(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘equality

“Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom”*…

Lynn Hunt on Alexis de Tocqueville, who left France to study the American prison system and returned with the material that would become Democracy in America

Alexis de Tocqueville was a study in contradictions: a French aristocrat of proud heritage who trumpeted the inevitable, salutary rise of democracy, using the United States as his exemplar; a cosmopolitan with an English wife and many friends in the Anglo-American world who brandished a fervent French nationalism; an antislavery advocate who felt no discomfort in supporting the French colonization of Algeria and hired as his main assistant Arthur de Gobineau, who later published one of the founding texts of white supremacy; and finally a man of delicate constitution who undertook an arduous trip on horseback into the wilderness of northern Michigan in order to see Native Americans and new settler communities for himself. Such inconsistencies make for a fascinating story, and in The Man Who Understood Democracy, Olivier Zunz, a French-educated historian who has taught US history for decades at the University of Virginia, shows that he is ideally suited to tell it.

Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, published in two volumes in 1835 and 1840, became an instant classic and has remained one to this day. On its hundredth anniversary in 1935, the French government presented a bust of the author to Franklin D. Roosevelt, and an article at the time referred to the book as “perhaps the greatest, most lucid, and most impartial commentary that free institutions in general, and American self-government in particular, had ever received.” Democracy in America served as a kind of textbook for US students for many generations, but it is now more often cited than read. That dutiful disregard may be the fate of all such masterworks, especially one that runs about eight hundred pages, but Zunz has succeeded in restoring its appeal, first by vividly retracing its origins and then by skillfully evoking the enduring excitement and relevance of its analysis…

Alexis de Tocqueville, the Frenchman who unpacked the tension between freedom and equality in the United States: “‘A Great Democratic Revolution’.”

* Alexis de Tocqueville– who went on to observe that “Americans are so enamored of equality, they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom.”

###

As we dedicate ourselves to democracy, we might note that today is Fibonacci Day, as today’s date is often rendered 11/23, and the Fibonacci sequence (also here and here) begins 1, 1, 2, 3…

Five Ways to Celebrate Fibonacci Day.

source

“Material progress does not merely fail to relieve poverty, it actually produces it. This association of progress with poverty is the great enigma of our times. It is the riddle that the sphinx of fate puts to our civilization. And which NOT to answer is to be destroyed.”*…

John Burn-Murdoch brings the data…

Where would you rather live? A society where the rich are extraordinarily rich and the poor are very poor, or one where the rich are merely very well off but even those on the lowest incomes also enjoy a decent standard of living?

For all but the most ardent free-market libertarians, the answer would be the latter. Research has consistently shown that while most people express a desire for some distance between top and bottom, they would rather live in considerably more equal societies than they do at present. Many would even opt for the more egalitarian society if the overall pie was smaller than in a less equal one.

On this basis, it follows that one good way to evaluate which countries are better places to live than others is to ask: is life good for everyone there, or is it only good for rich people?

To find the answer, we can look at how people at different points on the income distribution compare to their peers elsewhere. If you’re a proud Brit or American, you may want to look away now…

To be clear, the US data show that both broad-based growth and the equal distribution of its proceeds matter for wellbeing. Five years of healthy pre-pandemic growth in US living standards across the distribution lifted all boats, a trend that was conspicuously absent in the UK.

But redistributing the gains more evenly would have a far more transformative impact on quality of life for millions. The growth spurt boosted incomes of the bottom decile of US households by roughly an extra 10 per cent. But transpose Norway’s inequality gradient on to the US, and the poorest decile of Americans would be a further 40 per cent better off while the top decile would remain richer than the top of almost every other country on the planet.

Our leaders are of course right to target economic growth, but to wave away concerns about the distribution of a decent standard of living — which is what income inequality essentially measures — is to be disinterested in the lives of millions. Until those gradients are made less steep, the UK and US will remain poor societies with pockets of rich people…

Britain and the US are poor societies with some very rich people,” from @jburnmurdoch.

