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Social Liberalism: The Wealth Gap

When I put up my first post on social liberalism several weeks ago, I envisioned a series of posts that would discuss many of the implications of the fact that modern liberalism is more a social phenomenon than an intellectual one.  I’ve done that in part, but have until now neglected to mention one of the largest implications of all, namely that most modern liberals make easy targets for propagandists of all stripes because their political identity is driven more by their feelings than by the facts, and so they rarely exert critical judgement over the memes and narratives of the moment.

Quite to the contrary:  to exert critical judgement is automatically to invite suspicion, because it means asking difficult questions, seeking facts, pointing out fallacies, noting inconsistencies, all of which make modern liberals profoundly uncomfortable because those sorts of activities advertise the questioner’s willingness to dissent from the orthodoxy.

Neo-Neocon wrote a great post many years ago where she quoted Milan Kundera’s Book of Laughter and Forgetting on the power of “Circle Dancing”:

Circle dancing is magic. It speaks to us through the millennia from the depths of human memory. Madame Raphael had cut the picture out of the magazine and would stare at it and dream. She too longed to dance in a ring. All her life she had looked for a group of people she could hold hands with and dance with in a ring. First she looked for them in the Methodist Church (her father was a religious fanatic), then in the Communist Party, then among the Trotskyites, then in the anti-abortion movement (A child has a right to life!), then in the pro-abortion movement (A woman has a right to her body!); she looked for them among the Marxists, the psychoanalysts, and the structuralists; she looked for them in Lenin, Zen Buddhism, Mao Tse-tung, yogis, the nouveau roman, Brechtian theater, the theater of panic; and finally she hoped she could at least become one with her students, which meant she always forced them to think and say exactly what she thought and said, and together they formed a single body and a single soul, a single ring and a single dance.

To question is to step outside the  circle, to resist the lure of the dance.  And so the memes and narratives proliferate, pushed on by those who “feel moved” by them and are too afraid to question them.

Among the many liberals I know, this week’s meme is a viral video about “the wealth gap.”  I first noticed a college acquaintance (and an enthusiastic Elizabeth Warren supporter) mention it on Facebook on Sunday, and have noticed at least three other references to it by others since then.  The video is only 6 minutes and 24 seconds long, but if you’re like me, after about three minutes, it will seem like it is going on forever.

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I’ve recorded some of my thoughts below the fold.

The first reaction I had to this video is one of disbelief that any intelligent person could take it seriously.  The ominous graphics about “WEALTH INEQUALITY IN AMERICA,” the menacing music, and the oh-so-selective presentation of “facts” and details to make its case.  The whole video seems like it was made by someone who read the book How to Lie with Statistics as a how-to manual rather than a cautionary guide.

The video’s starting point is a survey by Harvard professor Michael I. Norton about the beliefs of “Democrats, Republicans and Independents” about the distribution of wealth in America; I haven’t researched the study in question extensively, but, I suspect that if I did, I’d formulate even more questions about the legitimacy of its conclusion.  (The above-linked article, though, identifies Norton’s work as having been “inspired by the work of Harvard philosopher John Rawls,” a fact which ought to set off alarm bells in the mind of anyone even remotely familiar with Rawls’ A Theory of Justice.)

For the time being, though, let’s stipulate that the study was done in a fair and reasonable matter, that there was nothing unreasonably biased in the way the questions were worded or the way the sample was selected.

Even if we concede that point, though, the next question is, “so what?”  So a sample of the public at large doesn’t understand the realities of wealth distribution in our economy.  What does that prove?  This video starts from the premise that that proves our society is flawed, terribly, horribly, frighteningly flawed, and ramps up the music, the manipulated charts, and the slightly dramatized voice-over to hammer home that point.

A more cautious approach to the data would acknowledge that perhaps the public at large doesn’t fully understand economics, that even the implications of a precept as supposedly well-known as the 80-20 rule escape the grasp of the population (or at least of the sample that this Harvard professor surveyed).

One of the other major, flawed premises of the video is that what the surveyed group believes “should be” the case is, in any practical sense, workable or desirable.  Just because the surveyed group believes that wealth should be distributed in a more even manner doesn’t mean that societies where wealth is distributed in that way are necessarily desirable or that they work more efficiently than societies where wealth is distributed unevenly.  (Do you imagine that there could be a reason why this video isn’t a study in comparative economics?  I do.)

