Consumerism, Poverty, and Economic Mobility

There is an article from the New York Times that points to a distinction made before. It is “Changed Life of the Poor: Better Off, but Far Behind” by Annie Lowrey. The author also includes a nifty graph that starkly portrays the data, which should definitely check out.

She begins with an observation that many on the right have brought up to question that poverty is a real issue.

“Is a family with a car in the driveway, a flat-screen television and a computer with an Internet connection poor?

“Americans — even many of the poorest — enjoy a level of material abundance unthinkable just a generation or two ago. That indisputable economic fact has become a subject of bitter political debate this year, half a century after President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a war on poverty.”

In a consumerist society, wealth is defined as access to consumer products. Is that actual wealth in any meaningful sense?

“Indeed, despite improved living standards, the poor have fallen further behind the middle class and the affluent in both income and consumption. The same global economic trends that have helped drive down the price of most goods also have limited the well-paying industrial jobs once available to a huge swath of working Americans. And the cost of many services crucial to escaping poverty — including education, health care and child care — has soared.”

From the perspective of the poor, consumer products don’t likely make them feel all that wealthy. The poor are struggling today, just as they did in the past.

“For many working poor families, the most apt description of their finances and lifestyle might be fragile. Even with a steady paycheck, keeping the bills paid becomes a high-wire act and saving an impossibility.”

Not just struggling, but living on the edge. They aren’t faced with mere poverty. They also have to fear life getting much worse, such as losing their homes and not being able to keep food on the table.

“Two broad trends account for much of the change in poor families’ consumption over the past generation: federal programs and falling prices.”

More federal programs to make being poor relatively less desperate and uncomfortable. And more access to cheap consumer crap from Walmart.

“Many crucial services, though, remain out of reach for poor families. The costs of a college education and health care have soared. Ms. Hagen-Noey, for instance, does not treat her hepatitis and other medical problems, as she does not qualify for Medicaid and cannot pay for her own insurance or care.

“Child care also remains only a small sliver of the consumption of poor families because it is simply too expensive. In many cases, it depresses the earnings of women who have no choice but to give up hours working to stay at home.

““The average annual cost for infant care in the U.S. is $6,000 or $7,000 a year,” said Professor Ziliak of the University of Kentucky. “When you look at the average income of many single mothers, that is going to end up being a quarter of it. That’s huge. That is just out of reach for many folks.””

What isn’t available to the poor is opportunity to be anything other than poor. Economic mobility has decreased these past decades. Poor people in the past were worse off in many ways, but they also had more opportunities in many ways for economic mobility (cheap housing and college education, high paying jobs with good benefits, etc). Most poor people don’t want to be poor, don’t want to rely on federal programs, and don’t want cheap consumer crap from Walmart as the only appeasement for a life of misery and desperation.

“And many poor families barely make it from paycheck to paycheck. For evidence, economists point to the fact that children living in families with food stamps eat more calories at the beginning of the month than the end of it.

“Economists pointed out that many low-income families struggled to use even the assets they had: keeping gas in the car, paying for cable and keeping the electricity on. Many families rely on expensive credit. And even if those families sold their assets, often it would only provide them with a small buffer, too. “

Owning a car was once a luxury. Now a car is a necessity and a burden. Traveling further distances to work and shopping has become more common, for the small local factory and corner store have become rare. Meanwhile, public transportation hasn’t grown with the need for it. Poor people need vehicles, even when they can barely afford to pay for gas and repairs.

Sometimes the forced choice is between a tank of gas and buying groceries. But if there isn’t a tank of gas, a person can’t get to work and might lose their job. So, basic necessities such as food get sacrificed. Skipping meals isn’t healthy, but it won’t kill you right away. People can survive on very few calories, when they have to, although most people would like more than mere survival.

“In the end, many mainstream economists argue, the lives of the poor must be looked at in light of the nation’s overall wealth and economic advancement.

““If you handpick services and goods where there has been dramatic technological progress, then the fact that poor people can consume these items in 2014 and even rich people couldn’t consume them in 1954 is hardly a meaningful distinction,” said Gary Burtless, an economist at the Brookings Institution. “That’s not telling you who is rich and who is poor, not in the way that Adam Smith and most everyone else since him thinks about poverty.””

There is the rub.

Many things have become cheaper. But the most important things have become more expensive, specifically the very things that help people get out of poverty. It costs more to not be poor than it once did.

Immobility Of Economic Mobility; Or Running To Stay In Place

It’s hard to find well-informed and insightful discussions about certain hot-button issues. This is particularly true for issues related to economics for wealth represents power.

Poverty, inequality and mobility all speak to how power is shared or monopolized. They also relate to how education, knowledge and the media are controlled and who controls them. Discussion is difficult because the system silences or disregards most of those impacted by what is being discussed or whitewashed. When the upper class elites (political, media and academic) begin talking about the lower classes, you should immediately look for the potential spin and the too often lack of probing depth of analysis.

As a jumping off point, let me use the example of a recent paper by National Bureau Of Economic Research (Is The United States Still A Land Of Opportunity? Recent Trends Intergenerational Mobility). Both the paper and the reporting on it show the difficulties of seriously dealing with the problem. The New York Post had an article by Linda Chavez (Inequality: It’s the family, stupid) which, like many similar articles, made this statement:

President Obama and the Democrats have decided “income inequality” is the major domestic issue confronting Americans. But a new study by liberal economists challenges many of the president’s and his political allies’ assumptions about the growing gap between rich and poor.

Well, not really. When you look at various data, the so-called assumptions aren’t the problem.

The focus on the study had to do with specific generational cohorts (The social mobility muddle by Robert J. Samuelson):

“We find that children entering the labor market today have the same chances of moving up in the income distribution (relative to their parents) as children born in the 1970s,” write the economists. Comparing their results with earlier studies covering 1950 to 1970, they also find little difference. Social mobility “remained remarkably stable over the second half of the twentieth century in the United States,” the study says.

Something is strange about this data. There is a disconnect. As even the authors of the paper noted:

Based on all of these measures, we find that children entering the labor market today have the same chances of moving up in the income distribution (relative to their parents) as children born in the 1970s. However, because inequality has risen, the consequences of the “birth lottery” – the parents to whom a child is born – are larger today than in the past

The middle class had been continuously growing until 1974. Since then, the middle class has been disappearing, the middle class that bridges the gap between the poor and rich.

All this study is saying is that most Americans today are at least as bad off as they were decades ago. Most Americans, generation after generation, are on average stuck in their class position, no more likely to rise or fall than before.

Even so: job security and good benefits are becoming a rarity, wages are stagnating, inflation is growing,  buying power is shrinking, costs of living are getting more expensive (especially medical bills), costs of college put kids in debt before they even graduate, debt in general is overwhelming many people, bankruptcy is becoming common, families are losing their homes and life savings, small businesses are having a harder time competing against big biz, and much more could be added. But because of public assistance programs most Americans are managing to not completely go under.

Basically, the economy is doing worse for most Americans and only the government is artificially keeping the whole system from crashing down.

Meanwhile, the rich are getting richer. Average economic mobility is staying about the same, but the rich are moving up into the stratosphere. Of course, the 1% is the 1% even as that entire 1% moves further away from the 99%.

As J.J. Feinauer explained in Why is upward mobility in America stagnant?:

“The findings also suggest that who your parents are and how much they earn is more consequential for American youths today than ever before,” The Washington Post’s Jim Tankersley writes. “That’s because the difference between the bottom and the top of the economic ladder has grown much more stark, but climbing the ladder hasn’t gotten any easier.”

The economic system overall isn’t doing well, even as the wealthiest are laughing all the way to the bank. The Journalist’s Resource (U.S. poverty and inequality: 2014 overview and research trends), looking at other data, made this absolutely clear:

A paper from Stanford University, “State of the Union: The Poverty and Inequality Report 2014,” synthesizes economic data and academic research to paint a full picture — a “unified analysis” — of key indicators of the nation’s economic health that may not receive the same visibility as GDP, aggregate growth patterns or stock market trends. Produced by the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, which receives some federal funding, the report enlisted subject-area academic experts on issues such as the labor market, health, education and income trends. Overall, the data suggest a “broadly deteriorating poverty and inequality landscape.”

To return to the data of the NBER paper, The Equality of Opportunity Project summarized some of the details:

Is America the “Land of Opportunity”? In two recent studies, we find that: (1) Upward income mobility varies substantially within the U.S. Areas with greater mobility tend to have five characteristics: less segregation, less income inequality, better schools, greater social capital, and more stable families. (2) Contrary to popular perception, economic mobility has not changed significantly over time; however, it is consistently lower in the U.S. than in most developed countries.

All of that is obvious.

People who are well off live in better conditions and are able to maintain those better conditions across generations. They have the money to fund their schools and libraries. They have a ton of social capital and the basic privileges of a middle-to-upper-class lifestyle. Their lives are less stressful, their marriages are less stressed, and they have more free time to spend with their kids. They have the wealth and they have the connections and opportunities to use that wealth to offer their children a very rosy future.

And people who aren’t well off live in worse conditions.

The New York Post article began well by discussing some of these issues:

The researchers delved deeper to see what might explain these variations. They found that areas with large populations of African-Americans had lower mobility. What was surprising was that whites who lived in those communities with large African-American presences also experienced lower rates of upward mobility.

The study also found that areas with less urban sprawl had higher intergenerational mobility, and where there was substantial racial and economic de facto segregation, mobility decreased. The strength of social networks — as measured by participation in civic or religious groups, for example — also correlated with mobility. “High upward-mobility areas tend to have higher fractions of religious individuals and greater participation in local civic organizations,” the study’s authors write.

Exactly. Not everything is about race. It has to do with structural classism and the enduring neighborhood effect. But then the article veers off into typical nonsense. As the author explains in her great wisdom, jumping from correlation to causation:

But the most important finding is one that most conservatives won’t be surprised at and many liberals would rather ignore: “The fraction of children living in single-parent households is the strongest correlate of upward income mobility among all the variables we explored.” The more single-parent households in the area, the lower the mobility.

And, as with race, the correlation holds even for those who don’t fit the category. Children from intact families experience lower mobility rates if they live in areas with large numbers of single-parent households.

This is the danger of a little bit of knowledge. It can lead to narrow analyses and simplistic conclusions. The problem in this case was the author wasn’t even sure what she was concluding. If the family is so important, how does the larger social environment trump the direct family influence?

In The Nurture Assumption, Judith Rich Harris tackles this assumption that all or most of the blame can be put on families. She even takes on the race angle (p. 240):

I mentioned a study of African -American kids from “high risk” families —no fathers, low incomes. The ones who lived in low-income neighborhoods were more aggressive than their middle-class counterparts; aggressive behavior was the norm where they lived. But the ones who lived in mostly white, middle-class neighborhoods were not particularly aggressive. These black kids from fatherless, low-income homes were “comparable in their level of aggression” to the white, middle-class kids they went to school with. They had adopted the behavioral norms of the majority of their peers.

