235 Comments
Jan 16, 2023·edited Jan 16, 2023

To add one more banal observation on top of another (as per a recent WaPo article I read), the extent to which both sides of the standard political spectrum feel the need to cling to parts of MLK's ideas just displays the strength of national civic religion - and I see it as a win for civility in general.

To the extent someone may disagree with King - be it his views on class solidarity in favor of a kind of racial maximalism akin to standard woke movements, or his views of material redistribution and egalitarianism - the fact that the disagreement centers King, and that the side seen as more exemplifying his message is correct, is a win for progress.

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Per you point yesterday there was an NYT article on how MLK was woke and a WSJ article on how he would have opposed intersectionality. It was amusing.

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The WSJ piece is far more reasonable, if only because MLK was a man of his time. His views on homosexuality, for example, would today be almost as far from “woke” as could be imagined. In a letter to a young man asking for advice on his homosexuality, King responded,

“Your problem is not at all an uncommon one. However, it does require careful attention. The type of feeling that you have toward boys is probably not an innate tendency, but something that has been culturally acquired. Your reasons for adopting this habit have now been consciously suppressed or unconsciously repressed. Therefore, it is necessary to deal with this problem by getting back to some of the experiences and circumstances that lead to the habit. In order to do this I would suggest that you see a good psychiatrist who can assist you in bringing to the forefront of conscience all of those experiences and circumstances that lead to the habit. You are already on the right road toward a solution, since you honestly recognize the problem and have a desire to solve it.”

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Interesting, but meaningless. He was very progressive for his time. It's a hypothetical what views he had had he continued to live and his views evolve with the times , and even more hypothetical what his views were had he been born to a different generation, but in either case there is no good reason to think they'd have stayed static.

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"He was very progressive for his time"

Indeed, and he'd probably be one today were he alive. I don't think he woulr be "woke," however, because that's become a sickness.

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I would like to believe you're correct on both counts.

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The fact that he speaks of psychiatry (it was considered a form of mental illness at the time) rather than damnation indicates how progressive he was. Most people on the left in those days would have been disapproving of homosexuality.

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He does clearly disapprove, but he is compassionate.

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That is a good point. I wonder what percent of Americans would have had a harsher reaction to such a letter. Easy to imagine him being in the top 10% of most liberal Americans at the time with regards to gay rights.

And given that he was a Black preacher from the South, that is really impressive

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Agreed. We can hardly expect someone to have progressive views on homosexuality if they were never in their life exposed to such views. Being raised evangelical & conservative, it took me (1) working with several gays, (2) having a close relative come out as gay, (3) seeing lots of positive depictions of gays in media, etc. before my views changed.

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Wow. This isn’t exactly surprising (he was a preacher after all, and in the 60s), but I’ve never seen it before.

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Jan 17, 2023·edited Jan 17, 2023

Excellent point.

MLK wasn’t Jesus and no one should expect anyone to be (lol). And in any case, we should measure Progressives by the progress they enable, not that against some impossible measure that they must solve every injustice inherited by the society they were born into and presumably helped propel forward in some way.

I’d say MLK gets some pretty high marks in that regard especially seeing as we’re all still typing about him here; still inspired by his words and legacy. (Same goes for our liberal founding fathers as progressives despite their institutionalized slavery and abject drunkenness, but different topic)

I remember hearing MLK’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech played for us kids in middle school (much like the one I send my kids currently) on a vinyl record, in honor of MLK day. Pure magic. The role of inspiration and leadership is sorely undervalued.

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Who is going to pay for "massive material redistribution"? Are there any downsides?

I so wish that progressives would address these and not simply assume them away.

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It's not going to happen, so nobody has to care about implementation issues.

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How about going back to 1950s tax rates on the wealthy and corporations?

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You could, but there aren't a lot of wealthy people. At some point, you have to tax the middle class. That's how they do it in Europe. If that's what you want, say so.

As for corporations, they merely collect taxes. Economists agree on this, but disagree on who pays how much. How do you determine what amount of corporate tax is paid by owners, employees, or customers? Figure that out and you'll get a Nobel Prize.

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I think most people serious about a major expansion of the social safety net accept that there will have to be a tax increase for the middle class as well as the wealthy.

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Perhaps they do, but they are fastidious about not saying that.

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I think this demonstrates the challenge. Doing any of the first three would generate ENORMOUS push back and likely leads to a 2010/2018 wipe out for whichever party tries it.

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Also retirement plans, don't forget those

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By all means tax the middle class more, provided: 1. That the tax system overall is far more progressive (especially taxation on wealth) 2. That in return you get substantially increased government services, eg good public health insurance, low tuition high quality colleges, free or highly subsidized quality childcare and elderly care options, better public schools, better police, serious unemployment insurance etc.

that’s precisely what progressives have been arguing for all along !

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FYI, our taxation is among the most progressive in the developed world already. How much more progressive do you want it to be? Again, the European countries pay for their safety nets with national sales taxes which most progressives oppose as being regressive.

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I think this point deserves emphasis. Check the OECD site for data comparing the tax systems of modern countries. The US system is highly progressive--at or near the top because it lacks a substantial value added tax. The comparison looks at effective tax rates net of loopholes and exclusions. Tax the rich is more a campaign slogan than a realistic means of financing social insurance programs. Progressives need to understand that a progressive program can be financed with a proportional or regressive tax and still, be a progressive program net of everything.

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Jan 16, 2023·edited Jan 16, 2023

I don’t think it’s very progressive when you take into account all the loopholes that disproportionately advantage the rich. I also note that the progressive form is a necessary but insufficient condition. It doesn’t actually tell you that amount being taxed. I agree it’s gonna have to go up for the middle class too. I have no problem with that provided the conditions above are met.

P.S.

To put it most bluntly, I think we would be better off as a whole if the middle class and especially the upper middle claaass and up have less money left for discretionary spending and fewer savings BUT far less need for savings as they have a much stronger social safety net, eg you don’t need to save for college, you need to save less for retirement, you are far less likely to incur any kind of suprise huge bills (eg medical), your bills are lower because anti trust is working properly(not a tax issue but part of the overall vision!)

