David L. Martin

in praise of science and technology

Archive for the month “January, 2017”

The “elite.” Who are they?

Over the last year or so, we’ve been hearing a lot about the “elite.”  The very word elite has a negative connotation.  “Elitists” are people who are condescending, people who are out of touch with ordinary people.  Supposedly.

Our new president, Mr. GTP, certainly spouted a lot of anti-elitist rhetoric during the campaign.  The elites in Washington didn’t understand “real” America.  Washington was corrupt.  It was time to “drain the swamp.”

Yet when you talk to “real” America, meaning white working class America, it is clear that they don’t consider CEO’s and billionaires to be particularly elite, as long as they avoid telling them what they don’t want to hear.  And therein lies the key.

There has long been a strain of anti-intellectualism running through America.  For those familiar with the country’s early years, this seems remarkable.  The founding fathers were very much intellectuals.  The United States is a child of the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment.  Abraham Lincoln is often thought of as compassionate, which of course he was.  But he was also a genius, perhaps the most brilliant president the country has ever had.

A big part of intellectualism is a respect for the truth, no matter how uncomfortable.  An intellectual is unwilling to say something is white if it’s black.  But if I VERY MUCH WANT TO HEAR that it’s white, I’m not going to be very pleased with the messenger.  I want you to tell me what I want to hear, or at the very least not have you tell me an uncomfortable truth.

Many people find the Christian message of salvation attractive.  Who wouldn’t?  Through Christ you can join the club of the elect.  Your eternal future is assured.  But how many people want to hear the Gospels’ message of forgiveness and self-denial?  “I say to you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you” – Matthew 5.  “…go and sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven:  and come and follow me.” – Matthew 19.  Know anybody who’s not a priest or a nun who has followed these precepts?  How many white working class CHRISTIAN Americans do you know who have taken this path?  Or even made the slightest effort in such a direction?

When it comes to science and reason, many Americans are even less willing to hear uncomfortable truths.  And so those who speak those truths are labeled “elites.”  By contrast, billionaires and CEO’s, no matter how detached in their lives from the experiences of the working class, are welcomed as “successes,” as long as they don’t rock the boat.

Technology companies are the biggest sources of innovation in America.  But such businesses are hardly everywhere in America.  How many people do you know who work for Microsoft, Google, Facebook, or Netflix?  And the tech industry is far more ethnically diverse than the typical American business.  How many Asian-American oil industry CEO’s have you seen lately?  Or Indian-American?  24% of the LEADERSHIP of Google is non-white.  The current CEO of Google is Sundar Pinchai, an Indian-American.

Many jobs in tech pay well but require higher education.  Does working class white America want to hear this?  Of course not.  It wants to hear that the oil industry and other labor-intensive industries that dominated the middle of the 20th century will be brought back.  It wants to hear that global warming is a hoax.  It wants to hear that higher education, the realm of the “elites,” is unnecessary to get a good-paying job.

It now appears quite likely that our next Secretary of State will be the former CEO of ExxonMobil.  Our next Secretary of the Treasury will be a Goldman Sachs investment banker.  Our next Secretary of Labor will be the CEO of a major fast food chain.  Like almost all of Mr. GTP’s nominees, these people are white and male.  Many of them are billionaires.  But white working class America doesn’t think of them as “elites.”  They and their boss will continue to tell white working class America what it wants to hear – that it doesn’t need higher education, the realm of “elites,” nor strong labor unions, nor the embrace of diversity that powers the tech industry.  It only needs deregulation, tax reduction, and the great wall to keep out those pesky brown people.

Meanwhile, the “elite,” the people who understand the danger we face from emboldened racism, sexism, xenophobia, and disrespect for the rule of law, both conservative and liberal, are virtually in despair over the future of the country.  Former Bush administration official and conservative Eliot Cohen recently predicted “substantial domestic protest and violence, a breakdown of international economic relationships, the collapse of major alliances, or perhaps one or more new wars (even with China) on top of the ones we already have.”

Toward the end of 2016, before the election, many Americans reported that they felt burned out on politics.  They ain’t seen nothing yet.  We are now living through a period of unrest, instability, and uncertainty approaching that of 50 years ago.  And just in case you hadn’t noticed, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists just recently moved its doomsday clock to 2.5 minutes before midnight, the closest it has been since 1953.  History with a capital H is back.

http://www.salon.com/2017/01/07/donald-trumps-glorious-victory-for-anti-intellectualism-drain-the-swamp-just-meant-the-eggheads/?google_editors_picks=true

Corruption? Moi?

Do successful businessmen make successful presidents?  That’s a bit tricky.  Success is somewhat subjective.  Was Franklin Roosevelt a successful president?  Not to many conservatives.  How about Ronald Reagan?  To many liberals, he was a disaster.  Even so, surveys among historians are remarkably consistent in their ratings of presidents.  George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt are consistently rated highly.  Thomas Jefferson, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan also tend to get high ratings.

What about success in business?  Well, that’s somewhat more straightforward.  A successful business is one that makes consistent profits.  It certainly isn’t one that goes bankrupt.  Most U.S. presidents weren’t any kind of businessmen, successful or unsuccessful.  The majority have been career politicians or lawyers, or both.  8 of them were generals.

A relatively few presidents were successful businessmen before becoming president.  Harry Truman, consistently rated as a successful president, had been so UNsuccessful in business that he went into public service to get OUT of business.  On the other hand, Andrew Johnson, Warren Harding, Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter, and George W. Bush had been successful businessmen before becoming president.  None of them are considered successful presidents.  Warren Harding was perhaps the most successful businessman ever to become president.  He is also ranked as one of the worst presidents in history.

So where do we stand with successful presidents?  George Washington?  Military man.  Thomas Jefferson?  Lawyer.  Abraham Lincoln?  Lawyer.  Franklin Roosevelt?  Career politician.  Harry Truman?  Highly unsuccessful businessman.  Dwight Eisenhower?  Military man.  John Kennedy?  Career politician.  Ronald Reagan?  Actor.

And unsuccessful presidents?  Andrew Johnson?  Successful businessman.  Warren Harding?  Highly successful businessman.  Herbert Hoover?  Successful businessman.  Jimmy Carter?  Successful businessman.  George W. Bush?  Successful businessman.

So how many highly successful businessmen have ever become successful presidents?  Zero.

It is worth noting that successful businessman Warren Harding’s reputation suffers from the rampant corruption in his administration.  Top officials such as the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of the Treasury, and the head of the Veteran’s Bureau all took bribes and used their offices to enrich themselves and private companies.  The Teapot Dome Scandal, one of the most infamous in American history, is a prime example.

