The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

Posts Tagged ‘Poverty

A dramatic graph: income growth by income quintile

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Here’s another great find by the Freakonomics blog.

Dark bars, below, represent income growth across the economic spectrum from 1947-1973.  The least grew the most (br-r-ravo!), and the middle and upper classes did pretty well, too.

The light bars tell a more troubling story.  In recent times (73-05), the smallest incomes grew (as a percentage) the least.  In fact, without exception, the more income a quintile received, the greater was the percent of increase in that quintile’s paycheck. The least (thus), benefited least. The first, the most.

Put another way:  the economy disproportionately rewarded high-income people.  And it hasn’t always been this way.

clipped from freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com

Economic Growth Across the Income Distribution

Yes, we already know the facts — income inequality has been increasing since the 1970’s. But it can be easy to lose sight of just how important this has been. This presentation of the data — by Claudia Goldin and my former thesis advisor Larry Katz, really hits home:

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Note: The figure plots the annual percentage growth rate in mean real family income by quintile and for the top 5 percent of families for 1947 to 1973 and 1973 to 2005. Incomes are converted to constant dollars using the Consumer Price Index Research Series (CPI-U-RS). The income concept used is the official U.S. Census Bureau measure of pre-tax, post-transfer money income.
Read the full Goldin and Katz posting, over at VoxEU, for a deeper understanding of why. (Hint: It’s education.)
[T]hese data remind us that for most of the distribution there hasn’t been much income growth.

Seeing it in graphic form is startling, eh?

Follow the link to the original article to explore the thesis that this all springs from education issues.

Thought-provoking! What’s your take?

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Obama’s quiet gains against poverty

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Apparently, progress being made against poverty may prove to be the greatest gains in 40 years.
clipped from www.thenation.com

At a the forum “Obama at 100: A Progress Report from The Nation” held on April 21, 2009 Deepak Bhargava, Executive Director, Center for Community Change, lauded the early progress the Obama administration has made in reversing forty years of neglect for the poor.

While Bhargava, an editorial board member at The Nation, made clear that the devastating scope of the recession has mitigated the impact of the reforms, he concluded that, “Boy, it is a new day in Washington.”

Corbin Hiar

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That’s “the least, first.” And I believe it is what government exists to do.

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“I am the vine:” bearing fruit in a brutal world

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Urban poverty is common in developing countrie...
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Tomorrow’s gospel reading is from Jesus’ “I am the vine, you are the branches” lesson.  It’s a beauty, about which we evangelicals can easily be moved to misty-eyed marveling.

But read along as Lawrence Moore begins his analysis at Disclosing New Worlds:

Vines, branches, fruit and pruning – and “abiding”.  This is one of those “purple passages” from John’s gospel that most of us know well.  It’s a time to expound parables of grafting, pruning, getting rid of excess foliage so the grapes are plentiful and fat, about feasting and celebration … and stuff about “abiding” that hovers constantly on the edge of twee and a bit precious.

Any tendency towards twee and precious should cause us to pause.  This world is a brutal, death-dealing place.  Most inhabitants of this planet live below the breadline.  The scale of global poverty is staggering; the magnitude of starvation is terrifyingly obscene.

What makes the statistics significant is not simply the scale.  The scale is tragic.  Yet if it was inevitable and unpreventable, that is all we could call it.  It is the fact that it is preventable that is significant.  The world has never been globally richer, nor has it ever produced more food.

Global poverty is not an accident but a deliberate human creation.  It is deliberate, not in the sense that we set out to cause starvation, but in that we build a global economy that gives those of us in the west a particular standard of living so that two thirds of the planet necessarily live in abject poverty.

Some tools utilized for pruning.

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And “we” – the people with the power and decision-making ability – reckon that is an acceptable cost.  That is what makes the global statistics so obscene.

We in the West hold most of the world’s power.  We in the West hold most of the world’s money.  We could end starvation in a year.  We choose to try to get more power and money instead.

