Welcome Danny Dorling (DannyDorling.org) and Host Jeremi Suri (Mack Brown Distinguished Professor for Global Leadership, History, and Public Policy at the University of Texas at Austin)

The No-Nonsense Guide to Equality

Modern democratic society requires basic equality. Our Founding Fathers understood this point when they drafted the Declaration of Independence with the radical statement, in its time: “All men are created equal.” Citizens must feel that they have a say in political decisions, that they are represented in some way. Citizens must also feel that they have an opportunity to “win” sometime in the future, even if their causes and candidates “lose” today. The opportunity to change government and policy based on citizen interests is central to democracy, and it requires a foundation in interpersonal equality.

Danny Dorling’s provocative book expands upon these insights. He argues that “human beings are happier and healthier the more equal they are, and that this is borne out by looking at statistics from all over the world today – as well as by surveying the whole of human history”. Dorling’s book provides both the statistics and the history to back many of his claims. Most important, he shows how the emergence of greater income equality in the United States between 1928 and 1973 contributed to economic growth, public investment, innovation, and national power as a whole. The “American Century” was built on a more equal society than ever existed before in the country’s history. In 1928 the richest one percent of Americans owned about a fifth (20 percent) of the nation’s total income; in 1973 the richest one percent of Americans owned just 7.7 percent of the nation’s much larger total income.

This pattern has reversed decisively in recent decades. Dorling correctly observes: “Inequalities rose in the 1980s almost as fast as they had fallen in the 1930s. The increases were abrupt, beginning most clearly in 1982, but accelerating in 1986 and 1987, and rising significantly almost every year since.” The differences between rich and poor have grown alarming in a country that includes more billionaires than any other, but also crumbling bridges, roads, and public schools. Wealth has become intensely private; poverty is increasingly public.

The extremes of wealth and poverty in the United States are very real, but they are not historically unique. One could find greater extremes before the 1930s. What is unique today is the stratification between rich and poor – the improbability of poor children becoming rich adults. Those with few economic means are closed off from the educational, cultural, and occupational opportunities that once allowed for mobility up the income ladder. There is no “free land” to till on the frontier and there are few manufacturing jobs for the able-bodied. Public education offered a route to prosperity for millions of Americans (including this writer) in the last century, but it is suffering today from under-funding and inaccessibility. The best public schools are in the richest suburbs; the worst schools are in the poorest rural and inner-city districts. Top public universities, like my own, are becoming too expensive for those with modest means. Most of my students at university are now the children of professionals with college degrees. First-time college kids from modest backgrounds are hard to find. This is particularly true for college-age males, whose educational prospects have stagnated in the last three decades. (They are now less than half the student population at many major universities.)

Dorling is therefore spot on when he writes: “despite rhetoric about the ‘American Dream,’ membership of the richest group in U.S. society is largely determined by how rich your parents were when you were born, and not by your own efforts. The U.S. has one of the lowest rates of social mobility among all nations in the rich world. A child born poor in the U.S. is more likely to die poor than in any other affluent country.“

This is a pressing issue for the future of democracy. If American society is to prosper and innovate in the twenty-first century, those born to modest backgrounds must find ways to improve their professional opportunities. Our society must develop new mechanisms to incorporate the less advantaged into a dynamic economy, encouraging productivity and public contributions, rather than passivity and dependence. In a society where all are equal in the eyes of the law, some Americans are much more equal (and unequal) than others today. Only a re-energized national focus on opportunity, broadly defined, can encourage the greater lived equality that allowed American society to thrive in the middle and late twentieth century.

How can we encourage greater equality? What are the most effective policies? Which institutions are most crucial? Where should government invest? These are the key questions that Dorling’s book inspires. These are the questions that I hope we can discuss today during our online book salon. Let’s hope our politicians and community leaders are listening.

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

111 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Danny Dorling, The No-Nonsense Guide to Equality”

BevW September 2nd, 2012 at 1:47 pm

Danny, Welcome to the Lake.

Jeremi, Welcome back to the Lake, and Thank You for Hosting today’s Book Salon.


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Ludwig September 2nd, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Ok. Ready Danny?

What makes you think this society’s interest is to make human beings happier and healthier?

Jeremi Suri September 2nd, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Good afternoon, Danny and Bev. I look forward to our discussion.

Danny Dorling September 2nd, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Hi i’m here – slight delay from the UK but on line now, Danny

Jeremi Suri September 2nd, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Danny — you already have a great question from Ludwig. I look forward to reading your answer. I am sure other questions will come soon. I have a few as well…

Danny Dorling September 2nd, 2012 at 2:01 pm
In response to Ludwig @ 2

Society is a group of people. It doesn’t have a single interest. But many people are interested in the common good.

dakine01 September 2nd, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Good afternoon Danny and welcome to FDL this afternoon. Welcome back Jeremi!

Danny, I have not read your book so forgive me if you answer this in there but what was your biggest surprise in your research? Were you surprised at the lack of mobility in the US, especially given the Horatio Alger myth in the US?

Danny Dorling September 2nd, 2012 at 2:03 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 5

Any questions very welcome – I’m not promising to have all the answers. It would only be in a world where a few people were very able and most were not that just one person could have so many answers :-)

Jeremi Suri September 2nd, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Following dakine01′s excellent question, one of the key points in your book is the decline in mobility since the 1970s. Why is that the case? Why has mobility declined, especially in the US?

