February 22, 2014 at 1:00 am


Other writers, on income inequality, equal protection

Time for a guaranteed income?

Veronique de Rugy in Reason : Switzerland will soon hold a nationwide referendum on granting a guaranteed and unconditional minimum monthly income of $2,800 for each Swiss adult. In America, where Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty just celebrated its 50th anniversary of failing to achieve victory, liberals jumped on the Swiss news to reconsider the un-American-sounding idea of a universal basic income.

Surprisingly to some, they were joined by many libertarians. The list of intellectuals who have made cases for a guaranteed minimum income over the years includes such laissez-faire luminaries as Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek and Charles Murray.

Friedman favored a negative income tax (NIT), in which taxpayers who earn less than the established minimum taxable income level would receive a subsidy equal to some fraction of that difference. (A watered-down version of this became the Earned Income Tax Credit.) Hayek defended a minimum income floor, in which the government provides a conditional income to each adult. Murray’s 2006 book In Our Hands argued for an unconditional $10,000 annual cash payment to all adult Americans, coupled with a repeal of all other welfare transfer programs.

Their proposals aim to fully replace the current welfare state with a less-bad alternative. In a world where government already redistributes income, with all of the inefficiency that comes with overlapping bureaucracies, the idea of direct cash payments has an intuitive appeal because of its comparative simplicity and fairness.

Any alternative might seem preferable to the welfare system we currently have.

Income inequality starts at home

Ralph R. Reiland in the American Spectator : The U.S. Department of Labor reported in September 2013 that households in the lowest income quintile averaged 1.7 people per household and over half of the households in that bottom quintile had no income earners, zero, while households in the highest income quintile averaged 3.1 persons per household and two income earners.

Income differences between the bottom and top quintiles, in short, are largely a measure of no work or limited work per household at the bottom versus double work per household at the top.

“Sixty-one percent of U.S. households in the bottom fifth of Americans by income had no earner for the entire year of 2012,” reports economics professor Mark Perry at the University of Michigan-Flint. “In contrast, only three percent of households in the top fifth had no earners in 2012.”

Additionally, higher income workers in the U.S. economy are increasingly putting in more hours at work than those in the bottom income levels.

A Czar of Equity put in charge of fixing the “defining challenge of our time” might therefore note, correctly, that household incomes would be more equal if the government permitted only one earner per household, and if the rich were restricted via government decree to fewer work hours per week, and more equal if women hadn’t moved into higher-income jobs during the decades when upper-income professionals were increasingly choosing to marry other upper-income professionals, and more equal if family structures were more alike across all income quintiles. In 2012, reported the Census Bureau, 83 percent of households in the bottom income quintile were singles or single-parent families, versus 22 percent in the top income quintile.

I'm black, don't shoot me

Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post : Sometimes, when I’m in my car, I crank up the music pretty loud. All you Michael Dunns out there, please don’t shoot me.

Please don’t shoot my sons, either, or my brothers-in-law, nephews, nephews-in-law or other male relatives. I have quite a few friends and acquaintances who also happen to be black men, and I’d appreciate your not shooting them as well, even if the value you place on their lives is approximately zero.

I know I shouldn’t have to ask, but nothing else has worked. The criminal justice system has a mixed record — Dunn was at least partly held accountable for the burst of mayhem in which he fatally shot Jordan Davis, while George Zimmerman got off scot-free for killing Trayvon Martin. But whatever the final outcome, prosecutors and juries never get involved until after the fact. When mothers have already cried over the caskets of their dead sons. When it’s too late.

“I hate that thug music,” Dunn muttered, according to the fiancee’s trial testimony. The woman went inside to buy wine and potato chips — the couple had already been drinking, she testified — while Dunn, a software engineer who was 45 at the time, waited in the car.

I know it’s important that the next Zimmerman or Dunn be convicted of murder, if that’s what the evidence says. But I’m so very tired of funerals and trials. I want to know what we can do to keep the next Trayvon Martin and the next Jordan Davis alive.

While Michael Dunn was in jail awaiting trial — and authorities were recording his phone calls — he said this to his fiancee: “When the police said that these guys didn’t have a record I was like, you know, I wonder if they’re just flying under the radar. Because they were bad.”

What he meant by “bad,” evidently, was “young, black and male.” It was this assumption that killed Martin and Davis — and that surely will kill again. We don’t just have to change laws. We have to change hearts and minds.