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Friday, March 06, 2015

Lies, Damn Lies, and Government Statistics

Our favorite economic pundit, Paul Krugman (okay, maybe a wee little bit of sarcasm about "favorite"), writes: "My first chart shows wages of production and nonsupervisory workers in 2014 dollars; we have never gotten back to 1973 levels":



Scott Sumner, an economist who blogs at The Money Illusion, prior to seeing Krugman's chart wrote: "Here’s a graph showing hourly real wages, where I use the wage series excluding the higher paid managers.  I presume that’s the series people are discussing":

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 12.51.33 PM

Both are based on "Average Hourly Earnings of Production and Nonsupervisory Employees." Seems like they should have the same shape with a different scale.

It took me awhile to figure why they look so different. The following chart provides the answer:


Krugman used the Consumer Price Index (the red line above) in order to "normalize" wages. The CPI is:
an index of the variation in prices paid by typical consumers for retail goods and other items.
Sumner used the Personal Consumption Expenditures index (the green line above) to "normalize" wages. The PCE is:
A measure of price changes in consumer goods and services. Personal consumption expenditures consist of the actual and imputed expenditures of households; the measure includes data pertaining to durables, non-durables and services.
This example shows you can paint any picture you like about just about anything just by picking which statistics (especially when it comes to price indices) you choose to use. Stagnant wages? Sure. Rising wages? No problem. Whatever you want.

61 comments:

erp said...

Bret, there may be hope.

My chemist cousin, a very smart guy, retired from the public sector, lifelong radical collectivist living on Cape Cod, recently agreed with me that after the fiasco of the feds sprinkling the wind/solar/electric car, etc. landscape with gazillions of our tax dollars to little or no avail, probably the fastest and least expensive way to provide jobs, goods and services is through the profit motive with private investors footing the bill for research and production and taking the profit or losses as the case may be -- nearly fell off my chair.

Clovis e Adri said...

IOW, how arbitrary the choice of metrics can be in Economics "science"?

The answer is that you can never rely on only one metric. So you have unfortunately cut Krugman's argument by half. If you often read his posts, you see he usually couples that wage graph argument with corporate profits, a typical example here.

So his argument is not simply that wages are stagnant, but that they are largely decoupled from companies profits. IOW, workers are not sharing in the prosperity.

If that's actually a problem at all is probably in the eye of the beholder, I guess. Or shour I say... in the pockets of the beholder?

Howard said...

Clovis,

When approaching new questions, do you assume what ought to be or do you first seek to develop a deeper understanding?

Clovis e Adri said...

Howard,

Neither. I first try to understand the question itself. They are often not well defined.

Barry Meislin said...

Here's one of my favourites:

http://www.infowars.com/another-dubious-jobs-report-paul-craig-roberts/

Bret said...

Clovis wrote: "you see he usually couples that wage graph argument with corporate profits, a typical example here."

That one is somewhat misleading as well, because wages represent (as of 2012) about 44% of GDP, while corporate profits represent 11% of GDP, so a much smaller change in corporate profits has a larger impact.

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret,

And by those same numbers, wages are four times what profit is related to GDP, yet the number of people directly depending on wages is a zillion times greater than the number of people directly depending on corporate profits. So who is more affected when those numbers change slightly?


I am not necessarily buying that "wages are stagnant". I agree with you there is a lot of room for subjectivities when juding that. Still, in the long term, if wages and profits keep that disconnected, I guess it can possibly translate to real adversities to the wage dependants.

Bret said...

Clovis wrote: "...yet the number of people directly depending on wages is a zillion times greater than the number of people directly depending on corporate profits."

That's an interesting way to look at it. I think that most economists would claim that profits are the life-blood of an economy and that an economy with no profit would be a dead economy and all the people would suffer greatly. While it may be theoretically possible for a communist regime to have an economy with zero profits, in practice, it doesn't seem to work so well and the people under such regimes have suffered greatly.

Clovis wrote: "Still, in the long term, if wages and profits keep that disconnected,.."

Krugman's chart showed seven years. Is that what you mean by long term? Or are you just extrapolating the extremely volatile profit numbers (which are always very volatile) from this short period to trend forever into the future?

Annoying Old Guy said...