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Jan 16, 2023·edited Jan 16, 2023

THPacis, it sounds like you have something against people deciding by themselves what their priorities should be. Not everyone wants to part with their earnings for the bundle of benefits you want to give them. Your plan seems very top down and autocratic. In a word, anti-choice.

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What "loopholes" would they be? They are often referenced, but seldom specified.

BTW, the Tax Cuts and Jobs act of 2017 closed an enormous one, the state and local income tax deduction, but progressives are up in arms about that even though it means the rich pay more in taxes. The other big ones are the mortgage interest deduction and charitable deductions. I haven't seen any calls for eliminating those although I would support that.

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The reason we don't have value added tax here is not objections from progressives but conservative fears that it would raise too much money and be too reliable as a funding source for government.

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I've always assumed that was, in fact, why conservatives were opposed to a value added tax. But I don't hear progressives advocating for one at all even though they admire the European social insurance programs financed by such a tax. I think both sides are somewhat stupid and stubborn. I would think a value added tax would be broadly acceptable if it were tied to financing health insurance, for example, or another popular use.

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This may be true when focusing only on labor-income taxes. I would want to see drastically higher capital gain taxes and inheritance taxes (and in an ideal world, wealth taxes). The focus on wage-income & wage-taxes instead of wealth or investment-income is the most frustrating aspect of economic discourse.

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“…drastically higher capital gain taxes…”

How drastic? And how would that affect investment and therefore economic growth?

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If middle class people could expect all that from a higher personal tax rate, they may well be in favour of it. But I think people know that more tax would translate into more extravagantly paid administrators at universities, extortionate and poor quality public transport schemes, featherbedded and still useless cops, unemployable layabouts, and public schools that are still as bad as before.

Liberals can't just imagine a magic black box exists that turns 'taxpayers money' into 'better cops' and 'inexpensive, high quality colleges' etc.

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Jan 16, 2023·edited Jan 16, 2023

That's the sad ethos of Reagan talking. The outcome you describe is one possibility, but a world class public university system, that is even free, not just low-tuition, has very few admins and teaching done overwhelmingly by tenured profs - is also possible. How do I know? Because the US had it in the past. I also know we can have good public schools because they exist already in many parts of the US, and on a national level we see many nations that are doing this successfully. The idea that governemnt can't accomplish anything is dangerously naive (and strangely evaporates in the minds of most conservatives claiming to believe it the second the armed forces are mentioned, or the idea we take their guns to defend themslevs against the potential tyranny of the hitherot totally incompetent government!)

Rather, government may or may not be well run, but the solution isn't anarchy, its making sure we have a good governemnt!

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I'm extraordinarily skeptical that "a world class public university system, that is even free, not just low-tuition, has very few admins and teaching done overwhelmingly by tenured profs" would be possible today between the combination of increased demand and Baumol's cost disease.

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Jan 16, 2023·edited Jan 16, 2023

The US's tax system as a whole is more progressive than most of Europe's, based on which income deciles pay.

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Really? AFAICT someone who wants to e.g. eliminate 529 plans does not want to then make college free or cheaper for the kind of people who have 529 plans.

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Depends what you mean by "wealth," which is very much a relative term once you get past the level of people who can't afford homeownership or investments.

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Were they ever paid? The dirty little secret of the Reagan tax cuts is that they hardly changed the government tax take because there were so many loopholes that he closed at the same time.

Ever see the movie Glengarry Glen Ross and wonder why people were buying boiler room real estate at all? Using real estate losses to avoid paying those high tax rates was an industry.

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It's amusing to note the the loophole ridden tax code has more often been legislated when Democrats have controlled one or both houses of Congress. We get what we vote for.

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The Regan tax cuts reduced revenues. Federal income tax receipts fell between 1982 and 1983 even as the economy was growing and payroll tax receipts increased by 4%

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I'm not so sure the economy was doing well. That <4% increase in payroll taxes looks to be less than a 1/3 of the normal increase in the years surrounding 1983. The income tax take also recovers between 1982-1985 after the 1983 dip with an annualized rate of increase of around 4% per year.

https://taxfoundation.org/federal-tax-revenue-source-1934-2018/

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How about eliminating corporate taxes altogether instead?

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Good idea, but politicians like it too much because it hides who is really paying the taxes.

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Just for reference...

According to records compiled by the Tax Foundation, a single person making $16,000 in 1955 — that's $150,000 in today's dollars — had a marginal tax rate of 50%; compensation of $50,000 ($470,000 today) moved you into the 75% tax bracket; and an income of $200,000 ($1.9 million today) put you in the 91% tax bracket.

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Marginal rates are not effective rates.

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No, but marginal rates affect behavior. If my marginal rate is 91%, it will be a powerful disincentive for me to work.

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That's not how it works though. The 91% would only apply to a portion of your income, the last tranche. And anyone that was (or would be) subject to that can afford good lawyers to get their taxable income lower so that rate does not apply.

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Jan 16, 2023·edited Jan 16, 2023

So then why not just lower the rate since no one is going to pay it anyway, as you say? Seems very inefficient to enact a high rate in the knowledge that it won't be paid anyway but will require wasting resources to make lawyers rich. What's the benefit in that?

And, Andy, that is how it works. Once my marginal tax rate is 91%, I'm getting to keep only 9 cents of every additional dollar I earn. For that pitiful return, why would I work anymore at all? I might prefer staying home and watching reruns of Judge Judy if I only get to keep 9 cents of every additional dollar I earn.

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Jan 16, 2023·edited Jan 16, 2023

The real tax rates were pretty close to what they are now, despite the cast difference in nominal tax rates.

All it did was shift how people were compensated to avoid taxation.

And cause all sorts of distortions and problems as a side effect.

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You have to go back to those rates and while not fighting the cold war.

