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Racial Inequlity vs. Economic Inequality

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Lani Guinier visited the University of Michigan on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. She gave a speech in which she emphasized that poverty is an issue that must be dealt with alongside of the issue of racism–see Speaker Explores Racism, Poverty Link. She said, “We are not going to solve the problem of racism in this society if we don’t also solve the problems of poverty in this society.”

In this Summer 2002 interview, Guinier makes related points about economic inequality and the “American Dream” that she calls a myth:

    Race still matters even as many more people of color, as individuals, are moving into the middle class. For example, those blacks who are now middle-class in terms of income do not enjoy access to the same wealth as whites who are middle-class. The average net financial assets of middle-class whites is nearly 55 times greater than middle-class blacks earning comparable income. Social mobility, in other words, does not compensate for what Melvin Oliver and Thomas Shapiro call “asset poverty.”
    What this tells us is that race and racism are much more complex phenomena than individual prejudice, individual skin color or individual mobility. Race is more than what you look like and racism is more than what you, as an individual, think or feel about others. Racism is a political, social and economic phenomenon that is used to support a social and economic hierarchy constructed to keep some people “in their place” at the bottom and others on the top. Racism drives the narrative explaining and justifying the stratification of society and ensuing inequities in resource distribution. Unraveling this story involves linking race to power because those in power are telling the story. And the story they tell is designed to hide their power and privilege.
    On the other hand, race is not just about stigma or disadvantage. Race can help us see the persistent contradictions between our espoused values and the dysfunction of many of our democratic institutions; race can help us imagine a more democratic and just society.
    This is because race tracks power. Used as a diagnostic tool, the experiences of people of color render transparent the real factors influencing decisions and policies related to the distribution of resources. These decisions not only disadvantage people of color, they also and predictably disadvantage poor whites, women and other excluded groups as well.
    The “rags to riches” mythology of the American Dream individuates poverty and wealth. Those who work hard and play by the rules get ahead, while those who are lazy or cheat lose. It naturally follows that rich people play by the rules and poor people just don’t have it together to succeed. This is a commonly held emotional truth even if it falls apart with any examination. For instance, although it was true that a large portion (roughly two-thirds) of the very wealthy started out poor in the early 1900s, by the 1970s, only four percent of the wealthiest Americans started out poor. Most working-class and poor whites are unlikely to rise above the status in which they were born–especially as an increasing share of the nation’s wealth is concentrated in fewer hands.
    The American Dream mythology uses race as an explanation for the declining fortunes of middle-class, working-class and poor whites. People, especially politicians, have used race to shift the blame onto blacks or Latinos, or “illegal” immigrants. As beneficiaries of government largesse, these individuals have somehow hijacked the American Dream. But the story doesn’t end there. Having less government means eliminating aid to the undeserving poor (read lazy, primarily people of color). This will reduce the tax-burden on the middleclass and other hard-working (read white) people, allowing them their birthright–getting rich. Thus the truth about our social and economic realities is disguised through a highly racialized account of the American Dream.

These ideas forwarded by Guinier (and by many others) cause me to question the means by which so many address inequality.

I have the impression that most of the activism related to inequality is focused on race. People often address the lopsided spread of certain minorities over the economic spectrum. What it seems that they are actually seeking is a proportionate distribution of wealth in this or that minority group that parallels the proportionate distribution of wealth in the races that are at the top of the economic hierarchy (White, Jewish, Asian, . . .). So the minority group seeks to have the same percentages of its population poor, middle-class, and rich–the same percentages as the mainstream races.

This is a worthy step in the goal of achieving equality. But is it a reasonable end? Is it okay for the world’s most powerful country to have a class of people living in poverty (the numbers are growing, by the way, and, yes, the middle class is disappearing), just so long as this poverty is spread proportionately through all races? Are we only seeking equal inequality?

I don’t mind having rich people as long as they don’t usurp control of our government and lives and as long as we don’t have people living in poverty. My father once told me that you can’t have rich people without having poor people. But our system could be structured to take care of the poor: provide health insurance; decent wages; affordable daycare; safe, quality homes; quality education; equal opportunity; etc. We could do it if we could pry some money out of the hands of the rich. Easier said than done. Besides, some say that we haven’t given the trickle-down theory a chance. Yah, give it some time, and we will have a nation run by a relatively few who control and own the relatively large masses of poor. These “trickle-down” people have been reading too much Ayn Rand. I’ve seen her books pushed like copies of L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics book. There might be a cult connection.

Some will call me a commie. I’m not (I don’t like the concept of central command, but I have already many times pointed out that our current governance by corporations is the same thing as central command. I want freedom and equality). Call me a socialist, maybe–if that is what you call one who seeks a country that does what is necessary to keep its people out of poverty, to keep the standard of living at an acceptable level, to prevent the gap between the rich and the poor from growing to a point where the system becomes de facto slavery, to truly provide all its citizens with the opportunity of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I think that this is what Lani Guinier is talking about.

Ultimately, I would do away with privilege. I have always believed (felt? Sensed?) that we should all start off at the same level, with the same opportunity–a truly level playing field. It should not be that the wealth of one’s parents and of one’s community dictates one’s future opportunities. Children, by race or by economic background, should not have their opportunities limited to becoming a drug dealer, going to prison, joining a gang, taking low-level jobs (yes there are exceptions in our current system, but it is obvious that poor children don’t have the same opportunities–else they wouldn’t be called exceptions, statistical anomalies, outliers, etc.). All of our schools should be equal in quality and funding. I don’t think that parents should be able to pay more money (than poorer parents) so that their children get better educations–which just means that they get a better slot in the hierarchy. Better to have it so young people determine their own place in the hierarchy–without any privilege giving them an advantage. This by no means restricts the potential to have variety in our schools and in the development of our children. If anything, I would make changes to our education system to offer more variety. But the quality of the education provided from school to school should be relatively equal.

We should do away with inheritance. Let the money go to the state. Let each person, on achieving adulthood, after having had an education just as good as any other’s, set out to make his or her own life/career/fortune. I know it’s counter to that parental instinct to provide for one’s children. We should strive to be good parents and provide our children with fulfilling childhoods and happy homes. This does not require money–at least, not in a society that does not allow poverty to exist.

I don’t know what Lani Guinier would say about this last part. Her children (if she has any) will grow up privileged, having an educated mother and living in an upper-class community (I’m assuming here). Of course race would still be a limiting factor, and I seek to do away with those limitations. But I also argue that we do away with economic limitations that hold back children who are raised in poor communities, regardless of race.

In our country, we preach the American Dream of opportunity and equality all of the time. Guinier pointed out how we allow the contradiction of what we preach and what we practice to continue because it masks the corrupt system of privilege that benefits the rich in our country. It hides a system by, of and for the rich. Is this really the American way?

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About Dirtgrain

  • duane

    ” I have always believed (felt? Sensed?) that we should all start off at the same level, with the same opportunity–a truly level playing field. It should not be that the wealth of one’s parents and of one’s community dictates one’s future opportunities. ”

    So then I wouldn’t have to try to excel in my career to guarantee that I can afford to send my son to college? Great! I can slack off then. So can you. So can everybody. That’s the thing that Ayn Rand, whom you so confidently dismiss, had right. As soon as you impose a “to each according to his need” system, those with ability lose their motivation. You seem to think that all people who are successful had their success handed to them on a silver platter. I’m sure there are some like that, but most people work for it. That’s why you have a cool computer, a phone system that works, air conditioning, freeways, a reasonable degree of safety, access to healthy food, running water, and all the other things that you take for granted. Those conveniences come from the hard work of people who are rewarded for their hard work. Get it? And you want them to give it away?! HAHAHAHAHA. Oh, the innocence. Don’t be such a commie.

  • http://dirtgrain.com/weblog Dirtgrain

    You can’t take it with you, Duane, so you’re going to have to give it away, one way or another. I only argue that you not be allowed to give it to your children. They should make their own way in the world, amass their own fortunes. Ayn Rand probably would have liked this last sentence. But she, and you apparently, would not like the idea of eliminating privilege. Are you afraid that you won’t match up well against the rest of us?

    “So then I wouldn’t have to try to excel in my career to guarantee that I can afford to send my son to college? Great! I can slack off then. So can you. So can everybody.”
    I am not sure about motivation when it comes to amassing wealth. It does seem idiotic to assume that a person’s only motivation to be successful is provide privilege to his or her children. What about all of the successful single people in the world? That pretty much dismisses your claim about people slacking off.

    “You seem to think that all people who are successful had their success handed to them on a silver platter. I’m sure there are some like that, but most people work for it.”
    We really should have some statistics to forward this argument. I’m thinking a large majority of the rich come from privileged backgrounds–it’s obvious. So I don’t know what you are talking about. I do not say that privileged people do not work hard, and I think many privileged people contribute to our society. That in no way justifies their privileges and advantages in life.

    “Those conveniences come from the hard work of people who are rewarded for their hard work.”
    Where do I say that people should not be rewarded for their work? You must re-read my post. There is nothing commie about it. I have no problem with a free market and people achieving success and wealth–just so long as all start out in life with an equal opportunity, and so long as we avoid conditions of poverty for others.

  • duane

    Good comebacks, Dirtgrain. Very interesting topic. I would like to respond to all of your queries by the end of the day. But first, you said,

    “But she, and you apparently, would not like the idea of eliminating privilege. Are you afraid that you won’t match up well against the rest of us?”

    This sounds like a vaguely personal attack. What is it that you’re trying to imply?

