Bryan Caplan  

The Barber (Not) Next Door

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A Macroeconomic Puzzle... Metaphors for the Economy...

Today I strolled through my childhood neighborhood.  Northridge, California.  When I passed by the corner house that a barber owned long ago, I imagined the following dialog:

Stagnationist: So the world just keeps getting better and better, eh?  Well let me ask you: How many barbers can afford to buy a home in this neighborhood today?

Me: Few.

S: Make that zero.

Me: Fair enough.

S:: So isn't this a perfect example proving that life has gotten worse for the typical American since the Seventies?

Me: Do you remember what this neighborhood was like in the Seventies?

S: Nope.

Me: Well, I do.  When I was a little kid, there were vast expanses of empty dirt in every direction.  This neighborhood had no grass, just tumbleweeds.  There were virtually no restaurants.  Few shops.  The mall was already here, but it was a lot smaller and tackier.

S: Your point?

Me: Barbers could afford to live in this neighborhood back when this neighborhood was in the middle of nowhere.  So the right question to ask yourself is: Can barbers still afford to live in the middle of nowhere?  Well, can they?

S: I suppose.

Me: Indeed they can.  And thanks to developments like the Internet, today's "middle of nowhere" is far more stimulating than the poshest neighborhoods during the heydey of disco. 


Comments and Sharing





COMMENTS (32 to date)
Steve Sailer writes:

So, the place that average Americans can afford to live has moved from the San Fernando Valley, with its famously nice climate (high temperature today in Northridge: 84 degrees) and easy access to the beach and downtown, to ... where, exactly? Lancaster in the high desert with its dust storms?

Fortunately, we have Youtube today, so that means that the politicians who made the decisions that pushed average Americans out to exurbs in the desert shouldn't be blamed for anything. After all, when it comes to thinking about immigration policy, no economist has ever heard of the phrase "ceteris paribus."

Stephen writes:

Prosperity has increased DESPITE rent control, zoning laws, blue sky laws and inflation that have spiked housing costs!

James Hanley writes:

my childhood neighborhood. Northridge, California

I'm not sure whether to express my sympathy or to congratulate you on your escape! I kid, I kid. I used to work in the valley, and found it the most depressing place on earth, except for the rare fragment of old orange groves.

Excellent dialogue--I always appreciate someone pointing out what the real issue is; the real value we should be concerned with.

Re: Steven Sailer. You don't think it was the population growth of the valley, due to it's (alleged, I still dissent) desirability as a place to live that led to its filling in, creating the housing scarcity that led to Lancaster becoming the new Northridge? What should politicians have done, limit population growth in the valley? That would have created housing scarcity, too, only to a greater extreme. Lancaster might have filled in faster, and maybe Boron would be the new Northridge!

Adam Kaplan writes:

Dr. Caplan is dumbing the argument down. Anyone who thinks the economy hasn't grown in the last 50 years is crazy (never mind the atrocious gdp data as of late). The point is that we are growing in a lopsided way that favors the rich. Sure, the quality of life of the poor improved as a byproduct. Nonetheless, the system is no where near ideal and the disparity of wealth has gotten so extreme that growth is going to be sparse in the near term until we get some real changes.

And yes, it's the governments fault, not the free markets.

JWH writes:

Not trying to be a jerk, Adam, but I don't understand how someone being rich or getting richer causes me to be poorer. Could you explain why you think that happens or how it happens.

Wayne writes:

@JWH

I don't think Adam said that getting rich causes others to be poorer. I read his comment as saying there are unnatural (read, government induced) transmission mechanisms that cause macroeconomic surpluses to be more financially leveraged by the already wealthy and/or politically connected participants in wealth creation instead of the lower 95% income members who are also participants in wealth creation.

Adam Kaplan writes:

Sure JWH. I don't believe I ever said or indicated that someone getting rich necessarily makes anyone else poorer. In fact, I stated that the poor have improved the quality of their life (ie real wealth), as a byproduct of technological innovation which has disproportionately benefited the rich.

The poor are better off than they were 50 years. Virtually everyone is. It has, however, been a disproportionate rise. In other words, just because everyone has gained in wealth doesn't mean our current economic system equitably distributes wealth.

