Where we are…

And so it begins….

Whenever I read something new before delving into in what the writer is trying to say I try to first understand where they are coming from.  In my opinion the authors of Cpt. 2-4 has a rather negative view on capitalism, or at least a very high opinion of the public at large. This colors the reading, and while some degree of personal flavor is inherent in all but the most technical of writing I feel the author s did a modest job of keeping focused and fair. In Cpt. 2 pg 4, “striking facts” having the majority of resources controlled by a small population of people is not new or solely the providence of capitalism, or the U.S.  but we get little in terms of historical context here, rather we are to be struck by how un-fair the numbers look ( and indeed are, my point being that this is nothing new).  They go on to say “The U.S. has the highest poverty rates and highest levels of economic inequality of any developed country, regardless of how one measures these.” I chose to measure them with the Gini index ( a statistical tool for measuring income inequality) see #1&2. This was a study that among other things found the 1999 Gini to around .504, very high, but not the highest of all developed countries (looking at you early 2000 Italy!). I could probably take pot-shots at these chapters for a few more pages, but all a wanted was an idea of where the authors were coming from, the narrative that they were trying to paint. This can also be garnered from word choices such as “in 2004 there were 31firearm murders a day” instead of: In 2004 there were 11624 gun homicides, I know 30*265 doesn’t =11624, I used the exact figure but the author wanted to make a point about violence.

So given where this book is coming from I have taken a lot of the “facts” with a grain of salt, that being said I find it hard to disagree with the finding.  The definition of the American economy and regulating systems is accurate and placed in a global and (although colored) historical context. The description of American culture is… limited, but the author  readily admits this: ”There are, of course, many other things one could say about American Society” ( and as a side note we are not the most religious by any measure as the author states, namely church attendance see Poland).  We are not free market, but we are close. It is true we have a huge amount of guns, and we use them more than just about anyone else.

I was a bit surprised to read about our small “Big Labor”, I always assumed that the labor movement in the country was a bit larger, in hindsight though living in MA and working in a union shop has probably given me a warped view on just how large an impact organized labor has on our economy. In my shop (I work for a large multinational corporation) workers cannot be fired, or event disciplined without the direct involvement (and in most cases approval) of the union, among other protections.  I was also surprised to see them raise the point that workers (those of us that must have an income to survive) have no real freedom when it comes to working, that really all we have is a choice of whom to work for, that real freedom (in the positive sense) would be having the choice not to work at all, this is  a concept very near and dear to me, but I seldom see it discussed due to what it implies… (Workers are indeed not free, and are in fact being forced to work against their will, by trickery and indirect pressure, which is markedly better than slavery as we have known it, but on an ideological level they are for me very close.)

I liked the part on negative externalities; however the example I live to cite of this is the lost potential of current workers in jobs that do not benefit the public good.  The guy sweeping the floor is probably not going to cure cancer, but it is safe to assume he has more use than pushing a broom to society at large. The time he spends pushing that broom is a negative externality, cleaning floors  is (or at least will be soon) robot work. We would all be better served if he instead pursued academic or artistic interest, enriching the community at large. On the flip side we have seen over the last 50 years how cunning people can be when it comes to passing off cost to others in order to maximize profits, recently (5-12-2011) The Daily show did an interview with people in a Canadian town who were going to re-open the asbestos mine.  It gave a real life example of just how callous people can be when they are in pursuit of money.  The town manger’s rationalization was that the people living in India were hardier, so they would not suffer from mesothelioma. The costs of caring for all those people with cancer caused by his product will have to be shouldered by the Indian people and the Canadian town and company will have more profits as a result…

1.  http://emlab.berkeley.edu/~saez/kopczuk-saez-songQJE09SSA.pdf ( pg 43)

2.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_Poverty_Index

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  • acetheguy  On September 9, 2013 at 10:52 PM

    Feel free to comment ^^ just keep it respectful were all friends here.


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