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Dean Baker on education and inequality:

The patterns in the data show that inequality is not a question of the more-educated gaining at the expense of the less-educated due to inevitable technological trends. Rather, it has been a story in which a small group of especially well-situated workers — for example, those in finance, doctors, and top-level corporate executives — have been able to gain at the expense of almost everyone else. This pattern of inequality will be little affected by improving the educational outcomes for the bottom quarter or even bottom half of income distribution.

Jonathan Cohn on taxes:

Relative to other countries, tax rates in the U.S. are relatively low, even when you throw in local and state taxes and add them to federal levies. Overall, according to the Tax Policy Center and Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which supplied the graph above, taxes in the U.S. are among the lowest in the developed world. The average for countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an organization of rich countries, is higher. And in countries like Sweden, Norway, and the Netherlands...the average is much higher. In those nations, taxes account for more than half of total national income.

That level may sound scary but, as many of us have written before, you could make a good case that the people of Scandinavia and Northern Europe know what they are doing. They are far more secure, thanks not only to national health insurance but also to generous provision of child care and unemployment benefits. And despite the high tax burden, their economies have historically been strong—in part, because the combination of investment and a secure safety net makes people more comfortable with a dynamic, ever-changing economy. The wonks used to call this economic model “flexicurity.”

Thomas Nagel on regret:

If someone breaks his promise to drive you to the airport, causing you to miss your flight, then even if the flight crashes with no survivors your friend is not excused: he shouldn’t have broken his promise. The retrospective effects of later outcomes have to do not with justification but with affirmation or regret, which are independent of justification or its absence.

About the Author

Matthew Boudway is an associate editor of Commonweal.



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This is why the rich from other countries come here and buy 59,000,000 dollar condominiums in Mahhattan. This factor has driven up coop and condo prices since the 60's. It is the principal cause of the exorbitant prices in Manhattan (and now also Brooklyn) real estate. In San Francisco the Middle Class is so incensed they will not let Google and other silicone Dives, use Public bus stops for their jitneys. 

But there are signs that the pressure will rise on this gilded and indifferent class. It is not just DiBlasio. This is a serious crisis. The more people pay attention the quicker solutions will be sought. 

Very serious.

Mr. Boudway - some questions about Baker's findings.  Don't dispute what he surfaces here but not sure that the conclusion he reaches is accurate.

When you look at the US income disparaties - the richest 5% are not necessarily the occupations he singles out here.  His categories are too narrow and too limited.  If you analyze total US wealth and who holds it, the reasons go well beyond certain occupations.  His analysis says nothing about inherited wealth; wealth that has become concentrated in the hands of a few and a few very wealthy families; wealth that flows from investments (many of the super rich have never even worked  - they inherit family investments). 

So, when he applies this in a broadbrush manuever to education of the population - would suggest that he leaves out much.  Education may not necessarily make you rich but it can lead to participation in the middle to upper middle class - safe and secure relatively.  He also is narrowly defining what education does - education is more than occupation; more than income, etc.  Many studies through the years have shown that education is what leads to a civil society; to an increasing and active middle class, etc.

Those studies might be passe. Seems only nanies and waiters have a secure future. 

Apart from techs, that is.

Ross Douthat replies to Jonathan Cohn.


Thomas Nagel does a clear examination of Jay Wallace's analysis of how human beings have serious regrets about their lives yet almost inevitably affirm them as having positive value.  I think the review would be of interest mainly to philosophers except that the distinctions Wallace and Nagel make and the examples they give could be very useful in teaching us to analyze moral issues, and, therefore, be of practical interest when examining one's conscience.

Consider Wallace's analysis of the difference between "affirmation" and  "regret".  Wallace offers an example of a girl who decides to have a child at 14, and ultimately both she and the child are glad she did -- they both affirm her decision.  But does the mother have a moral right to affirm her decision as a *moral* good?  Is she guilty of anything?  The questions Wallace raises are not purely hypothetical ones.  He also offers the example of certain deaf people who refuse cochlear implants for their deaf children on the grounds that hearing would deprive the children of living good lives  without their sense of hearing.  (There are actually deaf people who think this way.)  Nagel asks :  should the courts require such parents to permit such operations?   

We might also ask:  Can *retro-active* affirmation absolve one of sin?  The great painter Gauguin deserted his family to go to Tahiti for the sake of his admittedly great art.  Nagel maintains that Gauguin did not eliminate his responsibilities to his family because the art seen in retrospect was great.  Does a road taken many years ago absolve one of a sin done by choosing a different road?  (Nagel doesn't use the word "sin".)  Or can such a "long-ago" sin be a continuing one, one which is not simply a discrete event in the distant past ?  Space and time, space and time . . . 

Nagel doesn't get into the question of absolution, but that question also hovers over the article:  just what is absolution?  What is forgiveness?  How does it/they affect regret or self-affirmation?

I agree that Nagel's review is very interesting. I feel that kind of vexing ambivalence very much whenever I examine my past - how can I regret bad decisions that I made, when they led me to where I am now? - but I had never seen it addressed so explicitly anywhere. 

As Ann says this is very practical. It comes up all the time. 

It also seems connected to Romans 6:1: "What shall we do, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?"

Should we regret Adam's sin, even though without it Christ's coming would not have been necessary?

"Should we regret Adam's sin, even though without it Christ's coming would not have been necessary?"

Claire --

"O felix culpa!" replied St Augustine who saw the good that came from evil.  The fundamental issue seems to me to be one aspect of the ancient problem of evil, the fact that sometimes evil seems to be a condition of good.

As to  Romans 6:1: "What shall we do, then?",  surely we aren't called upon to sin.  But neither does it make sense to respond with the inanity of Alfred J. Prufrock's "Shall I eat a peach?"

What makes a life worthy of being affirmed? 

Yep.  Motives and the moment matter.  It is not possible to accurately identify much less judge the good/evil of an event without them.

On the Baker quote:  How does Baker define education?  If it involves primarily memorization and regugitaion he is likely correct.  If it involves critical thinking as the only reliable basis for genuine compassion he's not.

On Cohn's quote:  American's population is identified by its diversity.  There's a difference.

On Nagel's quote:  Geezzz, wish I could convince myself I were clever enough to argue with Nagel on that point.


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