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American Poverty

by Izzy Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 04:19:56 PM EST

Bumped by whataboutbob: this is just too good of a discussion to let it slide off into oblivion yet...so one more for the road!

Okay all you believers in the American Dream, defenders of the status quo, champions of the huddled masses, and innocent bystanding statistic lovers -- it's time to quit sullying other threads with our wrangling and get down to business.  

Time to stop dragging in the costs of tuition, prices of produce and arcane portions of the US tax code into unsuspecting diaries.  Don't act innocent -- you know who you are and I expect to see you in here.

As to the rest of you, jump on in!  Be forewarned that my head explodes periodically in this type of discussion, but it passes quickly and I can be reasoned with -- I  admit I have issues.

The rest of the unrepentant arguers all seem quite nice and reasonable except when they're occasionally stunningly incorrect, but I'll leave that for now.

The issue is poverty in the United States -- does it exist?  what is the scope?  how bad is it?  can it be overcome?  how does it compare to Europe?  and why does this matter?


Now, I'm one of those always dragging the huddled masses into things types (as if they haven't troubles enough).  My stance is that we have terrible poverty in the US.  That the problem is quite large and growing.  I believe this one "fact" of American life explains our political madness and also holds the key to solving our problems.

And I want to state for the record that I'm a big believer in the American Dream.  I believe with all my heart that who you are or where you come from shouldn't matter.  I believe we all are entitled to freedom, equality, and opportunity.  I believe that if a person works hard, they should be able to at least achieve the basics needed for survival.

But what I'm seeing and experiencing here in these United States is an ever increasing gap between rich and poor.  What I'm seeing isn't that the American Dream isn't working, it's that it works fine for a decreasing few but locks out an increasing many.  

And the problem as I see it is that we're pushing our system, our economic model on the rest of the world.  We're selling our dream hard and showing you the wealthy, healthy, best and brightest  highest peak of our system.  But we're not showing you what's underneath.  We're not telling you how we climbed to those lofty heights.

And we know the hard sell.  We're giving it all we've got.  We want you to liberalize your economy, de-regulate your markets, and open yourselves up to investment.  You will protect our industry instead of your environment, our investments instead of your labor, our economy instead of your people, or you will by-god pay, amen.

And we keep lying to you.  We tell you this will be good for you, that it works.  Just bend over, it won't hurt a bit.  Look at us -- we're doing it and we're fine!  The richest, wealthiest most wonderful, powerful bad-ass nation in the world, in history, that there ever will be.

But we're not fine.  That's the point I keep trying to make.

And you're all good people.  You know there's a problem and you don't like certain things about this and then there's that whole war and oil and things have gotten out of hand.  You're looking for solutions.  To solve anything you need to identify the problem.  And, hey!, I'm an American and I think I know what a big part of that problem is.

So I'm over here yellin' and wavin' and pointin' and stuff, trying to attract attention.  What I'm saying is -- look over here!  We have poor people and violence and death.  We have untenable, intractable, hideous, callous and cruel poverty.  

The system they're trying to sell you runs on this stuff!  

The plantation is pretty, but it takes slaves to run it.  The castle is lovely, but you'll need the moat to keep the peasants out.  Our economic model, our shining city on the hill, is built on the backs of the poor.  It doesn't work without them.

And the biggest problem I have is that many don't want to listen and some who do refuse to believe.  There's not many people like me talking to people like you.  People like me aren't supposed to escape, to mix.  They make it really hard to get across the moat and, if you make it, they've already told the folks on the castle grounds all about our kind.

From the Wall Street Journal via AEI as regards the victims of Katrina:

. . . We have rediscovered the underclass. Newspapers and television understandably prefer to feature low-income people who are trying hard--the middle-aged man working two jobs, the mother worrying about how to get her children into school in a strange city. These people are rightly the objects of an outpouring of help from around the country, but their troubles are relatively easy to resolve. Tell the man where a job is, and he will take it. Tell the mother where a school is, and she will get her children into it. Other images show us the face of the hard problem: those of the looters and thugs, and those of inert women doing nothing to help themselves or their children. They are the underclass.

 . . . The government hasn't a clue. Versions of every program being proposed in the aftermath of Katrina have been tried before and evaluated. We already know that the programs are mismatched with the characteristics of the underclass. Job training? Unemployment in the underclass is not caused by lack of jobs or of job skills, but by the inability to get up every morning and go to work. A homesteading act? The lack of home ownership is not caused by the inability to save money from meager earnings, but because the concept of thrift is alien. You name it, we've tried it. It doesn't work with the underclass.

 . . . the statistical reality is that people who get into the American job market and stay there seldom remain poor unless they do something self-destructive. And behaving self-destructively is the hallmark of the underclass.

They tell these lies over and over, that it's not the system it's the people, the underclass with their "certain characteristics."  It's not a lack of jobs, education, skills, or opportunity, they say.  It's the people.  The inert mothers and lazy fathers who won't get out of bed.  These people do nothing to help themselves, they always say.  And they profit from these lies and this fear and make the moat wider while the castle grounds shrink.

I keep telling this same story and having these same arguments.  People bring various statistics to the arguments, and that's fine if we're talking about the area around the castle.  What I'm always talking about is how many people are across the moat, how bad it is and what a brutal way it is to try and live.  I know this because I lived there myself once.  So far as I know, most of that population isn't counted in the statistics, they're simply ignored.  But I can't ignore them.  I can't keep them out of these arguments because, while I live here with you now, my heart is still with the people across the moat.

Display:
Okay, as promised (threatened?) here 'tis.  Bring me your tired statistics, your poor hunches, your huddled anecdotes.  We'll figure something out.  I may even have some actual, y'know, facts waiting in the wings.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Oct 11th, 2005 at 05:44:25 PM EST
Izzy, if this diary is the outcome, I sure hope your head explodes more often. :-) thank you.
by Fran (fran at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 01:17:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you, Fran.  I hope you still feel as kindly now!  I slept in and see this diary has had quite a night (or day).  I'm drinking coffee now, trying to kickstart my brain enough to absorb the comments and figure out if I owe apologies anywhere!  It does look, on first glance, as though a lot of good research and points are in here.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 01:33:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Wow, Izzy, great discussion you set loose with your diary. Unfortunately I only have been able to read the comments now, and there is nothing I can think of to add. However, I hope you will write a diary again soon.
by Fran (fran at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Oct 17th, 2005 at 04:25:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As long as there's a tie to the comparable European situation, this sounds like a good topic.
by asdf on Tue Oct 11th, 2005 at 06:28:34 PM EST
Why, thank you asdf.  I'm sure there are comprable European situations.  As MarekNYC has pointed out, there are real problems in parts of Europe.

I think the importance of establishing the reality on the ground in the US is to show that our version of extreme capitalism doesn't work.  It's not the solution to poverty so far as I can tell.  In fact, I believe it causes more.  Maybe it needs abolished, or a massive overhaul, or just some tweaking -- we can't know the answers until we establish the problems.

In the meantime, we're spreading our view everywhere, showing our good side and hiding our bad side.  Maybe if Europe knew the truth, they'd think twice about certain types of deregulation or free-market policies or who knows what that we're pushing.  All I know is the think tanks who have had their wicked way with this country are also peddling their philosophies elsewhere.  It seems these countries should know what we're selling before they buy.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Oct 11th, 2005 at 07:06:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I certainly agree that there are big problems in America in the areas you're commenting on. And I agree with your goal of making sure that we don't export a broken system to Europe.

On the other hand, we must also be careful to not get overly attached to an idealized view of Europe's economic system. There are plenty of poverty issues in Europe as well. It is important to make a fair and realistic comparison.

If you accept that viewpoint, I would submit that the first thing to do is to establish the diameter of the European system. For example, are examples from all states currently in Europe acceptable as comparisons? Or are only the original handful of Western European countries to be included?

by asdf on Tue Oct 11th, 2005 at 08:05:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We've agreed on two main points right off the bat -- this is excellent progress, asdf!

As for the parameters of comparisons, I haven't the foggiest.  What do you think?

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Oct 11th, 2005 at 11:00:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The difference between European poverty and US poverty is that in the European case it represents a failure of the system while in the US it is the system.

asdf, you tend to assume that anyone criticising some element of the US thinks that everything is dandy in the EU. That's not true: watch us rant about the latest bit of pandering to the US brilliant statemanship from Blair, the superb ideas coming from the commission or the attitude to our own leaders. But in threads like this we're defending ourselves from the propagandists that tell us we should be just like the US and everything will be wonderful, that in fact the US has too many silly welfare schemes anyway. The pro-free-market Tainiste of Ireland once famously said that we had a choice between being like "Boston or Berlin" suggesting that Boston was a much better model for us. That's what we're dealing with and that's why in these threads the focus is on why the US model isn't such a great one.

We know the problems of our model, and we should really start looking at them in more detail. I suppose that as a result of where this site has come from it's inevitable that comparisons with the US will come up a lot.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 02:31:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Complique!  This subject Izzie introduces is probably too broad.  It's hard to know where to come in.  but Colman, what you say is not true--"US poverty is that in the European case it represents a failure of the system while in the US it is the system."  

Probably an element of both systems criteria is zero or minimal poverty.  But you say the objective of the US system is to maintain poverty?  That is rubbish.  I personally am a proponent of identifying the best in both systems, and I believe there is much to be learned from both.  You might argue that the European "socialist", or whatever you want to call it, is better at achieving that objective.

But, you saying the objective of the American system is to produce an underclass is just BS.  

And while you ask did we miss you criticisms of Blair (which I did), I didn't see your response to the underclass in France (Muslim and Africans, etc, etc.).  

by wchurchill on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 04:05:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
 the objective of the American system is to produce an underclass is just BS  

It is not the objective, but it is an objective.  This is basic.  You cannot understand American life without understanding this.  

I suppose I should support my claim.  The most direct approach I can think of is to look at President Johnson's "War on Poverty in the mid 1960's.  It did much good, but there were numerous cases where nothing was accomplished.  Corruption aside (there was some) typically that was because there were powerful people who profitted from the poverty of others, and wanted it to continue.  The coal regions of Appalachia (West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Virginia) are perhaps the best known of these.  Keeping coal miners destitute was an active goal of the coal companies, and the government's efforts were blocked.  

Naturally, the US does not advertise that an underclass is an essential part of the system.  But it is not much of a secret, either.  

How does this apply to Europe?  Surely I don't know.  But being nominaly socialist, the governments of Europe at least do not work under the burden of an ideology that says the welfare of the people is not a concern.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 04:45:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"I suppose I should support my claim"  You think so?

And your first defense is American's banding together to fight poverty?  "The most direct approach I can think of is to look at President Johnson's "War on Poverty in the mid 1960's".  And Europe's social programs somehow mean,,,,like what?

"Europe at least do not work under the burden of an ideology that says the welfare of the people is not a concern."  and where would you go, other than your bias, to support this statement?

Surely you're not serious with these comment?

by wchurchill on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 05:00:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Perhaps if he said "an ideology which believes that the welfare of the people will be looked after by magic." Magic otherwise known as free-market forces.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 05:07:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
your comment of course ignores the point.  the statement was the objective of the system is to produce an underclass.  Clearly that is not true, as many social programs and policies in place belie that statement.  If you want to argue the policies are inadequate,,,fine.  But is it too much to ask for clarity and logic?  Particularly when the statement as made is false.  <sigh>
by wchurchill on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 05:20:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, it is hard to discuss intent, but there are hard facts, like the lack of a serious minimum wage, the absence of health care for the working poor, and the absolute flexibility which puts a lot of workers in precarious positions and thus in the impossibility to negotiate anything with their employer.

Take a look at restaurants. You have 4 waiters in a US restaurant vs. 1 in France for the same amount of work, and wages are probably proportionate to that workload. A waiter in France is middle class; I seriously doubt it's the case in the US. Now you may argue that the result is higher unemployment in France, but that's a different question to that of povery (the unemployed are also supported a lot more in France, so don't fall into poverty - at least not quickly).

So you clearly have a choice to have lots of underpaid jobs in the USA. Some arguments can be made that this is good for dynamism, that it gives a first step on the ladder to everybody (including and especially immigrants), and that it helps fight unemployment, but what it does not is help fight poverty, and indeed seems to encourage it. A pliant and cheap underclass is needed to provide all sorts of menial jobs, from WalMart employees to housecleaners, waiters, swimming-pool maintenance jobs, child care, etc...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 05:42:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But you have just agreed with my point.  To me, there is a huge distinction between saying: "your system and moral principles are created to intentionally create a poor underclass"
and "your policies are deficient in that they are more likely to create a poor underclass".
I don't find this parsing words.  First, the former is IMHO not true in America.  and more pragmatically, if you're closing off debate with 50+% of America, if you say the former.  Questioning people's motives is often a poor approach.  (I could make this point with some crude American jokes about the reason French and Germans have not joined Americans in Iraq--which question their character and motivations, rather than what I believe is a pure disagreement on policy.  But it's not my intention to win a debating point by pissing off many on this site.  But that is what this comment does to a lot of Americans.)  the comment I was challenging was specifically about intent and motivation of Americans.

As to the practical point on policy, is there not data that would allow us to compare the deciles of income between France, Germany, etc., and the US?  I think it's a little difficult to anecdotally compare jobs across countries.  I think I have a little higher opinion of American waiters and retail employees (WalMart, for example) than you might.  I'm sure you know we have some high class restaurants over here where waiters work professionally all their lives.  We're not quite as backward as your question implies. :)

by wchurchill on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 06:39:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"I don't find this parsing words."

Really?

Colman said: "it is the system." You chose to take that to mean he was "saying the objective of the American system is to produce an underclass" (your emphasis). Now you have embroidered further on that: "your system and moral principles are created to intentionally create a poor underclass".

Colman can make his meaning clear himself, but I think it's perfectly reasonable to take what he said as meaning simply that poverty in the US is systemic. You may disagree with that, or point out that, in your view, the same could be said of Europe, or, as Migeru suggests, that poverty is globally systemic. But don't tweak people's words out into spurious "quotes" in this way.

And let me say that, when you write: "I could make this point with some crude American jokes about the reason French and Germans have not joined Americans in Iraq--which question their character and motivations...", that you have in fact put that down black on white. In other words, if you want to refrain, just refrain. And no, that kind of thing never wins any debating points.

You haven't been at the Napa wine again, by any chance? :-)

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 07:23:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ah, afew, I must admit you may be right on points 1 and 3, and perhaps 2.  (Sounds like a clean sweep)  I did think that was what Coleman was saying, objective that is, but going back and rereading that is not the only possible interpretation, even though I think that is what he meant.  He may choose to elaborate, and we'll see. I may have to plead to unintentional parsing.  Point 2 was meant to distinguish policy from intention--could have been left unsaid.  Guilty on point 3--heck of a memory you have.

Thanks for your post.

by wchurchill on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 07:42:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Concerning wine, maybe...
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 07:52:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
yes, :)
by wchurchill on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 01:43:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm sorry if I am wrong about Europe.  That may have been presumption on my part.  Actually, I still hope I am not wrong, but for that I will need to learn the evidence.  

As for the US, I meant what I said:  Yes I believe poverty is a goal of the system.  The social programs you allude to are, in the US, being thoroughly trashed.  The New Deal was seventy years ago, and after a fine run of four decades, it is now road kill.  

I quote myself:  

Keeping coal miners destitute was an active goal of the coal companies, and the government's efforts were blocked.  

You didn't address this, and you should.  If you are American (you didn't say) you have no right to be surprised.  If you aren't, pay attention to what lies behind the glossy advertisements.  

Upthread someone commented on the goal of poverty being alleviated by market forces.  I can only re-inforce that.  Market forces create poverty, inevitably, as weak players find themselves coerced and destroyed in the market.  Even if the economy is "better off" some individuals are much, much worse off.  This is why America had the New Deal, to compensate for that.  None of this is rocket science.  Anyone promoting "market forces" is as a cure for poverty itself is promoting a scam.  


The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 12:09:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The point I was trying to make last night, was to distinguish between policies and programs.  Policies, some would say strategies or maybe use another word, lay out the broad objectives of the organization--country, business, or other organization.  They reflect the values of the country or organization.

Programs, and once again other words are sometimes used, are developed to achieve the policies, and the goals that are laid out in the policies.  

These are two very different points.  When you say "The social programs you allude to are, in the US, being thoroughly trashed," you are saying that the programs are not working.  I'm sure there are a number of Americans that would agree with that.  I certainly feel there is significant room for improvement.

But since you seem to be  saying the policies, the intention, of the US is to create poverty, you need to back that up with policy statements from the US government (such as the constitution, or bill of rights, or other policy goals passed by Congress, signed by the President) that lay out poverty as a goal.  I assert that you can't do this because it is not the objective of the US to create poverty for its citizens.

If you want to argue on a program basis, well that is what much of this thread is all about.  How do you document that American poverty is, for example worse than Europe's?  It's likely, IMHO, worse on a relative scale (comparing income distribution in the country), but is it on an absolute scale?  Are the poor in America poorer than the poor in France?  We all have our intuitive feel, but that doesn't get us anywhere.

by wchurchill on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 01:31:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The social programs you allude to are, in the US, being thoroughly trashed," you are saying that the programs are not working  

I appologize for my use of slang.  I meant the programs were being discontinued, probably because they were working.  

On the chopping block right now is Head Start, a  program of pre-school education designed to ready the more disadvantaged for ordinary elementary school.  Not to deny any problems with the program, still, the statistics of success from the program are very good, and indeed, among the best of any educational program in the US ever.  I believe Head Start is being cut because it works.  

But since you seem to be  saying the policies, the intention, of the US is to create poverty, you need to back that up with policy statements from the US government (such as the constitution, or bill of rights, or other policy goals passed by Congress, signed by the President) that lay out poverty as a goal.  

I am one of those people who believe a policy's results have to be counted as part of the strategy, even if they are never stated anywhere.  Now, it is true that people can make errors, and implement something whose results were not what they wanted, but when the results come in and implementation does not change, you have to consider that the results may actually, after all, have been intended.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 02:22:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Summary from 2006 initial budget documents:
The administration is requesting $56 billion for the Department of Education, a reduction of a half billion dollars, or 0.9 percent, from the current spending plan -- which would be the first cut in overall federal education spending in a decade.

The budget would eliminate the Perkins loan program, which provides low-interest loans to low- and middle-income college students. The budget also would end Perkins loan forgiveness for members of the armed services and Peace Corps volunteers. The budget would redirect those savings to increase spending on Pell Grants, which provide college grants to low-income students and raise the maximum award $100 to $4,150 -- the first of five annual Pell increases planned by the White House.

In all, 48 education programs would be terminated, including those providing college-readiness training to low-income high school students and federal vocational education initiatives that the White House said are not performing well or duplicate other federal efforts.

Some of the savings would be used to increase spending in several programs, including $1.5 billion to extend federal No Child Left Behind testing and accountability requirements into the nation's high schools. The federal Title I program for poor children would increase by 4.7 percent, or $603 million, to $13.3 billion, and funding for disabled students would increase $508 million to $11.1 billion.
-------------
So they are "cutting" the budget for the department by 0.9%.  Cutting in Washington means "cutting from what I thought I was going to get", rather than cutting from a base spending level.  And this is an initial document that starts the process off for the 2006 budget--not the final document.  I just don't have the time, but hasn't the real increase year to year for Dept of Education been pretty big increases--I mean real year to year increases.

I think we'd better wait and see what happens, unless of course you're in the government and need to fight for the head start program.

However, my overall impression is that our educational results in the country have been degrading over the last 20 years.  This may be a time to look at new and innovative solutions, rather than just throwing good money after bad, into systems that are entrenched teaching beaurocracies.  I'd like to see some new experimental schooling programs, analyze the results of some pilots, and maybe make some changes based on the results.  It seems to me that the Bush/Kennedy program of at least trying to hold schools accountable for their results seems logical, under the circumstances.  But i'm no expert in this area.  You mention "but when the results come in and implementation does not change", and specifically talk about education.  Yet the government is trying to change education--throwing more money at it over the last 5 years, and recommending accountability and new approaches.  Seems like this should fit with your thinking--ie. they're doing the right thing, reacting to systems that are failing and changing them.

by wchurchill on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 04:26:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
entrenched teaching beaurocracies.

  1.  The producers, i.e. the teachers, not the consumers, i.e. the students and their parents, determine the result/outcome.  The customers are not the final arbiter, like they are in other industries (electronics, shoes, food, banking, real estate, etc.)  So you have a perfect socialist model doomed for failure.  