We’re busy fussing over government power or gay marriage or how we’d rather give through our churches.  And year after year, people die in droves.  Who is responsible for this holocaust?

If I were God, I’m afraid I’d begin pruning.  Maybe some other “branch,” if entrusted with the world’s riches and power, would get serious about bearing fruit.

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The environmental inverted pyramid in public perception

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Here’s an interesting “least, first”-related observation by Nate Silver at the excellent FiveThirtyEight.

We (Americans generally) believe the environment is in danger from global warming. But we don’t particularly believe that danger threatens us:

clipped from www.fivethirtyeight.com

The survey (.pdf), conducted by George Mason University‘s Center for Climate Change Communication, reveals that Americans are concerned about global warming in the abstract — but perhaps only in the abstract. Just 32 percent of Americans think global warming will harm them “a great deal” or a “a moderate amount” personally […]

These beliefs are not necessarily irrational. Climate change probably will have more impact on the developing world than the developed one, and it almost certainly will have more impact on our children than it does on ourselves. […]

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Without taking the time to question whether the perception of invincibility is correct, let’s observe that it raises the perennial least-first question: Will we have the courage and grace to act on behalf of others?

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Wising-up about pirates: Why force will fail

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The world cheered last week when US Navy sharpshooters felled three Somalian pirates in an instant, liberating the captain of the Maersk Alabama.  Millions celebrated Capt. Phillips’ freedom.

Wonderful as it is that Phillips is free, the overall situation has been made worse.  At the price of millions of American dollars, three young Somalians are dead and one American captain free.  Other Somalians have vowed revenge, promising that future hijackings (which had been mostly bloodless) will quickly become more violent.

TV plots preach that the right folks with the right firepower actually do solve problems.  It almost never happens in real life.  Violence douses a momentary flare-up and pours gasoline on the conflict that caused it.  Off the coast of Somalia?  One captain rescued; ten thousand potential pirates enraged.

The answer surely lies in asking the right question:  Why are those young men pirates? Indeed, why are bands of young men sources of violence all around the world?  Patt Cottingham writes a thought-provoking summary:

clipped from www.huffingtonpost.com

2009-04-20-YoungMales.jpg
For any one with eyes wide open there is a root pattern going on here globally. Young males who have been brought up in an atmosphere of failed states, violence, a feeling of powerlessness, no hope for the future, and who have no anticipation about living very long, become fearless […]

Look around and you see them off the coast of Somalia, in Hamas, in Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, in Palestine, Afghanistan, Africa, Pakistan, India, in Mexican drug cartels, in gangs on the streets of LA, and in jails across the United States. […]
[Y]ou will hear phrases like just blow them up, obliterate them, wipe them out, kill them all, and other declarations of force and bravado. This knee jerk reaction is a global failure that leaves the question still unanswered as to what can be done to change this […]
Isn’t it far wiser to begin to set a course to address the root causes of this? […]
Goodbye to military force as the answer to snuff out young male insurgents.
Hello to the will to get to the root causes of young male insurgents.
Goodbye to the thinking that rogue terror gangs don’t affect us […]
Goodbye to seeing young men with guns and no value for life as worthless.
Hello to seeing young men with guns and no value for life worth our redemption […]

2009-04-20-flag.jpg
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Not much glam, not many thrills, not many political points scored by addressing the real stuff. But if we spent a tenth as much time and effort on avoiding problems as we do shooting our way out of them, we’d get a lot more bang for the buck.

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Palm Sunday Rebellion

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Here’s the last half of my Palm Sunday sermon.  In the opening, I talked about how obvious it must have seemed to Jesus’ Palm Sunday followers that he was beginning a military coup.  Find out why at Disclosing New Worlds.


Sagrada Familia #6
Image by Alex Millà via Flickr

There’s no question in their minds that Jesus is there to conquer. And Jesus has intentionally played the part. He knows the local puppet governor will hear. He knows the Roman military machine will hear. And he knows he’s throwing rebellion in their faces.