Implied in this argument, is that there is another way of doing things... a way that "fairly" distributes wealth. Not communism. True free markets.

Maybe I'm pie in the sky, quixotically irrational, but I have this belief that true free markets would tend to distribute wealth to those that produce. The wealthy would increase their wealth as would the poor. The proportion would just be different.

If you think I'm wrong, and have good reasons to think so, please say so. I won't take it personal. I'm young, likely wrong about many things, and potentially crazy.

Adam Kaplan writes:

What Wayne said :)

Jim Jimmerson writes:

[Ad hominem comment removed. Email the webmaster@econlib.org to request restoring your comment privileges. A valid email address is required to post comments on EconLog and EconTalk.--Econlib Ed.]

JWH writes:

Thanks all, I understand what you are saying.

Evan writes:
Re: Steven Sailer. You don't think it was the population growth of the valley, due to it's (alleged, I still dissent) desirability as a place to live that led to its filling in, creating the housing scarcity that led to Lancaster becoming the new Northridge? What should politicians have done, limit population growth in the valley? That would have created housing scarcity, too, only to a greater extreme. Lancaster might have filled in faster, and maybe Boron would be the new Northridge!
I think Sailer's trying to say that part of the population growth was due to immigration rather than other forms of population increase, and therefore can be blamed on politicians who had the gall to not arrest people for crossing an imaginary line. I am very confused about this however, because Steve Sailer's usual arguments center around immigrants being poor due to low-IQ, and therefore a burden on society. Logically if immigrants were moving into an area and increasing the amount of money it takes to live there, they'd soon drive out all the low-IQ poor immigrants (who could no longer afford to live there) and there'd only be high-IQ middle class immigrants (and natives) left. Therefore, by Sailer's usual logic, shouldn't the rise in costs of living in Northridge be a boon to the people there, since they would keep out low-IQ poor people? Maybe I'm not familiar enough with the neighborhood to understand.
Kenneth A. Regas writes:

Adam: Let me posit two government policies that contribute to income inequality: (1) tolerating illegal immigration and (2) free trade with poor countries. Both have the effect of reducing the wage differential between low-skill labor (e.g. janitors) and high-skill (computer programmers) in this country. Illegal immigration adds to the low-end labor pool, pulling down prices (wages) in that pool. Free trade with poor countries is only slightly more subtle. The labor content of what we sell to the world tends to be loaded heavily in what high-skill workers do. So when we sell, say, airplanes, we effectively import jobs for these folks. What we buy from poor countries tends to be loaded heavily in what low-skilled workers can do (e.g. sew clothing), so when we buy we effectively export jobs for them. Free trade on average lifts all boats. However entire classes of individual boats are almost certainly lowered. And these boats represent the least blessed of our countrymen.

So Adam, what are the government policies that you have in mind - that prevent market forces from producing more level outcomes?

Ken

Justin Bowen writes:
Implied in this argument, is that there is another way of doing things... a way that "fairly" distributes wealth. Not communism. True free markets.

I do not mean to be the troll here, but what exactly does "fairly" (or equitably or whatever other adjective you prefer) look like under a truly-free market (which pretty much necessarily implies no government since government interventions that are deemed necessary to support the government itself (in short, the taxes themselves, the way in which they are collected, and who they are collected from) distort the market itself)? Anyone who claims that the current arrangement is not fair or equitable must have some idea of what is (at least to him) more fair or equitable.

Martin Brock writes:

JWH, Someone being rich in entitlement to rents can make you poorer by becoming richer in entitlement to rents if you are subject to the rents.

Specifically, if you are bound to pay taxes and I am entitled to tax revenue as a holder of Treasury securities, then you can become poorer as I use interest payments from the Treasury to purchase more Treasury securities and the Congress responds to growing debt by raising your taxes. I suppose we agree on this point.

Taxes are not the only forcibly imposed rents and Treasury securities are not the only entitlements to rent, only the most obvious and least contentious among libertarians.

Classical liberals understood rents and rent seeking, though "rent seeking" is a recent term for it. Some modern "libertarians" have forgotten this problem and sound more like classical conservatives, defending the vestiges of feudalism, than like classical liberals.

