Bryan Caplan  

The Profound Sumner

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Great hard-to-summarize post by Scott Sumner.  Highlights:
I'd like to make some observations about inequality.  First as a person, then as an economist.  These are based on 56 years of observing all kinds of people, in all sorts of different situations.
[After listing 19 different kinds of inequality...]

Now let's look at the same list as drawn up by economists (including me, with my economist hat on.)

1.  Inequality of money.

2. Inequality of access to health care

The part I wanted to tweet, but couldn't intelligibly pare down:

I do think I care as much about human suffering as the average progressive.  Almost every day I wonder where the outrage is over 400,000 drug users in jail.  By comparison, over the past 5 years I've read dozens of stories about the 400 terror suspects at Guantanamo.  Yes, the issues are different in many respects, but I still see a lack of proportion.

Think you have it bad?

Now let's start down through Dante's seven circles of Hell:

1.  The US is much richer than Mexico.  So much so that millions of Mexicans will risk the horrors of human trafficking into the US to get crummy jobs picking tomatoes all day in the hot sun.

2.  China in 2011 is still considerably poorer than Mexico.  The Chinese take much greater risks to get here.

3.  China today is so much richer than China in 1997 that it's like a different planet.  The changes (even in rural areas) are massive.

4.  The China of 1997 seemed like paradise compared to the China of the 1970s.  Throughout Hessler's book, people keep talking about how horrible things were during that decade and how prosperous they are now (1997 in Sichuan!)

5.  The China of the 1970s was nowhere near as bad as during 1959-61, when 30 million starved to death.

COMMENTS (7 to date)
Steve Sailer writes:

The basic lesson of the great improvement in human welfare in China over the last few decades is that the Chinese fixed it themselves. That's the only thing that works on a scale large enough to move the needle.

William Barghest writes:

Easy to summarize.
1) There are many types of inequality and only some of them can be addressed by redistribution.

2) Americans imprison many petty drug traffickers and this is a form of inequality.

3) Poor American citizens (who aren't in prison on drug charges) are ridiculously well-off by global and recent historical standards.

4) Gross human suffering is a better thing to care about than inequality.

Scott Sumner writes:

Thanks Bryan, And I forgot that Dante had 9 circles.

joshua writes:

Tweet version, rough draft:

Why is there so much more outrage over 400 Gitmo detainees than 400,000 jailed drug users?

D writes:

Question: Are the 400,000 jailed drug users in jail for only drug use? ? Or are there other convictions alongside drug-use?

Michael F writes:

The 400 detainees are more newsworthy because there is suspicion about the legality of their detainment. 400,000 drug users are jailed with established, domestic law - it may not be moral but it is undeniably legal.

Kasen Wally writes:

When I read this it reminded me of the recent demonstrations on Wall Street. Inequality of money in the United States is becoming a more pressing issue and the OWS movement goes to show that the American people are tired of coming to the realization that so few have such great wealth and power. Of course this is also related to the inequality of healthcare. As the price of health care rises it is becoming less and less available to the middle class. Drugs used in the treatment of cancer are privatized and then experience obscene markups which restrict their availability down to a select few.

The OWS actions in my opinion are long overdue because the middle class without a doubt is slowly being eliminated. Business Insider stated that 83% of stocks are owned by 1% of the people and that 23% of workers in the past year have postponed their retirement plans. Without some sort of countermeasures taking place I fear what might become of myself and others currently not placed among those in the 1% bracket.

Maybe the OWS will pave the way for some beneficial economic change for this country. The last thing I think is important is a quote by Thomas Jefferson, which I'm sure many of you know,
"I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies . . . If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the banks] . . . will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered . . . The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs."
If there are any historical figures of true merit in this situation I would say the founding fathers are among them. The ideals this country was founded on are something that should always be kept in perspective. I think the OWS is doing just that.

I appreciate taking the time to read my thoughts.

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