How will tyrants respond? Think of shouts of “Free Tibet!” in Lhasa.  Or the student uprising in Tienanmen Square. Or singing the Chechen national anthem in public in Chechnya. Peasants pitching rebellion are crushed without mercy.

Extra troops were in Jerusalem during the Passover, in preparation for this very kind of thing. Passover, after all, was about the liberation of the Jews from a foreign government. The Romans would be putting on a show of force.

He’s come to wage war, all right – but no one is understanding what kind of war he’ll fight. The Romans are small potatoes to him – he’s waging war on death and darkness and power, and he’ll defeat them all.

But the crowd’s expecting literal war. And that’s not what Jesus does.

Hosanna filio David
Image by Lawrence OP
via Flickr

How strange it is that everybody there makes that mistake, and we study it, and wonder how they can have missed it. And then our generation reads Revelation’s war-talk and assumes without question that Jesus’ will return in the future to fight a violent war. As McLaren observes, when Jesus comes back to fight, his mighty sword comes out of his mouth! I want to smack my head. How could I have overlooked the obviously metaphorical language used there?

Could we still be like the 1st century crowd, expecting Jesus to bring war? Could we be making the same mistake?  Doesn’t it matter that warfare is completely inconsistent with everything Jesus demonstrated?

But here’s another strange thing: It’s all outside the city.

See the last verse? He goes to the temple, looks around, heads for Bethany. Once inside the city, the acclaim is gone.

Outside of it, the crowds adore him. Inside of it – in the seat of religious power and government power – nobody shows up. As Lawrence Moore writes at Disclosing New Worlds: Read the rest of this entry »

Senators Kyl and Lincoln propose cuts in multi-millionaires’ estate taxes

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UPDATE, April 4: “As the New York Times explained, under Obama’s budget, ‘99.8 percent of estates will never — ever — pay a penny of estate tax.'”


Paris Hilton at a press conference for GoYello...

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DEARBORN, MI - MARCH 5:  Wal-Mart employee Had...
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Jesus’ take on things includes the idea that the rich can help themselves and the poor deserve the help of all of us. That view, espoused by many teachers, has become Government Morality 101 for Christian and non-Christian alike through the centuries: hence, most Americans today believe in progressive tax rates.

The rich have their champions, too. Two senators—one a retirement-state Republican and one a Wal-Mart-headquarters-state Democrat—have proposed relieving the nation of $250 billion to help adult kids of the very rich enjoy wealth without work:

clipped from thinkprogress.org
Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) have offered a $250 billion proposal to cut estate taxes for the children of multi-millionaires
Kyl and Lincoln’s “most pressing issue is clear: America’s wealthiest families need help. Now.”
“only 0.2 percent of the additional cost of the proposal, relative to [the Obama proposal], would go toward tax cuts for small businesses and farms.”
The rest of the cost, approximately $249.5 billion, would go to the inheritors of estates worth over $7 million. Paris Hilton, get excited.
The Waltons — the Arkansas-based family that founded Wal-Mart — are one of the key groups financing the campaign
“With all the serious work before Congress, it is a colossal waste of time to have to rebut the false claims and warped premises of ardent estate-tax cutters,” the NYT writes. “Ms. Lincoln’s and Mr. Kyl’s colleagues in the Senate should make short work of it and move on to urgent matters.”
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Portrait shows Florence Thompson with several ...

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I’m sure this will be pitched as a valiant, virtuous war of liberation against the “death tax,” but we’re talking about $7 million estates and up, here, not Grandpa’s 120 acres. And the years of Bush have given us the greatest disparity between rich and poor since the Great Depression.

Moving government income sourcing away from those who can effortlessly afford it and onto the backs of those who earn less is ethically questionable, especially in times like these. And inviting the very rich to create a generation that need not work while those who work for them can’t afford healthcare (with the Waltons, ironically—heirs of America’s largest low-benefit employer—leading the charge) ought to offend us.

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