  • http://dirtgrain.com/weblog Dirtgrain

    I apologize for any offense. It is not meant as a personal attack, and I didn’t mean imply wimpiness or anything. I just wonder if people who cling to a system of privilege are fearful that they–or their children–will not be competent enough to succeed in an equal opportunity, competitive system. You were right in your first response that I have myself benefited from privilege. I would give it all away for a chance to partake in a truly competitive system–it sounds like fun to me. It sounds like a system that would motivate a lot more people than our current system which is rife with privilege, cronyism, and socio-economic biases.

  • http://macaronies.blogspot.com Mac Diva

    Duane is wrong about this. Most people remain in the same economic class they were born into. In the U.S., the flux is less than 20 percent, and is as likely to be downward as upward. So, if someone has the requisite house in the suburbs, 9-to-5 job that doesn’t force him to get dirty and and IRA, it is usually directly tied to his parents having been middle-class, and his grandparents, too. Does that mean that hard work has nothing to do with success? No. But, it does mean that being born into a middle-class family, with the advantages that provides, is a much more accurate predictor of success than ‘hard work.’ Poor people who work very hard for low wages or who can’t afford educations do not become middle-class.

  • duane

    I think we are having some issues with definition here. When Dirtgrain refers to “the rich” and I refer to “people who are successful,” we’re probably talking about two different groups. I’m not talking about “the rich.” I don’t identify with the concept of amassing a fortune. I won’t be doing that. But I am successful, and part of the reason I want to be successful is to provide my son with opportunities. That’s what my parents did for me, and now I am making useful contributions to society. If you want to call that “privilege,” so be it. It has had a positive result in my case. My son will not benefit from a massive inheritance. However, my success has helped me to know about opportunities, and to have the time and inclination to instill in my son a sense of wonder, a desire to find out about the world, and a sense of optimism. That’s what he inherits from me.

    Off the topic somewhat, I realize.

  • Eric Olsen

    By eliminating inheritance, all you would do is force people to give it away before they die. The state wouldn’t get any more than they do now, and probably less.

  • duane

    MacD says, “Does that mean that hard work has nothing to do with success? No. But, it does mean that being born into a middle-class family, with the advantages that provides, is a much more accurate predictor of success than ‘hard work.’ ”

    I have worked as a roofer, gas station attendant, fast food cook, busboy, warehouse shipping clerk, dishwasher, housing construction flunkie, rock guitarist, club guitarist, chemistry tutor, lab technician, teaching assistant, physicist. I sure as hell have gotten my hands dirty along the way. I was in college for 12 years in the meantime, after which I recieved my PhD (Berkeley 92). You wanna talk about some hard work? I paid my way all the way.

    Again, probably off the main topic.

  • http://macaronies.blogspot.com Mac Diva

    Not off the main topic. The average middle-class person never has the experiences you had, Duane. Many of them start scoring prizes they didn’t work for as early as high school, such as brand new sports cars. My concern here is equating being poor with laziness and not being poor with hard work. The relationship isn’t necessarily so. If anything, the poor work harder in the sense of using up energy and damaging their bodies.

  • http://www.viewpointjournal.com David Flanagan

    Are we only seeking equal inequality?

    I think its a great question. The issue of race, racism, and inequality is far more complex than most of us would like to imagine. Its certainly one of the issues that conservatives often like to oversimplify, especially on the ever-popular radio talk shows.

    Its not a simple issue and there is no simple fix. The difficulty is that, as a society, we have to take a long hard, and honest look in the mirror. We don’t want to look because what we’ll see when we do look will, without a doubt, scare the hell out of us. At least, it works that way for me.

    David Flanagan

  • debbie

    “…I want freedom and equality). Call me a socialist, maybe–if that is what you call one who seeks a country that does what is necessary to keep its people out of poverty, to keep the standard of living at an acceptable level, to prevent the gap between the rich and the poor from growing to a point where the system becomes de facto slavery, to truly provide all its citizens with the opportunity of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

    Who doesn’t want freedom and equality? How many of our citizens have starved to death from poverty lately? We have the ‘richest’ poor people in the world. If they are sick they show up at free clinics and hospitals and get treated. They have the ‘opportunity’ to pursue any career they want to, with all of the financial aid, grants, scholorships, and student loans anybody can go to school.

    Who gets to decide how much is enough and how much is ‘too much’? Why should you get to tell me how much I’m ‘allowed’ to make? If I put my ‘blood, sweat and tears’ into a business, do the research and develop a working business model filling a need in my community – who the ‘heck’ are you to tell me that I’m only allowed to make x amount of dollars and if I make any more you are going to take it away? Do you know what that does to initiative? Once I made my x amount of dollars, I would just shut down. Why work for free? If there isn’t going to be much difference between poverty and priviledge why would I work at all?

    “…that we should all start off at the same level, with the same opportunity–a truly level playing field.”

    Impossible. We are not equal, we have various limitations. Some of us can’t see, or hear, or walk, some are emotionally or mentally disabled. There is not way to level out the playing field. We all have different talents and areas that we excel in.

    “We should do away with inheritance. Let the money go to the state. ”

    You are free to do what ever you want with your money. If you want to burn it I wouldn’t care. I do have a problem when you tell me what I can do with the money ‘I’ earned. If I was intelligent enough to earn it I’m intelligent enough to dispose of it the way I see fit. I couldn’t care less if it is the way you would dispose of yours or not. I have a real problem with someone telling me what I have to do with the money that I worked for.

    “That in no way justifies their privileges and advantages in life.”

    Why should they have to ‘justify’ anything?

    Mac,

    “The average middle-class person never has the experiences you had, Duane. Many of them start scoring prizes they didn’t work for as early as high school, such as brand new sports cars.”

    Holy smoke, new sports cars….what do you consider ‘average middle class’????
    I must not even be ‘average middle class’. ;~)

  • http://macaronies.blogspot.com Mac Diva

    That is indeed, possible. But, if you visit a high school in an affluent suburb, you will see quite a few expensive cars in the parking lot. You will also see some real beaters. They belong to the teachers.

  • http://www.blogbloke.com BB

    I have travelled the world and if I have learned anything poverty comes in all races, colors, creeds, religions and cultures. We must look at the problem color blind – not through rose-colored glasses or we will forever be bickering over political agendas.

  • Eric Olsen

    I’ve traveled the world and the seven seas – everybody’s looking for something.

  • JR

    I’m just looking for the bridge.

  • http://dirtgrain.com/weblog Dirtgrain

    Yes, Eric, if all we did was stop inheritance, people would find other ways to pass their money on. I would propose measures to stop this. As for the details, I have not thoroughly laid them out. In this post, I only wanted to present the concept for discussion–it really does make sense to me. “Equal opportunity” and “making your own way in the world” (individualism) seem to be essential to American identity–in theory. But our system is so far away from this in practice. Of course, to be realistic, I should acknowledge that we have governmental measures in place to limit monetary amounts in gifts and to tax the rich and their corporations fairly. The rich continually find loopholes to get around these measures (e.g., tax shelters in other countries). I’m not going to be an idiot and say something like, “We should have a government without corruption.” That is clearly wishful thinking. But we can strive for an uncorrupt government in which the system works relatively as it was designed. We can impose a cessation of the system of inheritance and privilege and be relatively successful. The details would be tricky to hash out, though (what about people marrying others so that money will be passed to them upon death? Or what about parents who die when their children are not yet adults–what happens to the money and the children?).

    Duane, I agree with what you say here: “[M]y success has helped me to know about opportunities, and to have the time and inclination to instill in my son a sense of wonder, a desire to find out about the world, and a sense of optimism. That’s what he inherits from me.” If we had a system of equal opportunity and without privilege, then this would be what parents do for their children. We would try to help our children grow into capable, compassionate, intelligent human beings, but our help wouldn’t be based on money or monetary privilege (outside of the lifestyle provided while the children are being raised)–it would be based on how we treat, teach, and raise our children and how we model for them.

    Debbie, I’m not so sure that you have a right to “own” “your” money–at least not when it reaches the point of ridiculous sums–and at least when it comes time for you to die. I don’t see what it is that Donald Trump does for the world so well that he deserves the ridiculous sums of money that he has. We live in a corrupt system in which relatively few people are controlling ridiculously large amounts of money: money that they can’t even spend in their lifetimes. It’s getting worse. Follow the expanding gap between the rich and the poor out to the extreme, a world in which one person owns almost all of the wealth while everybody else works as slaves for him or her, earning diddly squat. Even if this supremely wealthy person had worked very hard for his or her money, does he or she deserve it? Large amounts of money accumulated by one individual equals power–power over people. In the past, when the gap has become too ridiculous, the people have rebelled. By getting rid of the system of privilege and inheritance, I think we would address that gap between the rich and the poor. I think it wouldn’t be so severe.

    This relates to Diva’s point. Does Donald Trump really work harder than an overtime-working garbage man? Even so, I didn’t propose that we take Trump’s money away from him. I would let the free market operate as it would–except that our government takes measures to prevent people from living in the conditions of poverty. I only propose that those like Trump not be able to pass on their wealth to someone else. When you are dead, you can’t own anything. The last shirt has no pockets.

    In our current system, I don’t begrudge anybody their right to provide privilege for their children. There is so much corruption, privilege, cronyism, racism and class discrimination out there that the reality is that if you don’t struggle to get your children ahead, they will likely fall behind–the system holding them back unfairly. But if the system could be changed. . .

    Debbie says: “Who gets to decide how much is enough and how much is ‘too much’? Why should you get to tell me how much I’m ‘allowed’ to make? If I put my ‘blood, sweat and tears’ into a business, do the research and develop a working business model filling a need in my community – who the ‘heck’ are you to tell me that I’m only allowed to make x amount of dollars and if I make any more you are going to take it away?”
    You put your blood, sweat and tears into your business. You say that your hard work is a justification of your wealth. By your reasoning, your kids should not inherit your wealth. They did not earn it; they did not go through blood, sweat and tears.