Danny Dorling September 2nd, 2012 at 2:06 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 7

It was a surprise to me that social mobility in the US is so lower. Lower even than in the UK and we still have hereditary royalty. However the biggest surprise to me was in how much is written about what is bad about inequality and how little there is in comparison about what is good about being a bit more equal.

Ludwig September 2nd, 2012 at 2:06 pm
In response to Danny Dorling @ 6

Could you elaborate?

Danny Dorling September 2nd, 2012 at 2:08 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 9

Social mobility declines when the stakes rise. As the income gap between the rich and poor has grown since the 1970s the rich, quite understandably, try harder and harder to protect their offspring to to ensure that they too will be well off. In societies where there is greater equality there is less felt need among the affluent to try so hard to ensure that their children get the highest paid jobs. They can allow their children to follow their interests more, even if that means less pay – because in a more equal society it does not mean that much less pay.

Jeremi Suri September 2nd, 2012 at 2:09 pm

On the benefits of equality, your book is especially strong on this point. On the other hand, you do not address the strong and common objections to equality:
1. It encourages a devolution to mediocrity – everyone is equal so no one strives to improve
2. It encourages excessive state intervention — someone has to make everyone equal. This was the opening for community tyranny in the 20th century. Orwell is very good on this point.
3. It is not possible. Humans are inherently unequal. To make them equal is impossible and foolhardy.

Your responses to these common objections?

Danny Dorling September 2nd, 2012 at 2:10 pm
In response to Ludwig @ 11

Sorry – i’m just getting the hang of typing so fast! Different people are interested in different things. A minority are just interested in themselves, maybe in getting rich quick. A larger group are interested in more than just themselves. That part of society does worry about happiness and well-being more widely (but it tends not to be that pushy! In US society from the 1930s through top the 1970 the majority had more influence and equality rose.

dakine01 September 2nd, 2012 at 2:11 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 13

Of course, given the recognized mediocrity of many in hereditary positions, that first argument against equality is a bit laughable to me.

Jeremi Suri September 2nd, 2012 at 2:13 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 15

I am not sure I agree dakine01. Competition makes people work harder. Security and promised equality can have dumbing down effect. I see this with my students all the time. If they are assured good grades, they will work less hard. If they are challenged to work harder for a limited number of good grades, they will achieve more. Isn’t that why capitalist societies are more innovative than communist ones?

Danny Dorling September 2nd, 2012 at 2:15 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 13

I do mention the objections towards us becoming more equal but I don’t go into length about them because I don’t find them that convincing. On your three:

1) If more equal societies were more mediocre where are the highest number of scientific papers per head published in Scandinavian countries and why are the most patents filed by the Japanese?
2) The USA is one of the most unequal of rich countries. It has huge state intervention (and a more expensive state armed forces than any other country on earth). Japan is one of the most equal of countries and the state there is very small.
3) The argument about greater equality is not about making everyone perfectly equal. It is similar to the argument about improving health not being to help everyone live forever.

Jeremi Suri September 2nd, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Danny – I think readers would like to read your thoughts about a contemporary society with the kind of equality you advocate. You mention Cuba in the book. Would you like to say more about that here?

dakine01 September 2nd, 2012 at 2:19 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 16

I’m not advocating equality of outcome, only equality of opportunity. Two different paths. The current inequality we are experiencing is an inequality in both areas.

If equality in opportunity is available, then the hard work and talent can rise (though luck also plays here)

Danny Dorling September 2nd, 2012 at 2:20 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 16

Having people hungry makes people worker harder – but does it produce the best work? I always think it is odd when people compare capitalist and communist countries like this. In the USA the richest fifth of people earn eight times more than the poorest fifth. This makes the UK one of the most unequal of rich countries. In communist China the ratio is almost identical, the richest fifth earn almost eight times more than the poorest fifth, although this makes China one of the more equal of poorer countries. China and the USA have similar levels of inequality. Comparing communist and capitalist countries as if they were that different when it comes to economic inequality makes little sense.

Ludwig September 2nd, 2012 at 2:23 pm
In response to Danny Dorling @ 14

As far as the golden age of North American capitalism, I think rather, that the elite were convinced they had to afford more equality – much more complex than an expression of majority interest.

Have you addressed the possibility that the arguments for inequality were cynically advanced?

Danny Dorling September 2nd, 2012 at 2:23 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 19

When you talk about inequality of opportunity or outcome it is sometimes worth thinking of one of the basic measures of inequality – infant mortality rates between groups. Do you want poor babies to have the opportunity to die less often or do you want to see that outcome? It can be argued that it is partly the result of an over-emphasis on equality of apparent opportunity that leads to infant mortality in the USA being so much higher than in almost all other affluent nations.

bigbrother September 2nd, 2012 at 2:24 pm

Ludwig and Jeremi focus on the ideal of capitalism missing the economic benefits of of less wealth disparity. As more households have have larger disposable the economy grows and household wealth increases across the board. People have money to buy goods and services. When the wealth and income is concentrated the economy shrinks as it has today leaving 20 million unemployed. 50 million people of 311 million live below the poverty line and have no health coverage. Disease pools grow. Burden increases on hospitals and emergency services. There are many more crimes. The impacts are staggering.