One might also note that if corporate profits rise without limit relative to wages, why wouldn't wage earners turn in to corporate profiteers? Unless that's made prohibitively difficult by government interference...

Hey Skipper said...

[Clovis:] The answer is that you can never rely on only one metric.

I think that would be better put by saying "... you can't always rely on one metric."

However, in this case I think there is exactly one metric one can rely upon: time.

I can't remember exactly where I tracked this down, but my memory on this factoid is good enough that I'll run with it, and not fear contradiction too awfully much.

In 2013, it took the average worker (i.e., someone whose income derives primarily from wage income) the same number of work-weeks to purchase a new car as it did in 1973.

I don't know exactly what the CPI inflation is for automobiles is over that time, but I'm sure it is a compounded positive rate. The CPI is measures the quantity of arbitrary, dimensionless, units to purchase things that are not arbitrary, dimensionless, or static.

Here are some clues:

In August 1995, the Congressional Budget Office refined its analysis of inflation by adopting a separate definition of core inflation: it excluded used cars in addition to food and energy from the overall CPI. The motive was once again to minimize the potentially distorting effects of unusually volatile prices. Over the preceding year, wide swings in the rate of change of used car prices had whipsawed the traditional measure
of core inflation.


Elsewhere in that article, it turns out statisticians create -- that's the best word for it -- a percentage of the change in the price of new cars attributable to changes in quality.

Here's the riddle, which highlights how using arbitrary dimensionless units is a joke: in 1973, how much would it have cost to buy a car equal in quality and performance to the average car of 2013?

The answer to that also highlights why excluding used cars is a statistical howler.

erp said...

Skipper, I think the best word for "it" is not create, it's fabricate.

Hey Skipper said...

To be fair to the statisticians, it is a very difficult problem.

Clearly, there has been a secular change in the purchasing power of dimensionless units -- dollars.

When comparing how many units it takes to buy a specific thing, then it is possible, but not at all certain, that one can measure over time the change in the number of units per thing.

So long as that thing is fixed over time, then it is possible to say whether the number of units per things has gone up, or down, over some period of time.

But the number of units available to buy a thing also changes over time: that is the lament of progressives, that incomes have stagnated over time, because they are only just keeping up with how many income units it takes to buy things.

But that CPI based argument fails in two regards: that the things the CPI includes are sufficiently static over time or well understood that hedonic changes over time are accurately incorporated.

Unfortunately, this collapses even upon superficial inspection. Taking cars as the example, it is, perhaps, plausible to count the number of dollars a CD player is worth over a cassette player, or an MP3 is over CD, or Bluetooth over an MP3 connection. But there is no way other than sheer rectal data bank extraction to figure out how many dollars are attributable to, say, anti-skid and stability control systems, or tire pressure monitors.

Which is where my question comes in. I don't exactly what the CPI inflation value for cars is over the last 40 years, but I'm certain it is positive.

However, if one gets rid of the infatuation with an arbitrary dimensionless unit of exchange, and look at the underlying value that unit represents -- time -- then things look vastly different.

As of 2012 (IIRC) it took exactly the same amount of time to purchase a new car as it did in 1973.

But wait, there's more. How much would it have cost to buy the average new car of today -- say, a Ford Focus -- in 1973?

There's no answer to that question, because all the money in the world wouldn't have produced even one.

It get's worse. I mentioned above that used cars are excluded from the CPI. There may have been good reasons in 1995 for doing so, but comparisons get even more difficult if the average 5 year old car today has a longer economically useful life than a brand new car in 1973.

So if the thing you are using for comparison didn't even exist, how the heck can we begin to make a comparison?

Well, rely upon time. The purchase time hasn't changed. The time required to operate the vehicle has plummeted (something like twice the gas mileage). The time required to maintain the vehicle has plummeted (tuneups are a thing of the past; tires last probably four times longer). The number of times people have to use time to replace a vehicle has plummeted. Etc.

Looked at in terms of time, the cost of owning and operating a motor vehicle -- which amounts to approximately 10% of the average family's budget -- has dropped by at least 23% since 1973.

As for household appliances, entertainment devices, and so forth and so on.

That's not to say that inequality doesn't exist, or that it isn't a problem, but no one would trade life in 2015 for 1973.

And it isn't just on account of the fashions and interior decor.

erp said...