So, it goes both ways. Social environment trumps family conditions in all scenarios. Peer influence, in particular, is very powerful. That supports the liberal position, contrary to Chavez’s claim.

As Harris explains in detail, there are a lot of complex factors involved (pp. 285-287):

When the biological father is living but not living with his kids, you have a family situation that is statistically associated with unfavorable outcomes for the kids. Let me show you how it might be possible to account for the unfavorable outcomes without reference to the children’s experiences in the home or to the quality of parenting they receive there.

Most single mothers are nothing like Murphy Brown: most of them are poor. Half of all homes headed by women are below the poverty level. Divorce usually leads to a drastic decline in a family’s standard of living— that is, in the standard of living of the ex-wife and the children in her custody. 22

The loss of income impacts the kids in several ways. For one thing, it can affect their status in the peer group. Being deprived of luxuries such as expensive clothing and sporting equipment, dermatologists and orthodontists, can lower kids’ standing among their peers. 23 Money is also going to play a role in whether the kids can think about going to college. If it’s out of the question, then they may be less motivated to graduate from high school and to avoid getting pregnant.

But by far the most important thing that money can do for kids is to determine the neighborhood they grow up in and the school they attend. Most single mothers cannot afford to rear their children in the kind of neighborhood where my husband and I reared ours —the kind where almost all the kids graduate from high school and hardly any have babies. Poverty forces many single mothers to rear their children in neighborhoods where there are many other single mothers and where there are high rates of unemployment, school dropout, teen pregnancy, and crime. 24

Why do so many kids in these neighborhoods drop out, get pregnant, and commit crimes ? Is it because they don’t have fathers? That is a popular explanation, but I considered the question in Chapter 9 and came to other conclusions. Neighborhoods have different cultures and the cultures tend to be self-perpetuating; they are passed down from the parents’ peer group to the children’s peer group. The medium through which the cultures are passed down cannot be the family, because if you pluck the family out of the neighborhood and plunk it down somewhere else, the children’s behavior will change to conform with that of their peers in their new neighborhood.

It’s the neighborhood, not the family. If you look at kids within a given neighborhood, the presence or absence of a father doesn’t make much difference. Researchers collected data on 254 African-American teenage boys from an inner city in the northeast United States . Most of the boys lived in households headed by a single mother; others lived with both biological parents, a mother and a stepfather, or in other kinds of family arrangements. Here are the researchers’ conclusions:

“Adolescent males in this sample who lived in single-mother households did not differ from youth living in other family constellations in their alcohol and substance use, delinquency, school dropout, or psychological distress.” 25

Within an economically disadvantaged inner-city neighborhood, the kids who live with both parents are no better off than those who live with only one. 26 But within a neighborhood like this, the majority of families are headed by single mothers, because mothers with partners generally can afford to live somewhere else. The higher income of a family that includes an adult male means that kids with two parents are more likely to live in a neighborhood with a middle -class culture and, therefore, more likely to conform to middle-class norms.

This all shows how important class is. Also, it shows how upward and downward mobility relate to class influences. But I don’t want to leave this issue without tying it more closely to race. Much of this has nothing to do with race, but much of it has everything to do with race.

Considering Pew data, Jessica Cumberbatch Anderson (in Economic Mobility For African Americans May Be A Myth, Pew Report Shows) points out:

“Specifically, African Americans are much more likely than whites to be stuck at the bottom of the income ladder over a generation, and also at the bottom of the wealth ladder,” she said. They’re also more likely to fall from the middle. [ . . . ]

“It is the case that African-American families manage to get to the middle class and they have some sense of economic security, but their ability to pass that on to their kids is not as high as the white families,” she said.

As the author continues, she points out how racial segregation can trump even class influence:

And while this particular study didn’t delve into specific reasons for this gap, Currier pointed to previous research showing the impact neighborhood poverty has had on maintaining wealth disparities over time. “Two thirds of African-American children born between 1985 and 2000 are being raised in high poverty neighborhoods,” compared to just six percent of white children, Currier noted, proportions that haven’t shifted much over the last 30 years. “It isn’t the case that two thirds of African-American families are poor, but a lot of even middle-class African-American families are living in high poverty neighborhoods and research shows that, that environment in childhood increases a person’s chance of downward mobility by 52 percent,” she added.

Interestingly, the author then brings up yet another NBER paper which seems to be a necessary corollary to the other one:

A study published in May by the National Bureau of Economic Research may have hinted at one of the barriers to moving out of those poverty-stricken neighborhoods, revealing that black and Hispanic homebuyers pay as much as 3 percent more for their homes, regardless of their income, wealth or credit profiles.

It turns out that the actual data shows a much more dire picture than some of those writing on the subject would suggest.

Simply stating the fact that economic mobility by some measures hasn’t decreased isn’t to say most Americans are doing well. It isn’t even to imply that economic mobility comes even close to being a realistic hope for many Americans. If you are poor and especially if you are a poor minority in a poor minority neighborhood, you are shit out of luck. For these people, it’s a constant struggle, running just to stay in place.

Republicans: Party of Despair

“If I believed in what you believe, I’d kill myself.”

I recently said that to someone. The person in question is a Republican, but I don’t say it as a Democrat. I’m not a practitioner of partisan bickering and, in fact, I don’t like the entire sham of a two-party system. I also don’t say it lightly or disingenuously. I meant every word of it.

I’ve attempted suicide before and have often contemplated it many times over the years. When I make a statement like the above, I’m deadly serious. Just thinking about the Republican worldview makes me despair to the point of near hopelessness. If I were to believe that worldview to be true, what would be the point of going on?

I’m reminded of James Gilligan’s recent book, Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous Than Others. I first learned of it from a book review which offers a great summary (I’ve posted it before, but it’s so important that I’ll post it again):

James Gilligan’s new book, ‘Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous Than Others’ (Polity Press, 2011) could be reduced to a few key statements, the main one being ‘Republicans are very bad for your health’. Gilligan, Professor and MD at New York State University, has combed the statistics on violent deaths (homicide and suicide), from 1900 through to 2007 in order to determine political causation.

His findings confirm what many have hitherto instinctively and experientially known: murders and suicides increase under Republican rule. Why? Because they also create inequality and unemployment, both of which produce an employer’s market that keeps wages down. In fact, unemployment figures – in rate and duration – have increased during every Republican administration, and decreased during every Democratic administration. Ironically, despite Republican policies that favour employers and cause greater levels of inequality and unemployment, their policies then inculcate shame amongst the unemployed – blind – or to coin a much-favoured Republican word, ‘evil’ to the fact that they are its main cause. The Republican ideology – hypocritical and misanthropic – fosters the most rancid shame that goes like this: can’t find a job? It’s your own fault. Lost your job? What did you do, must have done something. Not rich. That’ll be your own fault too – or ‘thats God’s plan for you’. Addicted? Can’t hold your damn liquor. Single mum? Slut. Had an abortion? Murderer and slut. Moaning about low pay? You should thank god you’ve got a job. The list goes on. It is a terrible, cruel, vicious circle in which people become imprisoned. In short, Republicans are architects of despair that leads to suicide, and of rage that leads to murder.

My emotional response to the Republican wasn’t just emotional. The facts speak for themselves.

Since reading that review of Gilligan’s book, I’ve bought and read it. I might consider it to be one of the most important books I’ve read in my life, despite it not being great literature. It is a simple and straightforward presentation of facts that can’t be rationalized away. The facts themselves aren’t the product of an ideological agenda for they are government statistics recorded over a 107 year time frame. No Democrat started recording this data with the evil plan of more than a century later showing that Democrats are better. It’s just the typical bureaucratic data gathering.

It really is mind-blowing. I wouldn’t ever have expected to come across data that so starkly puts the two parties in contrast. After the shock wears off, though, all that I feel is sadness. I don’t care about blaming one party and praising the other, but the data is what it is. It’s not even to say everything Republicans do that is wrong. It’s just that there is a vast discrepancy between their ideals and reality. Republicans need to do some deep soul-searching.

I honestly don’t know what to do with data like this. Republicans won’t pay attention to it and most people in general would assume that it’s mere ideological rhetoric fancied up in scientific guise. It’s the type of data our entire society, including both parties, doesn’t know what to do about. You won’t hear any Democrat bring this up in a campaign debate. You won’t come across Gilligan being invited on as a guest on all the major news providers.

In this way, everyone is complicit, especially Democrats. As the author explains (pp. 187-8):

What has made it so difficult or seemingly impossible for the Democrats to free themselves from Republican campaign rhetoric’s reversal of the truth and take credit for their success in ending epidemics of lethal violence in this country for over a century? They, and they alone, have done this. Could this be the downside of being ruled by a guilt ethic and inhibiting their aggression so much that they, the Democrats, often fail to defend themselves strongly enough to undo both the misinformation and the damage caused by their Republican adversaries?

It so often comes to culture from my perspective. Gilligan alludes to this in speaking of a “guilt ethic”. Republicans have their cultural worldview and Democrats have theirs, and the two have become intertwined like a codependant relationship.

But can they be separated? Instead of going back and forth between a Democratic decrease of misery and a Republican increase, couldn’t we have a dynamic that allows for continuous progress? Imagine what kind of wonderful society we might now live in if we had more than a century of continuous decrease of murders, suicides, unemployment and income inequality. Why does that seem so hard to imagine for so many Americans and even for so many partisan Democrats?

To return to the personal, I can’t state more strongly how much I don’t want to live in the Republican worldview of fear and hatred, outrage and despair, self-righteousness and judgment, blame and scapegoating. Yet like so many Americans I feel helpless against the power Republicans have wielded for so long. Nothing ever seems to change.

It’s not about my becoming a loyal Democrat and fighting on the side of good. I just want the misery to stop. I’d like to live in a world of hope. Life is hard enough as it is without creating further unnecessary suffering.

There was a line of thought I forgot to follow through on.

I mentioned culture. I was making the connection between an ideological vision and a cultural worldview. What do I mean by that?

The reason I brought up culture was partly just because the quote from Gilligan’s book seemed to allude to it. But I was also thinking of the larger context of my previous writings on ideologies and cultures.

I’m in a conciliatory mood. The campaign season is over. Like most people, I’ve had enough mindless partisan cheerleading for a good long while. Judging others is easy. The hard work comes with trying to compassionately undertand. I feel tired, sad and tired.

However, conciliatory mood aside, I’m not quite ready to roll over and die. This data sticks in my craw. What does it mean? How could this data sit there gathering dust for a century without anyone giving it much notice?