Ludwig September 2nd, 2012 at 2:26 pm
In response to Danny Dorling @ 20

Thank you for some debunking. Capitalist societies more innovative than communist ones is a debatable sideline, no?

Jeremi Suri September 2nd, 2012 at 2:27 pm
In response to Danny Dorling @ 20

Yes, but communist countries pursue equality with much more vigor and state power than do capitalist societies. It seems impossible to argue against the historical observation that in the 20th century the drive for equality in communist societies justified state tyranny against “privileged” groups repeatedly. In capitalist societies the drive (perhaps valorization) of inequality and competition encouraged innovation and productivity. Isn’t that why Silicon Valley is in the US and not Russia? Remember, the Soviet Union put far more money into training engineers than the US did. Many of the most talented engineers in the US come from abroad. They move to the US in search of inequality (wealth), often escaping societies that impose equality, or at least justify centralized state power in the name of equality.

Don’t you think that equality has its down-sides? Isn’t too much equality a source of mediocrity and stagnation? Isn’t that Orwell’s central insight?

Danny Dorling September 2nd, 2012 at 2:28 pm
In response to Ludwig @ 21

I agree that the elite in North America (and also in the UK) were convinced that they had to afford more equality. In the UK the trend towards greater equality began very shortly after the Russian revolution. I think the elite then were scared. However, trade unions, a new political party (Labour)and growing rights for women were all needed among much else. I suspect that in the USA civil rights groups were not just lead by ‘the elite’. But i think it is key to understand that greater equality was gained with the help of many of the elite – it has to be if there is not revolution (the English elite, in the shape of King George, had to be over-thrown for the USA to first get some more equality).

On the issue of whether those arguing for inequality were being cynical – I think they were misguided but heart felt. And the last thirty years have proved them wrong.

Ludwig September 2nd, 2012 at 2:29 pm
In response to Danny Dorling @ 22

Equality of opportunity is meaningless.

Jeremi Suri September 2nd, 2012 at 2:29 pm
In response to Ludwig @ 24

Well, Ludwig, I am not sure this is a debatable proposition. Can you name one communist society that was/is more innovative than its capitalist peers? Certainly not China today. Their advantage is mass production at low cost. They are not innovators, they are producers. Think about the automobile market: the unequal South Korean society makes much more innovative cars than China.

dakine01 September 2nd, 2012 at 2:30 pm
In response to Danny Dorling @ 22

There should be a minimum social safety net that lowers that infant mortality rate. Things such as health care, food, needed medicines, shelter i.e., the very basics of life should be available to all regardless of social caste or income in my not so very humble opinion

Ludwig September 2nd, 2012 at 2:32 pm
In response to Danny Dorling @ 26

I think, rather, that they’ve unleashed something they cannot retract … and thus there is not much heart in it.

Jeremi Suri September 2nd, 2012 at 2:33 pm
In response to Danny Dorling @ 26

You are surely correct that arguments for equality were often motivated by fears of working-class revolution, especially after the Russian Revolution. On the other hand, many Progressives and New Dealers really believed that capitalism and equality could be fused in a model that emphasized more opportunities for mobility, but continued inequality of outcomes. Progressives and New Dealers also believed in the virtues of public investments through redistribution of excess income through taxes and other mechanisms. As examples, think about figures like Jane Addams and Henry Wallace — they were capitalists who believed seriously in equality. They were as close to social democrats as you get in the US.

Jeremi Suri September 2nd, 2012 at 2:34 pm

I would like to introduce another topic. What role has globalization played in increasing contemporary inequality?

Danny Dorling September 2nd, 2012 at 2:34 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 25

The majority of the most equal countries in the world are rich capitalist countries. There are a few equal countries that are not in this group (such as Cuba) but in general countries in which the richest fifth have, say, only three, four or five times as much income as the poorest fifth tend to be rich capitalist countries – Denmark, Norway, Japan, the Netherlands. Most communist countries have been far poorer and far more unequal than these. That is mainly because they started off far poorer and more unequal. I’m not arguing for Communism here. I’m arguing that the USA, as the most unequal of large rich countries does very badly as a result. Silicon Valley is not where computers were invented. It is much more a profit centre that benefits a few.

bigbrother September 2nd, 2012 at 2:34 pm
In response to Danny Dorling @ 26

The Middle Class is the space for more financial and socail gain. But the work force at the bottom needs to have a living wage, That is where gross inequality occurs.

hpschd September 2nd, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Welcome Professor Dorling,

You propose a basic income to replace ‘welfare’. An amount adequate to provide food, home, security and simple comfort. That would solve so many problems.

I can hear the opposition to that so clearly.

So how do we get there?

Ludwig September 2nd, 2012 at 2:35 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 28

I think it is a sideline I’d rather not argue now.

Danny Dorling September 2nd, 2012 at 2:37 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 29

I agree – things that you are not a “repeat purchaser” of. Markets work well when you get to learn from your mistakes. This does not work for your one short at education, health care for your heart, or shelter (how many times do you have to buy the wrong mortgage to learn). Markets work very well for clothes, food, and much trivia and trinkets. In more equal affluent capitalist countries less of the vital aspects of life are left to the uncontrolled market (to generalise).

Danny Dorling September 2nd, 2012 at 2:39 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 32

I don’t think globalization is key. World trade was at a high before the First World War – but inequality fell after that despite the globalization that was widespread then.