Serious question:

Why do we want/need AI? Robots? Other than to perform dangerous-to-humans tasks or tasks far above our puny abilities like mechanical earth movers for mining or calculations that would take too much time for our puny brains, etc., they are mere curiosities.

I'd like a humanoid robot to do menial tasks, but not because humans can't do them, but because in the welfare state, humans no longer need to do them to earn a living, so as we are no longer able to do many things ourselves, we have little recourse since we can’t get the help we need at any price.

Do away with the cultural revolution and I'd love to go back to 1973.

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret,

---
Krugman's chart showed seven years. Is that what you mean by long term?
---
I was actually thinking more in terms of graphs like this one.

Yes, it thus changes subject to productivity instead of profits, but the decoupling of wages and the companies outcomes is there, now for a 40 years window.



AOG,

---
One might also note that if corporate profits rise without limit relative to wages, why wouldn't wage earners turn in to corporate profiteers?
---
That's a very good question that I made to myself before writing about the subject here.

And one of the reasons I am not giving any definitive statement. I am open to the possibility that wages/profits decoupling may be also absolutely positive in the long term.

---
Unless that's made prohibitively difficult by government interference
---
... or, that in such a freedom is effectively denied by their major players. Or a combination of both - which IMHO is what we witness in some markets of my own country.

Clovis e Adri said...

Skipper,

---
But wait, there's more. How much would it have cost to buy the average new car of today -- say, a Ford Focus -- in 1973?
There's no answer to that question, because all the money in the world wouldn't have produced even one.
---

I am aware of that argument, Skipper. But you forget something in the comparison, for sometimes what matters is not what the car buyer now is getting in comparison with 1973, but what the non buyer is getting: just as in 1973, nothing at all.

There are some Narratives out there like this: the stagnant wages led the middle class of the USA to compensate for their lack of purchasing power with debts, hence the higher level of the American family indebtness (and their bubbles) witnessed in later years.

If that's at least partially true, where would a long term continuation of that trend end up?


Howard said...

Clovis,

A smaller portion of the population remain non-buyers than you might think. According to the work of Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield:

Consumer items that were luxuries or significant purchases for the middle class a few decades ago have become commonplace in poor households. In part, this is caused by a normal downward trend in price following the introduction of a new product. Initially, new products tend to be expensive and available only to the affluent. Over time, prices fall sharply, and the product saturates the entire population, including poor households.
As a rule of thumb, poor households tend to obtain modern conveniences about a dozen years after the middle class. Today, most poor families have conveniences that were unaffordable to the middle class not too long ago.



see also Cox and Alm:

Cox and Alm calculate how long the typical American worker of the past had to work to acquire various goods and services versus the amount of time required of the typical American worker of today. This calculation is far more revealing than the more standard calculations drawn from data on wages or household incomes, for the Cox-Alm calculation measures directly what ordinary Americans are able to consume. (Wages and income are affected by inflation; the size of the average household has shrunk over time; and increasing amounts of compensation come as fringe benefits, all of which make changes in wages and income relatively poor measures of changes in living standards.)
The Cox-Alm findings are stunning. From milk and assorted grocery items to televisions and other home electronics to gasoline, automobiles, and housing, the time the typical American must work to acquire any of those items is today significantly less than it was 25 years ago.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Clovis;

that in such a freedom is effectively denied by their major players

That can't happen absent government intervention, most especially in an environment where corporate profits (and therefore profit margins) are huge. Can you give me an actual example of how that would work absent regulation?

erp;

The set of things that are useful to do but are beyond human capability is an enormous field. Better robots bring enormous productivity benefits so we will build them.

erp said...

I understand that robots are useful in performing tasks as vastly more sophisticated tools, but what I don't understand the need for them to emulate humans, not only in our outward appearance, but in the way our minds work.

To me, it's biblical hubris.

Clovis e Adri said...

Howard,

Concerning middle class, maybe Cox and Alm need to revise their more than 15 years old calculations, if I am to believe this, for example, where I'd like to highlight their figure 1.3.

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

---
That can't happen absent government intervention [...] Can you give me an actual example of how that would work absent regulation?
---

Yes. Major Player A calls a hired gun and exterminates Small Player B.

That's the trivial example. I concede the most common one is that Major Player A calls a hired politician and exterminates, through regulation, Small Player B's company (as opposed to his owner). And back we are to government intervention.