But the filmmaker doesn’t let what should be two obvious flaws and weaknesses stop him from producing a major piece of propaganda.  In fact, quite to the contrary, he makes a point of returning to the statistics from the Harvard survey time and again, superimposing them as lines on his charts about the actual realities of wealth distribution, charts which he’s careful not to scale adequately, just so he can complain about the concentration of wealth being “off the chart.”

Likewise, there’s the confusion of terms here.  He interchanges talk about “wealth” and “income” so loosely that it’s hard to know what statistics he’s talking about at any given time.  Anyone who lives in a state that has been hit hard by the housing bust and the foreclosure crisis should have familiarity with concepts like negative equity, the lack of savings, and the costliness of easy credit on the financial situations of so many Americans.  In a world where rock stars and sports stars go bankrupt, the difference between income and assets really shouldn’t be that hard to grasp, and yet this video is doing its best to capitalize on the confusion.

And we haven’t even touched on the issue of class mobility which the video pretends doesn’t exist.  In 1976–a year the video references at 5:09–the American economy was stagnant and moribund after years of price controls and runaway inflation, Warren Buffett was a successful investor (but a long, long way from being the richest person in the country), Bill Gates was a lawyer’s son who had dropped out of Harvard to start a new venture, Apple Computer was introducing its first product, and Mark Zuckerberg wasn’t even born yet.

We “just need to wake up” says the video, as it closes, with yet another ominous chord.  Note that while it doesn’t propose a solution to the problem, it sure hints at one.

The video pretends to be balanced in its ominous invocation of “socialism” as if to say that what it’s advancing isn’t socialism but simply common sense.  This is a standard diversionary tactic employed by the left for years–one which Obama employed with great success in 2008:  talk about the necessity for “change” and make reference to “fairness” rather than calling overtly for socialism.

I’ve only scratched the surface of the problems inherent in the case made by the video, and yet the liberals who are promoting the video seem incapable of recognizing even those basic flaws.

Consider the kinds of tag lines they use to promote it:  “All we have to do is to fix this, and we can get our economy working again,” exclaimed one.

Oh great.  And how, exactly, do they propose we “fix it”?  What fix can they propose that doesn’t involve confiscatory taxation, burdensome regulation, forced redistribution, and incentivizing all sorts of undesirable behaviors?  Those sorts of fixes worked so well, after all, in the former Soviet Union, in China, in Cuba, and in North Korea.   Naturally they won’t say because they don’t want to get into discussing the ugly details.

“I feel stunned and silenced by this video.  I’m all choked up,” said another.  Please forgive me, I’m tempted to say, if I fail to see your emotional inability to grasp some basic, simple premises of economics as a compelling reason to move towards an economic system that is known for its corruption, its brutality, and its certain collapse.  To the social liberal, though, such a response would not only be unthinkable, it would be a horror;  what matters is their feelings, and their intentions.

Anyone bold enough to step outside of the circle and question the sanctity of their feelings or intentions must be monstrous, or cruel, or worse, crazy.  Emily Dickinson comes to mind:

Much Madness is divinest Sense –
To a discerning Eye –
Much Sense – the starkest Madness –
’Tis the Majority
In this, as all, prevail –
Assent – and you are sane –
Demur – you’re straightway dangerous –
And handled with a Chain –
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68 Comments

  1. Your tirade about blacks being trapped in a cycle of dependency is racist, inflammatory and at odds with the facts.

    Which is, of course, why you and your fellow Obama supporters are constantly screaming and crying that you need more welfare, you need more handouts, you need more gimmes.

    Mainly because you’ve chosen to be incapable of caring for yourself and to be mentally or educationally unable to manage yourself or take responsibility for your behavior.

    And here’s the best example.

    You do not get to move the goals posts about what constitutes an ‘entitlement” because your “blame the niggers” party line was shoved right up your closeted asshole. Did it feel good? I’m sure when gorge on that first big black cock like I know you want to, you’ll come to your senses and stop fighting for the forces of evil. Trust me Dallas baby, it gets bluer.