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Still wouldn't collect enough to pay for all of Matt's or King's wish list. Federal taxation as a percentage of GDP has been fairly flat irrespective of rates. If it were so easy to do by taxing only the wealthy, why aren't the European countries doing that?

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The 1964 tax code hit all classes pretty hard. I linked to the brackets on my comment, the first penny of income was taxed at 14%

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First penny of taxable income. Taxable income and income often diverge.

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The parent comment is lazy. It relies upon the truth that many naive progressives have not thought through how to pay for their commitments, but turns a blind eye to the fact that there are a dozen functional social Democracies, all of which (with the possible exception of Norway) “pay for it” out of a smaller per capita resource base than the US has. It’s perfectly clear that we can “pay for it,” the question is finding the political will.

A subsidiary, but interesting, question is whether upper middle class people should want to pay for it. If you are in the top 5 or 10% any scheme of redistribution will hurt you in material terms. Is solidarity worth it? What psychological benefits are there?

I admired Canada before the pandemic, but the way they scrapped basic freedoms like association and travel and the fact that those restrictions were maintained long after seniors had access to vaccines really gives me pause. I don’t want to join a coalition for mandatory risk aversion

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I don’t think there’s a concensus on what “Kingism” means. Matt’s article is, to my knowledge, historically and analytically accurate, but King has basically turned into a totem different people invoke for different agendas.

Since King never held executive office, he never had to make policy choices or reconcile conflicting ideals. He got to go around saying nice things and motivating protests

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I think it’s uncharitably unfair and intellectually lazy to say that conservatives *don’t want* to eliminate slums, have full employment, and have an excellent education system for all. Maybe there are some fringe nut jobs who don’t want those things, but the vast majority of conservatives would hear King’s words and cheer. What they disagree about is *how to get there,* and to a lesser extent, about what is possible in the real world.

Liberals sometimes think they can legislate reality away. The chief example is housing, where we have an intense housing shortage caused by a history of regulating development ever more strictly so that only “good” development can happen. No density, no boarding houses, etc etc. because from a certain person’s aesthetic those kinds of housing are just abhorrent and “nobody should live like that.” But if we ban all cheap forms of housing then we won’t have any cheap housing and many people end up unhoused entirely, which is far, far worse. Hence we have MY campaigning for a very conservative solution: less regulation and a pursuit of housing abundance.

In my experience most conservatives take unintended consequences of policy very seriously, while most progressives focus on “intent” and ideological purity while being quite hand-wavy about actual outcomes.

(Note that I am NOT defending the current crop of do-nothing / reactionary / populist / chaos muppets that have taken over the Republican Party. They aren’t conservatives anyway.)

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What was the first item on Republican Party’s legislative agenda the last time it won a trifecta in Washington?

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Yeah, but there's a meaningful difference between "I'd be happy with x if someone were to wave a magic wand and magically make x happen" and "I'm willing to work hard and sacrifice something for the sake of achieving x."

Outside of the most lefty progressives, I don't think anyone envisions conservatives cackling evilly at the sight of poor, uneducated, unemployed people. Conservatives are accused of not wanting to *do anything* to help people in need, or more specifically, of not supporting government action to help people in need.

Marie Antoinette did not say "I enjoy watching poor peasants suffer;" she said "Let them eat cake." That does not make her praiseworthy. (Yes, I know the "Let them eat cake" quote is apocryphal, but I'm using it to illustrate a point.)

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Jan 17, 2023·edited Jan 17, 2023

I think conservatives are taking the bait from intentional 'throw-poop-against-the-fan' by progressives via a relentless onslaught of bad faith investigations and policy hobbling the opposition with bitterness and vengeance. For instance, there's no way most progressives believe men can just call themselves women and need drag shows for kindergarteners. This is using the mentally ill to distract the public and correct-thinking law makers from bigger moves.

For instance, nobody gives a crap if Steve Buscemi wants to put lipstick on his face and tuck his junk looking into his bedroom mirror. But if he wants to prance around with a fishnet bulge for strange 5 year olds, you get arrested. Simple. I can't take my son to a pasty-wearing strip club. Steve Buscemi dressed up like red light Little Mermaid can't drag show his balls off for him either. That's logical. So now, we gotta clean this mess up instead of focus on what really matters. This is why I can't help but think many progressives just want everything to burn. What's the end game? Seriously. I'd love to know. Millions would. I wonder how many good faith progressives would stay on board if they knew the real agenda is to flood the country with economic refugees, wreck the dollar, cause a resource and institution crisis and make gov't the savior in order to gain near total control. Most are gonna be on the wrong end of that. Quality of life for almost of all of us will be reduced and some won't have life.

Regarding, Hunter Biden, the hypocrisy is what it is. Sure, we should all want an investigation into the laptop but not because we care about Hunter Biden's crack addiction. I want to know what it'll uncover that actually matters and what leverage can be derived in order to make real progressive change for climate, energy, housing, responsible family planning (incentivize smaller families), and practical personal freedoms, not policies causing institutional rot, lawlessness, child sexualization, a crippled economy, no societal standards, and all victimhood. We need to create better people, not self-described activists on puberty blockers.

And how is DEI a major now?!? Do we need more people with a large bill and no skill? (Well, yes, if you're goal is to make everyone a modern serf.) Anyone blindly sending their kid to college is as braindead as the rot the humanities churns out. "Let's take on a mortgage so lil Dickey can call math racist." SIGN ME UP! Poor Lil Dickey will emerge blaming the capitalism boogeyman and run to the mighty gov't to be saved.

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Jan 17, 2023·edited Jan 17, 2023

I assume the drag queen story hour is new. (Worse are the actual Family Drag Shows. I mean, the point of the shows was always sex-ed up perversion. Fine. For adults. Family Drag Shows have to be a red herring.) Like many things these days it seemed become popular shortly after the COVID re-opening. There's probably an example before 2020, but they're everywhere these days and have been recently popping up in public libraries. Let me know when Tawny Kitaen is grindin' on a white Jaguar and I'll send my kids down. ... I kid because I care. Just makin' a point that it's perverted illogical insanity.