I think the USA being in economic decline might matter. The rich want to hold on to what they have. It is easier to share more when the cake is growing (1945-1978).

Ludwig September 2nd, 2012 at 2:40 pm
In response to bigbrother @ 34

The Middle Class is the space for more financial and socail gain.

This was said of the Bourgeoisie. America’s middle class was not the bourgeoisie.

Jeremi Suri September 2nd, 2012 at 2:42 pm

Danny — how would you define “middle class” in contemporary terms? Who is “middle class”?

Danny Dorling September 2nd, 2012 at 2:43 pm
In response to hpschd @ 35

For a basic income – look to where variants already exist. In Europe we are often told about schemes in Alaska.

Start off with a very modest scheme. Say a basic income for pensions (which we have in the UK). Then extent it to families with children. It need not be great, but it needs to be increased in value over time.

As basic incomes grow other forms of state aid become redundant and so savings can be made.

In Europe I think it is the only long term solution of our tax and benefits systems within all these countries between which people are free to move but which all have their own systems. A European basic income set at a low level would be how it would start. It would be introduced if, say, some poorer European countries had financing difficulties and the richer countries wanted to directly help the poor rather than their governments.

Danny Dorling September 2nd, 2012 at 2:45 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 40

There was an American comic you said you were middle class until they turned the electricity off! It varies in different countries. In Japan 90% of the population are described as middle class. Here in the UK 40% say they are middle class. However, more of them are facing a precarious future so the term no longer means what it used to mean.

Jeremi Suri September 2nd, 2012 at 2:46 pm

What would the Basic Income cover? Food and shelter? How would you assure that it does not become a disincentive for work and innovation? How would countries struggling to cover retirement costs alone find the capital to finance this?

Kelly Canfield September 2nd, 2012 at 2:48 pm
In response to Danny Dorling @ 20

Greetings Professor. I want to ask you about this statement:

In the USA the richest fifth of people earn eight times more than the poorest fifth.

How do you calculate that? The US Census data indicates far greater spread than 8:1. in fact for 2010, the top quintile was at $169k versus the bottom quintile at $11k

I am also calculating in quintiles, as you do, which you can see in this sub 2 minute video-graphic I put together here in youtube.

Ludwig September 2nd, 2012 at 2:49 pm

Danny, I reviewed a documentary demonstrating the wave of privatization in Europe since the fall of the USSR. It is really savage – like another enclosure movement.

Why do you think modest socialist propositions are of any use – specially since the path of European development is the growing suppression of Social Democracy?

Danny Dorling September 2nd, 2012 at 2:50 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 43

The idea of a basic income is that it become enough to live a decent life – but it starts of as a minimum to help in dire straights – but as money, not food stamps.

If you have people working because they are desperate then you do not get a good workforce – just a desperate one. You have to worry about them stealing from your business. One fast food chain has no pockets in its uniform trousers to prevent employees from stealing!

In countries like Austria when someone becomes unemployed for up to two years the government may pay them unemployment benefit equal to 80% of their former salary. You afford such things by not wasting money on other things so much (arms) and by not allowing your richest 1% to take 20% of all income each and every year.

Danny Dorling September 2nd, 2012 at 2:55 pm
In response to Ludwig @ 45

I agree it is savage – but if you step back and look at the longer time period then the 1980 to 2008 period can appear to be the odd era odd.

There is talk of nationalising the railways here again in the UK. Two of our banks are nationalised (they would have gone bust otherwise). The UK is the most unequal country in Western Europe and there is this talk.

In Denmark they talk (in parliament) of more than half their electricity coming from wind farms within a decade.

In France taxes on the rich are rising.

In Japan there is serious discussion of a low growth economic future.

None of these ever sees the word socialist being used (other than as an old political party label). But I think it is possible to be optimistic. How could people in 1930 have known that there were about to experience 40 years of rising equality?

Jeremi Suri September 2nd, 2012 at 2:57 pm
In response to Danny Dorling @ 46

Even in the US, where we terribly over-spend on the military, it is less than 5% of GNP. Moving all that money to domestic benefits will not even cover the income for retirees. Where else is the money for the Basic Income going to come from? Higher taxes on the rich will not be enough, unless government forcibly takes some of their accumulated wealth. It was that logic that produced the most horrific regimes in the 20th century. Didn’t Lenin promise a basic income? Castro has done the same, and look at the repression of political freedom and the broad poverty in Cuba today. I find it quite alarming that you see Cuba as a model of sorts. For me, it is evidence of why talk of a Basic Income is even worse than the problems we already have today.

Danny Dorling September 2nd, 2012 at 2:58 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 44

The eight to one ratio is for households, not individuals, and is after they have paid taxes and takes into account the vale of things such as medicare. It is the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) estimate of inequality in the USA. Of the 25 richest countries in the world with a population of at least 2 million people only Singapore has more inequality.

It short inequality in the USA is very high – your figures are even higher than mine!

Ludwig September 2nd, 2012 at 3:01 pm
In response to Danny Dorling @ 47

Yes, that is all encouraging. But then there’s Greece and the rest of the southern tier. It is dubious that those are indications that the ideology of this decadent era is being dealt with.

Danny Dorling September 2nd, 2012 at 3:02 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 48

Cuba is a very poor country. I would not start there if I were you. However, you have to ask why its infant mortality rates are so much lower than those of the USA.