Still, another common enough one, where there may be little need for govt intervention, is Group of Major Players ABC (an Oligopoly) call all their contacs, mainly their suppliers and other businesses that make money with them, and make it clear Small Players CDE shall not have access to them, or if they do, only under very disadvantaged conditions.

You may argue that is not an aboslute embargo, that some very tough Small Player F may still thrive and win under the most adverse circumstances... but effectively, it can be as tough as adverse govt regulation.

Clovis e Adri said...

Correction: "Small players CDE" -> "Small players DEF"

Bret said...

erp: "I don't understand the need for them to emulate humans, not only in our outward appearance, but in the way our minds work."

Emulating "outward appearance," perhaps as in communication modes and interactions is probably useful. For example, it would be easier to just talk to machines instead of having to type or hit buttons on the phone.

At this point, I don't see much reason to emulate the way our minds work, other than doing brain research, such as researching cures for senile dementia and stuff like that. If the future, there may be other reasons that I don't yet see.

erp said...

Bret, I talk to robots all the time. In fact, practically every time I call anybody, I get a recorded message which tells me to tell it what I want. They can't understand me very well, so it's not a very satisfying conversation.

Just kidding. I love talking to robots.

If you guys don't hurry up, research on senile dementia won't do me any good.

Hey Skipper said...

[Clovis:] I am aware of that argument, Skipper. But you forget something in the comparison, for sometimes what matters is not what the car buyer now is getting in comparison with 1973, but what the non buyer is getting: just as in 1973, nothing at all.

There are some Narratives out there like this: the stagnant wages led the middle class of the USA to compensate for their lack of purchasing power with debts, hence the higher level of the American family indebtness (and their bubbles) witnessed in later years.


I've heard the narrative, but it fails on its face. Per my auto example, Americans' purchasing power has not stagnated. The "adjusted" number of dimensionless exchange units has scarcely changed, but what those units get has, in many cases nearly beyond recognition.

Commonplace items today, even among the poor, were available only to the rich forty years ago, if they were available at all (Ford Focus, flat screen TV, etc). Today, everyone has garbage disposals, air conditioning (in cars and houses), cell phones, and on and on and on.

So despite stagnant growth in dimensionless exchange units, our material circumstances have changed so dramatically that someone from forty years ago, suddenly transplanted to now, would have their gobs completely smacked.

BTW, here is the most brilliant thing written on savings (anti-debt) ever.

There is no ignoring human nature: many people will live at the limit of their incomes, no matter how big.

Note to self: Read all the way to the bottom of the comment thread before responding. I'm just repeating what Howard has said.

Concerning middle class, maybe Cox and Alm need to revise their more than 15 years old calculations, if I am to believe this

I don't have time to look at the link. However, based upon what I have read previously from the Center for American Progress, they will never print a word that doesn't conform to their ideology.

That doesn't make the article wrong, and they aren't the only ones. But I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't written by converted to enlighten the convinced.

erp said...

Skipper, delightful to go down memory lane and note that we were as brilliant back then as we are now.

A coincidence (as often happens), I chanced upon this a little while ago.

I hadn't been back in many many years and was surprised that the format hasn't changed, but there are few comments, not like the old days.

I was fun while it lasted.

erp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Annoying Old Guy said...

Clovis;

Yes. Major Player A calls a hired gun and exterminates Small Player B.

I think we can reasonably restrict the discussion to acts that are otherwise legal.

As for your legal example, that is much harder and far more fragile in the real world than regulation and so is far less of concern. Again, my view is to avoid cures that are worse than the disease.

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

---
I think we can reasonably restrict the discussion to acts that are otherwise legal.
---
I do not agree such restriction is reasonable. Part of the modus operandi of Big Market Players in countries with "weak governments" is in fact to ignore legal boundaries when it pays off. Heck, that also happens even in places with "strong govts".

---
As for your legal example, that is much harder and far more fragile in the real world than regulation and so is far less of concern.
---
To which we are again in disagreement. It is neither hard nor fragile where I live. Maybe even in some places where you live too.

---
Again, my view is to avoid cures that are worse than the disease.
---
I don't recall we were discussing cures. You reflexively go back to defend your Libertarian views when they were not even into question here and now.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Clovis;

If we're not discussing policy, then I have no idea what we're discussing.

