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Author Topic: Meritocracy At Risk In America
David Ricardo
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Here is a very interesting yet disturbing article from the Economist regarding the decline of meritocracy in America:

http://www.economist.com/world/na/displayStory.cfm?story_id=3518560

quote:
THE United States likes to think of itself as the very embodiment of meritocracy: a country where people are judged on their individual abilities rather than their family connections. The original colonies were settled by refugees from a Europe in which the restrictions on social mobility were woven into the fabric of the state, and the American revolution was partly a revolt against feudalism. From the outset, Americans believed that equality of opportunity gave them an edge over the Old World, freeing them from debilitating snobberies and at the same time enabling everyone to benefit from the abilities of the entire population. They still do.

[...]

But are they right? A growing body of evidence suggests that the meritocratic ideal is in trouble in America. Income inequality is growing to levels not seen since the Gilded Age, around the 1880s. But social mobility is not increasing at anything like the same pace: would-be Horatio Algers are finding it no easier to climb from rags to riches, while the children of the privileged have a greater chance of staying at the top of the social heap. The United States risks calcifying into a European-style class-based society.

The past couple of decades have seen a huge increase in inequality in America. The Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think-tank, argues that between 1979 and 2000 the real income of households in the lowest fifth (the bottom 20% of earners) grew by 6.4%, while that of households in the top fifth grew by 70%. The family income of the top 1% grew by 184%—and that of the top 0.1% or 0.01% grew even faster. Back in 1979 the average income of the top 1% was 133 times that of the bottom 20%; by 2000 the income of the top 1% had risen to 189 times that of the bottom fifth.

Thirty years ago the average real annual compensation of the top 100 chief executives was $1.3m: 39 times the pay of the average worker. Today it is $37.5m: over 1,000 times the pay of the average worker. In 2001 the top 1% of households earned 20% of all income and held 33.4% of all net worth. Not since pre-Depression days has the top 1% taken such a big whack.

More dynastic than dynamic

Most Americans see nothing wrong with inequality of income so long as it comes with plenty of social mobility: it is simply the price paid for a dynamic economy. But the new rise in inequality does not seem to have come with a commensurate rise in mobility. There may even have been a fall.

[...]

The most remarkable feature of the continuing power of America's elite—and its growing grip on the political system—is how little comment it arouses. Britain would be in high dudgeon if its party leaders all came from Eton and Harrow. Perhaps one reason why the rise of caste politics raises so little comment is that something similar is happening throughout American society. Everywhere you look in modern America—in the Hollywood Hills or the canyons of Wall Street, in the Nashville recording studios or the clapboard houses of Cambridge, Massachusetts—you see elites mastering the art of perpetuating themselves. America is increasingly looking like imperial Britain, with dynastic ties proliferating, social circles interlocking, mechanisms of social exclusion strengthening and a gap widening between the people who make the decisions and shape the culture and the vast majority of ordinary working stiffs.

It's sticky out there

All this may sound a bit impressionistic. But more and more evidence from social scientists suggests that American society is much “stickier” than most Americans assume. Some researchers claim that social mobility is actually declining. A classic social survey in 1978 found that 23% of adult men who had been born in the bottom fifth of the population (as ranked by social and economic status) had made it into the top fifth. Earl Wysong of Indiana University and two colleagues recently decided to update the study. They compared the incomes of 2,749 father-and-son pairs from 1979 to 1998 and found that few sons had moved up the class ladder. Nearly 70% of the sons in 1998 had remained either at the same level or were doing worse than their fathers in 1979. The biggest increase in mobility had been at the top of society, with affluent sons moving upwards more often than their fathers had. They found that only 10% of the adult men born in the bottom quarter had made it to the top quarter.

The Economic Policy Institute also argues that social mobility has declined since the 1970s. In the 1990s 36% of those who started in the second-poorest 20% stayed put, compared with 28% in the 1970s and 32% in the 1980s. In the 1970s 12% of the population moved from the bottom fifth to either the fourth or the top fifth. In the 1980s and 1990s the figures shrank to below 11% for both decades. The figure for those who stayed in the top fifth increased slightly but steadily over the three decades, reinforcing the sense of diminished social mobility.

