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Old 05-16-2013, 11:44 AM   #41
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But is there really a problem? I mean one that demands a solution? Or is it just a phenomenon, a fact? I think most agree that income/wealth inequality exists. Maybe "so what?" shouldn't be ruled out as a response to the "problem".
It's a problem only because we don't yet have all our other ducks in a row. If lack of affluence didn't mean insufficient opportunity to advance (i.e., economic advancement tied to the ability to afford higher education, economic advancement tied to invest in one's own business, etc.), that would help. If lack of affluence didn't correlate so strongly with early death and chronic health issues, that would help. If lack of affluence didn't make the decision to have children into so much of a (dreadful) financial risk, that would help.
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Old 05-16-2013, 12:23 PM   #42
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bUU, you seem to have identified the problem as wealth inequality while it sounds like the underlying concerns you have are adequate social programs and safety nets for the least advantaged (but please correct me if I have put unwanted words into your mouth).

I would have no problem framing the question as "What is the optimum level of social programs to promote equality of opportunity and access to health care and education, and how much of a safety net should we provide for the least advantaged".

The ultra wealthy aren't the problem, and in fact with progressive taxation, they look more like a solution to the real problems (equality of opportunity and adequacy of social safety nets).
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Old 05-16-2013, 12:26 PM   #43
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Thanks. I'm not aware of what goes on the classroom. But I was very surprised when my son who graduated number 5 in his class couldn't test into college algebra. He had to take some prerequisites. I know he was in school. And I know the taxpayers spent a lot of money on him. As you say, he was getting a dumbed down curriculum.

A tangent to the OP... but who cares...


That is one of the problems that I do have with our schools... we live in a highly rated school district... but when I talk to my son about what he is learning, I am surprised how little it really is.. he is smart... all grades except 1 over 95 avg... but still there are students who are failing...
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Old 05-16-2013, 12:32 PM   #44
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It's a problem only because we don't yet have all our other ducks in a row. If lack of affluence didn't mean insufficient opportunity to advance (i.e., economic advancement tied to the ability to afford higher education, economic advancement tied to invest in one's own business, etc.), that would help. If lack of affluence didn't correlate so strongly with early death and chronic health issues, that would help. If lack of affluence didn't make the decision to have children into so much of a (dreadful) financial risk, that would help.

One of the things that I keep coming back to is that we seem to focus on the short term....

Look at the long term.... there have been people in Europe for a couple of thousand years... no matter what happens in the near term, America will continue to exist.. and continue to be one of the top countries in the world... all this hand wringing about our current problems is just background noise....
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Old 05-16-2013, 02:05 PM   #45
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bUU, you seem to have identified the problem as wealth inequality while it sounds like the underlying concerns you have are adequate social programs and safety nets for the least advantaged (but please correct me if I have put unwanted words into your mouth).
Not quite: Rather the problems are the problems; they are various and myriad; but wealth inequality is the common denominator for those suffering from the problems that are the context of this thread by definition, and safety nets are effective mitigating factors.

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I would have no problem framing the question as "What is the optimum level of social programs to promote equality of opportunity and access to health care and education, and how much of a safety net should we provide for the least advantaged".
Why bother? Why not forge a clear understanding of the living conditions that you wouldn't mind being subjected to living under yourself, come to consensus about that with everyone else, and establish that as the floor. Work to foster an economy that provides sufficient access to such ("an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring"), and in the meantime ensure safety nets provide that floor. There's no need to make it more complicated by adding a level of indirection, separating the analysis ("optimum level" presumably of spending on "social programs") from the impact. Just ensure the standard is satisfied, and also work to make the system such that it makes that standard its default output.

