Mother Jones says: America is Rich

So I say, Hooray!

Well, OK, I don't think that's quite what this article meant to convey. But I find it (mostly) an inspiring sign of progress:

  • Since 1950, the average new house has increased by 1,247 sq. ft. Meanwhile, the average household has shrunk by 1 person.
  • The National Association of Home Builders’ “showcase home” for 2005 is 5,950 sq. ft. That’s 15% bigger than last year’s model.
  • Since 1982, 35 million acres—an area the equivalent of New York state—have been developed.
  • In 1950, 1 in 100 homes had 2.5 baths or more. Today, 1 in 2 do.
  • 14 million households own 4 or more TVs.

Pretty sweet, huh? Now, as an engineer, I like efficiency, so I sort of sympathize with items like:

  • Americans spend more to power home audio and video equipment that is “off” but still plugged in than they do to power such devices while actually in use. Such “energy vampires” consume 5% of the nation’s electricity.

But if there is some efficient way to solve this problem and save energy, why aren't these guys out there inventing it and making a fortune while saving the country an even larger fortune, instead of just complaining? And if there isn't an efficient way to solve it, then the current situation, while it may seem inefficient, is probably a pretty reasonable solution.

And if all the statistics are meant to horrify..then I'm kind of horrified, ie:

  • 1 in 4 Americans want at least a 3-car garage.

Heavens! How dare people aspire for space, for storage, for room! What will they aspire to next - a sports car and a passenger-moving minivan? Equipment for sports they only engage in once or twice a year? An expensive device that saves them only a minute or two of effort a day? Shocking how people want their lives to be better, isn't it!

We more often complain about how the right doesn't want us to have any fun, but don't forget that the spirit of the Puritans is alive and well on the left. Wealth is waste, ascetism is virtue. Its only we libertarians who proudly say: screw the economic puritans, we support your right to own a big house, drive an SUV, have a 50-inch HDTV in every room. And screw the social puritans, you should be able to smoke pot in that big house, get fellatiated by male prostitutes in that SUV, and watch the filthiest trash Howard Stern can come up with on that TV.

Vivat! And may the rest of the world join us - as soon as possible.

(Update deleted because I was on crack)

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What about these ones? - 87%

What about these ones?

- 87% of homeowners are white.

- Overall, blacks receive subprime loans 2.83 times more often than whites. The disparity increases when affluent blacks are compared to affluent whites.

- 7% of all homes are in gated communities.

I find those disturbing -- offenses against my sense of humanity and, in the latter case, also my sense of taste.

- 87% of homeowners are

- 87% of homeowners are white.

Since 75% of Americans are "non-Hispanic white", 87% doesn't seem that outrageous. Unless, of course, you believe that every single fraction of any statistic should match every demographic characteristic percentage point by percentage point.

- 7% of all homes are in gated communities.

So?

Jeremy, Subprime lending is

Jeremy,
Subprime lending is lending to those who might otherwise be considered poor risks for extending credit. When comparing subprime lending rates, you would have to take into account the differences in credit history among the groups being compared to determine if one tends to have a higher rate of poor credit histories than the other.

Re the last section: "Its

Re the last section: "Its only we libertarians who proudly say: screw the economic puritans, we support your right to own a big house, drive an SUV, have a 50-inch HDTV in every room. And screw the social puritans, you should be able to smoke pot in that big house, get fellatiated by male prostitutes in that SUV, and watch the filthiest trash Howard Stern can come up with on that TV."

Patri, what are your thoughts on the best way to "sell" the freedom that you (and I, after many years of exposure to your thought-viruses) advocate? A big fraction of the US *does* feel that SUV ownership is immoral (though I'm not one of them) and a huge chunk of the population views gay prostitution as extremely immoral as well. (In this case, I would agree with them on the morality aspect of things.) What worked to convince me that social freedoms should be expanded, *even though I don't like some of the things people may do with them* was the understanding that a) respect for other adults required respecting even their choices that I would consider sick, wrong, immoral etc., and b) the side effects of outlawing certain things are worse than the thing being outlawed. (i.e. loss of civil liberties, prohibition of useful drugs, increased violent crime)

As such, speaking as someone who understands how social conservatives (and economic statists to a lesser extent) think about a lot of things, I worry that celebration of the extremes of freedom as a good thing in and of itself might turn off more people than arguing based on respect and outcomes. (Though "protecting your right to be serviced by gay prostitutes" might be an attention-gathering slogan for the LP, I dunno how far it would go to gaining them widespread support.)