Of course, all libertarians defend some forcibly imposed entitlement to rent, like a laborer's property in a parcel of land he improves, because a market in capital requires these rents; however, if we don't carefully distinguish "proper" entitlements to rent from "improper" entitlements, then our ideology is vague enough to encompass practically any statist agenda.

After all, if all land is "property" of the King, then entitling the King to land rents is hardly distinguishable from entitling him to taxes on land titled someone else's "property".

ziel writes:

...politicians who had the gall to not arrest people for crossing an imaginary line.

I don't think you'd be too happy if these politicians failed to arrest people for crossing the imaginary line that demarcates your property.

Logically if immigrants were moving into an area and increasing the amount of money it takes to live there, they'd soon drive out all the low-IQ poor immigrants (who could no longer afford to live there) and there'd only be high-IQ middle class immigrants (and natives) left.

You're well aware that this isn't how it usually works. What happens in wealthy areas is that the middle class is driven out while there are still plenty of poor remaining. The wealthy can afford to insulate themselves from the riff-raff via private schools and very exclusive enclaves. But the middle class who must live on normal streets in regular houses and send their children to public schools can't keep themselves safe, and thus must move away to less populous areas.

This pattern is repeated over-and-over throughout the country. I don't know what the particular situation is in Northridge, but it seems to fit the pattern.

Adam Kaplan writes:

Great points Kenneth and Justin (not trollish at all).

The two semi-independent variables here are economic productivity and a reasonable wealth distribution. They may be at odds, but I hope they aren't. I don't have a satisfactorily concrete answer for what constitutes a "fair" wealth distribution. My circular theoretical answer would be, however the free market distributes it. My practical answer would be, anything better than what we have now.

If these variables are truly at odds, and economic production in a free market necessarily skews wealth in an absurd way, then I'm not sure what to more heavily weigh. I propose that we try out a true free market. If the free market does not tend to be both more productive, and better at distributing wealth than the system we have now, then I propose we try something else.

Now for the elephant, government. I strongly believe that a nation needs a government. It's a matter of balancing a government that doesn't inhibit free markets and is willing to tax for national defense and infrastructure. The role of government in infrastructure is debatable and I'd rather not get into here.

Kenneth, you are getting at the potential for free markets to distribute wealth unevenly. To be clear, I do not propose that we will ever have equal wealth amongst the people nor should we. I don't, however, believe your examples do justice to negating free markets. In terms of illegal immigration, my ideal system would have truly open borders, and so all immigration would be legal. Sure, you might pay a tax to visit the country and use our roads, but if you can find a job feel free to stay and become a citizen. Would this encourage income inequality? Only if you think of income inequality in terms of the wealthy in our nation versus the poor of our nation. Let's instead think of it in terms of the rich of the world versus the poor of the world.

I could point to many recent government policies that skew income distributions (bailouts, tax breaks for the rich, war). The point is, I want the government to do its best to not help the rich out anymore than the free markets already would. If we implement this system, and it sucks, then I'll admit I'm wrong and try something else. Frankly, this is what most economists should state about their suggestions. The problem, is, they never admit when they're wrong...

Kenneth A. Regas writes:

Adam,
We agree as to the consequences of our ideals, and choose different ideals in light of these agreed-upon consequences. I choose my countrymen to be "my people," thereby (1) asserting the validity of all the nation state as a concept and (2) honoring and upholding the sacrifices that were made to create, sustain, and advance my country. You're choosing humankind as your people. The illiterate herder in Mali counts as much as the retarded janitor in San Diego. My ideal, in which my government regulates traffic of goods and people across our border in our interest, helps my people and hurts - or rather, declines to help - those of your people outside our borders, just as you observe. For starters, that illiterate herder probably will not be allowed to come here and stay. I'm OK with my choice and expect that you're OK with yours. Nationalism, aka patriotism, and its opposite (perhaps you can provide a word) are honorable ideals, just not compatible.
Ken

mike shupp writes:

Err... you're talking about the part of Northridge north of Cal State Northridge and likely east of Reseda Blvd, aren't you? Tony sort of area, particularly up where it abuts on Porter Ranch, but there are lots of less affluent sections of Northridge, particularly down in the south where it runs into Reseda. Still places for barbers to live in Northridge!