  2. The bureaucrats (teachers in this instance) get paid their salary and have a life-time employment, whether the students learn to read or write.  There is no incentive to produce better product/service, i.e. educated children, because your job or your income does not depend on your work result.

(You can fire a teacher only if the teacher murders or rapes a student.  Another socialist paradise).

  1.  Homeschoolers have higher academic achievements than private school students, who in turn, do much better than socialist school students.  

  2.  
Public schools no place for teachers' kids
In Washington (28 percent), Baltimore (35 percent) and 16 other major cities, the figure is more than 1 in 4. In some cities, nearly half of the children of public school teachers have abandoned public schools
by ilg37c on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 08:02:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
(You can fire a teacher only if the teacher murders or rapes a student.  Another socialist paradise).

You just can't help it, can you?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 08:44:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
maybe it's a kind of ideological Tourettism?

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 05:08:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
(1)  I challenge you to provide any evidence where a teacher in a socialist school has been fired, because he/she is incompetent!

(2)  I taught in a state-owned school, deep in the ghetto.  No incompetent teacher was ever fired.  The teachers union was so powerful and the teachers had tenure, that even if the teacher turned on the TV or showed a video every day or let the kids do whatever they want, the teacher still kept the job.

by ilg37c on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 12:10:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I taught in the friggin' University of California. Tenures professors generally didn't give a shit about teaching. I agree it is next to impossible get a bad professor fired. But... the junior faculty, hired lecturers and teaching assistants live under the dictatorship of student evaluations, and pressure from the department itself to make the department look good. This means, the only criterion of quality is "did everyone get an A?". The students can actually get rid of the weaker and younger (hence usually more dedicated and idealistic) among their teachers just because they were held to a standard for the first time in their lives.

So, it's screwed up all around, but again, it's not a matter of socialism, it's a matter of pecking order. And young, non-cynical teachers are at the bottom of the pecking order, just below the school dropout.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 04:21:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
  2. The bureaucrats (teachers in this instance) get paid their salary and have a life-time employment, whether the students learn to read or write.  There is no incentive to produce better product/service, i.e. educated children, because your job or your income does not depend on your work result.

(You can fire a teacher only if the teacher murders or rapes a student.  Another socialist paradise).

You see, in settings where the teacher can be fired for student discontent or poor results, nobody other than the teacher cares whether the students actually learn something, only the grades (from the students' point of view) and the standarized test results (from the school's/parents' point of view). So the quality of education steadily deteriorates and teachers steadily become more cynical. A teacher trying to hold his/her students to standards (even fair standards taking into account the course content and allowing for the prerequisites that many students don't have) is asking for a world of trouble.

By the way, private schools do well because they are able to throw out or refuse admission to students with academic or discipline problems. The "socialist schools" are forced to work with every student. So the student pools are not comparable at all, not even after correcting for income differences.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 08:57:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No Child Left Behind is part of the problem:  A program better designed to undermine public education would be hard to design.  So cutting funding from programs that work to fund NCLB is an example of two cuts for the price of one.  

Cute titles don't matter, what the program does is what matters.  NCLB is a perfect example of when you should infer intentions from effects.  

I am beginning to suspect you are toying with me.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 12:44:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
How do you document that American poverty is, for example worse than Europe's?  It's likely, IMHO, worse on a relative scale (comparing income distribution in the country), but is it on an absolute scale?  Are the poor in America poorer than the poor in France?  We all have our intuitive feel, but that doesn't get us anywhere.

Ah, read the diary that started it all.  You'd never know from the dearth of comments (sorry Canberra Boy), but this is the diary whose information was absorbed and, once the reeling died down, the blowback has been felt in many a thread since.

Un says parts of US as poor as 3rd world by Canberra Boy

In it, he links to the UN report and the summary in the Independent.  Some choice nuggets:

US infant mortality rates are on the rise, currently the same as in Malaysia

Blacks in Washington DC have a higher infant death rate than people in the Indian state of Kerala

Child poverty rates are now more than 20 percent

I probably should've linked to this sooner for those not following every single thread.  Apologies.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 02:33:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's late and I'm tired, but though the title of the article is "UN says parfts of US as poor as 3rd world", the summary from the Independent doesn't say that--unless I just missed it, and I read it pretty carefully.  It does say that 20% of US children are below the poverty rate, but of course we know that's very different than "poor as 3rd world", due to the definition of poverty rate.  I followed over to the UN report itself, looked at the table of contents, but wasn't able tol guess where this statement might be.  Perhaps if you know where it is, you could point me there.

Yes the infant mortality rates going up are concerning.  One must dig behind the numbers to understand the cause, so it can be addressed.  Once again being tired and having a tough work schedule starting tomorrow, I wasn't able to dig like I would like.  But I know that the level of care in neonatal units of hospitals is incredible today--technology is vastly improved.  I also know from personal experience that here in California mothers get cared for extremely well if they go through the California program--admittedly that's a little anecdotal, but I was surprised at the incredible care that two young woman without health insurance received.

But, from the articles: "One important means of preventing infant mortality is improving the health of infants at birth. The rate of low birth weight (LBW) -- a weight of less than 2500 grams (5.8 pounds) at birth -- has been steadily increasing since 1985, when LBW babies represented 6.8 percent of live births; in 2002, 7.8 percent of all live births were of low weight. Very low birth weight (VLBW) babies -- those weighing less than 1500 grams -- represented 1.5 percent of births. VLBW babies are particularly likely to have long-term health and developmental problems.

Good health care during pregnancy is a preventive strategy that assures the health of both mother and child. Overall, early entry into prenatal care (in the first 3 months of pregnancy) has been improving, reaching 83.7 percent of pregnant women in 2002. Unfortunately, this rate is lower for younger women as well as Black and Hispanic women. Some pregnant women (3.6 percent in 2002) go without prenatal care entirely or forgo these services until the third trimester of their pregnancy."

The VLBW and to some extent LBW babies due to drug use, hate the term but "crack babies", as well as HIV positive mothers has been a big impact on this area.  Heartbreaking and it tears up the doctors and nurses in the neonatal intensive care units.  So there may be a large negative social component to this.  As you can see prenatal care is up overall, but Blacks and Hispanics have lower usage rates--I'm inferring up as well, but less than whites, though the statement is not clear.  But clearly an area for improvement.

But as I said in my earlier comments on healthcare, I just get overwhelmed about going into this on the blog.  Because the statements just can't be taken as stated, without getting behind the numbers and understanding the cause.  I see that one possible explanation is that minority mothers can't get healthcare because they can't afford insurance, and their babies are underweight because the mothers are starving.  It's just knowing what I know in this area, I would dig behind the numbers (like I started above) and try to understand for sure what the root causes are.

gotta go, and i'll be tied up for a few days.

by wchurchill on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 03:56:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't have time to respond right now to the meat of that comment, but this is ridiculous:
And while you ask did we miss you criticisms of Blair (which I did), I didn't see your response to the underclass in France (Muslim and Africans, etc, etc.).  

I guess you're new here. Read the archives. There aren't many European leaders that are popular around here. And there is a thread specifically about immigrants in France from some time ago. Two possibly.

I'm also going to do the round up of social mobilty and wealth disparity statistics in the same way I did unemployment, but it will take some time - like a week or two.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 04:53:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, excuuuu....se,,, me!!  for not being a 2 year veteran of the site, and missing the criticism of European leaders on this point of poverty.  It ceertainly has not been a recent topic, that I have seen anyway.

But as I'm sure you noticed, clever person that you are Coleman, my main point was "But, you saying the objective of the American system is to produce an underclass is just BS."  Perhaps you could defend that, in the context I laid out, as the intention of Americans or their policies is to produce an underclass (please refer to original post), without resorting to archives.  

by wchurchill on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 05:12:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
don't have time to respond right now to the meat of that comment,

See that bit? Means I don't have time right now. I will do.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 06:27:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
by wchurchill on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 07:22:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, excuuuu....se,,, me!!  for not being a 2 year veteran of the site, and missing the criticism of European leaders on this point of poverty.

The site doesn't exist for half a year, idiot. You could have checked just about any thread on domestic or EU issues for criticism of EU leaders. Recent threads touching on European poverty include the one on the EU Commission's hilarious call for a decrease of wages to increase GDP growth, and threads on Poland or Hungary.

And yes, the American economic system has the production and maintainance of an underclass as a central part, always had. Be them slaves or 'illegal' immigrants, hired harvesters or members of the new service class.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 06:48:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
by wchurchill on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 07:21:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
intention of Americans or their policies is to produce an underclass

No, intention would mean that the poverty was the deliberate goal.  The goal is wealth.  The policies that are enacted to produce wealth inevitably  produce poverty.  The poverty is more than a mere side-effect, it is beneficial to their goal.  These policies are enacted and sold to the public without mentioning the poverty creation aspect.  So, pushing a system that creates a symbiotic relationship between poverty and wealth and ignoring or denying the poverty outcome is perhaps not the intention or sole intention, but it is very close to fitting the accusation.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 02:05:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
so you're thinking of mass poverty as a kind of unintended consequence, an "externality" like others so glibly dismissed by the creaky C19 economics still dominating the dominant culture?

I'm not sure the relationship is that innocent.  but I have to marshall my thoughts after wading through the rest of this epic and excellent thread.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 05:11:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, I'm not sure the situation is that innocent, either.  I was just giving the benefit of the doubt that the goal is wealth.  And this sort of wealth can only exist in a symbiotic relationship with poverty, thus it creates it.  Is it merely a by-product or side-effect?  I think in some cases and also that the majority of people pushing the policies only look at the wealth side of the equation and are being willfully blind to the poverty side.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 07:06:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I guess you are right, to judge from this DailyKos diary.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 12:07:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I certainly agree that there are big problems in America in the areas you're commenting on.

Are these areas not part of America?  And if so, doesn't it mean the problems are America's problems?

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 05:21:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think your description of American poverty is a microcosm of global poverty: the ever-increasing gap between rich and poor, an increasing many for whom the world system doesn't work. We refuse to admit how our affluent societies climbed to their lofty heights. The deregulation of the global system for the benefit of our corporations mimics the debasing of our social safety nets at home. The EU castle is lovely but there is an impoverished mob trying to cross the moat. The world economic system also doesn't work without the poor.

Here is the problem: we've all heard about the complementarity of inflation and unemployment. The problem is that policy analysis may look good on paper, but when you look up from the paper you realize you are making conscious decisions about allowing more actual people to become unemployed, or allowing actual people's savings to become devalued. And there is no way out from the moral quandary. There are indications that the economic system works most efficiently when a small fraction of the population is allowed to slip through the cracks. The problem is that noone likes to be the one slipping through the cracks. The analysis looks good on paper, but then you realize you're talking about actual people.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Oct 11th, 2005 at 06:59:15 PM EST
I think your description of American poverty is a microcosm of global poverty

Damn!  You caught me.

And, actually, I haven't heard about the complementarity of inflation and unemployment.  I understand the economy the way a trailer park resident understands tornados, but I'll take your word for it that there's some sort of correlation or rationale.

I've also done enough reading to get a basic grasp of the arguments, so I understand there has to be a balance.  You say to be efficient a small percentage have to slip through the cracks, but it seems to me we've passed "small percentage" although perhaps not in the EU?

And why is there no way out of the moral quandry?  I think this bears some exploration.  It seems to me some countries are doing quite nicely -- how are they making it work and why can't we all do it?  I mean, I understand if we had things even somewhat fair, we wouldn't be able to build empires and dynasties and whatever the corporate equivalent of those are, but do we really need those things?

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Oct 11th, 2005 at 07:46:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
...because it is a rare situation where you can make a policy decision that makes everyone be better off, or that improves all indicators. So there is no way out of the quandary. And at the end of the day you are dealing with actual people, so the quandary is a moral one.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Oct 11th, 2005 at 08:23:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, I'm way out of my depth here, but why let that stop me?  I can see your point perfectly about quandaries being moral when any action is going to hurt someone.  That makes sense.

But, when the arguments become that x cannot be done because it cuts into y's profit margin, then I'm not so sure.

For instance, I see our healthcare system as immoral and don't understand really where the quandary part comes in.  We can afford a national health plan.  People are dying.  It's somewhat of an emergency if you look at that fact and the rising infant mortality rate.

We can afford a national health plan.  It would benefit a majority of the people.  It would save taxpayer money since we already pay so much per capita by having a two tiered system.  It would benefit doctors who are drowning in paperwork and insurance.  It would benefit many businesses who are paying exhorbitant insurance rates.

A national health plan seems win-win to me.  Who would lose?  The HMOs, and Insurance companies.  I say fine, cut out the middlemen and let them find useful work.  I suppose the pharmacuetical companies would suffer a bit of profit loss as well.  Again, I don't see that as a bad thing.  I don't think medicine should be the road to wealth beyond imagining.  I think the current CEO salaries and stockholder profits are grotestque.  

So in this scenario, I don't see a quandary.  I see something that's simply the right, the moral, thing to do.  I see leaving the system as is to be immoral.  So, is there a downside I'm unaware of?


Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 12:56:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So, is there a downside I'm unaware of?

Nope.

by btower on Fri Oct 21st, 2005 at 12:47:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And it requires moral decisions that are reasonably obvious unless you obfuscate them with dodgy economic philosophies.

People will fall through the cracks as a result of the way the system is set-up. It's not primarily their fault. That's why we should be ready to catch them, support them and at least stop them hitting bottom. Make sure they have adequate shelter, adequate health care and adequate food. Ensure that they have the material resources to maintain some self-respect in a society that equates material wealth with moral rectitude.

Blaming the people who fall through inevitable cracks in the system is stupid and evil: maybe some of their choices did help them fall, but if they hadn't it would be someone else. Maybe you.

The key difference between the US and European models seems to me to be a general acceptance in the EU that the people at the bottom should be supported while from over here it looks like that  in the US the consensus seems to be "to hell with them, it's their own fault".

That's what you get for letting Puritans found a country.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 02:18:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Here is the thing: if you get the people to identify with the wealthy or the ruling classes, you've won, because it will be political suicide to suggest (say) higher taxes for the wealthy in order to support a safety net or a way to bring back up the people who fall through the cracks.

So, the class war has been won by the wealthy by conditioning everyone to think of themselves not as they are or have been but as they might be in the future if they are hard-working, lucky and successful.

That people in the middle class and even the lower class identify most strongly with the wealthy is the only explanation I can muster for the average American's ideas about social justice, poverty, taxation, etc.

This identification with the wealthy is reinforced by the "American Dream" myth of the self-made man who pulled himself by his bootstraps out of a disadvantaged background and became wealthy (the only definition of "successful" that Americans accept). American politicians and business leaders will go out of their way to present themselves as "from the people".

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 07:51:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]

the class war has been won by the wealthy by conditioning everyone to think of themselves not as they are or have been but as they might be in the future if they are hard-working, lucky and successful.

This is a fundamental point. I read a poll that stated that something like 10 or 20% of the population thought they were in the top 1% earners. Yes, everybody in the USA can make it rich, so laws that could be detrimental to me then, even if it would be good to me now, have more trouble being sold.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 03:18:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
something like 10 or 20% of the [US] population thought they were in the top 1% earners.

Jérôme, you must be joking. (Sadly, I know you are not).

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 05:59:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Radio Host Garrison Keillor has an imaginary town he reports on each week. One of its properties:

"All the children are above average"

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 06:51:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I actually think that's quite funny.  I think the whole thing is "Where the women are strong, the men are good looking, and the children all above average."

Now if you want to hear something that's not funny, some school districts have actually made it a requirement for graduation that you have an above average GPA.  In other words, they're dictating that our children will be above average.  It's so absurd and I thought of Keillor when I read it.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 06:26:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Prairie Home Companion is quite funny. It airs on NPR, and if you follow the link to "Archive" in the program's homepage you can download an audio stream of past shows. I recommend it, it's really poetic as well as entertaining.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 06:44:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Poverty seems to be an economic phenomenon, and we notice it by its hallmark of material want.  But this is an illusion.  

Consider:  Henry VII of England could afford neither an air condition for hot days nor oil-furnace central heating for cold days;  He could not afford a CD player for his favorite music, nor a TV.  Most Americans can afford this much, and more.  So:  Was he poor?  Of course not.  

Less dramatically, when I was traveling in India a couple of decades ago, it occurred to me that if the poor of America could move to India with their incomes, they would be modestly well off.  But of course that could not happen, and it does not work that way.  Instead they have to live in America and be subject, because of material want, to daily contempt.  The expressing and receiving of contempt is the whole point.  

Poverty is the natural compliment to wealth.  When some members of a society manage to have assigned to themselves special value in that society, greater than other members, and then arrange to have that status marked by the accumulation of material goods and the material deprivation of others, then we have wealth and poverty.  

Wealth/poverty is a single thing, and America we have a very, very great wealth/poverty.  

The opposite of wealth/poverty is prosperity, where no member of society is greatly valued above another, and where there is no great material accumulation and deprivation.  Whereas wealth/poverty focuses on accumulation/deprivation, prosperity focuses on maintaining a material flow.  

Are many Americans in material distress?  Sure, as the recent events in New Orleans makes vivid.  I don't mean the hurricane damage, per se, though that was one thing.  Rather, Katrina pulled back the veil.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Tue Oct 11th, 2005 at 09:55:17 PM EST
And I would add to material distress, physical distress.  Many people do die here for want of food, want of shelter, want of medical care.  Many, many more are involved in a daily struggle for survival -- to keep their shelter or their kids fed.  This struggle is no less desperate because they happened to acquire a tv along the way.

But I find your point about wealth/poverty being a single thing to be interesting.  What is the road from this to prosperity?  Because it seems we did do it quite well at one point.

I've often argued that from where we are now, we cannot "fix" the bottom without making some changes at the top.  Things are too unbalanced.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Oct 11th, 2005 at 10:57:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What is the road from this to prosperity?  

A hard question.  At this point Americans frankly prefer wealth/poverty.  Long ago we were sold on the idea that if everyone was getting more goodies (or enough people, or the right people) then ever-increasing disparities didn't matter.  But this is not true, and is the greatest underlying cause of the destruction of American democracy now.  

And the pallative of goodies has run to its end.  Our civilization simply cannot keep producing more goodies.  We have hit the end of the road, and people have gone into the bland--and blind--denial that precedes panic.  Our near future includes a period of chaos and what might be described as collapse.  The only analogy I can find is the Great Depression, but this will surely be worse, as the Great Depression was a breakdown of the banking system solely.  There were no real shortages, only obstacles to distribution.  This time shortages will be real.  People will feel poorer, worse, there will be real distress as panic leads to hording and all manner of unhelpful behaviors.  What lies beyond is fairly opaque, except for some obvious constraints:  It will have to be sustainable.  

Sustainability has already been consistently rejected by Americans in favor of accelerated consumption.  Right now there are still plenty of SUVs on the road, and even humvees.  From one perspective, it does not matter much--making cars more efficient (for example, switching to hybrids) will not bring us to a sustainable economy.  But on the other hand, it is a clear expression of mood:  Many Americans don't want a balanced way of life and are willing to go the route of self-destruction.  Americans are like addicts.  This is the basic problem.  

Twelve-step programs often work for addicts who want to recover.  The idea of an entire nation undertaking such a spiritual recovery is daunting.  

It is seeming to me that the powers that be--a tiny wealthy subclass of Americans that actually runs this country--is either monumentally stupid or is looking forward to a scenerio that involves massive population die-off.  The looting of the public infrastructure (de-funding of schools, public health, &c) is a clear sign that the nation is to be destroyed, and more recently the responses to hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the (grossly useless) preparations for the looming bird flu, dispel any doubt--Americans can expect constructive actions from neither national government nor the corporate world.  The model that I hold with right now is that the powers-that-be are looking forward to a depopulated, feudalized North America with themselves in control and enjoying such material amenities as still exist.  

Watching the Democratic Party this summer has led me to the conclusion that there are no political means for altering America's course.  Their is no organized political opposition to the course of destruction.  There are rearguard battles to be fought, but they are that--rear guard.  The environment will deteriorate, the economy will decline until some point is reached when the whole charade can not be maintained.  After that, the future is just opaque.  

Eventually, Americans will come around to a sustainable way of life.  That entails accepting a new, sustainable way of thinking.  Capitalist economics is not such a way, and it will go before recovery can begin.  The big open question is how long it will take to come around to a new state of mind, and how many people will die, and how much suffering there will have to be before Americans are willing to change.  I suspect a lot.  

