mfioretti: equal opportunities*

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  1. Many Americans are toiling in precarious, meaningless, degrading labor, and wealth distribution is vastly unequal and unfair. These two problems could be addressed by one simple policy, and it’s not a jobs guarantee.

    Several prominent Democrats have unveiled policies guaranteeing federal jobs to unemployed Americans, sparking a debate on the merits of government intervention in the labor market. Figures on the right and center-left have pointed out these policies have some problems. But what fewer commentators have noted is that these policies miss the point. The blight afflicting the nation is not unemployment, which is only about 4%. The problem is the fundamental relationship between work and personal autonomy, between citizen and economy. Instead of guaranteed jobs, a progressive, just solution to our economic woes would decouple survival from employment itself, while making it easier for people to sustain their own self-employment. There’s one simple way to do this: unconditional incomes married to guaranteed capital investments.

    A survey by Payscale found that 46% of Americans consider themselves underemployed. A recent study found 43% of Americans unable to afford basic expenses, like rent and food. Only a third of Americans work full-time. Arne Kalleberg, a leading scholar in precarious employment, has identified major trends since the 1970s that have led to precarious work, among them an increase in perceived job insecurity, a greater share of nonstandard, contingent employment—e.g., short-term contracts in the “gig economy”—and risk shifting from employers to employees.

    Exacerbating this employment anxiety is wealth inequality on a scale not seen since the Great Depression. The wealthiest 1% are hoarding 40% of the nation’s wealth. Wages have stagnated for the middle- and working-classes, with virtually all wage growth going to the top 1% of earners. Most Americans are in debt, hitting record highs. Forty-three percent of American children today live in l0w-income families.

    "The current economy, by its nature, is incompatible with the original promise of the nation’s founding: a guarantee of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

    Despite the legitimate concerns surrounding a guaranteed income, there is at least one self-evident ethical reason a guaranteed, non-labor income of no less than equivalent to a living wage (today about $15 per hour) should pay every American: most today suffer a state of forced labor. Since most of us must take whatever jobs are available to sustain our physical survival and social acceptance, labor is quite literally imposed by force. Elizabeth Anderson, author of Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don’t Talk about It), has made a strong case that bosses enjoy the unaccountable power of dictators, largely because they hold power over their employees’ subsistence. This condition is fundamentally incompatible with a free society.

    The first basic condition of a nation that can be called “free” must be that people control their own time; that is, participation in the workforce must be optional. Anything else lies somewhere on the spectrum of enslavement. An adequate UBI would at least grant subsistence unattached to wage labor. A UBI—preferably implemented through policy as durable as a constitutional amendment—would free every American from the servitude of toiling for sustenance at the whim of an employer. "
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  2. Since 1990, more than 90 percent of U.S. metro areas have seen a decline in racial stratification, signaling a trend toward a more integrated America. Yet, while areas like Houston and Atlanta have undergone rapid demographic changes, cities like Detroit and Chicago still have large areas dominated by a single racial group.

    Some 50 years ago, policies like the Fair Housing Act and the Voting Rights Act were enacted to increase integration, promote equity, combat discrimination and dismantle the lingering legacy of Jim Crow laws. But a Washington Post analysis shows that some cities remain deeply segregated — even as the country itself becomes more diverse.


    America’s great housing divide: Are you a winner or loser?

    To explore these national changes, The Post analyzed census data from 1990, 2000, 2010 and the latest estimates from the 2016 five-year American Community Survey. Using that data, we generated detailed maps of the United States using six race categories: black, white, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, Native American and multi-race/other for the available years.
    Asian/Pacific Islander
    Native American
    Multi-race and other
    San FranciscoLos AngelesNew YorkMinneapolisD.C.AtlantaHoustonDenverHonoluluAnchorageSeattleSt. LouisChicagoPhoenixMiami

    To calculate diversity, we used what’s called the entropy index, which measures the spatial distribution of race in a given area. The more clustered together a single racial group is, the less diverse that area is. If the group is distributed evenly, then the area is considered more diverse.
    Diversity beyond the city

    Over the past 30 years, suburbs have increasingly become the most racial and ethnically diverse areas in the country. For example, the D.C. metro area saw the Hispanic American population increase by almost 300 percent from 1990 to 2016. The Asian American population increased by 200 percent within the same period.



























    5 MILES
    Asian/Pacific Islander
    Native American
    Multi-race and other

    Suburbs such as Annandale, Va., and Silver Spring, Md., showed large increases in racial ethnic diversity compared with about three decades ago.

    Michael Bader, an assistant professor of sociology at American University in the District, attributes part of suburban diversity to newly built housing.

    “A lot of those areas were developed after the Fair Housing Act was implemented,” he said. “If you’re building housing and you’re subject to the Fair Housing Act, you shouldn’t have, in those particular units, the legacy effects of segregation.”

    He also noted that rental and purchase prices in the suburbs tend to be lower than in cities, offering more opportunities for a diverse population, both in race and income level, to move in.

    Decades of scholarship point to three main reasons for persistent segregation: money, preferences and discrimination. But, to Crowder and Krysan, the answer is more complex.

