suggestion of Blog #81a is accepted, that the key definition of unjust inequality, defined in the economic terms of wealth and income, lies in whether or not it arises from the economic, political, and social relations of exploitation and oppression within the society, then that analysis might be applied as well to the issue of unjust non-economic inequalities between black and white, “native” born and immigrant, men and women, religious majorities and minorities, non-conformists generally.

In fact, relations of exploitation and oppression, economic and non-economic inequality, are historically opposite sides of the same coin. As to “race,” slavery of course combined both oppression with exploitation; the attitudes to immigrants does so as well, if in different legal and social ways. The clear disparities in women’s and men’s wages are linked to patterns of sexist treatment that is both economic  and social/cultural,  and patterns of social behavior , such as are embodied in religious codes as well as sexual and gender-related attitudes, play a role in supporting economic structures  as well.[1]

In looking for answers, then, for concrete policies, programs, strategies to rectify these twin economic and non-economic problems, the key is to understand them as linked, parts of a single pattern, and examine proposed answers with those linkages I mind.  Looking at the details of conservative as opposed to liberal as opposed to radical current answers illustrates the point.

The conservative response is that inequality should not be a concern.. Conservatives essentially see economic inequalities as both inevitable and necessary. They defend quantitative inequality because greater wealth or income is the result of differences in effort or ability, or a reward for innovation and hard work; end inequality, and you take away the incentives for an individual to work hard and use the abilities they have to contribute to prosperity and growth. The poor are poor because they have lesser abilities, and it is only poverty or its threat that makes them enter the labor market at all, where they are needed to do the unskilled work that needs to be done. If the market at any point requires less unskilled work  than there are  unskilled workers, that’s too bad, but charity requires that they not be left to starve to death on the streets, but they should not be helped to such an extent that their incentive to work disappears. Inequality is thus the inevitable accompaniment of different natural capabilities, and enforcing equality unfairly penalizes those with greater capabilities, who deserve to have more than less capable others.

For conservatives economic inequalities are  directly linked to and justified by non-economic inequalities: lesser pay for  women explained by sexist views of their work, lower pay for African-Americans by weaker work habits or value  systems, unconcern for living wages for  immigrants by  a logical market reaction to their greater “willingness ” to accept work undesired by natives. Other non-economic inequalities arise from differences in treatment that are experienced as oppressive and painful by African-Americans , women (both married and unmarried, n different and overlapping ways), LGBT individuals, foreigners speaking other languages as their native tongue, some artists, non-conformity of all sorts, are admittedly unequal in the conservative view, but the difference is explained as a matter of voluntary  choice of life style, and Its solution is simply adaptation by those subject to harm to more dominant patterns of behavior. Those not conforming to middle-class values in their behavior are not entitled to claims for equal treatment, and may be forcibly repressed, through police action and incarceration, if they do not behave.  And all-together, the pressure for life-style conformity, even if leading to obvious unjust inequality, is part of that societal pattern accepted as desirable and functional for society, even if criticized as one-dimensional by others. Dealing with non-economic inequality would necessitate government interference in “private” matters, and that is in principle to be minimized. The answer thus is simply to make the system function smoothly, but not to disturb it by artificially countering inequality.

It is a solution that can be made to sound acceptable to a significant part of the population, and will have substantial resources behind its propagation.

The Liberal response (in the current Democratic debates highlighted by Hillary Clinton) recognizes the existence of economic inequalities of wealth and income, but focuses on non-economic inequalities.

In addressing economic inequalities, its answers are to improve incomes and wealth at the bottom of the scale, leaving the top untouched. The response is based on a social morality which objects to gross inequality that relegates some to living in abject poverty for no fault of their own, and finds the answer in alleviating that poverty. The causes of economic inequality are not dealt with, nor are the benefits of exploitation challenged. The argument is perhaps that there is no reason to object to inequality if no one is hurt by it. If all at the bottom have enough for a decent standard of living, why shouldn’t the rich be richer than they? The answer thus lies in  anti-poverty programs, with a focus on who the poor are, how to help them get ahead with education for jobs and careers, if they are doing their best then to support them with subsidies up to the point where all, regardless of natural capabilities, achieve some minimum  standard of living. Morally the rich should act charitably to help the poor, but the fault that creates poverty lies not in their riches, but in the stars, or in the incapacities of the poor, or in the important economic laws that produce prosperity but inevitably have unequal results for some, with results that should be countered by help from the general funds of society. The goal is not reduce inequality per se, but to put a safety net under the poor, to end poverty. The whole society should agree to such a moral goal, in the Liberal view.