    As for your doubts about poverty, you need to take a walk through Detroit. Or East Saint Louis. Or the Mississippi Delta. You may say that we have the richest poor people in the world, but that means nothing. People die all of the time in this country due to the conditions of poverty. I think that there is a minimum standard of living that we could all basically agree on. Many people in America grow up and live well below this standard. You are not saying, “tough shit,” are you? Poverty is a condition of living. When children are growing up in smog-infested, disease-infested, bug-infested, drug-infested, crime-infested homes and neighborhoods, is that okay? Is it okay that children are neglected, malnourished, abused, poorly clothed and poorly educated? Is okay that they see their futures as hopeless? These are conditions of poverty.

    Debbie says: “If they are sick they show up at free clinics and hospitals and get treated. They have the ‘opportunity’ to pursue any career they want to, with all of the financial aid, grants, scholorships, and student loans anybody can go to school.”
    Debbie, you need to get yourself to a poor neighborhood ASAP. Ask some of the poor about their opportunities. Ask them about all of the financial aid, grants, scholarships and loans that they could have gotten. There are such programs, but they don’t come close to addressing the system’s lack of equal opportunity in our country. Ask their children about their future opportunities. You would be shocked by their answers.

    Debbie says: “Impossible. We are not equal, we have various limitations. Some of us can’t see, or hear, or walk, some are emotionally or mentally disabled. There is not way to level out the playing field. We all have different talents and areas that we excel in.”
    I don’t see the connection with ending economic privilege. I’m talking about external socio-economic factors–not internal human traits.

    Debbie, I ask you, are you afraid that your children won’t stack up against the rest of the world if the system of economic privilege and inheritance is eliminated? What are you afraid of?

  • Eric Olsen

    I have a certain sympathy for this kind of concept and on the surface it seems reasonable, but the more I have thought about it, limiting inheritance has been achieved by taxation – which is never to going to get more “fair” than it is now, there will always be loopholes – and the general discourse is running the OTHER way, with Bush’s “death tax” striking a chord across the political spectrum.

    As you yourself say, what about the spouse or orphaned children? People will NEVER go along with limiting what the spouse gets – beyond taxation, that is, and that is heading the OTHER way – or what orphaned minors get, and ultimately, how is it the right of the state to tell me what I can or cannot give to my children?

    As Duane said earlier, for a lot of people that is their driving force for creating wealth in the first place. And whatever limits you would set on gifts would be easily circumvented any number of ways, just as campaign finance laws are circumvented now.

    Is it fair that there would be such a disparity between what the wealthy and the poor leave to their heris? No, but it is the job of government to ensure fairness of opportunity, not fairness of result.

  • http://www.shortstrangetrip.org Joe

    Pretty interesting points, but inherited wealth only applies to a small percentage people (something like 1.6% of the population inheriting more than $100K and 91 percent inheriting nothing) and eliminating it to spread the wealth would probably have a less of of impact than your Utopian vision requires for actualization.

    Why do you keep insinuating that people are concerned that there kids won’t stack up against the rest of the world? Are you a parent yourself? If you are, I can’t see how you wouldn’t see that as insulting.

  • debbie

    Dirtgrain,

    “By your reasoning, your kids should not inherit your wealth. They did not earn it; they did not go through blood, sweat and tears.”

    That is not even close to what I said, I said if I worked for it I should be able to do what I want with it.

    “Debbie, I’m not so sure that you have a right to “own” “your” money–at least not when it reaches the point of ridiculous sums–and at least when it comes time for you to die.”

    That is the problem, what you may consider a ridiculous sum may not be ridiculous to someone else. Who gets to make that determination? What happens to the money that is ‘taken’ after a person dies? What about personal property? Who gets to decide who it goes to? Doesn’t that create ‘POWER’ for the person in charge of who gets the money? Why is this ok? Would this have any effect on the economy? If I have a sucessfull business and figure out that I could retire at the age of 35 and live comfortably, why would I continue to work? If I closed down the business, what would happen to my employees? What is the point of continuing to build up a business that I can’t pass down to my children?

    Once again, if I earned it why can’t I decide who to leave it to?

    I fully believe in a saftey net for our citizens. I also believe there should be a limit, it cannot be given forever (unless the person is incapable of working). There aren’t community colleges in these cities? There aren’t student loans, grants, scholorships, and financial aid available in these cities? Some of the responsibility lands in their own lap, they have to make the sacrifices, they have to make the effort. They have to learn to make good decisions, they have to decide to live a life without drugs, to learn as much as they can in school and not drop out.

    I’ve been in poor neighborhoods, housing projects, etc. I’ve worked in them and I can tell you one thing. You can tell who is going to get out of them and who isn’t just by their attitude. On one hand you have the person that is applying at college and taking classes, taking advantage of free tutoring, etc and making sacrifices for their future. These are the mothers that make their kids do their homework, these are the mothers that know where their kids are and dicipline them when they get out of line.

    On the other hand you have the ‘bitter’ person that just sees themselves as ‘victims’ and they don’t do anything but lament how everybody else is responsible for their predicament. They don’t apply for loans, they don’t try to get their GED, they don’t make their kids do homework or even go to school. Their kids are running the ‘hood’ at 2:00 am and mom doesn’t have a clue where they are.

    Guess which one is more apt to leave poverty?

    “You put your blood, sweat and tears into your business. You say that your hard work is a justification of your wealth. By your reasoning, your kids should not inherit your wealth. They did not earn it; they did not go through blood, sweat and tears.”

    How do you know what they might have gone through while the business was being built up? Maybe they were required to make some sacrifices too. Maybe they had to work in the ‘family’ business after school and on weekends. And what happens to the business? Does that get taken away from the family too?

    There are too many people that have come out of these neighborhoods and done well for themselves to just say that it’s hopeless. They may need a helping hand, (such as the programs to assist in job training and schooling) but they can escape that type of poverty.

    I don’t think that you are getting ‘that there is always going to be poverty because there are people that don’t have any initiative to do anything unless they have to’. The more you give them, the more they demand. You can’t tell me that you haven’t met anybody like that.

    I’m sick of the ‘class warfare’, I’m not rich, I work 40 hours a week. I don’t have the time to worry about how much other people make. I’m too busy working and taking care of my family. I don’t care what Donald Trump makes, or what he does with his money when he dies.

    He pays taxes, he invests heavily in our economy, he employs people. If you take away his reason to continue working and producing jobs (ie leaving it to his children) what would prevent him from blowing up his buildings and shutting down? Then what?

    “I don’t see the connection with ending economic privilege. I’m talking about external socio-economic factors–not internal human traits.”

    You don’t see how your limitations may limit your earning potential? The people that make it big will always have an advantage, they will be able to afford private tutors, etc for theis kids. Their kids will already get a head start. There is no way to level the playing field, it is impossible. Communism thought they could and found that it breads worse curruption than anything else because it gave the government all the power over lives of it’s citizens.

  • debbie

    That should read ‘it breeds not it breads’.

  • http://dirtgrain.com/weblog Dirtgrain

    Eric, I won’t pretend that it is a likely scenario. I do think a system could be achieved if it were a commonly sought after ideal (equal opportunity and no inheritance). The idea is worth considering, if only in theory, though. It forces one to re-evaluate the scheme of things. I think that motivation for success would not be a problem in such a system. In fact, I would say that a lot of people are de-motivated by the privilege and unequal opportunity in the current system. If opportunity were equalized, then I think a lot of people would feel the chains of unfairness lifted. There would be more competition and more confidence in individuals.

    As for inheritance being the driving force for people to build up wealth, I’m not sure. Plenty of single people become wealthy. It could be that children have little to do with the motivation to succeed and become wealthy. I don’t see a parallel in the animal kingdom or in world of humans before the invention of wealth. It is an instinct to care for your children and to try to help them succeed, but I don’t think building up wealth to pass on to future generations is a natural instinct (wealth is not a naturally occurring concept). What is passed on is the type of thing that Duane was talking about.

    Joe, I don’t see how the question is insulting. Simply answer, “no, I’m not afraid that my children will succeed on an socio-economically even playing field.” In no way do I condemn those who provide privilege for their children in the current system. I already said, “In our current system, I don’t begrudge anybody their right to provide privilege for their children. There is so much corruption, privilege, cronyism, racism and class discrimination out there that the reality is that if you don’t struggle to get your children ahead, they will likely fall behind–the system holding them back unfairly.” I also don’t believe that 91 percent of people inherit nothing in their lifetimes. What is your source? The 1.6 percent inheriting $100,000 or more sounds plausible–but I don’t know.

    Of course some people think that we already have an equal opportunity system. Some people, like Debbie, think that poor people have just as much a chance at being successful as George W. Bush or Al Gore. Oh yah, when was the last time that we had a poor president?

    Debbie:
    On the “blood, sweat and tears” issue, it is what you said:

      “Who gets to decide how much is enough and how much is ‘too much’? Why should you get to tell me how much I’m ‘allowed’ to make? If I put my ‘blood, sweat and tears’ into a business, do the research and develop a working business model filling a need in my community – who the ‘heck’ are you to tell me that I’m only allowed to make x amount of dollars and if I make any more you are going to take it away?”

    I think this means that you are claiming that your hard work justifies the amount of wealth that you acquire. I admit that it is clear that you are talking from the perspective of the parent. But you have to apply the same logic to the perspective of the children.

