The question of how to address poverty in the United States is complicated. Steven Horwitz, chair of the department of economics at St. Lawrence University, and Jeffrey Reiman, professor of philosophy and religion at American University, debate the level of government assistance that should be given to help the poor.
In this clip, Prof. Horwitz suggest that the least amount of government necessary should be involved in alleviating U.S. inequality. He discusses the use, for example, of charitable donations from private entities as a way to help the poor without government involvement.
Prof. Reiman, in contrast, suggests that poverty and inequality is a matter of justice. That is, everyone is entitled to a certain standard of living, a certain level of equality in outcome. He argues that charity hurts the dignity of the recipient. When it is a gift, the recipient is made to feel that he does not deserve the charity, that he is made lower than the giver. Instead, he argues, assistance given to the poor should be something they receive because they have a right to it. They should not have to feel that it is undeserved. This is an interesting philosophical question tucked inside a larger debate about the role of government in helping the poor. What do you think?
This LearnLiberty debate presents arguments for and against more government assistance to help the poor in the United States. Prof. Steven Horwitz argues that the government has created too many problems and that lifting government-imposed barriers to the poor will go a long way toward solving the problems of inequality in the United States. Prof. Jeffrey Reiman takes the view that government, while not perfect, will have a key role to play in creating better programs to help the poor. What do you think?
Should same-sex couples be permitted to marry? Are civil unions or domestic partnerships sufficient? What kind of effect does same-sex marriage have on heterosexual marriage? Do the children of same-sex couples face undue challenges because of their parents?
These questions have all been raised in the ongoing debate about gay marriage. Professor Dale Carpenter makes a compelling argument in favor of same-sex marriage from a philosophical, rights-based perspective while presenting data to answer these questions and others.
Marriage imposes obligations and confers rights on a couple. It does this from a legal standpoint, but even more in the sense of social expectations. Every person has a fundamental right to marry, says Prof. Carpenter. And marriage is good for families and for society—whether a couple is straight or homosexual.
The 14th Amendment guarantees liberty and equal protection to every American. Do state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage violate that amendment? Is the federal government’s refusal to recognize a marriage that is legal in a state federal overreach? The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide the answers to these questions by the end of June 2013 in two cases related to same-sex marriage.
Professor Dale Carpenter provides a brief explanation of the two cases before the Court. In 2008, California voters passed Prop 8, which bans same-sex marriage in the state. This law is being contested on the grounds that the equality principle is violated because opposite-sex couples have rights that are denied to same-sex couples. It is also contested on the grounds that every American has a fundamental right to marry. A similar case centers on the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) of 1996. This law limits federal recognition of same-sex marriages, thereby denying same-sex couples more than a thousand benefits otherwise available under federal law. This means that even when a couple is legally married according to the state, the federal government does not recognize the marriage.
There are many possible outcomes in both cases. In the DOMA case, for example, Prof. Carpenter argues that “there is no legitimate federal interest in denying recognition to validly married same-sex couples.” He has submitted a brief to the Court asking it to strike down DOMA on federalism grounds. But will the justices agree? What do you think about these cases?
Wealth inequality may be REAL, but is it FAIR? And what does it mean for a society to be fair? Learn Liberty asked these questions to two professors — a libertarian (Professor Steve Horwitz), and an opposing philosopher (Professor Jeffrey Reiman) — in a debate on inequality in America. See the full debate: http://lrnlbty.co/YReLRm
The distribution of wealth in America is dramatically lopsided towards the 1% – a point vividly demonstrated in “Wealth Inequality in America,” and agreed upon by both professors. For many, there is something intuitively and philosophically unfair about this inequality. “We are the 99%!” is a mantra of Occupy Wall Street’s dissatisfaction, and a protest against America’s status quo.
“Wealth Inequality in America” draws a striking picture, but is that the whole story? What does wealth inequality say about the economic health of America’s poor and middle class? After all, isn’t the welfare of the poor and middle class a much better indication of a fair society than how wealth is divvied up among classes?
