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Well, duh!

Posted by Richard on May 20, 2005

The New York Times examined class, economic mobility, and the American dream in a series entitled "Class in America." Someone — I forget who — remarked that it was so lengthy that people who worked for a living couldn’t read it. I certainly haven’t; I can’t even be bothered to come up with a link for it. The theme seemed to be that this isn’t really the land of opportunity and there is no American dream. Gee, who would have guessed — the NY Times concluding that the American capitalist economy is unfair, oppressive, and eeevil.

Alan Reynolds, in Wednesday’s featured article for OpinionJournal (log in with BugMeNot), not only corrects the record regarding research on changes in mobility ("…has not changed, or might have moved imperceptibly in either direction…"), but restates some truths that ought to evoke a "Well, duh!" reaction, but for some reason continue to be met with surprise and skepticism (emphasis added):

… Median income for households with two full-time earners was $85,517 in 2003 compared with $15,661 for households in which nobody worked. Median income for households with one worker who worked full-time all year was $60,852, compared with $28,704 for those who worked part-time for 26 weeks or less.

Experienced supervisors earn twice as much as young trainees. Median income for households headed by someone age 45 to 54 was $60,242 in 2003, compared with $27,053 for those younger than 24. When we define people as poor or rich at any moment in time, we are often describing the same people at earlier and later stages of life. Lifetime income is a moving picture, not a snapshot.

Well, duh! Your work becomes more valuable as you become more experienced and acquire more responsibility.

Those with four or more years of college earn three times as much as high school dropouts. Median income for college grads was $68,728 in 2003, compared with $22,718 for those without a high school diploma.

Well, duh! If you know more, you earn more. If you don’t know much, you don’t earn much.

There are two workers per household in the top fifth of income distribution, but fewer than one in the bottom fifth, which relies heavily on transfer payments that generally keep pace with inflation. Yet by definition, rising real wages mean incomes of two-earner families rise more rapidly than inflation. … The gap between two-earner families in the top fifth and no-earner families in the bottom must grow wider when salaries rise in real terms.

Well, duh! You benefit from increased productivity only to the extend that you produce something.

All this stuff seems self-evident to me. It’s nice that there’s empirical data, but in its absence, I’d argue that the "Well, duh!" statements above are true out of logical necessity. It would require a perverse universe for them not to be true. (Or a draconian government imposing perverse rules on a rational universe; see Communism, history of.)

Yet, the entire world view of liberalism/leftism is based on ignoring or denying every one of these truths and insisting that success goes to "the winners in life’s lottery" or to those who’ve been unfairly given some advantage or privilege. And they call themselves the reality-based community?

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4 Responses to “Well, duh!”

  1. Anonymous said

    Is that true for every case or only for the 50% above the median. Productivity and experience may not lead to any benefit. Being cute may get you more. The perverse universe has nothing to do with government, but the quirks in human nature.

    VRB

  2. Anonymous said

    Regarding inequality, I made a few calculations early this year, equalizing the quintiles and adding taxes:

    “both adjustments would reduce the ratio of income disparity between the top and bottom quintiles from 14.3 to 4.21. This suggests the rich on average earn only a bit more than 4 times the poor–a number not obviously per se unjust to anyone other than doctrinaire Marxists.”

    Regarding mobility, the same post finds:

    According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, “[i]n the 1990s, over a third of people on low incomes escaped from poverty between one year and the next.” Similarly, the Census Bureau says only about 12 percent of the poor remain in poverty for three years.

    No Oil for Pacifists

  3. Anonymous said

    VRB: True for most cases. Although it’s not perverse, the universe has quite a bit of random variability. Plus, people’s values differ; some people really like ‘cute’ and are willing to reward it. But by and large, people become better off by learning more, working more, and gaining experience. No guarantees, but that’s the way to bet.

    Mr. Frank: Thanks for the link to your Jan. post (that was before I found your marvelously named blog). I’ll read it all this wknd. But I’m curious — I did a quick search in the Census Bureau PDF, and the mobility stat I found said “About one-half (49.5 percent) of people who were in poverty in 1996 were not in poverty in 1999.” (p. 2 sidebar). Where did you find the 12% number?

  4. Anonymous said

    I’ll try to reverse-engineer that calculation, which was based on households, not persons, that become poor, and a finding that only 13 percent remained poor for two years:


    Census Bureau P70-63 (1998)

    I note that this Heritage chart, based on census data, shows an even lower (i.e., better) number (about 6 percent).

    I’ll try to recall the rationale for my adjustment of the numbers. Or let me know if you find other data.

    No Oil for Pacifists

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