Something Wrong with the Math
September 25, 2012
I have a good friend, an economist by training, and the former head of a hedge fund, who is always giving me grief about my liberal economic views.
I like this guy. We usually get together a couple of times when our vacations in Maine coincide and we sit down over seafood dinners and laugh our heads off about things.
By unspoken agreement, we don’t talk about politics and economics and stuff like that because our conversations could easily turn into food fights. I’d lose because I eat more than he does and I’d run out of ammo sooner.
On Facebook, however, Bob is sometimes driven to near apoplexy by my opinions. (Sometimes that’s because, in my enthusiasm, I sometimes forward postings that are not factually accurate. It drives me crazy when I do that, and I feel really stupid afterward.)
That said I have to say that the charts and graphs and figures that Bob posts are very likely correct; He’s good at math, apparently; my own math skills double when I’m barefoot.
My problem is that I can’t help but think that somehow we’ve taken math and conjured it into a tool of oppression.
Let me see if I can explain.
The way we’ve been figuring our economic structure for the past several hundreds of years, it always ends up with a sliver of the population having jars full of cookies, while the larger portion, having created the avenue for those cookies to get in the jars, wind up with crumbs. Or less.
Recently we’ve heard a lot of noise about those on unemployment, Social Security, Medicare, and other programs being a burden to the society and to all those decent, hard-working people who comprise it. But aren’t most of the people who are at least partially supported by those programs also part of that class of decent, hard-working people who paid for those programs?
Oh, sure: There are welfare cheats, and the unemployed who try to extend their Unemployment Compensation benefits as long as possible before really looking for a job. Just as there are people who vote without being eligible (four in Pennsylvania, where I live, in the recorded history of the Commonwealth, I believe.)
First we have to ask 0urselves if the numbers of people who game the system are of sufficient number to be more than a nuisance. I can’t think that anyone would seriously shut down or cripple those programs because there are cheats. The real answer is to tighten rules and enforcement to stem the seepage.
It doesn’t help that we have a party in the U.S. who, in the same breath, will complain about high unemployment and suggest that those on UC and Welfare “should just get a job.”
Right. There seems to a failure at play, either of thought or heart. Incidentally, minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour. Do the math. Don’t forget to take out taxes. Just sayin’.
And why don’t we hear more about the people at the other end of the spectrum, whose own wealth is, if not caused, then augmented because they know how to game the system. Nobody argues that being able to hide one’s money from the taxman in the Cayman Islands is illegal … it’s not. But is it right? That’s a question the answer to which is more tenuous.
It seems to me that the folks who floated to the top pay loud lip-service to the work ethic while looking down their collective nose at those of us who actually have to do it.
What the hell is going on here? We are well on our way to being a feudal nation of serfs and royals; we are not the wealthiest nation in the world –not even close. Our infant mortality rate is shameful, as are our scores in literacy, math and science. How else to explain the fact that a high percentage of people in the United States believe in the Biblical theory of creation and deny the scientific explanations discovered first put together Charles Darwin?
I can tell you, from nearly 30 years of covering school districts, that their board memberships included significant number of well-meaning and frustrated board members who nevertheless were less-well educated than the students whose tutelage was their ultimate responsibility.
No, paragraph above is not off-track. Funding for public schools has dwindled steadily, and a lot of subjects are either not touched upon or merely skimmed. It all comes down to money. Public schools in wealthy areas and tony private schools are doing a much better job. The relatively new science of ecology applies to just about everything: Just as causing the extinction of one species can cause devastation to an entire ecosystem, so can pinching off the blood supply to something as important as the care and feeding of a large portion of a culture’s inhabitants.
So, my friend can fume all he wants. I still believe we’ve somehow been putting square pegs in round holes, and too many of us have been trying to convince the rest of us that it’s a good fit.
A math whose vectors result in most of the wealth clogging the heights while those below, including workers with so-called “good jobs,” struggle to choose between owning a home or eating well, or between having healthcare or getting more than a threadbare basic education for their children, or choosing between a second or third job and having somebody home when those kids come home from school -– is simply insufficient.