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 “every rose has its thorn”

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.

Continue reading “bageant, rainbow pie”

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.

Continue reading “fallacies of a market approach to public higher ed”

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 “access to what?”

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.

Continue reading “blood pressure, the slavery hypothesis, and social construction”

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.

Continue reading “why occupy toronto?”

hitting close to home from 925 miles away

As I watch the protests from Madison (and get updates from our very own ontheground 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.

Continue reading “hitting close to home from 925 miles away”

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.

health, wealth, and history

The economist blog hosts a great video by Hans Rosling on health and wealth by country over time:

The data visualization and interpretation are excellent. However, the conclusion he draws–that “everyone can make it” in the future, that all countries are moving toward the “healthy, wealthy” corner–strikes me as very problematic for two reasons. Reason one is actually statistical: the slope remains pretty substantial as time goes on, it’s just that the intercept is moving upward. So inequalities by health and wealth seem likely to persist. Reason two is more sociological: he doesn’t mention threats to health and equality such as agricultural threats, ecological threats, or global underemployment.

 

same-sex marriage and the courts

I am, of course, thoroughly delighted with the California federal court’s decision overturning Prop. 8 as unconstitutional under the due process and equal protection clauses, doubly so because the judge, Vaughn Walker, is a card-carrying conservative. I am also thoroughly delighted with the Massachusetts federal court’s ruling the DOMA is unconstitutional on grounds of states’ rights. However, I am a bit confused at what seems to be a contradiction between the two rulings. The Massachusetts case seems to claim that DOMA infringes on states’ rights to define marriage for themselves–that is, that federal law should not determine how states may define and regulate marriage. The California case, on the other hand, argues that the state’s decision on how to define and regulate marriage is wrong and violates federal law. Now, I thoroughly admit that IANAL and so there is likely a way that these two decisions can…er…cohabit. Thoughts?

UPDATE: I’m reading through the California decision instead of working on a pressing deadline…. it makes for great reading! There’s quite a bit that is essentially about how best to gauge the reliability of social science, and much of it picks specifically on David Blankenhorn, to wit:

24. Blankenhorn identified several manifestations of deinstitutionalization: out-of-wedlock childbearing, rising divorce rates, the rise of non-marital cohabitation, increasing use of assistive reproductive technologies and marriage for same-sex couples. Tr 2774:20-2775:23. To the extent Blankenhorn believes that same-sex marriage is both a cause and a symptom of deinstitutionalization, his opinion is tautological. Moreover, no credible evidence supports Blankenhorn’s conclusion that same-sex marriage could lead to the other manifestations of deinstitutionalization.

and:

Blankenhorn’s book, The Future of Marriage, DIX0956, lists numerous consequences of permitting same-sex couples to marry, some of which are the manifestations of deinstitutionalization listed above. Blankenhorn explained that the list of consequences arose from a group thought experiment in which an idea was written down if someone suggested it. Tr 2844:1- 12; DIX0956 at 202.

obesity and life trajectories

This morning NPR had a story about this study, which followed high-school grads to age 40. It uses “growth mixture models” (I’m not sure what these are) to identify two latent classes: one of “normative,” gradual growth in weight from normal weight at high school graduation to higher weight at 35 or 40, the other of “persistent overweight,” i.e., being overweight at high school graduation and staying overweight. There are important differences in health at age 40, which I don’t think is that surprising (though worth demonstrating). But there are also differences in social outcomes, including having “ever had a partner” (romantic, I assume); welfare receipt; and not having pursued education after high school, all of them more likely among the persistently overweight group.

The paper also, though, demonstrates that low childhood SES is a significant predictor of overweight at high school graduation, as is (independently) high school GPA. Read in this way, it strikes me that we ought not understand persistent obesity as a biological cause of social outcomes, as the NPR story (and particularly Kelly Brownell’s commentary therein) suggests, but rather as a mediator between childhood SES and adult SES.