But don't worry, I understand the desire to just cut loose...especially when there is *so much* @(#*&$%@)*&#@ paternalism in this world. :)

Cheers,

Oh, I certainly agree with

Oh, I certainly agree with you Ian. This post was meant to be a celebration of libertarian ideals - I had no illusion that it would be convincing to anyone who disagreed with those ideas. I generally aim my posts to convince, so I should get to cut loose every once in awhile :twisted:, as you say. It was a deliberate choice, and I considered before posting it.

As for how to convince people, I think you have a better perspective than I do, having been convinced yourself. But I agree strongly with your (b) argument - I think its a powerful idea to say "Hey, maybe the world would be a better place if we could wave a magic want and make drugs disappear. But we don't have that option. All we have are laws and cops and jails. And the evidence is that those do more harm than good." I think most libertarian ideas have good arguments of that type for them.

And when they *don't* have good arguments of that type, well, maybe we shouldn't worry about those ideas right now. Not that we should change our views on morality, but lets at least get everyone to do things our way when its in their best interests before we try to change their morals.

I suspect that if I ever write a libertarian book, the thesis will be "empirical evidence that you should do things our way". All consequentalist arguments. But Micha needs to get his ass through grad school and become a prof so he can get paid to co-author it :).

I would imagine that many

I would imagine that many are in the same boat as me, in that I need ultra-conservatives’ money. Rich, white conservatives (at least in Atlanta) are the ones that desire the largest, most costly custom home plans. As an architect, I seek their business. The average size of the houses I “create” is 5,000 sq. ft. So, the stats you cite are heartening to me. Here’s an example of plans I’ve drawn.

TVs have become so

TVs have become so incredibly cheap that it means nothing that the average house has four.

However, I think it's a significant statistic that homes are getting so much bigger. Unlike television, homes have not become less expensive. We have more money than we know what to do with.

_We have more money than we

_We have more money than we know what to do with._

Perhaps a better alternative than a 5,000 sq ft house and a fourth plasma TV, then?

https://secure.ga3.org/02/oxfamamerica

Wow, gorgeous stuff,

Wow, gorgeous stuff, Robert!

Joe - When the govt. stops taking 1/4-1/2 of my income, I suspect I'll become a lot more charitable. Until then I feel like "I gave at the office", as the old excuse goes.

Americans spend more to

Americans spend more to power home audio and video equipment that is “off” but still plugged in than they do to power such devices while actually in use. Such “energy vampires” consume 5% of the nation’s electricity.

This is the result of the electrical power distribution system, both internal and external to the home, needing to use potentially lethal alternating current (AC) voltage levels to achieve any order of distribution efficiency.

The audio and video equipment, on the other hand, requires direct current (DC) power at relatively low voltages. Typically, the conversion is accomplished by the ubiquitous black plastic power modules/AC adapters that tie up multiple 120VAC power wall outlets and power strips in virtually every home in the country.

These modules use voltage step down transformers permanently tied to the outlet and always drawing some power and current. In addition to voltage step down, the transformers electrically isolate the potentially lethal wall outlet power from the cable to the A/V equipment. There is no known alternative to the transformer that can both level-convert and reliably isolate in any kind of an economically cost-effective manner.

Regards, Don

_When the govt. stops taking

_When the govt. stops taking 1/4-1/2 of my income, I suspect I’ll become a lot more charitable. Until then I feel like “I gave at the office", as the old excuse goes._

"Are there no prisons?...And the Union workhouses...Are they still in operation?...The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?...I help to support the establishments I have mentioned--they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there."

