Category Archives: inequality

(grad)student-faculty interaction

Notre Dame loves to make videos. They are currently working on a series about graduate students’ experiences on campus and I had a meeting with the production company today to discuss one of the videos, a segment focused on (grad)student-faculty interaction. As great as the meeting was, I left feeling incredibly discouraged about the state of (grad)student-faculty interaction and wondering what, if anything, can be done to change it.

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elysium and the fact/value distinction

I saw the new Matt Damon movie, Elysium, this summer. I loved the prior movie by the same director (Neill Bloemkamp), District 9, which is a dystopian alien-visitation movie wrapped up in an extended allegory for apartheid.  Like District 9Elysium has an explicit political message along with plenty of violence, action, and gore (all of which I confess to liking!).

To me, though, Elysium was disappointing in its political/theoretical content for one of the reasons I am troubled by Phil Gorski’s approach to transcending the fact/value distinction:

Social science is not (entirely) value free or ethically natural. Instead, it is axiologically committed to the realization of human flourishing and freedom. This is not to say that social sciences provide ready answers to policy questions like “is proportional representation better than first past the post?” Those are of a different order. Nor is it to deny that justice must be part of a social ethics, either.

WARNING: the remainder of the post contains a SPOILER, so if you haven’t seen Elysium but plan to you may want to stop reading here.

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too much sociology…?

The magazine n+1 recently published an article about the rise and inefficacy of critical sociology. It’s a strange piece which, i think, accords sociology way too much influence. but it does have some salient points, particularly relating to the balance between structure and agency in sociological writing. The editors write:  “In spite of the strenuous attempts by sociologists to preserve some autonomy for the acting subject — Bourdieu’s “habitus,” Latour’s “actor-network” theory — popularization has inevitably resulted in more weight being thrown on the structuring side of things, the network over the actor.” I teach at Lehman College in the Bronx where the majority of students are working class. To put it simply, they are fed up with the overemphasis on structure, they find it deeply tiresome and profoundly disempowering. Continue reading

bad decisions and fairness

I have often discussed in class an example from Lani Guinier’s 1994 book, The Tyranny of the Majority, that deals with notions of fairness and rules of the game. Consider a road race in which the first-place finisher wins $10,000, and all other participants are banned from future competition. Consider, by comparison, a road race in which the first-place finisher wins $1,000, the second-place finisher $999, the third-place $998, and so on down the line. Continue reading

bad science not about same-sex parenting

There’s lots to say about the recent article by Mark Regnerus on outcomes of adults who remember a parent having had a same-sex relationship and the other articles and commentaries surrounding it in the journal, and much has already been said. The bottom line is that this is bad science, it is not about same-sex or gay parenting, and strong but circumstantial evidence suggests its main reason for being is to provide ammunition to right-wing activists against LGBT rights. In this (long!) post I offer my evaluation of the scientific merit of the paper as well as the politics surrounding the papers’ funding, publication, spin, and evaluation.

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wsj: 3x the income share is remarkable similarity

Today’s Wall Street Journal carries an opinion piece by Allan Meltzer based on a 2006 study by Roine and Waldenstrom. The piece reprints a graph showing the income share of the top 1% in several countries between 1900 and 2000. (The graph is quite interesting in itself.) Meltzer’s interpretation: “…the share of income for the top 1% in these seven countries generally follows the same trend line.” The pullout quote: “The remarkable similarity in income distribution across countries over the past century means domestic policy has less effect than many believe on who gets what.” The remainder of the piece is pretty much the same stuff we always see in the WSJ: additional taxes on the rich will reduce investment and therefore jobs and income for the other 99%, therefore it’s really in the best interests of the whole country for the obscenely rich to be left alone to become even richer.

I’m not interested in refuting the obviously self-serving argument about the “job creators,” but the interpretation of the graph is important. First, while there is an overall trend line, dispersion around it is substantial. Even during the time period of the least dispersion (the postwar era, about 1945-1975), the difference between the share of income held by the top 1% in the top country (the Netherlands) and the bottom (Sweden) is about 5 percentage points, which is hardly negligible when it’s percentage of national income! Second, since about 1980 the dispersion between countries is quite marked, with the US share climbing from about 8% to about 17% (reading from the graph) between 1980 and 2000 and large increases in the UK and Canada but much less increases in France, Sweden, Australia, and the Netherlands. Thus by 2000 the difference between the share claimed by the top 1% in Sweden (5%) and the US (17%) is a factor of greater than three! The conclusion, then, ought to be just the opposite of Meltzer’s: even in the era of globalization and the decline of the state, nation-to-nation differences persist and even increase. Thus this is evidence that national policy can make a difference in income inequality.

every rose has its thorn

I know yesterday was Valentine’s Day, so this post might seem a bit late. But it’s Susan B. Anthony Day, which is as good a day as any to turn to the thorny relationship between women, love, and education.