Will all this lead to the choice of prosperity?  I hope so, but I can think of no solid theoretical reason why it has to.  It is possible that the population of North America will fall to within the continent's carrying capacity without any change in the desire to create wealth/poverty.  This is one of the worse scenerios.  

Still, prosperity might be chosen.  What would help bring it about?  Some local regions seem suited right now to beginning the change to sustainability, through the activities of community non-government/ non-business groups.  The building of local infra-structure around energy, food, and water seems to be the key.  We are going to need solidly practical efforts.  Right now we are working on the dissemination of concepts that will make this possible later.  

Learning how to be a community is a necessity, and an obstacle.  Consumerism is a mental disease that isolates people and degrades constructive thought.  So many people I know, including friends, are simply asleep.  They do what the television tells them, if that.  They make very poor survival prospects.  

The archaeology of past civilizations tells me not to be optimistic.  By the mid 1970's Americans knew it was time to change the materialism of their way of life, to think about how to be more efficient and less wasteful.  They refused.  Reagan's "morning in America" campaign was the embracing of fantasy and the embodiment of refusal.  That likely was the point at which a "soft-landing" for our civilization was precluded.  If there was room for doubt then, by 2000 the matter was settled.  We are going down hard.  I doubt prosperity can occur in my lifetime, though in a sense, there is nothing else to do but try for it.  And anyway, concrete attempts that succeed will be the basis for survival in the near and mid-range future.  

This post is much too long.  One basic change that is easy to state:  Capitalism quite literally concerns itself with the needs of money, not of the people who inhabit the economy.  A humane economy for a nation must value all of its members and explicitly seek ways for them to get what they need.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 04:28:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It is, quite simply, one of the most cogent and illuminating comments I've ever read on any blog. Thank you for explaining in such direct and simple terms the fundamental condundrum facing not just the USA, but the entire capitalist world right now. And no, I'm not a commie. But this is why I am a Green - they are the only party in my country (Aus) that gets this.

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow
by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 06:20:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
When do you expect this downturn to occur?  Will we see this in measurements such as the GDP?
by wchurchill on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 07:18:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The timetable of the down-turn is, of course, a very intense question.  

Most bloggers, I mean the ones who actually look at the numbers, think we have two to five years.  But Ian Welsh, who posts on the main page at The Blogging of the President 2004, wrote last summer that the economic crash for the US would come in about a year and a half or so.  

From The Wilderness does not venture a timeline, but keeps a running track of clues and signposts--mostly news items relating to peak oil.  There are plenty of those.  

Jim Kuntsler recently blogged on an article in the New York Times about a developer named Toll and the unlimited market for homes in New Jersey.  The telling point, not mentioned in the NYT article, is that Toll himself is cashing out.  This suggests that although the housing bubble is peaking right now, the pop won't come for some months, as the last of the sucker trade is still to be sold their new homes.  After the pop, the general down-turn cannot be many months away, as people get trapped in their mortgages and enter financial distress.  

A year ago my dreams were telling me it would come early next summer.  This seemed awfully soon, but since Katrina and Rita I no longer really doubt it.  

Or again, it could happen tomorrow, for reasons nobody forsees.  

The main thing is not to count on a timeline, but to make preparations that do no depend strongly on when it happens, but that deal with the what of it.  Chavez has moved his assets out of dollars--for his own reasons--and so should you, at least partly, as a safety net, and certainly before the housing pop.  Into what?  That gets a bit murky.  FTW likes gold.  Many people are guessing euros.  I have not decided what I think will have value when the dollar turns to trash.  Food, water, tobacco, and whiskey, I suppose, but how much wealth can you store that way (assuming you have any)?  Drugs, for sure, if you are willing to go that route.  

A warning:  If you live in the US an executive order has already been signed allowing for seizure of your gold, food, water, and valuables.  Yes it is illegal, but that won't matter a bit--even without the new Supreme Court judges.  It does show, though, that they have been thinking ahead, despite their bumbling (some of which is intentional).  

Nobody will be worrying about the GDP.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Thu Oct 20th, 2005 at 09:54:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hi Izzy, if the issue should be to compare poverty in the United States and poverty in Europe, then I need to know what and how you want to compare it.  

How do you measure poverty? How do you define a poor underclass? Are the definitions the same in the countries you want to compare them?

Do you measure poverty just by income level? How would that be possible, if you don't know what the incomes you compare can buy in form of quality of life in each country?

Do you compare the Social Safety Nets the different countries in Europe and the US have and under which circumstances they kick in to save someone to drop into poverty? Considering that the Social Safety Nets are different in different countries, do you account for their different impact on the level of poverty?

Do you compare unemployment numbers with the assumption that a country with an higher unemployment rate has more poverty than another country with less unemployed? If you compare unemployment numbers with such an intent, do you account for the different ways unemployment is registered and counted? Do you adjust for the different Social Safety measures a country offers to the ones who lose a job and how they impact the poverty level of those unemployed?

Do you want to compare "Europe" as a whole to the United States? How would that even be possible as European countries have very different Social Security Nets, different income levels etc.

Do you want to compare "educational levels" with the assumption the higher the percentage of people with higher education the lower the poverty rate and the higher the educational levels the higher the upward mobility and the lower the probability of a persistent poor underclass?

If you want to do that, do you consider that upward mobility through increases in the rates of people with higher education is different in different countries? Do you account for the different ways you can curbe the access to higher education and potentially higher upward mobility in different country's educational systems?

Do you want to talk about upward mobility of the poor class towards the lower middle class to middle class with the intent to prove that a larger poverty rate can be balanced against a higher upward mobility in one country versus another country's lower poverty rate combined with a lower upward mobility rate?

I feel guilty to have unintentionally and without giving it a thought initially introduced some off-topic issues in Coleman's debate thread about unemployment statistics, for which I have already apologised.

What I realise though is that the level of poverty in a country is not just dependent on the country's economic system, unemployment statistics or number of people with higher education. You can't measure poverty just by one set of data.

Sounds to me like a lot of comparing apples, oranges, bananas and cherries with the risk of getting out something comparable to a tasty fruit salad. :-) That is to say that I love fruit salad and appreciate your attempt to tackle the issue very much.

Can we agree on a subset of things we try to compare for a start?

by mimi on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 12:21:32 AM EST
Ah, mimi, this is why I'm so fond of you!  You just drag it all right out in the open!  So many arguments to have!  I'm not sure I have the strength, but you do get the pot stirring!

I think we have, in various threads including poor Colman's, been comparing apples, oranges, etc.  My whole goal has been to establish that there's a pretty big poverty problem in the US and that a  lot more are struggling.  That's it.

As to comparisons, I think they are useful for finding causes and solutions and other educational purposes.  If they're being used "prove" that some people don't have it so bad or someone else has it worse -- one-upping in other words -- then I think comparisons can be detrimental to the discussion.  But I wholeheartedly encourage the former types.

And I think you're correct that income is a relative thing.  I'm not sure what subsets would be valuable to compare.  It's getting late here now and I'll be off to bed soon, but I think the recent UN report would give us some good ideas.  Plus, I have every confidence that other things will come up in this thread as the Europeans awake and I go off to have sweet dreams. Play nice while I'm gone! ;-)

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 01:08:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
poverty can be most feasibly defined, imho, by certain objective measures.  infant mortality, malnutrition, educational access and follow-through, security of housing (or any housing), food security, freedom of mobility, average lifespan and causes of premature death.

if you have a substantial number of people whose lives are curtailed below the national average lifespan due to causes associated with deprivation -- malnutrition, exposure, life in insecure "war zones" rife with violence and virtually unpoliced, arbitrary violence from whatever police presence there is -- then I think it is safe to say that you have substantial poverty.  

it is possible to be "wealthier" in terms of good diet, personal security, health and longevity as a cash-poor peasant in a supportive cultural matrix than as a working-poor American through whose hands more dollars flow each year.  so I would stick to actuarial stats if I were trying to figure this out.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 05:18:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you, DeAnander.  Somehow you've distilled the essence of the thing I howl about in a succint and practical way.

As to the part about "life in insecure war zones" (and I'll have to find the link) a study came out not too long ago showing that children in some areas of our inner-cities do suffer ptsd and all the associated problems of living in this way.

Honestly, we can talk about jobs and the economy and education -- and those are all good things -- but I think if I could choose just two things to change that I believe would help the most, I'd choose national healthcare and ending the drug "war."

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 05:31:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
While I thought Coleman's diary was both interesting and important, I quickly became more interested in the off-topic sidetrack that developed, so thanks for providing space to pursue those thoughts.

My very naive views - I'm an American who knows little about European political systems or daily life. I have traveled there a few times (mainly to France), and I've learned a great deal more in the past year from reading blogs like this one, but I still feel very ignorant.

So some random thoughts. On one trip to Europe, I kept hearing, "Americans are so rich!" which I found very puzzling, in a way. Of course, many Americans are by any measure, rich. And our middle class generally has material possessions beyond those of most countries, even developed countries. But there seemed to be very little awareness of the millions of Americans struggling with deep poverty and how difficult it is for those trapped in poverty here to escape it. People who literally die for lack of health care. The homeless living under bridges. Elderly who die of heat or cold because they cannot afford to pay utility bills. Children who are hungry, young ones who are left home alone for lack of affordable child care. Addicts and the mentally ill who cannot get treatment because they cannot pay for it.

Do Europeans see this, do they have an idea of how many Americans I am describing?

Another thought - education was discussed in Coleman's diary. I am a professor, so this is a topic close to home.

1) The inequalities of our primary and secondary schools: A few years ago, the value of my home dropped $10,000 overnight (I live in a modest home, it's value was about $80,000 at the time, so we are talking about a significant decline). Why? Because the geographical lines that determine which school children will attend, based on their address, were redrawn. Children on my street, who had previously been assigned to go to a "good" high school would now be required to attend a "not-so-good" high school. I should say that even the second school is better than many in our city.

A "good" school is clean and pleasant and well-equipped. A wide variety of advanced courses are offered. Class sizes are small, or at least reasonable. There are teacher's aides and counselors and advisors who are competent and dedicated. Extra-curricular activities are plentiful - sport teams yes, but also drama clubs and debate teams, etc and these are supported financially by the parents. Of course, these schools are located in the affluent parts of town and the children of the well-to-do attend them. Most significantly, most of the best-qualified and most talented teachers prefer to teach in such schools and since these types of teachers are in demand, they usually (eventually) end up in these schools.

The "bad" schools? Well, just reverse all of the above. And of course, they end up with the marginally qualified, or even the truly unqualified teachers. (Many teachers in America are assigned to teach subjects in which they have no training at all - especially, of course, in the "bad" schools. Although laws exist requiring that teachers be "qualified," a temporary teaching certificate can be issued, declaring for example that one with a degree in literature is now authorized to teach algebra or biology and - presto! - this person is now "qualified.")

2) So of course, this has a huge impact on whether or not a high school graduate continues on to the college or university level. Begin with money. When I first attended the state university in my city, tuition and fees for one semester was about $50 for a state resident, and textbooks could be bought for about the same - so after coming up with about $100, all I had to figure out how to pay for was my living expenses while I went to college. I generally had a part-time job and managed to get by (with roommates) without much trouble.

Now? Well the same university charges $3719 for tuition and fees per semester. They estimate $400 for textbooks (a low figure in my experience). So where I could get a college education for about $800 (eight semesters), the charges today would be almost $33,000. Even allowing for inflation, this is a very different situation from the one that existed in the mid-60's.

Well, but there is financial aid for low income students, yes? Umm, yes and no. More and more aid is now "need blind" meaning that it is awarded based on academic qualifications alone, so it is available to the children of the wealthy on an equal footing with the children of the poor. But wait - the children of the wealthy went to the "good" schools, so who do you think will have the better SAT scores? Meanwhile the pool of money available to be awarded based on financial need shrinks.

The financial aid available to those who are not academic all-stars is generally loans. Now a middle or upper class family will likely be comfortable with large loans. They have mortgages and car loans, maybe loans to start a business, so they see college loans as an investment worth making. But the poor are renters who often find just coming up with a month's rent difficult. If they own a car, it is probably an old junker they paid a few hundred dollars cash for. The idea of starting out in life with $34,000 worth of debt is terrifying.

So they try to go to school while working full time. They go a semester and then drop out for a year or two and save their money, and then attempt another semester. It can take ten years or more to get a degree at this pace, and in the meantime, well, mom gets sick and can't work so they have to go back home and support their younger brothers and sisters, or they have a child of their own, or well, life happens. So they often give up before finishing.

And how are they doing academically when they are in school? There are successes, of course, but most struggle. It's hard to do college level work while working full-time. And remember, they came from the "bad" schools, so they had mostly unqualified, mediocre teachers (with, if they were lucky one or two of the dedicated and wonderful teachers that insist on teaching at "bad" schools because they know how needed they are there). There were few or no advanced classes. The school library has gotten no new books in years. The computers are old and there aren't enough of them. There are better libraries in town, but to get there you need bus fare, at least.

Oh good Lord. I just noticed how long this comment is, and how late it is on our side of the pond. Anyway, I'll post it in spite of its length - I'm describing my students here. I see how much easier it is for the children of the affluent and middle class to get a college degree and how difficult it is for my students who come from poverty to use education to escape from it. Even though, by simply being in one of my classes, they are the "fortunate poor." I never even see the vast majority of the children of the poor - those who dropped out of school when they were waylaid by drugs or gangs or teenage pregnancy or the need to leave school and go to work to help support their families before finishing.

So how is it in Europe? Are the poor as poor? Are there as many of them? Are there such great inequalities in pre-university education? Is it as difficult to succeed at the college level for the children of the poor who manage to get in the door of the university? (Yes, I know, every European country is different, and there are great differences here state-to-state, but we have to start somewhere.)

by Janet Strange (jstrange1925 - that symbol - hotmail, etc.) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 01:51:02 AM EST
Indeed it changes from country from country. Off the top of my head, I recall a story about the British system - where Bliar introduced tuition fees, with exemptions ostensibly a vehicle for more equal education, but the opposite happened. (Maybe I can look it up in the evening.)

When I was in West Germany, as far as I remember, parents' income didn't really matter at secondary school level - except for some taunting by peers (for wearing non-trendy clothes, or for being a peasant's child). Being staffed out by the state, I think there were no regional differences either (no parent wanted to take out any of my classmates, nor have those whose family moved recounted a very different school they visited before).

In Hungary, my experience was from before and shortly after the regime change (don't yet have children myself), so I don't know - but it probably changed for the worse both on the equal quality and equal opportunity front.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 07:04:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You're welcome, Janet.  And thank you for this great comment.  It's a wonderful description of the problems in large segments of the working poor, struggling and marginally poor areas.  I don't know if this is how it's like where you are, but in some of the inner-city areas, just completing high-school is becoming more and more difficult.

Between the drug war, tough on crime, and zero tolerance policies, a lot of kids are getting pushed out entirely.  I had a black friend whose brother was terrified when California enacted the Three Strikes laws.  See, he already had two felony convictions.  He'd been tried as an adult at age 16 for carrying a concealed weapon and being in posession of a controlled substance.

The crime?  His grandma was sick and he had to go out after dark to pick up her perscription.  His area had a lot of gang activity after dark, he was scared and took a butter knife with him.

Now normal, sane people say that that just can't happen.  That surely somewhere in the system from the police to the prosecutor to the judge and jurors someone would come to their senses and say, hey!  He was a scared kid doing a favor for his grandma -- there's nothing really illegal about that!

But technically it is illegal.  We do have laws on the books that make it so.  And it happens all the time.  This was quite a few years ago and things have only gotten worse.

Later in life when I volunteered in an elementary school in a marginal neighborhood I realized where so much of the educational budget goes -- to social, health, and police work.  Our education system is broken because they're the last bastion of a safety net that doesn't exist.  

We were a magnet school, so we had the best and brightest kids from all over the area and we'd gotten a million dollar grant from the Feds.  It was hoped that we could do great things with matching these kids with computers, new textbooks, smaller classes.  I was very much involved in the budget and goals process.  

And we succeeded to some extent because of the windfall.  But most of the "normal" budget was spent on social services.  Free lunches, uniforms, health screenings, vaccinations, counseling, all sorts of things that should be provided by some other entity.

 We did end up getting some good equipment for the kids, but we also hired an extra social worker who could do community outreach to help parents obtain any services such as foodstamps which might be available to them.  We also used part of it to add free breakfasts.  These are things that are being left out of media reports and political rhetoric -- you can't shred the safety net without hobbling the services left.  You can't teach kids when they're hungry and sick.  Our schools are on the front lines.  In some places, they're the only line.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 05:03:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Janet, thanks for your lovely comment. I would like to answer and will do so, as soon as I find time. Please come back to this thread even in a couple of days, because that's how much I am stretched out to read here and comment.
by mimi on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 07:58:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Although I have a slight suspicion that you were partly thinking of my diary on wealth and poverty in Poland I actually mostly agree with you. There is a poverty trap in the US and it is extremely difficult to get out of and that it is as you say, a lack of 'jobs, education, skills, and opportunity.' Stats showing that plenty of poor people do move up are flawed because they are actually describing students who are poor at least in terms of formal income (i.e. not counting parental help and loans) but who quickly do well once they get out. At any given point they are a small portion of the low income group, but as they are a constantly replenished set, cumulatively they make up a large portion of those who at one point or another were in the bottom quintile. A more telling picture of class mobility compares where people end up relative to their parents, and there the picture is quite static. But in my opinion the most telling statistic about the bankruptcy of the American economic model is that median wages have stayed flat since the early seventies in spite of very substantial real per-capita growth. All that extra wealth has gone to the top fifth of society with a strong tilt to the top one percent.

The only parts where I disagree with you is about the poor not appearing in the stats - they do, and that relative to much poorer countries all classes of Americans are generally better off.

by MarekNYC on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 03:55:30 AM EST
Yes, the swipe at the statistics is unjustified: the stats are collected and published, just never reported or commented on.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 04:06:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know just how bad Izzy has been living, but people at the lowest low - homeless people, jobless illegal immigrants etc - do in fact often fall out of the statistics: usual tracking methods may not reach them.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 07:11:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We don't have the time to go into all that here, but I do a lovely rendition of Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen on the harmonica. ;-)

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 03:28:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, I admit the swipe at the statistics can only be justified by personal observation.  Perhaps there are statistics that cover these things, but I'm unaware of them.  I'm talking about, as DoDo mentions, the people who fall through the cracks.

And also a general distrust of our methods because of verifiable statistical skulduggery we engage in.  For example, we've been mucking about with High School dropout statistics for years.  The scam is you have kids dropping out and not obtaining the General Equivalency Diploma (GED), but you don't count them as dropouts if, say, they're moving and "may" enrol in another school or if they say they "might" take the GED at some point.  

These kids are never followed up on and never reported in the statistics.  This was a bad problem in some states for many years because the funding relied on achieving certain goals.  The trend went national with NCLB.  Of course, that program had started in Texas when W. was Governor, so they were the first to have a school-district claim to have a zero dropout rate.  I'll try to find the story which explains the whole thing in detail if you'd like, but these sorts of things with statistics go on all the time.

We also have a million ways that people are "unqualified" for any of the safety net programs.  Now, if you're poor and can't get into any of the programs or receive any of the benefits, how are you counted in the statistics?  The only program I'm aware of that attempts to count one of these segments is the projects which simply sends people out in as many cities and areas they can get volunteers for, and counts how many homeless they find on one night a year.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 03:05:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
as promised, about the "zero dropout rate" incident.  It's quite a good read.  I don't know anything about this site I'm linking to, but they've reprinted the original NY Times article with permission.

Houston's Zero Dropout

Robert Kimball, an assistant principal at Sharpstown High School, sat smack in the middle of the "Texas miracle." His poor, mostly minority high school of 1,650 students had a freshman class of 1,000 that dwindled to fewer than 300 students by senior year. And yet -- and this is the miracle -- not one dropout to report!


Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 09:22:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Shirah at Unbossed did a good post on changes in data collection in the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Better That You Not Know

"The Bureau of Labor Statistics is probably not on your regular internet browsing schedule. Though it is worth a look now and then for the comprehensive data it collects and makes available free of charge to anyone. You can even construct your own charts.