The old man says it well,

The old man says it well, doesn't he?

Seriously, you don't find that being forced to give reduces your desire to give further?

Seriously, you don’t find

Seriously, you don’t find that being forced to give reduces your desire to give further?

As my southern brethren are wont to say: “that’s the daddy of that”.

Careful, Patri. A liberal

Careful, Patri. A liberal friend told me once that people who don't give to charity because they pay taxes "would just find another excuse" if there were no taxes and everything ran on private charity. Just when I might have been able to convince her that the world would run and the trash would even get picked up without government, you go and undo all my efforts.:grin:

Patri, I think you

Patri, I think you misunderstood the New York City comment. It was *praising* NYC residents for using less energy than the average residents any of the 50 states, not loathing them.

New Yorkers rank last in energy usage becaus of their high density, small homes, and high usage of public transit. The "loathing" was directed at non-New-Yorkers, with their large homes and multiple cars in low-density suburbs.

Your statement that "if the author of that article were a state, he’d rank 51st in energy use per capita too" is bizarre, and does not follow from the article or from logic. (If the author uses more energy than the average resident of his own state, for example, then he would rank at most 50th in per-capita energy use.)

Joe, You might find Roderick

Joe,

You might find Roderick Long's short article, "Who's the Scrooge?
Libertarians and Compassion
" interesting and on topic. The money quote:

Let us consider again our friend Scrooge, taking a second look at the passage I quoted earlier. Scrooge has no use for private, voluntary forms of charity. His solutions to the problem of poverty are all governmental solutions: prisons, with their forced labor (the treadmill), and government welfare (the Poor Law), with its Union workhouses. His visitor's plea that these solutions are inefficient at best and maleficent at worst falls on deaf ears; Scrooge regards governmental solutions as sufficient, and dismisses private charity as a waste of time.

And this fellow is supposed to be the archetype of libertarianism? Hardly. But Scrooge's attitude toward the poor does indeed exemplify an ideology. It's called statism. And we've had enough of it.

CARNIVAL OF THE CAPITALISTS

CARNIVAL OF THE CAPITALISTS
IT'S ALL ABOUT RISK Some fifteen years ago I walked into a London office as a young banking trainee and my first boss, one of these seasoned and arrogant investment bankers, gave me only a few moments of his...

Joe A large percentage of

Joe

A large percentage of aggregate giving goes to churches, but I don’t know how that works out as a function of income. Does it matter? If that’s what people want to contribute their money to, I don’t see the problem. Churches are better venues for social interaction than their government "replacements", i.e. church youth activities vs. city midnight basketball leagues, parochial vs. public schools, confession and free counseling (many priests and rabbis have degrees) vs. medicare/medicaid-supported counseling, and many (the Mormons, for example) even have programs to help their members through tough times in a much more self-actualizing way than TANF (the replacement for AFDC). Many of my non-reality based friends are very active in their churches, which are more-or-less country clubs with regular Sunday meetings. They have picnics, golf tournaments, and all kinds of activities. They have to have those activities (or not, depending on the preference of the congregation) because churches, unlike the government, face competition: each other.

More on the statistics of charity:

Joe, You're probably

Joe,

You're probably overestimating how much private school tuitions run. Elementary school, in particular, is cheap. Cato's 1996 survey What Would A School Voucher Buy? found elementary school tuition in San Francisco County had a median cost of $2250 with a few schools charging as little as $1000/year. (High school is somewhat more expensive in the big cities, but still averages a lot less than what the public schools spend.)

Eric, _It’s worth noting

Eric,

_It’s worth noting that people with lower incomes tend to give a larger percentage of their incomes to charity (check the statistical abstract). Perhaps it reflects their firsthand knowledge of how bad government programs really are._

I wonder, though, to what extent that statistic is thrown off by the fact that giving to one's church counts as a charitable contribution? Most churches use a relatively small percentage of their total contribution for what one would generally call charitable work. Most of the income, particularly from smaller churces, goes to keeping the church itself afloat.