    They did not earn your wealth. Hardship? Sacrifice? I argued for the elimination of poverty conditions in our system. As for any other types of hardships and sacrifices of the children, you say, “Maybe they had to work in the ‘family’ business after school and on weekends.” I’m not seeing the sacrifice in this–unless you are proposing a violation of child labor laws. I worked jobs as a kid from a newspaper deliverer to a grocery bagger. I put in plenty of hours. I got paid. The kids in your example would get paid, too. They could work and get paid after their parents have died. But why do they deserve the advantage of inheriting their parents’ wealth over other people? I don’t see the justification.

    Debbie said: “That is the problem, what you may consider a ridiculous sum may not be ridiculous to someone else. Who gets to make that determination?”
    I say that the people, collectively, should be allowed to make that decision through the power of government. You did ignore my extreme example of one person controlling virtually all of the wealth. What does the wealth represent in this hypothetical situation? Slavery.

    “What happens to the money that is ‘taken’ after a person dies?”
    The government redistributes it. Maybe we could eliminate taxes altogether if the government can get its funding from inheritance.

    “What about personal property?”
    Good question. Garage sale?

    “Who gets to decide who it goes to?”
    Sell it.

    “Doesn’t that create ‘POWER’ for the person in charge of who gets the money?”
    The government is the power of the people–ideally.

    “Why is this ok?”
    Majority rules. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Solidarity!

    “Would this have any effect on the economy?”
    Good question. I have no clue what would happen to the stock market or company ownership. I do believe that things would become more competitive and that we would reach greater heights.

    “If I have a sucessfull business and figure out that I could retire at the age of 35 and live comfortably, why would I continue to work?”
    Why would we need you to keep working?

    “If I closed down the business, what would happen to my employees?”
    Why does the business have to be closed down?

    “What is the point of continuing to build up a business that I can’t pass down to my children?”
    Plenty of people succeed without having to have heirs to whom they will pass on their wealth. See the beginning of this comment.

    “Some of the responsibility lands in their own lap.” This is a common conservative attitude in regards to poverty–an attitude often coupled with the “victim” crap that you mentioned. Are you claiming that poverty is all based on a victim mentality? The people of Detroit (the poor majority) are all just a bunch of lazy, bitter quitters? You need to look at the big picture. This is a huge topic. So many factors at a larger scale need to be considered.

    And then you come with the following:

      “I don’t think that you are getting ‘that there is always going to be poverty because there are people that don’t have any initiative to do anything unless they have to’. The more you give them, the more they demand. You can’t tell me that you haven’t met anybody like that.”

    Are you going to get into genetic predisposition and racial inferiority next? Detroit is 83 percent Black. Twenty percent of the entire city of Detroit lives in poverty. That is a lot of Black people living in poverty. I know that I am making a leap from what you said, but aren’t you basically saying that they are in poverty because they “don’t have any initiative,” because “the more you give them, the more they demand,” because they are “bitter,” because they see “themselves as ‘victims,'” and because “they don’t do anything but lament how everybody else is responsible for their predicament.” You add that they “don’t apply for loans, they don’t try to get their GED, they don’t make their kids do homework or even go to school. Their kids are running the ‘hood’ at 2:00 am and mom doesn’t have a clue where they are.” How do you account for the disproportionate amount of minorities who live in poverty? If you answer with this “victim” crap, it becomes racist. Can you come up with some other reasons for why this inequality exists? Please.

    On Debbie’s last comment, I never claimed that an individual’s limitations wouldn’t affect his or her performance in a competitive system. The limitations that you listed were things that we have no control over (“Some of us can’t see, or hear, or walk, some are emotionally or mentally disabled”). There are external factors that we can control in order to give people equal opportunity. Just because a person has physical limitations, does that mean that we should throw out the concept of equal opportunity? I don’t see a logical connection.

  • http://www.shortstrangetrip.org Joe

    Here’s the article I was basing that on. I was going from memory so I was .9% off. I suppose I misinterpreted your question about about parents worrying if their kids could make it. I read it more as a taunt in the vein of “What’s the the matter, chicken?” That’s why I was asking if you were a parent to help clarify what your perspective is.

  • http://macaronies.blogspot.com Mac Diva

    That article is misleading. They are looking at testamentary tranfers of money only. Most transfers of money and property occur while the donors are alive. Some transfers are direct, including quit claims to property, others masked by trusts or other legal vehicles, such as special accounts for higher education.

    In the middle-class, instead of the tiny elite that owns more than 50 percent of assets in the United States, the donations can look small, but be quite meaningful. For example, many low-income people are limited in where they can work or go to school because the can’t afford cars and mass transit takes too long. The middle-class parent who passes on her used car to her daughter so the youth can get to school or work is confering a huge benefit in comparison. It is a series of factors like this that maintains middle-class people in their birth class.

  • http://www.shortstrangetrip.org Joe

    No. The discussion was inheritance, which DG explicitly called for doing away with. If he’d like to expand the scope of the discussion to other transfers of property I’d certainly be interested in examining that as well.

  • http://macaronies.blogspot.com Mac Diva

    But, if they’ve given it all away by the time they die then the wealth has been passed on.

  • http://www.shortstrangetrip.org Joe

    I guess that would make doing away with inhertances pretty pointless then.

  • http://macaronies.blogspot.com Mac Diva

    No. Reforms have to start somewhere.

    My current project in this area is making people aware of the Bush administration’s likely plan to dismember Head Start. They are still claiming they want to help poor children by testing four-year-olds, but it will not be long before their real intentions emerge from the pretext.

  • http://www.shortstrangetrip.org Joe

    Seems a pretty ineffective way of going about it, given the number of ways to get around it anyway. Just my opinion, of course.

  • debbie

    “You did ignore my extreme example of one person controlling virtually all of the wealth. What does the wealth represent in this hypothetical situation? Slavery.”

    That’s because it is a ‘ridiculous’ example.

    “But why do they deserve the advantage of inheriting their parents’ wealth over other people? I don’t see the justification.”

    Because that is who the parents want to leave it to. The parents ‘being the ones that earned it’ want to decide who to give it to. It’s not that difficult to understand, if I am competent enough to work and earn the money I am competent enough to decide what to do with it. You didn’t earn my money, you should not have a say in how it is spent, or who it is given to. If you want to give away money, give yours away. I won’t question what you do with your money, because you earned it and you can spend it any way that you want to.

    “I say that the people, collectively, should be allowed to make that decision through the power of government.” This was in response to who gets to determine how much is enough. We can’t get 100 people to agree on something let alone 250 million.

    “The government is the power of the people–ideally.”

    I hope you aren’t overdosing on your kool-aid.

    “”What about personal property?”
    Good question. Garage sale?”

    Oh, so nobody would be able to have family heirlooms either…. right!

    Majority rules. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Solidarity!”

    Just remember some of the things that majority has ruled on before….are you sure you want that? That can be enforced in many different areas, are you really advocating that?

    I don’t have time to finish this right now, I’ll check back in later

  • duane

    “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Yuk. That’s not a line from Spock, is it? Look, even on Star Trek, this sentiment is clearly anathema to running a starship. (Bear with me here. I’m not a trekkie.) Or, to look at it in a slightly deeper way, the needs of the many, i.e., the crew, create a situation in which it is in their best interest to keep the elite members of the crew alive and well. If the needs of the elite are sacrificed, then the whole ship turns into a ball of plasma, right? It has always been thus. Look at football. The quarterback must be protected. Look at a corporation. The CEO must exist in an environment in which he can preserve and nurture the whole structure, or a lot of people lose their jobs. Look at government leaders. They get to go underground with their families if we get nuked, because they would be our best hope of restoring the infrastructure. Yes, I’m an elitist. That doesn’t mean that I think I’m a member of the elite. It means that I am glad to have an elite. That’s what drives the country forward, so the rest of us have the luxury of watching Superbowl halftime shows. Part of being a member of the elite is to get paid a lot of money. That’s fine with me. I love the fact that our celebs make millions of dollars. Do you think they have a celebrity class in Myanmar? Hell, no. Now, who do I think the elite are? Well, I’ll save that for another time. I just wanted to take issue with your claim about “the many.” You’re talking socialism again. It won’t work, because it flies in the face of Human Nature.

  • Eric Olsen

    Man, Duane is singing the song of truth here. Socialism only works in the minimal form of a safety net, and it works best when it contributes least: is there anyone left who says wefare reform hasn’t been better for society as whole? “We care about you, now get some education, some training and get a fucking job” works much better than “we care about you and we will support you forever no matter what you do or don’t do.” It’s just human nature to take advantage of a free ride. And it is a counterincentive to tell people they can’t give their own money to whoever they want: forced redistribution beyond taxes to run the government and make sure no one starves simply doesn’t work.

  • JR

    The CEO must exist in an environment in which he can preserve and nurture the whole structure, or a lot of people lose their jobs. Look at government leaders. They get to go underground with their families if we get nuked, because they would be our best hope of restoring the infrastructure.

    I disagree. The leaders’ job is to manage the people who maintain the infrastructure. Without the people, the managers are useless, infrastructure or no.

    If we get nuked, we need to send the engineers and laborers underground so that they can rebuild the infrastructure. Then they can appoint new managers (hopefully managers who don’t get civilization destroyed again).

  • duane

    “Without the people, the managers are useless, infrastructure or no.” No doubt that’s true. It is a symbiotic relationship. But somewhere in our deep dark past, Og, the caveman, or Beatrice, the cavewoman, said, “Hey, we could stop wandering the tundra hunting baby mammoths if we could figure out how to systematically plant crops so that we had a steady and predictable crop yield. Hell, that might even lead to things like cities, factories, and Stratocasters. Whaddaya say?” Og and Beatrice were the spark plugs that drove things forward. If they had happened to get their skulls punctured by sabre-toothed tiger fangs, we would still be shitting in the woods. Yes, without the backs and hands of laborers to tend the fields, the idea goes nowhere — that’s the symbiosis. But the idea and the ability to manage the workers is something left only for “the few.” Maybe not in principle. But, in practice, that’s the way things have always been.