Bret said...

aog wrote: "I think we can reasonably restrict the discussion to acts that are otherwise legal."

I agree with Clovis. I mean, you CAN restrict the discussion to whatever you want, but so many illegal things happen constantly (for example, millions of people are exceeding the speed limit at this very moment), that I don't think you can ignore them.

Bret said...

Clovis wrote: "...maybe Cox and Alm need to revise their more than 15 years old calculations..."

Maybe. But given their figure 1.2 doesn't match Sumner's chart either, I suspect it's a good example of picking the statistics to make your case (though Cox and Alm are doing that as well).

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG,

---
If we're not discussing policy, then I have no idea what we're discussing.
---

Fine, so let's dance.

Remember when I kept asking an example of Libertarian experiment in real life and you could only allude to historical myths?

Well, the best Libertarian example we have seen as of late ends up pretty much about "Major Player A calls a hired gun and exterminates Small Player B".

I wasn't so off the mark, after all.

erp said...

Clovis, off the mark? No. Off the planet? Yes.

Annoying Old Guy said...

Bret;

I meant that restriction in terms of policy. If it's already illegal, I see no point in discussing why additional regulation is needed to make it double illegal.

Clovis;

What's your point, that in non-Libertarian situations that doesn't happen? Libertarian is not the same Anarchism.

Clovis e Adri said...

AOG and Erp,

Please read the article for yourself. Whatever point I may make is already done there.

Howard said...

Hey Skipper,

However, based upon what I have read previously from the Center for American Progress, they will never print a word that doesn't conform to their ideology.

That doesn't make the article wrong, and they aren't the only ones. But I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't written by converted to enlighten the convinced.


I agree. Also, nice job on your "savings" post. It's really fun to watch people try to make sense of reported items in policy and economic debate. "Down the rabbit hole…" Here is another fun article. I love the concluding sentence, "Claiming to actually believe such preposterous data is a mark of unlimited gullibility or deception."

Clovis,

Notice that two of the problematic items are health care and higher education. They are both ripe for disruptive innovation, big time. When that happens most people will find things greatly improved.

erp said...

Howard, in 1962, our income was about $12,000. We had just moved from NYC to Connecticut, bought our second house (25 year mortgage payment including property taxes $101/mo.), had two paid for cars, one 2 years old and the other 4 and had our third baby (also paid for). At that point we were the most flush of any other time in our lives up until our three kids were out of college, had jobs and apartments and we retired, downsized to Florida big time and my husband had a small accounting practice with me as chief cook and bottle washer.

According to Dollar Times that would be equivalent of $94,000 in today's dollars, but I don't buy that. I see what people who are making twice that are facing and they aren't living La Dolce Vita like we were in 1962.

Wondering, wondering, wondering? What happened then? Why it was the murder of the sainted martyr and the beginning of THE GREAT SOCIETY which was going to bring middle class life styles to EVERYONE. Instead it made gazillionaires of poverty pimps and politicians while us middle class types had to struggle to keep up with inflation and much higher costs of living and the poor? Well they, as always, got it in the neck from their friends on the left.

... and that's how it was in the real world.

Clovis e Adri said...

Erp and Howard,

Well, Erp, thank you very much for your input. As far as I can understand it, your last comment just about denies most of what Howard has been defending here.

So Howard, at least one person who lived both periods of time (then and now) looks to think things are not better right now in standards of living. Is Erp showing "a mark of unlimited gullibility", or would it be "deception"?

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret,

---
But given their figure 1.2 doesn't match Sumner's chart either, I suspect it's a good example of picking the statistics to make your case
---

May very well be. Their Figure 1.2 is using CPI, like Krugman's chart above.

We also should notice that a chart like their Figure 1.3 is a different thing from judging wages versus inflation. The set of costs that impact inflation for a particular class (middle class in that chart) is effectively different from general measures of inflation that account for another set of costs (though usually they are very correlated, of course).

Anyway, I must tell you that, compared to what I am used to down here (where inflation has been near 7% per year), life is too easy for you guys...

erp said...

Clovis, Howard is not defending the cost of living only the convenience of living and I am reporting on the cost of living, not denigrating what technology has done to make life more interesting.