RIP TK

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Yes, as Matt says, it’s ok to agree with historical figures on some things but not others - even, I would add, within the same speech. MLK was a great moral leader but not an economist. One can share the moral goal of alleviating poverty while sincerely and sharply disagreeing on the means to achieve that goal.

I do think that conservatives of that era made some fundamental mistakes. They were so afraid of The Left exploiting the condition of Black Americans but failed to see that the best way to avoid that would be to make sure that Blacks could fully participate in capitalism. Rather than engaging the Civil Rights movement and encouraging it to be a force for opportunity, not entitlement, the conservative movement allowed the party that freed the slaves to be seen as the party that was, at best, indifferent to the concerns of Black Americans.

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"Exploiting the condition of Black Americans" by passing civil rights and voting rights legislation. Right.

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There was a not unreasonable fear that enfranchising a bunch of poor people would swing politics to the left, although Gladstone and late Victorian liberals experienced the opposite after the Third Reform Act: working class Tories who wanted to keep the Union Jack flying over Dublin and Dakkah, who resented middle class liberals for wanting to tax beer and limit pub hours.

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As I was hoping was clear from the context, I was referring to a leftist economic agenda.

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As opposed to the right-wing economic agenda of refusing to raise the minimum wage or expand Medicaid? Just my two cents but I don't think that agenda has much to offer anyone besides CEOs and multimillionaires who want tax cuts.

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As I said, we can sincerely disagree on economic policy. Since you asked, the centerpiece of my own agenda would be to replace all current taxes with a Land Value Tax that would address unearned inequality without punishing work and investment.

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"replace all current taxes"

I strongly dislike the idea of a "single tax to rule them all" approach as I suspect almost all taxes have terrible trade offs if taken to an extreme.

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The fear that poor people will use their votes to redistribute things rich people have is what motivated restrictions on the franchise since the 18th century. It’s very difficult to wall off egalitarian politics from political equality. Working class Toryism (in its British and Reganite forms) is the most successful effort to do this, and it never succeeded in cutting existing entitlements or keeping those with more progressive economic policies out of power for long

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Love the reposting of old gems I may have missed. I often find myself sitting down on Sunday mornings with a pot of coffee thinking that I wish I had a Slow Boring piece to read. Maybe on one or two of the weekend days it would be cool to send out old articles that are still relevant or worth a read like you did today? This would give subscribers something to read over the weekend, shine a spotlight on interesting things they may have missed, and (I assume) wouldn't require much work on Slow Boring's end. Thanks for all the interesting content!

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founding

Yes! I always find it a little frustrating that the days I have the most time to engage there’s the least content to engage with.

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There are only a dozen holidays a year, so reposting old gems is perfect for holidays. But there are 52 Sundays a year. On Sundays he could post concurrences and dissents from readers.

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An airing of grievances, you say?

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How do we showcase feats of strength virtually?

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Feats of rhetorical strength

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No, it should be puns.

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Be careful what you wish for.

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Or just shift the schedule? Matt isn’t responding to the daily news cycle so could just shift posts by a day (eg MWThFSa).

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"[Rustin's] basic vision — improved public services, an enhanced welfare state, a robust commitment to full employment — is exactly what I think a sound political vision looks like."

improved public services - yes!

an enhanced welfare state - yes, with some attention paid to where you're starting to create perverse incentives (see below).

a robust commitment to full employment - hmmm... I'm unconvinced.

I once read a book where the author (possibly Tom Friedman, but I can't remember for sure) was visiting a poor Asian country and saw a bunch of men squatting on a lawn, trimming the grass with sickles. His host explained to him that to maintain stability, the government had to strive for full employment above all. From the local government official's perspective, it was much better to hire ten men to cut the grass with sickles for a pittance than to hire one man with a lawnmower and have nine unemployed men sitting around.

Is this what we want for America? Crappy make-work to achieve full employment?

And if the answer is "why no, we want high quality, well-paying jobs for all," the questions immediately become "who is going to pay for all these jobs?" and "what about people who are not qualified for them?"

Also, notice that a robust safety net and full employment trade off against each other, to a certain extent. The better the unemployment benefits, the more people will make the logical choice to subsist off benefits rather than work. Disability benefits can hypothetically range from "horribly stingy and cruel, disabled people must force themselves to work or else starve" to "so lenient that many able-bodied but lazy people can successfully fake being disabled and live off the benefits without having to work."

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I don’t think that’s what Matt means by full employment at all. He means, from a Fed policy perspective, don’t heavily prioritize the goal to keep inflation low at the cost of the dual mandate to maximize employment, a poor balance of priorities which led to the painfully slow recovery of the 2010s.

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OK, that's very different, and much more sensible. I may have misunderstood Matt's original comment.

Based on the whole thrust of the article, though, and MLK's references to the Biblical command to care for the poor, I'm not sure your interpretation fits. Jesus in the Bible was much more into "come, rich man, sell all you own and give to the poor" and not "the government should have a pro-employment fiscal policy."

Matt Y., if you're reading this - which interpretation is correct?

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"The cannon of national heros"

4th of july just keeps getting more exciting

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Someone who knows animation please make this a reality. It would be amazing.

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Oh, man, I missed that one! Awesome!

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Ugh, public posts really bring out the conservative trolls, don’t they?

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Jan 16, 2023·edited Jan 16, 2023

Just a reminder, only paid subscribers can comment (free subscribers can like comments though).

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I think the likes must skew conservative tho and since the default setting is Top First it seems to change the tone / direction of the discussion.

Like this one has a weird comment / like distribution:

https://www.slowboring.com/p/happy-new-year-republicans-have-changed/comments

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We need Matt Hagy to run sentiment analysis on comments sorted by likes for open vs. closed posts!

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Oh, yeah I guess so. Today just seems extra crabby, no?

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Maybe just more concentrated than usual. I think a lot of people only comment if they are at work. 😉

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Thanks for reposting this. Really enjoyed rereading this. Two things.