    I’m sure it will. I’ve seen nothing to indicate that you were in any way educated, taught by an adult, including your parents, or otherwise prepared to do anything other than scream, throw a tantrum, and make sexual slurs towards anyone who doesn’t give you whatever you want whenever you want it.

    The appeal of Obama to people like you is very simple: Obama encourages you to blame whitey, to act childishly, to sexually slur people, to scream and yell and berate, to riot and burn down buildings, to point guns at police officers, and everything we see in your behavior and the behavior of the Obama-voting black community in Chicago, Brooklyn, and everywhere else. You want to be violent, obscene racist thugs who destroy everything and shoot each other, and Obama gives you the welfare checks to do it.

    What Obama DOESN’T demand is that you get an education, that you get a job, that you pay your bills, that you take responsibility for your actions, and that you give up your racist beliefs that white people are to blame for all your problems.

    Which is exactly why you are trapped in the cycle of dependency, and will remain there until someone expects you to take on the responsibility of adulthood.

    Comment by North Dallas Thirty — March 12, 2013 @ 2:32 pm - March 12, 2013

  2. Racism is: Any thinking that judges people by their race rather than their character, or/and that seeks to maintain racial divisions among people.

    Many left-liberals are racists. Example: Anyone who supports affirmative action (beyond outreach; more like a quota mentality) is a racist, and probably a sexist.

    Liberal racism is part of why many white supremacists were/are fine with Obama. Obama himself thinks in racial categories, and is also socialist-leaning (as are many white supremacists), so the National Socialist types in America view Obama as politically acceptable, as the Esquire article shows.

    In view of some of the charges flying around here, and in a spirit of keeping one’s own house clean, I’d like to see if any right-leaning commentor has said something racist in this thread.

    NDT’s comments (1) accuse Another_Jeremy of being a racist (along the lines I gave above); (2) talk about the problems of the impovershed (or “underclass”) portion of America’s black population; and (3) note that Another_Jeremy doesn’t want to talk about such problems, even though left-liberal politicians often affirm the problems’ existence. Example from #18:

    Because, Another_Jeremy, the only answer you will accept is that people who work should be forced by the government to give you their earnings because you have black skin.

    You are not capable of discussing anything else. You won’t talk about the illegitimacy rate in the black community, the number of black children who don’t have fathers in the home, the black community’s insistence that being educated is “acting white”, the dulling effect of sending unprepared students to college in the name of “affirmative action”, the racist Obama Party’s refusal to allow black children to utilize vouchers to escape underperforming unionized public schools, and how this all results in a perpetuation of a dependency cycle that has led to the establishment of a permanent black underclass.

    Although NDT invokes racial concepts, he does so in order to criticize those who hold them (for example, he believes that Another_Jeremy nurses a sense of grievance or entitlement, based on race). NDT’s own viewpoint is consistently that people should NOT be judged or entitled by any skin color. Where NDT criticizes groups of people, he names them on the shared idea or behavior that he is criticizing; for example, in other comments he criticizes “Obama supporters” or “Obama party members” (and not “blacks”). Another_Jeremy accuses NDT of racism, but his charges don’t stick because they don’t line up with what NDT actually said.

    In #34, RS says:

    Look at the black population in the United States, and then the white population. The black population is far poorer…

    I should have said earlier that language like “the black population” or “the white population” makes me cringe because it uses racial categories descriptively (like they could potentially be valid), rather than to critique people who cling to racial categories. Reality is *NOT* racist: in reality, there is no definable, distinct “X population” which “is” this or that. Language like “the X community” is just a little better; I still don’t love it, but at least it refers to people who freely choose(!) to identify as X.

    Having said all that: Another_Jeremy also chose to use lingo like “the black populace”, and more importantly, I don’t believe for one second that RS’ intention is to maintain racial divisions, or to judge anyone by their race.

    I’ll stop here. You get the idea. Sorry if this comment is too prissy (or perhaps referee-ish), but I don’t want it said that I was unwilling to examine the behavior of the right-leaning side. I have examined it, and found no real racism. I think I can now answer Another_Jeremy’s question to NDT:

    Also, why do you keep focusing on these racial issues

    Because he believes that you do, Another_Jeremy. He brings it up, to nail you with it. He thinks that *you* carry the burden of racial obsession and racist thinking. Is he wrong? I haven’t seen any evidence yet, that he’s wrong.

