When reflecting on Dr. King’s day I generally use his “I Have a Dream” speech as a focus. In that speech Dr. King compares the situation of 1963 with that of 1863 and it seems proper to keep making comparisons between how things are now with how things were in the past.
King focuses on three primary problems: discrimination, segregation and poverty. While the situation in 2011 is clearly vastly better than in 1863 and significantly better than in 1963, there are clearly still problems that remain in these areas.
Although, as people like to point out, we have a black president discrimination is still a factor in American life. It is no longer legal, but persists in various ways. While it is unlikely that there will ever be a time when people are evaluated based solely on relevant qualities, this is still an ideal worth striving for.
Segregation is, oddly enough, still quite real. Interestingly enough the segregation that occurs today is not based on legal restrictions but is rather based on choice and economic factors. Choice occurs when people elect to self-segregate. The economic factors also tend to divide people by race, mainly because income still tends to divide along racial lines. Since neighborhoods tend to be divided on the basis of economic class and class and race still correlate to a significant degree, segregation still occurs.
Since the segregation is not based on laws, there is the serious question of what, if anything, should be done to address this. After all, if people segregate by choice, then there seems to be little grounds on which to justify forcing people to move so as to lower segregation. As far as the economic based segregation, attempts to push the rich and poor together or attempts to lessen income disparities would tend to met with great resistance. As such, it seems likely that segregation will endure now and even forever.
Poverty is still clearly a serious problem. After all, unemployment is still rather high and income is still correlated with race. Now that there is an overall economic problem it is harder to address specific economic inequalities. After all, the main focus seems to be on getting the economy on an upswing. Once the economy is doing better, attention might be turned to more specific sorts of inequalities.
As a final point, in these times of angry rhetoric we should consider Dr. King’s words: “We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”
Greg Camp says
Segregation is not a problem, so long as I and everyone else have genuine choice. The government has no business deciding where and how its citizens live.
What does need to be done is a program to lift the underclass, not through welfare, but education. Give everyone the skills to function, and then take a step back.
“…lift the underclass, not through welfare, but education. Give everyone the skills to function, and then take a step back.”
That’s what I used to think, also. The problem is you can’t give people skills. Different children attending the same schools will develop widely different skills. People have to want to acquire skills. This is one of the fundamental flaws with socialism, the belief that access to education and/or control of capital is the primary inhibitor to prosperity. And while this did ring true to some extent 100 years or so ago, in the 20th Century greater access to education freed up the abilities of those who had the primary driver of a desire to achieve. As Vince Lombardi claimed to have originally said, “Winning isn’t everything. The will to win is. In fact, it’s the only thing.” If someone has the will and they see the opportunity, they will succeed. If someone lacks the desire to achieve, all the education, or I should say attempts to educate, will be wasted time. If you can create a desire within people, they will succeed. When you undermine their efforts by giving them the impression that they can’t succeed until something else happens (revolution, acquiring a diploma from the “right” school, help from their “betters”, etc.) and that something else is out of their control, they will not even try. It’s a rational response. And then there are still others who have absolutely no desire. They exist. They are real.
I agree that motivation is absolutely necessary — but it’s only half of the picture; the other half is that opportunity you mention, and if it’s not to be completely random then it takes understanding and acumen to create, which brings us back to the importance of education.
Human relations — philia and eros — are all that is meaningful in life apart from life itself; everything else is just so much empty sound and motion.
Insofar as human relations are predicated on a certain degree of material wealth — i.e. food, adequate shelter, etc. — and personal freedom, these things become meaningful by extension. However, past the point of sufficiency, that meaning disappears.
I just don’t understand why we obsess about excess wealth and social prestige as if they were meaningful to a good life — if my neighbor has a larger collection of pebbles than I do, by what reason should I care? Conversely, what harm has befallen him should his collection be smaller than mine?
There is no necessary relation between socioeconomic status and human fulfillment and happiness. The only relevant consideration is how much of our lives we must subjugate to the social system in order to guarantee our freedoms and material needs.
Progress consists in lessening that required commitment, and social equity consists in (and only in) the same level of required commitment being universal across groups.
Probably most of us are not concerned with moderate differences in income and wealth. However, when one percent of the population owns a rather shockingly high percentage of the wealth, it is another matter. We also have excessive income disparity. The numbers are readily available on the Internet.
For approximately 100 years up until about 1980, income and wealth disparity had been gradually declining but since 1980, it has greatly increase. Now middle income people, allowing for inflation, actually have lower incomes than they did in 1980 while income for the very wealthy has greatly increased. This has disproportionately affected blacks.