The main loss of income you have in the USA is that the richest 1% take home 20% of all income. In most of Europe they take less than 10%. If the greed of the 1% in the USA could be curtailed just to the greed of the greediest Europeans then you gain 10% of GDP – twice you enormous military spend.

You need to compare the USA with other rich capitalist countries – not Cuba or China. In all other rich capitalist countries fewer babies die, fewer people are homeless, less go to prison, fewer are murdered, people live longer…..

Kelly Canfield September 2nd, 2012 at 3:06 pm
In response to Danny Dorling @ 49

I’ll just point out that the Census data was households too – and post – US federal Income tax, nogt all sales taxes, and no value of benefits put back in.

I’ll respectfully suggest that this unadjusted raw Census data is a better comparison than UNDP’s.

One of the reasons while I stand by that point, is one can say that there was a specific period of time where this inequality jerked upward; it was in the late ’90s with the concomitant change when the US abandoned Glass-Steagall, and gave banks their current casino-like permissions.

When one normalizes the data, for an ‘all-boats-rise-equally’ effect, they were for quite some time from 1967 forward – then stopped rising equally.

The median household income in the US should be about $72 now were that so; instead a pitiful $49k, with the poorest in that bottom half suffering the most.

Danny Dorling September 2nd, 2012 at 3:08 pm
In response to Ludwig @ 50

OK – in Greece – the population could have voted for the far left party – the one that promised them they could stay in the Euro and have less cuts – but they didn’t. I have seen poverty in Greece in recent years – people starving and begging – that I had only seen before in a rich country in the USA.

Take Iceland – and what is being done there – very under-reported.

Spain and Italy are too large to be thrown to the economic dogs. Ireland is in many ways bankrupt. Thirty years of privatisation and free-market worship have lead to this. And at the heart of Europe, in Germany, there is little support for the USA-UK model.

Meanwhile in Japan there have been two “lost” decades. People outside of the UK and USA are thinking more and more differently to how we often think and talk. Perhaps because outside of the London-New York banking nexus there is less pride in a model that failed?

Jeremi Suri September 2nd, 2012 at 3:08 pm
In response to Danny Dorling @ 51

I agree with the evidence of inequality in the US and its problems. That is not my argument. My point is that you have not offered a viable or better mechanism for redistributing income. You cannot just say that we are going to transfer 10% of GDP from the wealthiest to others. How are you going to make that happen? Even if you raise taxes sufficiently to make that happen, how can you be sure the fiscal revenues will be reallocated in that way? They never are and never have been in recent history. Huge tax redistributions in the last 100 years have, as I have said before, encouraged more social instability, more corruption, and more state tyranny. Even if you exclude the communist experiences, this was true throughout non-communist regimes, including 4th Republic France and Labour Britain. Redistribution in the name of equality is much more difficult and dangerous than it sounds at first glance. How would you do it and preserve democracy? How would you do it and assure that powerful political forces do not squander the money? The burden of historical experience demands concrete answers to these questions.

Ludwig September 2nd, 2012 at 3:09 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 48

US Federal expenditures ~ 40% of GDP. Military ~50 percent of Fed spending. Big gap in our numbers.

Jeremi Suri September 2nd, 2012 at 3:10 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 52

I agree that the repeal of Glass-Steagall is a large cause of recent economic inequality and instability. I strongly favor a return to Glass-Steagall. It was one of the most sensible pieces of New Deal legislation.

Jeremi Suri September 2nd, 2012 at 3:12 pm
In response to Ludwig @ 55

You are reading the numbers wrong Ludwig. Military spending is 40-50% of government DISCRETIONARY spending. Most of the federal budget (more than 60%) is already sliced off for mandatory transfer payments (medicare, medicaid, social security) and interest on the debt. Military spending is part of what is left. Military spending in the US is much too high. If you took it all away and allocated to debt payments, however, it would not COME CLOSE to cover the sources of debt in the US — transfer payments and insufficient tax revenue.

Danny Dorling September 2nd, 2012 at 3:15 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 54

Labour were in power 1945-1950, 1964-1970 and 1974-1979. All periods of little unrest and greater redistribition.

Danny Dorling September 2nd, 2012 at 3:16 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 54

The two big miners’ strikes in the UK were during Conservative rule 1970-1974 and 1979-1997.

Social unrest in the UK rose when the party in favour of inequality was in power.

Jeremi Suri September 2nd, 2012 at 3:18 pm

Bad history, Danny. 1945-50 witnessed major labor unrest in Great Britain and continued war rationing. Britain had a lower standard of living in 1951 than West Germany. 1964-1970 was a period of major social unrest but some economic growth. 1974-1979 was a horrible economic period in Great Britain — declining standards of living and high unemployment. That period created Thatcher. Would you really want to advocate any of those 3 periods over present-day Britain? That is a very hard case to make.

Ludwig September 2nd, 2012 at 3:19 pm
In response to Danny Dorling @ 53

at the heart of Europe, in Germany, there is little support for the USA-UK model.

Very encouraging to hear, but Germany used the privatization con with GDR industries – the Treuhandanstalt stole 300B worth of industry for 60B (something like that).

And apparently there is still skulduggery going on in Iceland.

But let me ask another question: Is the US media misrepresenting the economic strategies in Europe?

