Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Over the years, I have learned that sometimes, the best way to defeat someone spewing nonsense is to sit back and let him keep on talking, and then make it easy for the thinking part of the audience to connect the dots.
For that reason, I found myself first wondering why leftist blogger (and OWS cheerleader) Matthew Yglesias posted "U.S. More Unequal than Ancient Rome", on the "problem" of income inequality, at all -- and then wishing he'd spent more time explaining why he would consider this a problem, if it were true, rather than simply implying that he disagrees with the analysis.
Research from Walter Schiedel and Steven Friesen suggests that the Gini coefficient for the ancient Roman Empire was 0.42–0.44, slightly lower than today's 0.45.Indeed the exercise Yglesias suggests would be, "interesting", and much more, in part for reasons that Paul Hsieh recently brought up in "In Praise of Capitalist Inequality":
Of course an interesting exercise would be to try to think about this in human welfare terms rather than in monetary terms. The past would arguably have been extremely egalitarian in welfare terms simply because the overall living standards were so low compared to today. No air conditioning, no out-of-season food, no air travel to visit family in a different city, no penicillin if your kid gets sick.
The fact that Steve Jobs earned a greater fortune than most others reflects the fact that he created much more value than most others -- and in the process enhanced others' lives to a proportionately greater degree. Steve Jobs' earned wealth was a direct reflection of the value he added for himself and others -- and his wealth should be praised and respected as a noble achievement.Another exercise in a similar vein would also be "interesting" -- a thought experiment that I dare say not a single OWS sympathizer has bothered to attempt, but which Ayn Rand once conducted for their 1960s and 1970s counterparts: imagining what the results of stealing the property of "the rich" would really entail:
It is also important to recognize that America is not currently a capitalist country, but rather a mixed economy with both capitalist and socialist elements. Hence, some Americans have become undeservedly rich through political "pull" and favors. But the OWS protestors aren’t opposed to government favoritism in principle -- they merely want to shift those special favors onto themselves.
In view of what they hear from the experts, the people cannot be blamed for their ignorance and their helpless confusion. If an average housewife struggles with her incomprehensibly shrinking budget and sees a tycoon in a resplendent limousine, she might well think that just one of his diamond cuff links would solve all her problems. She has no way of knowing that if all the personal luxuries of all the tycoons were expropriated, it would not feed her family -- and millions of other, similar families -- for one week; and that the entire country would starve on the first morning of the week to follow . . . . How would she know it, if all the voices she hears are telling her that we must soak the rich? [from "The Inverted Moral Priorities," which appeared in The Ayn Rand Letter]Seeing Yglesias actually think of all the modern conveniences we have that the Romans didn't caused me to wonder for a moment whether he'd had a Yeltsinesque "supermarket epiphany," or might be on the verge of one. If so, he could potentially be a valuable ally in the (actual) fight against poverty, with his words being even more valuable for the cause than they would be otherwise.
But either way, I hope he keeps on talking.