The data apparently didn’t fit the framework of American politics. Or maybe it was ignored because of political correctness. I don’t know. For whatever reason, it had been as if invisible in all mainstream political debate and, as Gilligan’s book has drawn little attention, the data remains invisible for all practical purposes.

Cultural worldviews can become reality tunnels. In this way, people become blind to what otherwise would seem obvious and common sense. This explanation is an important perspective for culture gets past the blame game. Despite how it seems sometime, most people aren’t tying to be willfully ignorant… any more than a bird flying into a window is trying to be willfully ignorant of the window. Likewise, Republicans aren’t trying to create a world of suffering and death.

No one is to blame and everyone is to blame. There isn’t any single thing that is wrong or problematic, no particular belief or value or policy that is in and of itself causing this increase of social dysfunction.

I even feel tempted to say that conservatism shouldn’t necessarily be blamed. Like all humans, there are good and bad conservatives. Like most ideologies, there are good and bad ways conservatism can manifest.

Still, conservatism must be held to account. What I was struck by is that this isn’t just a problem of American conservatives in the Republican Party. Along with the first quote above, I shared in the same earlier post some other research that shows the same correlation with the British conservative party. Of course, we Americans largely inherited our political system from the British and in return our political system has had much influence on the British.

It would be interesting to further test this correlation in other societies. Is the cause of the social problems, is it only particular traditions of conservatism, or is it something else enirely? Ultimately, I don’t know if the exact cause matters.

It’s more important to consider why it continues. Why do Americans vote for a party that leads to the death of other Americans along with leading to other undesirable results? What makes it such a compelling and attractive worldview, despite all the negatives? Why is the connection to the negatives so hard to see or understand?

One could just as easily ask these questions about the Evangelical worldview of apocalyptic End Times. There is something apparently compelling about dark visions. It probably isn’t accidental that the type of person drawn to Evangelicalism is also drawn to the Republican Party.

I wish I understood.

Economic Inequality: A Book List

I was discussing economic inequality with a conservative… which, as always, is a masochistic activity.

I’m amazed how easily a conservatives dismiss such things. It isn’t just about the data, about whether correlation is causation. It’s hard enough to even get conservatives to look at the data, and so most debates never even get beyond blind dismissal of what conservatives don’t know and don’t want to know.

I truly do think the data is secondary, although the mountains of correlations do make a damning case. The reason I say the data is secondary is because the data isn’t necessary. The idea that vast economic inequality is bad should be commonsense. Just a brief perusal of countries with similar economic inequalities should make any American a bit on the uncomfortable side.

I know conservatives mistrust science and academia, even though that mistrust is rather selective in application. But when did common sense become the enemy of conservatives?

Maybe that is why the data is so important, after all. The data makes clear what is already obvious enough. Sometimes stating and restating the obvious is the best one can offer in defense of truth and morality.

In that light, I offer a list of books I’ve been perusing recently and also some that I was considering as possible reads. I hope many more people will begin reading books like these and that it will force the discussion into the mainstream, whether or not conservatives like it.

The Politics of Inequality: A Political History of the Idea of Economic Inequality in America
By Michael J. Thompson

Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous Than Others
By James Gilligan

It’s the Middle Class, Stupid!
By James Carville and Stan Greenberg

Falling Behind: How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class
By Robert Frank

Class Matters
By The New York Times

Status Syndrome: How Social Standing Affects Our Health and Longevity
By Michael Marmot

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America
By Barbara Ehrenreich

Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream
By Barbara Ehrenreich

The Measure of America: American Human Development Report, 2008-2009
By Sarah Burd-Sharps, Kristen Lewis, Eduardo Borges Martins, Amartya Sen, and William H. Draper III

The Measure of America, 2010-2011
By Burd-Sharps Lewis and Sarah Kristen

Inequality Matters: The Growing Economic Divide In America And Its Poisonous Consequences
By James Lardner (Author, Editor), David Smith (Editor), Bill Moyers (Foreword), and Jim Lardner (Author)

The Great Divergence: America’s Growing Inequality and What We Can Do about It
By Timothy Noah

The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future
By Joseph E. Stiglitz

Mismeasuring Our Lives: Why GDP Doesn’t Add Up
By Joseph E. Stiglitz, Amartya Sen, and Jean-Paul Fitoussi

So Rich, So Poor: Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty in America
By Peter Edelman

The Price of Inequality: Facts, Trends, and International Perspectives
By Kemal Dervis, Uri Dadush, Sarah P. P. Milsom, and Bennett Stancil

Winner-Take-All Politics
By Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson

Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches
By Nolan McCarty, Keith T. Poole, and Howard  Rosenthal

Disconnect: The Breakdown of Representation in American Politics
By Morris P. Fiorina and Samuel J. Abrams

99 to 1: How Wealth Inequality Is Wrecking the World and What We Can Do about It
By Chuck Collins

Economic Apartheid In America: A Primer On Economic Inequality & Insecurity
By Chuck Collins and Felice Yeskel

The Unheavenly Chorus: Unequal Political Voice and the Broken Promise of American Democracy
By Key Lehman Schlozman, Sidney Verba, and Henry E. Brady

The Private Roots of Public Action: Gender, Equality, and Political Participation
By Nancy Burns, Key Lehman Schlozman, and Sidney Verba

Inequality and American Democracy: What We Know and What We Need to Learn
By Lawrence R. Jacobs

Faces of Inequality: Social Diversity in American Politics
By Rodney E. Hero

Latinos and the U.S. Political System: Two-Tiered Pluralism
By Rodney E. Hero

Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life
By Annette Lareau

The Color of Wealth: The Story Behind the U.S. Racial Wealth Divide
By Barbara J. Robles, Betsy Leondar-Wright, Rose M. Brewer, Rebecca Adamson, and Meizhu Lui

With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful
By Glenn Greenwald

The New Jim Crow
By Michelle Alexander

Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II
By Douglas A. Blackman

Wealth and Democracy: How Great Fortunes and Government Created America’s Aristocracy
By Kevin Phillips

Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age
By Larry M. Bartels

Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America
By Martin Gilens

Inequality and Instability: A Study of the World Economy Just Before the Great Crisis
By James K. Galbraith

Inequality, Power, and Development: Issues in Political Sociology
By Jerry Kloby

Inequality Reexamined
By Amartya Kumar Sen

Public Health, Ethics, and Equity
By Sudhir Anand, Fabienne Peter, and Amartya Sen

Infections and Inequalities: The Modern Plagues
ByPaul Farmer

Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor
By Paul Farmer

The Health of Nations: Why Inequality Is Harmful to Your Health
By Ichiro Kawachi and Bruce P. Kennedy

The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better
By Richard G. Wilkinson and Kate Pickett

The Impact of Inequality: How to Make Sick Societies Healthier
By Richard G. Wilkinson

Worlds Apart: Measuring International and Global Inequality
By Branko Milanovic

The Haves and the Have-Nots: A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality
By Branko Milanovic

The New Economics of Inequality and Redistribution (Federico Caffè Lectures)
By Samuel Bowles
 
Unequal Chances: Family Background and Economic Success
By Samuel Bowles
 
Poverty Traps
By Samuel Bowles

The Oxford Handbook of Economic Inequality (Oxford Handbooks)
By Wiemer Salverda

 

Race & Wealth Gap

I heard something truly disgusting last night. The worst part is that I heard it on NPR.

Several guests were discussing how poverty and the wealth gap have increased and how it has increased the most among minorities. One factor given was that blacks are disproportionately employed in government jobs which have been hit the hardest because of funding cuts. One of the guests had the audacity to portray government jobs as just another welfare for blacks. He was arguing that even blacks who work hard for their money still are just being lazy welfare recipients. WTF! In the eyes of a bigot, minorities can’t win for losing.

He said this on the supposedly ‘liberal’ NPR. Did any of the other guests challenge his racism? No. Did the host demand he explain why he made such a racist comment? No. Apparently, no one on this NPR show thought it was unusual or immoral to express such bigoted views on public radio. I’m sure they were all upper class white people.

http://sociology.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/wealth.html

Figure 3: Income and wealth by race in the U.S.

http://www.alternet.org/teaparty/151830/debunking_the_big_lie_right-wingers_use_to_justify_black_poverty_and_unemployment?page=entire

It’s a myth that should be put to rest by the economic experience of the African American community over the past 20 years. Because what Kern and other adherents of the “culture of poverty” thesis can’t explain is why blacks’ economic fortunes advanced so dramatically during the 1990s, retreated again during the Bush years and then were completely devastated in the financial crash of 2008.

In order to buy the cultural story, one would have to believe that African Americans adopted a “culture of success” during the Clinton years, mysteriously abandoned it for a “culture of failure” under Bush and finally settled on a “culture of poverty” shortly after Lehman Brothers crashed.

That’s obviously nonsense. It was exogenous economic factors and changes in public policies, not manifestations of “black culture,” that resulted in those widely varied outcomes.

http://www.alternet.org/economy/151809/white_families_have_20_times_the_wealth_of_black_families%3A_how_racism%27s_legacy_created_a_crushing_depression_in_black_america/?page=entire

It’s crucial to understand the relationship between wealth accumulated over generations and one’s economic prospects today. Central to that relationship is the concept of “intergenerational assistance.” That’s a fancy way of saying that a person’s chances to advance economically are very much impacted by whether his or her family can help get him or her started on the path to prosperity.

Conservative Ideology & Economics

This is an interesting video, but not because I agree with this person’s views, especially not on economics (that is, to the extent I understand economics).

I have a different worldview. I’ve always been a liberal in a general sense. I’ve found insights from many social, religious and political systems of thought (anarchism, socialism and libertarianism; psychology, sociology and anthropology; Christianity, gnosticism and philosophy; Et Cetera), but I’ve never been drawn to identify with any single ideology… which to me seems like liberalism at its best (or, if you’re a conservative who hates relativism, liberalism at its worst).

I’ve never understood the ideological mindset, especially when dogmatic. I respect anyone who with self-awareness and intelligence can change their mind. As such, I have basic respect for how the guy in the video has been willing to change his opinions as discovered new info and new perspectives. Nonetheless, I don’t resonate with the life story he shares. I’ve come across a few people like him who started life off with an ideological version of Christianity and spent many years jumping from ideology to ideology hoping to finally find the one true ideology. It’s odd to me. Such a person sees the problems in the ideology they previously held, but they often don’t see the problem in the ideological mindset itself. This guy, however, does seem to have come to a point in his life where he is beginning to step back from the ideological mindset.