That said, something about your essay troubles me. Northridge has gotten nicer in the last 30-40 years; the houses are better painted, the years are greener and mowed more often, the kids have cleaner clothes, the mall has better stores, the hillsides don't fall down so much after the rains, the cheap drive-in theaters in the Valley have all closed down, we're all on the Internet, and even TV programming is bolder and edgier. We're prosperous now. Things have improved for Northridge, we can see. Implicity, we can see that things have improved for Bryan Caplan, who no longer lives "in the middle of nowhere".

But in the 1970's, "the middle of nowhere" was pretty much what a barber got in America, and forty years later, it's still what a barber gets. Your stagnationist has a valid complaint about the inequal way we've been served in this country by prosperity, and this essay doesn't really reply to that point.

Evan writes:

@ziel

I don't think you'd be too happy if these politicians failed to arrest people for crossing the imaginary line that demarcates your property.
That depends. If it was my house I'd be rather upset, but if someone walked through a vacant lot I owned on the other side of town as a shortcut to get to a job interview, not only would I not mind, I'd think anyone who did mind must be way too tightly wound. The situation we're discussing is far closer to the second scenario than the first.

Similarly, have you ever missed a turn while you're driving and used someone else's private driveway to turn your car around? If you have, I don't know how you live with yourself, you must be so ashamed that you've horribly violated someone else's property rights.

You're well aware that this isn't how it usually works. What happens in wealthy areas is that the middle class is driven out while there are still plenty of poor remaining. The wealthy can afford to insulate themselves from the riff-raff via private schools and very exclusive enclaves. But the middle class who must live on normal streets in regular houses and send their children to public schools can't keep themselves safe, and thus must move away to less populous areas.
Bryan specifically says that a barber can't afford to buy a home in that neighborhood (though mike shupp seems to disagree), which indicates to me that it must be pretty expensive.

As to your more general point, I have to say that living three miles away from a trailer park for the first 18 years of my life, going to a college near a poor decaying town, then living for a couple years in Detroit, and in all that time having absolutely zero trouble keeping safe, I'm unimpressed with the alleged extreme danger poor people pose to us all (some of their kids were mildly annoying in school, but they weren't hard to avoid). However, you may be correct that middle class people would move away anyway, since most people tend to base their opinions of danger levels on scary news reports they heard on TV, rather than how safe it actually is.

@Kenneth A. Regas

I choose my countrymen to be "my people," thereby (1) asserting the validity of all the nation state as a concept and (2) honoring and upholding the sacrifices that were made to create, sustain, and advance my country. You're choosing humankind as your people. The illiterate herder in Mali counts as much as the retarded janitor in San Diego. My ideal, in which my government regulates traffic of goods and people across our border in our interest, helps my people and hurts - or rather, declines to help - those of your people outside our borders, just as you observe. For starters, that illiterate herder probably will not be allowed to come here and stay. I'm OK with my choice and expect that you're OK with yours. Nationalism, aka patriotism, and its opposite (perhaps you can provide a word) are honorable ideals, just not compatible.
I can understand this, but I'm wondering how thoroughly you've crunched the numbers. You freely admit that citizens of your country have greater moral value to you than citizens of another country, but I'd like to think that foreigners don't have zero moral value to you. If the illiterate herder coming here multiplies his income by 10 while only decreasing the income of the retarded janitor by 10%, then letting him come here is probably still justified even if you considered his welfare to be half (or maybe even a tenth) as morally valuable as an American.

Kenneth A. Regas writes:

Evan,
No need to crunch numbers. I deem my relationship with the herder and the janitor as qualitatively different, not quantitatively. I believe in exclusive clubs. The janitor is a member of my club, the herder is not. The question is, shall we admit the herder as a new member? I advocate answering this question only on the basis of the welfare of the existing club membership, not of the prospective member. If he makes it in, his welfare will be the joint concern of the entire membership to some extent. At the very least, we'll all be obliged to extend to him the privileges and responsibilities of club membership. As long as he's on the outside, members of the club may wish to extend charity to him as individuals. But we have no obligations to him.
I am even OK with the club acting to prevent members of the club from trading freely with that herder, to the extent that this trade undermines the welfare of the club membership according to our lights - which may be something besides simply average physical standard of living. I'll agree that rent seeking makes such an effort perilous and so it should be undertaken with care and restraint. But it is not philosophically wrong, in my view.
Ken

mike shupp writes:

Evan --

I actually agreed with Bryan that a barber might not afford a house in a very good section of Northridge. But Northridge, and most of the San Fernando Valley in fact, is quite hetereogenous; drive two blocks in any direction and you'll likely seem to be in another city entirely. And as I indicated, there's a north-to-south shift in apparent wealth. Median household wealth in Northridge ran to $67,000 in 2009, which is ballpark middle class; Porter Ranch just north had median household wealth of $95,00, and Reseda just south about $54,000. Odds are, if Bryan's barber can no longer afford the upkeep on a three bedroom house in the $500,000 range, he can probably find a one bedroom apartment elsewhere in Northridge for $1000-1200 per month, less if he looks about.

------------------------------------------------

That said, in the 1970's when one spoke of "a barber" one typically meant a male, likely in late middle age, presiding over a "barber shop." Remember those places? A smallish building, or maybe a smaller room in a bigger building, with a big white and red and blue pole outside, and a couple of electrocution-sized chairs that could be raised and lowered, and usually two or three or four older guys waiting around, chatting with the barber. Maybe it didn't pay a lot, but that was a barber -- a guy with a state license and some real estate to protect, and steady customers.

What's a barber in the 2000's? In my neck of the woods, not far from Northridge, it's generally a woman in her late 20's, early 30's, with a cosmetology degree from a local junior college who found she couldn't afford the cost of a station at a beauty shop while she built up a clientele. Instead, she's cutting men's hair for about two third's of what the "real" barber used to charge, and probably handling twice as many customers, but probably clearing about half as much as the old-style barber after paying for the station, probably a lot less than the bucks she thought she'd be making when she started thinking "Beauty school."

So. Progress and prosperity, and Bryan is right, with the passage of time they've been good for parts of Northridge. Good for barber's, not so much, and it's a little sad to reflect that part of Bryan's idea of improvement is shoving barbers out into the sticks, over and over and over.

Martin Brock writes:

$500,000 for a three bedroom house? $1200 for a one bedroom apartment? And these are typical, even modest homes? Why would a barber want to live in this neighborhood? I earn five times the median hourly earnings of a barber nationally, and I wouldn't live in your neighborhood. These prices are easily twice what I'd pay in my neck of the woods, and life here is quite good.

Your barbers should move to my neighborhood, out in the sticks, safer from rent seekers. They're welcome here. If you think we have no commerce, convenience or culture, you're mistaken. Walmart is down the road, Netflix is across the room, and you and I seem to be enjoying the same cultural enrichment now. We have community theater, a state park and a YMCA too. I know, because I enjoy all of these excellent services routinely.

If all that's too common for you, enjoy your house in Northridge. You can always drive out in the sticks for a haircut.

Dino Becirovic writes:

The true question to ask oneself is whether the standard of living truly has risen over the past 40 years. In the 1970s, a barber would live in the aforementioned "the middle of nowhere" but he would live quite comfortably with no worries regarding food or housing. In today's times however, a barber would not be able to sustain himself as easily. Regardless of location, our standard of living has fallen drastically over the past 40 years. More and more people find themselves without food or housing and the rise of unemployment has gone through the roof. Ultimately, a barber in today's setting can count himself lucky to at least have a job, regardless of whether its in an urban/suburban setting or in "the middle of nowhere."

Hoi Nguyen writes:

As of the present date, the real estate market prices for home purchasing in Northridge, California can range from $130K to $2M. Quite frankly, the living conditions in the 1970s and the 20th century has changed “quite a bit” but so has the remarkable industrialism in today’s wealth market for economic resolutions. A barber or anyone can easily purchase a home regardless of the type of occupation. Should it be a matter of cause to discuss the issue of whether or not a barber can purchase a home in the middle of nowhere from the 1970s comparative to the 20th century or should we discuss a comfortable condition in the middle of somewhere? Is it a question of affordable market prices or is the unanswered question regarding the accommodation with the purchasers needs for a standard comfortable and healthy living?

Colin K writes:
Regardless of location, our standard of living has fallen drastically over the past 40 years.

