Larry Arnhart At Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Good Inequality’

Full piece here.

For what it’s worth, in my travels, I often find people who believe ‘inequality’ to be a social or moral harm, to also find ‘equality’ to be a social and moral good, and I’m curious as to how they arrived at such a position.

What does ‘equality’ mean, exactly?

In my experience, people can be wildly unequal in terms of physical and mental abilities, innate capacities and learned skills, life experiences, love and relationship goals, drive and ambition, and of course, pure luck.

We’ve all had some good times, some hard times, some things we’ve fought hard for, sacrificed for, and made a central part of our lives.

Am I gonna make it?  How can I be better to someone I love?  Is what I’m doing with my time worthwhile?

I generally agree with equality under the law as far as the equality of ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,’ goes, but once I start to hear ‘equality’ as an abstract list of ‘rights’, human and otherwise, I find myself occupying a position of skepticism and doubt.

How much equality is enough, exactly?


‘Over 11 percent of Americans will be among the top 1 percent of income-earners (people making a minimum of $332,000 per year) for at least one year in their lives.  94 percent of the Americans who join the top 1 percent group will keep that status for only one year.’

It seems to me that economic mobility and opportunity is one of the greatest strengths and cherished inheritances we share as Americans.

We don’t have to build around the ruins of monarchy, aristocracy, feudal landownership and fixed classes as found in most of Old Europe.  Our founders set us on a glide-path out of such constraints, with a lot of foresight and wisdom.


‘Moreover, the factors that explain higher household incomes among Americans are not fixed over a lifetime, and they are to some degree a matter of personal decisions, which means that people are not forced to remain in one income bracket for their whole lives.  American households with higher than average incomes tend to be households where the members are well-educated, in their prime earning years (between the ages of 35 and 64), working full-time, and are in stable marriages.  Households with lower than average incomes tend to be households where the members are less-educated, outside their prime earning years, unemployed or working only part-time, and they are likely to be unmarried.’

Piketty And Hitchens-Some Saturday Links

Larry Summers via the Democracy Journal has an easily-accessible review of Piketty’s ‘Capital In The Twenty-First Century‘, called ‘The Inequality Puzzle.’

Among other interesting thoughts, there’s this:

‘…there is the basic truth that technology and globalization give greater scope to those with extraordinary entrepreneurial ability, luck, or managerial skill. Think about the contrast between George Eastman, who pioneered fundamental innovations in photography, and Steve Jobs. Jobs had an immediate global market, and the immediate capacity to implement his innovations at very low cost, so he was able to capture a far larger share of their value than Eastman. Correspondingly, while Eastman’s innovations and their dissemination through the Eastman Kodak Co. provided a foundation for a prosperous middle class in Rochester for generations, no comparable impact has been created by Jobs’s innovations’

Addition:  Richard Epstein-Piketty’s Rickety Economics.

Martin Feldstein at the WSJ (behind a paywall)-Piketty’s Numbers Don’t Add Up.

Repost-Revisting Larry Summers: What Did He Say Again?Why Do People Move To Cities? From Falkenblog: ‘The Perennial Urban Allure’

Technotopia And Politics-Jonah Goldberg At The National Review Online: ‘Minimum Wage And The Rise Of The Machines’

Cities should be magnets for creativity and culture? –From The Atlantic: Richard Florida On The Decline Of The Blue-Collar ManFrom Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’… some people don’t want you to have the economic freedom to live in the suburbs: From Foreign Policy: ‘Urban Legends, Why Suburbs, Not Cities, Are The Answer’

Megan McArdle At Bloomberg: ‘Piketty’s Tax Hikes Won’t Help The Middle-Class’…David Harsanyi: ‘What Thomas Piketty’s Popularity Tells Us About The Liberal Press?’

Walter Russell Mead takes a look at the blue model (the old progressive model) from the ground up in NYC to argue that it’s simply not working.  Check out his series at The American Interest.  Technology is changing things rapidly, and maybe, as Charles Murray points out, it’s skewing the field toward high IQ positions while simultaneously getting rid of industrial, managerial, clerical, labor intensive office jobs.  Even so,  we can’t cling to the past.  This is quite a progressive vision but one that embraces change boldly.  Repost-Via Youtube: Conversations With History – Walter Russell Mead

The Hoover Institution Via Youtube: Charles Murray On ‘Coming Apart’

A Few Sunday Thoughts On The Higher Ed Bubble

Walter Russell Mead-‘The Higher Ed Bubble Is Very, Very Real

‘The bubble is something else: high demand for education has combined with an inefficient guild structure (guilds were once the dominant form of economic organization in everything from carpentry to textile weaving; today only a handful survive, mostly in the learned professions) and government price subsidies to create an unsustainable method of service delivery.’