I’ve struggled with trying to understand the attraction to ideology. I’ve written about how ideology is more attractive to those with right-leaning worldviews and mentalities (Liberal Pragmatism, Conservative Dogmatism and The War on Democracy: a personal response). It apparently is rooted in the correlation between conservatism and thick boundary types, along with other psychological traits. An ideology is a thick boundary and becomes ever thicker the more dogmatic it is held.

http://www.scribd.com/doc/15893285/Conservatism-and-cognitive-ability

Jost et al.’s (2003) meta-analysis confirms that several psychological variables predict political conservatism. The list includes death anxiety; system instability; dogmatism; intolerance of ambiguity, low openness to experience, and uncertainty; need for order, closure, and negative integrative complexity; and fear of threat and loss of self-esteem.

As a liberal, I find something inherently repulsive about the ideological mindset. I’m sure this is the reason why liberal atheists and conservative theists are always at each other’s throats. There is just some irreconceivable difference between these worldviews, these attitudinal predispositions.

Looking beyond my own biases, I wonder about the positive results of the ideological mindset. I can see how such a mindset would be beneficial in a traditional society, but there does seem to be benefits in general. From the same above link:

Recent evidence indicates that some existing stereotypes are not supported by the available data. For example,Brooks (2006, 2008) reports that conservative sengage more than liberals in charitable activities and people on the political right are nearly twice as happy as those on the left. The work of Napier and Jost (2008) shows that con-servatives tend to be happier than liberals because of theirtendency tojustify the current state of affairs and because theyare less bothered by inequalities in the society.

It’s kind of humorous. Conservatives are less bothered by inequalities and yet more likely to be involved in charitable activities.

I think some factors are being conflated here. In the US, conservatism correlates with religiosity. Being a part of a well established social institution such as a church makes one more likely to be involved in charitable activities. If this factor were controlled for, the difference might disappear. To clarify this, a study would have to compare church-going conservatives with church-going liberals or compare non-religous conservatives with non-religious liberals.

However, it’s possible that dogmatic people are more attracted to religion. A study would be necessary to compare conservatives and liberals in different countries. In a non-religious country, are non-religious conservatives more likely to be involved in charitable activities?

My other complaint about this kind of data is that liberals give more money and time by way of government and political activism. Unlike conservatives, liberals are bothered by inequalities. Liberals spend more time involved in political activism that the liberals themselves would perceive as charitable. Also, liberals are more likely to work as a public servant for less money than they would in the private sector because they like the idea of personally sacrificing in order to work for the common good. Furthermore, liberal states give more money in federal taxes than they receive in federal benefits, whereas the opposite is true for conservative states.

For some reason, social scientists (and pollsters) often seem to use a conservative definition of charity when measuring charitable activities. Still, that doesn’t undermine the charity conservatives do, even if they only do it because their minister told them to or because they’re afraid of going to hell.

– – –

There is one criticism of liberalism in this video which I don’t know if it is generally true but I know is true in my own case. I have an analytical mind & so I’m sure I could learn about the complexities of economics, but I’ve never had much interest in it. As for systems of ideas, philosophy, theology & politics seem more relevant to my own life than economic theories. As for systems of facts, sociology, psychology & anthropology often seem more based in concrete facts than economic theories.

I’m not sure if my liberal mindset has anything to do with my bias against or at least disinterest in economics. I’ve never understood the type of conservative, right-libertarian or anarcho-capitalist who sees all the world through economics. I don’t dismiss economics. It just seems like one small piece in a big puzzle. I wish I knew more about economics in the way I wish I knew more about anything and everything. But I don’t want to see the world through any single lense.

Still, it is a curious observation that liberals might have less interest or understanding of economics. Or. to be more specific, that a conservative would perceive liberals this way. I can’t see any fundamental reason that would make a liberal less capable of understanding economics.

It could be just that the two groups tend to understand economics differently. I think this relates to the ideological differences found in higher education.

http://www.psych.umn.edu/sentience/files/Gage_2010.pdf

Unlike the relationship between area of study and political stance with respect to social issues, a significant effect of area of study code group on self-rating of political stance regarding economic issues was found. Based on the post-hoc comparison, business and economics students were found to be significantly less economically liberal than the students in the biological/related lab sciences, social sciences and fine arts students.

Interesting. Business and economic students tend to be more fiscally conservative. I’d guess that business and economic professors, teacher assistants, and textbook writers also are more fiscally conservative.

Why is this the case?

A possible explanation for this could be that, because business students often encounter more economic problems in their curriculum than those studying other concentrations, their increased knowledge of the effects of economic issues could make them act more conservatively when considering these issues. Another explanation could be explained by the self selection theory; when students enter the university they have their political views and select their major by finding the one whose views most closely matches their own.

Does this mean that economically well informed people are more fiscally conservative for the very reason of their being economically well informed? Or is it just that business and economic departments are dominated by fiscal conservatives? Considering that fiscal conservatives have dominated American society since Reagan, it would seem that the latter possibility is more likely.

This could be tested by finding a school that has fiscally liberal business and economic departments. Assuming such things exist in this post-Reagan era: Would a fiscally liberal curriculum attract fiscal liberals? Or is business and economics inherently attractive to fiscal conservatives no matter what the bias? I could make an argument for the latter.

Conservatism as a psychological trait predisposes one to being more more focused in a thick boundary sense and predisposes one to be attracted to ideology (i.e., systematized ideas and beliefs). Economics is a very theoretical field, more coldly pragmatic. Unlike psychology or physics, economics seems to be less grounded in researched facts because it’s very difficult to study large systems involving so many factors (individual humans, cultures, politics, environment, international influences, etc). An economic theory is more pure, more absolute than a psychological theory. Many conservatives, especially fiscal conservatives, are suspicious of scientific research and most suspicious of social science research. Conservatives are attracted to economic theory for the very reason that it seems above all the messy subjective factors, whereas liberals love all the messy subjective factors.

Contemporary economics, as it is taught and practiced, fits the conservative worldview. But that isn’t to say that is the only or best way economics could be taught and practiced.

Additionally, I see one major problem that no one ever deals with. What gets called fiscal conservatism doesn’t seem very conservative. The meaning of conservative is to conserve, to maintain social order, to uphold institutions of authority, to resist radical change. Accordingly, what Americans call fiscal conservatism seems radically liberal in essence.

Fiscal conservatism in the form of laissez-faire economics is extremely unstable with booms and busts and with a wide variety of deregulation fiascoes.

Fiscal conservatism in the form of supply side economics (trickle down, Reaganomics) has led to increasing poverty and wealth disparity which also creates an unstable society with a lot of social problems.

Fiscal conservatism as a minarchism that sees military as the only role for government has undermined the government’s ability to regulate in order to maintain economic order and has created massive debt with military spending.

If fiscal conservatives are more well informed about economics, why has fiscal conservatism failed so massively at the very time when it’s held the most influence over the entire economic system of the US and of the world? And why do fiscally liberal countries like Germany have such strong economies?

If fiscal conservatives understand economics better, why are most liberal states economically better off than most conservative states? And why do liberals put more priority on balancing the budget deficit than any other demographic, are more willing to raise taxes and cut major expenditures to balance the budget?

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/07/21/national-debt-starve-the-beast-wealth-disparity/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/07/23/liberals-are-the-new-fiscal-conservatives/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/09/14/poor-rich-better-off-with-democrats/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/02/05/demographics-red-states-blue-states/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/08/31/10-states-with-ridiculously-low-unemployment-and-why/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/08/27/capitalist-us-vs-socialist-germany/

To continue with more from the same link:

One interesting finding of this study was that, for each code group, the mean rating for political stance with respect to economic issues for each group was less liberal than their mean rating of political stance with respect to social issues, with the exception of the fine arts group, whose mean ratings did not differ. This means that, with the exception of the fine arts group, all code groups on average reported that they were less liberal economically than socially. This result is consistent with the findings of Hodgkinson and Innes (2001) in which all participants gave responses that were less pro-environmental when the condition involved an economic/environmental tradeoff. This implies that students in most areas of study become less liberal when an economic policy is in question. A possible explanation for this could be that people feel more directly affected by economic issues than they do by social issues, leading them to be more conservative in their perception because it is more likely to affect them. For example, having a neighbor who loses their job does not directly affect you, because your neighbor not having a job does not change your own circumstance. Yet, if a neighbor’s house is foreclosed on, this directly affects the person because it in turn decreases the value of their house and a person will more likely take greater caution in dealing with this issue than the previous one.

This once again shows the confusion in defining fiscal conservatism (and conservatism in general). What is conservative about helping oneself at the cost of others? What is conservative about destroying (i.e., not conserving) the environment? What is conservative about forcing future generations to deal with problems that we are creating now? What is conservative about putting greed and profit, ambition and hyper-individualism above all other values and issues?

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/07/15/conservative-critics-of-conservatism/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/09/01/moderate-republicans-an-endangered-species/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/does-poverty-rise-as-biodiversity-falls-pavan-sukhdev/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2011/01/16/true-costs-are-punitive/

Part of the problem is there are very few people putting economic issues in fiscally liberal terms. And Americans are notoriously uninformed and misinformed about social issues such as related to economic inequality and about scientific issues such as environmental science. Contemporary economics (along with contemporary politics, media, culture, etc) is dominated by a fiscally conservative worldview which has become so ingrained in our society that it seems like commonsense, that it seems like pragmatic ‘reality’.

It’s not surprising that, when presented with an issue in a fiscally conservative framework, many people give fiscally conservative responses. But that probably doesn’t say anything about the merits of fiscal conservatism. Nor does that probably say anything about the economic learnedness of those espousing fiscal conservatism.

To counter the conservative ideology, I’ll end this post with a video series that presents the argument for the fiscally liberal worldview.

A Fundamental Flaw of Free Markets

This video is an explanation of the type of issue I often consider. Listening to it, it got me thinking about why this needs to be explained.

Going by the data I’ve seen, this explanation seems obvious. I honestly can’t see any other convincing explanation. Yes, some rich people are deserving, but many aren’t deserving of being as rich as they are or aren’t any more deserving (in terms of talent, intelligence, ambition, etc) than many less advantaged people.

So, why doesn’t this seem obvious to many conservatives? What keeps them from seeing it? I suspect many refuse to seriously consider the data because it contradicts their beliefs and assumptions. That is understandable. If they get all their news from Fox News, Wall Street Journal, and right-wing talk shows, they probably never (or, at least, very rarely) would even come across any data that contradicts their beliefs and assumptions. That is sad, but understandable.

Still, I doubt that this explains it all. There has to be many conservatives who are familiar with the data and yet still support the rich having advantages. Why?

Is it just team sports mentality, just rich people defending other rich people that they personally identify with as being part of their group? That makes sense psychologically. Poor people do the same thing, although less effectively since they less power.

Another explanation is that some people believe that, despite inequality being morally wrong or less than perfect, is still better than the alternative. Maybe it’s a belief that the egalitarian vision is dangerous. It’s better to have an imperfect system than to risk its destruction by trying to improve it. Certainly, some conservatives do believe this, but I find it a bit too convenient that they many rich conservatives just so happen to support the analysis that benefits them personally.

