The European Union: A Disaster for Equality, Etc.

Thursday, November 11, 2010 \PM\.\Thu\.

A lot of progressives seem to be afflicted with a weird form of ADHD. Try as they might, they simply can’t talk about poverty for more than 30 seconds without lapsing off into talking about inequality. Progressives claim to have a special care for the poor, but what really gets them animated is talking about the rich, and in particular how much more the rich have than anyone else (including their very not poor selves). Inequality, though, is not the same thing as poverty. A society where everyone is starving to death is highly egalitarian.

Should we care about equality as such? A lot of progressives say that we should. Here, for example, is a bit from Tony Judt’s posthumously published Ill Fares the Land (helpfully provided by my former co-blogger Morning’s Minion):

“Inequality, then, is not just unattractive in itself; it clearly corresponds to pathological social problems that we cannot hope to address unless we attend to their underlying cause. There is a reason why infant mortality, life expectancy, criminality, the prison population, mental illness, unemployment, obesity, malnutrition, teenage pregnancy, illegal drug use, economic insecurity, personal indebtedness and anxiety are so much more marked in the US and the UK than they are in continental Europe.

The wider the spread between the wealthy few and the impoverished many, the worse the social problems: a statement which appears to be true for rich and poor countries alike. What matters is not how affluent a country is but how unequal it is. Thus Sweden, or Finland, two of the world’s wealthiest countries by per capital income or GDP, have a very narrow gap separating their richest from their poorest citizens–and they consistently lead the world in indices of measurable wellbeing. Conversely, the United States, despite its huge aggregate wealth, always comes low on such measures.

Of course, if inequality leads to crime, mental illness, and so forth, then you might wonder: why the crime rate is higher in Finland than the U.S.,? Why is the suicide rate higher in Finland and Sweden than the U.S.? Etc.

I suspect that deep down progressives do not care about inequality. Read the rest of this entry »

God vs. The State

Thursday, November 4, 2010 \PM\.\Thu\.

Religious belief and allegiance to the state can coexist comfortably, or even overlap entirely (as in Iran). But in many instances across history, the two have been rivals, even antagonists.

A sense of political stability provides comforting reassurance that our world is orderly and controlled. So does belief in an all-powerful deity. This puts the two in a seesaw relationship: When one goes up, the other goes down.

That’s the contention of a group of researchers led by Duke University psychologist Aaron Kay. Writing in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, they provide evidence of this dynamic and suggest it can be found in Eastern as well as Western cultures.

79 participants read one of two articles ostensibly published in the journal Science. One stated that science increasingly believes in the existence of a God or God-like entity who is “continually making changes to alter the course of cosmic history.” The other explained that while God may exist, the laws of physics mean he could not interfere in man’s affairs.
Afterward, the participants answered a series of questions, including eight that measured their support for the current national government.

“When participants were led to believe that scientists have concluded that God is unlikely to intervene in the world’s affairs, participants showed higher levels of government support,” they report. “When God was depicted as a source of control and order, participants less ardently defended the legitimacy of their government.”


The Plight of Christians in the West Bank

Wednesday, October 27, 2010 \AM\.\Wed\.

Here is a bit from recent reportage by British journalist Peter Hitchens:

[In the West Bank] I saw the outline of a society, slowly forming amid the wreckage, in which a decent person might live, work, raise children and attempt to live a good life. But I also saw and heard distressing things.

One – which I feel all of us should be aware of – is the plight of Christian Arabs under the rule of the Palestinian Authority. More than once I heard them say: ‘Life was better for us under Israeli rule.’

One young man, lamenting the refusal of the Muslim-dominated courts to help him in a property dispute with squatters, burst out: ‘We are so alone! All of us Christians feel so lonely in this country.’

This conversation took place about a mile from the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where tourists are given the impression that the Christian religion is respected. Not really.

Read the rest of this entry »

Is Libertarianism Individualistic?

Monday, October 18, 2010 \PM\.\Mon\.

Note: This is an old post of mine, long since deleted. I’m reposting it in response to this comment by Kyle Cupp.