    “If we get nuked, we need to send the engineers and laborers underground so that they can rebuild the infrastructure.” Agreed. Did you ever read the SF novel “Lucifer’s Hammer”? Similar idea there. You might like it, JR.

  • debbie

    “Good question. I have no clue what would happen to the stock market or company ownership. I do believe that things would become more competitive and that we would reach greater heights.”

    I’m not sure I agree with that analogy, that would mean that investment money in stocks and bonds, which funds our businesses which employs our people would constantly be in a state of flux. Everytime a shareholder died the money would be yanked out of the business.
    Doesn’t sound like a working plan to me…

    “”If I closed down the business, what would happen to my employees?”
    Why does the business have to be closed down?”

    Selling it wouldn’t profit me any, and I can’t give it to who “I” want to give it too. Why wouldn’t it be closed down? If it wasn’t closed down, how does the ‘government’ get to decide who gets what businesses?

    “”What is the point of continuing to build up a business that I can’t pass down to my children?”
    Plenty of people succeed without having to have heirs to whom they will pass on their wealth. See the beginning of this comment.”

    But they still get to leave it to the person of their ‘choice’ whether it is a friend or a charity. They still get to decide what is done with their assets.

    “I don’t think that you are getting ‘that there is always going to be poverty because there are people that don’t have any initiative to do anything unless they have to’. The more you give them, the more they demand. You can’t tell me that you haven’t met anybody like that.”

    Where is race mentioned in that paragraph? Taking the path of least resistance is a ‘human condition’ not a racial condition. If there isn’t a difference in the style of living between working people and ‘poor’ people – who would work? If I can be just as well off as the person working 40 hours a week – why would I?

    Welfare was a good idea governed by bad policy. It should never have been an unlimited time frame, it should have included financial aid for schooling and job training.

    “There are external factors that we can control in order to give people equal opportunity. Just because a person has physical limitations, does that mean that we should throw out the concept of equal opportunity?”

    Equal opportunity is what? Like I said before, you will never level the playing field. If I am successful and wealthy, my kids will still be able to receive a better education because I may be able to afford tutors to give them one on one attention. There isn’t a way to control the wealth unless you make it a communist country – then the government controls everything. But of course it would be for your best interest, right? Not – absolute authority breeds corruption at levels that would make our government blush – and that’s saying a bunch.

  • http://dirtgrain.com/weblog Dirtgrain

    Debbie said: “That’s because it is a ‘ridiculous’ example.”
    It’s nice to simply label something “ridiculous” without explaining why. I’ll tell you why it is a good hypothetical example. There is an obvious answer to the question of whether we should allow a system where one person virtually controls all of the wealth while the rest of the population has diddly squat. The answer is that we should not allow that hypothetical situation to be realized. This means that there is a point at which we can say that too few people control too much of the world’s wealth. It is not a binary, yes-or-no issue. It floats on a spectrum. But at some point, it becomes intolerable. It should be up to the people to decide.

    You keep looking from the perspective of the parent, saying that he or she should be free to give that money to whomever he or she deems worthy. It almost sounds like a god complex. What about reverence? People who have made a lot of money aren’t gods, and I’m not so sure that they should be trusted to decide where their wealth should go after they die. Kenneth Lay is a good example. He was “competent enough to work and earn the money,” as you say.

    Look at it from the perspective of the offspring. They don’t deserve that money any more than any other person (you have yet to address this). They haven’t done anything to earn it. When you look at the big picture, it’s completely unfair. Yah, I know, who says it’s supposed to be fair? I do. I think that the foundational documents of our government say things about equal opportunity (Eric just posted about Brown vs. the Board of Education). Why do your children need and deserve your wealth? Do you claim that they should have an unfair advantage over the majority of society? What is so scary about a socio-economically level playing field? Will somebody answer this question?!? Your kids will be fine.

    Debbie says, “You didn’t earn my money, you should not have a say in how it is spent, or who it is given to.” Don’t overlook what that money represents. Look at the hypothetical situation in which the wealth becomes too unbalanced. We do so have a say.

    Debbie says, “We can’t get 100 people to agree on something let alone 250 million.” We, as a country, have made all sorts of decisions based on the collective will of the majority (again, look at the Civil Rights Movement). Our government is supposed to be doing this every day. I’ll be the first to admit that there is corruption and that our government does not always serve the interests of the majority (that we still have telemarketing is a good example–nobody I know wants to have telemarketers calling their homes). Majority rules is a concept on which this country was founded.

    Kool-aid? Debbie, I think you’re overdosing on Snapple.

    Debbie made a good point about family heirlooms. I don’t know what to say about this. For poor people, often there aren’t monetarily valuable things to be inherited. Maybe there should be a money limit. What about a person who wants a valuable object that belonged to their parents because it has sentimental value? I don’t know. If it’s a Faberge egg, then maybe they can’t keep it. Can we distinguish between someone valuing something for its sentimentality as opposed to its monetary value? I won’t feel too sorry for someone who is sentimental about their parents’ 50 million dollar house. I recently blogged about the movie, Equilibrium. The government in this futuristic society destroys all cultural artifacts. It was pretty scary. I certainly don’t want a system that gets close to that (of course, I never said anything about destroying cultural artifacts).

    My parents are still alive. I don’t know firsthand what it is like to inherit heirlooms and material things (I have inherited money several times, though). If anyone has personal experiences in this, please share. What would it have been like if you could only keep a few of your parents belongings? Or none of their belongings? Or at least none of their money?

    Debbie said: “I’m not sure I agree with that analogy, that would mean that investment money in stocks and bonds, which funds our businesses which employs our people would constantly be in a state of flux. Everytime a shareholder died the money would be yanked out of the business.
    Doesn’t sound like a working plan to me…”
    The stock market is always in a state of flux–dramatically so. The leadership of “our” corporations is also in a state of flux (board members change all the time).

    Debbie said: “Selling it wouldn’t profit me any, and I can’t give it to who ‘I’ want to give it too. Why wouldn’t it be closed down? If it wasn’t closed down, how does the ‘government’ get to decide who gets what businesses?”
    Sell it to the highest bidder. Businesses are being sold every day. If you wind up having too much money that it doesn’t matter to you to sell it, I don’t really care. What, if it’s a factory or a restaurant, are you going to destroy it out of spite? Someone can still start a new business in its place.

    Debbie said: “But they still get to leave it to the person of their ‘choice’ whether it is a friend or a charity. They still get to decide what is done with their assets.”
    Why is it always “me,” “my,” and “I” with you? When you are dead, it won’t make a bit of difference to you where “your” assets are. You cling to this one decision as if it is so important that you make it. That you get to decide is not important in comparison to the fate of the mass of people in this country (equal opportunity and the end of privilege would be great for the majority of people in this country). You say that you get to decide because you earned the money. Do you have any other reasons?

    Debbie asked: “Where is race mentioned in that paragraph?”
    You said in several paragraphs that people live in poverty because they “don’t have any initiative,” because “the more you give them, the more they demand,” because they are “bitter,” because they see “themselves as ‘victims,'” and because “they don’t do anything but lament how everybody else is responsible for their predicament.” The reality in this country is that a disproportionate number of certain minorities are living in poverty or are poor. By your given reasons for why people are living in poverty, you are saying by extension that a larger proportion of these minorities (the ones who are poor or who are living in poverty) “don’t have any initiative,” are “bitter,” see “themselves as ‘victims,'” and “don’t do anything but lament how everybody else is responsible for their predicament.” You must come up with some other reasons for why we have poverty in this country; else you are condemning certain cultures and races that are disproportionately poor. I think that there are many reasons for poverty–privilege and inheritance being two smacking big ones. It’s the system. I don’t mean to say that you are a racist. But you need to rethink what you are saying–because it has racist implications.

    Debbie said: “If I am successful and wealthy, my kids will still be able to receive a better education because I may be able to afford tutors to give them one on one attention.”
    No, no, no. In my original post, I said, “All of our schools should be equal in quality and funding. I don’t think that parents should be able to pay more money (than poorer parents) so that their children get better educations–which just means that they get a better slot in the hierarchy. Better to have it so young people determine their own place in the hierarchy–without any privilege giving them an advantage. This by no means restricts the potential to have variety in our schools and in the development of our children. If anything, I would make changes to our education system to offer more variety. But the quality of the education provided from school to school should be relatively equal.” If tutors are an advantage, then we should provide them for everybody. By the way, this overlaps with our previous discussion of charter schools and vouchers (School Vouchers Suck).

    Debbie said: “There isn’t a way to control the wealth unless you make it a communist country – then the government controls everything.”
    We have all sorts of measures by which our government controls wealth. Are we a communist country? No.

    Lastly, Debbie, corruption finds its way into all forms of government. Our government has yet to blush at the sight of corruption–it seems to stomach it pretty well.

    Duane, elite sounds like genetic predisposition again. It could be taken that way, anyway. If you say that it’s okay that the elite inherit their positions–or at least gain their positions through inherited privilege, then your praise of the elite seems twisted to me. Would you say that they are elite because they come from good breeding? By the way, how can you say that those in power are the elite? What do you mean by elite? George W. Bush? Other than his family ties, what qualifies him to be elite? I don’t even think he would be a good teacher. Gopher from The Love Boat was a senator for crying out loud. Is Dan Quayle a deserving member of the elite? Are you talking about the people behind the scenes? Kenny Boy? CEOs from Enron, Adelphia, Worldcom? If you want to see what the elite are up to and how well they manage things, then see Multimillion Dollar Fines & Settlements Paid by Corporations and also see Top 100 Corporate Criminals of the Decade. I’m not so sure that they are to be trusted.

