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Wealth & Inequality

Discussion in 'Serious' started by cjmUK, 21 Aug 2012.

  1. cjmUK

    cjmUK Old git.

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    I stumbled across an interesting article on the Beeb today, stating that a study shows that, despite usually giving the opposite impression, the majority of Americans would prefer to live in a far more equal society....more equal even than Sweden which is one of the more equal societies in the world today.

    The study asked people to follow John Rawls vision of a just society, where "no one knows his place in society, his class position or social status, nor does anyone know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence, strength, and the like. I shall even assume that the parties do not know their conceptions of the good or their special psychological propensities. The principles of justice are chosen behind a veil of ignorance.".

    That is, if you were going to be parachuted into a new society, but had no idea which strata you would end up in, how would you distribute wealth in that society.

    Interestingly people accepted that different groups/levels/strata are needed in society, but that gap between them is far less pronounced.

    Absolutely fascinating stuff...

    More here...

    However, there is little chance of immediate progress while the people with the money have so much influence with (all) western governments, and which country would want to scare off the 'cream' of society by going it alone....
     
  2. Nexxo

    Nexxo * Prefab Sprout – The King of Rock 'n' Roll

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    There is a difference between people's reasoning in the abstract, and when it applies to them personally. In theory we all want a more equal and just society. We just don't want to have to pay the taxes to get it. In theory we all want the mentally ill and disabled to integrate into mainstream society. We just don't want to live next to the supported living home. In theory we all want prisons to rehabilitate, not punish. We just want the guy who burgled our house strung up by the thumbs.

    Never mind being parachuted into a hypothetical society. How do Americans feel about social health care?
     
  3. bob_lewis

    bob_lewis Lurker extraordinaire

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    Interesting stuff, to say the least.

    However, I can't help to wonder... I've lived in Sweden all my life, so I have no real reference other than what I've read/seen/heard about other countries, but if people in other countries hold Sweden up as close to the best thing there is then I have to wonder; how bad is it really in other countries? I wonder, because as a swede, you'd have to be pretty full of yourself if you think that things are close to perfect here. It's all falling apart, every damn thing that people think is so great about Sweden is being sold out or dismantled; school, healthcare, the care for the elderly, social security, infrastructure etc etc.

    We who actually live here think/feel more along the lines of "why is there never any money for anything even though we pay so much taxes?".

    Sorry if I went off topic, just had to get a little of this out there.
     
  4. cjmUK

    cjmUK Old git.

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    I worked in Sweden for over 6 months last year so I have some sort of frame of reference. Sweden is not perfect... far from it. But there are some quite clear benefits from the high(er) tax culture. E.g. one of my complaints of my Swedish colleagues is that they were never even remotely in fear of losing their job; if the company went t***s-up, they expected somebody else to buy them out, and if not, there were incredibly generous benefits on offer... to the tune of 85% of their normal salary, courtesy of company-paid unemployment fund.

    But back to this study... Sweden is not held up as a role model by anyone in particular - but Sweden does have one of the more equal distributions of wealth. The rich are taxed more heavily and the bottom echelons of society are comparatively well provided for.

    The irony is that Americans in general, many of whom baulk at European societies (particularly 'socialist'/'communist' states like Sweden), actually aspire to a wealth distribution model that even Swedes can only dream of....
     
  5. bob_lewis

    bob_lewis Lurker extraordinaire

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    Well put, especially your last paragraph. As for the first one, I guess it's easy to not appreciate what you have until you lose it. We can only hope it won't come to that.
     
  6. Da_Rude_Baboon

    Da_Rude_Baboon What the?

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    Two points to add after reading the articles based on my reading of Thomas Sowell's Economic Facts and Fallacies.

    1 - The demographics are transient, people move between them. People who are the lowest earners in the US don't tend to stay in that bracket for very long.

    2 - How do you define wealth? The data can be erroneous depending on what metrics you use as they often don't include social security payments or tax breaks as income. So a retired pensioner who owns their own house, car and has substantial savings will fall into the lowest income bracket as they don't have a job.

    So the data would suggest that inequality harms society but does the data, or is representation, reflect the actual truth?

    [edit] In the related videos section I came across this one which i also quite interesting.