In the movie Born Yesterday, investigative journalist Paul Verrall says, “You see a perfect piece of machinery, the democratic structure.  And somebody’s always tampering with it, trying to make it hit the jackpot.”  As presidents, highly successful businessmen often end up hiring people who enrich themselves and their friends at the expense of the American people.

Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the Treasury – Steve Mnuchin, investment banker, Goldman Sachs

Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Labor – Andrew Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants

Trump’s nominee for Administrator of the Small Business Administration – Linda McMahon, former CEO of the WWE

Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education – Betsy DeVos, wife of Amway CEO

Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Commerce – Wilbur Ross, wealthy investor

Not one of these people has any experience in government service.  Not so much as a dogcatcher among them.  But then, neither has Mr. GTP.  Even Harding was a senator before he became president.

Perhaps the phrase CONFLICT OF INTEREST has caught your attention in the news recently.

http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/presidential-campaign/262749-history-shows-businessmen-make-bad-presidents

The Elephant in the Room

There has been far too little discussion of the role of gender in the recent presidential election.  The gender gap was huge.  In every major ethnic group, men voted for Trump in much higher numbers than women.  White men – 63% for Trump.  White women – 53% for Trump.  Black men – 13% for Trump.  Black women – 4% for Trump.  Hispanic men – 33% for Trump.  Hispanic women – 26% for Trump.

Patriarchy is alive and well in America.  Patriarchy values, even demands, aggressiveness.  It values tribalism and rivalry.  It has little or no patience with the concept of justice.  The fact that Mr. GTP did so well with white evangelicals (receiving 81% of their vote), despite having no knowledge whatever of the Bible, and nothing remotely Christian in his belief system, illustrates that for many white Americans, it is tribalism and patriarchy, not religious doctrines such as the need for salvation or brotherly love, that is key.  These people want an aggressive fighter who will break whatever rules are necessary to defend their tribe.  Their tribe is the “real” America, as far as they’re concerned, and other versions of America are illegitimate.  Concepts like human rights, justice, and equality are seen as nuisances, feminizations that weaken America and Americans.  Anti-intellectualism and anti-science are also a big part of this.  The ideal is not a thoughtful, intelligent leader, but a physically imposing, loud-mouthed caricature of masculinity.

It is no accident that patriarchy, with its emphasis on aggression and physical prowess, usually presents the “retched refuse” as representatives of villainy.  This is part of a long-standing tradition among white male supremacists.  In the 19th century, native Americans were a big target.  They were “savages,” living in darkness.  Theodore Roosevelt said, “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.”  In some respects Roosevelt was the epitome of white patriarchy.  But he had nothing on our new president, Mr. GTP.

Patriarchy values loyalty above decency, toughness above thoughtfulness, winning above fairness, militancy above courage, and tradition above openness.  In virtually every society, boys are encouraged to suppress their emotions and value physical strength, while women are raised to be caregivers, housekeepers, and sexual playthings.  Of course patriarchy values a caricature of masculinity, because the whole point of being a man as opposed to a boy is maturity.  Boys puff themselves up because they feel small.  Boys are not thoughtful.  Boys are not considerate.  Boys like to knock things down.  Men, on the other hand, build things.  Men respect others.  Men do not objectify women.  A mature man does not need to puff himself up, because he feels secure about himself.  A mature man is not aggressive, because aggression comes from insecurity.  He doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone but himself.  Read those last 6 sentences again, and ask yourself, how many American boys have been raised to believe those things?

It is often overlooked, how integral patriarchy was in Hitler’s politics.  He saw Judaeo-Christian notions of “love thy neighbor” as corruptions, Jewish inventions that weakened men and societies.  He strongly advocated male supremacy and patriarchy.  The Nazi brand of fascism is all about social Darwinism.  The “alpha male” sits at the top, requiring absolute loyalty from the other males.  Women are reduced to second-class status in the male-dominated order.  Similar patterns can be seen in religious fundamentalism of virtually every stripe.  In Saudi Arabia, where the Islamic fundamentalism called Wahhabism is the national religion, every woman is required to have a male guardian.  In fundamentalist Judaism and Christianity, women are not allowed to be priests or ministers, and in marriage ceremonies women are reminded that the man has ultimate authority.  Many westerners do not realize that some varieties of fundamentalist Judaism are quite similar to some varieties of fundamentalist Islam in requiring women to cover their heads and dress modestly.  The same is true of some varieties of Christian fundamentalism.

The whole sordid history illustrates plainly that much of religion has merely been a justification for male supremacy.  Now the religious justification is falling away.  The internet cesspool called the alt-right, far from being the realm of the religious, is full of social Darwinists, many if not most of them college-educated.  Even their jargon reflects this.  The term “cuck,” which is a shortened version of “cuckservative,” is commonly used to ridicule conservatives who are perceived as sympathizing with liberal views.  In evolutionary biology, to cuckold another male means to inseminate his mate, thereby inducing him to support offspring that are biologically yours.  The term is also used in fetish pornography, usually in the context of a white man who allows his wife to have sex with a black man.  This is exactly how the racist, sexist alt-right intends us to interpret the term cuckservative – a white male conservative who has “sold out” to liberals, which in their minds are uncontrolled women and brown people.

Another common alt-right reference is the “alpha male.”  Again, this is right out of evolutionary biology.  The alpha is simply the most dominant individual in a social group.  Richard Spencer, one of the founders of the alt-right, tells us that “most women secretly crave alt-right boyfriends, because they want “alpha genes,” and “alpha sperm.”  The venom directed toward independent women by alt-right contributors is even more striking than their overt racism.  David French, a writer for the National Review, described some of the attacks his family endured:  “I saw images of my daughter’s face in gas chambers….She was called a ‘niglet’ and a ‘dindu’…. The alt-right unleashed on my wife, Nancy, claiming that she had slept with black men while I was deployed to Iraq, and that I loved to watch while she had sex with ‘black bucks.’  People sent her pornographic images of black men having sex with white women, with someone photoshopped to look like me, watching.”

Young white Americans are increasingly non-religious.  Among Americans 18-30 years of age, only 29% are white Christians.  This compares to 34% who are unaffiliated.  The growth of this unaffiliated group has come almost entirely at the expense of white Christian denominations.  Many of the best-funded right-wing propaganda machines spend very little time talking about God, Jesus, or the Bible.  Instead they constantly promote patriarchy, the free market, and the victimization of the white male at the hands of lazy welfare parasites and their liberal enablers.  This propaganda has much broader appeal – even many college-educated white males who reject religion embrace the CULTURE of patriarchy and white supremacy.  The church was merely an organizing tool for propagandists in days gone by.  Now they have radio, television, and the internet.  It was never about religion.  It was always about culture.  It was always about social Darwinism.