I don't know how anyone can say that with a straight face.

In 1970, houses were half the size they are today, cars were less reliable with far fewer features, healthcare for heart disease and cancer was vastly less able to prevent/delay death, airplane vacations were mostly for the wealthy, long distance phone calls cost big bucks, you had your choice of three television stations, mail order meant waiting 4-6 weeks, and if you wanted to look something up, you drove to the local library.

Now, maybe people today are unhappy because they're stuck on a consumer-culture treadmill of longer work hours, more debt, less time with friends and family, etc., which is fine. But that is essential an individual moral critique, because anyone who wants can choose to live in the 70s. Dump your smartphone and save $100 a month. Dump cable TV and save $70 more. Get the cheapest health insurance you can. Drive your car until the wheels fall off. Move to a much smaller house. If the product was invented after 1980, don't buy it. Work the numbers and you can cut tens of thousands per year in spending. Now you can work less (fewer hours, less-demanding job), save more, or split the difference. Welcome back to 1970!

There are two possible reasons why most people don't do this:

1. We're all a bunch of sheep suckered into a spiral of consumer binge-buying by canny marketers, ad agencies, and the federal reserve

2. People actually like having all of this stuff and would rather not give it up for more leisure/savings/etc.

Evan writes:

@Kenneth A. Regas

Evan,
No need to crunch numbers. I deem my relationship with the herder and the janitor as qualitatively different, not quantitatively. I believe in exclusive clubs. The janitor is a member of my club, the herder is not. The question is, shall we admit the herder as a new member? I advocate answering this question only on the basis of the welfare of the existing club membership, not of the prospective member. If he makes it in, his welfare will be the joint concern of the entire membership to some extent. At the very least, we'll all be obliged to extend to him the privileges and responsibilities of club membership. As long as he's on the outside, members of the club may wish to extend charity to him as individuals. But we have no obligations to him.
I am even OK with the club acting to prevent members of the club from trading freely with that herder, to the extent that this trade undermines the welfare of the club membership according to our lights - which may be something besides simply average physical standard of living. I'll agree that rent seeking makes such an effort perilous and so it should be undertaken with care and restraint. But it is not philosophically wrong, in my view.

Kenneth, the problem with this sort of ethic is that while it produces satisfactory conclusions to ordinary present day issues, it doesn't apply well to other situations at other times. The issue that immediately comes to mind is Dred Scott v. Sanford, a situation where the conclusions it draws are inpalatable.

If you aren't familiar with it, Dred Scott v. Sanford was a Supreme Court decision in the pre-Civil War USA where a slave who had been moved to a state where slavery was illegal sued for his freedom. The Court ruled that he didn't even have a right to sue anyone in the first place because as a slave he wasn't a citizen [club member]of the US [exclusive club], and that freeing him would violate the property rights of a US citizen [whose welfare is their joint concern]. It was specifically to stop anything like that from ever happening again that the Constitution was amended to make anyone born a citizen.

Maybe I'm missing something, but I can't see how anyone following the citizenship based ethics you advocate in 1857 could object to this decision, or to be an abolitionist at all. The slaves aren't citizens, so there's no ethical reason to help them, no one has an obligation to them at all. In fact, helping them would harm the interests of fellow citizens, whom you are obligated to care about. Freeing them would mean admitting a ton of new members into the club, which many members vehemently oppose. You might say that they were born in this country and lived in it all their lives, but the part of the club charter that makes anyone born into it a member hasn't been added yet.

Now keep in mind I'm not implying that you believe in slavery I'm sure you hate it as much as anyone else. I just think you haven't thought through thoroughly how your ethics would apply in situations like the Antebellum South.

The reason abolitionists kept fighting slavery, even though they were not fellow citizens with said slaves, was because they believed they had moral obligations to other people that transcended citizenship. They even believed that they had a right to violate their fellow citizens club-given property rights to fulfill this obligation. I believe this, and I think you do too on some level, since I suspect if you were transported back in time to 1857 you'd disagree with the Dred Scott decision and fight for abolition.

@mike shupp

it's a little sad to reflect that part of Bryan's idea of improvement is shoving barbers out into the sticks, over and over and over.

