Posts Tagged ‘equality’

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Special mention

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Pew-race

Five decades after Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C., a survey by the Pew Research Center [pdf] found that fewer than half (45 percent) of all Americans say the country has made substantial progress toward racial equality and about the same share (49 percent) say that “a lot more” remains to be done.

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Special mention

August 22, 2013 equality_1_500_334

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Class act refers—sarcastically, of course—to Bill Clinton’s decision during the 1992 campaign to execute a condemned Arkansas prisoner to show he wasn’t “weak on crime.” (That’s one of the major reasons he didn’t get my vote that year.)

It also refers—again, sarcastically—to Clinton’s signing of the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, whose constitutionality is being debated in the Supreme Court today. (My sense is the Supreme Court is going to try to find a way of sidestepping the issue of gay marriage, even as Americans have quickly moved in support of legalizing gay marriage and offering equal rights to gay couples.)

Finally, it refers to Matt Miller’s observation that, while we may have “evolved” on gay rights, the issue of class itself remains mostly taboo.

When every economic and social class shares in the experience of injustice or intolerable wrongs, things change faster. If only poor people were gay, does anyone think our political leaders would have “evolved” at this pace? Likewise, if we had a draft, does anyone think our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would have proceeded as they did? . . .

As Martin Luther King Jr. learned near the end, securing legal equality turned out to be the easy part. Nobody had to write a check. Equal opportunity and economic justice are entirely different matters, requiring a nation to take even bigger leaps of empathy and imagination.

Special mention

Pirate economics

Posted: 9 September 2009 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

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Much of neoclassical economics involves reducing events and practices to rational decisionmaking, and then declaring they’ve been “explained.” Caleb Crain explains how this works in his review of Peter T. Leeson’s new book, The Invisible Hook.

Now, in addition to reporting Leeson’s admission he “had supply-and-demand curves tattooed on his right biceps when he was seventeen,” Crain describes how Leeson takes the world of pirates as described by historians such as Christopher Hill and Marcus Rediker—one with vigorous democracy, economic fairness, considerable racial tolerance, and even health care—and argues “that their apparent espousal of liberty, equality, and fraternity derived not from idealism but from a desire for profit.”

The problem, of course, is that, if “all this democracy” was a solution to the “principal-agent problem” (the owner doesn’t work, and the workers, not being stakeholders, lack incentives; so a certain amount of surveillance and coercion is necessary to persuade Ishmael to hunt whales instead of spending all day in his hammock with Queequeg),

The insight suggests more than Leeson seems to want it to—does inequity always entail political repression?

Crain reports that

late in the book he backtracks, cautioning that the pirate example “doesn’t mean democratic management makes sense for all firms,” only that management style should be adjusted to the underlying ownership structure. But a certain kind of reader is likely to ignore the hedging, and note that the pirates, two centuries before Lenin, had seized the means of production.

And that’s one of the interesting things about the work done by neoclassical economists: just as Krugman “discovered” the benefits of intervening in international trade—and then spent the next 10 years backtracking to defend comparative advantage and free international trade—so Leeson appears to have discovered that enterprises can be organized in an equal and democratic manner, i.e., the workers can produce AND appropriate the surplus.

Are pirates socialists or capitalists? Lately, it’s become hard to tell the categories apart. Toward the end of his book, Leeson suggests that pirate self-governance proves that companies can regulate themselves better than governments can, as if he sees the pirate ship as a prototype of the modern corporation, sailing through treacherously liberal waters. Such arguments haven’t aged well over the past year, but even in piracy’s golden age people were aware that an unregulated marketplace invites predators. During the South Sea Bubble of 1720, speculators claiming to be able to make wealth out of debt fleeced British investors and ruined many banks. Pirates who spent that year killing and plundering, Nathaniel Mist grumpily wrote, could salve their guilty consciences, if they had any: “Whatever Robberies they had committed, they might be pretty sure they were not the greatest Villains then living in the World.”