This past weekend, Stephanie Coontz wrote an encouraging opinion piece in the NY Times that asserts that “for a woman seeking a satisfying relationship as well as a secure economic future, there has never been a better time to be or become highly educated.” She cites the decline in the “success” penalty for educated women, asserting that men are more interested in women who are intelligent and educated than in the past.* Marriage rates are similar, and divorce rates lower for educated women. In fact, “by age 30, and especially at ages 35 and 40, college-educated women are significantly more likely to be married than any other group.” As if this wasn’t enough, Coontz cites other benefits for educated women: better physical and mental health, satisfying relationships, less housework, and steamier sex. Like usual, she makes a great (and entertaining) argument and her sources – including a number of sociologists – are sound. However, I’d like to suggest that things aren’t as rosy as they seem, particularly for women with (or pursuing) a Ph.D. Continue reading

bageant, rainbow pie

I very much appreciated Joe Bageant‘s previous book, Deer Hunting With Jesus, so eagerly looked forward to reading Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir. Bageant, who died last year, was a political and social commentator whose overall goal in both books was to explain the political and social effects of white working class despair. Deer Hunting was set in Bageant’s hometown of Winchester, Virginia, and followed people there as they sought to cling to dignity in the face of economic desparation.

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fallacies of a market approach to public higher ed

In the wake of big debates about rising tuition, North Carolina’s trusty right-wing blog carries a snide analysis of the rising cost of tuition. The gist:

the market for a college education is highly distorted by government subsidies to the schools, direct student aid, and cheap government loans. These factors artificially inflate demand, and create a sizable wedge between what the consumers (students) pay for the product and the income taken in by the producers of that product (the universities). The inevitable result is skyrocketing prices completely out of line with true consumer demand.

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access to what?

As a result of the recession and the Republican takeover of the NC legislature, the UNC system has taken–and is expecting more–major cuts to its state appropriation. Unlike some other public flagships, notably Michigan and Virginia, UNC is very much a state school and we are very dependent on that state money to remain high quality, public, and accessible. UNC tuition remains very low compared to peers, but far from negligible. Continue reading

scatterbleg: income and altruistic wishes

My wife is working on a project that demonstrates, among other things, that lower-income adolescents report “wishes” on a survey that are more for themselves, such as housing, cars, etc., where higher-income adolescents report more wishes that are altruistic for the world, e.g., the end of global warming or poverty. She is looking for sociological references to back up this (unsurprising) finding and/or to document mechanisms for it. Any thoughts?

 

blood pressure, the slavery hypothesis, and social construction

My wife is a physician, and like many doctors was taught in medical schools that African Americans are susceptible to hypertension, and particularly salt-sensitive hypertension, as a result of genetic selection through conditions during the middle passage. I raised this possibility in chatting with Liana Richardson, a postdoc here at UNC, about her very interesting work  on hypertension as a biomarker for stress over the life course, and in particular as a marker for high stress among African Americans. Her response was very interesting, and illustrates an example of cross-disciplinary information flows.

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why occupy toronto?

Occupy Toronto has been going strong for a few weeks now, hosting protest marches on Saturdays and camping out in a park downtown, not far from Bay Street, Toronto’s financial district. Some might ask, why would Canadians want to participate in this movement? Canadian banks were subject to much stricter regulations than their American counterparts, and this meant that the subprime mortgage crisis, and the collapse of financial institutions that necessitated a more-than-major bailout stopped at the border. Canada didn’t make bad loans, our financial companies were not implicated in the mortgage-bundling schemes of Wall Street, and so our recession is not so much the product of Canadian policy as it is the result of our economy being so reliant on trade with the United States.

What is more, Canadian social policy is more generous than that of the United States, with universal health care, a much higher minimum wage, and a social safety net that resembles that of the United States before welfare “reform.” What could the Canadians possibly be complaining about? In a word, inequality.

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hitting close to home from 925 miles away

As I watch the protests from Madison (and get updates from our very own on-the-ground correspondent), I am amazed at the resolution and determination of the protestors. In no small part because watching what is happening in Madison affects good friends dearly and gives the rest of us pause to think about what kind of country we want to live in.

With deference to President Obama, this isn’t an “assault on unions;” this is an assault on the fundamental idea of equality in our country.

Unions are the medium through which equality is accomplished, not the end in themselves. I don’t support unions because they are unions; I support unions because they are one of the few institutions in this country that create a playing field that is anything close to level. This protest hits particularly close to home for me. I include among my friends members, leaders, and staff at TAA, as well as their sister union from UW-Milwaukee the MGAA. There are not two more capable and energetic locals.

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class and the tax-cut debate

One of the (many) things that’s frustrating about the current debate over extending the Bush tax cuts is the meme that, well, 250 grand just isn’t what it used to be. Why, in some places it’s just enough to make ends meet! Media Matters carries an excellent take-down of an LA Times fluff story that makes that point. Useful, perhaps, as part of a class exercise on inequality in the US.

Update: Philip Cohen has an excellent breakdown of family budgets at median and “wealthy” points here.

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