Many thoughtful conservatives, people like David Brooks and William Kristol, seemed genuinely shocked that so many Republicans would vote for a bloviating, racist, sexist know-nothing who couldn’t recite a single scripture from the Bible.  Many of them genuinely believe in equal opportunity for all, in justice and tolerance.  If they had been paying attention they would have realized that this was never the core of the modern Republican Party at the grassroots.  That core is all about social Darwinism.  That core was happy to embrace the free market and limited government, only because this paves the way for alpha males to “achieve their potential.”

As I said, 63% of white American men voted for Trump.  90% of Republican men voted for him.  Even among white college graduates, he beat Clinton by 4 points.  (Among non-white college graduates, Clinton won by 48 points!)  At present, white males constitute only 31% of the American population.  By 2030, only 13 years from now, less than a quarter of Americans will be white males.  These are inescapable realities that white male America has yet to come to terms with.  Justice, equality, and tolerance are the future.  The only question is how bad things have to get before we get there.

Inequality didn’t happen overnight

Many Americans look back fondly at the middle of the 20th century, when America was the manufacturing powerhouse of the world.  What they tend to overlook is that for most of that time, America had Democratic presidents and a Democratic Congress.  During a 48-year period, from 1932 to 1980, America had a Democratic president for 32 of those years.  For 44 of those years, the Democratic Party controlled the U.S. Congress.

Now let’s look at wealth inequality over the last 117 years in America:

inequalityhistory

In 1928, wealth inequality peaked in America.  The wealthiest 1% of Americans controlled a whopping 51% of the country’s wealth.  Then came the Great Depression and Roosevelt’s New Deal.  Wealth inequality plummeted.  By 1978 the wealthiest 1% controlled only 23% of the country’s wealth.  During this time, America boomed.  The American middle class was strong.  Labor unions were strong, at least in the manufacturing powerhouses of the North.

Then came Ronald Reagan in 1980, the evisceration of labor unions, and trickle-down economics.  In the 36 years since 1980, 20 of those have seen Republican presidents.  18 of them have seen the U.S. Congress controlled by Republicans.

During that time, wealth inequality in America has steadily increased.  Now it is back to levels seen in 1938.  41% of the wealth in the country is controlled by the top 1%.  In fact, if you look at the top ONE-TENTH OF A PERCENT, we have reached the levels seen in 1928 – they now control 22% of the nation’s wealth.

I won’t belabor this issue.  I will simply state the obvious truth that trickle-down economics has utterly failed working Americans.  And those who feel nostalgia for the mid 20th century should take a good look at what things were really like then.

Typical and average are not the same thing

When most people think of the word average, they think of ordinary.  Normal.  Typical.  But statisticians know that there are different ways of characterizing what is typical.  In statistics, the average is called the mean.  And in many populations, it is a good measure of what is typical. For example, here is a graph of the distribution of height among adult Americans:

heightmenandwomen

Men of course tend to be taller than women.  But the averages amongst each gender (161 cm for women, 174 cm for men) are pretty typical – about half of the men are above 174 cm, and about half of the women are above 161 cm.  The reason this works is because the distribution of height is not highly skewed.  But some things don’t fall out like this.  Take the diameters of trees in a forest for example:

treediameters

This is what we usually see in forests.  Most trees are very small.  A few trees are very large.  This is called a skewed distribution.  There is a lot of inequality there.  In these cases, the average (the mean) can be very misleading.  A few very high numbers can pull the average way up.  Depending on how skewed the distribution is, only a small percentage of values might be at or above average.

When we’re talking about human populations, another way of saying average is “per capita.”  Per capita simply means per person.  If we measure everyone’s height, and divide by the number of people, that’s height per capita.  But that’s also the average!  Any time you see “per capita,” that’s an average.

One common way of measuring a country’s wealth is per capita GDP.  You simply take the total production and divide by the number of people.  In other words, it’s the average production per person.

In the 1995 the conservative Heritage Foundation, along with the Wall Street Journal, created their Index of Economic Freedom, to rate countries around the world.  This index examines such things as the rule of law, property rights, limited government, and low tax rates.  Looking at their 2016 report, we can build a picture of their Economic Freedom Index by country in relation to per capita GDP:

economicfreedomindexversuspercapitagdp

There is indeed a relationship between economic freedom, as measured by their index, and prosperity.  Freer countries tend to be more prosperous.  No surprise there.  The green dots are most of the European countries; the yellow dots are Scandinavian countries.  The red dot is America.

What are not shown on this graph are a number of Middle Eastern countries, like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, even though they ARE given ratings by the Heritage Foundation.  Qatar, for example, has a rating of 70.7, almost the same as Norway’s.  And the per capita GDP of Qatar is an incredible $129,700.  Qatar has NO income tax or domestic corporate tax!  The tax burden is a miniscule 5% of output.  Doesn’t that sound great?  There’s just one problem.  At least 75 PERCENT OF THE POPULATION CONSISTS OF MIGRANT LABORERS who have virtually no rights.  Beatings and withholding of pay are routine.  Domestic servants are not even covered by what pitiful labor laws there are.  Many of them are forced laborers.  And Sharia law is strictly enforced.  Yet this country’s economy is rated by the Heritage Foundation as “mostly free”!  Such conditions are typical of many oil-rich Middle Eastern countries.

America does rank high in wealth.  Only 4 European countries are wealthier, if we measure by per capita GDP.  But as Qatar illustrates, per capita GDP isn’t the only measure of wealth.  Per capita means average, and average doesn’t necessarily mean typical.  When looking at human well-being, many experts use the MEDIAN, rather than the average (the mean).  A look at household income in America shows why:

householdincomeamerica

As you can see, the distribution of income is highly skewed.  In fact, to really represent the distribution accurately, the graph would have to be extended far off to the right.  The right-most column contains those households that make more than $250,000 per year.  Some households make much, much more than that.  These high values pull the average way up.  In America, the per capita GDP is $57,300.  That’s $57,300 for every man, woman, and child.  Do you know any children who pulled in $57,000 last year?  For a very skewed distribution like that of wealth or income, the difference between the average and the median reflects the inequality.  The real question is, how does production translate into TYPICAL people’s income, education, and health?

The Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index looks at income, education, and life expectancy by country.  This index doesn’t even bother to rate many Middle Eastern countries because most their populations are not even citizens.  Now let’s see what happens if we plot the Heritage Foundation’s Economic Freedom Index against the IHDI:

economicfreedomindexversusihdi

There is a relationship, but it’s a very weak one.  That shouldn’t surprise us, knowing what we now know about Qatar.  The Heritage Foundation’s Economic Freedom Index does a lousy job of predicting the well being of the TYPICAL person in a given country.

If we look at MEDIAN household income by country in relation to the IHDI, we get this:

medianhouseholdincomebycountryversusihdi

Median household income is a strong predictor of human well-being by country – TYPICAL human beings, that is.  But this graph gives us a surprising result.  There’s a tremendous range of median household incomes associated with high ratings on the IHDI.  Let’s look at just the European countries and the U.S.:

medianhousholdincomeversusihdionlyeurandamerica

23 European countries rank higher than the U.S. on the IHDI!  (There are only 33 countries in Europe.)  Some countries with MUCH lower median household incomes rank higher than the U.S.!  Why?

Because well-being is not just about income.  Health is also an important aspect of well-being.  And like so many other things in America, there are huge inequalities in health.  The AVERAGE life expectancy in America is 79.68 years.  The average life expectancy in Finland is 80.77 years.  Not a big difference.  But the mere fact that life expectancy in America is LOWER than that in Finland, despite America having a median household income 26% HIGHER, should give us pause.  But the deeper problem is, the average life expectancy does not tell us about the TYPICAL American.  While inequality in life expectancy has been shrinking worldwide, it has actually been increasing in America.  Today the richest 1% of American men live an incredible 14.6 years longer than the poorest 1%.  And this gap is increasing.

Most European countries have universal health care.  They have strong social safety nets.  Workers tend to get plenty of leisure time.  Virtually every European country has a lower infant mortality rate than the U.S.  European countries tend to have strong labor unions, which ensure better working conditions and solid retirement options.  In America, more and more of the elderly are forced to keep working longer and longer.  All of this contributes to longer, healthier lives in Europe – for the TYPICAL person, not for the wealthiest, best educated people.

The “best and brightest” in America can stand up to their peers anywhere.  The wealthiest in America are just a wealthy as anywhere.  Where America is falling behind is where TYPICAL Americans stand.  Just recently, America lost its status as a full democracy, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit.  It now ranks below 14 European countries on their Democracy Index, even below the South American country of Uruguay.  Inequality was cited as a major cause of low participation in American democracy, and the American public’s low level of trust in their institutions.  This problem did not spring up overnight.  It has been years in the making.  It can’t continue.  And it’s won’t.  Something’s gonna give.

But It’s SOCIALISM…ISM…ism…ism

The Economist Group is a British company, which owns the newspaper The Economist.  It also operates the Economist Intelligence Unit, which collects and publishes information and analysis concerning businesses and governments all over the world.

Recently, the EIU published its democracy index report.  Countries with an index above 8 are rated as “full democracies” by the EIU.  These are countries that respect basic political freedoms and civil rights, and are “underpinned by a political culture conducive to the flourishing of democracy.”  As is the case with many such global rankings, Norway is at the very top of their list, with a ranking of 9.93.  14 of their 19 “full democracy” countries are in Europe.  All 5 Scandinavian countries rank as full democracies.

The United States, however, lost its status on their list as a “full democracy.”  Its ranking is now 7.98.  This places it in their “flawed democracy” category.  Such countries have free elections and basic respect for civil rights, but problems with governance and low levels of political participation.

The report cites income and wealth inequality in America as a major cause of low participation and limited trust in government.  Americans’ trust in government has been more or less declining for decades.  Contrary to popular belief, it was much lower in the Reagan years than in the 1960’s.  Today it is lower still:

americanstrust

It is probably not coincidental that wealth inequality has been more or less continuously increasing in America since 1977, to the point that now the top 0.1% hold about as much wealth as the bottom 90%:

wealthyinequality

What is even more interesting is the relationship between income inequality and productivity.  Last summer, 2 Goldman Sachs analysts published a graph showing income inequality by country in relation to per capita GDP.  Here it is:

incomeinequalityversuspercapitagdp

As you can see, their source was the CIA Factbook.  And as you can see, America (in the red box) is a tremendous outlier, with extremely high income inequality for such a wealthy country.  What this graph shows is that there is a strong negative relationship between income inequality and per capita GDP.  Poor countries tend to have high inequality.  Wealthy countries tend to have low inequality.

Just for fun, I decided to make a graph of my own, using GDP data from the CIA Factbook and income inequality data from Wikipedia.  I ended up with something similar, but stretching out the graph a bit makes things clearer I think:

incomeinquealityversuspercapitagdpmine

The green dots are European countries, except for the 5 yellow dots, which are the Scandinavian countries (Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland).  The orange dot is America.  Now we see that America is not the only outlier.  The dot above America is Singapore.  Singapore is one of the largest finance/transport hubs in the world.  That’s why it has such a high per capita GDP with such high income inequality.  If we take out America and Singapore, the countries of the world follow a pretty regular pattern.  Countries with high income inequality are poor.  Countries with low income inequality are rich.

But this is the OPPOSITE of what we would intuitively expect, and the opposite of what trickle-down economists teach.  In a poor country, we tend to think everyone is poor.  If there were wealthy people, surely they would create jobs and increase the country’s overall wealth, right?  This should lead to even more wealthy people, and more jobs, and so on.  As the rich get richer, wealth is supposed to trickle down and make the whole country wealthier.  Income inequality increases, but so does general wealth.  A rising tide lifts all boats.  But this graph strongly suggests the opposite.  Poor countries like Nigeria and Honduras tend to have MORE income inequality.  They have wealthy people.  Nigeria is a very oil-rich country.  What they don’t have is a thriving middle class.  The GDP PER PERSON in Nigeria is only $5900.  Wealthy countries like Norway and Sweden have much less inequality.  They have strong labor unions, which keep wages high, thus ensuring a thriving middle class which is the real basis for a wealthy country’s wealth.

If trickle-down economics actually worked, the graph above should look the opposite from what it does.  Poverty should be coming from the LACK of wealthy people.  A few very wealthy people should pull the rest of the country up.  Countries with high income equality should be poor countries – countries in which everyone is doing about the same, and there are no wealthy capitalists to create jobs and drive a strong economy.  The problem with this idea is that it just doesn’t work.

