Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Will the New Global Middle Class Adopt American-Style Bourgeois Values?

David Brooks discusses the new global middle class in an interesting column prompted by a new version of Hans Rosling's viral TED video about income growth and life expectancy. Brooks is usually good when he sticks to his forte, which is sociology, but his attempt to sell the U.S. model as the future for the new middle-class is to stretch it too far, way too far.

To be middle class is to have money to spend on non-necessities. But it also involves a shift in values. Middle-class parents have fewer kids but spend more time and money cultivating each one. They often adopt the bourgeois values — emphasizing industry, prudence, ambition, neatness, order, moderation and continual self-improvement. They teach their children to lead different lives from their own, and as Karl Marx was among the first to observe, unleash a relentless spirit of improvement and openness that alters every ancient institution.
(...)
Americans could well become the champions of the gospel of middle-class dignity. The U.S. could become the crossroads nation for those who aspire to join the middle and upper-middle class, attracting students, immigrants and entrepreneurs. (David Brooks: Ben Franklin’s Nation)
This is a narrow American perspective, "bourgeois values — emphasizing industry, prudence, ambition, neatness, order, moderation and continual self-improvement." It excludes other values that have grown all over the world as more and more people are entering the middle class, values such as social welfare systems, universal health insurance, long paid vacations, paid maternity leave, abolishment of death penalty, and so on. I don't know if Ben Franklin would have objected to parental leave, but that doesn't really matter. For all their glory, the Founding Father's had their limits (as well as their slaves). The new global middle class will of course get "Americanized" as they become relatively wealthy, but that doesn't mean that they will give up their traditional culture or preferences for social security and a more humane society. U.S. observers often think they see themselves whenever somebody abroad opens a can of soda, but that is not always the case!

Hans Sandberg

Here is Hans Rosling's presentation:

Monday, December 13, 2010

Living Standards in the U.S. and Europe are Much Closer than They Appear to Be

If you compare the incomes in Europe and the U.S., it looks like people in Europe are much worse off than people in the U.S., but this could be an illusion according to a a research paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) in the U.S. written by Charles I. Jones and Peter J. Klenow. The authors state that:

"...living standards in Western Europe are much closer to those in the United States than it would appear from GDP per capita. Longer lives with more leisure time and more equal consumption in Western Europe largely offset their lower average consumption vis a vis the United States."

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What Will the Tea Party Folks Say When They Wake Up To a 2nd Stimulus Package?

As much as I am frustrated by Obama's seemingly unbreakable hope in "bipartisan" goodwill, I wonder if it might not be the Republicans that will have to pay the largest political price for today's "deal". What are they going to tell the tea party crowd now that they have betrayed the deficit fanatics. I suspect that many tea party people will go after Boehner & Co for adding another trillion dollars to the deficit. However ill designed the compromise is, you could say that it is a second stimulus package of sorts, as David Leonhard points out in New York Times.

Hans Sandberg

Friday, December 3, 2010

Call the Republican Bluff by Letting All of the Bush Era Tax Cut Expire!

Everybody (on TV at least) talks about the disaster that would strike if the Bush tax cuts were to expire, but you rarely hear any of the pundits specify how much people would have to pay in tax if the entire unfinanced tax cut were allowed to expire as it was intended to do. The bottom half of the population would have to pay between $5 and $836 more in tax in 2011. Big deal! The 3,4 % making 200-500.000 would have to pay $7,484, which is peanuts considering their income and the fact that their tax break for 2004-2010 was $54,707. Why all this hysteria? Call the bluff, and let the whole thing expire!

For more data, check out this link.

This in from Arizona: "Yes, We Can!" (Let You Rot and Die!)

Here is a story that is NOT written by Charles Dickens in time for Christmas:

Francisco Felix, 32, a father of four who has hepatitis C and is in need of a liver, received news a few weeks ago that a family friend was dying and wanted to donate her liver to him. But the budget cuts meant he no longer qualified for a state-financed transplant. He was prepared anyway at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center as his relatives scrambled to raise the needed $200,000. When the money did not come through, the liver went to someone else on the transplant list. “I know times are tight and cuts are needed, but you can’t cut human lives,” said Mr. Felix’s wife, Flor. “You just can’t do that.”
To which all stern scroogelike born-again or just born budgetcutters join in a fiscally conservative Christmas Carol:
YES WE CAN!
(Aren't their graveyards to take care of those who can't take care of themselves?)

Hubble Telescope Images