    Now, if you are talking about the concept of elite as being solely something that should be earned by hard work, keen thinking and initiative, then it aligns with what I have previously said. I would like to see a free market. The elite (of this latter definition) would be able to rise to the top. Undeserving people like George Bush would not because his privilege and family wealth would not be there to help him–unless I’m severely underestimating his intelligence and skill. I did propose that we take measures to eliminate conditions of poverty in this country (see what I said to Debbie in this comment posting)–that would require money from taxes. Is this why you brought up the issue of the elite? More likely you are responding to what I said about the gap between the rich and the poor. I do think this is an issue that needs to be addressed–there is a point where the gap becomes too big. But I think the stopping of inheritance would reverse the expansion of the gap that has been going on lately. In this case, the elite would be allowed to accumulate as much wealth as they could.

    Duane said: “I just wanted to take issue with your claim about ‘the many.’ You’re talking socialism again.”
    Socialism? Of, by and for the people? Do you overlook this? “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” is a democratic principle. To see more about “of, by and for the people” and how our system is supposed to be, check out What Does it Mean to be an American Citizen? (PDF file, or check out the HTML version). The needs of the many? “Democracy reflects the will – and above all the action – of each generation of American citizens.”

    Actually, I’m happy to see this stuff about elitism. Most of our politicians, political thinkers and elitists in power awkwardly step around this issue–rather, they perpetuate the myth of democracy and “of, by and for the people.” We have been sold on these myths. But know that when the phony veneer is stripped off of the surface, and all see the reality, without the propaganda, it’s not going to sit too well with them–read the classic, Anatomy of a Revolution. I encourage the rest of the elitists to confess what this country really is: of, by and for the rich people–and their heirs, competent or not.

    Eric: I never said anything directly about welfare. I merely said that we should take steps to make sure that we don’t have poverty in this nation. I suppose that national health care could be called a form of welfare. But I don’t think this is the welfare that you mention. Ensuring that there are living-wage jobs for any who want them would be a great step. Affordable childcare would help also (how about free child care?). This is not the traditional form of welfare that you mention. Let’s not overlook those of us who are less fortunate and are debilitated in some way; we must take care of them.

    As for counterincentive, we disagree. I think that more people will be motivated by an equal opportunity system than are motivated by the current system in which much depends upon privilege.

  • http://macaronies.blogspot.com Mac Diva

    The comments on this thread are long and thoughtful, so I need to go back and re-read before writing a blog item about this. But, I can say with certainty that Dirt’s analysis of class and race as determining quality of life in the U.S. is accurate.

    And, I can reject the conservatives’ claim that the poor are lazy and undeserving. No one worked harder than slaves and sharecroppers and their descendants are disproportionately at the bottom of the economic ladder. Meanwhile, the descendants of the people who have profited the most from exploiting labor of various sorts are at the top. Accident? No. Government and the private sector have exploited the poor and minorities for centuries. If conservatives want to continue to delude themselves that there is something special about their work habits that makes them more deserving than other people, I am sure they will. But, it is not so.

    Duane, your claim to love elites is nonsensical. Most Americans are trying to exist on the seventy-five percent or less of the country’s assets that are actually transferable. To applaud most of wealth being in the hands of a tiny segment of the population while a much larger segment goes hungry is ludicrous. You might want to read up on the French Revolution.

    Who are the poor? Yesterday, I blogged an entry at Silver Rights yesterday about a new study that paints a new picture of them. I have purposely made SR a repository for this kind of information. Feel free to browse its archives for entries, often with data, about issues that impact quality of life. Whether you agree with my opinion or not, they will provide a jumping off place for writing about such topics.

  • duane

    Actually, MacD, my claim is not that I “love” elites. My claim is that while the slogan “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” sounds really nice and democratic, embracing such an ideal is ultimately destructive. Again, we are at odds over “the rich,” who alone do not constitute what I call “the elite.” I get just as disgusted by wealthy socialites as the next person. I don’t consider them (for the most part) to be members of the elite. They are mostly sponging off the system, and I do not “love” them. Anyway, I must go. Rula Lenska and a few of her friends are coming over for the weekend. I enjoyed all of the posts. ‘Til we meet again….

  • http://dirtgrain.com/weblog Dirtgrain

    Denouncing welfare while promoting inheritance is contradictory. The argument against welfare is typically that when poor people are given money for which they do not work, they are turned into lazy leeches who will never become productive members of society. But somehow these people who argue against welfare support inheritance, which is basically people getting money for which they did not work. Giving money to poor, economically unprivileged people is bad. Giving money to rich, economically privileged people is good. Hypocrisy.

    Who does the giving and who receives seems to be a point of contention. When the government, which is supposed to represent the will of the majority, does the giving, it is seen as a bad thing. When an individual rich person, who will be dead at the point of transfer, and who does not represent the majority but rather himself or herself, does the giving, it is seen as a good thing. Hypocrisy.

    On the receiving end, I’m not so sure that there is a difference in the effort to become productive. Poor people on welfare don’t get enough money to get ahead. If it is a single parent who is on welfare and tries to get a job and an unsubsidized home, it is all the more difficult. Say that person does get through college and becomes a social worker, for example. He or she may find himself or herself in a position of making less money (after daycare costs) than when on welfare. Here is where measures to end poverty would really help out (affordable or free childcare, living wages, a job to any who seek one, health insurance for all, etc.). Without these measures, getting off of welfare is improbable. Those rich people who receive welfare–I mean inheritance–may be said to be more productive. A rich, privileged education and background could explain this. So could the fact that inheritances often come in lump sums that outclass years of welfare payments. There is that stereotype of the unproductive, lazy heir, though. Statistics as to how many heirs continue on in the productive ways of their parents would help here. Nevertheless, who needs the money more, a poor, economically unprivileged person or a rich, economically privileged person? Hypocrisy.

    As an alternative to the no-inheritance proposition, I offer this: we keep a system of inheritance, but we stipulate that you can only will/give your wealth away to someone who is on the opposite end of the economic spectrum from you, based upon a median that would be statistically determined by an incorruptible actuary. That might equalize things over the long term.

    I wonder if the vehemence of arguing that “I” should be able to decide what happens to “my” money after “I” die shows and extension of greed beyond the grave. Claims of they won’t take “my” money and “I” get to say what happens to it could be just another way to express greed. I can hear Gollum saying, “My Precious.” Now who is bitter? Such a stance may also be a form of denial of mortality. Some aspect of “me” and of “my” decisions will continue to have an impact beyond “my” death. “I” will not die. I can hear Gilgamesh yearning for immortality. He found it could only be achieved through the memories of him that lived on in the hearts and minds of his loved ones, friends and people. I don’t think money and inheritance have anything to do with it.

    I just watched a relevant segment on Now: with Bill Moyers. Professor Elizabeth Warren, co-author of The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers & Fathers are going Broke, shared some disturbing facts about the decline of the middle class. From the PBS show’s site, I found a list of middle-class myths compiled from Warren’s book:

      Two-income families today make 75% more in inflation-adjusted dollars, but have less money to spend than one-income families did 30 years ago.
      Two-income families today spend: 21% less on clothing, 22% less on food, and 44% less on appliances compared to one-income families a generation ago.
      Every 15 seconds an American family files for bankruptcy.
      This year, more kids will live through their parents’ bankruptcy, than through their parents’ divorce.
      1.6 million families will file for bankruptcy this year, 9 million more are already in credit counseling.
      Home mortgage foreclosures are up more than three-fold over the last generation and car foreclosures have hit record levels.
      More than 62% of families say that they worry about making ends meet.
      The average family spends 69% more in inflation-adjusted dollars on their home mortgage than their parents spent a generation ago.
      The average family spends 61% more on health insurance, than their parents spent a generation ago.
      Credit card default rates are at a record high.

    It’s not looking so good for the middle class–and for the American Dream. And credit-card companies keep trying to rewrite our bankruptcy laws as they affect middle-class people. Are debtors’ prisons far behind? Tell me again that the gap between the rich and the poor isn’t getting out of hand.

    Welcome to the real world.

  • http://www.shortstrangetrip.org Joe

    More food for thought here. Not an endorsement, however. I can only speak for myself, and I while find your proposal interesting, to me, it sort of flies in the face of the concepts of liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

    In the name of leveling the playing field, you propose a system of catering to the lowest common denominator and fail to consider several other unintended consequences. If you were to impose a national level system, that would also mean imposing standards. Rather than catering to the desires of parents the key decisions on education are left to the state (would this include the elimination of homeschooling, or other forms of alternative education). What about college? Do you propose a similar leveling of the playing field there?

    On the one hand, if I didn’t have to worry about educating my kids that would be great. No more overtime, fewer worries. On the other hand, well, sorry, I take pride in the responsibility I have for my family and actively work to make sure they’re provided for. Your proposal would impose a compulsory abdication of authority and responsibility by parents, when voluntary abdication is the source of many of the problems you cite. Good parents want the best for their kids, regardless of their financial standing, so where is their incentive when you remove their options?

    Again, I ask, are you a parent? And if not, why do you presume to have a better judgement on the issue? Kind of one of those “walk a mile in my shoes deals”.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    DG- Re: Ayn Rand and inheritance- I only argue that you not be allowed to give it to your children. They should make their own way in the world, amass their own fortunes. Ayn Rand probably would have liked this last sentence.