When my brother was getting his engineering degree, German was a required course. He’s a fabulous engineer, his language skills not so much, so his translations were hilarious and I'm sure had as little to do with the actual meaning of the selection as your responses to comments here.

No matter how many times something is said in short declarative sentences, you take issue with something that isn’t said.

erp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Clovis e Adri said...

Erp,

You are right, my language skill are even worse than your brother's, for I have little idea of what you've meant in your last comment.

erp said...

Sorry about all the multiple comments. I swear I'm only clicking SUBMIT once!

BTW- Clovis, your last sentence tells the tale of your and probably the rest of the world's attitude towards us.

We have it too easy because that's the way we arranged it. We lived by the rule of law and within the law, individuals lived as they wished. Worked hard and succeeded or drank and drugged themselves into oblivion.

Dealers' choice.

The rest of the world can and could have done the same, but alas, they didn't and now they want to pull us down to their level.

Double alas -- they're succeeding with the help of our leaders who are instrumental in our downfall and if there is to be a nuclear attack on us, habbibi won’t need to know physics, he or she will only be the fall guy/gal. The set up will be arranged by those who know how to do it.

erp said...

... "I have little idea of what you've meant in your last comment."

Again, making my point for me.

Hint: You misread aka don't comprehend the points being made in the comments.

Clovis e Adri said...

Erp,

---
The rest of the world can and could have done the same, but alas, they didn't and now they want to pull us down to their level.
---
Wow. What a statement.

So we non-Americans are all envious snakes looking to poison you in your Paradise?

Gee, that's exatcly what I wanted all the time by participating in this blog... you got me. [/irony]

Clovis e Adri said...

Erp,

---
Hint: You misread aka don't comprehend the points being made in the comments.
---
I do, Erp, many times.

But I believe this time it was you who didn't get the jab I've directed to Howard.

erp said...

I don't know what you get from participating. Envious snakes????? Paradise????

Where does that come from????

You complain that we shouldn't complain because your inflation is worse than ours. I'm positing the cause of the destruction of our country, I don't comment on something about which I know nothing, like what it's like to live in Brazil.

We had a great thing going. Now it's about gone.

Bret said...

Clovis wrote: "The set of costs that impact inflation for a particular class (middle class in that chart)..."

Figure 1.3 is not middle class. It shows a household income of $84,000 - $85,000, which is upper middle class. We americans are rich, but not quite that rich. :-)

Yes, inflation for the upper classes has been way, way higher than inflation for the lower classes. At one point caviar and high-end wines had ridiculously high inflation rates. Almost as high as the overall inflation rate in Brazil! :-)

Howard said...

Clovis,

Bret hinted at part of the distinction. If you don't want to use the kind of mental bandwidth used by Hey Skipper in his savings post to address the questions surrounding this post, I'll simplify. How many people would want to go back and live in 1962? Very few. Upon further questioning, even fewer. There are multiple reasons for that, but it says quite alot.

erp said...

Other than tech toys (which I love), what about life in the U.S. is better today than in 1962?

Bret said...

erp,

Pretty much everything that's derived from economic activity is better now than in 1962 for the vast majority of Americans, even poor ones. In addition, life expectancy is up almost 10 years during that period.

Outside of material benefits, it's harder to say. It's really easy to look at others and say, "they're making decisions that are ruining their lives." Like when poor, young women have children out of wedlock. It might seem to you to be a bad idea.

Yet, these young women choose it. They choose to have sex, they choose to not use birth control, they choose to not have an abortion, they choose not to marry, they choose to not give the child up for adoption, and they choose to repeat the process with multiple fathers. This is not one mistake and they're screwed. It's many decisions that seem deliberate, purposeful, and aligned after seeing the outcomes of many of their cohorts making the same decisions.

I can only conclude that they are indeed making themselves better off by making the series of aligned decisions that they make. I don't feel anywhere near able to say something like, "I'm smart, they're stupid, I know how to better run their lives than they do." They know what they're doing and they're doing for a reason - a good reason. It's what they want.

They could not do that in 1962. We weren't rich enough. We are now. So even they are better off, even if you think they're not.

So I'm wondering if the only folks who are worse off today, in any sense, are those elite that are annoyed that some of the poor aren't living their lives as the elite think they should and perhaps that they have to pay to support those poor to some extent.