There are a few ways of thinking about what may be in store for higher education.

1.  The old media/new media analogy and technological dislocation-Basically, individuals can have access to much of the college library, and beyond, on a handheld device for a few hundred dollars.  What to do with this access and that knowledge, as well as how and what to think about it will still require pedagogy, rigor, the passing on of knowledge and method, grades, well-ordered minds, time and money.  Information and knowledge aren’t “free”, of course, either for the producers of that knowledge individually nor as members of groups and institutions.  It’s not free ultimately for the technology itself and the curators and gatekeepers of the technology, but it’s much cheaper and easily accessible than before.

How can we deliver an education more efficiently?

The current curators and gatekeepers in our universities and guild structures will feel increasing pressure (and I think many are finding new opportunities) from this technological dislocation.  Professors (publish or perish!) now have greater real time connections with known and previously unknown colleagues, amateurs around the world, past research and thinkers, as well as opportunities to engage students in the classroom.  For motivated students, there will be a chance to get more of what they pay for, targeting their studies and getting more feedback from fellow students, perhaps professors, and other materials.  They can be graded on what they’ve learned more effectively.  It’s a delivery issue.

The old media’s control as gatekeepers and curators of public opinion has been undermined with so much information out there.  They often don’t lead the discussion, but find themselves racing to keep up with it (including cat videos and celebrity gossip).  It’s a delivery issue, and they’ve had to organize their business models around this new marketplace, and the ad revenue models aren’t working like they used to.  Some have got a good thing going and kept it going, while others went down rat holes under bad leadership and disappeared.  Most resisted the change.  All have had to adapt and think hard about what it’s most important to take with them and their duty to communities of readers if for no other reason than to generate revenue, by continuing to shape public opinion.

It’s still an industry in flux.

The housing bubble/higher ed bubble analogy-I happen to believe that when you strip the cost of an education from the consumers of that education, you tend get more irresponsibility on both sides.  There’s a large psychological buy-in that everyone needs to go to college, just like everyone needed to own a home.  It represents some of what is best about America, but when you’ve propped up that dream on unsustainable debt levels, well, it’s unsustainable.

A lot of people are borrowing money they can’t afford to go to college.  It won’t pay off for all of them, especially in this economy, and the debt is non-dischargeable.  Many people don’t even know why they’re in college or aren’t particularly committed to getting an education.  Many people are leaving high school unprepared, and sometimes college.  Colleges have gotten locked into competitive feedback loops to attract students with amenities, and students have gotten locked into competitive feedback loops amongst themselves to get into the best colleges.

No one wants to be left behind.

It might be worthwhile to think again about the core-educational mission.

Related On This Site: Repost: Mark Cuban From His Blog: ‘The Coming Meltdown in College Education & Why The Economy Won’t Get Better Any Time Soon’…From The New Criterion: ‘Higher Ed: An Obituary’,,,Ron Unz At The American Conservative: ‘The Myth Of American Meritocracy’

 Should you get a college degree?  Yes, you probably should, but understand there are many entrenched interests who don’t always have your interests in mind:  Gene Expression On Charles Murray: Does College Really Pay Off?…Charles Murray In The New Criterion: The Age Of Educational Romanticism

The libertarian angle, getting smart, ambitious people off of the degree treadmill:  From The American Interest: Francis Fukuyama Interviews Peter Thiel-’A Conversation With Peter Thiel’ I think it’s going too far, trying to apply libertarian economics onto education, but Milton Friedman on Education is thought-provoking.

A deeper look at what education “ought” to be: A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Allan Bloom had in mind the idea of a true liberal arts education: Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

Repost-Too Much “Quality Control” In Universities?

Here’s a great rant.

“The galling part of this whole process is that it really has no impact on what we and our professors actually do in our classroom. Perhaps I should not say this publicly. The issue is not one of of being opposed to high standards. We already do have high standards. We believe strongly in pedagogy and teaching excellence. The issue is that the assumptions and thought process behind this sort of modeling is fundamentally wrong-headed, diminishing, rather than enhancing education.”

It can sure get in the way if you’re trying to teach or trying to learn.

uploaded by mattbucher

What the cartoon doesn’t touch on is how much “creative types” can get in the way too.

Addition:  I think it’s going too far, trying to apply libertarian economics onto education, but Milton Friedman on Education is thought-provoking.