But the BLS has decided that there are things it is better that we not know. It has announced plans to stop collecting some data and start collecting other data

(snip)

Here are the planned changes, all of which the BLS says are improvements.

BLS pans to discontinue collecting data on:

  1. what women workers are paid, because, it says, there is little interest in this issue.

  2. what hours "Production or nonsupervisory worker" work and what they are paid.

Here is an example of a ccurrent BLS report on women's and men's wages.

BLS also says it needs to stop collecting this data so it has the money to collect other data. Here are the new data it intends to collect:

  1. New data on the hours and regular earnings of all employees. All means that the data will include data from the most highly paid CEOs.

  2. New data on total earnings - both regular and irregular pay - for all employees.

If you look at this report, you will see why this is a problem. The report focuses on average earnings and uses them to assess how the economy is doing:"

There are links to everything in the original.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 03:10:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That would be the Bush administration undermining the science again.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 04:24:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes.  Actually, shirah has another one about privatizing key positions in the EPA.  In one move it manages to skew statistics, undermine science, and funnel taxpayer money to cronies -- the Bush trifecta!

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 04:43:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A little graphic

In constant $, the bottom 60% of the households in the US have experienced very little income growth over the past 30 years.  The top is doing quite well.

Since 1980 its gotten much worse.

by btower on Fri Oct 21st, 2005 at 01:12:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The obvious one that everybody knows is universal health care. Another would be to lessen the inequality of education by removing the link between place of residence and school, making schools open to everybody in a broader region with competitive entrance exams. That would still leave the better off with an advantage but it would at least allow the poor some access to good quality education and help make the housing market a bit less insane.
by MarekNYC on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 04:01:39 AM EST
No, you have to have uniformly good education so the poor don't have to travel long distances to go to a good school. The issue is not access to the best schools, the issue is why it should matter so much which school you go to.

And great savings in time and money would follow from the ability to attend primary and secondary school of adequate quality within walking distance of one's own home.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 07:58:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In an ideal world that would be true. However, considering that schools are primarily financed locally by property taxes in the US things get difficult. Also I believe that a bit of class integration wouldn't be a bad idea. Transport would not be a big deal in densely populated areas though it would create serious problems in rural ones.

The idea that I am suggesting is one which exists in Poland and has traditionally worked quite well in the cities though it has begun to break down over the past few years as top urban public schools increasingly choose to segregate the poor from other students, putting them on a different schedule.

by MarekNYC on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 02:12:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But I think it's necessary to understand how the US finances its educational system. I don't think the differences of how the US does it and how it's done in European countries are very well known. Or may be, it's just me who doesn't know. I would love to have someone explain and compare it who knows.
by mimi on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 07:12:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"The issue is poverty in the United States -- does it exist?  what is the scope?  how bad is it?  can it be overcome? "  I missed the post where someone denied there was poverty in the US.  Could some one refer me to it and the ensuing dialogue?

 how does it compare to Europe?  and why does this matter?  I definitely didn't see any comments on this question previously.  At least nothing factual--like with data, I know, a foreign concept for some of us.

by wchurchill on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 04:35:02 AM EST
click on pics for better resolution

If we consider that poverty in America is more a relative problem than an absolute problem (which I concede temporarily, I know that there was an argument on this nos so long ago between MarekNYC and - Izzy, was it you?), the above graphs show that relative poverty has become a much bigger issue recently - since Reagan, basically.

Average income in the US has lost all meaning since all the growth has taken place pretty exclusively at the very top. Median incomes have grown much less.

And now, before we are again accused of anti-Americanism, let me point out that poverty has also increased in France, and is a real issue. Paris seems to have more homeless and working poor than any other big European city. (Incidentally, and probably linked to this, French bosses have the second "richest" stock option and ancillary remuneartion packages in the world, after the US) I'll try to provide some hard numbers.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 04:59:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There's more in this diary: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2005/7/31/9582/05560

I must have posted it on eurotrib as well, but cannot dig it right now.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 05:01:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
First, I'm aware of this data, and share your (implied) concerns on the folks at the top getting too much money.  for example,
  1.  getting rid of the inheritance tax, IMHO, goes against logic and basic American principles of upward mobility.  Raising the threshold level of the tax (which is absurd just looking at inflation) makes common sense--but getting rid of it, no sense.
  2.  I am concerned with income levels at the top, though am a little bothered at focusing only on CEO's, since the argument is far broader and should include actors, baseball players, other sports leaders, etc. etc.  And unfortunately while the answer to 1. above is obvious (don't do it), the answer here is not as clearl.
  3.  I'm concerned at the lack of equal education at grades 1--16, as it defeats the ideal of the American dream of giving everyone a fair shot.  (I dispute some of the absurd comments on college education in the US, as being ill informed and missing the point entirely as to how to help the US on this point).  Unfortunately we are split in America as how to fix grades 1 through 16--vouchers and privitization versus more money into systems that have failed (I intend no support of either of the two with my charectarization).  

But the focus on this site seems to be convincing someone (I'm not sure who) that there is poverty in America--which of course there is.  And furthermore to lambasting the US to seemingly prove the European model is better.  I, for one, would love to find a model that would improve America.

so back to the questions on my post, which you are responding to:

The issue is poverty in the United States -- does it exist?  what is the scope?  how bad is it?  can it be overcome?  I missed the post where someone denied there was poverty in the US.  Could some one refer me to it and the ensuing dialogue?

 how does it compare to Europe?  and why does this matter?  I definitely didn't see any comments on this question previously.  At least nothing factual--like with data, I know, a foreign concept for some of us.  

And thank you for this one cut on the American data (and though I have seen it, I think it is helpful) and for the French data, which I was unaware of.

by wchurchill on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 06:07:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"the focus on this site... poverty in America..."

You complain about people making wild and unsubstantiated assertions, but you don't mind making a few yourself, do you?

This is one diary on European Tribune. Izzy wrote it, and she chose to write about American poverty, and she also chose how to frame the subject and what questions she was asking about it. If you don't like her subject or her framing, no one is forcing you to comment on them. If you prefer another topic or a different framing of this one, you can write a diary yourself, it's very easy, just click on New Diary Entry in your User Menu.

And, since you've brought it up twice, no, European Tribune is not about American poverty. Practically all the time, we discuss other things here. Look around and read before you make this kind of silly accusation. You know, get some data together...

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 07:49:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
From a "left brain" standpoint I would have to agree with you.  But most of my blogging time the last week had been on this American Poverty diary and the "Comparing Unemployment Statistics", a seemingly innocent and meaningful diary, that however morphed into a bash the American social structure diary with comments such as "It's not comprehensible to me why Americans don't revolt against the lack of any common sense security net that covers people from the worst, homelessness through joblessness and bankruptcy through sickness.", plus many factually inaccurate statements, etc., etc., etc.  So from the "right brain" side, the comment sure felt true.  So I drifted from my intent to stay factual in my commentary.  Sorry.
by wchurchill on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 10:19:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There you are!  I've caught up with you at last.  I'm sorry you feel that this discussion is "bashing."  And I moved it to a new diary because I didn't want to further derail Colman's very good and eminently sensible discussion on unemployment statistics.

That said, why is it bashing to establish the problems that exist in the US system?  Part of the reason heated statements get made about it is that, for some reason, no one wants to admit the problems are here or the extent of them.

And there were not many factually inaccurate statements, merely some strong ones which needed clarification and, for the most part, turned out to be true in context or in certain situations.

Now.  My goal with bringing this discussion to the fore is certainly not to bash anyone.  My goal is to a) establish the nature and scope of the problem; b) discuss said problem and compare and contrast with an eye to finding root causes and ultimately; c) solutions.

I find it particularly helpful to discuss this in an intelligent, international setting such as this one because those who live in different cultures and systems can give me perspectives I can't get otherwise.  Also, I believe that many of these problems we have are global and will require some kind of global solution.  This will entail reaching out and promoting understanding.  It seems to me we can learn some things from our European friends.

So, when we discuss problems is this bashing?  The statement you quote above -- is it not a valid question in light of 45 million people without healthcare?  20% of our children living in poverty?  over a million people including whole families sleeping outside on any given night? -- why aren't we demanding changes?  Why can't we even talk about it?  We need to establish the reality of the problem before we can fix it.

Look at what Katrina exposed, the situation in New Orleans, then read the WSJ article I quoted and tell me which side is doing the bashing.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 10:53:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think the goal you outline is good.  And I respect many aspects of the various European systems.  I think both sides can learn from the other.  It would be very helpful if we could lay out comparative data on income, across a number of countries.  I think it could make the discussions much more productive if we had such a fact base to refer to when we make our comments.  I think asdf agreed in your earlier dialogue that it would be good, if the data was comparative and included European countries.  

But it's quite daunting to tackle issues and hope to solve them that are as large as poverty, and healthcare.  Sure it's disturbing to hear 45 million people are uninsured.  But it's also disturbing to know that nationalized healthcare systems ration healthcare through waiting lists, and many are far, far behind the US in terms of healthcare technology.  I have lived in an nationalized healthcare system, and the American system.  Each has +/-'s.  If I have a serious healthcare problem, there is no question that I would want to be treated in the US.  

And there is so much discussion to have around each one of those statements--45 million uninsured, waiting lists, lag in technology.  Each of those requires a pretty indepth knowledge of the various systems, and the tradeoffs between the various systems.  Do the 45 million not receive healthcare?  Some of them are 20's and 30's working in high tech startups, choosing not to pay for health insurance.  Some of them get healthcare at hospitals as they can not be turned away legally--all hospitals have indigent care budgets, recognizing their need to care for the uninsured--is that an efficient way to handle them--of course not.  But is a one year waiting list for hip replacements for the elderly an efficient way?  Of course not.  Every one of the above comments can be debated, shown to be true some place, not others.  So I guess my answer to your questions on the 45 million, or on bashing, is that often it seems the pot calling the kettle black.  It's interesting because when I first came on this site, someone from Europe was basically making this last point about the "free marketers", I believed they called them--in that they were just on the attack against the more socialist European models.  So I think they were also complaining about bashing.  The lack of a fact base we can agree on probably condemns us to this feeling--because someone arguing the opposite side as you, will have a mental framework they are relying on, and you don't know their framework--and if you did, you might challenge it.

So sorry for the disorganized nature of the above thoughts.  But I guess I'm supporting both your and Coleman's efforts to lead an effort to develop, or more hopefully, find existing data bases that we can use.  Let me close this, and drop you a second note on the WSJ article.

by wchurchill on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 02:57:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
On the WSJ article, my interpretation was the author was lamenting the woeful job we have done with the underclass, but was concerned because he felt the programs are not addressing the root cause, which he identified as:

*Why has the proportion of unsocialized young males risen so relentlessly? In large part, I would argue, because the proportion of young males who have grown up without fathers has also risen relentlessly. The indicator here is the illegitimacy ratio--the percentage of live births that occur to single women. It was a minuscule 4% in the early 1950s, and it has risen substantially in every subsequent decade. The ratio reached the 25% milestone in 1988 and the 33% milestone in 1999. As of 2003, the figure was 35%--of all births, including whites. The black illegitimacy ratio in 2003 was 68%. By way of comparison: The illegitimacy ratio that caused Daniel Patrick Moynihan to proclaim the breakdown of the black family in the early 1960s was 24%.

But illegitimacy is now common throughout the population, right? No, it is heavily concentrated in low-income groups. Perhaps illegitimacy isn't as bad as we used to think it was? No, during the last decade the evidence about the problems caused by illegitimacy has grown stronger. What about all the good news about falling teenage births? About plunging welfare rolls? Both trends are welcome, but neither has anything to do with the proportion of children being born and raised without fathers, and that proportion is the indicator that predicts the size of the underclass in the next generation."

(I've got to figure out how to put these quotes in a neat little box like all you do--I had it, but then lost the notes--I'm an idiot on this techy stuff.)

I doubt this is the single cause, but it is shocking to see the illegitimacy rate going from 3% in the '50's to 35% today.  Just intuitively, this seems like it has to be a major impact on the developing underclass.  But talk about a difficult problem to solve--Wow!

by wchurchill on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 03:07:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Okay, first, you make the boxes by putting < blockquote > at the beginning of the text and < /blockquote > at the end, removing the spaces between the pointy things.

Now, and I want you to absorb the first part of my next sentence very carefully because it will clue you in to the thin ice on which we seem to have skated and explain any unfortunate future event which may occur in this conversation, but which can be avoided altogether if one is careful.

So as I was saying, being an actual bastard, I find it neither sad nor shocking about the rising rate.  Believe it or not, being born out of wedlock has no impact whatsoever on a person.  If you met me in real life -- you wouldn't be able to tell me apart from the others!

The biggest problem is not having two incomes.  The biggest problem is poverty.  Children raised by middle class and upper class single parents suffer no ill-effects, even if they're bastards.  Thinking that solving illegitimate births will solve poverty is ridiculous.  Giving people jobs, leveling the playing field, and providing social services will help the "underclass."

And I can guarantee that if you look behind the numbers of the rising rates, you will find that the increase correlates with the decrease in access to contraception and abortion.  The slashing of funds for reproductive care, and the closing of many, many clinics.

Oh, and as to your comment above which I'll get to later, hospitals do not have to treat anyone here -- only if it is a life-threatening emergency.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 01:41:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
First, thank you for this tutorial on boxing information.  I'm such a jerk here, a little intimidated at reading the material, and I allow that to become an obstacle.  But this is great!!  I'm going to start my own wchurchill notebook on these tips

Second, thank you for pointing out the thin ice.  Your comment makes me realize that I was not as precise with my language as I should have been.  first, let me say i have a number of situations in my direct family where children are born out of wedlock.  For me it is not a moral issue, it's just the world today.  When I lived in London I was initially surprised to see so many people having children, living like a married couple, but not getting married due to a number of issues--taxes being one.  (this was the late '80's.)  but what they were doing was very logical.  the term bastard never comes to my mind, in the literal sense anyway.  And as I say, directly in my family other situations have occured where a single parent situation just evolved--and it was the right thing under the circumstances,,,the children are just as wonderful and well loved as any others.

My point as I intended it, is that I think it is very challenging to raise children in a single parent situation--particularly boys, and perhaps even more specifically, boys with single mothers who live in poorer areas where there are other adult males who are not good role models.  Now, that is not to say that every child, every boy, is doomed in that situation.  Some of those single mothers are strong, committed, brilliant women, who keep their sons in line with wonderful love and an iron hand, and have wonderful material to start with in their children.  Nor is it to say that all children out of the susposedly "perfect traditional two parent family" have a red carpet to success.  We probably both know wonderful successes from both situations, and sad failures from both.

I have also had direct experience, personal, in this area, that unfortunately turned out tragically.  I, and others around, felt that the lack of a father in this young man's first ten years was a major negative event in the way his life played out.  And of course I've seen other situations from further away.

And of course even stating my view more precisely, I realize it's a debatable proposition.  And it's a social trend that would be a challenge to change--though I think the welfare system of the great society, with its negative financial incentive for the father's to live at home, was one of those situations of good intentions, but unintended consequences, that will be hard to recover from.  In other words, a place where policy influenced a social trend.

Though you still may disagree with my thinking, I'm glad that I can better point out that my view is a pragmatic one, rather than a moral one.  And I apologize for stating this poorly in that last sentence.  Kind of ironic that I did that, as you would see if you knew my own family situation in more detail.

I do have to run as I'm very tied up with some matters.  But when I saw your wonderful post, and recognized my imprecision, I had to take the time immediately to respond.

You have also motivated me to do some work on the uninsured in America.  There is much misunderstanding about healthcare for this group of people.  I'm not arguing that things are fine--I would like all to be insured.  But I have friends who are professionally very involved in this area, and am going to see if they would contribute to a diary in this area that I think would be very illuminating.  The situation is far from perfect, but not as bad as it is portrayed in the press, nor as bad as our European friends think--most of whom think this group doesn't get healthcare.  But I'll try to lay something out that will be factual and hopefully documented, that people can review,,,hopefully it will add to our knowledge base, and then it can be challenged and debated.

Thank you again for a very helpful and thoughtful post.  As I realize from your other posts, you are a generous, kind and well motivated person, and I  feel honored to share a dialogue with you.

by wchurchill on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 03:54:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Some slight editing:
I think it is very challenging to raise children -- particularly boys -- in poorer areas where there are other adult males who are not good role models.

There. I think it's true now.

I think there's rather too much emphasis placed on the role of single mothers in these situations and not enough on the simple fact that young men (in particular) who feel, for whatever reason, that they have been abandoned by or are outside society are inclined not to be very nice to that society. Humans aren't very nice animals, especillay when we're young.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 04:30:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And, of course, the single mothers themselves are abadoned too - by the fathers of their children and the State at the same time.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 05:48:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, and as to your comment above which I'll get to later, hospitals do not have to treat anyone here -- only if it is a life-threatening emergency.

which is why many lower income and uninsured people do not seek treatment for a condition when it first arises, but wait until it becomes a life-threatening emergency -- at which time it costs far more to intervene than it would have to provide decent preventive care in the first place.  it is not only immoral but financially nonsensical, the current system.  to be financially sensible it would have to go that last Scroogeian eugenicist step and refuse the emergency care as well, leaving the poor to die, and "decrease the surplus population."  (just another instance in which "good financial sense" implies a psychopathic degree of amorality -- and this itself is a rich vein for future discussions to mine.)

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 05:25:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"illegitimate" (i.e. out of marriage) births make up more than half of all births in Scandinavia and France, not countries known for the breakdown of their social systems.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 05:22:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
this is a long thread and I wanted to make sure you had seen a clarification I made: "My point as I intended it, is that I think it is very challenging to raise children in a single parent situation-".  Izzy had referred me to the WSJ article on this subject, they were discussing the single parent issue and using the term "illegitimacy rate".  I carried that term forward in my closing sentence and regret using the term

I wonder if the statistics you quote would be a representation of single parent situations or not.  I know when I lived in the UK, there was a large group of young couples that were committed in every sense of the word, but not married due to the tax situation (this was late '80's).

by wchurchill on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 08:33:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But it's also disturbing to know that nationalized healthcare systems ration healthcare through waiting lists,

wc do you have private (affluent) health insurance? if you have never experienced a waiting list for US health care then you must be among the elitel   'cos I am a middle class worker in America and I have HMO coverage like millions of others, and we could tell you about waiting lists.  6 weeks just to get an appt with my GP -- consultations limited to 15 minutes.  almost 2 months to get access to an MRI scan after a disabling injury.  and for this my employer pays 30 percent overhead to the beancounters?  and if I lose my job I have no health insurance at all, except at extortionate "individual policy" rates?

here is a discussion board for nurses where their frustration with HMO health-care rationing is openly and frankly aired.

my GP once said in a moment of candour -- wasting a precious few seconds of that 15 minutes -- that working under American health system conditions was enough to drive a doctor mad.  every decision he made, he said, after 12 years of medical school and internship, was second guessed by a cadre of MBAs and CPAs who never saw an actual suffering, scared human being in their lives.  [brief pause to cool off].  I don't see that a national health care system can be a whole lot worse.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 05:48:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And while I'm on a roll:

Sometimes the Paperwork is Worse than the Disease

The paperwork nightmare started for Ms. Mayer when her oncologist switched hospitals. Everything suddenly seemed to need a justification, or a new piece of paper with an authorization.

    The stacks of papers, folders and Post-It notes related to Ms. Mayer's treatment have started to take over her house. They fill manila envelopes, boxes and files, which fill closets. They spill from the dining room table onto chairs.

    "You can't just be sick," she said. "You have to be sick and be drowning in paperwork."

    So overwhelming has the paperwork grown that Ms. Mayer has considered giving up and ceasing all treatment because of the bureaucratic hassle that accompanies it.

And that's a person with health insurance, in the wealthiest nation on earth...

In the days before managed care, most insurance plans operated on a fee-for-service basis. Patients paid 20 percent of medical fees; insurers paid 80 percent. But as health care costs have continued to rise, many patients are being required to pay an ever-larger part of their medical bills, and deductibles continue to increase. And to keep the system churning, close to 30 cents of every dollar spent on health care goes for administration, much of it spent generating bills and explanations of benefits.

    "The number of bureaucrats between the point of service and the final cash reckoning is just incredible," said Dr. Thomas Delbanco, a professor of primary care medicine at Harvard Medical School who is a leader in the field of patient-centered care.