    Ayn would support inheritance as the right of the parent, not so much the child. Dad earned the money, so it should be his to dispose of. Whether he wants to leave it to his annoying spoiled children, or to his cat makes little difference to me. It’s HIS money.

    However, she would expect heirs to prove their worth of their good fortune. She had one obvious main hero who was an heir.

    She tended to believe that heirs NOT worthy of their money would lose it, and head back to the bottom of the pile. The Starnes kids in Atlas were among the most ugly, reprehensible characters in the book. And they managed to end up broke.

    Personally, from time to time I feel an urge to yank all the money away from those damned worthless Kennedys. I just have to remind myself that that money does not BELONG to me.

  • http://dirtgrain.com/weblog Dirtgrain

    Joe, I don’t see the lowest common denominator in it.

    I don’t have a problem with educational alternatives, so long as they don’t pose a monetary imbalance. Home schooling is great for some kids. I just blogged a response that I wrote to a questionnaire from Grace Llewellyn, author of The Teenage Liberation Handbook (a book about home schooling).

    Actually, the key decisions in the public school systems in which I have lived or worked ultimately were made by locally elected school boards. School boards are supposed to represent the power of the parents. The No Child Left Behind Act, however, is an example of a federal mandate, by which local communities lose some control in how they educate their children. Standards come from all angles: federal, state, local, and even from individual schools.

    I stated in the original post that I am all for variety in the types of education offered:

      Better to have it so young people determine their own place in the hierarchy–without any privilege giving them an advantage. This by no means restricts the potential to have variety in our schools and in the development of our children. If anything, I would make changes to our education system to offer more variety. But the quality of the education provided from school to school should be relatively equal.

    We just need to do our best to make sure that all options of education up to adulthood (through high school–although I can see that the drawing of this line could be debated) are equal in terms of funding and in terms of educational quality. All kinds of factors make achieving absolute equality and equity impossible; that is obvious. We can get a hell of a lot closer to it than we are now, and we should continue to strive for it.

    I’m not so sure about post-secondary education. Even today, we preach equal opportunity. That obviously did not apply to George Bush (see The President Might Ask Himself, “Wait a minute. How did I get into Yale?” and also see The President Opposes Affirmative Action. So How Does He Defend the Institutional Favoritism That Got Him Into Yale?). Clearly legacy points (privilege) should be done away with. Those who dislike affirmative action would be appeased in this no-inheritance, no-economic-privilege system because affirmative action would not be necessary.

    As for funding in universities, I don’t think that the current system is necessarily ideal. There are countries with solid post-secondary schools that offer this education for free (e.g., Germany (by the way, the German government is considering implementing tuition, but the students are protesting and even rioting)). Doing so would eliminate the monetary barrier that keeps some from attending the best schools in this country. Yes, we have some funding for economically under-privileged students, but it is far away from allowing equal opportunity for all. I have a student who has been accepted into Harvard. His parents make too much money to allow him to receive financial aid, but in no way can they afford to come up with $40,000 a year. He is considering other universities for this reason. That is a shame.

    Henry A. Giroux offers a brief overview of what universities are becoming and what they should be in Higher Education is More Than a Corporate Logo. He talks about the privatizing, the profit mongering and the corporatizing of our universities. “The erosion of democratic ideals” is at the heart of the matter. Giroux adds:

      Fortunately, there is a long tradition in American history that rejects the notion that higher education should be treated as either a brand name product or simply as a training ground for the corporate workforce. In this more noble view, extending from Thomas Jefferson and Horace Mann to W. E. B. Du Bois and John Dewey, higher education was defended as both a public good and an autonomous sphere for educating students for active citizenship, civic courage, and the development of a substantive democratic society. If higher education is to meet the challenge of the new millennium, universities and colleges need to reclaim this legacy and redefine themselves as sites for critical learning and active participation in civic life.
      This view of education as a civic ideal suggests respecting educators as both teachers and scholars, offering students the necessary knowledge for learning how to govern as opposed to being governed, stretching the boundaries of their imagination, and furthering the promise of a vibrant democratic social order. Addressing education as a democratic endeavor begins with the recognition that higher education is more than an investment opportunity, citizenship is about more than consuming, learning is about more than preparing for a job, and democracy is about more than making choices at the local mall. Higher education is a hard won democratic achievement and it is time that parents, faculty, students, college alumni and concerned citizens reclaim higher education as a fundamental public good rather than merely a training ground for corporate interests, values, and profits.
      Democracy is in crisis throughout the world, and one way of addressing this crisis is through modes of education that not only take place in a variety of spheres including public and higher education, but also through a commitment to utopian longings in which we can glimpse communities organized around courage rather than fear, shared human needs rather than amoral values of the market, and moral principles that provoke us to not just hoping, but acting to eliminate human suffering and exploitation while expanding democratic rights, identities, and social relations.

    Wow!

    Joe said the following:

      On the one hand, if I didn’t have to worry about educating my kids that would be great. No more overtime, fewer worries. On the other hand, well, sorry, I take pride in the responsibility I have for my family and actively work to make sure they’re provided for. Your proposal would impose a compulsory abdication of authority and responsibility by parents, when voluntary abdication is the source of many of the problems you cite. Good parents want the best for their kids, regardless of their financial standing, so where is their incentive when you remove their options?

    In a way, it sounds like you are claiming that parenting solely consists of making money for one’s children’s educations. That scares me. If anything, what I have proposed would put a parent’s focus back on what is most important: parenting. They should focus on passing on knowledge, experience and wisdom, developing moral behavior and ethics in their children by teaching and modeling it, helping kids get through difficult stages in their lives, teaching kids how to evaluate risks, loving them, correcting them, and so on–all things that don’t require money or privilege or the concept of inheritance. This authority and responsibility is not abdicated by parents according to what I propose.

    In regards to the type of parenting that I just described, the financial burdens of the current system on the middle class and on the poor limit parents’ ability to live up to this responsibility. As a high-school teacher, I find myself sometimes meeting with parents who know less about what is going on in their kid’s life than I do. I don’t think that they are bad parents, and I realize that adolescence is often a time of a distancing between parent and child. Is the system somewhat to blame, though? Are the economic factors described my previous comment posting taking away parents’ time to live up to this responsibility?

    Joe said: “Again, I ask, are you a parent? And if not, why do you presume to have a better judgement on the issue? Kind of one of those ‘walk a mile in my shoes deals.'”
    I am not a parent, and I don’t claim to have better judgement–I merely offer an idea for consideration. However, you need to judge the value of the words that I say, regardless of who I am (don’t go ad hominem on me). If it were a parent saying these things, would it change the meaning of the words I have written? No. Is your claim that no parent would agree with what I have proposed? If you insist, I can offer my father–he thinks these are worthy ideas to consider (and he is way bigger than your dad). I bet you that many of those parents whose children are not economically privileged would support the ideas of equal opportunity and the elimination of privilege.

    Al, I would argue that the money that the Kennedys have inherited doesn’t belong to them either–they did nothing to earn it.

  • http://www.shortstrangetrip.org Joe

    Excellent response. Sorry, no ad hominem intended, just trying to understand your point of view. I’m not trying to insinuate that no parent would agree with you, rather that while you can observe and deduce what it means to be a parent, you really can’t truly understand until you are one. I lack the eloquence to put it into words and don’t mean it as a slight, I’m merely offering it as a point of reference for a different perspective.

    I can’t see how educational alternatives don’t pose an imbalance. The ability to home school is in most cases a function of privilege in that the parents can afford to make the investment in time, energy, and money in order to home school. If I were to decide to send my kids to Eton, that would be the result of privilege. Even if you were able to make all the schools equal, a proposal I find somewhat dubious, is that a sustainable proposition? I would imagine that, over time, a school in Salt Lake City and a school in inner city Detroit, would rather quickly diverge based upon external conditions.

    “it sounds like you are claiming that parenting solely consists of making money for one’s children’s educations” Actually, I think it’s more that taking responsibility and exercising authority are not mutually exclusive from the key aspects of parenting that you list. Are you implying that the way a parent conducts their career has no bearing on any of those parental factors?

    Anyway, thanks for the thought provoking discussion!

  • debbie

    “You said in several paragraphs that people live in poverty because they “don’t have any initiative,” because “the more you give them, the more they demand,” because they are “bitter,” because they see “themselves as ‘victims,'” and because “they don’t do anything but lament how everybody else is responsible for their predicament.” ”

    I did not say that people are ‘poor’ because they are ‘lazy and have no initiative’. What I said was:
    “I’ve been in poor neighborhoods, housing projects, etc. I’ve worked in them and I can tell you one thing. You can tell who is going to get out of them and who isn’t just by their attitude. On one hand you have the person that is applying at college and taking classes, taking advantage of free tutoring, etc and making sacrifices for their future. These are the mothers that make their kids do their homework, these are the mothers that know where their kids are and dicipline them when they get out of line.

    On the other hand you have the ‘bitter’ person that just sees themselves as ‘victims’ and they don’t do anything but lament how everybody else is responsible for their predicament. They don’t apply for loans, they don’t try to get their GED, they don’t make their kids do homework or even go to school. Their kids are running the ‘hood’ at 2:00 am and mom doesn’t have a clue where they are.”

    People end up on welfare because of numerous reasons, some of which they have no control over. What you do have control over is your attitude. When somebody has accepted living on welfare, they have become complacent and will likely remain on welfare until it is removed.