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One of the things that I keep coming back to is that we seem to focus on the short term....
We live in the short term. Looking at, and working towards a difference with regard to, the long term doesn't obviate our obligation to the short term. In other words, you cannot making a good investment that will pay off very highly in the far future, if it means that your cash flow in the meantime is so low that you cannot pay your bills. Satisfying the short term is the minimum requirement; satisfying the short term and making things better in the long term is the objective.
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Old 05-16-2013, 02:22 PM   #46
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Why bother? Why not forge a clear understanding of the living conditions that you wouldn't mind being subjected to living under yourself, come to consensus about that with everyone else, and establish that as the floor. Work to foster an economy that provides sufficient access to such ("an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring"), and in the meantime ensure safety nets provide that floor. There's no need to make it more complicated by adding a level of indirection, separating the analysis ("optimum level" presumably of spending on "social programs") from the impact. Just ensure the standard is satisfied, and also work to make the system such that it makes that standard its default output..

Well, for one my level of living conditions that I would not mind being subject to is pretty high... and I work my tail off to get there... I would hate to think that society would owe me this level of living condition... or anybody else for that matter....

Now, if you want to get down to a basic level.... I had two BILs (different families) who lived in poverty... one lived in a house with no floors, just the dirt... no running water, no electricity... he received a paid for education and did reasonably well...

Another lived in a small house paid for by his working mom and a deadbeat dad.... with 4 brothers... he has done quite well...

There are 6 siblings in my family... we lived in a house that had 1400 sq ft.... my dad made very little... we all worked at various jobs to have stuff...

None of these families had any welfare... what has happened in the last 40 or so years to make it where society owes people a minimum level of comfort


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We live in the short term. Looking at, and working towards a difference with regard to, the long term doesn't obviate our obligation to the short term. In other words, you cannot making a good investment that will pay off very highly in the far future, if it means that your cash flow in the meantime is so low that you cannot pay your bills. Satisfying the short term is the minimum requirement; satisfying the short term and making things better in the long term is the objective.

I agree.... it does make sense to worry about how we will do.... but when people are talking about the 'decline' of America.... I just don't buy it... England has 'declined' as the #1 world power, but the people there are living quite well....

I don't see us dropping below #2 during any living persons life..... heck, even longer than that....
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Old 05-16-2013, 02:41 PM   #47
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Well, for one my level of living conditions that I would not mind being subject to is pretty high...
Hence, the stated necessity of coming to consensus on the matter. The point is you shouldn't be asking, "How much will it cost?" when deciding a minimum standard. A minimum standard is based on what is minimally acceptable on a qualitative level. You set the cost based on that level, not the other way around. That's why there is so much contention with regard to this issue: Some folks insist on deciding what's reasonable based on what's inexpensive.

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and I work my tail off to get there...
You're confusing what you want with what you wouldn't mind settling for. Imagine if, heaven forbid, a family member was kidnapped and it took every penny you had to pay the ransom, what would you do then? What would be that level, then?

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what has happened in the last 40 or so years to make it where society owes people a minimum level of comfort
I'm not talking about comfort. I'm talking about basics. Life. Health. And so on. Have standards changed over the last 40 years or so? Surely. We've become a less barbaric society. Heck, when I was born, people of color couldn't sit at the same counter as me in many places. Also, keep in mind this chart when thinking about why standards have changed over the last 40 years or so:
http://static4.businessinsider.com/i...ifty-years.jpg

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I agree.... it does make sense to worry about how we will do.... but when people are talking about the 'decline' of America.... I just don't buy it...
Let's look at that chart again:
http://static4.businessinsider.com/i...ifty-years.jpg

We talk about that chart by saying that the wealthy have greatly benefited from substantial growth in productivity (which is true), while the workers in the country have experience "flat" wages. That's actually not true: Wages have actually gone down in real terms. The people who are effectively living on that dark line are experiencing an America in decline. It is remarkable that that America in decline exists side-by-side with the America that is doing so well. And for those of us lucky enough to get a good bit of what's dripping off of that grey line, it may be hard for us to see the reality of living on that black line.
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Old 05-16-2013, 02:57 PM   #48
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There was a recent thread that cited the following article titled "How We Pay Taxes: 11 Charts"
How We Pay Taxes: 11 Charts - Derek Thompson - The Atlantic