It says something ghastly about our current system that "patient centred care" should be a speciality field.  WTF else should medical care be, if not patient-centred?  oh, oops, silly me, I forgot -- profit centred.  well we are doing very well on that front...

if I don't take a deep breath I'm going to start using boldface, and that would ruin my rep :-)

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 08:17:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I have a choice and elected to pay the extra money to be in a PPO, rather than an HMO, in California. and generally do not have to wait--except in ER's which can be unbelievable.  though I must admit they do a good job of triaging and handling the most critical cases.

California would be a great example though of what you are talking about.  Doctors are being squeezed by California Medicaid, Medicare, etc.  In fact my urologist just moved back east because he felt the financial situation for him personally is just out of control.  I wouldn't want to defend this statement right now (because I'm hoping to write a diary with a friend on this issue soon), but HMO's have a lot of the practices of a nationalized health care system.  So you may be getting a glimpse of socialized medicine.

Just to finish on this California point however.  The extreme tightening of healthcare mayments by the government, the very cost competitive nature of HMO's in California, are IMO driving down the quality of healthcare for all--even myself as a PPO.  I have an unusual work and travel schedule now, and am able to choose where to have my doctors and main care (obviously not emergency care) and I've moved our doctors and main care providers to Illinois, where personally I've found the care far better.  I know this is an extremely unusual situation (and for me too)--but just mention it because, once again IMHO, I don't think Americans understand the lower quality of care in socialized medicine than they are used too--and HMO's are a glimpse at that care.

IMHO, and obviously all our financial situations are different, but I would recommend people sacrifice on some other area of their spending, and pay the extra for a PPO.  

by wchurchill on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 09:02:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I have several friends in Canada, where there is "socialised medicine."  They are appalled to hear of the quality of care that I receive as an HMO member.  Nothing in their experience matches the disdain w/which the US insurance/HMO cartel treats patients, the opacity and inefficiency of the bureaucracy, etc. Their paperwork is simple and they do not report excessive waits for services.  Nor do they fear that any illness in the family may lead to bankruptcy, as many American families must.  IMHO the HMO experience is a taste of Fully Corporatised Medicine, which is not quite the same thing as socialised. :-)

And what of those who cannot afford the high premiums for "business class" health insurance?  They should just resign themselves to inadequate care, or no care?

I read a while back that an astonishing percentage of health care expenditure -- more than half of the notorious 30 percent admin overhead -- in the US was dedicated to the denial of health care, i.e. gatekeeping, screening out patients, exhaustive analysis of "savings opportunities", etc.  The author of the article (which I will try to find) contended that the money spent on denial and gatekeeping was almost adequate to provide care for the people who were being screened out -- a typical case of "spending a buck in order to save a buck" ...though of course what this really means is diverting an enormous cash flow into the pockets of middle managers, accountants, financial analysts and the elite upper management of private insurance firms, so it's more like "stealing a buck in order to steal a buck" -- that is, if we accept the fundamental premise that the purpose of a health care system is to provide health care, not to enrich elites or provide permanent job security for unproductive paper pushers.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 09:22:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I probably should have commented that I think the American health care system needs significant improvement.  I don't want to be viewed as an apologist for the current state of affairs.

There used to be a survey of opinions on the healthcare systems in the UK, US, and Canada.  I haven't seen it in many years.  I'll have to see if I can find it.  I also have Canadian friends, and hear a little more about the problems.  So for example, they love living so close to the US, because they can just come across the border and pay for a surgical or endovascular procedure (pay since of course they don't have US health insurance), rather than waiting months for the procedures.

By the way, I'm just realizing that I should have recognized that we miscommunicated on our early posts about waiting.  On my original post, I was referring to the practise of having to wait to get a surgery done.  For example for years the average wait in the UK for an elderly person to get a hip replacement was one year.  So you are 75 years old, in pain, in the latter part of your life and wanting to have as high a quality life as possible, and you have to wait a year for the surgery.  I'm not up to date on the waiting list for that procedure today--and I know the UK is raising significantly the money spent on healthcare so maybe they are lower.  But I don't think many Americans are aware of this aspect of nationalized healthcare.

But, just not to be branded a capitalist here, my own solution to this healthcare crisis is a combination of the US and UK type healthcare systems.  they both have +/-'s.  Another minus is when I was familiar with it 10+ years ago, they were 6 to 7 years behind us in adopting new technologies.  But I shouldn't go on here, as I can't yet take the time to really get into this one.

by wchurchill on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 10:17:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is a wait -- four months without part of your skull while insurance haggles.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/3706631.stm

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 11:02:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
yes I agree this was total incomptence in this particular case.  But do you think we can't do a review of the UK and France and find similar incompetence?

these individual problems are heart rending and important.  but I dont think we'll fiond beaurocrartic incomptence limited to Americans, english, rrench , etc.

by wchurchill on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 05:59:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I realize this was sort of a one-off incident and I did use it as sort of a cheap shot for its shock value, but I think the important point of the story was that this was not incompetence -- it was refusal to pay.

Incompetence I can see -- they lost the skull fragment or dropped her off the schedule or something.  This is different from that.

And there actually is a ton of evidence that our system is broken.  My Unbossed colleague, em dash, has writes a lot on the subject.  Here's a sample:

Code Blue!  Stat!

The Healthcare Crisis and Homeland Security

And my favorite:

Give the Gift of Love:  Buy Grandpa a Pill Splitter for Father's Day!

She's got a lot of good posts in there and they're loaded with statistics, studies, and links.


Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 04:02:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Paul Krugman addressed the question in a NYT op-ed last April, and you may be thinking of this: Passing the Buck.

According to the World Health Organization, in the United States administrative expenses eat up about 15 percent of the money paid in premiums to private health insurance companies, but only 4 percent of the budgets of public insurance programs, which consist mainly of Medicare and Medicaid. The numbers for both public and private insurance are similar in other countries - but because we rely much more heavily than anyone else on private insurance, our total administrative costs are much higher.

According to the health organization, the higher costs of private insurers are "mainly due to the extensive bureaucracy required to assess risk, rate premiums, design benefit packages and review, pay or refuse claims." Public insurance plans have far less bureaucracy because they don't try to screen out high-risk clients or charge them higher fees.

And the costs directly incurred by insurers are only half the story. Doctors "must hire office personnel just to deal with the insurance companies," Dr. Atul Gawande, a practicing physician, wrote in The New Yorker. "A well-run office can get the insurer's rejection rate down from 30 percent to, say, 15 percent. That's how a doctor makes money. ... It's a war with insurance, every step of the way."

Isn't competition supposed to make the private sector more efficient than the public sector? Well, as the World Health Organization put it in a discussion of Western Europe, private insurers generally don't compete by delivering care at lower cost. Instead, they "compete on the basis of risk selection" - that is, by turning away people who are likely to have high medical bills and by refusing or delaying any payment they can.

I'll try to look out the WHO source for this.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 04:57:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have HMO coverage like millions of others, and we could tell you about waiting lists.  6 weeks just to get an appt with my GP -- consultations limited to 15 minutes.  almost 2 months to get access to an MRI scan after a disabling injury.

I can still barely believe this. And I thought we have to wait long!...

In Hungary, there are very few treatments you need an appointment for - you go to the hospital/medical services facility, and wait until it's your turn. This usually takes 30 minutes to an hour, but can take hours - that's what we see as too much. At some places, an appointment can be made which lets you in without having to sit there waiting. For the few services where we need to make an appointment, it's not emergency issue (say, an allergy test), but still the date is usually within the week.

...and of course, the neoliberal fanatics would like to privatise healthcare here, too... (Some of you may have read my diary about this.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 09:31:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Now my incredulity is growing. I was unfamiliar with those acronyms - GP is General Practicioner, i.e. family doctor? Now I can't imagine having waiting lists there!... 6 weeks??? My disease is long over by then - or if I need medication for a chronic disease, it'll run out...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 10:01:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That is why you are encouraged to get a 3-month prescription from your doctor each time. They'll probably fill out several shorter prescriptions at once, dated appropriately.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 10:14:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I still don't get it! If, say, you have a skin problem, you have to let it fester and grow for six weeks, until the skin doctor will meet you? (Or worse, twice six weeks, the first with the GP who'll send you to the skin doctor?)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 10:18:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
When I was at the University of California we had a pretty good (but pricey) mandatory insurance program. You could get an appointment at the Campus health centre within a couple of days, they would give you a referral and you could generally get an appointment with a specialist withina week or two.

However, my understanding is that the situation is much, much worse with an HMO (Health Management Organization). In many ways, although being a graduate student puts you squarely under poverty level incomewise, the standard of living is acceptable as long as you don't own a car or pay for cable TV.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 10:38:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You see, it works, DoDo, it works!

Afew Snark Technology ™
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 11:04:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I am skeptical of the value rendered by the med mafia in the first place -- they kill a lot of people every year by sheer incompetence, fatigue, overwork and excessive paper shuffling combined.  120,000 per annum as I recall die in the US from medical mishap or carelessness.  much is made of the shiny state-of-art technocratic icing on the US medical pie but I am firmly in the camp of those who say this is nifty but contributes little to general public health.  I will try to dig up some urls from old discussions in other venues about health care priorities.  iirc more than half our national health care budget is spent on valiant efforts to extend the final year of life, often against the patient's wish or without their conscious participation;  something wrong there.

anyway, I don't generally "go to the vet" unless I am convinced the injury or illness is serious.  have probably visited the doc only 3 or 4 times in 15 years.  it is not a system I trust; and as the pharmacorps suborn more and more docs, turning them into drug salesmen, I trust it less and less.  my experiences with it on the rare occasions when I venture into the waiting room have done little to alter my feelings -- though my GP is a good fellow and I think uncorrupted, his is the last generation of medical personnel who went through the system before near-total corporate infiltration and control of research and hospital management.  I don't trust any of the next generation.

in an emergency the system works fairly well.  but somehow that sums up the essence of corporate culture:  throw money and resources at emergencies in the present moment for quick results -- heroically if need be -- big flashy quick TV-genic results that people will pay big bucks for -- but skimp as much as possible on maintenance and long term investment and the kind of patient low-key effort that helps to prevent the emergencies.  more later...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 03:36:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Staying away from doctors is my goal as well.  They're completely overburdened and don't really have time to figure out your case or history.  If your insurance is good, they'll sometimes order all sorts of tests that turn out to be unnecessary.  And they're simply deluged by propaganda from the drug companies -- drug fads are a huge problem.  

Are you blue? have cramps? back pain? joint pain? neural pain? depressed, nervous, a bit shy? -- change your brain chemistry!  Take these epilepsy pills!  We don't know how or why they work but they sometimes do!!  

Paxil for depression and Neurontin for epilepsy are two of the most prescribed drugs.  I had a friend who was put on them and it turned out she just needed her gall bladder removed.  Another friend on them and it turned out she had a degenerative spinal disease.  I could go on and on -- and the docs present these medicines as though they're pain pills of some sort.  People don't even know they're taking pills that are designed to alter your brain chemistry or prevent siezures.  It's beyond absurd.

Ohhhh, the stories I could tell!  Don't get me started!!

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 04:37:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
wow! (I'm presuming that is public sector service, no bribes required?)

The Polish health care system works that way for basic care, anything else it's a lottery. You might get decent treatment, or you might be told there's no doctor available for the next six months, or the hospital's quota for a particular medicine is full or the doctor doesn't actually see you - more patients than time for doctors who earn horrible official salaries means many require bribes to do more than just look in. (salary for a doctor with 25 years seniority is about 1800zl/mo  600 euros/mo not including overtime.) If you want to avoid waiting you either go to a private clinic and get the procedure done there or pay a fee to a doctor at the clinic to get the procedure done by that doctor at the public hospital - most doctors work both public and private skimping on their official hours to put in time at the private practices and private clinics where they actually make their money.  Horror stories abound. Recently the government fined a hospital for prescribing expensive chemo drugs to patients over 75. Plus the whole system is a bureaucratic nightmare after two rounds of 'reform.'

by MarekNYC on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 06:42:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
(I'm presuming that is public sector service, no bribes required?)

Half-yes and no. Family doctors, what Americans call GP, and a few others like dentists became private shortly after 1989 - but (1) with strong regulation, (2) and at least with GPs, not much changed in practice: people still would like to go to the nearest doctor, and competition is limited by doctors themselves not wanting too many patients. (I know this from own experience, I dislike my own doctor and once asked the one next door to take me.) As for bribes, they are said to be near-universal in Hungary, for the same reason as in Poland (but, heh, I myself never paid it).

Furthermore, I only spoke about getting tested and looked at - not about treatment. (I don't know about other places, but in Hungary, under communism special centres for all kinds of medical checks and instant treatment were built across the country, separate from hospitals and the even more local family doctors.)

Many hospitals are run-down (tough not as much as at some other places) - patients often don't have enough room, are even sent home, staff is overworked and correspondingly unkind, the buildings are in bad shape, and with machine breakdowns it happens that the ambulance car is sent to another hotel. As I wrote in that diary a few months back, the 'solution' to this in all politicians' head was further wrecking it with first cash-starvation then privatisation of the profitable parts, but the political mess around a don't-privatise-hospitals referendum and the all-too obvious public opinion made them stop. In fact, the 180-degree-turn policies of the current government seem to have borne some improvements (my personal observations only).

(BTW, I myself have the privilege of access to one of the top-rated hospitals in the country: it happens to belong to the state railway, and my job contract gives me full rights to its services free. I also have a second "GP", the 'works doctor', tough unfortunately too far away from home.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Oct 17th, 2005 at 06:35:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
When I went to the dentist in the US, the dentist would have an assistant lounging about whose only role seemed to be to prepare his instruments for him. They hardly ever were at work simultaneously. When I go to the dentist in Spain, the dentist prepares his own instruments. That way, in the US I had to pay for two salaries while in Spain I only have to pay for one.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 09:43:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
See Lupin's diary A visit to the rheumatologist (Life in France 2) for a comparison of medical practice between Los Angeles and down here in the French boondocks.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 10:10:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I missed the post where someone denied there was poverty in the US.  Could some one refer me to it and the ensuing dialogue?

I think Jérôme is referring to this diary by MarekNYC.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 07:55:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm just reading and passing thru here, as I got work to do...but wchurchill, when you bold words it feels like you're yelling. Do you need to? Are you angry at the conversation? I have always felt you have made strong and intelligent arguments in conversations here, without having to yell...for me, it causes me to miss your points, actually. Aw...I probably sound like blog police...which I don't want to do, but, my point is that you may be obscuring your points with your emphasis.

And this keeps coming here at ET, in general, where in Europe we are having to defend ourselves from a pretty constant onslaught from the British/American press, that suggest that the European way of doing things is lazy, underachieving, no good, etc...in comparison to those two systems. Yet when people here push back, I have seen a number of American commenters take it like a personal attack...then things gets heated. It's weird...and uncomfortable

Being an American living in Europe, I have really begun to see first hand how the American agressive AND defenseive attitude has really caused ill will towards the US...and I've really grown to feel more stroongly that the US needs to mellow out. It's shit stinks like everyone elses...

Please, let's not get personal...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia

by whataboutbob on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 09:14:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
thank you for that insight.  I was actually using it to highlight certain comments, not having thought that it was like yelling.  I'm new to blogging and have very limited HTML skills.  But now that you mention it, I can see the logic that bolding would be like yelling.  and since that's the case, it really is hurting my arguments.

When I lived in Europe I quickly saw how much louder the Americans were than the Europeans, particularly at restaurants.  I'm actually quiet by nature anyway, but I hadn't really noticed it when I lived in America, because it was just the was it was.  I was embarrassed for the Americans in these restaurants.

I didn't see the other point, re: American aggressive/defensiveness.  I wasn't in an American community, nor around a lot of Americans.  I actually valued, value, greatly the European system and life style--I wasn't attacking, and I wasn't attacked.  (Though I do remember in the chit chat before staff meetings, if a question about American politics came up, all heads would turn to me to explain what our President was doing now--which of course some times, I didn't know either.  But it was lighthearted.)  So maybe that explains the difference of our experiences on that point, or maybe times havce changed on this, as I've spent little time in Europe the last four years.  

But I must admit that I have felt called to defend by comments on this website--particularly when I find them inaccurate.  It's been a litle odd for me, because it's a role reversal from my normal life, where I often explain the European system to American friends and colleagues less familiar with it.  I choose the word explain rather than defend, because among my colleagues and friends, there is basically no prediliction to attack the European system.  The tone of the discussion is always more questioning, dialoguing.  In fact, as I'm writing this, it's so rare to have an attacking type discussion, that I can remember a rare exception.  I was complaining at a dinner table about the high combined US tax rates, when you added the then 9.5% California state tax, and a 39.5% Federal tax (which it was then).  A Swiss gent kind of "went off" on my comment, (I think Swiss) saying it was nothing like the tax rates in Switzerland and I should feel lucky to live in California and be able to keep half the money I earned.  People at the table were taken aback by his tone, somewhat embarrassed, and changed the subject quickly.

by wchurchill on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 01:31:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My head blew off (in Izzy's stead), but afew and whataboutbob could put it much better to you...

...having cooled down, I apologise for the namecalling!

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 02:41:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
thank you, and I realize that some of my remarks were intemperate, and apologize for that.
by wchurchill on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 03:12:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We shall avoid what befell BooTrib recently :-)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 06:11:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
what happened there?
by wchurchill on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 08:00:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
An all-out flamewar between those who wanted to support the troops and those who thought they aren't exempt from blame.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 11:10:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Wchurchill, you could use italics, you know? They are a little less intimidating.

By the way, under the "Post comment" window you can find a list of allowed HTML tags. They come in open/close pairs and they are mostly self-explanatory.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 05:08:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, it was me.  Guilty as charged.  And becoming guiltier by the moment it seems.  I'm still going to attempt to sway you to the absolute problem camp rather than the relative one.  What information do I need to make my case?  Marek and I got all whipped up because of the recent UN report stating that the US had third-world poverty conditions.  Since the report confirmed what I've seen, it was a relief to have it verified.  But is there some reason the report should be doubted that I'm unaware of?

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 01:51:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I hate to have to concede your point, but it is a fact that the only way to get 100+ comments in 24h on an ET diary is to get the conversation to touch on American poverty.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 12:20:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Or, more broadly, the relation of the American Dream to reality.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 12:34:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
American Dream vs Reality:  from an American writer

American Dream vs Reality:  from the Mirror (UK) of all places

American Dream vs Reality:  writer from New Mexico USA

American Dream vs Reality:  the Seattle Times

my point:  criticism of the American Dream and documentation of its collision course with reality is far from limited to this blog or to Europeans or to one axis of measurement (poverty, unemployment etc).

wchurchill, please walk do not run to the nearest bookstore whether bricks or clicks, or your local taxpayer-supported public library if it's still open any reasonable hours, find a copy of Gar Alperovitz' America Beyond Capitalism, read it,
and come on back for a nice lengthy discussion when I finally get around to posting my review.


The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 05:34:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'll look for the book.  I don't view myself as a capitalist however, as I've written in some very early posts
by wchurchill on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 09:08:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The reason I recommend it is that Alperovitz steps out of the traditional ruts of both lefty and righty economic analysis.  I'll have more to say about the book when I have time to work on the review.  But am trying to talk as many people as possible into reading it so that we can have an excellent discussion...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 09:25:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
good insight.  I hadn't noticed that, but just looking at the diary comment numbers you are right.  There are some great diaries that get very vew comments.  and this subject does seem to bring lots of people out.
by wchurchill on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 01:28:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think it is actually the same few people coming out. What it leads to is very deep threads - some posts get indented almost out of existence which indicates a debate going back and forth very often and so generating much heat and little light.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 01:51:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Some very good posts don't leave much space for comments. Take some of J's great technical stuff: what the hell  do you say about it? It'd take hours of research to comment in detail for most of us. Diaries that comprehensively deal with a topic, especially one that isn't controversial here, don't generate many comments.

So, when someone says Blair is a lying authoritarian wanker, not many comments get made: everyone knows that and simply sighs at the details of his latest outrage against human rights or whatever.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 04:35:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe you should write that "J" is a lying authoritarian wanker. That would get a few comments....

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 05:23:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You hope.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 05:33:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So, when someone says Blair is a lying authoritarian wanker,

I don't know about others, but I can't read that line often enough...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 05:44:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Blair is a lying authoritarian wanker
Blair is a lying authoritarian wanker
Blair is a lying authoritarian wanker
Blair is a lying authoritarian wanker

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 06:05:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So this is a pretty interesting topic, I guess!