(1) Your grand-dad was a wonderful writer with a rich legacy. As someone who grew up in Tampa and went to school in Ybor City at OLPH, I came to love the area and it's history. You've probably seen this article, but just in case:

https://digitalcommons.usf.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1396&context=tampabayhistory

(2) On the subject of wealth (not income) inequality, Sandy Darity at Duke is doing great work. Here are links to a couple of his papers.

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/epub/10.1177/00027162211028822

https://socialequity.duke.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/DarityAddoSmithCEP2020.pdf

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Typo, it’s canon, not cannon. I wouldn’t have bothered posting, but the “cannon of national heroes” sounds like an amazing circus attraction, way better than Disney’s hall of presidents.

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King’s economic radicalism becomes even clearer if you look at the 1964 income tax brackets. The top rate was 70%. Those with incomes of $20k ($193k today) paid a marginal rate of 32%. At $40k ($386k today) the rate was 48%. Only $60k ($595k today) was exempted from the estate tax.

King was saying that, a country with a more progressive tax system than any big European country has today, woefully underserved the poor.

Of course, the safety net in 1964 was pretty thin. Defense spending was 8% of GDP, more than twice the present figure. Higher taxes basically went for tanks and missiles to keep the communists at bay, which is why sensible chamber of commerce types were willing to pay them.

https://www.tax-brackets.org/federaltaxtable/1964

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I don't think those rates were really ever paid, there were so many loopholes to avoid paying tax. Government tax revenue as a percentage of GDP has been quite stable - https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/FYFRGDA188S -

I think this is a progressive myth of a bygone era where people were happily paying more taxes.

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it declined from 18.5 to 16.5 percent immediately after the reagan tax cuts

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And it was less than 15.5% in 1959, 16% in 1965 and 16.5% and again in the early 1970s when they were supposedly paying these high tax rates. I'm just not seeing a consistent difference.

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Marginal rates are very different from effective rates.

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Great piece.

I tend to agree however the DEI fight is a modern incarnation of the same struggle. Perhaps not a perfect incarnation worthy of King’s legacy but at least an earnest attempt to move the ball forward.

I find it all too fitting we see portions of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, ones you specifically refer to here regarding police brutality, edited out of today. They demonstrate too plainly the same forces thrive today as they did 60 years ago

https://mobile.twitter.com/KevinMKruse/status/1614742904521596928?cxt=HHwWgIC9ubmH3OgsAAAA

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I think it would be better to focus on expanding Medicaid in holdout states and raising the minimum wage rather than making sure there are enough minorities on the board of Amazon.

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Wouldn't raising the minimum wage make it more difficult for those with no skills or experience to get jobs? Minimum wage laws don't require businesses to hire people whose skills don't enable them to produce more than they cost. My first job was (legally) less than the federal minimum wage. I didn't hurt me and it did teach me skills. And, as I was living at home, I had no need of a "living wage".

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In a lax labor market maybe, but not in this current labor market. All the low-skill job openings I see are offering way above my state's minimum wage.

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I’m not for enforcing any rules about hot many minorities are on what board.

It seems to me the height of absurdity to say out of one side of one’s mouth that we have not achieved that much more than MLK did, than out the other say we shouldn’t try to do more under the same framework of nonviolent action taken by private citizens as is our fundamental rights.

If you don’t want metrics and benchmarks for minorities of the board of your business, thats totally fine by me. But stop complaining that there are some of us who are going to measure this stuff and act on it. Thats the way our free society is supported to work.

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I'd be more interested in understanding what you consider the "goal" and do you understand the tradeoffs involved the policies you are pursuing. As Andrew Terhune mentions below, there are significant debates about the trade offs to raising the minimum wage and most people who support raising accept the negatives in order to achieve what they think of the positives.

One challenge I have with many modern DEI initiatives is that advocates don't seem to establish the specific goal and don't acknowledge the trade offs involved (some do, maybe you do!). For example, many large organizations require DEI training, but what they are trying to accomplish is different than what the training is supposed to accomplish. What they are accomplishing is creating a legal defense and conforming to current orthodoxy. What they are asserting is that the training will help people be more inclusive and less discriminatory. In fact, research suggests that the training actually does the reverse of what its supposed to do. It heightens differences and makes people more aware of them and more likely to treat people differently because of them. But orgs don't mind actually reducing inclusion, because they are still getting their legal defense and are culturally an orthodox member in good standing.

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Jan 16, 2023·edited Jan 16, 2023

Its about empowering members of our community that deserve to be empowered. So that they can hold leadership positions and become positive role models, kernels of business development in what are obviously persistently segregated communities

There seems to be some strange demand here in this forum for everything to translate directly into government policy.

I’m referring specifically about private advocacy in private orgs and the market actions of free citizens.

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Jan 16, 2023·edited Jan 16, 2023

Thanks for sharing some more. I love the idea of taking direct advocacy to private orgs and market actions of free citizens as opposed to only pushing for government action.

I also think its a worthwhile goal both for society and for organizations to identify and elevate people who have underutilized talent, especially if the reasons its underutilized is discrimination. What can be especially powerful about private action is that it can focus on particular groups - e.g. I expect the girl scouts to focus on...girls! They can tailor the support to that particular audience making it more effective and efficient.

I think what many (including myself) find concerning are two things:

1) How does society more broadly prioritize such groups and who gets more attention/resources? This is a grey area that has lots of trade offs that are rarely addressed upfront. (e.g. LGBT people are more discriminated against, but are ~7% of the population. Should they get 7% of the attention/resources due to the latter or should they get more due to the former?)

2) Its been fairly common for non advocacy organizations and government to adopt some of the attitudes that come out of these advocacy organizations. I expect the NAACP to advocate for blacks in America, but if IBM or the City of Detroit were to adopt the same approach, I would find that concerning. (Same concerns if they embrace all of what the Catholic Dioceses advocate!) But then we need to answer the question of what is the appropriate level of advocacy and policy adoption that broader society should accept from such groups.