Jeremi Suri September 2nd, 2012 at 3:20 pm
In response to Ludwig @ 61

Good question about media, Ludwig. I had the same question in mind. What do you think of media portrayals of European crisis today, Danny?

Danny Dorling September 2nd, 2012 at 3:20 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 52

One reason to use UN data is that you need a data source that has been created to allow international comparison so it has to measure income and taxes in a similar way for many different countries. It happens to equal most other measures for the UK so never causes much disagreement here.

Recently I’ve been using data on the 1% which is easier to explain and there i get that the 1% best-rewarded in the USA take home 20% of all income – do you get that?

Ludwig September 2nd, 2012 at 3:21 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 57

Still, closer to 10% than 5.

hpschd September 2nd, 2012 at 3:23 pm

The point of a basic income is to prevent the damage done to society by poverty. The cost of that damage has to be greater than any minimal basic income. Not just economic damage, but human damage. It costs tens of thousands of dollars to house a person in prison. Where does that money for that come from? A small family could live on that. After prison (often for being brown) opportunities are greatly reduced. There are endless penalties for the poor. Basics actually cost more if you don’t have a car to drive around looking for bargains. Everything takes longer, there are fewer businesses and services in ghettos. Poor means less education, less health care, less dignity, shorter life, bad jobs, unsafe and insecure housing, hunger, fear, desperation and despair.

Nobody deserves that, children least of all.

Danny Dorling September 2nd, 2012 at 3:26 pm
In response to Ludwig @ 61

I’m afraid I would not know what the US media is saying because the only part of it we get here is a cut down version of the New York Times (promoted widely in Europe) and some late night reports from NBC (I think). Fox news is never shown in the UK as far as I know. Your radio is hardly ever played in Europe (as far as I know). CNN is the most that we get, but the BBC is watched far more (and seen as slightly to the right in much of mainland Europe). Maybe it is a little like being on different planet when it comes to the news? The reporting of current affairs. I think it is always worth remembering that in most European countries the news is reported in the language of that country which is something all citizens have in common – it may help people see each other as equal to speak a language that many other people do not.

Jeremi Suri September 2nd, 2012 at 3:28 pm
In response to hpschd @ 65

I agree with everything you say when it applies to children. Every child should have access to enough income for an education, basic nutrition, health, and an opportunity in life. That is a worthwhile state investment. Beyond that, I am not sure. A Basic Income for adults will discourage work and innovation among some. We have seen this in so many societies. In the Soviet Union, for example, all adults had a Basic Income. What happened? Hundreds of thousands refused to work more, especially when they did not feel they would get rewarded for more work. Take a non-communist society today: Italy. The tens of thousands of workers on the public payroll have a Basic Income and they see no reason to work beyond the minimum. This is documented by scholars and I have seen it countless times in my conversations with these lazy public employees. How do we prevent these negative outcomes from a guaranteed Basic Income?

Ludwig September 2nd, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Jeremi,
Knowing that “You cannot just say that we are going to transfer 10% of GDP from the wealthiest to others”, I wonder what you have to say for those who let it get into such a devastating situation? Really, it sounds like thuggery – We are going to drive your economy to such heights of inequality that you dare not threaten to correct the problem.

What do you have to say is the response to that violence?

Danny Dorling September 2nd, 2012 at 3:29 pm
In response to hpschd @ 65

I agree.

Only Rwanda locks up more people in prison (per head) than the USA of all countries in the world. The USA is very very strange in this and spends far more on imprisoning its own citizens than anywhere else – maybe even more than everywhere else put together.

I honestly don’t think your problem is too little money. Its what you are doing with the money. However, I do like those pictures from Mars you are beaming down – but if you can put a robot on Mars ….. maybe you can work out other stuff too … money is not the problem of the richest country in the world.

Jeremi Suri September 2nd, 2012 at 3:32 pm

For our last 30 minutes, Danny, I thought I would open another issue raised in your book. What is the appropriate role for education? How can we make education a better source of equality? What would education for equality look like?

Ludwig September 2nd, 2012 at 3:33 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 67

I am curious Jeremi. What was your family’s socioeconomic status in your country of origin?

econobuzz September 2nd, 2012 at 3:33 pm

Education in the U.S. is a DRIVER of inequality.

Kelly Canfield September 2nd, 2012 at 3:34 pm
In response to Danny Dorling @ 63

I certainly do understand data normalization, and I completely get the 1% vis-a-vis income. The UNDP measures though, I don’t think do do enough to show the particular US income inequality as the other sane industrialized countries have healthcare policies which can’t be monetized to the extent that the US’s can.

What I’m getting at, and not doing a very good job of articulating, is that I am tying it to concrete events in banking policies/regulations as regards the leap in US income inequality.

So when it comes to looking at policies made, that can be changed, well, Glass-Steagall is one place to start prior to any other redistrbution schemes.

Tax policy would be another place to look for a concrete change.

Danny Dorling September 2nd, 2012 at 3:35 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 67

The problem with saying that you are happy for children to be looked after but not beyond that is that all children have parents. The reckless young women that you might think deserves no help may in fact be pregnant.

On the question of how you prevent people being lazy on a basic income you have to think why you think they might be lazy. A basic income is just that – it is basic. It will never let you live more than a decent life. However it will let you have some choice – some freedom over what job you do. People are more free to choose jobs that interest them – people tend to be less lazy when they are interested.