Take the study carried out by Thomas Hertz, an economist at American University in Washington, DC, who studied a representative sample of 6,273 American families (both black and white) over 32 years or two generations. He found that 42% of those born into the poorest fifth ended up where they started—at the bottom. Another 24% moved up slightly to the next-to-bottom group. Only 6% made it to the top fifth. Upward mobility was particularly low for black families. On the other hand, 37% of those born into the top fifth remained there, whereas barely 7% of those born into the top 20% ended up in the bottom fifth. A person born into the top fifth is over five times as likely to end up at the top as a person born into the bottom fifth.

Jonathan Fisher and David Johnson, two economists at the Bureau of Labour Statistics, looked at inequality and social mobility using measures of both income and consumption. They found that mobility “slightly decreased” in the 1990s. In 1984-90, 56% and 54% of households changed their rankings in terms of income and consumption respectively. In 1994-99, only 52% and 49% changed their rankings.

Two economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston analysed family incomes over three decades. They found that 40% of families remained stuck in the same income bracket in the 1990s, compared with 37% of families in the 1980s and 36% in the 1970s. Aaron Bernstein of Business Week points out that, even though the 1990s boom lifted pay rates for low-earners, it did not help them to get better jobs.

[...]

The main reason may be a paradoxical one: because the meritocratic revolution of the first half of the 20th century has been at least half successful. Members of the American elite live in an intensely competitive universe. As children, they are ferried from piano lessons to ballet lessons to early-reading classes. As adolescents, they cram in as much after-school coaching as possible. As students, they compete to get into the best graduate schools. As young professionals, they burn the midnight oil for their employers. And, as parents, they agonise about getting their children into the best universities. It is hard for such people to imagine that America is anything but a meritocracy: their lives are a perpetual competition. Yet it is a competition among people very much like themselves—the offspring of a tiny slither of society—rather than among the full range of talents that the country has to offer.

The second reason is that America's engines of upward mobility are no longer working as effectively as they once were. The most obvious example lies in the education system. Upward mobility is increasingly determined by education. The income of people with just a high-school diploma was flat in 1975-99, whereas that of people with a bachelor's degree rose substantially, and that of people with advanced degrees rocketed.

The education system is increasingly stratified by social class, and poor children have a double disadvantage. They attend schools with fewer resources than those of their richer contemporaries (school finances are largely determined by local property taxes). And they have to deal with the legacy of what Michael Barone, a conservative commentator, has labelled “soft America”. Soft America is allergic to introducing accountability and measurement in education, particularly if it takes the form of merit pay for successful teachers or rewards for outstanding pupils. Dumbed-down schools are particularly harmful to poor children, who are unlikely to be able to compensate for them at home.

America's great universities are increasingly reinforcing rather than reducing these educational inequalities. Poorer students are at a huge disadvantage, both when they try to get in and, if they are successful, in their ability to make the most of what is on offer. This disadvantage is most marked in the elite colleges that hold the keys to the best jobs. Three-quarters of the students at the country's top 146 colleges come from the richest socio-economic fourth, compared with just 3% who come from the poorest fourth (the median family income at Harvard, for example, is $150,000). This means that, at an elite university, you are 25 times as likely to run into a rich student as a poor one.

To be honest, this worrying phenomenon is especially scary because it does not seem to have any obvious serious public policy solution. Merely trying to use government coercion and authority to force greater equality in America would most likely just hamstring meritocracy further.

After all, one of the most telling points is that racially-based affirmative action may have contributed indirectly to the greater socioeconomic equality (affirmative action just ensures that rich, advantaged minority kids have another edge in already intensely competitive higher education -- thereby still reinforcing socioeconomic stratification between the haves and the have-nots).

Meanwhile, the public education system has fallen into such disrepair that the chasm because the education for the advantaged and the education for the disadvantaged has grown even more monstrous. In the past, a public education in an inner-city school would at least be worth something. Nowadays, a bublic education in an inner-city school is worth next-to-nothing, and poor families have no other recourse than the already broken public schools.

In the big picture, the continual decline of American meritocracy could prove to one of the greatest tragedies of all. The American Dream used to be the opportunity that any American could make his own destiny in America based on his own merit. If that American Dream gradually fizzles away, then will the United States of America eventually become the 21st century of 18th and 19th century Old Europe?