    [/edit]
     
    Last edited: 21 Aug 2012
  7. VipersGratitude

    VipersGratitude Well-Known Member

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    I have attempted to argue with a few Americans on social issues in the past, and frankly I've given up.

    To me it seems that Americans are brought up in a culture where rhetoric is seen on equal footing with reasoning. They tend to focus on one fact they like the sound of and stick to it with religious conviction, building their arguments around it, rather than looking at the whole, complex system.

    Libertarians are a strange bunch for example... Believing that a free, unregulated market and legal system will grant them greater freedom, and they'll have more personal wealth thanks to lower taxes. Whereas anyone who is even remotely aware of Benford's Law knows otherwise.

    There has to be a drastic internal cultural shift in America before they'll get out of this trap; A maturation one might say. The metaphor of America being a rebellious teenager works as much for the relative age of the country, as it does for it's attitude towards schooling - They believe they are right, and will reject advice, instead preferring to work things out for themselves despite the warnings.
     
  8. Sloth

    Sloth #yolo #swag

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    Sums it up, imo. When it's all hypothetical it's much easier to say you'd rather have all of the social programs possible, it's easy to imagine no longer having to directly pay for health insurance, or raised taxes for a new prison, or what have you, but much harder to accurately realize the increase in taxes that would be associated with that, it's all too easy to easy to be overly optimistic about them. In reality, something like a social health care system would take away my health insurance bill and add a tax which would likely be quite similar in cost.

    I also think people are more likely to be all for equality because the majority of the population only stands to gain from it. If wealth were magically distributed amongst the population most people would be a fair deal richer. That's certainly an exciting prospect when you're not the one losing anything for it.
     
  9. mucgoo

    mucgoo Well-Known Member

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    What always gets me when inequality is discussed its only ever concerned with a single country. There's an even more enormous gap between the poorest 20% in the UK and the poorest 20% in the world than the UK's own internal wealth distribution.
     
  10. Ending Credits

    Ending Credits Bunned

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    A recent example seems to come up quite a lot in the whole euthanasia debate where the line "Life is precious" is constantly spouted. To me that is a statement of no real meaning but some people seem to base their entire argument on that sentiment.

    This isn't just true of Americans but it does seem to aplly to a large percentage of the American population. When I look at American politics I often feel like it's just a shouting match to see who can shout loudest.
     
  11. lp1988

    lp1988 Well-Known Member

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    I don't quite agree. Several surveys in Denmark has over the years shown that very often the Danish population is for higher tax rates, something that would be close to unimaginable in many other countries, however these surveys has often shown that people would rather have something else rather than lover taxes, better child care, hospitals or other. In other words your theory may very well become reality if the general sentiment of the population is that everybody benefit more from paying more taxes than having more cash in their hands.

    This however requires a few things. First of all trust, the population has to trust that these funds are distributed fairly, just and for the most effect, it also requires a trust towards the rest of the population that no one miss uses the system or refuses to aid the community. Secondly it requires a system where the individual feels like he or she are being treated fairly compared to everyone else. Thirdly it requires a system where the individual groups in the society feels that their voices are heard and taken care of in the grand scheme of things. And lastly the individual groups of the society must feel as they are making an important contribution to the community, in one way or another as anyone who feels as an important part of something naturally will like to see "their" project succeed.

    I am well aware that some of these thing are far easier to reach in smaller countries like the Scandinavian ones and much harder in far bigger countries like the United States, so is it possible there, well I don't know but it is simply not only theory.
     
  12. Scirocco

    Scirocco Boobs, I have them, you lose.

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    Not all Americans are in a fact-free bubble, but at times it sure does seem like it. A good portion of Americans seem to regard themselves as "temporarily embarrassed millionaires" and vote against their own interests. Also, it is unfortunate that what passes as education in most public schools is more like dumbing down and indoctrination.

    I have seen the study results on what Americans think is the current wealth distribution (wildly inaccurate, of course) and what they optimally prefer to see. They're fine with something more to the "left" of Sweden until you tell them it closely resembles a European or "socialist" country. They'll go wildly screaming into the night almost. When it is pointed out to them that our current system of fire and police protection is socialistic, their eyes glaze over.

    <sigh>
     
  13. theshadow2001

    theshadow2001 [DELETE] means [DELETE]

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    Why are Americans afraid of socialism?
     
  14. cjmUK

    cjmUK Old git.