And – if no one wants to do a job – its pay goes up until someone does… or you decide you don’t need that job

a basic income is given to all adults – those in work and those not in work. It ensure that no one is working simply to survive.

Jeremi Suri September 2nd, 2012 at 3:35 pm
In response to Ludwig @ 71

I come from a very modest family. I went to public schools until college. I went to college on scholarship. My family never had extra money beyond necessities.

Jeremi Suri September 2nd, 2012 at 3:36 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 73

Well said, Kelly. I agree 100% with your suggestions.

Jeremi Suri September 2nd, 2012 at 3:39 pm
In response to Danny Dorling @ 74

I wish I could agree, but I think the evidence of human laziness when given basic sustenance for free is overwhelming. If humans were as naturally hard working as you think, then welfare policy would be a lot easier. What evidence do you have that people with a Basic Income will continue to work hard and seek jobs they love? Where has this happened?

Danny Dorling September 2nd, 2012 at 3:39 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 73

A tax policy that aimed to move the USA towards being, say, the 5th most unequal of the rich countries in terms of distribution (which is Israel) rather than the 2nd (Singapore is the most) would help. Arguing not to be more unequal and economically divided than Israel is might make some sense.

Better than tax is when attitudes change and it becomes seen as greedy to ask for more if you already have more than almost everyone else. Bob Diamond (the head of one of our largest banks here) was, in effect, fired a few months ago for being seen to be too greedy.

Being greedy was seen as bad in the 1950s and 1960s.

It is cheaper to pay more equal wages than to pay very unequal wages, tax highly and redistribute.

econobuzz September 2nd, 2012 at 3:42 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 77

I wish I could agree, but I think the evidence of human laziness when given basic sustenance for free is overwhelming.

Does that include children?

Jeremi Suri September 2nd, 2012 at 3:43 pm
In response to Danny Dorling @ 78

I agree there is too much greed and there should be ethics about not always demanding more. That said, one person’s greed is another’s claim to merit. Every scholar I know thinks business CEOs get paid too much, but every scholar will ask for more pay when given the opportunity, even though scholars make much more than the average worker in most societies. Who is being greedy? Who is asking for merit? How do you separate the two?

Jeremi Suri September 2nd, 2012 at 3:44 pm
In response to econobuzz @ 79

YES — my children are lazy about homework unless we make sure they know there are penalties if they do not do it well.

Ludwig September 2nd, 2012 at 3:44 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 75

Very well. Have you gathered one suggestion from Danny’s book which would alleviate the rapacious inequality in the US?

Ludwig September 2nd, 2012 at 3:46 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 80

What’s the statistic? 90% of scholars think they are above average.

Anyway, deep tangents and digressions.

Danny Dorling September 2nd, 2012 at 3:46 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 77

You say “the evidence of human laziness when given basic sustenance for free is overwhelming”. In our schools in the UK for over 100 years we have given many children, often more than one in ten, food for free, it is called free school meals. There is no evidence that these children are more lazy than other children simply because they are not hungry. There is lots of evidence that hungry children do not learn well at school.

The need to use hunger as a weapon to make people work is not that dissimilar to using violence to make them work. There is a very long debate about whether slavery was economically efficient but the argument against slavery was a moral one in the end. The argument for a basic income is a moral one. There happens to be a lot of evidence that countries and cities do well when they look after their citizens. But even it turned out to be more economically efficient to make humans work in fear of starving – would you really want to live in such a place?

Jeremi Suri September 2nd, 2012 at 3:47 pm
In response to Ludwig @ 82

Yes, the book has many excellent points about the need for a fairer tax policy and continued investment in opportunity through public education and other institutions. I am not convinced about the Basic Income.

Jeremi Suri September 2nd, 2012 at 3:48 pm
In response to Danny Dorling @ 84

What would be the results if you gave free food to adults? The same. I doubt it.

econobuzz September 2nd, 2012 at 3:48 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 81

And the implications for income inequality are?

Ludwig September 2nd, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Danny, who are the biggest opponents to equality of outcomes and shouldn’t their protestations be downplayed?

Jeremi Suri September 2nd, 2012 at 3:50 pm
In response to econobuzz @ 87

Equality does not come from handouts.

Watt4Bob September 2nd, 2012 at 3:50 pm

We could make enormous strides if we gave up the worship of the rich and disallowed the bribery of our politicians.

Of course this would most likely result in a return to ‘normal’ levels of taxation on the investor class.

A return to the tax policies of the Eisenhower era would most likely result in peace and prosperity within a decade or two, that is after the civil war provoked by corporate-instigated T-Party outrage.

The answers are simple, the political will is infinitely small.

Danny Dorling September 2nd, 2012 at 3:50 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 81

Do people learn best when they are interested or when they are told they have to learn? By learn I don’t mean pass an exam or get a tick from a teacher for having done their homework. By learn I mean known from first principals how an equation works and why it works, or understand why a particular novel is so well liked. I don’t think people learn that well if they are made to learn rather than being encouraged and interested in learning. You can force a person to “do math” but they’ll never be that good at math if they don’t like math.