Will this mark the beginning of the end for Pax Americana?

[ January 06, 2005, 01:34 AM: Message edited by: David Ricardo ]

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Richard Dey
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If this were a serious issue, I wouldn't be found ranting about the nouveaux riches so much. and I would be able to pronounce the names in the Social Register. Who, for example, is Ms Celebrity Czisc(funny l)wicz -- and who cares if she is the former Herman Schmaltz? A hospice can shred a 12th-generation fortune in a whoosh of the pen.

And as for Britain holding itself up as some model of inherited power, now I can't pronounce the names of the short-lived titles in the House of Peers! Who the hell is the Baroness of City Hamlets? Is her dubbing going to save Britain from terminal snobbery?

I suspect the real answer to this in the States is shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in 3 generations; and that applies to the tens of millions of unidentified aliens we have in the country who are working for peanuts and living on peanut butter. I only wonder if it applies to unidentified terrorists here on unlimited funds ...

Quite obviously, the Economist (which is good enough to read) has not studied our standard of living lately or it would realize at once that it is not the establishment which has triumphed over the meritocracy but the unbelievable who have beaten them both to death.

The reason that the United States is not stratified in classes is because it is classless, tasteless, and out of control?

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WarrsawPact
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quote:

Will this mark the beginning of the end for Pax Americana?

What Pax Americana? We haven't had any "Pax" in a *long* time.

Oh, and the university thing is a no-brainer; of course the rich go to the best schools at overwhelmingly higher rates than the poorer. It's always been that way.

That said, I agree about needing improvements in the education system (in some places more than others). Interestingly, the poorest are ever-increasingly trapped in the cities by anti-sprawl laws, relegated to serving a city with much higher inequality than the areas outside "the city walls". They are the ones disserved most by poor education systems -- my personal experience with the LAUSD was all I needed to know. Combine that with the decline of low-skill industry in this country and you have a recipe for an economy that can't raise up the lower-income strata of society without giving them a solid education. There's simpyl not as much money in low-skill service as there once was in low-skill industry. Americans can't be paid a great family wage and given full benefits to build a Dodge car anymore.

Good article overall. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting richer... just not nearly as fast. Education is the silver bullet.

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Robertson, Ugly and Nohow
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quote:
A classic social survey in 1978 found that 23% of adult men who had been born in the bottom fifth of the population (as ranked by social and economic status) had made it into the top fifth.
How does one measure social status?
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JLMyers
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quote:
The United States risks calcifying into a European-style class-based society.

Too late.

KE

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John L
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Something tells me that the intended purpose of this article, and perhaps the thread as well, has a little thing such as income redistibution in mind.
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David Ricardo
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John L, are you being serious?

I explicitly noted that income redisribution schemes like affirmative action are likely to make the situation worse rather than better.

[ January 06, 2005, 11:16 AM: Message edited by: David Ricardo ]

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John L
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Oh, sorry. In all honesty, I probably gave your comments 'short shrift' over the article itself. I didn't get enough sleep last night. I'll blame it on that as an excuse for ending my reading too soon.

No harm intended. I am simply conditioned to immediately suspect 'income redistribution' to be one of the first standard PC answers to every elitist solution. [Wink]

Please accept my heartfelt apologies.

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Godot
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I personally agree with income redistribution.

I don't think the top 5% were overtaxed before Bush's tax cuts and I would have liked to have seen the money that went to reducing the taxes of the top 5% go to the lowest 20%.

I make a good wage. I can afford my mortgage, food, etc., but just barely. My wife works part-time to give us money for niceties like birthday presents and health insurance. However, if I didn't get any part of the last tax break and it went to those less fortunate I wouldn't mind at all. I can always tighten my belt. There are all too many who are already on the last belt hole.

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FiredrakeRAGE
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With regard to colleges -

I believe that if you go to a smaller/cheaper/etc. school, you will receive most of the educational benefits. While some schools may teach more (MIT, et al.), most schools tend to teach at about the same level.

The reason Harvard and the like have so much draw is not the classes and education, but the opportunities for social networking.