For a different (but not altogether contrary) perspective, see Noah Smith (@Noahpinion): “No, the U.S. is not “a poor society with some very rich people” (“We’re a rich society with some very poor people…”)

For an authoritative (and fascinating) account of how we got here: “Our Ancestors Thought We’d Build an Economic Paradise. Instead We Got 2022,” from @delong, adapted from his terrific new book, Slouching Toward Utopia.

Henry George, Progress and Poverty (whose point seems to accrue whether one comes down with Burn-Murdoch or with Smith…)

###

As we ponder progress, we might recall that it was on this date in 1962 that Americans met The Jetsons; the animated series premiered on ABC (the first color series on the network). The show was scheduled opposite Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color and Dennis the Menace and didn’t receive much attention; it was cancelled after one season and moved to Saturday mornings, where it was very successful.

Apart from flying cars and outer-space dwellings, much of the technology of The Jetsons has become commonplace: people now communicate via video chat on flat screens; domestic robots (like Roomba) are widespread, and various high-tech devices are the instruments of our leisure. But The Jetsons broader portrayal of life is still far from commonplace: while its world is one in which capitalism and entrepreneurship still exist and technology has not changed fundamental elements of human nature, it posits social advances (e.g., George Jetson works an hour a day, two days a week) that haven’t accrued and a society– no people of color, no working mothers, no single parents, no gay marriage, no poverty– that seem (to put it politely) quaint. Still, Smithsonian‘s Matt Novak, in an article called “Why The Show Still Matters” argues, “Today The Jetsons stands as the single most important piece of 20th century futurism… It’s easy for some people to dismiss The Jetsons as just a TV show, and a lowly cartoon at that. But this little show—for better and for worse—has had a profound impact on the way that Americans think and talk about the future.”

source

And we might agree with  Andrew Womack (@Womack) and Rosecrans Baldwin (@rosecrans) that “it is a special pleasure to link this year after year: “it’s decorative gourd season, motherf*ckers.”

Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 23, 2022 at 1:00 am

“People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them”*…

The late David Graeber (with his co-author David Wengrow), left one last book; William Deresiewicz gives us an early look…

Many years ago, when I was a junior professor at Yale, I cold-called a colleague in the anthropology department for assistance with a project I was working on. I didn’t know anything about the guy; I just selected him because he was young, and therefore, I figured, more likely to agree to talk.

Five minutes into our lunch, I realized that I was in the presence of a genius. Not an extremely intelligent person—a genius. There’s a qualitative difference. The individual across the table seemed to belong to a different order of being from me, like a visitor from a higher dimension. I had never experienced anything like it before. I quickly went from trying to keep up with him, to hanging on for dear life, to simply sitting there in wonder.

That person was David Graeber. In the 20 years after our lunch, he published two books; was let go by Yale despite a stellar record (a move universally attributed to his radical politics); published two more books; got a job at Goldsmiths, University of London; published four more books, including Debt: The First 5,000 Years, a magisterial revisionary history of human society from Sumer to the present; got a job at the London School of Economics; published two more books and co-wrote a third; and established himself not only as among the foremost social thinkers of our time—blazingly original, stunningly wide-ranging, impossibly well read—but also as an organizer and intellectual leader of the activist left on both sides of the Atlantic, credited, among other things, with helping launch the Occupy movement and coin its slogan, “We are the 99 percent.”

On September 2, 2020, at the age of 59, David Graeber died of necrotizing pancreatitis while on vacation in Venice. The news hit me like a blow. How many books have we lost, I thought, that will never get written now? How many insights, how much wisdom, will remain forever unexpressed? The appearance of The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity is thus bittersweet, at once a final, unexpected gift and a reminder of what might have been. In his foreword, Graeber’s co-author, David Wengrow, an archaeologist at University College London, mentions that the two had planned no fewer than three sequels.