It seems to me that what is needed is some statistics about the situation for the lowest income 10% of the population for various countries. But before searching under Internet rocks for this, we must agree whether it is fair to use examples from countries that have only recently joined the EU. One might argue that only countries like France and Belgium may be used because there are special circumstances for Germanty (reunification), Britain (Anglo-Saxon), Spain (recovery from Franco), Italy (not sure what the special circumstance would be), or Greece...

And a very enthusiastic American might claim that there are special circumstances for some areas in this country, too. NYC has a lot of partially-integrated immigrants. The South has a distorted economy due to racism. Florida has too many retirees and European tourists. Only Minnesota truly represents the American system! <-- JOKE, for the humor-impaired.

So, what countries are on the list?

by asdf on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 09:34:58 AM EST
Here's from Nationmaster (on the ET blogroll)

 Country Description
 Definition: National estimates of the percentage of the population lying below the poverty line are based on surveys of sub-groups, with the results weighted by the number of people in each group. Definitions of poverty vary considerably among nations. For example, rich nations generally employ more generous standards of poverty than poor nations.

 Amount

  1. Mexico 40% (2003 est.)  
  2. Turkey 20% (2002)  
  3. Poland 18.4% (2000 est.)  
  4. United Kingdom 17% (2002 est.)  
  5. United States 12% (2004 est.)  
  6. Ireland 10% (1997 est.)  
  7. Hungary 8.6% (1993 est.)  
  8. France 6.5% (2000)  
  9. Belgium 4% (1989 est.)  
  10. Korea, South 4% (2001 est.)  
  11. Austria 3.9% (1999)  
 Weighted Average 16.44  

Although...still not exactly clear what the cut-off is, as this mentions "different standards"...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia

by whataboutbob on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 10:53:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But should we also look at the actual incomes earned by the, say, lower 10% in each of these countries, and maybe other deciles as well?  Probably some cost of living factor would need to be considered.  Because one question is where are the poor better off, where are they worse off?

I agree the question of income distribution is also valuable, but it would seem that we have to look at both.

by wchurchill on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 01:40:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
PPP should matter, but there is also the value of social services, and one could look into basic statistics that correlate with poverty, like illiteracy or infant mortality.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 02:37:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree.  It would be important for government support payments, like unemployment payments and welfare payments to be included financially.  And then various social statistics like those you suggest should be included.  one would expect, or hope, that those programs help would reflect improved social statistics--though it could be tricky to evaluate perhaps, due to significant population differences.  For example, and I may be way off base on this, but I wouldn't be surprised if societies without a lot of diversity, maybe Norway and Sweden, would be high on those statistics, partially due to homogeneity of view (perhaps less interculture clashes) and due to excellent social programs.  But it would be great to see that data.
by wchurchill on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 08:08:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think the exclusion of former comunist countries, and that includes East Germany, is sensible - but not the others. We entered at a much lower level than Spain or Greece (relative to the others), and didn't fully develop the 'European model' (well yeah, we would have to do at the time the rest of Europe started to dismantle it, and everyone told our elites that's the way to go). We too should be members for a decade at least, with common rules and EU structural fonds doing their work, before a common treatment on poverty makes sense.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 02:35:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Why do you want treat Germany as if it would still present two different economic and social systems? Just because there is still a process of transferring wealth from the old Laender to the new Laender going on (hopefully, that is) and the two groups have not yet been balanced out (instead of one glass full and one glass empty, we are on the way to get two glasses half full or half empty). But the social and economic system is one and the same now, so you would have to deal with Germany as one nation, who is just going through tough times.

I think one should compare groups of countries, which have similarities within the group, but differences among the groups.

Group   I: US and Britain
Group  II: Germany and France
Group III: Greek, Italy, Spain and Portugal
Group  IV: Poland and Turkey

For group IV I don't know if it makes sense to put them together, as I there economic systems had a different historical development and I have no idea at all about them. But may be just from the point of view how many Polish and Turkish people look for upward mobility and higher incomes in other European countries, they have some sort of similarities.
 

by mimi on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 06:58:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not sure about grouping the U.S. and Britain. With her national health, strong unemployment system, and heavily subsidized university education system, Britain is more like continental Europe in the areas under discussion here.
by asdf on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 10:32:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you for pointing that out. I don't know anything about the British educational and health care system, just that it has private universities and that both countries share same historical roots in their legal system. I didn't feel I could make a judgement, if Britain is closer to Continental European countries or to the US and I am glad you gave your input.

How about Poland and Turkey?

by mimi on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 11:57:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The way to group is to decide on a set of criteria you are going to use for comparison, get data for every country and then do some sort of clustering analysis to figure out which countries are similar on the basis of the data itself. Then you can 1) discuss meaningfully the differences between groups; 2) investigate how countries within the same group, though they have similar indicators, actually behave differently and what additional (possibly qualitative) features explain the differences.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 08:21:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That is a pretty huge chunck of research to do. This kind of research is not my field of expertise, so I am hesitant to even try. I am always in awe and admire many writers here that pull out very good data and graphs at times. The one upthread for example is very telling as it shows how different the impact of the security net kicking in on the poor really is. The differences between France and the US are "saying it all".
by mimi on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 11:53:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, we have a lot of comparative data in this discussion already.

Anyway, people were complaining about opinions not supported by data, so now we have the data. It's time to stop reading our opinions into the data and actually do some analysis. That does take time, but the bulk of the research is the data compilation, and that has been done already (for example, at nationmaster.com assuming that we don't want to question the quality of the data. Now that would be a huge research project.

If I find some time I'll take the tables from this page and do the clustering analysis.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 06:18:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I am discouraged to comment here, because I already failed in my very first baby steps to find out how much Euro a German student in Kindergarten, Elementary School, High School and in University cost for the government. I found data, but I still didn't find anything that would explain to me how much the German Federal Government pays out of this chunk and how much the "Land", "Kommune" and or "City". I wanted to compare these data to the same of the US, because I believed they might be different.

I believed in my mind that the differences between the US and the German system for example are due to the different way the public school system is financed in both countries. I searched for data that would clarify who pays what with what kind of taxes etc. I couldn't find it so far. Of course I had not more than 45 minutes to do it. The only thing I found already that apparently in certain circles the US style financing method via vouchers (apparently introduced by Milton Friedman) was heavily discussed and mostly criticized in Germany.

If I can't contribute factual data, I just can't comment. I am sorry to admit that. I just admire the work that must behind a lot of posts here that show real data.

by mimi on Sun Oct 16th, 2005 at 08:17:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Here's another piece of the puzzle, in terms of looking at expenditures on social spending...

 Definition: Net public social spending as a percentage of GDP. This also includes public health expenditure.

 Amount

  1. Sweden 30.6% of GDP  
  2. Germany 28.8% of GDP  
  3. Belgium 28.5% of GDP  
  4. Denmark 27.5% of GDP  
  5. Finland 25.6% of GDP  
  6. Italy 25.3% of GDP  
  7. Norway 25.1% of GDP  
  8. Austria 24.6% of GDP  
  9. United Kingdom 24.6% of GDP  
  10. Netherlands 24.0% of GDP  
  11. United States 23.4% of GDP  
  12. Australia 21.9% of GDP  
  13. Canada 21.8% of GDP  
  14. Ireland 18.4% of GDP  
  15. New Zealand 17.5% of GDP  
  16. Japan 15.7% of GDP  
 Weighted Average 23 % of GDP  

Source: Willem Adema, Net Social Expenditure (2nd edn, OECD Labour Market and Social Policy Occasional Paper 52, 2001)

So, perhaps you have to do an overlay, looking at poverty and social spending, to see if there is a correlation between increased spedning on social spending and decreased level of poverty (which you would think), but if a country has high poverty and high social spending, you would have to wonder where the money is being spent...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia

by whataboutbob on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 11:04:27 AM EST
And one more: Child poverty

Definition: "Child poverty" index is defined as the share of the children living in the households with income below 50% of the national median.

 Amount

  1. Mexico 26.2%  
  2. United States 22.4%  
  3. Italy 20.5%  
  4. United Kingdom 19.8%  
  5. Turkey 19.7%  
  6. Ireland 16.8%  
  7. Canada 15.5%  
  8. Poland 15.4%  
  9. Australia 12.6%  
  10. Greece 12.3%  
  11. Spain 12.3%  
  12. Japan 12.2%  
  13. Germany 10.7%  
  14. Hungary 10.3%  
  15. France 7.9%  
  16. Netherlands 7.7%  
  17. Czech Republic 5.9%  
  18. Denmark 5.1%  
  19. Luxembourg 4.5%  
  20. Belgium 4.4%  
  21. Finland 4.3%  
  22. Norway 3.9%  
  23. Sweden 2.6%  
 Weighted Average 17.21  


"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 11:07:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
One factor that is overlooked is the percentage of the US budget spent on militarism compared with other industrialized countries.

The effective rate in the US is about 50%. As a consequence many people have an anti-tax attitude since they are not getting value for their taxes. The social programs that taxes fund in Europe are only being used half as efficiently in the US.

This lets the neo-cons build on the anti-tax feeling and blame the tax rate on social programs (especially for the poor). The net result is that safety net programs in the US are underfunded compared to elsewhere. Part of this libertarian mindset is to blame poverty on the victims as some sort of moral failing.

Just today a government commission recommended cutting back on the tax exemption for home mortgage interest. This will impact the middle class. In addition they recommended eliminating the alternate tax which affects only the wealthy. Just another example of shifting the burden to those least able to afford it.

I've written about the problems with wealth redistribution in this short essay:
Wealth Distribution

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 11:14:13 AM EST
Definition: Current military expenditures in US dollars; the figure is calculated by multiplying the estimated defense spending in percentage terms by the gross domestic product (GDP) calculated on an exchange rate basis not purchasing power parity (PPP) terms. Dollar figures for military expenditures should be treated with caution because of different price patterns and accounting methods among nations, as well as wide variations in the strength of their currencies

(Note: The US figure is FY99...I'd think it is a bit higher by now...)

 Amount

  1. United States $276.7 billion (FY99 est.)  
  2. China $55.91 billion (FY02)  
  3. France $46.5 billion (2000)  
  4. Japan $39.52 billion (FY02)  
  5. Germany $38.8 billion (2002)  
  6. United Kingdom $31.7 billion (2002)  
  7. Italy $20.2 billion (2002)  
  8. Saudi Arabia $18.3 billion (FY00)  
  9. Brazil $13.408 billion (FY99)  
  10. Korea, South $13,094.3 million (FY02)  
  11. India $11.52 billion (FY02)  
  12. Australia $11.39 billion (FY02)  
  13. Iran $9.7 billion (FY00)  
  14. Israel $8.97 billion (FY02)  
  15. Spain $8.6 billion (2002)  
  16. Turkey $8.1 billion (2002 est.)  
  17. Canada $7.861 billion (FY01/02)  
  18. Taiwan $7.574 billion (FY02)  
  19. Netherlands $6.5 billion (FY00/01 est.)  
  20. Greece $6.12 billion (FY99/00 est.)  
  21. Korea, North $5,217.4 million (FY02)  
  22. Singapore $4.47 billion (FY01 est.)  
  23. Sweden $4.395 billion (FY01)  
  24. Argentina $4.3 billion (FY99)  
  25. Egypt $4.04 billion (FY99)  


"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 11:32:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Military numbers from government agencies tend to ignore collateral expenses such as veteran's benefits and veteran's health costs.

I would also add in the high costs of our policing functions. This is a quasi-military expense as well and does nothing for direct social programs. Prison population in the US is highest in absolute numbers as well as a percentage of the population.

Here's a link to some statistics:
http://www.warresisters.org/piechart.htm

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 12:37:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
ahah. I saved that graph when I saw it not long ago, it's pretty striking...

(click on graph for bigger version)

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 03:31:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ignoring entitlements - i.e. SS and Medicare seems a bit unfair. Plus America is a federal system where a large chunk of public sector expenditures come from local and state governments, in particular pretty much all education spending and a good deal of health care. Public  health care spending for example is overall much larger than defense, yet on that graph it is virtually non existent. Education spending is also larger than defense. The latest comprehensive figures I could find were $373 billion for 1999-2000 not counting higher education spending. I'm sure that has increased significantly in the past five years in nominal terms and again, it doesn't include higher education. Public sector health care spending in the US is about 7% of GDP, again something you  don't see on that graph. In general the US  governments spend a lot on health care with pathetic results and a lot on education with very mixed results for K-12.
by MarekNYC on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 04:06:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Public  health care spending for example is overall much larger than defense, yet on that graph it is virtually non existent.

Are you sure about that? Last I heard, America is spending more on their military than the whole rest of the world put together...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia

by whataboutbob on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 04:28:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
394 billion dollars!?!?!?!?!?!? That's way nmore than thee rest of the world...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 04:31:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Are you sure about that? Last I heard, America is spending more on their military than the whole rest of the world put together...

Umm, yes. Public sector health care spending is about 7% of GDP, defense is about 4%.  

by MarekNYC on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 04:44:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is a true picture of the federal priorities, nevertheless... And don't forget who is at the receiving end of all these military toys, so it's legitimate that we care and be surprised. Your arguments about States vs federation are just too nuanced to have any impact!

I hope you will complain with the same vigor the next time we compare public sector expenditure between countries, and France (and others) are said to carry unsustainable burdens because healthcare is paid from the public purse instead of being paid by individuals to private insurance companies, or similarly with pensions...

... or when the marginal tax rates of France and the US or UK are compared, without taking into account the most basic automatic deductions, and the family allowances. Not everybody is a young bond trader...

I suppose all I am saying is - Americans seem surprised when superficial arguments are used against them, and don't seem to realise how often they make the same.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 06:13:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What is this a true picture of?  If I were to draw up a graph of any country's spending and exclude health care, education, and pensions it would 'show' some rather strange priorities.  Or I could just draw a graph of non-federal public sector spending in the US and it would  indicate a 'true' picture of an America that spends virtually nothing on its military.  

The true picture is that America does spend significantly more on defense than most developped countries - about twice as much. It also spends quite a bit on health care but its people get a very poor return on that spending while private sector health care does very well out of it. I have no idea how education spending compares across countries.

As for what AEI or the WSJ do - well it does remind me of that study 'showing' that people in Mississipi are better of than Swedes. But I'm really not convinced that their quality of arguments about Europe are a model to follow.

by MarekNYC on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 11:40:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
yeah, but it's fun once in a while, and it's especailly fun to see the outraged reactions from the people that do this day in and day out in their own publications (and I don't mean you, to be clear, you've been preety much consistent and fair in your positions on this site, even if I don't agree with all of it)

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 05:26:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Traditionally both America and Europe segregated their schooling by class but in very different ways. In America technically all people had access to the same sort of schools that could lead to a higher education. Of course in practice certain school districts were very good, others very bad. In Europe on the other hand what you got was a three track system - university track, middle track, and apprenticeship track.  Admission to the top track was open to all, but some were more equal than others. Like everywhere in the world, the children of the well educated (and thus generally better off) were more likely to get into the university track high schools. Plus it was typical for borderline bourgeois students to get in while borderline working class kids were steered to lower tracks. And the wealthy and upper middle class used private schools as a fallback option if their kids were too dumb to get into public ones. The result - excellent quality public high schools open to all in theory, but mainly populated by the children of the bourgeoisie and a perpetuation of the class system.  Over the past couple decades there has been a shift, formal or de facto, to universal high school education. At the same time I've seen increasing complaints that schools in poor areas are worse quality than those in better off ones.
by MarekNYC on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 02:33:24 PM EST
I've kind of contemplated this here is Switzerland...but a certain number of kids either choose or are steered towards trades...and guess what? It can be a very good paying livelihood, with not a whole lot of stress...at least that's true here in Switzerland. I mean, a masters or a doctorate will get you work, but if you are a craftsman/woman, you will get good paying work too, in most European countries, anyway...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 03:14:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I've often thought that wouldn't be a bad thing -- some kids just don't like academics that much.  Why not teach them the basics and then have some sort of trade option?

The other thing is how many jobs here require a BA.  Is a whole liberal arts education (while a lovely idea) really necessary to become an office manager?  One of my cousins in Britain went to nursing college.  At the same time, a friend of mine here wanted to be a nurse and spent half the time fuming about taking required maths and literature classes before she could even start training for her profession.  Not to mention the expense of all of that.  I was flabbergasted that my cousin could just go to school to learn nursing.  Valuing education is a good thing, but I think it devalues it when we have a bunch of people in college simply jumping hurdles to get to their goal.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 03:25:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Middle class snobbery.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 12:04:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
yes, and you get accountability for the quality of craftsmanship through a clear structured apprentice/master curriculum, which is worth a lot.

In Germany being a blue-collar craftsman doesn't mean you are poor or belong to the lower middle class.
If you run your own company as a master craftsman, you can live very comfortable.

by mimi on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 08:43:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, master-craftsmen are pretty well paid here as well.  And I believe skilled tradesmen such as plumbers and electricians still make a nice living.  I have no idea how one gets into those trades, though.

When I was in school, if you weren't "academically inclined" they offered two vo-tech classes -- bricklaying and auto mechanics.  In the school district I live in, they currently offer welding and auto mechanics.  I believe there's also an off-campus computer networking class.  

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 12th, 2005 at 11:02:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Here are some data to chew on.

There's been a fair amount of discussion of education issues in this thread (quite understandably), and so it may be useful to take a look at measures of child poverty. Unicef publishes Child poverty in rich countries 2005 which is really worth looking at. Unicef examines the situation in the richer countries of the world, which seems to fit the discussion here. The report also has a clear and useful discussion of measurement questions.

Here is a graph you won't find in the report, but which is based on data given p21:

Child poverty rate in percent, 2000 (threshold 50% of median income)
and change from 1991 to 2000

The graph is from the French economics monthly Alternatives Economiques, special number Les chiffres de l'économie 2006. Not online. Label translation/pasting mine.

What's immediately striking is that initial child poverty levels are similarly high in France, the UK, and the US, but that after social transfers (earned income tax credit, welfare benefits, etc) the situations are radically different. The French number jumps way down (though 7.5% is still 7.5% too much), the UK number by a more moderate amount, and the US number hardly at all. Now here we can fairly identify a difference, not so much in the existence of poverty, as in the treatment of poverty.

Here's a second graph, which is not based on the Unicef report, but on Eurostat figures (so no US, I'm afraid). This one also shows the before and after social transfers numbers, plus a measure of "persistent poverty", defined by Eurostat as living in poverty for at least four years together.

Alternatives Economiques, special number Les chiffres de l'économie 2006. Not online. Label translation/pasting mine.

Here again, initial poverty levels are fairly similar, but social transfers bring them down -- more in Germany than in France, for example (though these numbers are for 2001 and there may have been some change since). Useful: EU15 included.

These two graphs don't use the same measure of poverty (Unicef chooses 50% of median income, Eurostat 60% of median income), but we only need look at them relatively rather than absolutely.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 06:26:22 AM EST
afew, these are great - extraordinary even - graphs in that they convey very clearly the message. Please make a diary out of them.

Actually, if you authorise me, I think I would like to use them for a dKos diary for mximum exposure. Would you mind sending me the files for the graphs by e-mail.

(btw, I am still amazed that the WSJ  allowed a rag such as Alternatives Economiques to be quoted in their Op-Ed pages...)

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Oct 13th, 2005 at 05:21:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks, Jérôme, and will send files.

Note, however, that this kind of post ends up at the end of a long thread because everyone piles into the "hot" debate higher up and doesn't have much appetite for looking at pdf files (though pdf files, it's true, are a pain). But I'm beginning to wonder if the professed appetite of some for data, metrics, comparison, etc, isn't a bit, shall we say, over-stated?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 02:02:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I, for one, very much appreciate the data, afew.  I don't usually comment on it, because I'm not always confident that I'm interpreting it correctly and don't know what to say.  But I always appreciate the statistics and graphs and having people like you and Jerome explain what it means.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 02:10:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks, Izzy. You know, when I said "some" I wasn't thinking of you. You've got your work cut out in this thread anyway!
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 03:27:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, when I encounter this thread, I feel myself becoming inert, lazy, and lacking in the necessary fortitude. ;-)

I really should be responding to more of the excellent comments in here.  And I see plenty to argue with, too, but the thought of backing up my statements takes the fun out of it -- I'm more of a storyteller anyway.