Are churches required to report such things in the same way that the Red Cross and Oxfam are?

Part of the reason I give to

Part of the reason I give to charity is because the "charity" running through the government filter is so particularly **bad**. Putting someone up in public housing only teaches them that they can crap in the hallways, commit violence, spray graffiti, and so on, with no consequences. On the other hand, when they get some sweat equity and then get to buy a Habitat for Humanity house, they learn to value property. They learn how to build wealth, not destroy it. Welfare dependents or working class families with a keen respect for private property - I know which ones I want living in my community and voting on laws that have an effect on me.

Ditto the Nature Conservancy (despite its recent problems), Cato, and IJ. And ditto organizations like the Red Cross. As you look back through history, private solutions have almost always been present first. They get defeated and "crowded out" by Johnny-come-lately gov't solutions that ultimately undermine what they set out to solve, and by the time people realize it, they can't remember the private solutions. Anyone here remember lodge practice? 37 years of the War on the Poor, and they're still here. Politicians and bureaucrats? Fuck 'em, I say. Maybe they can take my money away from me, but I'm determined to keep the private solutions afloat.

It's worth noting that people with lower incomes tend to give a larger percentage of their incomes to charity (check the statistical abstract). Perhaps it reflects their firsthand knowledge of how bad government programs really are.

Micha, I'm not convinced

Micha,

I'm not convinced that there actually are all that many people who say things like, "Why send my kids to private school when public school is free." Do many parents really reason this way about their kids? This would be the cheapness model of parenting.

Certainly there are marginal cases of people who would send their children to private school if only they had their property tax money back, but here we're talking about, mostly, middle- to upper-middle class parents, for whome the couple thousand in property taxes is the difference between what they can afford and what private tuition runs.

As for the pat answer, I'm not sure why the fact that people can wrongly use X as an excuse for not doing Y implies that X is therefore itself bad.

Joe, The “I pay taxes and

Joe,

The “I pay taxes and that’s sufficient” response misses out on an important consideration, namely, that very little of our tax money actually goes toward aid for the world’s desperately poor.

I completely agree. And while we're criticizing people who make this mistake (the mistake that taxes are sufficient to solve the problem of poverty), let's also consider the fact that taxation and coercive public charity displaces private charity, in the same way that taxation and coercive public education displaces private education. Think about all of the people who reason, "Why should I send my kid to private school, which costs thousands of dollars each year, when I could just as easily send my kid to public school for free." If this type of person had a real choice between private and public school - a choice that did not involve money being taken from him before he makes his consumption decision - she might very well choose to send her child to private school. But because of the coercive nature of public school funding, many of those on the margin lean the other way.

The same is true with charity. People feel less of a moral obligation and a personal responsibility to help their fellow man when a gigantic, impersonal entity claims to be in charge of that aspect of society. All of the little Hillels who ask, "If not me, who?" have a pat answer ready - the government.

Micha, I hadn't intended to

Micha,

I hadn't intended to accuse libertarians generally of being Scrooges. Your own posts on the subject of aid would have been enough to convince me of the wrongness of such a claim. I understand fully that libertarianism is perfectly consistent with private charity. (Whether private charity would be sufficient is another question entirely, but that's not really the issue here.) Incidentally, you'll notice that my link is to a private charity and not to the IRS. I don't think that the state has to take care of everything all by itself; it should do only those things that can't be done well by individuals or things that could but aren't being done adequately by individuals.

My comment was not aimed at libertarians as a whole. It was aimed at a particular type of response to requests for charity, a type that is hardly limited to libertarians. The "I pay taxes and that's sufficient" response misses out on an important consideration, namely, that very little of our tax money actually goes toward aid for the world's desperately poor. I think that you and I are in agreement about just how problematic that is. My initial suggestion was only that, to the extent that we really do have more money than we know what to do with, adding another 800 sq ft onto our McMansion in the suburbs might be a worse use of that money than giving it to a starving child.