I don't think other people bidding up the price of housing so that it costs more is morally equivalent to forcing someone out somewhere. It seems like scope-insensitivity, where you focus on the problems a change creates for one group while ignoring the benefits it creates for others.

mike shupp writes:

Evan --

Hmmm. I wanted to make a point and I didn't phrase it as well as I should. Let me try again.

Bryan is saying that a barber (for example) who bought a house in Northridge in the 1970s at the age of 30, who stayed in that house, who mowed the yard regularly and tended his garden and kept the paint and the trimmings up and footed the repair bills after the 1996 quake and so on would now live, in 2011 at the age of 70, in a very decent neighborhood. Which is indeed no small thing, and much credit properly acrues to the homeowners who worked very diligently at keeping up their homes and thus kept up the neighborhood. God knows, there are parts of the world where this behavior would NOT have been so rewarded -- Somalia or Mazambique or Serbia for example.

By my question was this: in 1970, a thirty year old barber might have had a house next door to a pair of thirty year old teachers, or a thirty year old cop. In 2011, a pair of thirty year old teachers or a thirty year old cop might well be able to afford houses somewhere in Northridge, but would a thirty year old barber be able to live in the same neighborhood? Or has the relative affluence and status of barbers declined despite a general rise in affluence? And in a later comment, I suggested it had.

Inferentially, is it possible that the status of groups other than barbers have been affected over the past 40 years, either negatively or positively, despite general affluence? And if so, is this good or bad, something to tolerate or something to fight against?

Am I clear now?


LowcountryJoe writes:

@ Mike Shupp, and totally off topic: are you a retired Marine Corps officer?

Kenneth A. Regas writes:

Evan,
The sovereign nation state is an invalid concept because one can think of an instance in which one such nation state's laws were not adequate to remedy a horrific crime of many generations - and so its citizens were reduced to civil war? If that's the strongest argument against the nation state, then I'd say it self-defeats. Countries without functioning borders or governments exist, but I wouldn't want to live in one. When the first borderless state is up an running and people actually want to live there, I'll gladly revisit the question. Re the Dred Scott case: I am against courts ruling according to what the law should be. I favor them ruling according to what the law is. It is up to the people to change the law if they don't like the results, such as the Dred Scott decision, which was only overturned by amendments to the Constitution after the aforementioned nastiness.
Ken

mike shupp writes:

LowcountryJoe -

Nope. Nor am I a pop musician, a college bookstore manager, a Philadelphia-area reporter, a Baptist minister, or a college wrestler. Best of all, I'm not -- I don't think I am anyhow -- one of the half dozen Mike Shupp's police down in Arizona and New Mexico are always trying to arrest!

It's a middling common name, it turns out.

Evan writes:

@Kenneth Rogas

The sovereign nation state is an invalid concept because one can think of an instance in which one such nation state's laws were not adequate to remedy a horrific crime of many generations - and so its citizens were reduced to civil war?

Maybe I'm misunderstanding the terminology you're using. When you say that you do not value or feel any obligation to people who are not citizens, I generally take that to mean you think of people who are not citizens in the same fashion that the average person thinks of a cow or a deer. Therefore, in a strict interpretation of your moral framework, slavery was not a horrific crime because the slaves were not citizens, and therefore you do not value them or see any obligation to help them.

However, this is clearly not the case, since you refer to slavery as a horrific crime, implying you do value the slaves. Clearly you must place some moral value on other people, even if they are not citizens.

@mike shupp
Yes, I understand your point now.

Kenneth A. Regas writes:

Evan,

Clearly you must place some moral value on other people, even if they are not citizens.
Yes. When I wrote
As long as he's on the outside, members of the club may wish to extend charity to him as individuals. But we have no obligations to him.
that was too strong. I should have written that we do not have the same obligations to him as to fellow citizens/club members.

Our disagreement is as to the validity of the sovereign nation state, which requires control of borders, which implies the willingness to apply a moral order along the lines that I have asserted. The proprietors of this blog are highly skeptical of the nation state. I'm not. It is the most successful form of political organization in history and has made possible spectacular levels of material progress and human liberty. Not all nation states are prosperous and successful, but all prosperous and free societies exist inside sovereign nation states.

Ken

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