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Saturday, December 7, 2013

We don’t let gravity keep us from building bridges.

Steve Randy Waldman, while talking about the economics of inequality, mentioned in passing that the poor die with negative wealth.

Doesn’t this imply that their spending needs were greater than their ability to spend?

Doesn’t that suggest that if they had a little more, they would spend every penny of it?

Nor does it have to be technology driven. Maybe they get a third meal one day a week, a better pair of shoes for the kids or a new pair more often, a five-year-old instead of a seven-year-old used car.

Still – the economic and the moral considerations converge at the low income level. It’s true that economics is not a morality play. However well or ill we understand it, econ, as a natural phenomenon, is a brute force, like gravity. That’s why humans with a moral compass need to intervene. We don’t let gravity keep us from building bridges.


Stagflationary Mark said...

If a person invented a machine that could do every job faster, cheaper, and smarter than any human worker could and then unleashed that machine out onto the world then I would predict two things if nobody intervened.

1. Income and wealth inequality would rise dramatically.
2. The global economy would collapse.

In my opinion (not proof), we're running that thought experiment right now in slow motion. Machines are getting faster, cheaper, and smarter at a rate faster than humans are getting faster, cheaper, and smarter.

I will admit that we're doing our "best" to make humans cheaper though. Sigh.

As a side note, I'd generally be in favor of minimum wage laws but only if they are applied to automated machinery too. Making humans even more expensive relative to machines will not solve the problem.

Fast food workers demanding more pay will lose the battle compared to automated burger flipping machines. Machines generally don't make demands of their human employers. At least not yet!

Put another way, if horses had demanded higher pay when the automobile was first introduced, it would have simply accelerated their decline. Sad but true.

So yeah, somebody better figure out how to intervene effectively in the growing long-term income inequality problem. It won't be easy. We apparently can't even all agree that fully funding a food stamp program is a good idea.

Is it really better to have people turn to crime in order to eat? I don't have proof of course. I can only speak for myself. If my choices were limited to watching my family starve to death or stealing a loaf of bread from the rich then I'd certainly be tempted to do the latter. Perhaps that's one reason our prisons are so full.

Cirze said...

Thanks for your sensitive, kind words about this incredibly important national issue.

As one hanging on by gnawed fingernails to that last greasy window ledge, we all thank you for being the knowledgeable and alert reporter you have been.

You'll never know how much your blog has meant to our mental stability.


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