Yet another explanation is that some people are just cynical. They have theirs. Fuck everyone else. They are on top of the wall and so they kick the ladder away to ensure no one can challenge their position of power. I wonder about this. How many conservatives are this cynical? Or, if not quite this cynical, how many conservatives are to varying degrees motivated by cynicism?

I don’t ask this as a way to dismiss all conservatives and all rich people. I genuinely want to understand what motivates people, want to understand why inequality keeps growing in this country. I can’t believe it’s a mere accidental side effect of an otherwise moral system. There is a class war going on, but I don’t know how many people even see it. For those who don’t see it, what is their incentive in remaining blind to the suffering of others?

The 10 Most (and Least) Tolerant States in America

I love data! 🙂

If you want to see a previous state comparison I wrote about, here is the link. The following is the list of states with the least unemployment:

  1. North Dakota
  2. South Dakota
  3. Nebraska
  4. New Hampshire
  5. Vermont
  6. Hawaii
  7. Kansas
  8. Wyoming
  9. Minnesota
  10. Iowa

And here is the top 10 most tolerant states according to the data (discussed in the video above and with links below):

  1. Wisconsin
  2. Maryland
  3. Illinois
  4. Pennsylvania
  5. Hawaii
  6. California
  7. Minnesota
  8. New Jersey
  9. New Hampshire
  10. New Mexico

It’s interesting to compare the two comparisons. Some of the states are found on both Top 10 lists: New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Hawaii. On the other hand, looking at the ranking of all the states, some of the least tolerant states did very well economically (both in terms of low unemployment and low economic disparity): North Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Wyoming.

I don’t know why that is or what it might mean. The similarities confirm a correlation of data, but differences makes me wonder about what is exactly is being measured in terms of tolerance and intolerance. Social problems, in general, correlate to both poverty and economic disparity. According to other data (from The Spirit Level by Wilkinson and Pickett): North Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Wyoming have some of the best rankings in the country according to the “Index of health and social problems” (North Dakota is ranked as the fourth best). There must be other confounding factors, but I don’t know what they could be.

The following is the details of the data about the comparison of tolerance across the US:

http://www.alternet.org/newsandviews/article/440581/10_most_(and_10_least)_tolerant_states_in_america/

And now for the breakdown … Wisconsin wins for being the most tolerant. Its religious tolerance was quite good, its gay tolerance leaves room for improvement. Others in the top 10 were Maryland in second, then Illinois, Pennsylvania, Hawaii, California, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Hampshire and New Mexico.

And on the flip-side, the 10 least tolerant states are Alabama, finishing 40th in the nation, then it gets worse going to Kentucky, North Dakota, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Ohio, Nebraska, Kansas, Arkansas and then Wyoming finishes dead last.

This wasn’t included on the list, but interestingly, the 10 most tolerant states all went Democratic in the 2008 election and the 10 least tolerant states are all red states, with the exception of Ohio.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2011-01-16/ranking-the-most-tolerant-and-least-tolerant-states/full/

1, Wisconsin
Tolerance score: 77 out of 100
Hate crime score: 27 out of 40
Discrimination score: 39 out of 40
Gay rights score: 3 out of 10
Religious Tolerance Score: 8 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents: 1.0 (10 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents: 9.2 (5 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage: 44%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life: 79%

2, Maryland
Tolerance score: 75 out of 100
Hate crime score: 25 out of 40
Discrimination score: 37 out of 40
Gay rights score: 5 out of 10
Religious Tolerance Score: 8 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents: 1.8 (19 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents: 7.8 (1 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage: 51%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life: 72%

3, Illinois
Tolerance score: 74 out of 100
Hate crime score: 30 out of 40
Discrimination score: 31 out of 40
Gay rights score: 5 out of 10
Religious Tolerance Score: 8 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents: 1.5 (16 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents: 14.5 (24 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage: 48%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life: 74%

4, Pennsylvania
Tolerance score: 72 out of 100
Hate crime score: 29 out of 40
Discrimination score: 31 out of 40
Gay rights score: 4 out of 10
Religious Tolerance Score: 8 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents: 0.4 (5 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents: 11.8 (13 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage: 51%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life: 75%

5, Hawaii
Tolerance score: 71 out of 100
Hate crime score: 34 out of 40
Discrimination score: 27 out of 40
Gay rights score: 4 out of 10
Religious Tolerance Score: 6 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents: 0.1 (1 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents: 20.3 (35 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage: 54%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life: 66%

6, California
Tolerance score: 70 out of 100
Hate crime score: 30 out of 40
Discrimination score: 29 out of 40
Gay rights score: 5 out of 10
Religious Tolerance Score: 6 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents: 2.7 (29 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents: 15.9 (28 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage: 56%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life: 67%

7, Minnesota
Tolerance score: 70 out of 100
Hate crime score: 21 out of 40
Discrimination score: 38 out of 40
Gay rights score: 3 out of 10
Religious Tolerance Score: 8 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents: 6.0 (49 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents: 8.7 (4 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage: 47%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life: 74%

8, New Jersey
Tolerance score: 69 out of 100
Hate crime score: 18 out of 40
Discrimination score: 35 out of 40
Gay rights score: 8 out of 10
Religious Tolerance Score: 8 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents: 6.3 (50 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents: 12.1 (14 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage: 55%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life: 74%

9, New Hampshire
Tolerance score: 68 out of 100
Hate crime score: 18 out of 40
Discrimination score: 32 out of 40
Gay rights score: 10 out of 10
Religious Tolerance Score: 8 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents: 2.1 (21 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents: 12.3 (16 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage: 55%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life: 79%

10, New Mexico
Tolerance score: 67 out of 100
Hate crime score: 32 out of 40
Discrimination score: 25 out of 40
Gay rights score: 4 out of 10
Religious Tolerance Score: 6 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents: 1.3 (12 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents: 12.2 (15 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage: 49%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life: 62%

11, Virginia
Tolerance score: 66 out of 100
Hate crime score: 24 out of 40
Discrimination score: 35 out of 40
Gay rights score: 1 out of 10
Religious Tolerance Score: 6 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents: 1.9 (20 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents: 8.5 (2 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage: 42%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life: 69%

12, Iowa
Tolerance score: 64 out of 100
Hate crime score: 34 out of 40
Discrimination score: 16 out of 40
Gay rights score: 6 out of 10
Religious Tolerance Score: 8 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents: 0.6 (7 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents: 37.5 (48 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage: 44%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life: 73%

13, North Carolina
Tolerance score: 63 out of 100
Hate crime score: 25 out of 40
Discrimination score: 30 out of 40
Gay rights score: 2 out of 10
Religious Tolerance Score: 6 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents: 1.1 (11 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents: 11.5 (10 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage: 36%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life: 62%

14, Connecticut
Tolerance score: 63 out of 100
Hate crime score: 18 out of 40
Discrimination score: 27 out of 40
Gay rights score: 10 out of 10
Religious Tolerance Score: 8 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents: 5.6 (47 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents: 16.8 (30 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage: 57%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life: 73%

15, Florida
Tolerance score: 61 out of 100
Hate crime score: 32 out of 40
Discrimination score: 21 out of 40
Gay rights score: 0 out of 10
Religious Tolerance Score: 8 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents: 0.7 (9 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents: 18.7 (32 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage: 41%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life: 72%

16, Louisiana
Tolerance score: 59 out of 100
Hate crime score: 34 out of 40
Discrimination score: 19 out of 40
Gay rights score: 0 out of 10
Religious Tolerance Score: 6 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents: 0.5 (6 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents: 14.8 (25 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage: 36%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life: 70%

17, New York
Tolerance score: 59 out of 100
Hate crime score: 18 out of 40
Discrimination score: 27 out of 40
Gay rights score: 6 out of 10
Religious Tolerance Score: 8 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents: 3.3 (35 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents: 17.8 (31 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage: 58%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life: 77%

18, Massachusetts
Tolerance score: 59 out of 100
Hate crime score: 18 out of 40
Discrimination score: 23 out of 40
Gay rights score: 10 out of 10
Religious Tolerance Score: 8 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents: 5.1 (43 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents: 21.1 (37 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage: 62%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life: 79%

19, West Virginia
Tolerance score: 58 out of 100
Hate crime score: 24 out of 40
Discrimination score: 26 out of 40
Gay rights score: 2 out of 10
Religious Tolerance Score: 6 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents: 1.4 (13 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents: 12.6 (18 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage: 41%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life: 70%

20, Nevada
Tolerance score: 58 out of 100
Hate crime score: 25 out of 40
Discrimination score: 23 out of 40
Gay rights score: 2 out of 10
Religious Tolerance Score: 8 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents: 2.1 (23 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents: 15.9 (27 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage: 50%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life: 73%

21, Montana
Tolerance score: 58 out of 100
Hate crime score: 15 out of 40
Discrimination score: 36 out of 40
Gay rights score: 1 out of 10
Religious Tolerance score: 6 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents:: 2.9 (30 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents:: 8.7 (3 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage:: 45%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life:: 63%

22, Rhode Island
Tolerance score: 57 out of 100
Hate crime score: 22 out of 40
Discrimination score: 22 out of 40
Gay rights score: 5 out of 10
Religious Tolerance score: 8 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents:: 3.4 (37 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents:: 24.4 (45 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage:: 60%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life:: 73%

23, Alaska
Tolerance score: 56 out of 100
Hate crime score: 13 out of 40
Discrimination score: 34 out of 40
Gay rights score: 1 out of 10
Religious Tolerance score: 8 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents:: 3.1 (31 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents:: 9.3 (6 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage:: 45%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life:: 77%

24, Washington
Tolerance score: 56 out of 100
Hate crime score: 22 out of 40
Discrimination score: 22 out of 40
Gay rights score: 6 out of 10
Religious Tolerance score: 6 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents:: 3.1 (32 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents:: 20.6 (36 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage:: 54%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life:: 68%

25, Vermont
Tolerance score: 56 out of 100
Hate crime score: 16 out of 40
Discrimination score: 22 out of 40
Gay rights score: 10 out of 10
Religious Tolerance score: 8 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents:: 4.0 (39 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents:: 21.7 (39 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage:: 59%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life:: 79%

26, Oregon
Tolerance score: 56 out of 100
Hate crime score: 18 out of 40
Discrimination score: 28 out of 40
Gay rights score: 4 out of 10
Religious Tolerance score: 6 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents:: 5.5 (45 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents:: 12.9 (20 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage:: 52%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life:: 70%