It’s true that countries with highly controlled economies tend to have poor production.  North Korea is a classic example.  It ranks a dismal 125th in per capita GDP, while South Korea, right next door, ranks 28th.  But the fact is, North Korea has never been held up as a model for workers’ rights.  On the contrary, the North Korean government completely controls BOTH sides of the equation, business and labor.  It sets wages and fills positions based more on ideological purity than anything else.  It is an economic disaster.  Cuba is another classic example.  It ranks 86th in per capita GDP.  But again, Cuba is no model for worker rights.  The International Trade Union Confederation states that Cuba “violates the right of collective bargaining, free association, and the independent representation of workers.”  It is no worker’s paradise.

The countries that tend to rank HIGHEST are those that have so-called “mixed economies” – economies that are fundamentally capitalist, and are also to a great extent socialist.  All 5 Scandinavian countries fall into this category.  They often have some major industries nationalized, and tend to have strong, government-controlled social safety nets.  But even more importantly, THEY TEND TO HAVE VERY STRONG LABOR UNIONS and powerful labor parties in politics.  The ITUC gives 13 countries a ranking of 1 in worker rights, their highest ranking.  ALL BUT ONE OF THEM ARE IN EUROPE.

See the 19 countries (besides the U.S.) in the above graph that have per capita GDP’s above $40,000?  14 OF THEM ARE IN EUROPE.  All 5 Scandinavian countries are up there.  All 5 countries received a ranking of 1 from the ITUC, their highest ranking.  Norway has a per capita GDP of almost $70,000, compared to America’s $57,300.  Norway has universal health care, a nationalized oil industry, and very powerful labor unions.

My message is that a strong social safety net and strong labor unions do not mean a weak economy.  The overall global picture seems to suggest the opposite.  Of course the argument could be made, so what?  America seems to be doing pretty well.  It has the 7th highest per capita GDP in the world.  Yep, if you look at it that way, America is doing pretty well, better than most European countries.  But the point is not whether you can have a strong economy WITHOUT universal health care, WITHOUT progressive taxation, WITHOUT strong labor unions and a strong labor party, WITHOUT free college tuition, WITHOUT good pay, benefits, and pensions for everyone, and WITHOUT relative income equality.  The point is that you can have ALL THESE THINGS and still have a VERY strong economy.

Countries like China and Russia that have America’s level of income inequality typically have only a fraction of our per capita GDP.  To a great extent this is because America remains a hotbed of innovation.  A lot of cutting edge technology continues to originate in America.  Companies like Intel, Amazon, Google, and Facebook did not originate elsewhere.  The problem is that the benefits of this innovation and wealth are increasingly going to educated Americans with good-paying jobs, many of them in these very industries.  Meanwhile, people with only high school are being pushed aside and propagandized by American businesses and their enablers to be extremely averse to “socialism.”

And freedom?  Norway, Iceland, Sweden, New Zealand, Denmark, Canada, Ireland, Switzerland, Finland, Australia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Malta, the U.K., Spain, Mauritius, and Uruguay are still ranked as “full democracies” by the EIU.  Denmark is ranked as one of the most free countries in the world by the CONSERVATIVE Heritage Foundation.  Meanwhile America has been downgraded to a “flawed democracy.”  I wonder how much longer American propagandists be able to sell their snake oil.

http://www.businessinsider.com/economist-intelligence-unit-downgrades-united-states-to-flawed-democracy-2017-1

Little Boys with Dangerous Toys

My favorite western is The Big Country, with Gregory Peck and Charlton Heston.  Time and again, this movie shoots down western caricatures of masculinity.  Gregory Peck plays Jim McKay, a ship captain who is looking to settle down in the American West.  Early in the movie, Heston’s character, Steve Leech, warns him about the derby he is wearing.  “Some cowboy might get it in his head to shoot it off you.”  McKay is unmoved.  A bit later, a group of locals decide to try to humiliate McKay in front of his fiancée.  She is outraged, but he brushes off the incident.  McKay is accustomed to the rough and tumble world of a sailor’s life.  “You didn’t think that was serious?” she asks him.  “Not really, no,” he replies.  “Aren’t you even angry?” she implores.  “No.”  Eventually, Leech tries to get McKay on “Old Thunder,” an unbroken horse.  McKay’s response is “Some other time.”  And later still, when Leech calls McKay a liar and offers him a fight, McKay’s response is, “Get this through your head, Leech.  I’m not doing this on your terms.  Not with horses, or guns, or fists.”

When most everyone is gone, McKay does ride Old Thunder.  He gets thrown several times, but refuses to give up.  Again, when no one else is around, McKay does fight Leech.  But first he says, “I’d like this to be just between you and me.”  McKay only wants to satisfy himself that he’s willing to confront the horse and confront Leech.  He doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone else.

Therein lies the key to the difference between the common caricature of masculinity and what it means to be a mature man.  Where I come from, the South, so-called “honor culture” is still strong.  A perceived insult is often met with belligerence.  Why?  Because being a man, in this view, is not about how you perceive yourself.  It is all about how others perceive you.

Little boys are of course immature, by definition.  Little boys like to puff themselves up because they don’t feel secure about their masculinity.  Little boys often have something to prove.  Little boys often use belligerence to hide their fear.  Sound familiar?  The caricature of masculinity is nothing but self-indulgent, infantile insecurity.  A man does not concern himself about the opinions of others.  A man is secure in his masculinity and doesn’t need to demonstrate it.  A man has courage and will do what he has to do, given the circumstances.  A man has decency and doesn’t invite trouble.

The glorification of the caricature of masculinity, and complaints about the “feminization” of America, are most obvious among religious fundamentalists.  Ohio-based religious right activist Dave Daubenmire, in the summer of 2016, complained about the “effeminized church.”  “I’m on a manhunt!” he proclaimed. “I believe that we’re in the problem we’re in in America today because there aren’t any men. There aren’t any men. There are a lot of males. There are a lot of guys who are born male. So you’re a male by birth, but you’re a man by choice.”  He said that there are “thousands and thousands of men who love the Lord but are sick of church” because Christianity has become “sissified.”  Like many proclamations from extremists, it reflects a much more widespread attitude, one that extends far outside of religion.

Western societies have generally moved away from religious fundamentalism.  What are called “mainline” religions have rejected a lot of the patriarchal philosophy, along with Biblical literalism.  This is exactly what Daubenmire is complaining about.  But patriarchy has persisted, often expressing itself outside of overt religion.  Many American men who never go to any church, and even some atheistic men, are attracted to patriarchy.  A great deal of right-wing talk radio has become essentially non-religious, while strongly adhering to patriarchy.  Right-wing pundits actually use the word emasculation to describe any effort to challenge militarism and narcissism.  The internet cesspool called the alt-right (many of whom are open admirers of Hitler) is teeming with hatred of women.  Far from being religious, much of it is openly social Darwinist, even borrowing terms from evolutionary biology.

