Handicapper General

I’ve had a very hard time with this Chait piece.

Chait’s thing here is to take some shots at the conservative fascination with Atlas Shrugged and Harrison Bergeron.  That’s true, there are those fascinations and habits there with those books and that may be worth some chuckles.  But Chait has some sideline observations that are not tightly made, and I don’t think that they are true or meaningful.


One is, I think, to note either the irony or dishonesty of conservatives warning against wealth equalization efforts in an environment where wealth inequality has grown over 50 years.

Maybe so, at least for the irony, but the argument you’re always having is which direction you take from the status quo, right or left.  So this era’s relative inequality compared to the mid-20th century doesn’t preclude someone from arguing against a policy of ‘equalization’ that would be left of the status quo.  And figure, fiction can be an acceptable way to argue it.  Orwell has stood the test of time, and is acceptable that way.  To a lesser extent,  Ayn Rand.  Not that everyone likes Atlas Shrugged, but it’s a formidable piece, and it’s there.  We might ask, where’s triumphs of fiction that laud a communal utopia?  Well, they are either A) not good, or B) off putting, as in fiction you just can’t make that thing appealing where the Bolsheviks take your stuff and put you on a box car to labor camp.  The inability to fictionalize the road to egalitarian utopia because of the revolution / repression required to get there is a real lack for an argument.

 “So, if Kristol was correct in 1972, and prevailing inequality reflected natural differences, then in the interim, either the distribution of innate talent has somehow changed dramatically or his argument has become very wrong. Indeed, the dramatic change in inequality is one of many pieces of evidence that patterns of inequality are neither natural nor immutable. Different social and governmental patterns can create varying opportunity for the poor to get rich or vice versa.”

In buttressing that notion of irony, Chait is here I think obliquely crediting the triumph of Reagan style tax rates with creating this era’s wealth inequality.  I just don’t think a learned person looks to that as the first thing.  Rather, its technology, the financialization / securitization / monetization of assets, the inflation of those assets as an externality of monetary policy, globalization…

“Much of Williamson’s essay is dedicated to the straw man argument that liberals propose “eradicating” inequality, as opposed to the actual liberal position, which is to ameliorate it slightly while still accepting not only significant inequality but more of it than nearly any other advanced economy. “

It’s not my sense the ‘liberal position’ is actually so mild.  Or else we’re to disagree on how much relativism there might be in the word ‘slightly’ .  http://hotair.com/archives/2015/05/11/poll-democrats-now-view-socialism-as-favorably-as-they-view-capitalism/  And again, the contemporary definition of ‘socialism’ ought to be favoring rigorous wealth redistribution through the tax code rather than ‘state ownership’ of the means of production.

This week’s conservative Harrison Bergeron reference is actually contextual to an academic observation in the UK that stable families with healthy norms produce children that out-achieve other children without said stable families and healthy norms.  And thus end up wealthier.  So what the UK academicians argue is required to ameliorate that achievement disparity is… ‘elimination’ of the family.  Or with that not possible (right now…), then elimination of private schools.

That’s not ‘slight’ in its aims, but Chait doesn’t characterize this as outside mainstream liberal thought.  He avoids it entirely, which is a dishonest reframing of the Williamson’s comments.


3 thoughts on “Handicapper General

  1. pm1956

    I thought that Chait’s piece was very good, and illustrated (convincingly) an important point–that government policies DO make a difference in economic equality terms. And, yes, growing inequality in the US (recently) does seem to start at about the Reagan presidency.

    Sure, external economic issues (technology, recessions, etc.) all have an impact, but so do the policies of individual countries. This gets back to your criticism (soft) of Ben Carson’s comments–people are poor because they don’t have $$. If you want to fix inequality, give people money. Negative income tax is a good way to do it, with minimal bureaucracy. And minimal rules about what the poor can do. If you give it to them, it is their money, let then do what they want (Carson and others talk about the importance of respect and responsibility–if that is important, then you have to allow the poor to make their own mistakes).

    On a related note, there is this:


    He is absolutely right about this. the right is demonizing the poor.


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