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    This particular study does concentrate on Americans, but the same results are found elsewhere. We all believe in a more equal society, but when it comes down to it, none of us are happy when it's our wealth being redistributed....
     
  15. TheStockBroker

    TheStockBroker Well-Known Member

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    I don't! (Believe in/want a more equal society)

    People are not equal. The whole notion of equality in any living organism is a nonsense, we are all unique and differ greatly. Sure, we should treat each other fairly and kindly, but not equally. To treat everyone equally is to purposefully adopt an unfair system (unlike the currently unavoidably unfair system of a persons success in life being defined by his location of birth)

    AFAIA, every natural being follows a hierarchy whether they're aware of it or not.
    Leader <-> Follower
    Predator <-> Prey (etc)

    In humans, in todays society, the hierarchy has culminated in power/wealth. Why would anyone seek to change this? Truly, the capitalist world as we know it would end if this was ever attempted.
     
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  16. <A88>

    <A88> Trust the Computer

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    I'm sure that from what you're saying you've studied behavioural genetics and can therefore validate the claim that we're all so drastically different that it would sacrilege to disrupt the natural order that facilitates this hierarchy you wish to protect?

    The hierarchy isn't a rank of our abilities or leadership, it's a class system divided between those who were able to exploit and pass on wealth and those who were the subjects of this exploitation and passed on their relative poverty to future generations. The laws as we have them today attempt to at least provide the same opportunities for every new generation (private schools etc non-withstanding) so that determination and natural ability doesn't get lost in the class divide.

    Regardless of this though, it is fruitless attempting to justify an imbalanced society based on natural laws as humans are distinctly separate from animals in our ability to think morally about issues. Just as we can recognise that some of our fellow beings are genetically predisposed to be better at some skills than others, we can figure that affording a better quality of life based on uncontrollable factors is unfair and, more importantly, rectifiable through the systems of state support and protection we've spent thousands of years constructing.

    [/Marxism]
     
  17. Da_Rude_Baboon

    Da_Rude_Baboon What the?

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    I do some what agree with that sentiment as it seems odd that we celebrate Olympians for their success but do not feel the same away about those who achieve financial rewards.

    How ever when we talk about equality in this case to me it refers to offering everyone the chance to succeed. In the UK we are also now in a place where the rich, and particularly the super rich pay far less tax than the rest of us. Personally I don't think that is right. I'm not asking them to pay a higher tax rate, just to pay what their fair share like the rest of us do.
     
  18. cjmUK

    cjmUK Old git.

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    First of all, we are talking about a more equal society and not an completely equal society. There needs to be, and there naturally will be, different strata to society.

    However, in a more equal society, where the gaps between the strata are less pronounced, people's happiness is greater, physical and mental health is better, crime is lower...etc. A more equal society is general a better place to live in than a less equal society.

    It is not about some communist ideal where all people have equal stakes in society. It's simple a case that if the rich and successful creamed a little less off the top, life is just as rosy for them, but is also much better for those below them. If the richest in society merely had a £bn or or two, rather than tens of £bn, would they notice the difference? Probably not, but the people lower down the ladder certainly would as the money filtered down.

    At some point, human societies decided that, as tempting as it may be sometimes, it's probably better all round if we all agreed to stop murdering each other.

    At a later point, we all agreed that lowering speed limits in built-up areas would probably be a good idea overall.

    In 1948, in the UK, we decided that society would be better if we provided a certain level of healthcare for free, so that even the poorest in society could see doctors when they were ill.

    All of these rules (the millions of others that we have thought up over time) were agreed because, although they may cost us in certain ways, they are beneficial to society as a whole.

    Perhaps the next stage in the evolution of our civilization is the idea that we can maintain a meritocracy but without completely screwing over the guys at the bottom rungs of society; the idea that the people at the top can provide a little more for the people at the bottom without giving up their position in society.
     
  19. Guest-23315

    Guest-23315 Guest

    I just wish people would accept that some are well off because they've worked hard or the like. Why is it only footballers and 'celebrities' are allowed to affluent and have possessions...

    Everyone is far too obsessive of what they don't have rather than what they actually do have.
     
  20. Parge

    Parge the worst Super Moderator

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    If footballers are the most criticised people when it comes to wealth accumulation.
     
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