    It can be done, my father, who is handicapped, was on welfare after losing his job. He had a wife and 3 kids, we lived in a housing project. My dad worked odd jobs and decided to move to a different area because he couldn’t find work. He couldn’t accept not being able to provide for his family. When we moved we rented the upstairs apartment and my dad found 2 full time jobs. He worked these two full time jobs for 5 years before he had advanced enough in his main job that he didn’t need to work a second one. He had saved and was able to buy a house in a lower middle class neighborhood.

    “We have all sorts of measures by which our government controls wealth. Are we a communist country? No.”

    But, we haven’t taken away inheritance either. Our measure of ‘controlling wealth’ is by taxation, based on a progressive tax. It is not to take all of it when someone dies.

    “Here is where measures to end poverty would really help out (affordable or free childcare, living wages, a job to any who seek one, health insurance for all, etc.). Without these measures, getting off of welfare is improbable.”

    I agree with this one, personally I believe that if a person is on welfare and finds a job they should have the option of continuing on welfare for at least a year to help them save up money for emergencies, and you shouldn’t have to be on ‘welfare’ to receive medical coverage. I think it should be based on your wages and number of people in your household, that would also help them.

    I would love to be able to provide a job with a livable wage to any one that wanted one, but how do you do that? That is determined by the economy. You are advocating taking away a big incentive for creating success for yourself and your ‘family’ if you remove the inheritance rights. There wouldn’t be as much incentive because it wouldn’t make any difference. That would totally kill our economy. There is a reason that we do not limit the ‘amount of wealth’ a person can earn.

    “Denouncing welfare while promoting inheritance is contradictory.”

    That is because you are looking at it from only one side of the fence. If you look at it from the parents side, it is not even remotely the same. I do not want to be told that ‘I can’t decide who to leave my assets to when I die’. I don’t want to be told how to spend my money either. I have much closer ties, and more invested in my kids… in money, time, love, etc. I want them to have what I have worked for…

    “I am not a parent, and I don’t claim to have better judgement–I merely offer an idea for consideration.”

    I have invested quite a bit of time and effort into raising my 3 kids. I have spent a lot of sleepless nights with them when they were sick, had lots of laughs and tears. I love them more than life. I have a vested interest in their welfare, I want to help them in any way that I can. That includes helping them start out with my assets when I die. I make my investments with that in mind. If I didn’t have any kids, maybe I wouldn’t mind who got ‘the fruits of my labor’.

  • http://dirtgrain.com/weblog Dirtgrain

    Joe, I wasn’t offended. I don’t even believe in the concept of being offended (see my post, On Being Offended, if you’re interested).

    In regards to the imbalance that you talk about, consider that at any two given times, it will most likely be that in one of the times there is more equality in education than in the other. Equality is a changing thing in schools, and it is something that we can affect. I only propose that we take certain steps to try to get as close to equality as possible (funding would be the most obvious first step).

    Actually, I do see the connection between career and parenting. I see it as a bad thing when parents have to work more hours trying to earn enough money to send their kids to Harvard instead of spending that time with their children. Maybe this is why we are starting to have so many immoral corporate executives and leaders. Is this what happened to Kenny Boy–his parents didn’t have enough time to teach what is right and what is wrong? Keep in mind that I understand when parents work so hard to get their children privilege in the current system (I said this several times previously, I think). I would do the same thing. But we could change the system.

    Debbie, okay, we can change it to “people who are poor–with the exception of those who don’t stay poor–are poor because they are [insert all the other stuff you said here].” Clearly, this doesn’t change what I said about this sounding racist. Again, I say that there are other reasons to be found to explain why poor people are poor. Note that I never claimed that there aren’t some people who are poor because they are lazy. I can think of a few friends who fit this definition. When you generalize and speak in absolutes about poor people, it gets problematic.

    I don’t like welfare, and I don’t think it is healthy (physically and especially psychologically–for parents and for children). If a person is somehow limited, be they mentally impaired or severely handicapped or in some legitimate way incapable of supporting themselves, then we need to take care of them. That said, I do think that there are relatively healthy people in our society who cannot make ends meet without welfare. I proposed that we take measures to make it so that such people can make ends meet without welfare.

    Your father sounds like an admirable guy. My dad also worked two jobs, and I barely got to see him. Are you claiming that every poor person, provided they had the same character and will power, could do what your father did, eventually leaving poverty or a poor status behind? What do you think would happen if all poor people suddenly were overtaken by the moxy and set out on a path to riches? Would we all of a sudden have no poor people in our society? No. The system isn’t set up for it. The system is set up to have a poor class and a poverty class. There needs to be a change in the system.

    We do have an inheritance tax. I believe it kicks in for estates valued at over $100,000. So there is a faint essence of what I propose already in the system. There is an essence of the notion that heirs do not deserve the inheritance (at least not all of it when it exceeds $100,000).

    When I made the point about the welfare/inheritance contradiction, I did look at both sides of the fence. I considered who did the giving (government vs. individual) and who did the receiving (poor person, or rich, privileged heir)–see comment 38, paragraphs two and three. Rather, it seems to me that you only look from one side of the fence–that of the individual who wills his or her money. Have you acknowledged yet that from the perspective of the receiver, your child doesn’t deserve that money any more than any other child? I suspect that this is an impasse. We won’t be able to reconcile our two views here.

    In response to your last paragraph (comment 43), Debbie, I would say more power to you, in the context of the current system that we have. However, if there were a no-inheritance system as I propose (keeping in mind that many details have not yet been hashed out–I really only wanted to discuss the concept, and it has been quite illuminating), then no other children would be receiving inheritance and economic privilege. Would you still be so adamant that your children receive an inheritance? Would you want just your children to receive an inherited privilege above all other children in the country? This extreme (which I acknowledge you might label as ridiculous because it would never happen–keep in mind that considering extreme hypotheticals is a valuable tool in evaluation) really isolates the injustice of a system of inheritance. Although, I will acknowledge that you think it is an injustice if you can’t have control over your money after you die (from beyond the grave–all this talk about inheritance is starting make me feel gloomy).

  • sean

    I apologize if someone already mentioned this, but this particular thread is quite long. Dirtgrain’s concept to flatten the playing field is interesting, but I don’t think that it makes sense economically. In our nation as a whole, if wealth was essentially recycled through the government at the end of citizen’s life, then American industries would be irreparably changed. I doubt many people would financially succeed to the extent that would allow them to invest billions into developing an international company capable of producing standardized goods and services, let alone cut eight figure checks for medical and technological R & D. In such a scenario, these problems would be left on the doorsteps of existing business entities and the government (which would have to grow into a frightful size to handle the task). While you anticipated accusations of socialistic sympathies, don’t you think that level of government involvement threatens our very way of life?

  • http://dirtgrain.com/weblog Dirtgrain

    I don’t like what corporations are doing in the world today. They are not a godsend. I think we could do without them. That said, it should be pointed out that corporations could exist in a no-inheritance, no-privilege system much as they do today. Debbie pointed out earlier that such a system might cause too much upheaval in the stock market and in the corporate world. I responded that such upheaval is an everyday reality of our economic system already.

    Sean said: “I doubt many people would financially succeed to the extent that would allow them to invest billions into developing an international company capable of producing standardized goods and services, let alone cut eight figure checks for medical and technological R & D.”
    Sean, do you think the law of supply and demand would not function in a system such as I have proposed? I think the law would function much in the same way. Individuals will be able to amass such money according to the law of supply and demand. Bill gates built up his fortune in his lifetime. Ross Perot did so too. And Tom Monaghan (Domino’s Pizza), John D. Rockefeller (America’s first billionaire), Sam Walton (although Walmart is even bigger since his relinquishing of the company–also gone is its pledge to offer made in America products–I would argue that the company has turned into a plague on our country since it left his hands), Mark Cuban (Yahoo), Andrew Carnegie, Donald Trump, Jack Welch (General Electric), Bill Clinton, and, yes, the Govinator, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Some of these people were relatively privileged in that they got solid educations, but some started with relatively nothing.

    I can’t tolerate the notion that we as a nation depend upon undeserving individuals inheriting the bulk of the nation’s wealth. There may be some heirs of huge fortunes who contribute to our nation’s well being, but I don’t think that we need to depend on these “paternalistic” overlords to make things work out for us.

    Supporting a system of inheritance is supporting the Peter Principle! We currently are supporting the promotion of incompetent, undeserving individuals to positions of wealth and power. Granted, inheritance sometimes leads to the promotion of competent individuals, but how many times does it not? I hereby site Billy Madison and Tommy Boy as proof of this (I’m joking here–maybe Paris Hilton is a stronger example).

    Success in society should be based on merit. Is this not a notion that everyone can embrace? Conversely, most Americans don’t like to see undeserving people get promoted. In fact, this has been the key point in complaints about affirmative action. If we did away with inheritance and privilege and developed a system with equal opportunity, we wouldn’t need affirmative action to equalize things.

    What I propose about inheritance does not necessarily imply an increase in the size of government. As noted before, we already have a system that taxes inheritance and that taxes in general. What I suggest is just a different form of that. As for the redistribution of the wealth, I wondered if the sum of the collected monies would allow us to do away with other forms of taxes. I don’t know what that sum would be. Or, we could just redistribute the money to the people. This has little to do with the size of government–it would be however big we would decide to make it.

    What I did say about eliminating conditions of poverty, ensuring equal opportunity for all people in the education system, and preventing the gap between rich and poor from growing to the point of injustice does not necessarily imply bigger government. What I suggested about doing away with poverty would require some governmental programs, but we already have a heap of these, and what I propose might consolidate or eliminate some of them.

  • Ewa

    thank you for sharing your thoughts. I am currently working on a paper on Obama’s questionable stance toward (racial and economic) inequality and how he attempts to make capitalism “fair.”