How convenient it all is for American males, who can indulge their infantile aggressions, narcissisms, and tribalisms, while women are expected to walk an often impossible tightrope between being too timid versus being “nasty.”  The admiration that many right-wing American males, both religious and non-religious, feel for Russia is a direct result of this.  Putin is fond of getting his picture taken shirtless, riding on a horse.  Putin presents himself as a wrestler of bears.  Putin has been ruthless to homosexuals.  And most importantly, Putin has aligned himself with the Orthodox church in condemning feminism.

The problem is that little boys in grown bodies now have access to technologies that can get us all killed.  We’re all stuck in a room filled with gasoline, and each of our leaders is given a box of matches.  What does the puffed up narcissist say?  Our new President (I call him Mr. GTP), says, “Let it be an arms race.  We will outmatch them at every pass.”  This infantile mentality has nowhere else to go.  The imperative to puff yourself up must be satisfied.  Even if it gets us all killed.

Hard work revisited (and it probably won’t be the last time)

I have had a lot of different jobs in the course of my life.  I’ve done carpentry, roofing, and flooring.  I’ve worked in cotton fields and washed dishes.  I’ve shoveled manure out of barns.  I’ve scrubbed rust off the inside of a boat in 120 degree heat.  I’ve trudged through swamps, hacking through briars with a machete, and come out at the end of the day bloodied and covered with sweat.  I’ve scrubbed zoo exhibits and fought with clogged drains.  I’ve dealt with king cobras, Komodo dragons, and salt water crocodiles.

I also have an advanced degree, having endured 7 years of college, with many sleepless nights.  I’ve done reports, carried out research, and studied for tests, all at the same time.  I never missed a single class.  I’ve pushed myself to do my best when no one else was pushing me.

In other words, I’ve used my brain as well as my body.  The question is, which one is “hard work”?  Both of them of course.  But frankly, that’s not how our society views it.

Over and over again, I hear about “hard working” Americans.  Who is this, exactly?  Do people mean the migrant farmworkers who pick a lot of our fruits and vegetables?  Do they mean the maids and other “hospitality workers” who clean our hotel rooms?  Do they mean the day care workers and teachers who care for and educate our children?  I don’t think so.

Do they mean the scientists and engineers who give us new cures for diseases and new technologies?  Do they mean the college students who are on their way to becoming those scientists and engineers?  Do they mean anyone at all who exercises their brain?  I don’t think so.

The reason I don’t think so is that the people who go on about the importance of “hard work” never seem to value the work of migrant farmworkers or college-educated scientists.  They never seem to point to the Hispanic maid in the hotel, or the African-American cashier at Wal-Mart or the Asian-American computer programmer (or any computer programmer for that matter) as their model.  They point to the white farmer, the white welder, the white oil field worker, or the white autoworker.  The implication is that these folks deserve special attention.  They are the “real” America, the America that works hard, so the rest of us can play.

The image is overwhelmingly white and male.  When is the last time you saw an image like this being promoted as that of a “hard working” American?

blackscientist

This person may have worked her butt off to get a college degree and secure a decent job.  But it isn’t the image of “hard work.”  By contrast….

whiteoilworker

I don’t think I need to belabor the issue.  It is quite apparent that the phrase “hard work” in America is part of a cultural emphasis on PHYSICAL work, performed by white males.  Mental work, no matter how strenuous, is not valued.  Nor is physical work, if it isn’t being done by whites.

Such propaganda suits the exploiters just fine.  While constantly promoting the mythos of the “hard working” white male, whose indispensable work ethic is the bedrock of the economy (meanwhile portraying everyone else as parasitizing his efforts), they continue to throw away these “indispensable” people in favor of automation.

Particularly in extractive industries like oil, natural gas, coal, and timber, there have always been jobs that required little or no higher education.  Miner.  Welder.  Pipe fitter.  Lumberjack.  In the state of North Dakota, which has seen a fracking boom like few other states, the number of active crude oil rigs soared from less than 25 in 2005 to more than 200 in 2012, and production increased from less than 3 million barrels per month in 2005 to more than 35 million barrels in 2015.  But like any boom, it is followed by a bust.  Producing wells are not active rigs.  The number of active rigs in the state is now back down where it was in 2005.

In 2012, people were pouring into North Dakota to work in the oil fields.  In 2012 it had one of the highest immigration rates in the country.  Today more people are leaving the state than coming in.  Meanwhile, the influx of oil workers produced enormous strains on local infrastructure, as well as dramatic spikes in violent crime and prostitution.  Like so many extractive industries, the oil field is full of men who are more than happy to tell you about their experiences with booze, drugs, and prostitutes.

The oil field has always been like this.  To a somewhat lesser extent, so is the construction industry.  I have worked on numerous construction sites and listened to daily barrages of racist, sexist, and homophobic jokes.  These are male-dominated jobs, overwhelmingly occupied by men who do not have college degrees.  Yes, it is hard work.  Just like busting your butt and living off soup and crackers to pursue a degree is hard work.  The difference is that education is the path to long term prosperity.  But our society, and more specifically, the business community, constantly glorifies physical work, while year by year it embraces more and more automation and outsourcing.

The end result of all of this, if we survive that long, is the loud screech caused by the collision of the irresistible force against the immovable object.  Automation will continue to increase, and good-paying jobs requiring little higher education will continue to disappear.  At some point it will become impossible to cover up with nostalgic fantasizing and propagandization.  The reckoning may come sooner than many realize.

Income Inequality in America

Income inequality has been in the news quite a bit.  Both Democrats and Republicans seem concerned about it.  The squeezing of the middle class is a very real phenomenon.  But income inequality in and of itself is not necessarily an issue, and this can be illustrated by a simple example.

Suppose we have a society of 100 people.  All of them make 100 dollars per year.  The income inequality in this society is zero.  Now suppose we have another society of 100 people.  99 of them make 10,000 dollars per year.  One of them makes 1 million dollars per year.  Clearly, this society has plenty of income inequality.  But the question is, are the people in the second society better off than the people in the first?

Of course they are.  EVERY SINGLE PERSON is making much more.  And this is the theory behind trickle-down economics.  Lowering the tax burden on the wealthy aids economic growth, which trickles down to the middle class.  As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats.