I found the last chart startling, and I believe it says a lot about the growing concentration of wealth. According to that chart (based on 2011 tax data), 55.5% of the benefit of the lower tax rate on LT Capital Gains & Qualified Dividends goes to the top 0.1% of taxpayers! And another 19.6% goes to the next top 0.9% of taxpayers. Thus 75.1% of that tax break benefits the top 1% of taxpayers. Lest someone say that LTCG have traditionally been taxed at a lower rate than wages, the low LTCG rates that the US has had since 2003 haven't been this low since 1941.

As for the US becoming "like Europe". Well, there are a lot of different countries in Europe, each with its own policies. I believe that the US would be smart to emulate some of the policies of some European countries. For example, the way that unemployment and job training are handled in Denmark seems to work much better than how they're handled in the US as well as most other European countries.

Americans should be concerned that there is now more social mobility in France than in the US. In other words, if you're born into a poor family in France, you've get a better chance of moving into the French middle class than you've got in the US.

IMO, the biggest reason why all Americans should be concerned about the sharp increase in the concentration of wealth in the past couple of decades (aside from the obvious moral reasons) is that if this concentration continues and keeps getting worse, it will inevitably result in serious social unrest. There's no telling what form that might take.
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Old 05-16-2013, 03:07 PM   #49
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When I think of the wealth gap I always think of this guy in the cube next to me yrs. ago. We both graduated the same time and we both pretty much made the same salary. I had around 10 homes and banked my salary, he was broke and 30-40k in Credit Card debt.
If they took my money and gave half to him so we both had the same amount of money, in 5-10 years I would be banking my salary and he would be broke.
AMEND
You and my father would get along real well. He repeatedly says, if you confiscated all of the wealth from the rich and distributed it to the masses, they would have it all back in ten years. His thinking was those people would use what they had left to invest and recover their wealth, while the recipients would just burn through it. Kind of like what the lottery winners generally do.
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Old 05-16-2013, 04:44 PM   #50
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Sometimes true, but I think it's unfortunate that many folks today seem to assume that anyone suffering economic misfortune today only did so because of their own bad and/or irresponsible decisions, and that if they just would have been responsible and made better decisions, they'd be wealthy and able to retire at 50. A lot of good, hard working and responsible people are desperately thrashing around in the water in this economy, trying not to drown. And a lot of people just can't seem to accept that; it's more convenient to just believe that if they are struggling, it *must* be because they screwed up and they made their own bed. It absolves us of feeling any responsibility to help out or accept any personal sacrifice.
Maybe so, but I think it's clear there's a mix of both. I sincerely wish I knew what the mix is between hard working/responsible 'victims' and 'screw-ups.' Is it 50/50, or some lopsided mix - I've searched many times, without finding anything? I know folks in both camps personally, but that doesn't give me any sense of which camp is larger, if either.

Those who speak only of victims may be just as misguided as those who speak only of 'screw-ups.'

I'd be more than happy to help out the victims, and equally unhappy to help out the 'screw-ups.'

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I have sympathy for the people who are thrashing around in the rough water that the economy has created.... but I think that number is small compared to the number who make bad decisions...
+1.
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Old 05-16-2013, 04:54 PM   #51
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Maybe so, but I think it's clear there's a mix of both. I sincerely wish I knew what the mix is between hard working/responsible 'victims' and 'screw-ups.' Is it 50/50, or some lopsided mix - I've searched many times, without finding anything? I know folks in both camps personally, but that doesn't give me any sense of which camp is larger, if either.

Those who speak only of victims may be just as misguided as those who speak only of 'screw-ups.'

I'd be more than happy to help out the victims, and equally unhappy to help out the 'screw-ups.'

+1.

I agree.... I saw one of the news magazines on people who were laid off and what has happened to them.... they were talking to this one guy who was mowing lawns... (IIRC, blowing the leaves).... I can not remember what he did prior, but I think he had a salary of over $100K.... I would put this guy in the hard work group...