Is Libertarianism individualistic? No doubt for many the answer to this question would seem to be “um, yeah, obviously.” But like most ‘isms’ the terms libertarianism and individualism can be used in several different senses. If by libertarianism one means something like “the views of Ayn Rand” and by individualism one means something like “the views of Ayn Rand” then the answer will be um, yeah, obviously. For purposes of this post, however, I’ll define libertarianism as the belief that government ought ideally to be limited to the core functions of the so-called “nightwatchman state,” e.g. policing, national defense, the courts, etc. As for individualism, I’ll just quote Wikipedia:

Individualism is the moral stance, political philosophy, ideology, or social outlook that stresses independence and self-reliance. Individualists promote the exercise of one’s goals and desires, while opposing most external interference upon one’s choices, whether by society, or any other group or institution.

Certainly there are many libertarians in the above sense who are also individualists. Be that as it may, there is, I think, no necessary connection between libertarianism and individualism so defined. Libertarianism, as I’ve defined it, is concerned only with placing limits on the state. It says nothing about the institutions of civil society, be it social norms, voluntary associations, the Church, or marriage and the family. Individualism, by contrast, does not draw a sharp distinction between limitations on individual freedom imposed by civil society and those imposed by the state. Nor is libertarianism a “moral stance” in the sense of the Wikipedia definition of individualism. Libertarianism offers a set of policy prescriptions which can be held on a variety of different grounds. One might subscribe to libertarianism because one is a committed individualist, or one might advocate it on purely practical grounds. It’s true that libertarians don’t tend to talk about civil society much (though there are exceptions). This may, in fact, partly explain its as yet limited appeal. But at the risk of repeating myself, allow me to repeat myself: there is nothing inherent in libertarianism that requires one to downplay civil society, or to view the limitations on individual action that it sometimes involves with suspicion. Read the rest of this entry »

Is Europe Destroying The Middle Class?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010 \PM\.\Tue\.

As a follow up to Darwin’s post, I think it’s important to note that what the Financial Times calls the Great Stagnation is not just limited to the United States. Growth slowed throughout the developed world after 1973, and in fact slowed more in Europe than it has in America.

Here, for example, is a bit of an article from before the current crisis about wage stagnation and the decline of the middle class in Europe:

The European dream is under assault, as the wave of inflation sweeping the globe mixes with this continent’s long-stagnant wages. Families that once enjoyed Europe’s vaunted quality of life are pinching pennies to buy necessities, and cutting back on extras like movies and vacations abroad.

Potentially more disturbing — especially to the political and social order — are the millions across the continent grappling with the realization that they may have lives worse, not better, than their parents.

Read the rest of this entry »

Europe Vs. America

Friday, October 8, 2010 \AM\.\Fri\.

Brad DeLong recently compared the economic performance of communist countries with their capitalist neighbors and found, surprise surprise, that capitalism works a lot better than communism:

DeLong comments:

Eschewing markets robs you of between 80% and 90% of your potential economic productivity.

DeLong’s argument is persuasive, but it also seems a bit dated. Outside of a few English departments pretty much everyone recognizes that communism was a flop. Heck, even Fidel Castro admits that it doesn’t work. Today the pressing question is not America vs. the Soviet Union but America vs. the European Union, i.e. the relatively free market system of the United States vs. the relatively more social democratic system of many European countries.

Here is some recent OCED data on median income by country, from the mid 2000S

Read the rest of this entry »

Some People Are Too Stupid To Be Atheists

Wednesday, September 29, 2010 \PM\.\Wed\.

If you haven’t already, expect to hear a lot about the recent Pew survey on the religious knowledge of Americans in the coming days:

Researchers from the independent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life phoned more than 3,400 Americans and asked them 32 questions about the Bible, Christianity and other world religions, famous religious figures and the constitutional principles governing religion in public life.

On average, people who took the survey answered half the questions incorrectly, and many flubbed even questions about their own faith.

Those who scored the highest were atheists and agnostics, as well as two religious minorities: Jews and Mormons. The results were the same even after the researchers controlled for factors like age and racial differences.

Read the rest of this entry »