Does it work?  Well, the NON-PROFIT Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy has been studying tax rates for years.  Not just income taxes – all taxes.   We tend to focus on income taxes, but all of us pay other taxes – sales tax is a big one.  And it hardly needs to be said that your tax BURDEN must be looked at in relation to your income.

So what did they find?  In states with the most progressive tax rates, the wealthy pay about the same rate in relation to their income as the poor and middle class.  Delaware, for example, ranks lowest on their index of tax inequality.  The weathiest 1% pay about 4.8% of their income as tax.  The poorest 20% pay about 5.5%.  The middle 60% pay about 5.3%.  By contrast, in Florida, the middle 60% have an effective tax rate 4 TIMES that of the wealthiest 1%.

If we plot the tax inequality index by state versus income levels, we see that there is no relationship.

taxinequalityindexbystateversusmedianhouseholdincome

Easing the tax burden on the wealthy does not increase income levels generally.  It doesn’t help or hurt.  This agrees with other research that shows that tax rates on the wealthy have no effect on economic growth.

Progressive versus regressive taxes also don’t seem to have any effect on income inequality, at least not on a state-by-state basis.  One of the most common measures of income inequality is what is called the Gini index.  If we look at the tax inequality versus the Gini index by state, we get this:

taxinequalityindexbystateversusincomeinequality

If you’re wondering why the tax inequality index is almost always negative, it’s because in every single state the wealthy pay less of a percentage of their income as tax than the poor, and in virtually every state (California is the only exception), less than the middle class.  But taxing the rich more just doesn’t seem to put a dent in income inequality.

So what DOES affect income inequality?  Well, if we look at income inequality by county rather than by state, we see a very noticeable pattern:

ginibycounty

Income inequality is generally higher in the South than in the Midwest and Northeast.  In rural areas of the Northeast, the Midwest, and the west coast, income inequality is generally low.  Yet the opposite is often true in the South – income inequality is often greatest in rural areas.

The reason has to do with the history of the South.  If we look at a map of religious affiliation, we see a striking pattern.

leadingchurchbycounty

Baptist churches dominate most of the South, including much of Missouri, Kentucky, and West Virginia.  The Catholic church dominates the Northeast and much of the Midwest.

The Southern Baptist church was the church of the slavemasters.  It is no accident that to this day many of the descendants of slaves belong to Baptist congregations; the slavemasters indoctrinated their slaves into their religion.  But it was also the church of poor southern whites.  Unlike the Methodists, the Baptist church embraced slavery and used the Bible to justify it.  Needless to say, this did not sit well with many slaves, and after the Civil War, most African Americans left white Baptist churches to form their own Baptist congregations.

In the early 20th century, the Baptist church and other “mainline” churches were becoming too “modern” for many church leaders, and Pentecostalism was born.  Pentecostalism siphoned off many southern Baptists.  Today Pentecostals are concentrated in the South, particularly Arkansas, Oklahoma, and southern Missouri.

pentecostalsbycounty

Now let’s look at education levels.  We can look at this in a couple of different ways.  First, there’s the high school graduation rate:

highschoolgraduatesbycounty

Or, we can look at the average number of years of secondary and post-secondary education:

educationlevelsbycounty

Or, we can look at the percentage of people who have Bachelor’s degrees:

percentagewithbachelors

But no matter how we look at educational attainment, we pretty much get the same result.  The maps are strikingly similar to each other, to the map of religious affiliation, and to the map of income inequality.  The areas dominated by the Baptist church tend to have low levels of education.  In Iowa, where Lutherans, Methodists, and Catholics predominate, people average 3-6 years of secondary and post-secondary education.  By contrast, in southern Missouri, where the Baptist church reigns, they average less than a year and a half.

Am I suggesting that Baptist and Pentecostal churches put less emphasis on education than Lutheran, Methodist, and Catholic churches?  I’m doing more than suggesting it.  Here are some hard facts:

educationbyreligion

Only 16% of Pentecostals and 22% of Baptists are college graduates.  By contrast, 33% of Catholics, 36% of Lutherans, and 36% of Methodists are college graduates.  Among Jews the percentage is a whopping 58%.  These are not accidents.  They reflect CULTURES.  Religious fundamentalism is inherently anti-science and anti-intellectual.  Southern whites have been fed a steady stream of religious fundamentalism by their church leaders, along with white supremacy, and just for good measure, a heavy dose of unbridled capitalism.  And this is really the key.

Prominent figures in the white Southern Baptist church have always been local business leaders.  During much of the 19th century they were planters.  As extractive industries such as timber, oil, and coal began to spread across the South, many of them became barons of these industries, others financiers.  The church was a way of maintaining business ties.  But it was also a way of indoctrinating working class whites.  It is no accident that important southern businessmen like John Kirby (timber, oil) and Vance Muse (oil) formed organizations with names like the Christian American Association to fight labor unions and at the same time, promote racial prejudice.   White supremacy, anti-communism, and anti-labor were a complete package, aimed right at propagandizing southern working class whites.  A classic example of this is the “Common Citizens Radio Committee,” run by Senator W. Lee O’Daniel of Texas, so-called “Pass-the-Biscuits Pappy.”  A propaganda machine that portrayed itself as the voice of farmers, ranchers, and grocers, the U.S. Congress, with considerable difficulty, was able to track down its biggest supporters:  H.R. Cullen, owner of an oil company and a coal company; Kay Kimbell, owner of a large milling plant; Thomas Armstrong, owner of multiple oil companies; Maco Stewart, owner of multiple loan and hotel companies; and a long list of similar big business contributors.

A great deal of this white supremacist, anti-labor effort was directed at Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.  Many of the leaders of the Ku Klux Klan were prominent southern businessmen and most of them were prominent Baptist church leaders.  The message they repeated time and time again was that Jews were joining with southern blacks to impose godless communism and black supremacy over working class whites.    Is it any wonder that the working class whites who grew up in those churches, generation after generation, bought into the message of white supremacy and the worship of the free market?

The National Council of Churches, which advocates racial and gender equality, disarmament, and social justice in general, contains a number of Baptist churches.  Two of them are the American Baptist Churches, USA (headquartered in Pennsylvania) and the National Baptist Convention, USA (primarily African-American).  These should not be confused with the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Baptist church in the world, which is not associated with any council of non-Baptist churches.  The very reason this church exists is that it broke away from the northern Baptist church on the issue of slavery.