And BTW, a good number of the people received 2 years of unemployment... that is a pretty good amount of time to adjust to the new normal....
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Old 05-16-2013, 04:55 PM   #52
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Hence, the stated necessity of coming to consensus on the matter. The point is you shouldn't be asking, "How much will it cost?" when deciding a minimum standard. A minimum standard is based on what is minimally acceptable on a qualitative level. You set the cost based on that level, not the other way around. That's why there is so much contention with regard to this issue: Some folks insist on deciding what's reasonable based on what's inexpensive.
And some folks want to decide what's reasonable with no regard for what it might cost. In that we can't afford the government we have, it's hard to believe we can afford more, as your position implies (correct me if that's wrong). I think we have to face what's reasonable and what we can afford together.

But we agree to disagree, no need to rehash this again (and again). Peace.
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Old 05-16-2013, 04:57 PM   #53
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But is there really a problem? I mean one that demands a solution? Or is it just a phenomenon, a fact? I think most agree that income/wealth inequality exists. Maybe "so what?" shouldn't be ruled out as a response to the "problem".
I just read The righteous mind : why good people are divided by politics and religion Charlotte Mecklenburg Library - Classic Catalog and it goes exactly to your point. Surprisingly, the book has very little to do with politics or religion. It's about how we're all wired differently. We're wired to be "groupish". So the humans that had the most kids were good at the whole "us and them" thing. I'm not doing the book justice. I'd recommend reading it!
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Old 05-16-2013, 05:42 PM   #54
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You and my father would get along real well. He repeatedly says, if you confiscated all of the wealth from the rich and distributed it to the masses, they would have it all back in ten years.
Though I'm sure your father wouldn't have meant it as such, but that's actually precisely what would be best for the economy, money circulating through the entire cycle frequently, rather than sitting stagnant. The federal reserve reports corporate cash balances spiked to $1.93 trillion in 2011 – a 38% increase since the first quarter of 2009 – and are still very high above average levels, at about $1.6 trillion. A recent study by Pollin's institute found that if America's largest banks and non-financial companies moved just some of that cash into productive investments instead, that would give the economy a huge boost, creating about 19 million jobs in the next three years and lowering the unemployment rate to under 5 percent. [Sources: Wall Street Journal and Huffington Post.]

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I'd be more than happy to help out the victims, and equally unhappy to help out the 'screw-ups.'
Without evidence to that effect, assuming that the 'screw-ups' are a significant component of the whole is uncharitable. Regardless, I feel that helping someone genuinely in need of help is at least an order of magnitude more rewarding that helping a 'screw-up' is disappointing.

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In that we can't afford the government we have, it's hard to believe we can afford more
It isn't a matter of affording more. It is a matter of morally acknowledging that the human cost of not doing what's necessary is far higher than the financial cost of doing what is necessary. If all you care about is money, or even if you care about money simply more than you care about human beings, then that probably won't fly, but if you place people above money, it is a much clearer matter.

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But we agree to disagree, no need to rehash this again (and again). Peace.
Agreed.
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Old 05-16-2013, 06:25 PM   #55
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I found the last chart startling, and I believe it says a lot about the growing concentration of wealth. According to that chart (based on 2011 tax data), 55.5% of the benefit of the lower tax rate on LT Capital Gains & Qualified Dividends goes to the top 0.1% of taxpayers!
I don't know why that should be surprising, people on the low end of the economic scale aren't likely to have much/any in LT Capital Gains & Qualified Dividends, so they wouldn't get much of the benefit. If they own stock, most of it is probably in a 401K, or invested for them in the name of their pension fund - which has a whole different set of tax implications and benefits.

I could quote all sorts of figures from the other end of that spectrum - 100% of the EIC credit goes to low-mid earners, and most many credits and deductions phase out as income increases.

And as has been pointed out here before, a tax on LTCG can be very unfair at any rate - sometimes there was no real gain at all, due to inflation.