Professor Horwitz says that “Wealth Inequality in America” a misses a central point: do the poor in our society regularly lift themselves out of poverty? “How easy is it, or how difficult is it, for folks who start off poor, to no longer be poor?”
Check out the full debate to hear Professor Reiman’s response to Horwitz’s arguments about wealth in America: http://lrnlbty.co/YReLRm.
Wealth inequality may be real, but is it fair? And what does it mean for a society to be fair? Learn Liberty asked these questions to two professors — a libertarian (Professor Steve Horwitz), and an opposing philosopher (Professor Jeffrey Reiman) — in a debate on inequality in America.
The distribution of wealth in America is dramatically lopsided towards the 1% – a point vividly demonstrated in “Wealth Inequality in America,” and agreed upon by both professors. For many, there is something intuitively and philosophically unfair about this inequality. “We are the 99%!” is a mantra of Occupy Wall Street’s dissatisfaction, and a protest against America’s status quo. Professor Horwitz says that this argument misses a central point: do the poor in our society regularly lift themselves out of poverty? “How easy is it, or how difficult is it, for folks who start off poor, to no longer be poor?”
Fewer than half of 1 percent of Americans are in state and federal prisons. That sounds like a small number. But when the U.S. prison population is examined by race, we find that the effects of the criminal justice system in the United States are unequally distributed in society. While whites make up 64 percent of the U.S. population, they make up 31 percent of the incarcerated population. In contrast, Blacks represent 14 percent of society but 36 percent of prisoners. Similarly, Hispanics represent 16 percent of the U.S. population, but 24 percent of the prison population.
While fewer than 1 in 100 Americans are in jail, among the population of young black men, the ratio is closer to 1 out of 4. A young black man is more likely to be imprisoned than to get married or go to college. Professor Daniel D’Amico argues that while the causes of this trend are complicated and multicausal, perhaps part of the blame should be placed on the U.S. criminal justice system.
He points out problems with the perverse incentives politicians and bureaucrats have in developing laws. Although laws about drug prohibition, for example, are ostensibly color blind, people with different levels of wealth face different costs and benefits to participating in the drug trade. Minorities are overrepresented in U.S. prisons. In light of this, Prof. D’Amico argues that radical changes to the system might be necessary and preferable to the status quo.
We often hear that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. While a surface-level examination of U.S. households by quintile from 1967 to 2009 would seem to support this claim, Professor Sean Mulholland uses other data to show that this measure overlooks two vital pieces of information that should concern those who care about the welfare of the poor.
First, the share of total income does not tell us anything about whether income increased or decreased when adjusted for inflation. From 1967 to 2009, the real mean household income of the top quintile increased by 71 percent, meaning the rich became much richer. Over the same period. The real mean household income in the bottom quintile increased by 25 percent. This means the poor became richer as well. This measure shows that Americans in the lowest quintile could afford more goods and services in 2009 than in 1967.
Second, these measures do not tell us what happened to particular households. Household income can change from year to year, but these measure do not track that. If we look at the households in the bottom quintile in 1987 and follow those households until 1996, we find that about 45 percent of them have moved up to a higher quintile. If we look at the next 10-year period, we find that 40 percent of households move up. Professor Mulholland also discusses income mobility from the top quintile down and across generations. He argues that these facts suggest that more improvements have been made for the poor in the past 40 years than many people believe. “To continue these improvements,” he says, “we should seek ways to expand opportunities for income growth and, with it, greater absolute mobility for those across the income distribution.”
1. Data on household income shares by quintile come from here: http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/data/historical/household/. U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplements, Table H-2. Share of Aggregate Income Received by Each Fifth and Top 5 Percent of Households, All Races: 1967 to 2009
2. Data on mean household income levels by quintile come from U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplements, Table H-3. Mean Household Income Received by Each Fifth and Top 5 Percent, All Races: 1967 to 2009. These data can be found here: http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/data/historical/household/.