So thank goodness for you and Jerome and people like you bringing all this data -- it's the least I can do to say how much I appreciate it.  

There're also some other comments such as Gaianne's and DeAnander's that I've completely ignored because they're so brilliant and substantial that I mean to attempt to give them a deserving reply which I so far haven't mustered.  So now I'm inert, lazy, and guilty as well.

I actually didn't realize this thing would get so big.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 03:39:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I also second Jerome's idea of turning it into a diary.  It would be a shame to have it get lost in all this.  Even I'm having difficulty keeping track of the various threads of conversation in here!  I'd be more than happy to see several of these topics made into other diaries.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 02:13:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well I did do a diary over at dKos using afew's graphs, and a few others:

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2005/10/14/7283/9652

It did get recommended, but it garnered a lot less attention that my other diaries do these days, even the empty meta ones. Maybe we need to build a more compelling story around these numbers. Let's use them in a diary here and focus and exactly what kind of message we want to get through?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 05:54:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, thank you Jerome, I finally noticed it over there and the one at BooTrib as well.  You should tell us these things -- are you too modest, or have I perfected my omniscient routine?  ;-)

All kidding aside, it was an impressive diary.  As to your further suggestion, I'm more than willing to help with the story part if you feel it would be useful.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 06:33:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One thing is that DKos is American, and if you say "Poverty!" to Americans, even Americans on the left, a lot of them will just avoid the question. (The discussion here is different, partly because it built up from past threads, partly because this is a meeting-place outside of the American cultural zone).

Also maybe the different graphs needed more explanation. Some people love graphs, others run a mile when they see them. (I'm aware I didn't give a huge amount of explanation above, but in this thread, it didn't seem necessary -- there were demands to see data, and demands to compare with Europe, and I tried to present some respectable comparison material in a simple and expressive way.)

As to "story" I'm dubious about the use of the word. The MSM frame things in terms of stories or narratives. Sure, it catches people's attention more easily, which is why it's the rule in the commercial media. (And one of the great strengths of the blogos is that we're not commercial). But it tends to infantilize people, imo. God save us from the lists of over-dramatized diary titles we see on DKos and even Booman's, and the over-emotional reactions that they sometimes encourage (seems to me there's been an increase in this over the last few months).

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Oct 15th, 2005 at 05:41:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I see your point about the media, afew, but I've been arguing for stories.  Perhaps we're seeing the same thing and calling it something different?

I think the media's job is to provide a narrative and context -- whenever we present a set of facts, we're telling a story.  Without narrative, everything's just a blob of isolated facts.  

In my view, this lack of either narrative or context is one of the big problems.  They tell personal stories sometimes.  They allow the political propagandists to tell their false stories, but otherwise they just report certain things out of context and the facts have little meaning.

I've actually been writing a post about this as it applies to Latin America.  We've had all these isolated reports -- uprisings in Bolivia and Ecuador, the back and forths with Chavez, removing Venezuela from our "compliant" category in the drug prohibition, Chavez moving his money to Europe -- it goes on and on, but what story is it telling?

Is it the story of an oppressed continent throwing off it's chains and being inspired by a good-hearted leader?  Is it the story of a wiley dictator stirring up rebellion?  Is it a build up to war or purely a political story?  What do all these moves mean and are they connected?

You probably know more in Europe than we do here.  Our press isn't connecting any of these dots.  In one week we learned (if we were paying very close attention) that Ecuador ousted their president and we also knew our gas prices went up.  And everyone heard about Pat Robertson calling for the assassination of Chavez.

But the press never told the story -- that Ecuador's uprising shut down oil production.  That they're one of our largest importers and the prices immediately went up.  That Chavez supported this move and Pat Robertson's remarks came the next day.

Anyway, all this to say I think telling stories is vital, but agree that the way the media has been doing it or not doing it is currently flawed.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Oct 15th, 2005 at 05:57:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The first thing to my mind is that narratives are imposed on us by those in power (political/military/corporate/financial) through the echo-chamber of the media - either compliant or manipulated, doesn't matter which. I think it's important to deconstruct and deny these narratives.

The second is that, though I think we should be clear about the message we want to give (what is this all about?), we need to be very wary (and very smart) in using narrative ourselves. To put it bluntly, we'd better be damned right in the story we choose to tell. It had better correspond to reality. Because we don't have the power they have to go on churning out hype. And because successful stories (by which I mean stories that grab people's imagination enough to move them even to action) are a responsibility.

Your example of Latin America is a good one. Dare we say that it's a continent rising up and throwing off its chains? That's a powerful narrative, but I wouldn't want to take the responsibility for trying to sell it. OTOH, stating the facts and linking up the dots (that the Ecuador uprising cut off oil supplies) corresponds to reality and tells the true story -- and therefore informs people usefully (which, we agree, the media are not doing).

I think what I'm saying is we need to dig out the facts and present them without manipulating them in some search for a compelling storyline. Otherwise we're just "framers". True stories is what we want, and, in a sense, they tell themselves...

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Oct 16th, 2005 at 05:31:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Okay, afew, I was just going to let this slide off into oblivion, but this particular argument has been niggling at me and now that the diary has been yanked back for a last gasp (thank you Bob and Colman), I'll muster a response.

Actually, I did respond over the weekend, but lost the comment and didn't have the energy to reconstruct it (and I run almost entirely on hot air, for you energy experts).  And actually, the original was so nice!  I don't know how I did it, but I basically said I thought you were completely wrong in the most complimentary fashion.  I just know I can't be that sweet again, I just don't have it in me.

And the thing is that I have such a high opinion of your opinions, that I really don't want to just come right out and contradict you.  So I'll beg your forgiveness in advance and just say it:  I think facts rarely speak for themselves except in the most simple of situations and, if taken out of context, the human brain will invent a narrative if none is provided. This isn't laziness, it's just how the brain sorts and stores information and makes sense of the world.

Providing a narrative is simply telling the story.  It's the only way to provide context, history, perspective and our accumulated knowledge to the facts.   In my view, is one of the most important functions of the media.  Just because they've perverted their job is no reason to disdain the function.

Now, I will reiterate that this has nothing whatsoever to do with manipulating, lying, hyping, or churning out propaganda, although it can be used for those things.  So can books, so can papers, so can statistics, so can words -- but we don't advocate getting rid of them.  We make distinctions and judgments.

I think one of the reasons these false narratives have taken hold is because no one is articulating a true narrative to counter it.  Facts and data won't do it alone -- people need both.

We often wonder why people are so stupid that they believe the false narrative of steady, strong, Republican leadership -- it is because the media is not reporting the true narrative.  And we often opine that the facts and data are all out there, often right in the very articles that are saying the opposite -- but the facts alone are not doing the job because, in general, the media isn't telling the story of Republican crimes and avarice (although I'm hopeful this is changing).

Someone needs to provide the alternate narrative.  That's actually what we here on the blogs have been doing and what we should be pushing the big media to do -- tell the story that matches the facts.  If the true story is being told, it'll trump the false narrative every time.  I know that bad people have been taking advantage of the format, but we can no more do away with narrative than with communication.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 05:20:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I went to your link and found you have to pay for the article. I wondered if you could tell me whether it had any stas/graphs for Australia, New Zealand etc., and if so, would you mind posting them either here, or emailing them to me?

I'd love to be able to compare what's going on in my neck of the woods to the other graphs you've posted here.

thanks, Imogen

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 06:18:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
at Unicef and look again. You can order a hard copy of the report (for free), and you can also download it for free as a PDF file (click on Download PDF to the right of View Cart). It's not dreary statistics, btw, it's well-presented and explained.

Australia and New Zealand are included.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Oct 15th, 2005 at 01:47:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ah, ok, cool! Sorry, I really had the impression you had to pay for it. I even don't mind reading (free) dreary statistics. ;-)

thanks for taking the time to reply.

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Sat Oct 15th, 2005 at 07:40:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In this afternoon's Le Monde, this big number, from a World Bank study:


En cinq ans, le nombre de pauvres a baissé de 40 millions en Europe de l'Est et dans l'ex-Union soviétique

In 5 years, the number of poor people in Eastern Europe and the FSU went down by 40 million

Cent deux millions de pauvres en 1998 en Europe de l'Est, 61 millions en 2003. C'est l'impressionnant décompte effectué par la Banque mondiale dans une étude, publiée mercredi 12 octobre, et qui s'intitule "Growth, Poverty and Inequality in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union" (Croissance, pauvreté et inégalités en Europe de l'Est et en ex-Union soviétique).

102 M in 1998, 61 M in 2003 are the impressive numbers published by the World Bank in "Growth, Poverty and Inequality in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union"

Pour effectuer son calcul, l'institution a choisi de retenir comme critère de pauvreté extrême celui de personnes vivant avec moins de 2 dollars par jour  et non celui, traditionnel, de 1 dollar  afin de tenir compte des dépenses additionnelles, notamment de vêtements et de chauffage, nécessaires pour vivre dans cette région froide.

The criteria for poverty was 2$/day, equivalent to 1$/day in less cold climates.

Alors que 20 % de la population vivaient dans la pauvreté en 1998, soit une personne sur cinq, ils n'étaient plus que 12 % en 2003 (une personne sur huit).

The poverty rate is down from 20% to 12%

(...)

Durant la période 1998-2003, la pauvreté a baissé dans tous les pays de la zone étudiée, sauf trois : Pologne, Lituanie et Géorgie.

During that period, poverty went down in all countries except three: Poland, Lithuania and Georgia.

(...)

Les économistes ont aussi passé en revue les mesures  non monétaires  de la pauvreté. "Les tendances de l'accès à l'éducation, aux soins de santé, à l'eau et au chauffage sont très variables.

The World Bank economists also looked at non-monetary criteria for poverty: access to education, healthcare, water and heating. Evolutions vary wildly.

(...)

Et ce sont plus de 150 millions d'individus qui étaient économiquement "vulné ra bles" , selon la Banque mondiale, c'est-à-dire qu'ils disposaient quotidiennement de moins de 4 dollars.

Poverty remains prevalent in the region.  There are an additional 150 million who live with less than 4$/day.



In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 07:09:14 PM EST
Pour effectuer son calcul, l'institution a choisi de retenir comme critère de pauvreté extrême celui de personnes vivant avec moins de 2 dollars par jour  et non celui, traditionnel, de 1 dollar  afin de tenir compte des dépenses additionnelles, notamment de vêtements et de chauffage, nécessaires pour vivre dans cette région froide.

The criteria for poverty was 2$/day, equivalent to 1$/day in less cold climates.
Et ce sont plus de 150 millions d'individus qui étaient économiquement "vulné ra bles" , selon la Banque mondiale, c'est-à-dire qu'ils disposaient quotidiennement de moins de 4 dollars.

Poverty remains prevalent in the region.  There are an additional 150 million who live with less than 4$/day.

So here we have three different criteria of poverty used by the World Bank (less than $1, $2 or $4 per day). Elsewhere in this discussion AFew mentioned that the UNICEF defines poverty as 50% of median income, and the EuroStat as 60% of median income.

With such disparity of criteria it is not surprising that people cannot agree on whether or to what degree there is poverty.

Les économistes ont aussi passé en revue les mesures  non monétaires  de la pauvreté. "Les tendances de l'accès à l'éducation, aux soins de santé, à l'eau et au chauffage sont très variables.

The World Bank economists also looked at non-monetary criteria for poverty: access to education, healthcare, water and heating. Evolutions vary wildly.

Apparently either the World Bank or Le Monde decided to highlight the income criteria of poverty because it lends itself to a newt soundbite: 40% less poor!. But, apparently, also in terms of income things vary widely:

Durant la période 1998-2003, la pauvreté a baissé dans tous les pays de la zone étudiée, sauf trois : Pologne, Lituanie et Géorgie.

During that period, poverty went down in all countries except three: Poland, Lithuania and Georgia.

I suppose this vindicates MarekNYC's points about poverty in Poland, although I suspect he would rather not be vindicated.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 07:51:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's just hard for me to get my head around the poverty rate concept as we compare country to country.  In 2004 the "official" poverty rate was computed as $19,307 for a family of four in the US.  So I guess a family of four in Eastern Europe would be in poverty with an income of $2920 ($2 per day X 4 people X 365).  Now of course there are cost of living adjustments, but that is 6.6 times the income level, which would account for one heck of a cost of living adjustment.

There was either a diary or a post lately that claimed something like America's poverty is 3rd world.  It just doesn't make common sense,,to me anyway.

let me hasten to add, I think it does make common sense to look at income distribution in a country.  and like I think almost everyone on this site, I think America is going to wrong way here.  I've expressed that concern previously and recommended a few (not enough) policy changes to stem that tide.  But it just seems that we are at our best when we are logical and precise.  Comparing American poor with third world poor, or even that ballpark, just turns people off we would like to persuade.  Attacking the outrageous incomes of CEO's, I would add ballplayers and actors, and looking for policy programs to change that--that allows an opponent to be engaged and discussion to happen.  and then are tons of arguments around this--psychological poverty due to being on the bottom,etc

by wchurchill on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 08:08:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Okay, see this is one of the reasons I don't like statistics, although they have their uses.  Statistically speaking, every person in the United States is among the richest in the world.  Then, because all sorts of statistical arguments can be made, there has been this argument over whether US poverty is "real bad" or merely "relative."

Now, my contention all along which I keep repeating is that dying of starvation, exposure, or lack of medical treatment is the same experience in the US as it is anywhere else.  Also, that we have quite a bit of this here.  For some reason, this simple statement seems to piss people off.

Certainly, we have many "poor" in the US who are relatively or "psychologically" poor.  Certainly we have many comfortable and affluent people.  But we also do have an actual, real life dying of poverty population.  Is it on the same scale as other countries?  No.  But does that make it any less real or important?

We keep talking about the people who fall through the cracks.  And I agree, yeah, that's them.  But that makes it sound as though it's a tiny number, statistically insignificant.  But there's a lot of them and more every day.  And they're not relatively, or psychologically, or any other kind of poor.  There not poor from a certain perspective.  They're plain ol' poor -- dying poor, starving poor, or whatever else you want to call it.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 09:05:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think I agree with this statement.  But we might not agree with how many people are in this group.  For example, I don't think you'll find the family of four with income of $19,300 living in Kirksville, Missoouri, Springfield, Illinois, Henderson ,North Carolina, Mountain Home, Arkansas would be living in the condition of "that dying of starvation, exposure, or lack of medical treatment".  There are lots of people living well below that amount of money, with happy productive lives.  now I don't see how it's done in NY or San Fran.

another example is retirees who live on social security, own their own condo or homes, and have some income off of savings.  they don't meet your definition, and aren't in 3rd world poverty, but their likely under the poverty level in the US.

I've heard some of the military is on food stamps, which I think is atrocious by the way.  those people should be paid much better.  but they are included in the poverty figures (I assume) and they are not dying of starvation, exposure or lack of medical treatment.

so I agree there are people that are like 3rd world poor, and we should take steps to better care for them.  but they are not in the 12--20% of the population that are batted around--saying that many people are "dying of starvation, exposure, or lack of medical treatment".  I would guess at least 50% of my friends and colleagues just tune someone out that makes such a statement--it's an educated and worldly group that travels and has seen 3rd world poverty, but not particularly rich so they don't know what is going on in our country.  

and I would also like to raise the level of incomes at the lower ends--have more opportunity for kids down there.  we should have an estate tax.  we should have great 1--16 schooling.  I would like a combination of our healthcare system with the European model--I think there is a better syhstem for both, taking the best from each.  I just think we undermine our positions with our rhetoric sometimes.

by wchurchill on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 10:24:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well obviously everyone under the poverty line isn't in this condition.  The argument that has been ongoing is whether or not these conditions exist here.  They do.  And of course not on the scale of the third-world -- no one is making either of these claims.

The problem as I see it -- that I've been having -- is I merely say there are indeed people in the US living under these dreadful conditions.  That it's not an insignificant number.  That we ignore it.  Very simple statements of fact, which have been established.

And then people drag in the statistics and say it's relative or we need some perspective.  No.  No we don't.  We allow a certain segment of society to fend for themselves.  We just flat out let it happen to women, to children, we don't care.

And that's not right.  We need to admit it and deal with it.  That kind of poverty exists here.  It's not relative, it's extreme.  It's not people thinking they're poor because they don't know any better, it's a life and death struggle.  And we have the resources to fix it and we're not even trying.  That's a political problem.  To deny or minimize it -- to be politically narrow minded -- is one of the definitions of bigotry.

Now, I'm one of the ones saying this problem exists.  I have never claimed 12 -20% live this way.  I've just said many do and it's near impossible to get out of.  I state simple facts and then have to defend them with descriptions -- do your friends not believe there are people starving and dying?  

Because I think they do know this, but they say -- ohh, you mean the homeless, the ghettos, the immigrants, the underclass -- what does that imply to you?  Because to me, it reeks of bigotry.  "Those" people live in America.  Those people are Americans.  This problem exists in America.  Yes, they're in "certain" areas, "certain" segments.  But they are our people in our country and I'm sick of people acting as though they don't count.

Forget the statistics.  Add up the population in our prisons.  Add up the population in our inner cities.  Add up the population in the fields.  Add up the junkies and the whores.  Add up the elderly who die from heat every summer and cold every winter because they can't afford utilities.  Add up the homeless teenagers you can find in every city.  

Add up the people in the Appalachians and the reservations.  Add up the people still in tents from hurricanes in Florida last year.  Add up the folks from Katrina.  Add up the folks in the shelters and under bridges and on the streets.  Add up everyone who dies every year from AIDS or from suicide, scraped off the street every year from killing frosts in New York to crushing heat in Arizona.

Add all those up and tell me how small that number is.  Add it up and tell me my rhetoric is over the top.  

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 14th, 2005 at 11:36:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The problem as I see it -- that I've been having -- is I merely say there are indeed people in the US living under these dreadful conditions.  That it's not an insignificant number.  That we ignore it.  Very simple statements of fact, which have been established.

And then people drag in the statistics and say it's relative or we need some perspective.

well I agree with this.  and know many people that agree with this.  many of them get interested in one aspect of the problem, and try to tackle it in many ways.  some by working with local charity groups focused on an aspect of what you are describing.  some that give money to groups that are workiing on one aspect of the poor and underprivleged, etc., etc.  there are lots of ways to help--but I think the most satisfying are those where you can  contribute and see that you make an impact.  this usually means your local community.

but I don't think I've been misinterpretting the arguments on this site--comparing absolute to relative poverty across countries is not an issue that really addresses the people that you are talking about.  it's about comparing the bottom quintile of incomes, one to another, and arguing that this European social system is better than the Anglo/Saxon system, and the same for the middle class.  At least that's very definitely the strong impression I've gotten from the dialogues.

I can see you have a big heart, and are very caring.  But even Mother Theresa didn't try to take on everything you're talking about.  IMHO, at an individual level, it just requires some focus in places where you can do some good.  But there are tons of people and $$ aimed at so many areas you have listed--AIDS victims, suicide programs, Katrina and hurricane victims, cities like Chicago addressing issues on utility bills and issues for the elderly.  Some of the other areas could use committed people like you.  

I don't want to drift off subject, nor pretend to give you advice about what to do--I'm sure you know this area much better than I.

by wchurchill on Sat Oct 15th, 2005 at 01:51:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well that was certainly a kind and reasonable reply to my rather overwrought comment.  And I do know all these problems can't be solved overnight -- I dragged it all in just to illustrate that the numbers are significant, when added together (I'm prone to getting carried away).

I think Colman said it best, though -- in other wealthy countries, these people are examples of the system failing.  For ours, there is no system.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Oct 15th, 2005 at 02:15:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
She was concerned with helping the sick and dying poor endure their suffering but she was not interested in changing the conditions that led to so many people being in poverty. That is the difference between charity and social justice.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Oct 15th, 2005 at 04:42:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
it's about comparing the bottom quintile of incomes, one to another, and arguing that this European social system is better than the Anglo/Saxon system

Just to clear up a few misapprehensions:

  • comparisons with Europe were asked for right at the top of the thread by asdf, who, let it be said, fairly consistently expresses the belief that there's not much wrong with America and that contributors here (American or otherwise) are pretty much over the top on the subject;

  • you yourself, here and elsewhere, have often asked, even with insistence, that people put data on the table (you might take your own advice, if you don't mind me saying so);

  • nothing here is about proving that Europe is superior to America, or that America is screwed up and should learn from the "European model";

  • on the other hand, something that broadly unites the Europeans here is the idea that we have something we don't intend to lose or allow to be steamrollered by globalizing corporate/financial capitalism. This may seem strange to you, but you're not in our shoes.