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Jan 16, 2023·edited Jan 16, 2023

Glad to hear someone here appreciates some earnest advocacy on this topic. I think the left side of the aisle absolutely should focus on driving change through private institutions and private advocacy rather than specifically by changing government policy and regulation. Government is far less capable of driving the needed cultural changes via policy. And in our free society, it is not proper to sick the government on your perceived political enemies to drive change - rather government exists to protect citizens rights

“if IBM or the City of Detroit were to adopt the same approach”

I agree it’s problematic for governments or truly public institutions to take this sort of antiracist posture. But it is fundamental to free speech and free society for private actors (including publicly-traded companies) to take positions and have to live with them in an open marketplace of free citizens.

If companies should not have antiracist values, perhaps they should not have any values. I do not agree, I think values are really fundamental. I believe a huge cultural problem in our society is far too much power hides behind this inhuman 80s corporate raider notion that has carried forward to todays private equity mentality regarding maximizing shareholder profit at the expense of every other stakeholder.

This should not be acceptable to consumers and consumers should use their wallets as votes.

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Please spell it out. Who is a member of the community, and who "deserves to be empowered" how do you decide and what are the mechanisms to achieve this.

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If the concrete goal is to "empowering members of our community that deserve to be empowered" then I've learned almost nothing about what the goal is. That's not a goal, that's a vague mission statement

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Jan 16, 2023·edited Jan 16, 2023

Consider your thoughts on how concrete our goals are don’t matter too much on this end.

I witness my kids in class with a diverse set, far more diverse than the one I grew up with in my private schooling. They have far healthier attitudes than I did regarding race. I witnessed all sorts of depraved racism in my schooling where there was not such antiracist attitudes.

I witnessed many many many who didn’t deserve top educational opportunities at our nations most elite institutions, but got them from connections and legacy and more or less, corruption.

Welp, now the ones I’m going to give my money and volunteer my resources towards are not going to make those same mistake.

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Are there any members of your community who do not “deserve to be empowered”?

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Quite a few actually, thanks

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What I mean is that effort spent on increasing the diversity of, e.g., corporate boards would be better spent advocating for Medicaid expansion in Florida and Texas.

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Thanks for responding Milan. I disagree.

Those citizens in Florida and Texas need advocacy too of course. But so do members of our community who have not had equal access to educational opportunities.

There is room in free society for action to be taken by interested parties to advocate both simultaneously. And better that way. If we insist on prioritizing what appears the lowest hanging fruit before trying anything else, that seems an artificial barrier to progress.

And thats not to mention, from where I am sitting, it is DEI sort of advocacy that might accelerate the equalizing of racial representation in government…which would make such issues like Medicaid expansion in Texas far easier to carry out.

Steve Bannon is not wrong that politics is downstream from culture.

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Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are both Hispanic and yet both oppose Medicaid expansion in their respective states.

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I think you’d find both identify as white Latinos. Like Mr George Santos.

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DEI is an earnest attempt to move the ball forward. 😂

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I see it carried out earnestly. I have worked earnestly to carry it out.

Good luck.

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What is your earnest goal? What metrics will you use to know you’re earnestly making progress toward that goal? Will you accept good faith critique? For example, some research suggests DEI trainings don’t accomplish their goals? In fact, they may even have the opposite effect in some people. How do you respond to this findings?

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In the context where I have worked with this concept, it is within my kids school which I am involved as a parent and board member. It has been a strategic priority and I’ve seen it quite obviously being carried out faithfully and earnestly.

As a progressive private school in center city Philadelphia, we attempt to make our community look more like the community at large. We have. In both faculty and student body, while simultaneously boosting the reputation of our school. It takes leadership.

Notice I mentioned not a damn thing about any training or your organization but you seem to have made some pretty bold assumptions about what I was talking about.

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I don’t think the idea that path to equality runs through making private schooling better is particularly progressive.

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Jan 16, 2023·edited Jan 16, 2023

Welp, maybe you have different ideas on what progressivism means.

I also advocate and spend heavily in support of more state funding to Philly public schools, which I also donate to directly as well.

But since a-holes stand in the way of getting widespread, decent public schooling in Philly, we have to work where we can make a difference.

Why wouldn’t reform of private schools be a part of reforming our culture and society to be less racist?

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"make our community look more like the community at large" - can you elaborate on that? I am especially intrigued by the choice of the verb "look". Are you interested primarily in optics? Shouldn't your goal rather that the school community *be* more like that community at large, perhaps? How would you justify either position?

Also what is "the community at large"? The neighborhood where the school resides? The city of Philadelphia? the state of PA ? the entire US? And what metrics measures the level of "look-alikeness"?

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We’ve had such conversation on the board level and we’ve come to look at racial data from surrounding zip codes with a certain radius.

We would like to be a school where leaders are made. There are not enough minority leaders coming out of our educational system. The problems in Philly surrounding unequal access to education are truly stark and obvious if you live here. Perhaps not the same as your neck of the woods

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I find the goal "attempt to make our community look more like the community at large" to be a very interesting one. I don't think it's 100% a good goal, but I also don't think it's 100% a bad goal.

At either extreme it seems obviously wrong, ie strict quotas on who many of X people should be a member of any group seems horribly dystopian; a method to elevate racial/ethnic/gender/etc. categories and divide citizens into tribes that will always have potential to compete and become antagonistic. At the other end, if, say a school district was 40% Black but no Black parent had ever been on the school board that would look pretty weird and I'd want to know what's going on there.

But anyways, a question I'm sincerely interested in is how do you define community at large here? The neighborhood, the city, the state, etc?

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Jan 16, 2023·edited Jan 16, 2023

You’ve made all sorts of assumptions. I’m not aware of any quotas for example.

We’re SO FAR from the racial composition of the surrounding zip codes, its somewhat absurd to be looking for precise targets. We know we have a huge ways to move and have already moved significantly.

Perhaps consider your goals are not the same as ours and you’re totally free to never be at all involved in any way in our school.

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Notice also you’ve belittled my racial justice advocacy…on friggin MLK day.