You and I probably both agree the tax code needs an overhaul, but those numbers don't really point to any real 'problem', IMO.

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Old 05-16-2013, 06:44 PM   #56
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We are finding that even our best high school students are woefully unprepared for college. That is a function of the material not being presented to them in HS, not IQ.
This does not seem to be true, at least around here. Our best high school students are not only prepared, but often prepared for advanced placement. And your statement about "it's not IQ" is also highly questionable. I remember from my own high school, the students who took AP and excelled turned out to be the same students who aced the verbal and math aptitude parts of the SATs.

The best combination is intelligent students with intelligent parents who value education and whose friends and schoolmates come from similar circumstances, so that doing well on tests and learning the material ranks higher than walking around with your pants down below your boxers. A Gangsta culture in a school could ruin Einstein, if his parents were negligent enough to let him be there. When I was in high school my family moved to a bigger city, and they did not know the lay of the land. My Mom drove me to school, and picked me up the first day. She took a look around and told me, don't worry, you don't belong here, I'll have you in a better school within 2 weeks. And she did, an excellent magnet school full of the brightest, most motivated and nicest kids I had ever met in my life. Many of them are still my valued friends.

Much as I love Seattle, if I were a young father without enough income to send my kids to private school, I would be across the Lake to Bellevue in a flash.

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Old 05-16-2013, 06:51 PM   #57
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IMO, the biggest reason why all Americans should be concerned about the sharp increase in the concentration of wealth in the past couple of decades (aside from the obvious moral reasons) is that if this concentration continues and keeps getting worse, it will inevitably result in serious social unrest. There's no telling what form that might take.
The countries growing fastest and having the most solid finances are mostly very lopsided countries- China, Singapore, Mexico, and some South American countries like Brazil, Colombia, and to lesser extent Chile. And let us not forget Russia! Who knows what the Russians might accomplish if they slowed down their drinking?

The US can never be Finland or Switzerland, our history and demography have closed that possibility off.

Ha
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Old 05-16-2013, 07:03 PM   #58
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Concentration of wealth may be the cause of slow growth. Someone raised the point about people needing good jobs to be able to consume the products made by American companies.

Well consumption is 2/3 or more of the GDP. But when fewer people have a lot of the money, there is only so much they can consume. If 5 people have the wealth equivalent to the next 100 people say, it's not as if those 5 people would buy 100 cars or buy food and clothing equivalent to what 100 people would buy.

The 5 people with the wealth will buy nicer cars, food and clothes but still won't necessarily equal the money spent by 100 people on lower-priced goods. That's why we can't build and sustain an economy on luxury goods production only. It's the Chevys and Fords that fueled the US economy, not Bentleys or even Cadillacs.

I think the velocity of money is declining at the same time the concentration of wealth is increasing.

Concentration of wealth is said to be greater now than in the Roaring Twenties -- we know what followed that decade.
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Old 05-16-2013, 07:36 PM   #59
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...
Concentration of wealth is said to be greater now than in the Roaring Twenties -- we know what followed that decade.
Correlation does not imply causation - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia ?

I could have sworn it was Prohibition!

Prohibition in the United States was a national ban on the sale, production, and transportation of alcohol, in place from 1920 to 1933.

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Old 05-16-2013, 08:13 PM   #60
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The countries growing fastest and having the most solid finances are mostly very lopsided countries- China, Singapore, Mexico, and some South American countries like Brazil, Colombia, and to lesser extent Chile. And let us not forget Russia! Who knows what the Russians might accomplish if they slowed down their drinking?

The US can never be Finland or Switzerland, our history and demography have closed that possibility off.

Ha
In Brazil & Mexico, the 2 largest economies in Latin America, the trend is the opposite of the US. The middle class in both of those countries has been growing substantially in recent years. The same is true in Chile & Colombia.

The same trend can be seen in China, where the middle class is now larger than the entire population of the US.
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