27, Maine
Tolerance score: 55 out of 100
Hate crime score: 19 out of 40
Discrimination score: 19 out of 40
Gay rights score: 7 out of 10
Religious Tolerance score: 10 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents:: 3.8 (38 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents:: 22.5 (40 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage:: 55%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life:: 82%

28, Delaware
Tolerance score: 53 out of 100
Hate crime score: 13 out of 40
Discrimination score: 28 out of 40
Gay rights score: 4 out of 10
Religious Tolerance score: 8 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents:: 4.2 (40 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents:: 15.8 (26 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage:: 50%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life:: 71%

29, Texas
Tolerance score: 52 out of 100
Hate crime score: 32 out of 40
Discrimination score: 15 out of 40
Gay rights score: -1 out of 10
Religious Tolerance score: 6 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents:: 0.7 (8 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents:: 18.8 (34 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage:: 35%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life:: 65%

30, Michigan
Tolerance score: 52 out of 100
Hate crime score: 21 out of 40
Discrimination score: 22 out of 40
Gay rights score: 1 out of 10
Religious Tolerance score: 8 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents:: 3.2 (34 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents:: 21.2 (38 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage:: 46%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life:: 72%

31, Colorado
Tolerance score: 52 out of 100
Hate crime score: 16 out of 40
Discrimination score: 26 out of 40
Gay rights score: 2 out of 10
Religious Tolerance score: 8 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents:: 4.2 (41 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents:: 10.3 (8 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage:: 52%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life:: 72%

32, Georgia
Tolerance score: 50 out of 100
Hate crime score: 24 out of 40
Discrimination score: 21 out of 40
Gay rights score: -1 out of 10
Religious Tolerance score: 6 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents:: 0.1 (2 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents:: 12.5 (17 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage:: 34%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life:: 63%

33, Indiana
Tolerance score: 49 out of 100
Hate crime score: 18 out of 40
Discrimination score: 21 out of 40
Gay rights score: 2 out of 10
Religious Tolerance score: 8 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents:: 1.5 (14 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents:: 16.4 (29 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage:: 37%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life:: 73%

34, Tennessee
Tolerance score: 49 out of 100
Hate crime score: 21 out of 40
Discrimination score: 23 out of 40
Gay rights score: -1 out of 10
Religious Tolerance score: 6 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents:: 2.7 (26 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents:: 13.8 (23 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage:: 31%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life:: 63%

35, Oklahoma
Tolerance score: 48 out of 100
Hate crime score: 25 out of 40
Discrimination score: 18 out of 40
Gay rights score: -1 out of 10
Religious Tolerance score: 6 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents:: 1.6 (17 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents:: 13.8 (22 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage:: 26%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life:: 65%

36, South Carolina
Tolerance score: 48 out of 100
Hate crime score: 13 out of 40
Discrimination score: 30 out of 40
Gay rights score: -1 out of 10
Religious Tolerance score: 6 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents:: 2.7 (27 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents:: 10.6 (9 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage:: 32%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life:: 61%

37, Missouri
Tolerance score: 47 out of 100
Hate crime score: 24 out of 40
Discrimination score: 15 out of 40
Gay rights score: 0 out of 10
Religious Tolerance score: 8 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents:: 2.1 (22 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents:: 29.4 (46 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage:: 37%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life:: 73%

38, Mississippi
Tolerance score: 46 out of 100
Hate crime score: 27 out of 40
Discrimination score: 16 out of 40
Gay rights score: -1 out of 10
Religious Tolerance score: 4 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents:: 0.2 (3 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents:: 11.6 (11 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage:: 27%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life:: 59%

39, South Dakota
Tolerance score: 46 out of 100
Hate crime score: 10 out of 40
Discrimination score: 28 out of 40
Gay rights score: 0 out of 10
Religious Tolerance score: 8 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents:: 5.8 (48 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents:: 9.4 (7 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage:: 38%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life:: 79%

40, Alabama
Tolerance score: 44 out of 100
Hate crime score: 26 out of 40
Discrimination score: 15 out of 40
Gay rights score: -1 out of 10
Religious Tolerance score: 4 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents:: 0.3 (4 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents:: 12.8 (19 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage:: 26%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life:: 59%

41, Kentucky
Tolerance score: 43 out of 100
Hate crime score: 14 out of 40
Discrimination score: 24 out of 40
Gay rights score: -1 out of 10
Religious Tolerance score: 6 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents:: 4.7 (42 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents:: 13.4 (21 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage:: 31%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life:: 69%

42, North Dakota
Tolerance score: 42 out of 100
Hate crime score: 16 out of 40
Discrimination score: 18 out of 40
Gay rights score: 0 out of 10
Religious Tolerance score: 8 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents:: 2.3 (25 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents:: 32.8 (47 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage:: 38%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life:: 79%

43, Arizona
Tolerance score: 42 out of 100
Hate crime score: 20 out of 40
Discrimination score: 15 out of 40
Gay rights score: 1 out of 10
Religious Tolerance score: 6 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents:: 3.4 (36 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents:: 18.7 (33 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage:: 48%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life:: 64%

44, Utah
Tolerance score: 41 out of 100
Hate crime score: 16 out of 40
Discrimination score: 24 out of 40
Gay rights score: -1 out of 10
Religious Tolerance score: 2 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents:: 1.7 (18 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents:: 11.8 (12 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage:: 22%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life:: 45%

45, Idaho
Tolerance score: 41 out of 100
Hate crime score: 22 out of 40
Discrimination score: 16 out of 40
Gay rights score: -1 out of 10
Religious Tolerance score: 4 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents:: 2.3 (24 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents:: 23.9 (42 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage:: 33%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life:: 60%

46, Ohio
Tolerance score: 40 out of 100
Hate crime score: 15 out of 40
Discrimination score: 16 out of 40
Gay rights score: 1 out of 10
Religious Tolerance score: 8 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents:: 3.1 (33 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents:: 24.2 (44 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage:: 45%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life:: 76%

47, Nebraska
Tolerance score: 40 out of 100
Hate crime score: 17 out of 40
Discrimination score: 16 out of 40
Gay rights score: -1 out of 10
Religious Tolerance score: 8 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents:: 5.1 (44 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents:: 38.8 (49 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage:: 35%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life:: 78%

48, Kansas
Tolerance score: 38 out of 100
Hate crime score: 12 out of 40
Discrimination score: 18 out of 40
Gay rights score: 0 out of 10
Religious Tolerance score: 8 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents:: 5.6 (46 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents:: 23.0 (41 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage:: 37%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life:: 71%

49, Arkansas
Tolerance score: 37 out of 100
Hate crime score: 15 out of 40
Discrimination score: 17 out of 40
Gay rights score: -1 out of 10
Religious Tolerance score: 6 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents:: 2.7 (28 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents:: 23.9 (43 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage:: 29%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life:: 63%

50, Wyoming
Tolerance score: 32 out of 100
Hate crime score: 16 out of 40
Discrimination score: 8 out of 40
Gay rights score: 2 out of 10
Religious Tolerance score: 6 out of 10
Hate crime incidents per 100,000 residents:: 1.5 (15 out of 50 states)
Discrimination cases filed per 100,000 residents:: 201.9 (50 out of 50 states)
Population in support of same-sex marriage:: 37%
Population that believes many religions lead to eternal life:: 63%

Gun Violence & Regulation (Data, Analysis, Rhetoric)

“But I actually want to address his first point because it is so profoundly stupid. Why should we criminalize anything because the criminals are going to ignore the law anyway? Think about that in other contexts. Why should we criminalize murder or rape because people are going to kill and rape anyway? But wait a minute. Then, one of the reasons to criminalize it is so we can prosecute them.”
~ Cenk Uygur

I should preface this entire blog post with the delaration that I, like Cenk Uygur, am a liberal who supports gun rights and yet frames these rights within their corollary of social responsibility. I don’t know that regulation is good, but regulation does seem unavoidable in its necessity… given human nature and the state of modern civilization. Everything in this blog follows from that understanding. My biases are entirely out in the open and they aren’t above being questioned.

(By the way, if you’re interested in seeing the material I posted in direct response to the Tuscon shooting, see my other post here.)

– – –

The data about guns and violence is complex and difficult to analyze, but for argument’s sake let’s assume we could make a clear conclusion that gun regulation was effective (an argument that is confirmed by at least some of the data). Assuming this, how many gun advocates would change their minds? Probably very few. Gun advocates who argue against all regulation are a minority. If being for gun regulation is liberal, then most Americans are liberal (well, most Americans are liberal on many if not most issues: US Demographics & Increasing ProgressivismPublic Opinion on Tax Cuts for the Rich85% Oppose Cutting Social Security (Poll), Health Reform & Public Option (polls & other info), and Claims of US Becoming Pro-Life).

My frustration is that the far right gun advocates want to portray the debate as an issue of banning all guns. They do the same thing with other issues as well: banning all drugs or legalizing all drugs, banning all abortions or legalizing all abortions, et cetera. There is no middle ground in this black and white worldview.

This would appear to be a dishonest debating tactic, but it feels honest to many who see the issue this way. They truly believe in their worldview. As they see it, the gun violence issue isn’t the central issue. They perceive their right to own and carry guns as an inalienable right. Even the most basic regulation ensuring public safety is an infringement and is perceived as an erosion of gun rights that will inevitably lead to banning all guns. If those with a record of crime, violence, or insanity can’t legally buy guns, these people fear that the state will begin to label all gun advocates as violent and insane criminals. They fear the govt, they fear liberals, they fear everything. In a world where everything is a potential threat, they have to be able to defend themselves. Anything outside of their paranoid fantasy is meaningless to them. Yes, this view is only held by far right extremists and that is the problem as these people usually dominate any discussion.

It’s fine that these people have their own worldview. I don’t hold that against them per se. But I do hold it against them that their worldview is forced onto the entire country. These far right gun advocates have immense influence because the NRA and gun corporations have immense amount of wealth and large numbers of lobbyists. They’ve been so effective at controlling the narrative that they’ve even persuaded the moderate majority. If you ask many gun owners, they’ll give you an inconsistent response. Most of them support reasonable regulation, but whenever the gun advocacy narrative is brought up (which is often in the media) they will have a knee-jerk response of saying they’re against ‘regulation’ interpreting it as a codeword for banning guns. This is the power of a narrative. This is also how conservatives have won the health care reform debate. If you ask Americans, most support health care reform (specifically ideas such as public option or single payer). But if you frame the debate with push-polling questions, most Americans say they are against health care reform (against Obamacare, against Government controlled health care, et cetera).