Related On This Site:  Louis Menand At The New Yorker: ‘Live And Learn: Why We Have College’

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From The Nation Via A & L Daily-‘Back Talk: Martha Nussbaum’

Full piece here.

I don’t always agree, but Nussbaum has thought deeply.   Of J.S. Mill:

“The key notion in making something legally regulable is the notion of a potential harm. If there’s no harm in the offing except a self-chosen one, for Mill that’s just no business of the law.”

She’s quite after decoupling religious moral teaching from the laws of the state, and using Mill to do it.  She has also argued that disgust ought not to be the basis of our laws, and can get in the way of a free and egalitarian society:

“But disgust always has this edgy irrationality about it. It’s a way of fleeing from yourself. Whether it’s useful in evolutionary terms, that I leave to evolutionary scientists. Probably it is. That doesn’t mean that in the law we should rely on it. The imagination of humanity, of course, can be unreliable too. But all we’re really asking is that people see the other people as people.”

You mean see people as ends in themselves, and not means to an end?   It’s a good idea, but I wonder if moral and religious principles aren’t lurking somewhere here in the background, vis a vis Kant, or Darwin, or simply through Mill’s utilatarianism?  I think it’s also reasonable to worry about a potential secular morality developing out of this (evolutionary psychology, neuroscience etc.) that could become secular moralism.   “Humanity” could become a blunt instrument;  a way to keep a free and open society by asking this much of its individual members, but also problematic when it comes to individual liberty and the state.

There are always reasons to be a Stoic.

Yet Nussbaum doesn’t go as far as to argue that morality is based in our feeling:

“I don’t think any emotion should be trusted on its own without being constantly in dialogue with moral principles. At every point, whether it’s anger or fear or any emotion–even compassion, which can, of course, lead you to favor your family against other people–you should always be asking, Is this consistent with the idea of a society of people who are free and equal?”

Jesse Prinz has made those arguments, via David Hume:

An interesting thinker.

Also On This Site: Martha Nussbaum In Dissent–Violence On The Left: Nandigram And The Communists Of West BengalMartha Nussbaum On Eliot Spitzer At The Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionAnother Note On Jesse Prinz’s “Constructive Sentimentalism”

From Bloggingheads: Tamar Szabo Gendler On Philosophy and Cognitive Science

Repost: Martha Nussbaum Channels Roger Williams In The New Republic: The First Founder

And:   A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”A Few Responses To Kant’s Transcendental Idealism

Mill’s Harm Principle Mentioned:

From If-Then Knots: Health Care Is Not A Right…But Then Neither Is Property?

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From The City Journal Via Arts & Letters Daily: ‘Who Needs Mathematicians For Math, Anyway?’

Full article here.

In the City Journal,  you know some of what to expect:  we’ve moved away from our best moral and intellectual traditions in favor of excessive egalitarianism.   Some of the culprits are on the political left and they need to be stopped.

“Some influential educators sought to dismiss the traditional curriculum altogether, viewing it as a white, Christian, heterosexual-male product that unjustly valorized rational, abstract, and categorical thinking over the associative, experience-based, and emotion-laden thinking supposedly more congenial to females and certain minorities.”

This, of course, has some truth to it.  There are a large mass of educrats and vague-thinking do-gooders who can end up seeking a set of political, social and educational goals instead of well…math:

“The math educators’ rising influence over the last few decades is reflected in the content of, or response to, two influential national reports.”

You’ll have to click on the link for those reports.

I would also argue that there seem to be a set of social, cultural and economic reasons that at least India and China (and at least right now) have an advantage. These reasons tie learning mathematics (as the basis for the sciences at least) with a good job and social respect…money…family and national pride…a way out of poverty…a way to get married…etc.

Some will doomsay, but these are very real and difficult problems.

Also On This Site: A Shortage Of Skilled American Workers At Microsoft?

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California Dreamers From The Atlantic-A Brief Review Of Kevin Starr’s History Of California

Full article here.

The national editor of the Atlantic takes a look at Kevin Starr’s latest volume on California.

“California, as he’s argued in earlier volumes, promised “the highest possible life for the middle classes.” It wasn’t a paradise for world-beaters; rather, it offered “a better place for ordinary people.”

Yet, it’s certainly not what it was…:

“Today, reflecting our intensely stratified, increasingly mobile society, California affords the Good Life only to the most gifted and ambitious, regardless of their background. That’s a deeply undemocratic betrayal of California’s dream—and of the promise of American life.”

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