Just sayin'.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Oct 15th, 2005 at 03:55:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
you take my comment pejoratively, and I didn't intend it that way.  I was simply trying to say to Izzy that I didn't think the stats we had would really pick up the groups she was talking about.

yes I definitely believe in stats.  and will try to remember your comments on future posts regarding providing more data--though I don't think I'm totally guilty here.  I do a fair amount of research before most of my posts (not all,,,ahem).

Actually as I've said before, I love many aspects of Europe--the life style is great.  If I were world dictator, I would combine aspects of both systems, and maybe get the best of both worlds.

And perhaps on your 3rd and 4th dotpoints, maybe there is a little defenseness on both sides of the pond--each side interpretting a statement as more of an attack than was intended?

(BTW, and only answer if this is simple for you, how do you get those dot points in your post?)

by wchurchill on Sat Oct 15th, 2005 at 05:47:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I didn't take your statement for an attack, but for what it was: a second (in this thread) attempt to say what you think this site is about. This site doesn't have an agenda. It's about you as much as me, since we're both users, like Izzy, DeAnander, Migeru, many others here.

As to defensiveness on both sides of the pond -- I'm sorry, but you should take a look at how you behave, and then tell me I'm the defensive one! What's more, non-Americans have a hundred times more reason to feel defensive than Americans do. One of the effects of American exceptionalism is to blind many Americans to the extent to which their country dominates world discourse.

But this thread is long and this can be discussed elsewhere...

The Comments Window in which we type handles lists and bullet points for you. Just put an asterisk * (or a dash - )at the beginning of each line you want formated with a dot. If you type 1 2 etc at the beginning of each line you'll get a numbered list. (beginning of line = against left margin, you don't need to type in spaces).

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Oct 16th, 2005 at 03:49:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Just a few examples of random comments attacking American positions, IMHO, without justification.  

"If you hold a job in the US you pay Federal and State Unemployment tax, but the benefits you get, if you lose your job, especially if you haven't worked yet a long time, are so low a"  WRONG

"On an average the tuition costs per month is well over $ 2,000.00 plus for the cheapest public university "  ABSURD

"It's not comprehensible to me why Americans don't revolt against the lack of any common sense  security net that covers people from the worst, homelessness through joblessness and bankruptcy through sickness."  WE DO VOTE FOR WHAT WE WANT, REGARDLESS OF SOMEONE ELSE'S OPINION OF OUR COMMON SENSE.  IS IT POSSIBLE THAT YOU JUST DON'T GET AMERICAN OPINION?  NO, I GUESS WE'RE JUST F''''ING IDIOTS, AND OUR RIGHT TO CHOOSE SHOULD JUST BE TAKEN AWAY FROM US.

Analsis of WSJ article, which project much of American opinion:
"They tell these lies over and over, that it's not the system it's the people, the underclass with their "certain characteristics."  It's not a lack of jobs, education, skills, or opportunity, they say.  It's the people.  The inert mothers and lazy fathers who won't get out of bed.  These people do nothing to help themselves, they always say.  And they profit from these lies and this fear and make the moat wider while the castle grounds shrink."
YEAH AMERICANS COULD CARE LESS ABOUT THE POOR, DON'T DO ANYTHING TO TRY TO ALLEVIATE IT, DON'T CONTRIBUTE THEIR HOURS OF WORK OR MONEY.  AMERICANS ARE JUST BLOOD SUCKERS ON THE LOWER CLASS.

"As for the US, I meant what I said:  Yes I believe poverty is a goal of the system.  The social programs you allude to are, in the US, being thoroughly trashed.  The New Deal was seventy years ago, and after a fine run of four decades, it is now road kill."  THIS WAS PART OF A DISCUSSION THAT ACCUSED THE USA OF HAVING A POLICY OF CONDEMNING ITS CITIZENS TO POVERTY.  ABSURD OF COURSE.

by wchurchill on Sun Oct 16th, 2005 at 05:12:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think you read my comment properly. What are your quotes trying to prove? That there are Americans who don't share your point of view on America? That you get mad and shout when they express their point of view? (Yes, using capitals is like bolding -- use it in a neutral way to point something up, OK, but if you're arguing with force, it gives the impression you're shouting. I'm surprised this needs explaining.)

It wasn't worth your arguing elsewhere with restraint and respect for others, to blow it now with this kind of intemperate display.

In matter of fact, it is clear that America differs from other developed countries by not alleviating poverty by means of social transfers. That is part of a system. It's an expression of political will -- and not from one side of the aisle only, since Clinton greatly reduced welfare payments. Now there may be arguments in favour of a system like that, but I don't think you can portray a country that has made that choice as kind-hearted and caring. If the system is all-out competition, winner-take-all, then it's not simultaneously sweetness and light. You can't have your cake and eat it.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Oct 16th, 2005 at 07:58:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Analsis of WSJ article, which project much of American opinion

The WSJ is definitely written from the perspective of America's business elite, not the people. Is this another example of working Americans identifying with their employers more than with their coworkers?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Oct 16th, 2005 at 07:59:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Again -- wrong, false, and absurd from where you stand.  And you're also jumping to some very wrong conclusions.  Afew has already commented, but I feel I need to add a couple of things.

First, as already argued, you state as wrong three comments from one person who was clearly sharing her own thoughts, experiences, and observations.  Not only that, but she has already corrected her statements and put them in context -- as you yourself also did in the same thread.  And what did we establish?

*She misstated about who was paying Federal unemployment tax and was corrected.  She admitted she'd been incorrect and thanked the person who corrected it.  Her central point had been and remained that unemployment payments were low -- a point never refuted.

*She clarified that her observations about tuition were based on non-resident status, which makes her claim correct in those circumstances (which you know).

*She expresses her own opinion, basically wondering why we aren't angry about certain situations.  You have seemingly read a lot into that.  You are arguing against things never stated or implied.

Before I get into defending myself and my interpretation of the WSJ article, I'll ask you this -- you made some incorrect statements in that thread as well.  How would you feel if someone who had read the whole thread and your consequent corrections, went into another thread and quoted you out of context?  

I could easily comb through and say many things like "wchurchill believes everyone making $20k per year pays NO FEDERAL INCOME TAX.  WRONG!"  

Would that be fair?  I don't think you'd be very happy about it, especially since you and I went back and forth quite a bit to establish the veracity of that statement and corrected it.  In fact, quoting your original statement without acknowledging your correction would be, in essence, telling a falsehood, since I know better.

Now, as to my very own statement about the WSJ and their ilk.  You say:

Analsis of WSJ article, which project much of American opinion:
"They tell these lies over and over, that it's not the system it's the people, the underclass with their "certain characteristics."  It's not a lack of jobs, education, skills, or opportunity, they say.  It's the people.  The inert mothers and lazy fathers who won't get out of bed.  These people do nothing to help themselves, they always say.  And they profit from these lies and this fear and make the moat wider while the castle grounds shrink."
YEAH AMERICANS COULD CARE LESS ABOUT THE POOR, DON'T DO ANYTHING TO TRY TO ALLEVIATE IT, DON'T CONTRIBUTE THEIR HOURS OF WORK OR MONEY.  AMERICANS ARE JUST BLOOD SUCKERS ON THE LOWER CLASS.

First, I'm happy you acknowledge that the article reflects the opinion of many people in America -- the fact that many believe these conditions are the poor's own fault and not a flaw in the system is one of the problems I'm addressing.  It's good to hear someone admit it instead of denying it.  

But I think it was clear, although perhaps not, that I was not talking about all the American people.  I was describing, as afew basically points out, the statements of those in power as regards those without.

You accuse me of viewing all Americans in a certain way -- uncaring and unhelpful.  I did not write this and, further, I don't think it.  I believe many Americans are exceedingly kind, generous, and hardworking.

What particularly interests me though, is your continued view of the "lower class" as seperate from "Americans" as illustrated in your false claim that I think Americans are bloodsuckers.

To be clear, the point of my using the WSJ article was to illustrate how some powerful people and institutions in America dehumanize the poor.  Calling the poor inert, lazy, and that they cannot be helped through normal means is vile propaganda -- even when framed as a search for solutions.

Now.  The fact that seemingly nice enough people such as yourself apparently can't see anything wrong with calling fellow Americans in dire straits lazy and inert is, in my view, a very clear example of the problem I am speaking to.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Oct 16th, 2005 at 01:54:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There are two kinds of people intent on relativizing American poverty. Patriotic Americans who don't want to admit that the situation in the US can be that bad, and foreigners who insist that their home country is worse off.

But the point shouldn't be to rank countries on a linear scale of "poverty". The point should be to identify the markers of poverty (like we have done: infant mortality, child malnourishment, illiteracy, shortened life expectancy) and explore 1) to what extent these problems affect the whole society and not only who sufferes from them; 2) what the society at large can or should do about it.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Oct 15th, 2005 at 04:50:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
i agree.  But you have to dig behind the numbers to understand the root causes, so they can actually be fixed.  for example, note some of the dialogue around infant mortality in the US--VLBW and LBW babies, according to the report behind the numbers, were a big factor in the change.  That is a normal outcome of babies born to mothers on drugs--if that is the case, and I'm not sure but intuitively think it is--based on some personal experience around neonatal icu's.  so if the root cause is drug use, what programs are needed to fix that--it's complex.
by wchurchill on Sat Oct 15th, 2005 at 12:26:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And what is the root cause of widespread drug use?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Oct 15th, 2005 at 12:59:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
because America is so degenerate and immoral, and pedaling their evil ways around the world?
by wchurchill on Sat Oct 15th, 2005 at 02:09:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ha, ha. Not funny.

I am serious. Is drug use a cause, or a consequence, of poverty, or is it neither? Drug abuse does not need to be a societal problem, but it becomes one when a whole community is touched by it, and with the violent crime associated with illegal drug trafficking. But again, what are the causal relationships?

And now, going back to dark humour, isn't it the case that the CIA financed itself in the 1970's by getting involved in drug dealing in America's inner cities?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Oct 15th, 2005 at 02:25:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
lol.  great comment.  I agree with your points on drug usage--a difficult answer to get at.  and we all neec some occassional black humor.
by wchurchill on Sat Oct 15th, 2005 at 05:37:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Drug use rises in war zones and during prohibitions (putting the supply in the hands of criminals who have no qualms about creating addicts to increase demand).

And I don't know about the 1970s situation, but the CIA and our own government were complicit in allowing drugs into the country during Iran-contra during the 80s.  Award winning investigative journalist Gary Webb documented some of this again in 1996 for the San Jose Mercury News which debuted it with an interactive website which was soon taken down.

Narco News has put the site back online.  It has the original series and also the supporting documentation.  The website is here:

Dark Alliance

I also wrote about it when it came online again.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Oct 15th, 2005 at 06:16:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
in the US has been increasing even after correcting for VLBW and LBW babies, while it has been still decreasing in Europe despite similar numbers of VLBW babies. So that particular explanation does not hold. (I am sorry I do not have a source at hand, but it was discussed on dKos).

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Oct 15th, 2005 at 01:30:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
this would be interesting to research in some of the medical journals.  unfortunately that would take quite a bit of time.  my personal experience on this is 10 years old.  it would be interesting to understand why Europe would be better with similar numbers on these tinier babies.
by wchurchill on Sat Oct 15th, 2005 at 02:15:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Infant mortality is usually defined (correct me if I'm wrong) as the fraction of children born alive who die in their first year of life. Obviously low birth weight is a factor, but post-natal care would seem to be very important as well.

So maybe there are two factors that conspire to increase the infant mortality rate among low-income Americans: higher prevalence of LWB and inadequate access to post-natal health care. Either one of the two factors by itself might not cause a substantial increase in infant mortality.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Oct 15th, 2005 at 03:32:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Looks like you're right Migeru.  here's some other information, though the statistics must be old, because they don't mention the worsening of infant mortality in the States.  I found the emboldened paragraph interesting in the sense of helping us better understand this.  The point on problems with access to health care is very concerning.  (I'm not yelling, just don't know another way to accent than these two)
Definition of Mortality, infant

Mortality, infant: The death of an infant before his or her first birthday.

The infant mortality rate is, by definition, the number of children dying under a year of age divided by the number of live births that year. The infant mortality rate is also called the infant death rate.

The infant mortality rate is an important measure of the well-being of infants, children, and pregnant women because it is associated with a variety of factors, such as maternal health, quality and access to medical care, socioeconomic conditions, and public health practices.

In the United States, about two-thirds of infant deaths occur in the first month after birth and are due mostly to health problems of the infant or the pregnancy, such as preterm delivery or birth defects. About one-third of infant deaths occur after the first month and are influenced greatly by social or environmental factors, such as exposure to cigarette smoke or problems with access to health care.

The infant mortality rate in the US, which was 12.5 per 1,000 live births in 1980, fell to 9.2 per 1,000 live births in 1990. However, in 1999 it was reported that "Over the past 8 years, the death rate among black infants has remained nearly 2.5 times that among white infants." (Pediatrics 104: 1229-1246, 1999.)

The US Government ChildStats Health Indicators include the following additional information about the infant mortality rate:

The 1997 infant mortality rate for the United States, according to preliminary data, was 7.1 deaths per 1,000 births, substantially below the 1983 rate of 10.9.
Infant mortality data are available by mother's race and ethnicity through 1996. Black, non-Hispanics have consistently had a higher infant mortality rate than white, non-Hispanics. In 1996, the black, non-Hispanic infant mortality rate was 14.2, compared to 6.0 for white, non-Hispanics.
Infant mortality has dropped for all race and ethnic groups over time, but there are still substantial racial and ethnic disparities in infant mortality. In 1996, black, non-Hispanic and American Indian/Alaska Native infants had significantly higher infant mortality rates than white, non-Hispanic, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander infants. In 1996, infant mortality rates varied from 5.2 among Asian/Pacific Islander infants and 6.1 for Hispanics, to 10.0 among American Indians/Alaska Natives.
Infant mortality rates also vary within race and ethnic populations. For example, among Hispanics in the United States, the infant mortality rate ranged from a low of 5.0 for infants of Central and South American origin to a high of 8.6 for Puerto Ricans. Among Asians/Pacific Islanders, infant mortality rates ranged from 3.2 for infants of Chinese origin to 5.8 for Filipinos.

by wchurchill on Sat Oct 15th, 2005 at 05:34:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What seems to make more difference to birth weight in the developed countries is maternal stress in pregnancy. A study of 2,378 women in Missouri found that mothers of LBW babies are more likely to give histories of stressful pregnancies (Sable and Wilkinson 2000).There is also evidence that if you stress animals in pregnancy, they have smaller offspring (Drago, Di Leo, and Giardina 1999). Some of the mechanisms ... are now understood. For instance, anxious mothers seem to have reduced uterine blood flow (Texeira, Fisk, and Gloves 1998).
[snip]
Mothers stressed in pregnancy have higher cortisol levels and there is a strong correlation between maternal and fetal cortisol, which shows that babies are affected by maternal stress before birth (Gitau et al 1998).
From Richard Wilkinson, The Impact of Inequality, 2005.

Drug abuse (alcohol and tobacco included) may be causal factors in low birth weight, but they themselves are symptoms:

Many women who use drugs have faced serious challenges to their well-being during their lives. For example, research indicates that up to 70 percent of drug abusing women report histories of physical and sexual abuse. Data also indicate that women are far more likely than men to report a parental history of alcohol and drug abuse. Often, women who use drugs have low self-esteem and little self-confidence and may feel powerless. In addition, minority women may face additional cultural and language barriers that can affect or hinder their treatment and recovery.
From a National Institute on Drug Abuse Factsheet

It would seem fairer to look at the overall situation of young women in multi-generational poverty, at the psychological price of poverty, than to pinpoint drug abuse as the core of the problem. (Though a problem of course it is.)

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Oct 15th, 2005 at 02:52:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We keep talking about the people who fall through the cracks

Yes, this term has been used secveral times in this thread. But "falling through the cracks" is about downward mobility, people's situation getting worse. It seems to me important to stress that there's long-term, inter-generational poverty that's more important. It's the lack of upward mobility that matters most. It's not falling through the cracks, it's not being able to climb up through them.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Oct 15th, 2005 at 02:20:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank goodness, afew -- a voice of reason.  As you may or may not have surmised, my head has been doing a slo-mo explosion on and off in here!  :-)

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Oct 15th, 2005 at 02:36:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's true (as Migeru points out) that there are different definitions of poverty. Absolute (eg the official US threshold) which calculate the cost of a minimal living standard, or relative, which consider poverty in relation with surrounding economic conditions. Once you start arguing about these things, you can quickly bring discussion to a standstill.

The usefulness of taking a percentage of median income as a standard (whether it be 40%, 50%, or 60%, all three of which are examined in the Unicef document which I encourage you to look at), is precisely that we are using income distribution, and that it becomes possible to make broad comparisons between countries (comparisons that would otherwise be plagued by uncertainty about purchasing power and differing expectations in different cultures, etc). But as I pointed out beneath the graphs, their value is not absolute. The point is not to say: "Here lies the true definition of poverty", but to look at the relative importance of the lower brackets of income distribution across different countries (the OECD countries in the Unicef report).

And one thing that is clear when you do that is, that the US -- though the initial level is somewhat similar to the UK and France, for example -- alleviates poverty much less by means of tax and social transfers.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Oct 15th, 2005 at 02:10:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think Izzy gets the prize for Most Comments on a Single Diary, no?

Clearly several hot-button topics were raised!  I am thinking we could do with some more diaries on health care paradigms and implementations;  on social equity and whether wealth or income taxation (and wealth or income redistribution) is more effective;  on poverty and its spinoff effects;  etc.

For example much was made recently of a study that found that devoutly religious countries seemed to score worse on any number of social well-being indices -- underage pregnancies, interpersonal violence, etc.  For some this was a brilliant riposte to our various Talibans (each waving their favourite Holy Book), but for others it looked more like another comment on poverty:  people living in dysfunctional, failing societies generally suffer from poverty and anxiety, and populations suffering from poverty and anxiety tend to be more religious (why not, at least organised religion offers people some community and some hope in hard times).  So are we really looking at effects of religiosity, or effects of poverty, one of which is religiosity?

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sun Oct 16th, 2005 at 01:42:00 AM EST
maybe as people climb out of poverty they feel more confident about their future, less superstitious.

poor folks have intellectually undemanding jobs, and more time to think about religion.

please, no popper and white crows!

"We can all be prosperous but we can't all be rich." Ian Welsh

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Oct 20th, 2005 at 11:07:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There's an article in today's Guardian which I think might be of interest in this thread.

Katrina uncovers the forgotten queues at America's soup kitchens

Writing about the Capuchin Soup Kitchen in Detroit:

Many of the people at the tables have the worn appearance of the chronically poor and homeless, others are younger and wouldn't attract glares; many have low-paying jobs and simply struggle to make ends meet, part of a swelling class of the working poor. The soup kitchen serves around 800 people daily for lunch. The summer months are the busiest. In the winter, numbers thin. Some regulars find places at shelters and would rather go hungry than lose them. Others have no proper footwear and risk frostbitten feet if they do make the trip.

"I drove in here yesterday and I saw all these people streaming in to the soup kitchen, and I thought 'there is so much suffering in this city'," said Brother Jerry Smith, who runs the soup kitchen. "I see the abandoned buildings and factories on a massive scale. I have to keep looking for signs of hope. Sometimes it's pretty demoralising."

This is the America most don't see.

And it contains some statistics:

According to the US census bureau, poverty has been on the rise for the past four years, despite a robust economy. The number of people living in poverty increased last year to 12.7% of the population, some 37m people, the highest percentage in the developed world. Since Mr Bush took office an additional 5.4m have slipped below the poverty line. In 1970, the rate was 11.1%. Almost 8% of white people are classified as below the poverty line and almost 25% of African Americans.

(snip)

In Detroit, 34% of the population live in poverty, including almost half the children under 17.

(snip)

There is perhaps good reason for cynicism. Items on the agenda in Washington include the extension of tax cuts on investment income and repealing the estate tax, both aimed at the wealthy. Also proposed are tens of billions of dollars of cuts to services like food stamps, federal student loans and Medicaid, the health insurance for the low-income Americans.

The whole article is worth reading.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Oct 17th, 2005 at 03:22:28 AM EST


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