I would oppose regulations aimed at leveling income; there is nothing wrong with moderate differences in income. If some people make perhaps 20 times as much as others, OK, but we’ve gone way beyond that.
What percentage of the wealth should the top 1% own? Where do you determine this? Why do you think it is a problem?
Let’s take two hypothetical worlds with identical populations. In one, the total wealth in the world is 400 zillion dollars, the top 1% control 10 zillion dollars and the remaining 390 zillion is distributed as it was in your ideal year of 1980. In the second world, the total wealth is 800 zillion dollars, the top 1% control 200 zillion dollars and the remaining 600 zillion is again distributed as in 1980. Which of these two worlds is preferable to you?
You may find the following article interesting:
You hypothetical example seems to assume that increasing the wealth of the top 1% will increase the wealth of the remaining 99% by even more. However, the exact opposite has happened,i.e., while the wealth of the top 20% was increasing, the wealth of the bottom 80% was decreasing.
My hypothetical assumes nothing. My hypothetical was precisely that, as in highly conjectural. You assume where I was going with my question. I asked which of these two worlds would you prefer. I did not say one was more real than the other. That is a whole different question that is itself unanswerable. I asked which of those two worlds you would prefer.
Let me also ask, in which of two real worlds did the middle income people you speak of have better communication devices, the world of 1980 or the world of today? In which of those two worlds did those people have safer automobiles? In which of those two worlds was the crime rate lower? In which of those two worlds were there better computers or was music more accessible? By what measuring stick do you conclude that the exact opposite is happening? Do you think that Huffington Post is a more trustworthy source of information than Fox News?
I’d rather live in the 800 zillion world, ceteris paribus.
Regarding the increase in technology from 1980 to now (i.e. the last 30 years), it’s easy to show that the 30 years previous to that, from 1950 to 1980 when wealth disparity was declining, saw at least as much technological innovation — the point being that concentrating wealth at the top doesn’t seem to have benefited anyone not at the top.
The advances in technology are mainly the result of research and development and have nothing to do with the distribution of income. Moreover, technology has been advancing for over 200 years, but I know of no way to quantify it.
Although the article to which I provided the link was in the Huffington Post, the information was actually from Forbes as stated in the article itself. There are other sources which provide similar information; it’s not as though the increasing disparity in income distribution and reduction in purchasing power in the middle class is new information.
Well, at least Asur was willing to answer the first question.
That said, not sure how one can conclude that the technological improvements of the 30 year period from 1950 to 1980 saw at least as much technological improvement. Perhaps we can compare technological improvement between more capitalist countries and more socialist countries during the same time periods, but that is also extremely complicated. Though the results are extreme enough to seem rather obvious.
None of this addresses the assertion I am challenging. How do you determine which is the ideal wealth distribution? How do you plan to redistribute it? In what other countries has this been done to your satisfaction?
Lastly, much of the debate about wealth distribution implies:
1) That there is no cost to forcibly taking wealth from those who created it
2) That those proposing doing so know better about how to use that wealth
3) That said wealth is just sitting around doing nothing and taking the wealth has no impact on new investment or on the current job market
4) That even assuming that a better use for that wealth is available, the overhead involved in the bureaucracy required to move that wealth around has no cost nor impact on the economy as a whole.
From much of the debate on this subject, one would think that the wealthy have all of this money buried in mason jars in their back yards.
Lastly, you cannot expect to be taken seriously by providing a HP post as “proof” of your point. If Forbes is the source, why provide the HP interpretation? Not that I would accept an article in Forbes as proof either. Especially over a one year time period.
I see I missed this little nugget: “The advances in technology are mainly the result of research and development and have nothing to do with the distribution of income”
Really? Your statement is loaded with assumption only a philosopher could make. In the real world advances in research and technology come from someone, somewhere investing in their development. Investments made by people with wealth. While you might argue that at least some of that R&D comes from universities, most of that funding is underwritten by individuals and corporations. And ultimately, R&D is useless without implementation into a product. Who takes the risk of deciding which products to make, and do they not make them based on an expected return on their investment? When they are successful, lines of people form to claim a share of their “windfall”, yet when they fail, who lines up to share in their loss? Nothing to do, indeed.
It seems to me that the role of monetary wealth in society is more problematic than its distribution; I would argue that significant disparity in the latter is a causal consequence of the former.