The problem is that minority of far right gun advocates and the majority of average regulation advocates aren’t even talking about the same thing. There is a middle ground that rarely gets discussed and when it gets discssed it is framed as being far left. We can have gun ownership legalized, we can have even have more people owning more guns. None of that contradicts having more effective regulation. I’m fine with someone having a houseful of guns within reasonable limits… just as long as they don’t have a record of crime, violence, and/or insanity… just as long as certain weapons are banned such as machine guns, grenade launchers, bazookas, flame throwers, etc. The thing is that most Americans agree with me, but finding agreement in public debate is so difficult because the rhetoric used to frame the debate just muddies the water, inflames emotions, and polarizes opinions. The results of this rhetoric that we see in the media and in politics doesn’t correspond to what most people think and believe. Research shows that, for example, politicians in Washington are more polarized in their positions than are the American public that they supposedly represent. How can a democracy function when minority groups control all aspects of political debate and policymaking?

The debate isn’t about banning all weapons versus legalizing all weapons. The debate isn’t even about ‘strong’ regulation versus ‘weak’ regulation. Most Americans want to have the right to own guns and to have reasonable regulation to ensure public safety. So, the only worthwhile debate is what kind of regulation is effective. We can have few regulations if those regulations are effective and if they are enforced consistently. On the other hand, having lots of ‘strong’ regulations would be meaningless if they are badly designed and/or aren’t enforced. I’ve presented the real debate here in this post. So, why is this real debate so rarely heard in the media? Or why, when heard in the media, is this real debate so easily derailed by rhetoric? Who benefits by not having a real debate? That is obvious: those who make a lot of money off of guns (meaning the gun makers and sellers including the lobbyists and politicians who work for them).

To be fair, sometimes real debate does happen in the mainstream media and sometimes a rightwing gun advocate will openly speak about regulation:

A further problem is that the complex data on guns is in the context of even more complex data about violence in general. Many people will point out that the rates of violence have been decreasing since the 1980s, but that misses the point that our present ‘low’ rates are still massively higher than the rates of violence in the 1960s. In fact, our present ‘low’ rates of violence are about the same as the high rates of violence during Prohibition.

http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/uscrime.htm

Also, research shows that the recent decrease of violence is largely caused by factors that have nothing to do with gun regulation or tough-on-crime policies.

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/09/05/jimmy-carter-clean-air-act/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/11/24/abortion-crime/

These other factors are conveniently ignored or dismissed by gun advocates and other conservatives because it supports a liberal vision of society. Thom Hartmann recently discussed the correlation between violence and income inequality which I’ve discussed in the past.

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/07/22/study-bosses-getting-meaner/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/08/27/capitalist-us-vs-socialist-germany/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/08/31/10-states-with-ridiculously-low-unemployment-and-why/

I noticed this blog post which I could connect into the issue of inequality:

http://www.sciencebuzz.org/blog/do-guns-make-you-safer-or-put-you-more-danger

Various people have tried to resolve this issue over the years, with little success. When the Brady list came out recently, blogger Jay Tea noted that some states with strict gun laws (such as California) actually had higher rates of gun death, while some states with looser laws (such as Utah) had much lower rates. (The “rates” are gun homicides per 100,000 people, and not total deaths. This allows us to compare large states and small states fairly.)

However, Mr. Tea failed to note that the reverse is also true — that there are also states with strict laws that have low rates of gun violence, and states with loose laws that have high rates.

So, which is it: do gun controls make you safer, or put you in more danger?

The author of that blog makes the point that no clear causal relationship can be ascertained proving the benefit of either pro-gun or pro-regulation. However, he was leaving out the data about inequality. Compare (look below) the maps of inequality and poverty to the maps of gun deaths and permits… and notice the fairly consistent georgraphic patterns. Utah has one of the lowest income inequalities in the country and California (like much of the Southern US) has high income inequality. According to The Spirit Level by Wilkinson and Pickett, Utah has one of the best ratings in the US in terms of the index of health and social problems (in the Top 10). California is much worse than Utah, but California looks fairly good on many standards when compared to the strongly conservative states in the Southwest and Deep South.

I was initially confused why the above quote mentions California as having higher rates of gun death because one of the maps below shows California gun deaths to be lower per capita. The article that the gun deaths map below comes from explains the differences of data: “The map above charts firearm deaths for the 50 states plus the District of Columbia. Note that these figures include accidental shootings, suicides, even acts of self-defense, as well as crimes.” (By the way, data shows a reverse correlation between murder and suicide; in any given society, people will be more likely to either kill themselves or kill others but not usually both in equal rates; so, combining both murder and suicide rates is possibly a more accurate way of making comparisons of overall violence.) The above quote is only referring to the data on homicides (which seems to imply that California has extremely low rates of non-homicidal gun deaths). Anyway, including or excluding California, the pattern still holds with most of the states with a few possible anomalies such as Nevada.

http://www.visualizingeconomics.com/2007/07/17/united-states-income-inequality-map/

Gross Domestic Product by Industry

http://www.visualizingeconomics.com/2007/08/11/united-states-poverty-map/

% in Poverty Income Map

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/11/01/the-geography-of-gun-deaths-/69354/

preventionEDIT.jpg

http://www.usacarry.com/concealed_carry_permit_reciprocity_maps.html

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/packages/images/newsgraphics/2011/0110-guns/permits.jpg

Here is an interesting diagram showing some correlated factors:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/11/01/the-geography-of-gun-deaths-/69354/

It’s obvious the US has a violent culture when looking at the bigger picture of comparisons between countries, although it’s also clear that certain regions of the US are more violent than others. This violence can’t be directly blamed on guns, but it can’t be denied that our worship of guns (along with general glorification of violence in the media) plays a part. The more violent society gets the more people buy guns. And the more gun laws are loosened the more shooting rampages occur. It’s a vicious cycle that will continue as long as we ignore the fundamental causes. One of these causes is the economic disparity which correlates to an increase of social problems such as violent crime and an increase of social mistrust. Research shows that this type of conflict-ridden atmosphere predisposes people toward more a more conservative and even authoritarian worldview.

So, those in favor of conservative and/or authoritarian policies have an incentive to encourage such social conflict and violence. Those who make money off of the gun industry and the military-industrial comple have a vested interest to encourage this culture of violence. The increasing economic disparity isn’t an accident but is the result of specific political agendas. I’m not saying it’s a conspiracy, but I am saying people tend to act in their own interests. When a minority gains most of the power, they will tend to create a world that conforms to their personal biases.

Here is a further problem. We can only clearly ascertain the correlations between violence and inequality by making comparisons, but I found certain comparisons being dismissed by gun advocates:

http://www.hnn.us/articles/871.html

Concomitantly, the U.S. should be compared not to Western Europe but to other high-murder-rate nations such as Russia. There, severe and severely-enforced gun bans applied to a largely unarmed population succeeded in virtually eliminating gun murders — so other weapons were substituted. In only four of the 35 years 1965-99 was Russia’s murder rate (barely) lower than ours, while in another 10 the rates were almost identical. But in 21 years the Russian rate was higher, and in seven the Russian rate was more than twice the U.S. Today it is almost four times higher.

http://www.firearmsandliberty.com/cramer.murder.html

When gun control advocates argue for banning or severely restricting gun ownership, the comparisons drawn are usually the United States vs. Britain, Canada, or Japan. The argument presented is that availability of guns causes high crime rates. Occasionally, similar comparisons are made with different American states — though usually such comparisons are made by their opponents, since state by state murder rate comparisons can be used (just as inaccurately) to “prove” that gun control laws increase crime rates.

That comparisons of such widely differing nations, cultures, and legal systems as Japan, Britain, and the United States are absurd should be obvious. But even ignoring these obvious differences, there is plenty of evidence that such comparisons are ignoring significant factors besides firearms availability. As an example, compare American and British rape rates. Unlike murder, rape seldom involves a gun. While 62% of murders in the U.S. in 1981 involved a firearm, only 7% of rapes did so. [1] Therefore, if crime rates in the U.S. and Britain can be fairly compared, we should find that British rape rates were equal to U.S. rape rates, minus the 7% of U.S. rapes committed with guns.

The 1984 British Crime Survey reported 2,288 rapes in England and Wales — an area with a population of 49 million people! This gives 4.67 rapes per 100,000 people. [2] By comparison, America’s rape rate for 1987 was 73 per 100,000 females [3] , or 36.5 per 100,000 people. Subtracting the 7% of U.S. rapes that are committed with firearms gives 34 rapes per 100,000 people — far higher than Britain’s rate. Britain’s very low rape rate must be more than just the absence of firearms — much more.

Similarly, there were 662 murders in England and Wales in 1984 [4] . This gives 1.35 murders per 100,000 people. The U.S. murder rate in 1987 was 8.3 per 100,000 people [5] . Even if we assume that:

1. In the absence of firearms, not a single murderer using a firearm in the U.S. would have used another weapon to commit murder (very unlikely);

2. further assuming that not a single privately owned firearm was used to prevent a murder from happening in the U.S. (very unlikely);

3. assuming that not a single murder in Britain involved a firearm (not true);

subtracting out the 59% of murders committed with firearms in the U.S. in 1987 [6] still gives a rate of 3.4 per 100,000 – – two and a half times higher than Britain. How valid is it to compare British and U.S. murder rates?

We shouldn’t make comparisons with countries that are better than the US based on a wide variety of data because such comparisons would be ‘unfair’. Give me a break! That is the whole point. These countries don’t have the problems the US has and so we should look to why those countries succeed where the US fails. Of course, such data would undermine the rightwing arguments. It’s just ‘unfair’ that reality has a liberal bias.

Another correlation can be made with the military. It’s conservative policies (which are supported by most Republican politicians and many conservative Democrats as well) that have been the major factor behind the rising inequality. And it’s conservative ideology that has always presented the Military-Industrial Complex as a patriotic institution that must be promoted no matter the cost (in lives or taxes). The far left has always been against these things, but you rarely see leftwingers in mainstream media and mainstream politics (a rare exception being Bernie Sanders).

So, besides the problems of inequality, what are some of the other problems of the culture of violence? The most obvious result is the growth of the Military-Industrial Complex, the militarization of the police, a failing War on Drugs, the highest per capita prison population in the world, and the creation of a system of powerful gangs, cartels, and smugglers. Here is an example of how this plays out in the real world:

My complaint of the rightwing vision of society is that it can end up as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/04/14/far-rights-self-fulfilling-prophecy-secessionism-militias-paranoia-violence/

Maybe I’m being unfair to conservatives. However, my criticisms are mostly limited to the far right. My criticisms only seem to apply to all conservatives because the far right has come to dominate and define conservatism. Nonetheless, the data I’ve seen shows that even most NRA members and most gun owners support gun regulation.

http://www.mayorsagainstillegalguns.org/html/media-center/pr012-09.shtml

Here is a major confusion to this debate.