As far as Long's interpretation of Dickens, it's an interesting take that is pretty convincing as long as one is willing to ignore (a) the rest of the book and (b) all extant scholarship on Dickens. Scrooge is Dickens' characature of a certain type of utilitarian economist (both of which terms Dickens pretty seriously misunderstood). Indeed, Scrooge is a pretty lousy utilitarian economist, even by Dickens' own standards. Gradgrind, from _Hard Times_, is a better example of the type. Gradgrind, however, is very much a reformer, starting, for example, his own free school for working-class children, but running that school according to his (warped) utilitarian notions.

But one needn't know these things about Dickens to understand what a bad interpretation Long gives. Scrooge is greedy. That's his reason for not giving to charity. It's not that he thinks that the state ought to take care of such things. If he could, Scrooge would refuse to pay for that, too. To claim that statism underlies Scrooge's meanness is to ignore Dickens' wonderful description:

_Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas._

_External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn't know where to have him. The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect. They often came down handsomely, and Scrooge never did._

_Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, ``My dear Scrooge, how are you. When will you come to see me.'' No beggars implored him to bestow a trifle, no children asked him what it was o'clock, no man or woman ever once in all his life inquired the way to such and such a place, of Scrooge. Even the blindmen's dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts; and then would wag their tails as though they said, "No eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master!"_

_But what did Scrooge care! It was the very thing he liked. To edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance, was what the knowing ones call nuts to Scrooge._

This is great stuff, too infrequently read. The worst part about filming Dickens is that some of the best parts of his prose lie in his descriptions of the characters. If you want a real treat, check out Patrick Stewart's dramatic reading (not the TV movie version) of _A Christmas Carol_.

Was the 'get fellatiated by

Was the 'get fellatiated by male prostitutes in that SUV' intended as hyperbole or do you actually think people should be allowed to have sex in public?

Eric H, I don't have a

Eric H,

I don't have a problem with people giving money to churches if they want to, either. I do have a problem with saying that, because church-related giving counts as a charitable contribution, folks who tithe to their local church are doing something more praiseworthy than those who give a higher number but a lower percentage of income to charities that directly aid the poor. It's an apples to oranges comparison.

Incidentally, if churches are country clubs with regular Sunday meetings, then it's really unclear that giving to church ought to count as charitable giving. After all, no one thinks that country club dues are charity; why should church then count?

I’m not convinced that

I’m not convinced that there actually are all that many people who say things like, “Why send my kids to private school when public school is free.” Do many parents really reason this way about their kids?

Suppose that you get two units of education with no formal schooling, five units of education from public school, and six units of education from private school. Would you pay private tuition to give your children an extra four units of education? Would you pay the same amount for only one extra unit? Regardless of your answers, I think we can agree that there are perfectly good parents who would answer only one of those questions affirmatively.

True or not, most people believe that the marginal benefit of private school over no formal education is much greater than the marginal benefit of private school over public school, so there's no reason not to expect the existence of free public school to affect parents' willingness to pay to send their children to private school.

Hence, the two red wigs I

Hence, the two red wigs I just purchased.

I plan to dress up as the

I plan to dress up as the Castro Street masturbator next Halloween.

It was certainly hyperbole.

It was certainly hyperbole. What do I actually think? Well, ideally there would be no "public", and each jurisdiction could set its own rules. Also note that one can get fellatiated by a male prostitute in an SUV in private - for example, in one's own driveway or garage.

When it comes to sex in the public that we have now...it's hard to say, since as a libertarian I don't fully grok the nature of "public". I guess I'd have to say that it should depend on "community standards" for appropriate behavior, vague though that phrase is. People are welcome to get blow jobs from gigolos in public in my neighborhood as far as I'm concerned, but the rest of the community is likely to feel difficulty.

FWIW, the closest I've seen is someone masturbating in front of an open window during halloween on Castro Street, with tens of thousands of people passing by below. It seemed in keeping with the community standards of the event.

Just a heads up: NYC would

Just a heads up:

NYC would be 51st in PER-CAPITA energy use. "Per capita" means "per person" here. This means that a person in NYC uses less energy than a person in any other state, on average.