Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Some thoughts on charity

I have been thinking a lot about charity lately. I was going to write a "stock" piece on how greedy and selfish Americans of all classes are these days.

The evidence was going to be the selfish, materialistic, "me" first culture that is every where peppered with exampled everyday life (pushing past the old lady getting off the train, wasting food at the all-you-can eat buffet, or driving a huge SUV), pop culture(Jay-Z or Kanye West's latest video), politics(voting or narrow self-interests rather than broad measures), sports (NBA players versus owners) and business (Madoff, Goldman Sach's $10 Billion in compensation, or record corporate profits with record unemployment). A nice easy story, but not quite reality.

I don't personally believe be are less charitable now then 40 years ago when I was growing up. I think they want to help and to give, but they also want to participate and feel appreciated. They just don't know how to do it. People have more now materially and so are more inclined to share what they have. I think instead that there are two reasons why people have grown less charitable over time.

1) Pop and consumer culture have made selfishness and greed more acceptable to sell products. Consumer marketing has made it acceptable to get what you want regardless of how you get it.Campaigns like "your worth it" or "go you deserve it" give approval to selfish behavior. The message is reinforced a 100 times a day. As a consequence,
peoples attitudes have changed. It is more socially acceptable to be less charitable. For example, when I first came to New York more people would give to the homeless, now they look the other way.

2) There is also less need for charity. Most people, materially, have everything they need. We are connected to friends, family and neighbors who are like us. We live in neighborhoods with like minded people where there is little need for charity. Our world ends there and we do not concern ourselves with the larger community. There is less opportunity for individual charity. Also, lots of large, professional charities have replaced personal charity.

When I grew up charity really meant something. It meant giving with out looking down on the people accepting the benefit. It mean empathy for someone who could be you. It meant living a christian life. It meant giving according to Maimonides without regard to others because charity was the right thing to do. It meant giving alms to the poor.

So, I am asking everyone to work harder at being charitable. I am calling for a higher ideal of altruism that truly says I am my brothers keeper. I am asking everyone to look out for the greater good. I can do better. That I can be charitable, speaks to the best and not the worst in society. I am better, I am charitable.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

UC Berkeley Affirmative Action Bake Sale


The Berkeley College Republicans mounted an attack on affirmative action based on race and gender. They sold cupcakes for different prices to different group (White Males were $2.00, Hispanics $1.00, Blacks 0.75 and and Native Americans $0.25).

In the view of Evil Black Economist, the sale is a simplistic and superficial publicity stunt on a complicated issue. We are getting kind of tired of this same old attack and the amount of press coverage. While the amount of press accounts exceed the norm, the coverage of the bake sale was slightly negative, no coherent alternative was offered. So we present some alternatives.

The bake sale points out the need to have your arguments ready to support affirmative action! So here is how to counter the argument. At the end, I have also included a freebie: a rational alternative to these arguments.

These attacks on fairness and social justice usually depend on the strict interpretation of some law or principle that has not been followed in the past but should we followed now to the specific benefit of the protester.

[Just for the record, the Evil Black Economist is for social and economic justice. We believe a certain level of guaranteed minimum outcomes is the basic for a happy society. As part of that philosophy, we support affirmative action based on race, gender, national origin and ethnicity for those who continue to suffer the effects of past discrimination. We also strongly support class-based and income based affirmative action.]

Now back to the Bake Sale. What the protesters are really saying is: I am opposed to one policy out of many in the larger society that favors one group in a particular circumstance.

1) Their are several points of attack but the best one is that society is NOT fair: the government, corporations and society and institutions unfairly play favorites all the time: R&D or mortgage subsidies, veterans benefits, hiring a neighbor or a fraternity friend of the VP. These favorites are usually decided by the majority and do not benefit the minority. Many of these favorites, preferences, or subsidies are hard to recognize. They cannot be easily eliminated but serve to disadvantage minorities.

2) A another story you might hear is how some people have succeeded due solely to their own smarts and hard work. They have achieved, you must be able to do the same. However they are ignoring two key facts: 1) the stable, secure and prosperous environment in the US is paid for by the taxes of all; 2) it is extremely rare for a poor individual to make it with absolutely no help. A more honest person would admit their "luck". They would try to create an environment where other might also get "lucky" too. Basically, everyone stands on the shoulders of some one else, but it is never called affirmative action.

3) a third area here the argument is weak is the historical context of the US. The US has a long history of discrimination: Native Americans had their land stolen, Blacks were slaves, and Women could not vote in the 1920s. You can also point out that White men have benefit from "Affirmative Action" in the United States up until recently and have developed a huge institutional advantage they can pass on.

What they are conveniently forgetting: Racism does exist in the US currently, though greatly diminished. However, it's stain (the institutional effects) lives on long after official racism has ended. Poverty and isolation are more prominent among Black, Hispanic and Native Americans than middle class Whites. For reasons of social cohesion and justice, we may want to encourage under represented groups to participate in society's institutions.

4) The argument against affirmative action can also be attacked on moral and social justice grounds. Helping those less fortunate than yourself is a moral activity.

Here is the freebie: When they say affirmative action is based on race then counter by proposing affirmative action based on income.

The discussion of affirmative action is really a larger discussion of how we should allocate societies basic resources ? How do we handle public goods like universities ? Should they benefit just a few or the large community ? What is merit ? What is success ?

Almost everyone has stood on the shoulders of someone else. We should just be honest about it.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

The September employment situation was slightly positive

The September employment situation was slightly positive

The report showed 103,000 jobs were created in September in the US, which eased fears of a double dip recession. The 103K figure is good for post recession job creation number. 100K is now the new “psychological” standard for the “street”, so beating that number is a slight positive. It helps the president politically, but the sustained 9.0% rate is very high by historical standards. Private sector jobs increased by 137,000 while government shrank by -34,000.

Reducing the 9.0% plus unemployment rate without a large increase in consumer spending or government stimulus is all but impossible. The structure of the US economy, the global economy and the US consumer spending have changed. So we will have to live with 8% or 9% for at least five years. This is the new normal.

The overall unemployment rate was 9.1% and the Black unemployment rate stayed at 16%. The rate for White (8.0%) and Hispanics (11.3%) was little changed.

The long-term unemployed were 6.2 million (44.6% of total). The part-employed for economic reasons rose to 9.3 Million and the marginally attached stayed the same at 2.5 Million.

Non farm payroll employment increased by 103,000 jobs with growth in business services, healthcare and construction. Information technology increased by 34,000 as the Verizon strike was settled and the workers returned.

Average work week increased by 0.1 hours and wages by $0.03 cents. The employment diffusion index (a hiring signal) was still positive (55.4) but down 0.2.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Financial Transactions Tax

The US should follow Europes led an impose a financial transactions tax.

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