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Don’t be assholes just because you disagree with Ed P about DEI

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You should take your own advice young man.

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In honor of a man who accomplished great things, Peace be with you.

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Cheers and thank you for saying so

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What better time to mock someone who doesn’t live by the idea that people should “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”?

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Jan 16, 2023·edited Jan 16, 2023

It’s sobering to have at least one commentator here who actually believes the DEI stuff. Most of us are not only highly skeptical (at best) but also-it seems to me- tend to suppose that most practitioners of this are soulless cynics (and that the silent majority shares our frustration and disgust with what - in our view- is a terrible distortion of the civil rights vision). It’s important to remember that in addition to the cowards, the opportunists , the conformists and the cynics there are people of conviction (true believers) on all sides of the political spectrum.

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I personally think highly of the people who just "do the work"™ without bragging about it. Start a new outreach program, hire more people from disadvantaged backgrounds, invite more non-traditional speakers, etc. Just don't use it for self-aggrandizement.

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I think you may be oversimplifying the views of this comment section. DEI can encompass such a range of activities that it would be hard to say that everyone is against all of them.

I feel that it's very worthwhile to be specific about what we're defining as DEI whenever arguing about it. If I say "DEI is taking over our schools" one person may hear that as teaching white people that they have privileges they have to be ashamed of. Another person may hear that as "making sure teachers aren't racist towards non-white people".

It's challenging, though, because many of the activists and thought-leaders do have a somewhat vague definition of what they are fighting for, especially on twitter and in political speeches.

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I completely agree.

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I have my qualms/critiques of the vast majority of DEI efforts, but 99% of the people I encounter in real life who are heavily involved are completely earnest. I often disagree with their methods or goals, but the pure cynics and opportunists are few and far between (again, in real life. Twitter doesn’t count.)

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This is my experience with many groups. For all the bashing (often valid) that Matt and Milan do about Republicans only caring about tax cuts, most Republicans I talk to are completely earnest in their views.

Krugman wrote a piece recently that "we're going to miss greed and cynicism" of the old Republicans because the new ones are "genuine fanatics."

I do wish more people like Krugman would take the approach that David French recently outlined:

"In fact, if you put activists under a polygraph and ask them if they believe their own rhetoric, many of them would pass with flying colors. Why? A key reason relates to the social reality of the activist world.

First, unless activists intentionally maintain solid relationships with normal folks on the opposite side of the political spectrum, they soon find that when they interact with their ideological opposites, they’re interacting mainly with opposing activists, and opposing activists are just as intense as they are.

Again, this was my experience. When I was president of FIRE, we maintained a healthy, balanced perspective in part because our staff was ideologically split. Conservatives and progressives worked together to preserve individual liberty on campus. It was impossible to caricature “them” because you worked with “them” every day. It was a unique work environment.

But everything changed the instant I moved into Christian public interest law firms. While there were different flavors of conservatives on staff, we were largely united by both faith and ideology. Thus, our primary personal contact with progressives was with progressives who’d censored or silenced Christians and their lawyers. This was not a representative sample of the left-leaning population. 

To be clear, I worked with many folks who understood this and took proactive steps to avoid the kind of animosity and bitterness that constant ideological combat can cause. But again, just as the need to raise money puts a thumb on the radicalization scale, so does relentless exposure to opposing activists."

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Jan 16, 2023·edited Jan 16, 2023

I will also be earnest about it if I were to serve on a DEI committee (which is not implausible). There is a difference between believing in some of the goals, and in fact trying to steer such committees to positive and productive venues, and believing in the growth of the industry, the full-time bureaucrats and the so-called "anti-racist" theory driving it. The old-school ideas of increasing opportunities for disadvantaged groups are certainly worth pursuing and as needed as ever, and even if "DEI committee" might not be necessarily the best way to go about it so long as it exists I certainly support trying to steer it in that direction rather than in very destructive ones.

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I suppose it determines on what it entails. The "diversity training" stuff tends to be BS. But there could be other things. E.g. outreach programs in educational institutions. Personally I'd be far more interested in helping first gen, working class —and in some prestigious jobs even middle-class—background people get their foot in the door regardless of race (although such policy would of course disproportionately help certain minorities, which is to say help address inequities in society!)

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But I agree that we probalby shouldn't have any DEI job per se. rather it should be something people lots of job take into consideration.

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What does your girlfriend think about the value of the DEI committee and her role in it?

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Matt, this is a good post, but I think you miss one thing that would have made it stronger. King did explicitly support what we now call affirmative action: the granting of preferential treatment to members of an ethnically disenfranchised group to compensate for the lingering effects of past inequities. It existed as a real phenomenon in India for members of lower castes, and King explicitly endorsed bringing that phenomenon to the US. On my blog I have the full quote from King and a discussion of it: https://loveofallwisdom.com/blog/2021/05/how-to-reach-a-colour-blind-society/

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Can I ask, what may be a dumb question, but when you talk to conservatives about personal finance they're very into Dave Ramsey and view taking on personal debt for consumption as a morally suspect task. They're very wary of the power of compound interest and how it can restrict your life.

But in the sort of macro social realm they basically believe that ending formal legal segregation was all that was required. There was no compounding effect of hundreds of years of discrimination. It doesn't make any sense to me how there's just not a tremendous material, debt to be paid in both material and non-material ways.

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Jan 16, 2023·edited Jan 16, 2023

I think the apology for this position is actually pretty straightforward, it may just not be one you buy (not saying you have to).

Basically we have numerous stories of immigrant groups whose members have overwhelmingly arrived in America with virtually nothing in the way of either material goods or capital and who, notwithstanding discrimination both formal and informal and initial conditions of significant material privation, have by and large become integrated into the American middle class if not (as in the case of Jewish and Asian Americans) disproportionately successful.