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — March 12, 2013 @ 4:32 pm - March 12, 2013

  3. P.S. Your use of sexual insults doesn’t make you more credible.

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — March 12, 2013 @ 4:54 pm - March 12, 2013

  4. I don’t believe for one second that RS’ intention is to maintain racial divisions

    It wasn’t. Unfortunately, people have been divided up into superficial categories, and the disparate treatment of those categories by the government (and society in general) makes it necessary to acknowledge their existence, regardless of whether or not their existence is justified (which it isn’t, of course). On the other hand, I suppose my preference for clinical terminology could be construed as validating these constructs. I will keep that in mind.

    Reality is *NOT* racist

    I just want to make clear that I said that in mockery of Another_Jeremy.

    And Another_Jeremy, you are boring.

    Comment by Rattlesnake — March 12, 2013 @ 6:17 pm - March 12, 2013

  5. Re: my last comment:

    It wasn’t. Unfortunately, people have been divided up into superficial categories, and the disparate treatment of those categories by the government (and society in general) makes it necessary to acknowledge their existence, regardless of whether or not their existence is justified (which it isn’t, of course).

    …because said disparate treatment has had disastrous consequences (just to clarify).

    Comment by Rattlesnake — March 12, 2013 @ 6:22 pm - March 12, 2013

  6. Thanks, RS!

    And I understand about using the language that you find around you; the language that the world uses. Again, I don’t mean to be a prude about it. Even I couldn’t quite avoid using the term “black population” in my fifth paragraph, aargh.

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — March 12, 2013 @ 6:37 pm - March 12, 2013

  7. Affirmative Action qualifies ANYBODY who is not a heterosexual White male, Jeremy? Do you know what means? That means White Females, Blacks, LGBT, Hispanics, and Latinos ALL qualify. The White liberals, whose crumbs from their table you beg for and are trying to impress even now, know that. They also know you never have or will amount to anything without them. They also know their daughters qualify for AA, they perform academically better than you, and will produce more than you in the workforce, and they’re now employing AA with something to finally show for it. And they get to keep you needing them. You want to talk about race, Jeremy? Look at how your own masters are turning the tables on you. Black America now only has two choices: either become masters of their own circumstances, which only conservatism will allow; or wait for whatever they’re “redistributed”, and with more productive minorities to choose from and compete with, will become less and less over time. I’m not racist, an Uncle Tom, or any of that, Jeremy; I’m just aware of how the sh*t’s going down.

    Comment by Douglas — March 12, 2013 @ 6:43 pm - March 12, 2013

  8. What is the cause of the disparity in poverty levels between white and black people? Or am I racist for acknowledging that?

    Comment by Rattlesnake — March 12, 2013 @ 9:43 pm - March 12, 2013

  9. To be fair, this is not ALL Black people. African immigrants and Black people born here get accepted into universities based on academics, build their own communities, and do very well for themselves. It’s the “Afrocentric” crowd, who immigrants despise and look down on, that make it hard it for everybody else.

    Comment by Douglas — March 12, 2013 @ 10:48 pm - March 12, 2013

  10. What is the cause of the disparity in poverty levels between white and black people?

    The problem is with the concepts “black people” and “white people”. They’re false concepts. I mean, what about mixed-race people? Or Sicilians (whom I believe have some Arab blood in them)? Or for that matter, Asians? Or Hispanics… are the light-skinned ones honorary whites? If so, how do we classify the darker ones? and what is the dividing line?

    The ‘white people – black people’ concept does have some important historical roots, in Anglo-American slavery. But even there, we can’t say “black comes from slavery” because what about all of the white slaves? (that existed at almost the same period in the Ottoman Empire, the Muslim world)

    I’m not interested in perpetuating false distinctions, however historically grounded they may be. I’m interested in solving problems of poverty, broken families and dependency, for all poor people – a good many of whom are white, Hispanic, mixed, etc.

    The problem is not in tracking the historical racial classifications, or noticing the statistical differences in them. The problem (which is NOT anything that I accuse you of) is in thinking it matters. The statistical differences are (or should be) an historical curiosity, nothing more.