And what a gift it is, no less ambitious a project than its subtitle claims. The Dawn of Everything is written against the conventional account of human social history as first developed by Hobbes and Rousseau; elaborated by subsequent thinkers; popularized today by the likes of Jared Diamond, Yuval Noah Harari, and Steven Pinker; and accepted more or less universally. The story goes like this. Once upon a time, human beings lived in small, egalitarian bands of hunter-gatherers (the so-called state of nature). Then came the invention of agriculture, which led to surplus production and thus to population growth as well as private property. Bands swelled to tribes, and increasing scale required increasing organization: stratification, specialization; chiefs, warriors, holy men.

Eventually, cities emerged, and with them, civilization—literacy, philosophy, astronomy; hierarchies of wealth, status, and power; the first kingdoms and empires. Flash forward a few thousand years, and with science, capitalism, and the Industrial Revolution, we witness the creation of the modern bureaucratic state. The story is linear (the stages are followed in order, with no going back), uniform (they are followed the same way everywhere), progressive (the stages are “stages” in the first place, leading from lower to higher, more primitive to more sophisticated), deterministic (development is driven by technology, not human choice), and teleological (the process culminates in us).

It is also, according to Graeber and Wengrow, completely wrong. Drawing on a wealth of recent archaeological discoveries that span the globe, as well as deep reading in often neglected historical sources (their bibliography runs to 63 pages), the two dismantle not only every element of the received account but also the assumptions that it rests on. Yes, we’ve had bands, tribes, cities, and states; agriculture, inequality, and bureaucracy, but what each of these were, how they developed, and how we got from one to the next—all this and more, the authors comprehensively rewrite. More important, they demolish the idea that human beings are passive objects of material forces, moving helplessly along a technological conveyor belt that takes us from the Serengeti to the DMV. We’ve had choices, they show, and we’ve made them. Graeber and Wengrow offer a history of the past 30,000 years that is not only wildly different from anything we’re used to, but also far more interesting: textured, surprising, paradoxical, inspiring…

A brilliant new account upends bedrock assumptions about 30,000 years of change: “Human History Gets a Rewrite,” @WDeresiewicz introduces the newest– and last?– book from @davidgraeber and @davidwengrow. Eminently worth reading in full.

* James Baldwin

###

As we reinterpret, we might spare a thought for Vic Allen; he died on this date in 1914. A British human rights activist, political prisoner, sociologist, historian, economist and professor at the University of Leeds, he worked closely with British trade unions, and was considered a key player in the resistance against Apartheid in South Africa. He spent much of his life supporting the South African National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), and was a key mentor to British trade union leader Arthur Scargill, In 2010 Allen was awarded the Kgao ya Bahale award, the highest honor afforded by the South African Union of Miners. After his death he was widely commended by his fellow academics and activists for his lifelong commitment to worker’s rights and racial equality.

source

“Genuine equality means not treating everyone the same, but attending equally to everyone’s different needs”*…

 

inequality

 

In 2014, the Pew Research Center asked Americans to rank the “greatest dangers in the world.” A plurality put inequality first, ahead of “religious and ethnic hatred,” nuclear weapons, and environmental degradation. And yet people don’t agree about what, exactly, “equality” means. In the past year, for example, New York City residents have found themselves in a debate over the city’s élite public high schools, such as Stuyvesant and Bronx Science. Some ethnicities are vastly overrepresented at the schools, while others are dramatically underrepresented. What to do? One side argues that the city should guarantee procedural equality: it should insure that all students and families are equally informed about and encouraged to study for the entrance exam. The other side argues for a more direct, representation-based form of equality: it would jettison the exam, adopting a new admissions system designed to produce student bodies reflective of the city’s demography. Both groups pursue worthy egalitarian goals, but each approach runs against the other. Because people and their circumstances differ, there is, Dworkin writes, a trade-off between treating people equally and treating them “as equals.”

