Apologetics of the Rich Hold Us Back

The Millionaire Next DoorAt my day job, I’ve been working on a number of articles that were left by writers in various states of unacceptability. Some of them only required what I would loosely call editing. I turned one into a new article. And there were a few that were just hopeless. One was an article I’ve seen so many times before, I don’t understand why the writer thought it was worth revisiting: what rich people do differently from poor people. The implication of these kinds of articles is always the same: if you act like rich people, you’ll become rich yourself!

It’s nonsense. But there’s a reason why it has become something of a genre: the rich and their apologists really want to argue that there is some good reason for people to be wealthy. We supposedly live in a meritocracy, after all. So it just can’t be allowed for people to think that wealth is largely a matter of dumb luck. But of course, it is. Even if you grant the idea of meritocracy, why is it that one person is born smart and another dumb? And you can say the same thing about every other human attribute that a price can be put on.

The article I was dealing with was based on the book, The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy. What it said was that we have the wrong idea about millionaires. The typical millionaire was just your unassuming neighbor who saved money and invested it in the stock market. There was just one major problem with the book: it was wrong. It’s true that there were such millionaires. But as Nassim Nicholas Taleb documented completely in Fooled by Randomness, that was due to the fact that the book came out in 1996 — the end of the longest bull market in US history. In other words, the timing was perfect to find such millionaires. What’s more, there was survivor bias.

So I went looking for a couple of articles that would push back against this narrative. I was still hoping that I might be able to save the article. I disagree with a lot of the stuff I work on; I would still publish this article if I could make it good and more or less true. But what I found made me abandon all hope. The first was an article by Matt Bruenig, In Reality, the Wealthy Inherit Ungodly Sums of Money. A lot of people try to make the argument that the rich don’t inherit that much of their wealth. And so they will show that the poor inherit almost all of their wealth whereas the rich only inherit about 15% of theirs. It’s pretty obvious what’s happening: the poor live hand to mouth and have almost no wealth. Looking at the problem that way is disingenuous.

But Bruenig makes a wider point that I’ve been making for years: what the rich give their children in terms of cash really doesn’t matter. That isn’t the major inheritance that they get. Bruenig noted, “They also pass along social and cultural capital that help their kids capture the scarce supply of highly-paid jobs. Indeed, even rich kids who do not receive a college degree are 2.5 times more likely to wind up as high-income adults than poor kids who do receive a college degree.”

Probably an even bigger myth that is pushed about the rich is that they work harder than the poor. Sean McElwee addressed this issue, Do The Rich Really Work More Than the Poor? To the extent that it is true, it is because the the poor can’t find work. There are a lot of details about that in the article. But I think the more important point on this is that the rich have more fulfilling jobs. As McElwee put it, “The rich are working slightly more hours, but the real story is the dramatic increase in the hours by the poor and middle-class that are not corresponding with higher wages. And these hours are not of the same quality; they are more satisfying and less stressful.”

But you could just watch Chris Rock discuss how a “career” is different from a “job”:

What’s interesting is that the writer of this article I was working on is, based upon his other work, really liberal. But he really bought into this nonsense. And I don’t think he’s alone. This is one of those hidden systems of control. We continue on with our broken neo-feudal system, because most people think the rich really do deserve their wealth. But there really is no evidence of that.

Many Faces of Republican Global Warming Denial

Global WarmingNPR put together a very useful table, Where Presidential Candidates Stand On Climate Change. What I find most interesting about it is that there aren’t that many Republican candidates who reject global warming outright. There are only four who absolutely reject it: Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Donald Trump. The table claims that Ted Cruz’s position on global warming is “complicated.” But that’s not really true. At least as a presidential candidate, he’s full-tilt global warming denial.

But if you drill down further, you see that actually no one in the Republican field believes in global warming. It really comes down to the Three Stages of Global Warming Denial. It’s pretty hard to say that there is no global warming and not come off as a complete idiot. Just look at the list above. Two more candidates believe global warming is real but not caused by humans: Rand Paul and Marco Rubio. I actually think this is an even worse position to hold. It says that global warming is happening but we have no idea why. It doesn’t make much sense. But this is stage two.

But if you look at people who are willing to do something about global warming, that leaves only two. First there is Lindsey Graham, who has not put forward any plan, which shows just how important he thinks it is. And then there is Bobby Jindal. He has put forward a plan, but it is primarily to make things far worse:

Jindal has unveiled a detailed plan that would repeal the Obama administration’s power plant proposal and try to overturn the 2007 Supreme Court decision providing a basis for regulating greenhouse gases. Instead, he proposes small-scale changes such as better managing national forests to prevent wildfires and improving airlines’ fuel efficiency through better air traffic control.

But note that neither of these guys is a top tier candidate. In fact, Jindal isn’t even running anymore. If you look at the top tier, there are only three candidates who have ever called for anything at all to be done about global warming: Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich. I don’t think any of them have been willing to say that during the course of the campaign. It’s sad. If one of them actually came out with a plan, it would be a typical Republican plan like Jindal’s that would make the situation worse.

It’s also interesting to note that every one of the Republicans is in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline. I’ll admit that in the grand scheme of things, that isn’t a terribly important issue. But if you think global warming is a problem, you can’t be for the pipeline.

Meanwhile, all three of the Democratic candidates have actual plans to combat global warming. We don’t even have to discuss whether or not they believe in it. Of course, I suppose the Republicans could argue that they do have a big tent. The Democrats all believe the same thing (also known as the truth). The Republicans are all over the place in their denial. But it is important to remember that. What we are seeing with the Republicans is what we saw at the end of Terminator 2 where the T-1000 is trying various forms to survive. The Republicans are trying to find a winning strategy for avoiding doing anything about global warming.

Morning Music: Home to My Emily

The Bob Newhart ShowProbably the first time I noticed that you could do interesting things with jazz arrangements was while watching The Bob Newhart Show in syndication. The song is called, “Home to My Emily.” I still love those kinds of Don Sebesky horn arrangements. Not that he has anything to do with The Bob Newhart Show them. And I have to admit that the song doesn’t quite do what it used to for me.

It was written by the show’s co-creator Lorenzo Music along with his wife, Henrietta Music. He is probably best known as the voice of Carlton the doorman on Rhoda. He was also apparently the voice of the lead character on Garfield. I never saw it. But Garfield does stand out in my mind as a push back to the trend in comics of the time, which was to actually be funny.

Anyway, here’s the theme song. It’s not bad:

Anniversary Post: Planck’s Law

Max PlanckOn this day in 1900, Max Planck presented his derivation of black-body radiation. This followed off the ultraviolet catastrophe. According to classical physics, if you were to heat iron up to higher and higher temperatures, it should radiate light at higher and higher frequencies. But it doesn’t. Instead, it radiates according what we now call Planck’s law.

What Planck found was that energy was quantized. We tend to think of energy as a continuum. But it is actually made up of little packets that are equal to the frequency of the energy times the Planck constant. Based upon this, Planck was able to derive the black-body radiation function.

What still boggles my mind is that Planck could develop all this stuff and yet never accept quantum mechanics. He never even accepted Einstein’s work on the photoelectric effect, even though it is little more than an application of what Planck did. Some day I will have to read a biography about Planck and try to figure this out. He must have had his reasons.