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — March 12, 2013 @ 10:52 pm - March 12, 2013

  11. The major disparity in wealth inequality? Two words:Community Values.

    Comment by Douglas — March 12, 2013 @ 11:03 pm - March 12, 2013

  12. The problem is not in tracking the historical racial classifications, or noticing the statistical differences in them. The problem (which is NOT anything that I accuse you of) is in thinking it matters. The statistical differences are (or should be) an historical curiosity, nothing more.

    I’m not sure I agree with that. I see your point, but one problem is that these groups, whose existence might not have any rational basis, but exist nonetheless, are reinforced by government policies that are directly responsible for the disparity among them. Short of completely tearing down a government as it exists and rebuilding it according to the principles of natural law, these policies must be addressed. They aren’t the only things that contribute to poverty, of course, but they are a significant contributor to poverty.

    I’m sure I could have worded my question differently, and I apologize for (again) giving validity to these constructs, but I wanted Another_Jeremy to be able to understand what I was talking about (it is clear that he is only capable of thinking in terms of “white people vs. black people.” The concepts you speak of are, I’m sure, completely beyond his capacity to understand). I would wager that he isn’t capable of giving any sort of response to that question that doesn’t involve “white privelege” or something, which is complete bullsh*t. Which was my point in asking it (that is, that he wouldn’t be able to give a cogent response). I was also interested to see what other responses I might get, though, just to see if any new information came up.

    Comment by Rattlesnake — March 13, 2013 @ 3:11 pm - March 13, 2013

  13. Understood.

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — March 13, 2013 @ 3:35 pm - March 13, 2013

  14. If you think I give a rip about my “credibility” among commenters who bemoan the racial politics of liberals on a thread about wealth distribution by people on a blog expressly dedicated to gay conservatives, you are sorely mistaken.

    I Luv Capitalism-

    I didn’t bring up race. One of your fellow conservatives did. And I responded in kind, always bringing the conversation back to wealth inequality. So if you want some “credibility” you can start with addressing what this thread is actually about instead of turning the discussion into a racial flame war and then chastising me when I prove the racist comments of others to be falsehoods.

    Comment by Another_Jeremy — March 14, 2013 @ 1:28 am - March 14, 2013

  15. Mainly because, Another_Jeremy, as you have so beautifully demonstrated, you and your fellow liberals believe that white people are to blame for every problem in society.

    “Income inequality” is just your latest rationalization for demanding that white people be punished and forced to give you money because you have black skin.

    Because, as we’ve seen from your behavior, you’re an uneducated racist bigot who screams, throws tantrums, blames white people and makes sexual slurs when he doesn’t get his way, which pretty much ensures you’re going to be completely “unequal” in income when it comes to a person who relies on their character rather than their skin color.

    Comment by North Dallas Thirty — March 14, 2013 @ 2:34 am - March 14, 2013

  16. If you think I give a rip about my “credibility”

    Oh, but I don’t think that, Another_Jeremy. That’s the point. You’re not interested in any worthwhile discussion.

    As for wealth inequality, I addressed that all the way up at #2. Way ahead of you. (Also #49.) But again, you couldn’t care less.

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — March 14, 2013 @ 10:05 am - March 14, 2013

  17. Moreover, ILC, we are missing the fundamental point.

    Another_Jeremy wants those like himself who use their skin color as an excuse, attack and berate anyone who criticizes their performance, and make sexual slurs about people that they do not like to receive exactly the same pay as someone who does the exact opposite.

    That is what “income inequality” blather is all about. Simply put, the rotten and lazy performers like Another_Jeremy demand that they be paid the same as the honest and hardworking performers. They want retirement savings confiscated because they refuse to save. They want merit and performance pay banned because they have no intention of doing either. They want hiring, promotion, and advancement based on quotas for intrinsic factors like skin color, gender, and sexual orientation rather than extrinsic factors like performance and value.

    And they vote for the politician that promises that, which is Barack Obama and the Barack Obama Party.

    Comment by North Dallas Thirty — March 14, 2013 @ 12:52 pm - March 14, 2013

  18. […] not the ironic part. The ironic – no, tragic – part is that left-liberals, who we know complain about income inequality (thanks Kurt!), are being given that very inequality by the policies of the Obama administration. […]

    Pingback by GayPatriot » Always “Moar Big Government” — March 18, 2013 @ 10:48 pm - March 18, 2013

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