Danny Dorling September 2nd, 2012 at 3:51 pm
In response to Watt4Bob @ 90

It must have felt infinitely small in 1936 (the political will). That does not mean it is not enough.

econobuzz September 2nd, 2012 at 3:51 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 89

Is need-based grant aid for higher education a handout?

Jeremi Suri September 2nd, 2012 at 3:53 pm
In response to Watt4Bob @ 90

Well said.

dakine01 September 2nd, 2012 at 3:53 pm

As we come to the last minutes of this Book Salon discussion,

Danny, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon/evening with us discussing your new book and equality. Are there any last comments you would like to make?

Jeremi, Thank you very much for Hosting this excellent Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Danny’s book

Thanks all, Have a great week.

If you would like to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

Jeremi Suri September 2nd, 2012 at 3:54 pm
In response to econobuzz @ 93

Not if you have to show serious efforts at school to maintain access to aid. If you get the aid for drinking and failing classes, then it is a bad thing. If you have to show serious efforts, then the aid can be a very positive incentive and opportunity. I support that.

Ludwig September 2nd, 2012 at 3:54 pm
In response to Danny Dorling @ 84

Well said. The willingness to be punitive “for your own good” is suspect.

Jeremi Suri September 2nd, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Thank you, Danny, Bev, and everyone for a very spirited and interesting discussion. I learned a lot. Thanks!

Watt4Bob September 2nd, 2012 at 3:55 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 85

I am not convinced about the Basic Income.

Funny, historically, there has been much discussion of what used to called a guaranteed annual wage, it was thought a great idea by the elite, but about half the poor always think it a terrible idea.

My guess is the T-Party would be willing to go to war over the very idea.

econobuzz September 2nd, 2012 at 3:55 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 96

If you get the aid for drinking and failing classes, then it is a bad thing.

Now I see where you’re coming from. /s

Danny Dorling September 2nd, 2012 at 3:56 pm
In response to Ludwig @ 88

In the UK Mrs Thatcher and the group around her despised equality of outcome. She influenced a younger group who are currently in power.

They thought that they were more clever than others and they should be rewarded for their ingenuity (and a little for their hard work). They created mass unemployment in the 1980s and the crash by the last decade. But an ideology tends to go on a little after it has failed to do what it was said it would do. Mrs Thatcher said health inequalities in Britain would narrow as a result of her policies by the year 2000. They got much worse. She said people would get richer. Most got more mortgage or other debt. She said share ownership would spread. It didn’t.

Ludwig September 2nd, 2012 at 3:58 pm

Thank you, Danny. I would have preferred that you had to defend a little bit more equality from a lot more, but such was the setup.

Danny Dorling September 2nd, 2012 at 3:58 pm
In response to Jeremi Suri @ 98

Thank you too! Good night :-)

(p.s. give them a treat for doing the homework in an interesting way)

Danny Dorling September 2nd, 2012 at 4:00 pm
In response to Ludwig @ 102

Apologies – a little more equality for many years may work better than a lot more for one year (in the long run). Russia may again be as unequal as in 1917 – but Switzerland is far more equal than it was in 1917…

Ludwig September 2nd, 2012 at 4:02 pm
In response to Danny Dorling @ 101

Thanks. I think capitalism cannot be rectified now and that era was a cynical attempt to rectify it for the few. I don’t think we can turn back.

econobuzz September 2nd, 2012 at 4:06 pm

Our society must develop new mechanisms to incorporate the less advantaged into a dynamic economy, encouraging productivity and public contributions, rather than passivity and dependence.

I find this insulting. But YMMV.

Ludwig September 2nd, 2012 at 4:12 pm
In response to econobuzz @ 106

Of course. It’s the same old 1% propaganda.

econobuzz September 2nd, 2012 at 4:24 pm
In response to Ludwig @ 107

Yes. When so much of the recent increase in inequality is the result of folks having stuff taken from them, the message that we can’t give some of it back without turning them into lazy dependents is obscene.

Kelly Canfield September 2nd, 2012 at 4:31 pm
In response to econobuzz @ 106

Concur. Society needs to find a way to not make so many “less advantaged” for one thing.

The other thing to which I’ll take exception is “passivity and dependence.” That’s just not a correct characterization of people when they are poor and who are poor, for whatever reason.

I’ve been most “on the ball” when I was the most destitute, and know many in that same league. Calculating to the day WHEN you can buy a certain amount of groceries AND pay the rent or electric bill. Not only when I was working poor in the past, but most recently when unemployed, and disadvantaged by AGE fergawdsake, being in that 50 year old class and trying to get a new job.

So – no non no!, engagement and keen calculation is the order of the day for most poor folks, not some crazy thought of “passivity and dependence.”

Watt4Bob September 2nd, 2012 at 4:40 pm
In response to econobuzz @ 108

Totally agree, and I don’t think I’ve seen so much truth said in so few words in a very long time.

nixonclinbushbama September 2nd, 2012 at 11:45 pm

“Our Founding Fathers understood this point when they drafted the Declaration of Independence with the radical statement, in its time: “All men are created equal.”

Wasn’t that written by Jefferson, who not only owned slaves, but assuaged his grief over his dead wife by raping her young, look alike African American half-sister and thereby ended up owning his own children?

Had Jefferson been a more honest bloviator, he would have written that he believed all white colonizers who owned land and could afford to pay poll taxes were equal, whether or not created that way. Because that was what how the Constitution, as originally adopted, said.

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