"It's not what you know, it's who you know"

I find that to be more and more true - and can see why. If you have 100,000 resumes, all of which are exactly the same, you're bound to pick out the few that stick out. 'Sticking out' does, to a degree, consider which college you attended. However, given that in most fields the job experience is totally different than the school experience, changes in educational institution matter only to a small degree. What matters more is someone vouching for that person’s skill and commitment.

--Firedrake

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KidA
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I agree with Firedrake RE: colleges. People are way too obsessed with sending their children to Ivy-leagues these days. Atlantic Monthly has famously studied the real effect of going to an "elite" school vs. "state U.". After factoring for the student's own social background and academic performance - the difference is small to negligible. This is especially true for the most motivated students.

But, there is another concern - namely, that more people from poorer backgrounds are finding they can't afford to finish their bachelor's degress in the first place. State Education - which used to be ridiculously cheap decades back, is becoming prohibitively expensive. Sorry, but I think this is one case where a little wealth should be re-distributed. Screw Harvard - state college should be subsidized and, frankly, free.

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IrishTD
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I'm not sure state colleges should be free -- more affordable, yes. But at some point you have to earn what you are getting.
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The Drake
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quote:
Originally posted by Godot:
I personally agree with income redistribution.

I don't think the top 5% were overtaxed before Bush's tax cuts and I would have liked to have seen the money that went to reducing the taxes of the top 5% go to the lowest 20%.

I make a good wage. I can afford my mortgage, food, etc., but just barely. My wife works part-time to give us money for niceties like birthday presents and health insurance. However, if I didn't get any part of the last tax break and it went to those less fortunate I wouldn't mind at all. I can always tighten my belt. There are all too many who are already on the last belt hole.

The good news is you can do that all on your own without the government being involved [Wink]
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Snowden
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Yes, but that degrades my citizenship, whereas the just distribution of taxes dignifies my citizenship.

This isn't a small issue. We are talking about the dignity of a country to which I pledge my alliegance and life. Sometimes dignity is more important than, just as sometimes security is more important than choice.

These are serious issues and should be subject to rigorous debate.

[ January 07, 2005, 04:02 PM: Message edited by: Snowden ]

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rolva
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I have to agree with IrishTD, I actually attended a free public university (in Mexico). The level is actually good in the sciences (good enough for me to come to grad school here anyway) since private universities are not yet interested in those fields over there.
But the main problem is that students take them for granted. They lack motivation. If they had to pay for it (even through loans) that would be an incentive.
If you want to give everybody the oportunity, you have to invest in basic ed and then perhaps have a scaled fee system at the state U. But I thought that was what Pell grants were for.

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WarrsawPact
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quote:
sometimes security is more important than choice.
Liberty and security are inherently bound together. The only time limiting choice will improve anyone's security is when (YRTSYFEAMN) someone is swinging their fist at someone else's nose.

Choice -- about everything -- is fundamental. It's how societies succeed.

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LadyKat
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FiredrakeRAGE said:
quote:
While some schools may teach more (MIT, et al.), most schools tend to teach at about the same level.

One of my professors last semester (University of Central Florida) had recently come from MIT, and from what he said the quality of teaching wasn't necessarily very different. He said that the differences lay with the research. MIT has some of the brightest people in the world for their professors, because they get to do top of the line research, but that doesn't necessarily make them good teachers. They are able to attract the brightest students because of their reputation, but how did they get that rep., research.
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Snowden
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quote:
Choice -- about everything -- is fundamental. It's how societies succeed.
You understand that's controversial, right? Pregnant with a controversial view of success.

If you have a STD, whether to tell your partner is neither a matter of choice nor force. If you have a child, it is neither a matter of choice nor force whether to read to him/her. If you are a US reporter with immediate knowledge of tactical US troop movements, it is neither a matter of choice nor force to hold the story. If you see someone being raped/kidnapped on the street, it is neither a matter of choice nor force to call the police or otherwise intervene. And when you are American, you are a not forced to do much of anything. That doesn't mean that we free from the bonds of dignity or character.

All of these issues speak to character and dignity and become adulterated when we try to speak about them using rational and empirical language.

[ January 07, 2005, 05:29 PM: Message edited by: Snowden ]

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Lewkowski
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The problem is poor people breed faster. And government just keeps handing out its handouts.

IF you look at the average family size of a poor family vs. a rich family you'll find that the poor people, the least likely to be able to care for their kids tend to have more kids! Talk about a retarded system!