The complexities of egalitarianism are especially frustrating because inequalities are so easy to grasp. C.E.O.s, on average, make almost three hundred times what their employees make; billionaire donors shape our politics; automation favors owners over workers; urban economies grow while rural areas stagnate; the best health care goes to the richest. Across the political spectrum, we grieve the loss of what Alexis de Tocqueville called the “general equality of conditions,” which, with the grievous exception of slavery, once shaped American society. It’s not just about money. Tocqueville, writing in 1835, noted that our “ordinary practices of life” were egalitarian, too: we behaved as if there weren’t many differences among us. Today, there are “premiere” lines for popcorn at the movies and five tiers of Uber; we still struggle to address obvious inequalities of all kinds based on race, gender, sexual orientation, and other aspects of identity. Inequality is everywhere, and unignorable. We’ve diagnosed the disease. Why can’t we agree on a cure?…

We all agree that inequality is bad.  But what kind of equality is good?  A thoughtful consideration:  “The Equality Conundrum.”

* one answer, from Terry Eagleton

###

As we seek balance, we might recall that it was on this date in 1960 that the Nashville Sit-ins began.  Part of a nonviolent direct action campaign to end racial segregation at lunch counters in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, they ran through May 10.  The sit-in campaign, coordinated by the Nashville Student Movement and Nashville Christian Leadership Council, was notable for its early success and emphasis on disciplined nonviolence.  It was part of a broader sit-in movement that spread across the southern United States in the wake of the Greensboro sit-ins in North Carolina.

300px-Rodney_Powell_Nashville_sit-ins_1960 source

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

February 13, 2020 at 1:01 am

“When we achieved, and the new world dawned, the old men came out again and took our victory to re-make in the likeness of the former world they knew”*…

 

The term “technological unemployment” is from John Maynard Keynes’s 1930 lecture, “Economic possibilities for our grandchildren,” where he predicted that in the future, around 2030, the production problem would be solved and there would be enough for everyone, but machines (robots, he thought) would cause “technological unemployment.” There would be plenty to go around, but the means of getting a share in it, jobs, might be scarce.

We are not quite at 2030, but I believe we have reached the “Keynes point,” where indeed enough is produced by the economy, both physical and virtual, for all of us. (If total US household income of $8.495 trillion were shared by America’s 116 million households, each would earn $73,000, enough for a decent middle-class life.) And we have reached a point where technological unemployment is becoming a reality.

The problem in this new phase we’ve entered is not quite jobs, it is access to what’s produced. Jobs have been the main means of access for only 200 or 300 years. Before that, farm labor, small craft workshops, voluntary piecework, or inherited wealth provided access. Now access needs to change again.

However this happens, we have entered a different phase for the economy, a new era where production matters less and what matters more is access to that production: distribution, in other words—who gets what and how they get it.

We have entered the distributive era…

From a very provocative essay by a very wise man, Brian Arthur.  You can– and should– read it in its entirety at “Where is technology taking the economy?

See also: “Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution”*…

[Image above: source]

* T.E. Lawrence

###

As we rethink the fundamentals, we might recall that it was on this date in 1994 that The Superhighway Summit was held at the University of California, Los Angeles’s Royce Hall.

It was the “first public conference bringing together all of the major industry, government and academic leaders in the field [and] also began the national dialogue about the Information Superhighway and its implications.” The conference was organized by Richard Frank of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and Jeffrey Cole and Geoffrey Cowan, the former co-directors of UCLA’s Center for Communication Policy.The keynote speaker was Vice President Al Gore who said:  “We have a dream for…an information superhighway that can save lives, create jobs and give every American, young and old, the chance for the best education available to anyone, anywhere.”

According to Cynthia Lee in UCLA Today: “The participants underscored the point that the major challenge of the Information Highway would lie in access or the ‘gap between those who will have access to it because they can afford to equip themselves with the latest electronic devices and those who can’t.’”  [source]

Vice President Gore at the Summit’s podium

source

 

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 11, 2018 at 1:01 am

%d bloggers like this: