It’s a wet and soggy night here, hardly the type of night it ought to be for the day of the year, and the moon’s in its last quarter. If you’re reading this tonight, I hope you’re in more pleasant weather.

It appears, by his small light of discretion, that he is in the wane: but yet, in courtesy, in all reason, we must stay the time.

Mankiw’s chapter on “Income Inequality and Poverty” wasn’t all that I hoped it would be. On top of that, I spent a good bit of my time tonight responding to a post over at Kairosnews, with which I disagreed kinda strongly, and I’m now hoping Clancy doesn’t get too frustrated with me, but the Jones article she linked to just absolutely drives me up the wall. We’ll see, I suppose.

Anyway: there were a couple things that were helpful, or at least gratifying, in Mankiw.

At the beginning of the chapter, he mentions — in the same sentence — “the comfortable rich,” “the struggling poor,” and “the aspiring and worried middle class” (437). Here, at least, is a construction of class that in its adjectives properly acknowledges the relational nature of how we define the middle class. It’s interesting (though not surprising, given the chapter’s title) that classes are here determined solely by income. And it’s also gratifying to finally have Mankiw acknowledge that “The invisible hand of the marketplace acts to allocate resources efficiently, but it does not necessarily ensure that resources are allocated fairly” (438).

So the focus of the chapter is on the more fair reallocation of those resources. While Mankiw helpfully names some of the various philosophical approaches to redistributing income (again, no surprises here: utilitarianism, Rawlsian liberalism, libertarianism), there isn’t much that’s of use to me, since most of this stuff I’m already familiar with. Of course, the discussion of libertarianism got my spleen up, as libertarianism always does when I encounter those so blinkered by their own privilege that they espouse it.

This is where I go for the really bad, bumpy transition: speaking of things that get my spleen up, how about that Bush tax plan, and the Angry Exterminator‘s holding out for more tax breaks for the wealthy? Mankiw writes that “Movements up the income ladder can be due to good luck or hard work, and movements down the ladder can be due to bad luck or laziness” (446), but apparently, the other reasons for economic inertia and mobility aren’t worth considering.

Which, for me, again raises the question of self-interest, although not as much for economists this time as for our conressional representatives. I came across a statistic a couple years ago, and now can’t remember where I found it: it had to do with the net worth of members of Congress (House and Senate), and pointed out that some astonishing percentage were millionaires; I think the statistic was given in conjunction with a Senator’s remark (Moynihan, maybe?) that such a composition of our legislature makes the United States not a democracy, but a plutocracy. Does anybody know the source I’m talking about? If not, can anybody point me to where I might find collected information about the net worth of members of Congress? I’ve done some nosing around with Google and on the House and Senate Web sites, and on Thomas too (CQ is fee-based, unfortunately), to no avail, so I’d be very grateful for any suggestions.


4 thoughts on “Midsummer

  • June 22, 2003 at 2:46 pm

    I thought your reply to Clancy about the Jones article was right on! Jones practices the same kind of dismissive rhetoric that we’ve heard for so long…cultural studies is light-weight, literary theory is garbled, feminism is about man-bashing, etc.

    You’re right to pin the problem on Jones’ assumption that language is transparent and neutral. It’s not. Cultural studies, literary theory, feminism, etc. are imperfect. But as you say: complex ideas definitely require complex language. Without complex language, both in and out of academia, we are surrounded by the language of corporate jargon and FoxNews, and in that case, we all lose.

    So thanks for your post…I was glad to see that someone eloquently addressed the underlying farce of Jones and Sokal.

    And I love the image of human resources personnel quoting Butler as they redesign their many forms and handouts!

  • June 23, 2003 at 11:30 am

    Hey, Mike! For the record, I’m not frustrated with you at all–hope you aren’t with me. 🙂

  • June 23, 2003 at 2:59 pm

    No frustration whatsoever, Clancy — props to you for initiating a productive and enjoyable debate.

    (And, Rachael — thanks — and happy birthday!)

  • June 24, 2003 at 2:46 pm

    I forgot to add that you are really enhancing my views on all these issues; you’ve given me a lot to think about. Thank you.

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