What if libertarians and classical liberals were wrong and the free-market system actually did make the rich richer and the poor poorer? Would that change their support of those ideas? Professor Matt Zwolinski expects that it would. This implies that most proponents view how the poor fare under free-markets as more than just an attractive selling point for the free-market system. It is a crucial element in justifying market-based policies.
Who ends up with what in terms of money, jobs, or opportunities is affected by the legal and social rules under which people operate. We have rules defining and enforcing property rights, rules of contract, taxation, and so on. Prof. Zwolinski says, “Rules like these don’t determine exactly how any particular person in society will fare compared to anyone else, but they do affect the overall patterns of distribution in society.”
The famous egalitarian John Rawls said that “a just society’s rules tend to work to the maximum advantage of the least well off classes.” Prof. Zwolinski argues that while we may disagree on the means to achieve this end, free-market proponents can agree with this statement. We can embrace a theory of social justice without believing the state has to do anything to directly promote the welfare of the least well off. Prof. Zwolinski believes that when it comes to social justice, supporters of a traditional concept of social justice and free-market proponents have much to learn from one another.
Historian Amy Sturgis recounts history that seems made for the movies but hasn’t made it to the big screen. It’s a decades-long story of oppression and freedom fighting. Why hasn’t there been more attention paid to John Horse and the Black Seminoles?
Prof. Sturgis argues that John Horse and the Black Seminoles deserve to be remembered for a number of reasons:
They created the largest haven in the U.S. South for runaway slaves.
They led the largest slave revolt in U.S. history.
They secured the only emancipation of rebellious slaves prior to the U.S. Civil War.
The formed the largest mass exodus of slaves across the United States and, ultimately, to Mexico.
Learn more about this remarkable story that has been overlooked by film makers, popular culture, and, importantly, historians of slavery. This story has fallen through the cracks, in part because it blends the history of Native Americans and of slaves and in part because it represents a blemish in U.S. history. But this group of freedom fighters—who ultimately found peace, liberty, and prosperity—is worth remembering.
Prof. Mark LeBar considers what kind of social or political ideal we ought to have, with a specific focus on equality. There are numerous types of equality, and philosophers tend to be concerned with what LeBar refers to as normative equality, which is concerned with how we as individuals ought to treat others.
Within the realm of normative equality, LeBar discusses four plausibly defensible candidates:
Equality of welfare
Equality of resources
Equality of opportunity
Equality of luck
After reviewing each item, he finds some common problems:
Incompatibility: If, for instance, equality of welfare is pursued, it renders the other types of equality impossible.
Measurement: What does it mean to have equal opportunity? How do you compare my opportunities to your opportunities?
Subjectivity and vagueness: What is welfare? Is a scholarship to a dance school as valuable as a scholarship to law school?
Production: The theories above deal with the provision of goods but ignore the production of goods. In almost all cases, however, altering the provision of goods affects the production of goods.
Despite some of the issues with normative equality, LeBar still thinks that equality is an important human ideal. Specifically, he thinks that moral equality, looking at the equality of relations with one another, is important.
According to the Declaration of Independence, we’re all created equal. But Professor Aeon Skoble is not as rich as Bill Gates, as tough as Vin Diesel, or as sexy as Hugh Jackman. To Professor Skoble, the Declaration intends for us all to be treated equal before the law. Put another way, we should all have equal freedom to choose our own respective paths to happiness as long as we do not infringe on the freedoms of others.
Treating people as equals means that we should show equal respect for the choices they make. That means that, although we may disagree with others, we should respect their preferences for jobs, tv shows, music, etc… The legal system should show equal respect for persons by respecting their rights equally, not by interfering with the outcomes of people’s choices. If we try to produce equality in some other fashion, we will necessarily violate people’s freedom to choose.
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