This connection between the white Baptist church of the South and southern racism is seldom discussed.  What it has done is keep southerners, white and black, from having good access to higher education, and in many cases actively discouraged them from it.  Educated people are less easily bamboozled, less easily exploited.  It has kept wealth concentrated in the hands of a few.  It has kept southern economies focused on agriculture and extractive industries, like oil, coal, timber, and paper, rather than diversifying into information and advanced technology, which would demand educated employees.  It has sent a message to southern whites – you don’t need higher education.  You just need to work hard and stop having to pay for lazy black parasites, who are backed up by communistic Jews.

To this day the gospel of the glorious free market and the lazy welfare queens is being promulgated across the South to white working class ears, and has spread to working class whites throughout the country.  It is by no means restricted to the churches, but slavemaster churches remain excellent organizing tools for white southern businessmen and politicians, who are often one and the same.  While overt racism has become socially marginalized, covert racism is in many ways stronger than ever.  Increasingly, southern whites are encouraged to believe that it is whites, white males particularly, who are disadvantaged.  Increasingly, southern whites are being encouraged to view the browning of America as a “threat to the American way of life.”  How convenient for those who get to pay low taxes and crappy wages.

What predicts income levels?  Education.  The average American with less than high school makes only $488/week.  With only a high school diploma, $668/week.  With a Bachelor’s degree, $1101/week.  With an advanced degree, $1386/week, more than double that of an American with only a high school diploma.  If we look at educational attainment by state, it looks like this:

educationbystate

If we look at median household income by state, it looks like this:

medianhouseholdincomebystate

They look pretty similar, don’t they?  And in fact, if we plot educational attainment by state versus median household income, we get:

educationversusincome

A strong relationship.  States in which people do well are states that have invested in education.  These are not necessarily wealthy states.  New Hampshire, for example ranks 17th in per capita GDP.  But it ranks number 1 in median household income.  Wanna know where it ranks in educational attainment?  Number 1.  By contrast, Texas ranks 19th in per capita GDP, but 26th in median household income.  And in educational attainment?  50th.

Why does New Hampshire rank so high?  It isn’t just that Dartmouth College, one of the highest-ranking universities in the country, is there.  In 2008, New Hampshire high school students tied with those from Massachusetts in having the highest SAT scores in the country.  Clearly, people in New Hampshire are serious about their childrens’ education.  If we look at education expenditures per student by state, we see a familiar pattern:

educationspendingperpupilbystate

States in the Northeast tend to put more money into education.  States in the South invest much less.  In Louisiana, education expenditure per student is $10,749 (which is actually higher than in most southern states).  In New Hampshire, it’s $14,335.  In Massachusetts, $15,087.  In Connecticut, $17,745.  Connecticut’s expenditure is more than double that of Misssissippi ($8263).  Is it any wonder that the median household income in Connecticut is $72,889, almost double that of Mississippi’s $40,037?

More telling than total household income is real personal income – the amount of money available to people after taxes and other basics are taken care of.  If we look at educational expenditure per student by state versus real personal income, we get this:

educationalexpenditurebystateversusrealpersonalincome

The green dots are all northeastern states.  The red dots are all southern states.  Some of these southern states have tremendous natural wealth.  The state of Louisiana produces more than 40 million barrels of crude oil per year.  The state of Connecticut – NONE.  Louisiana spends $10,749 per student on education.  Connecticut – $17,745.  The average real personal income in Louisiana is $42,207.  In Connecticut – $54,703.  More than $12,000 more.  9 out of the 14 southern states fall below $40,000 in average real personal income.  10 out the 11 northeastern states are above this.

Education is the way up.  Education is the way out.  The myth of “hard work” has never been applied to education in the South.  Instead, it has been used to paint southern blacks as lazy parasites, while ensuring that southern working class whites are kept ignorant and destitute.  The solution to income inequality is an emphasis on education and an investment in education, as well as strong labor unions to negotiate good wages and benefits.  There are no quick fixes and no excuses.  America will never go back to the labor-intensive manufacturing of the mid 20th century, which provided tons of good-paying jobs to people without college degrees.

http://www.itep.org/whopays/

Does the higher cost of living in some areas really negate the higher wages?

When someone brings up the fact that certain parts of the country have much higher wages than others, a common rejoinder is, “Yes, but the cost of living is higher in those places too.”  Does the higher cost of living in some places actually negate the higher wages?

I have previously noted that median household income is much higher in some states that others:

medianhouseholdincomebystate

For example, the median household income in Connecticut is $72,889, compared to Louisiana’s $45,922.  A more meaningful comparison of people’s spending power would be disposable income, the income left over after paying for basic necessities.  So let’s look at that:

disposableincomebystate

Indeed, disposable income is considerably more even among states.  Households in California, for example, have high incomes, as you can see from the previous map.  The median household income in California is more than $17,000 more than in Louisiana.  But when we take into account the cost of living in California, people are actually making about $4000 a year LESS than in Louisiana.  Even so, we notice something.  People in many parts of the Northeast STILL MAKE MORE than people in Louisiana, after you take the cost of living into account.  In New Jersey, about $2000 more.  In Massachusetts, almost $5000 more.  In Connecticut, almost $6000 more!  That’s not pocket change.

Of the 20 states at the bottom of the heap in disposable income, 9 are in the South.  Of the 20 states at the top, 8 are in the Northeast.  (There are only 11 states in the Northeast.)

Notice the very high disposable income in North Dakota.  This is a recent phenomenon.  Between 2005 and 2008, median household income in North Dakota barely budged.  But in the last 7 years it has jumped 20%!  This is undoubtedly due to the recent boom in hydraulic fracturing and is almost certainly temporary.  The rig count in North Dakota peaked in 2012 at 217 and today is at less than 50.  3 years ago, North Dakota had the highest net migration rate of any state.  Last year more people left the state than entered it.

Why do incomes tend to be low in the South?  It’s not hard to understand.  Take a look at education levels by county, as measured by the average number of years of secondary and post-secondary education:

educationlevelsbycounty

The South is the land of consistently low education levels.  In West Virginia, for example, only 17% of the population has Bachelor’s degrees.  But in nearby Ohio, 24% of the people do.  Average disposable income in Ohio is about $4500 more than in West Virginia.  In Virginia, 34% of the population has Bachelor’s degrees.  Average disposable income in Virginia is about $5500 more than in West Virginia.  But in nearby Maryland, the figure is 37%.  Average disposable income is about $2600 more in Maryland than in Virginia, 9000 DOLLARS MORE than in West Virginia, right next door!

Why does the South have consistently low levels of education?  Stay tuned.

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