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WarrsawPact
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"Character"? "Dignity"?

There's no dignity to robbing people of the information they need to make a better-informed decision. If you don't read to your kid, but you are capable of it, that's your *choice* whether you look at it that way or not.

You want to attach moral values rather than pragmatic considerations to tax money? I hope your character backs you up when someone else decides you're not worthy of your own money.

quote:
If you see someone being raped/kidnapped on the street, it is neither a matter of choice nor force to call the police or otherwise intervene.
Oh yes it is!
I choose to live in a society that disincentivizes rape, I choose to live by YRTSYFEAMN (your right to swing your fist ends at my nose).

quote:
If you are a US reporter with immediate knowledge of tactical US troop movements, it is neither a matter of choice nor force to hold the story.
Again, yes it IS a matter of choice. Once upon a time (the Korean War), the press would collect information and then, on suspicion that they might have some information that would harm the troops, *voluntarily* submitted it to military officials for censorship. They didn't WANT to hurt the troops. They were given the responsibility, they had a remarkable degree of choice and *nobody* made character or dignity compulsory.

There were some things even then that were classified, because simply having more people that knew them could not possibly do more harm than good. Nobody who wasn't out to swing their fist too far would WANT to be responsible for having the loose lips that sank ships.

But transparency and economic freedom, the existence of a wide degree of negative rights, the cultural demand for choice... these things are unsurprisingly the most prevalent in the most successful societies on earth today. These are the places where people are most capable of realizing their dreams, where will is most rewarded, where -- amazingly -- people are most personally charitable.

You must risk the possibility of your neighbors not doing good, dignified things that are not prohibited. Rational, successful behavior is adulterated with any talk about forced dignity and character. They're artifices.

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Snowden
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quote:
I choose to live in a society that disincentivizes rape, I choose to live by YRTSYFEAMN (your right to swing your fist ends at my nose).
That assumes a reasonable right to exit, and there are cultural and identity issues invovled with that. It's not unlike a battered wife who is said to have the choice to leave her husband, but in reality, when there are kids involved and she has dropped out of school to support the husband's work and an entire host of factors, the situation is harder to judge.

[ January 07, 2005, 06:18 PM: Message edited by: Snowden ]

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Paladine
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quote:
All of these issues speak to character and dignity and become adulterated when we try to speak about them using rational and empirical language.
No, your bizarre premise assumes citizens to have neither character nor dignity, and accordingly allows government to require that citizens act as if they were possessed of these qualities.

Just out of curiousity, how do you square these two quotes:

quote:
These are serious issues and should be subject to rigorous debate.
and

quote:
All of these issues speak to character and dignity and become adulterated when we try to speak about them using rational and empirical language.
A rigorous debate, but not one using rational language....?
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WarrsawPact
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quote:
It's not unlike a battered wife who is said to have the choice to leave her husband, but in reality, when there are kids involved and she has dropped out of school to support the husband's work and an entire host of factors, the situation is harder to judge.
Knowing someone who has done just that -- running away with the kids and living a harder life -- it is still a matter of choice. It's a hard choice, but there's always the choice.

You can't just not accept that there's a rock and a hard place if those are your only two options.

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Snowden
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Paladine,

I think this only works if you assume that I'm not stupid, but we'll see.

quote:
No, your bizarre premise assumes citizens to have neither character nor dignity, and accordingly allows government to require that citizens act as if they were possessed of these qualities.
No, I am assuming that expressions of these qualities are done by a nation, as a nation. Or individuals, as individuals. Or private groups, as private groups.

quote:
A rigorous debate, but not one using rational language....?
Rational political science assumes that there is an end, usually capital or power, and people always choose to achieve that end. A better phrase is strategically self-involved. The rational approach is nice because it gives itself to all manners of graphs and functions in order to maximize efficiency. It's inappropriate because it doesn't make on to the messier world that isn't given to graphs and functions.

Warrsaw Pact,

And I'm saying that there is a morally relevant difference between the decision she made and a choice in flavor of ice cream, and we should not pretend that they are the same.

The mere right to exit is not a sufficient remedy for suffering an abusive husband, especially when there are kids involved or other externalities.