The argument that quantitative inequality is unjust because it is morally unfair to the middle class is a different formulation of this approach, perhaps politically more appealing than a purely moral approach because more people identify as middle class than a poor. But that response develops a line between the middle class and the rest of society, the poor and those who, in non-economic life  style ways, are non-conformists, do not share “middle class values” or patterns of behavior , including, for instance gender relationships.. The concern is that the middle class families are slipping out of the middle and into the bottom, and to help them with governmental support, perhaps low-interest loans to encourage their entrepreneurship, labor laws that prohibit unhealthy working conditions, sick leave, rationalized and partially subsidized health care, and expanded skill-oriented higher education. etc. Conformity to middle class values is demanded of recipients of such benefits, but those not conforming may be helped by carefully moderated measures to come into conformity.[2] The response assumes an essentially normal and inevitable quantitative economic and qualitative non-economic inequality to be natural, and seeks to ameliorate it after it has occurred, in the distribution of its results, rather than dealing with the causes that produce it. Consistent with a Liberal analysis, it addresses the wealth of the top only gingerly, by non-confiscatory taxes on the rich only to the level needed to pay for ameliorative support for the endangered members of the middle class and poor. Answers do not question whether the acquisition of wealth by the rich is a cause of the lesser wealth of the middle and poor. And the taxes on the rich must also be kept moderate, because it is assumed that the rich are needed to provide jobs for the middle and poor, and too high taxes would reduce their incentives to do that.

Thus the Liberal response to inequality is to address it only at the bottom and middle of the distribution of wealth, leaving both the political and the economic structures that have created the inequality at the top modified but essentially intact. But it is a solution that might find consensus support among a large part, if not a majority, of the population.

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This blog is one of a set of five dealing with Unjust Inequality:

Blog #81a: What’s the Problem? Not Just Inequality

Blog #81b: Inequality: What’s the Answer? Economic or Racial? Conservative or Liberal-Clinton?

Blog #81c – From Clinton Liberal to Sanders Progressive Responses

Blog #81d – Inequality: A Radical Response

Blog #81e. – Towards Transformative Approaches to Unjust Inequality.

[1] A whole field of sociology explores these relationships , with the Frankfurt School’s critiques , and particularly Herbert Marcuse’s work, One-Dimensional Man and other writings , being (in my vulnerably objective opinion) prime examples ,.

[2] Even if there is no agreement on what such conformity-inducing measures might be. A recent overview of a dominant paradigm of the 19650’s came from the Moynihan Report of 1965, which found that “Almost One-Fourth of Negro Families are Headed by Females,” “which seriously retards the progress of the group as a whole.” Yet a provocative article by Eduardo Porter in the NYTimes, Wednesday Feb. 3, 2016, pp. B1&7, essentially argues that the problem is basically economic, not marital: better-off single  women have fewer problems than poor ones, and their children do better, but poor married women are no better off than their single sisters. Adding money does more for the children than adding a male (my summary).

Blog #81a: What’s the Problem? Not Just Inequality


WHAT’S THE PROBLEM? NOT JUST INEQUALITY

Inequality today is usually equated with the extent of the gap between the 1% and the 99% that that the Occupy movement brought to public attention, or that Bernie Sanders highlights in properly criticizing the distribution of wealth and income in the United States. But this is a mischievously facile definition of inequality. Some inequalities are in fact fair, and result from differences in talent, physical strength, luck, and commendable effort. Gross disparities are a vivid indicator of a problem, but do not draw attention to its causes, which lie in critical social, economic, and political relationships,. To focus on the gap itself and to address it with remedial measures aimed at narrowing its extent detracts attention from those causes.[i]

 Just and Unjust  Inequality: Why the Difference Matters

Equality and inequality are deceptively simple concepts. In the modern era they came into prominence with the French revolutionary slogan of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité,[ii] where equality meant political and legal equality, equality of “rights,” equality in relation to the state, as it did in the United States  Declaration of Independence’s “All men are created equal” as to “certain inalienable rights.” [iii] Rights to the UN’s Declaration of the Rights of Man Equality did not mean equality in incomes or wealth or in the distribution of goods and services, which were seen as dependent on equality of legal and political rights, Equality in material distribution of material goods was seen as a concomitant of social justice, not its center.