The liberal/conservative divide is often a urban/rural divide. This is particularly clear with the gun issue. Research shows that when you have highly concentrated populations violence tends to increase… no matter what laws and regulations are in place. Conservatives will point out that liberal urban areas have high crime rates, but the liberalism doesn’t cause the crime rates. Liberalism and crime rates are both caused (or contributed to) by concentrated populations (or, at least, there is some kind of correlation, causal or not). An example of this is research showing that people who grow up around diverse cultures (i.e., urban areas) tend to be more socially liberal as adults (I’ve seen this research a number of times but I was unable to locate it; I think I might have included it in a previous blog). More importantly, the liberal desire for gun regulation is in response to gun violence and not the cause of it. Highly concentrated populations with high economic disparity will inevitably have high rates of violence. It makes no sense to blame the solution as the cause. Gun regulation is desired when gun violence is out of control. It’s like blaming Progressivism for causing the Robber Barons.

Part of the confusion comes from comparing states without controlling for all variables.

Conservative states tend to be more rural and rural regions tend to have less gun crimes or less reported gun crimes (although it should be pointed out that rural areas have equal rates of gun deaths as urban areas, but they tend to be different kinds of gun deaths: suicides, ‘accidents’, et cetera). Liberal states tend to be more urban and urban areas in general tend to have higher rates of gun violence. So, there is an urban/rural divide when it comes to gun regulation. However, if we just compare urban areas in liberal states to urban areas in conservative states, liberal urban areas (which tend to have comprehensive gun regulation) have lower rates of gun violence. I assume this has to do with liberal urban areas tending to have lower income inequality than conservative rural areas.

A related factor is that rural conservative states with loose gun laws often are the source of illegal or unregulated gun purchases that are behind the large number of unregistered guns in urban liberal states. An example is that many unregistered guns in Chicago come from Indiana.

http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/article_7b3c4234-e066-5c7d-b8f7-877667c35f69.html

Gun advocates will sometimes point out that the data is complex. If they can’t prove their own preferred conclusions based on the data, they’ll claim that no conclusions at all can be made. So, they think we should just throw out all the data and go back to first principles (which reminds me of two previous posts: Conservative Mistrust & Ideological Certainty (part 1) and (part 2)). They assume their own ideology is the default position. They argue that the data and analysis is just a distraction from our Second Amendment rights. This simpleminded view misses the point that even the Second Amendment is complex. There is no refuge for the simpleminded. The complex can be denied by embracing ignorance and ideology, but that doesn’t make the complexities go away.

Let’s look at the entire wording of the Second Amendment:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The first few words clarifies the original intention of the founders. First, they realized it was the role of the government to regulate guns. Second, they supported a militia because they were originally against having a standing army. Combined together, they wanted a “well regulated Militia” meaning they realized having unregulated militias and unregulated gun use was dangerous. The founders did worry about an oppressive government and so so a well regulated militia serving the role of protecting the population from abuse of power, but the founders also worried about populist revolt. They didn’t want what happened to the French to happen to them. They were the business and intellectual elite of their day. If a populist revolt were to happen, they knew they’d be among the first targets of violence. For this reason, they made sure to clarify that regulation was centrally important, i.e., law and order. The founders were far from being radical gun rights advocates.

Obviously, we no longer live in the world the founders lived in. Even the founders had to backtrack on their dislike of a standing army. It was in their lifetime that a standing army was created and has existed ever since. However, if were to go by their original wording and intentions, we should immediately dismantle the entire military and create a “well regulated Militia”. What this would mean is that those who are trained militia members would have the right and responsibility to own a gun and these militias would be under the authority of (i.e., regulated by) the government (both state and federal).

The Second Amendment, however, doesn’t inherently give the right for every person to carry any and all weapons they want without any government regulation.

http://www.newsweek.com/blogs/the-gaggle/2011/01/18/assault-weapons-ban-would-not-violate-second-amendment.html

There is a lot of bogus invocation of the Second Amendment going on right now. But there is no ambiguity in the judicial precedent: the assault-weapons ban does not violate the Second Amendment. When Kim Strassel of The Wall Street Journalcomplains that “New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has piped up, again, in favor of expanding the sort of burdensome restrictions his city places on the Second Amendment to the nation as a whole,” she is using weasel words to invoke the Constitution on a subject with no relevance to it. Even the most conservative jurists held for decades that the Second Amendment was meant to protect state militias rather than an individual right to own weapons. More recently, the Supreme Court overturned total bans on all gun ownership, such as the Washington, D.C., law overturned in Heller v. District of Columbia by a 5-4 decision. But Heller did not establish an individual right to own all weapons. Members of the narrow majority on the Supreme Court who believe that the Second Amendment establishes an individual right to bear arms would not hold that the Constitution protects one’s right to own a nuclear submarine. So it is not true that any gun ban automatically “burdens” the Second Amendment. The question is whether it affects the limited right to self-defense that the conservative majority now says the Founders intended. Banning any possession of handguns by law-abiding citizens, even in the home, is so far the only law that the high court has held violates the Second Amendment. Such extreme bans are only passed in large liberal cities such as D.C. and Chicago where crime is a persistent concern. No federal law that could ever actually be passed by the U.S. Congress approaches such a level of restriction. There is simply no precedent to support the claim that laws preventing civilians from obtaining weapons that can fire 30 bullets without reloading would violate the Second Amendment. This does not mean that one cannot have a valid concern that even constitutional laws place an undue burden on one’s freedom, but that is a question of values and public-policy tradeoffs, not constitutionality.

I don’t claim to have it all figured out. The more I look at the data the less certain I am. For example, I noticed John Lott coming up a lot in my websearches, especially his book More Guns, Less Violence. Looking at the Wikipedia page, there is tons of research that either supports or challenges his conclusions (although there apparently is more research on the side of challenging).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/More_Guns,_Less_Crime

Trying to make sense of the data is difficult, but I think it’s worth the effort because otherwise we will just be arguing past eachother based on our various biases. I do think we need to take the data, all the data seriously… and not dismiss it because it’s inconvenient or too confusing to fit our preconceived ideologies. But it seems like rational debate is next to impossible. I try to remain intellectually humble and openminded, but I find myself polarized and frustrated by all the rhetoric.

So, I could be wrong about what makes sense to me at the moment. As far as I can tell, gun violence and gun regulation don’t necessarily have a causal connection, although there does seem to be some correlations related to economic disparity (which, in turn, is correlated to the degree of conservatism of a state). I have no absolute conclusions based on such confusing statistics and demographics… and, for that reason, I’m dissatisfied and annoyed by those who are satisfied with absolute conclusions (and absolute ideologies). Regulation might not solve the problem, but at least some basic regulation seems like a necessary ‘evil’ until (if ever) the more fundamental problems in our society are remedied.


Anyway, for the apparent minority of people who care about the complexity of the facts and issues, here are some interesting and helpful links:

http://social.jrank.org/pages/1257/Violent-Crime-Guns-Plenty.html

http://social.jrank.org/pages/1255/Violent-Crime-Guns-Gangs.html

http://social.jrank.org/pages/1250/Violent-Crime-Century-Murder.html

http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2011/01/12-0

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/01/the-psychogeography-of-gun-violence/69353/

http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/070628/dq070628b-eng.htm

http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2003/07/0728.php

http://www.crab.rutgers.edu/~goertzel/mythsofmurder.htm

http://islandia.law.yale.edu/ayers/Ayres_Donohue_article.pdf

http://home.uchicago.edu/~ludwigj/papers/IJLE-ConcealedGunLaws-1998.pdf

http://faculty.arts.ubc.ca/nfortin/econ495/dugganjpe98.pdf

http://pricetheory.uchicago.edu/levitt/Papers/LevittUnderstandingWhyCrime2004.pdf

http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Academic/drugs_and_violence/Drugs_and_violence.html

http://www.protesteasygunslies.com/kates_mauser.pdf

http://works.bepress.com/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1017&context=john_donohue

http://works.bepress.com/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1065&context=john_donohue

http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/jan/10/gun-crime-us-state

http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/27/2/214.full.pdf

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/01/sudan-vs-the-united-states-cultures-of-gun-violence/69655/

http://www.tampabay.com/news/politifact-us-has-more-gun-deaths-than-other-large-countries/1145669

http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/221032/international_gun_laws_show_firearm.html?cat=17

http://www.shmoop.com/right-to-bear-arms/original-meaning-of-the-second-amendment.html

http://www.spectacle.org/996/2d.html

http://www2.law.ucla.edu/volokh/common.htm

http://www.bsos.umd.edu/gvpt/lpbr/subpages/reviews/Williams404.htm

http://extremehonesty.tribe.net/thread/7d6b44ae-7394-40f9-85c5-4ae32f120235

http://www.thomhartmann.com/forum/2010/11/negative-rights-bill-rights

Trust in an age of cynicism

Here is an awesome discussion about an important topic: public trust.

There is an increase of trust combined with gullibility caused by a fragmentation of trust. People trust others like themselves which is a reaction to modern multiculturalism and conflict of identity groups. Also, mistrust has increased because knowledge has increased. The national media informs people of all the bad things all over the world like never before… which has happened simultaneously as local media reporting on communities has decreased.

Many people (especially the older generations) would like to return to the simplicity and ignorance of the past, but the younger generations are more embracing of a complex world. I’ve seen polls that show younger people are less mistrusting of the media and the government. The younger generations are used to dealing with diverse sources of info and used to determining which info is trustworthy.

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/02/09/a-portrait-of-generation-next/

One possible solution is finding a new shared culture that will allow for social cohesion that will bridge the diversity between cultures, between communities, between generations. Et Cetera.

There was a central factor not brought up by anyone in this video. High wealth disparity correlates to high rates of social problems (including growing mistrust). Wealth disparity has been increasing in the US for decades and is at a high point not seen for a century. Accordingly, the US rate of social problems has increased above other countries with lower wealth disparity.

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/07/22/study-bosses-getting-meaner/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/08/31/10-states-with-ridiculously-low-unemployment-and-why/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/11/02/the-united-states-of-inequality/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/04/17/income-inequality-krugman-dalai-lama/

I just thought of another possible factor: Mean World Syndrome. One example of this is research showing most people (specifically in crowded cities) will walk past someone who is injured or unconscious. People don’t trust others and they realize others don’t trust them. In such mistrust, it’s a major risk to get involved in someone else’s problems or to take responsibility for public problems.

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/11/17/mean-world-syndrome/

This relates to something brought up in the above video. One of the panelists said that when everyone is seeking to blame the other side neither side is willing to take responsibility.

One last point. Distinctions should be made. Even though the (possible) loss of trust has impacted everyone, it’s impact has been different in kind and degree for various demographics.

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/09/25/trust-compromise-science-religion/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/04/21/republicans-support-big-government-just-as-long-as-republicans-are-in-power/