[ January 07, 2005, 06:48 PM: Message edited by: Snowden ]

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WarrsawPact
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Well, Snowden, that's where our paths converge. You're a moralist; I am not. You say "should"; I hate the word.

quote:
The mere right to exit is not a sufficient remedy for suffering an abusive husband, especially when there are kids involved or other externalities.
If your right to swing your fist ends at my nose, and I'm perfectly fine with compensation for victims of you swinging your fist too far, where is our argument there?

There are still always choices.

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Snowden
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quote:
You say "should"; I hate the word.
Your hatred of that word doesn't make its use more or less appropriate.
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WarrsawPact
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No, it doesn't. My hating it can't make it less appropriate than it already is.

Replace the word "should" with a "must...if" statement and it suddenly goes from an unbased assertion to a disprovable argument. The implication of the suggestive form of "should" is that something is an agreed-upon Good. Since I'm an amoralist, it's entirely inappropriate to appeal to me with an unbacked "should" such as "we should not pretend that they are [morally] the same."

Rational language's primary "good" is consistency, no matter the flavor. This says nothing of capital or power. And consistency and morality have a bad history. If you can't discuss character and dignity in rational terms, you're deliberately avoiding any standard by which your view of dignity or character could be exposed as insufficient to describe reality.

A failure on your part to describe such things in rational language is a failure on your part, not rationality's... just as a student's inability to solve an arithmetic problem is not the fault of math but of his own defecit of knowledge.

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Snowden
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Trying to account for virtues by using rational language is like trying to account for the desk I'm sitting at by counting atoms. It's inappropriate. Tables don't reduce to atoms, and virtues don't reduce to must...if statements. It doesn't mean that tables and virtues don't exist, they just don't give themselves to that sort of language, and to tell the truth, it's a little presumptuous to believe that they have to.

This is why meritocracy is such a rough business. Schools and jobs are pressed to find an objective standard by which to judge applicants, and there is a level at which all these metrics breakdown because they fall short of actually thinking. Admissions can't substitute thinking about the unity of the individual student or applicant and the school or or job. That's why interviews are often appropriate recourse.

[ January 08, 2005, 02:39 AM: Message edited by: Snowden ]

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WarrsawPact
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quote:
Trying to account for virtues by using rational language is like trying to account for the desk I'm sitting at by counting atoms. It's inappropriate. Tables don't reduce to atoms
1. then you're admitting that you've arrived at a belief in virtue by something other than a rational process? Do you honestly expect something that you can't define to win an argument? You expect some things will simply be self-evident in others' eyes without any rational reason? I don't accept that a *moral* difference exists between a person eating a certain flavor of ice cream and running from an abusive husband; how do you respond?
2. Tables *do* reduce to atoms... and much further still. It may be inconvenient in everyday speech to discuss tables in terms of atoms, but you don't really have a true understanding of tables if you don't understand their composition. You only understand your use of them.
3. If virtues don't reduce to must...if statements, then what is the reward for acting virtuously? Nothing at all? Is it possible to be virtuous without virtuous action?

Virtue CAN be discussed rationally. Are you afraid virtue might not turn out to be composed of what you think it is?
I'm guessing your answer is no. Then let's discuss it.

quote:
This is why meritocracy is such a rough business. Schools and jobs are pressed to find an objective standard by which to judge applicants, and there is a level at which all these metrics breakdown because they fall short of actually thinking.
Meritocracy is a rough business that requires personalizable intervention because you can't standardize capability. But capability can be tested -- and measured. Productivity can be measured. Quality can be tested and measured -- in a lot of different ways. That we don't (yet) have better tools than human judgment to do this in many circumstances doesn't make virtue an intangible thing.
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Adam Masterman
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quote:
The problem is poor people breed faster.
Ignorance and bigotry, all wrapped up in seven little words. Though, as Horace Guester would say, I mean that in the nicest possible way.
Adam

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Everard
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"Virtue CAN be discussed rationally. Are you afraid virtue might not turn out to be composed of what you think it is?"

THe problem, however, is that Snowden is not ahard determinist, and you are. Determinism vs free will plays an essential and fundamental role in any discussion of virtue. It is impossible for a determinist, and a believer in free will, to discuss virtue in any meaningful way, as virtue to the non-determinist is composed of ideas that are meaningless under determinism, while virtue to the determinist is comprised of concepts that have no moral value (positive or negative) to the non-determinist.