Comparing equality as a goal to justice as a goal[iv]  brings the realization that not all inequality is unjust. Not all differences are unjust. There is natural inequality, of physical and mental capacities: not all humans are of the same height or weight or prowess, not all are the equals of Einstein or Jacki Robinson or Martin Luther King. We consider some inequality in the distribution of wealth and power fair: it may derive from natural inequalities, it may be earned by hard work, or by social contribution, what Piketty calls the common utility, or be justified by different needs. In some cases unjust inequalities may be built on natural or earned “not-unjust ” inequalities, but their extreme extent then built on power, part of their wealth earned, another part not: Donald Trump? Hillary Clinton? Thomas Edison? Jeff Bezoz?  There is a balancing involved. Granted a Hollywood star or tennis champion or skilled artisan deserves to earn more than the average, how much more is just? A tricky question, but the answer can be one produced through democratic processes, and would, for instance, lead to decisions as to how progressive the tax structure should be. Similarly, a person who is ill, or suffering from a disability, or is limited by conditions end his or her control, might be entitled to more governmental support than the average, and again at what levels is an appropriate subject for democratic decision-making, leading to decisions as to the levels of welfare benefits reimbursement for health care expenses, and so forth.[v]

There is thus “just inequality” and “unjust inequality.” How does one generalize the difference?

What Is The Key Difference?

Inequality is unjust,[vi] I propose, if it derives from the exercise of power used for the exploitation or oppression of one person or group by another. The resulting distribution of goods and  services, of wealth and income , the gap between the 1% and 99% is unjust, not because of its size, but because of its origins. What is “just” is then a matter that is socially defined – Rawls’ definition of justice or fairness could be useful, what would be decided by people acting behind a “veil of ignorance” as to their own position.

The results of not-unjust inequalities in the distribution of goods and services can then e countered by appropriate public policies of redistribution of those goods and services, e.g. by taxes or public provision.

But the results of unjust inequalities need to be addressed at their source in the social, political, and economic relations among individuals and groups which skew the distribution of goods and services, and result from the skewed distribution of power.  Acting on the results of just-inequalities can be guided by democratic procedures, debates on over values, the use of reason. Acting on the results of unjust-inequalities necessarily involves dealing with the distribution of power, and durable consensus of those benefiting from unjust inequality with those suffering from it should not be expected, and should not be an aim of public policy.

Justice is a moral formulation for the prevention of unjust inequalities. Politically, dealing with all forms of inequality, just and unjust alike, through redistribution of their results is can be done by consensus reforms, and should be facilitated by democracy. But dealing with the bases for unjust inequalities likely requires more radical politics. This may be the difference between Hilary Clinton’s and Bernie Saunders’ in the political campaigns of the moment.[vii]

The issues around inequality are complex for practice, as well as theoretically challenging; the answers make a significant difference in matters of immediate policy as well as in philosophy and world outlook.

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[i] For striking examples, see my Blog #48 Writing about Inequality, at pmarcuse.wordpress.com.

[ii] The 1789 French Declaration of the Rights of the Right of Man begins with: “art. 1. Men are born and remain free and equal in rights.” [http://www.hrcr.org/docs/frenchdec.html] considers egalite in terms of legal equality and merit-based entry to government (art. 6): [The law] “must be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes. All citizens, being equal in its eyes, shall be equally eligible to all high offices, public positions and employments, according to their ability, and without other distinction than that of their virtues and talents.”

[iii] “…all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men.”

[iv] As Susan Fainstein does in The Just City, for example, in a wide-ranging discussion. Fainstein, Susan. 2010. The Just City. Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press, P.   36ff.

[v] Rawls definition of justice or fairness as what would be decided by people acting behind a veil of ignorance as to their own position is I believe consistent with this approach.

[vi] Piketty uses a definition, benefitting most those most in need, akin to Rawls’ definition of justice, But he writes that fuller discussion of the meaning of justice is beyond the scope of his tome, and it is well beyond  the scope of this essay.

[vii] This blog is one of a set of five dealing with Unjust Inequality:

Blog #81a: What’s the Problem? Not Just Inequality

Blog #81b: Inequality: What’s the Answer? Economic or Racial? Conservative or Liberal-Clinton?

Blog #81c – From Clinton Liberal to Sanders Progressive Responses

Blog #81d – Inequality: A Radical Response

Blog #81e. – Towards Transformative Approaches to Unjust Inequality.