Tuesday, May 24, 2016


Earl Wajenberg, who I know in both cyberspace and narthex space, linked this article from Slate Star Codex, Three Great Articles On Poverty, and Why I Disagree With All Of Them, in the comments back over the last hill. It deserves full notice.  If you hadn't already guessed, I am very much southeast corner.


Edith Hook said...

“The only public figure I can think of in the southeast quadrant with me is Charles Murray. Neither he nor I would dare reduce all class differences to heredity, and he in particular has some very sophisticated theories about class and culture. But he shares my skepticism that the 55 year old Kentucky trucker can be taught to code, and I don’t think he’s too sanguine about the trucker’s kids either. His solution is a basic income guarantee, and I guess that’s mine too. Not because I have great answers to all of the QZ article’s problems. But just because I don’t have any better ideas1,2.”
I thought the EITC operated like a basic income guarantee.
Why is this more sustainable then the welfare state? I am also in the pessimistic corner and I admit to being very ambivalent and incoherent about poverty and its solutions. It’s cute to say “poverty will always be with us”, but, are we currently seeing historical poverty or something quantitatively or qualitatively different, that is expanding deeper into what we used to think of as the working class? Do the economic concepts and tool kit that emerged during the Industrial Revolution apply to the Information Revolution? Does this revolution eliminate or devalue traditional labor? Are the people who are not glib, super athletic, creative, gifted in mathematics doomed?
Are the people in economic distress deficient in IQ or is it that their skillsets have been devalued. I ask this because one of my favorite programs was “Ultimate Restoration”. This program documented the restoration of steam liners, locomotives, fire engines. I teared up at the reveal of the restored legendary Ahrens Fox fire truck from KC,MO, built in 1927. I marveled at the big brains that accomplished this magnificent artifact, conceived and built before computers and CNC. It scares me that we are losing these skill sets, yet we should grapple with the reality that they have much less economic value now and in the future.

Sam L. said...

Poverty WILL always be with us, for we (for some definitions of we) are determined to define poverty as some level of X dollars per year per person, per family, per whatever, and it is a given that 20% of the people WILL be in the lowest quintile and they will be described as Poor or Poverty-Stricken. No matter that they're generally not going hungry, have a smartphone, two TVs, and a car.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Those skillsets are still valued, but only for the best. Restoration will continue to command respect. Unfortunately there won't be that many of those jobs.

And as Edith notes, we may be in new territory, where decent people of good character who don't happen to have valued skills won't have that many choices for jobs. I really worry about a 10%-90% world, where a fortunate half of the 90% can find a niche, while the others just don;t have a niche..

Edith Hook said...

Yes, the term “poverty” is pretty meaningless and my remarks are directed more to the issue of those who are falling behind, aka becoming redundant. Lack of economic success is sometimes conflated with lack of IQ or character. I suppose that this is often true, but I don’t think that it applies to the majority of wage earners, who are stagnating or who’s IQs and attitudes have been sufficient up until recently. My guess is that the goal posts have moved dramatically; not a bad thing, we don’t want to live in a static economy. I would just like the conversation to be more realistic.
To paraphrase and embellish an observation by David Brooks: “ The globalized sector and a few industries are producing a lot of the productivity gains, ……. producing good jobs but not a lot of jobs, or as many as are needed for regular folks………… The second more service oriented sector is producing more jobs, but not as many productivity gains. The hypercompetitive globalized economy generates enormous profits, while the second, less tradable economy is where more Americans actually live.”