Arguing the question of virtue, between a determinist and a non-determinist, is completely meaningless, and a waste of time. A better question is to find common ground upon which to make decisions.

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WarrsawPact
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It depends on whether he believes in a God. A hard determinist can still operate on the same level as a virtue ethicist if both believe in (or concede the possibility of) a higher power.
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Everard
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Not usually, since most theologies provide for free will.
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But even with that free will, the judge of virtue (and that which is virtuous) is the same.
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Everard
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So? The problem is that virtue in the sense used by anyone believing in free will is a completely different sense of the word virture then a determinist.
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Snowden
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Faith doesn't have to factor in.

Let's start with reducing a table down the atoms. So there is a number of atoms that will give you a table? And it because of that number of atoms that the table is a table?

That's strange to me. A table is something that stands my computer up, among other things, and it is in virtue of these properties that a table is a table. The number of atoms is accidental. The fact that there were tables even before we knew about the atom should tell us that.

What makes it a table is it fulfulling its responsibility, that is, holding up my book. What makes a father a father is his responsibility to his child, and what makes anything anything its responsiblities.

The problem with choice is that as it is incomplete. It treats accidents and essential responsibilities with equal propriety. It's like choosing to classify people according to their noses. Noses are accidental features of people. I don't think that people are people in virtue of their sense of smell.

Will is that vehicle that allows us to act upon our responsibiliites, but the responsibilities are primary. Some responsibilities are also controversial, and there is an issue that man has a myriad of responsibiities always already nagging him, and if we work under the assumption that the individual is the best judge of controversial responsibilities, but the responsibilities are still primary. Rights are derivative of responsibility, and dignity, virtue, and that which makes us us, is the possibility to fulfill our responsibilities. The free reign of choice is fine with anything that doesn't matter, ice cream flavors, for example, but everything that matters requires attention to responsibility.

Choice for choice's sake, tolerance for tolerance's sake, and consistency for consistency's sake are three of most pervasive misapplications in western thought. And when you take them seriously, all three of them fall apart pretty quickly. You don't have a choice to kill someone. We don't tolerate terrorists. And consistency, any parent with two kids will tell you that you don't treat them alike.

Each according to its responsibility, and its responsibility is revealed-- or not-- by thinking. It's what makes us us. It also makes dignity and propriety possible.

Responsibilities and duties are primary. Once that becomes clear, everything else becomes makes more sense. We have the power to ignore these responsibilities, but that's neglect. For example, not being potty trained or lacking a sense of propriety.

[ January 09, 2005, 03:57 AM: Message edited by: Snowden ]

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WarrsawPact
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Snowden -
quote:

Let's start with reducing a table down the atoms. So there is a number of atoms that will give you a table? And it because of that number of atoms that the table is a table?

All the same, you can't ignore that a table is built of constituent atoms and understand it fully. For all you know virtue could be the emperor's new clothes unless you can prove a standard objectively exists.

You and I don't have to agree that a table exists for it to exist. It has consequence.
Virtue, on the other hand, I don't see. It seems like it's made-up. What makes virute? What does virtue boil down to when you take it apart?

Nor do I see such a thing as responsibility. Is it a law of physics that a biological father has responsibiltiy for raising his child and that something terrible will happen if he doesn't?
We made up responsibiltiy so that we could force behavior on others. The concept is a tool.
If someone can be traced to be the source of an action, saying he was "responsible" for it really means nothing more than that he would be *held* responsible for it by other humans.

What is an essential responsibility? Something that will tear the very fabric of the universe if violated?
We made the law precisely because nature wasn't doing it for us.

