Sunday, January 29, 2012

Inequality and its discontents

James Q.Wilson, one of the greatest social scientists, on inequality and poverty.

1 comment:

Dylan Wulderk said...

Confession: I'm a liberal and a populist. My view of this article isn't exactly "fair and balanced," but there are a lot of twisting of statistics and ideas in this that jumped out at me.

I've never read Nicholas Eberstadt, but most of his findings cited in this article are problematic. A lot has changed since 1970. For example, McDonalds and other fast food restaurants have grown significantly, and become a major part of poorer Americans' diets. That is probably a significant factor in impoverished children being less likely to be underweight--they're all OVERWEIGHT. Also, televisions weren't in every American home and didn't play a major role in society like they do now. It's not the major investment it once was. I'd compare televisions in that era to the laptops, iPhones, etc. of today. That measurement is obviously going to work in the author's favor otherwise.

Second, (and I apologize for the rant), Verba and Orren's study words questions (at least those used in this article) as if one option is anti-communist and the other is pro-communist. Conducting it in 1985, when the US and Russia were in the middle of their second tour of heightened Cold War fears, the answers to questions framed this way are going to be predictable. The questions in the latter survey are A) completely different than those used before and B) worded with a bias. They go against the first rules we learn in classes on political surveying. Obviously we want economic growth. That doesn't mean people want a more pro-business tax code or Reaganomics. It just means we want to be better off than we were before.

I do think that raising the poor should be the goal, not weakening the wealthy. But the statistics here overlook problems that contribute to the condition of the poor, making it seem like "things really aren't that bad." I'm not saying we should all be economically equal, but we need to realize that the "equality of opportunity" argument many conservative economists tout can't exist when structural inequalities continue to exist.

But that's just me. (Again, sorry for the rant.)