This suggests that the compounding effects of economic capital (and, more tenuously, informal social discrimination) may not actually be all that important for bootstrapping economic success and may lead conservatives to assume that social pathologies (or, conversely, socially sound norms) are actually a primary driver of group and individual success. Indeed, the idea that economic mobility is more a function of personal virtue than of compounding economic conditions is aptly encapsulated in the parable of "shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations" (basically the idea that inherited wealth without personal enterprise isn't actually going to sustain virtually anyone due a combination of division of the estate and the fact that living is expensive without a source of income, yo).

There are any number of holes you could poke in this and I'm not really interested in defending the thesis on it merits, the but as far as answering your question goes, I think the TL;DR version is that immigrant success notwithstanding virtually no starting economic capital and minimal if any social capital serves as an existence proof that compounding effects are not necessarily dispositive in creating equality, and the conservative adherents you're alluding too probably take it as empirical evidence that in the general case it just doesn't matter very much.

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You're right about immigrants, but the biggest hole I can poke in your account is that immigrants *self-select* for coming to America. They are not a random sample of residents of their home countries. In all likelihood, immigrants tend to be more industrious, disciplined, ambitious, and/or willing to defer gratification than average. Therefore, they are more likely to succeed.

The other point is the presence of deleterious social networks. Maybe success is easier if you are all alone and arrived in this country with nothing than if you have nothing *and* every single time you get something, you are besieged by relatives, acquaintances, and neighbors who feel that you owe it to them to share. I've seen this dynamic described in other comment threads on this topic.

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The more I learn about the systems of violence employed make me more and more skeptical of this story. I believed something like it as a young man and as I've really come to face the way in which Jim Crow was a system of violence it seems a bit rich.

The penalty for black success was death and destruction for a long time. Only natives experienced something comparable. There was all sorts of discrimination towards the Chinese in the 19th century but I don't know of anything like killing the ones that tried to learn how to read.

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This is kind of like (or maybe just is) the equality vs. equity debate. Today, almost no one would support racial discrimination against an individual (equality). But conservatives (and many liberals) do not agree that the goal should be well matched statistical distributions across all metrics according to race (equity).

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I'm not sure that so few people are against racial discrimination towards individuals, because many people do support balancing outcomes between groups.

In most situations balancing outcomes between groups requires discrimination against individuals. Affirmative action in college admissions is the most widely known, although not everyone who supports it is aware that it does, in effect, discriminate against individuals.

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Fair point, I guess I meant in the "traditional" sense, as gross as it feels to write that.

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The standard argument form the left is that equality is an empty shell without a certain level of redistribution. No point in starving to death with you civil rights intact (to use a reductio ad absurdum).

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I don't think I would agree that it's an empty shell, but now we're getting into really fundamental differences in world view: the Dave Ramseys (Daves Ramsey?) of the world would say it's a matter of personal responsibility. In any case, "certain level" is doing a lot of work in that statement.

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Because that's not how it works. When you pay taxes or apply for a job or whatever else no one asks you about your parents or grandparents or great-grandparents. I've only met one of my great grandparents, and if I think to all of her descendants we are doing wildly different things and experiencing wildly different degrees of success in life. Activists are fond of talking about "400 years" but it wouldn't matter if it was 40 or 4,000. If I found out my great-great-grandfather was a millionaire or a homeless guy it would make no difference in my life right now.

And as Ethics says, immigrants have shown time and time again that bootstrapping success is quite doable. The Irish had been oppressed by the English for X number of years (I say X both because I don't know exactly and b/c it doesn't really matter if it was 50 of 500). They fled an imposed famine and poverty and were doing well within a generation. Many of America's immigrants were borderline refugees from oppressive societies and did well.

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How does this not matter? Like to the extent I have skills in my life that are productive and useful they're my parents standing on my grandparents shoulders and them on there families shoulders and passing on role modeling and like a whole pile of material and non-material advantages to the next generation.

There's just this unbelievable inheretence of both material wealth, and very importantly non-material wealth that If we go back a few generations we were murdering people for having successful habits of life. If we look at immigrants a lot of them have these habits baked in even in oppressive systems in the old country that led to them being willing to go across the sea or over the desert in the first place.

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Because we don't live in separate tribes and we don't attempt to correct for generational debts in almost any other context. If one of our grandparents murdered or raped the other's grandparent we wouldn't be saying that one of us owed the other anything. We don't even try to account for the impact of bad parenting or the bad luck of having one or both of your parents abandon you or die when you are relatively young.

But let's say white America does owe black America, how would you include these people in your analysis of debt:

A black child adopted and raised by a white family (or vice versa)

A child with 1 biologically white and 1 black parent.

An immigrant from Mexico

An immigrant from Ukraine

An immigrant from Nigeria

A white person whose great grandfathers were killed or disabled fighting in the Union Army of the civil war.

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Never heard any conservative mention Dave Ramsey.

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You may not have but he’s hugely popular especially with evangelicals

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Perhaps, but the post didn't say, "evangelical conservatives". It said categorically, "conservatives".

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This is a weird nitpick. As a comparison, evangelicals are a larger portion of the Republican base than blacks are to the Democratic base. Almost by definition, anyone who is hugely popular with evangelicals is very popular with conservatives.

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I know lots of conservatives. Never has this guy's name come up. They might agree with him if they had heard of him. My point was that he's not as well known as the post implied.

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This is true! He’s got good basic personal financial advice for the average American but also throws in a lot of ‘pick your self up by your own bootstraps’ rhetoric.

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I think Matt is being too cute with the "there's nothing in here about equality versus equity" stuff. Matt's own analysis is basically that King really was focused on equity and not merely surface equality. There's much more overlap with DEI -- especially Ibram Kendi -- than Matt acknowledges.

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Communism has never been successful and this basically what you are saying MLK is proprosing. Real prosperity will only come through capitalism and yes only if all can participate. The gains of minorities since the death of MLK are significant although never fast enough for some. Great changes in the culture of those who are oppressed are changing and they must continue to change. My son goes to Temple University where 50% of the students are of color and the president of the university is African American. However, this great univeristy is surrounded by crime and poverty mostly due to the policies of current socialistic politicians which continue to keep minorities dependent on entitlements to keep their authoritarian power.

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It takes money to make money

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