Choice is no more or less an accident than any other happening, but then we're getting into our fundamental disagreement over hard determinism.

quote:
Rights are derivative of responsibility
Afraid not. All humans have had rights claimed in their name though many have no responsibility -- especially small children. Animals have such rights, too. Rights are what we make them.

quote:
Choice for choice's sake, tolerance for tolerance's sake, and consistency for consistency's sake are three of most pervasive misapplications in western thought. And when you take them seriously, all three of them fall apart pretty quickly. You don't have a choice to kill someone. We don't tolerate terrorists. And consistency, any parent with two kids will tell you that you don't treat them alike.
Who said "for their own sake" here but you?
Maximum choice without infringing upon anothers' choice has proven to be a fantastic way for people to succeed -- YRTSYFEAMN as I always say. Economic freedom, where it is most prevalent, leads to economic success.
Ad you've missed the mark on consistency. I'm talking about logical consistency. You're talking about repetition of action -- and in different circumstances no less.

quote:
Each according to its responsibility
Again, I'm going to call you on the emperor's new clothes. Saying it's so doesn't make it true.

quote:
Responsibilities and duties are primary.
Primary what?
quote:
Once that becomes clear, everything else becomes makes more sense.
I've heard people claim this about explanations for all kinds of things. One woman tried to convince me that manners were the bedrock of society, and after that everything falls into place. This woman took on a "wisened old lady" tone and a supremely confident smile and spoke down to everyone around me as though it made perfect sense.
quote:
We have the power to ignore these responsibilities, but that's neglect.
Neglect of what? Neglect is not an agreed-upon Evil here.
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Snowden
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Primary to our identity. The lady talking manners isn't wrong. Manners exemplify the fact that responsibilities are a matter of propriety, not choice.

Manners, like consistency and choice and tolerance, are suspect when they are taken for their own sake, though.

quote:
Economic freedom, where it is most prevalent, leads to economic success.
I agree. The question is whether the quality of myself or my country is determined merely by economic success.
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WarrsawPact
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Well Snowden, since you have no answer pertaining to the objective basis of this "responsibility" of yours, how can anyone accept it as anything but the emperor's new clothes?

Responsibility may be primary in *your mind* as to what a person's identity is, but tons of people have equally baseless reasons to believe something else is at the core of our identity. And I'm not just going to take your word for it, not going to take it on faith.

I mean, come on, do you hear yourself when you talk about "propriety"? Are people duty bound to propriety or do they have the ability NOT to take responsibility merely by choosing not to do so?
I'll ask the question more directly: Who holds them accountable? Other humans. Other humans who have built up systems of morality and reward and punishment. Manners are a matter of choice, too, taking into account how others will repond to you -- often doing such stupid things as reciting "please" and "thank you" and "you're welcome" and "sorry" even when we don't mean them. When you say "please," you're not *really* saying "if you please"/"if it pleases you." You're saying a codeword and expecting your will be done. Nothing more.
Try an experiment sometime: don't say please or thank-you. Ever. Some people won't notice. Other people will act like it's the key to the lock on their entire response system, and they sit there expectantly like dullards. Nobody gets that look on their face waiting for something meaningful to be said. People get that look when a machine stops working properly. I never say "please" anymore.
Who came up with this system anyway? And why do parents enforce it? Being polite for the sake of being polite, proper for the sake of being proper? I think not. This is mutual enforcement of a by-now meaningless tradition. Most of people don't care if you mean it as long as you say it with a pleasing tone. You teach your kids to say "please" and "thank you" *automatically* whether they mean it or not with the foreknowledge that others out there in the world, especially authority figures, will demand in one way or another that they know the rules and abide by them. You get them to say it precisely when they DON'T mean it, even. I know you've all witnessed a kid (probably yourself included) being forced, probably by a parent, to say Sorry when they really mean quite the opposite.

What's been solved here? If all parties sat down for a second and thought bout it, there was no regret, no repentance, no salvation, no real forgiveness, just rote recital! We do this for the sake of propriety? This group fellating in the name of being proper... yeah, I can see how this contributes to our "quality," Snowden.

The quality of our country will be determined by those who judge it and act on that judgment.

[ January 09, 2005, 03:55 PM: Message edited by: WarrsawPact ]

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Snowden
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quote:
Are people duty bound to propriety or do they have the ability NOT to take responsibility merely by choosing not to do so?
You have the ability to neglect your responsibilities, but essential responsibilites are never taken, they are properties that are already there, the question is whether to abide or neglect them. They aren't contracts that are entered into and broken as a matter of choice.

quote:
I'll ask the question more directly: Who holds them accountable?
Nobody, but why is that the issue? Really, is getting caught the only reason people shouldn't steal?

[ January 09, 2005, 04:54 PM: Message edited by: Snowden ]

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