But that has nothing to do with anything except what's in the minds of those elite, especially since those elite are so much materially better off that it's hardly worth thinking about.

erp said...

Bret,

- Medicine has improved over the years and might have improved even more if the government didn’t interfere with medical and drug research.

- I vehemently disagree with your notion that young women aka girls make conscious decisions to become sexual active in their, sometimes, very early teens. After the first baby and the independence that comes from the welfare, conscious decisions to have more babies to up their incomes and gain independence from their men may come into play. That often makes more problems because the men in their lives often have “no dog in the fight” and are often abusive and make off with the welfare checks.

- Kids are so far worse off, the comparisons couldn't be more telling. Schools used to provide poor kids with a leg up -- no more. Even Jim Crow schools taught kids basic skills. My husband and I have sponsored quite a few, mostly boys, who wouldn't have been able to participate in sports without the couple of hundred bucks required. The same thing applies to other after school activities like music, art, etc. Apparently the PTA no longer gets involved with discretely helping individual kids as we did when our kids were in the public schools.

We get notified about needy kids from social workers we know. The funds just appear at the school and nobody knows from whence they come. Much of the time, the mothers' boyfriends and even the kids’ actual fathers confiscate the welfare and there's not enough for basics, never mind frills like sports.

We are far from elites. We live very modestly and have so far been able to make funds instantly available to all the kids we hear are in need – no questions asked nor answered.

Bret said...

erp wrote: "Kids are so far worse off..."

In what objectively measurable and comparable way? Maybe they're not as educated, but they have better entertainment. They eat, they sleep, they have clothes, they have sex, they live longer.

It's only by subjective measures that they're worse off.

erp wrote: "We are far from elites."

I didn't write "rich," I wrote "elite." If you're not in the top 10% or even 1% of, say, IQ, I'd be very surprised.

erp said...

IQ? Is that how elites are measured? If so, none of those whom the media tout as 1% elite would qualify. I remember when Hillary first came on the stage, she was touted as "the smartest woman who ever trod the earth!" I kid you not. Even a person of my impressive IQ couldn't have made that up!

Bret, you are a sweetie, for thinking I have a high IQ, I don't know about that, but I do know that it isn't subjective to know that kids are better off when they can go to a school which prepares them to break out of poverty, not one which keeps them, to use one of my husband's favorite sarcastic expressions, fat, dumb and happy.

Bret said...

erp,

IQ was an example and part of the makeup of an elite.

"...fat, dumb and happy.

Note the word "happy." Nothing inherently wrong with fat, dumb and happy.

That's exactly my point. I think they're overall happy/content.

That may not be you, that may not be what you wanted for your kids, that may not be part of your culture, that may not be what you want for your country. But it's not necessarily bad.

erp said...

We need to agree to differ on this subject. Human beings aren't puppies. Our nature is to strive for the stars.

Bret said...

erp wrote: "Our nature is to strive for the stars."

I'm sure your nature is.

That doesn't mean everybody's nature is nor that their nature should be that.

erp wrote: "We need to agree to differ on this subject."

Says who? :-)

erp said...

Me, that's who and everyone does need to strive for the stars. It's what separates us from the lower animals.

Bret said...

I'm not sure it's important to be separated from the lower animals, but it doesn't matter because we already are.

The thing that separates us from the lower (non-tame) animals, is that we, as a species, have broken free of survival-of-the-fittest, at least for a while. We can support tremendous diversity of goals, aspirations, and capabilities.

erp said...

Certainly we can, but why should we settle for mediocrity when we can strive for excellence.

I hope you're just funning with me and don't really think it's okay for our fellow human beings to spend their lives in mind-numbing limbo.

Bret said...

erp asked: "...why should we settle for mediocrity..."

Who is this "we" you're referring to? Sounds very, very collectivist to me.

It never has been and never will be true that all individual members of the human species have had or will have the capability or the desire to "strive for excellence" or "strive for the stars."

I'm personally striving to develop advanced robotics technology (and make a buck). You're personally striving for whatever your striving for.

But I don't think that "we" collectively should strive for anything at all.

And I think that many individuals simply don't have the capability or desire to strive for much at all. And that's okay with me. Let them be fat, dumb, and happy. As long as everybody is equal under the law (rule of law), then it works for me.