    “The separation of different racial and ethnic groups into separate social worlds means that members of different racial and ethnic groups have different lived experiences,” Crowder said. “They have different daily rounds. They’re exposed to different neighborhoods on a daily basis. Residential segregation has separated these groups by educational quality and occupational opportunity.“

    That could explain, for example, why a city like Chicago has a diverse mix of racial and ethnic groups that remain in specific parts of the city. Research on residential segregation often points to the discriminatory practices — like “redlining” — that placed specific racial groups in specific parts of the city. But Krysan argues that it goes deeper than that.

    “We don’t have the integrated social networks. We don’t have integrated experiences through the city. It’s baked-in segregation,” Krysan said. Every time someone makes a move, she said, they’re “not making a move that breaks out of that cycle, and making a move that regenerates it.”
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  3. nailing the evil ways of oligarchs hardly demolishes left-wing arguments in favor of an unconditional, universal basic income which, so far, is the only policy being mooted as a way of universally guaranteeing the most basic right of all: the right to material existence. Moreover, basic income, while not a universal panacea, is one way of strengthening vulnerable members of society in their struggle against the oligarchs.

    Then again, the respected Marxist economist Michael Roberts has a different take in his recent blog (which we’ll cite at length to cover all the points):

    But what to do, as jobs are lost to robots? Some liberal economists talk of a ‘robot tax’. But all this would do is slow down automation – hardly a progressive move in reducing toil. The idea of universal basic income (UBI) continues to gain traction among economists, both leftist and mainstream. I have discussed the merits and demerits of UBI before. UBI is advocated by many neoliberal economic strategists as a way of replacing the ‘welfare state’ of free health, education and decent pensions with a basic income. And it is being proposed to keep wages down for those in work. Any decent level of basic income would be just too costly for capitalism to afford. And even if UBI were won by workers in struggle, it would still not solve the issue of who owns the robots and the means of production in general.

    A more exciting alternative, in my view, is the idea of Universal Basic Services i.e. what are called public goods and services, free at the point of use. A super-abundant society is by definition one where our needs are met without toil and exploitation ie a socialist society. But the transition to such a society can start with devoting socially necessary labour to the production of basic social needs like education, health, housing, transport and basic foodstuffs and equipment.

    Roberts’ text provides a good starting point for getting to the nitty-gritty of some key aspects of the debate about basic income.

    1) A basic income can be financed in several different ways. The difference between left- and right-wing proposals is easily ascertained by asking who gains and who loses. A left-wing proposal would entail progressive tax reform which brings about a major redistribution from the richest citizens to the rest of society. Hence, in a financing proposal resulting from an extensive study which is detailed in the final chapter of our book Against Charity, we specify that, with our version of basic income, the richest 20% would lose and the other 80% would gain. This would mean a redistribution of income which, in Gini Index terms, would become one of the most egalitarian in the world (about 0.25).

    2) Any basic income that contemplates dismantling the welfare state is a right-wing ploy. The fact that Milton Friedman—who, in fact, rather than basic income, favored a negative income tax (NIT) which is similar to basic income in some ways but also significantly different in others—and other more recent right-wing economists are ostensibly basic income supporters has led some left-wing critics to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Friedman wanted the NIT as a sop when he was aiming to dismantle public social services in the United States but it’s pretty reductionist to conclude from this that all basic income supporters want to do away with welfare. Far from it,

    Poverty is viewed as a personal aberration. The norm is having a job and earning a respectable living, which flies in the face of today’s reality that having a job is no guarantee against poverty, as the burgeoning numbers of working poor testify.
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  4. “There are already brick and mortar post offices in most neighborhoods, so my idea was that people could bring cash to the post office, they could hold it for them and give them a digital account,” she says.

    Such a system would be appealing to the fintech folks, who might pick up hundreds of thousands of new customers by linking to these postal accounts, and shouldn’t bother the banks, which have been avoiding dealing with this segment of the population for years. But Baradaran says she still gets a lot of pushback on it from economists and academics, mostly middle- or upper-class people who see the proposition of having to stand in line at the post office to bank as untenable.

    “But that’s because they’re not the ones it’s for,” Baradaran says. “It’s not for people who are already living comfortably with a bank account and direct deposit, who can just bank through the mobile app on their phones. It’s for people who have none of that.”

    “Unless you’re poor, it’s hard to understand what it’s like to be poor,” Baradaran says. “And a lot of people don’t realize that if you go into any water office or electric utility office in the country right now, there’s a line of people in there waiting to pay their bill in cash.”
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  5. poverty is such a burden on the brain it can actually hurt our ability to execute fundamental life skills. Researchers say the mental burden is like losing 13 IQ points or an entire night's sleep.

    And Shah believes the constant concern with finances that low-income people showed during his study is part of the "cognitive fatigue" that past research has addressed.

    "Scarcity or poverty requires you to be more locked in. It requires you to be more focused, and you can do that for a while, but eventually, you're just not going to be able to give all of the bandwidth that you need to those problems. ... It's not that poor people are somehow different; it's that they're in a different situation," Shah said.

    Shah believes these findings should force lawmakers to reconsider how they think about assistance.

    "Providing cash assistance or some other assistance, it doesn't just deal with the immediate financial problem. It also frees up some mental bandwidth, as well to say I don't have to worry as much about this," Shah said.
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  6. “If everyone was to behave like us then the world would be a better place — we would be able to get rid of guilt, inequality, competition, greed and anger.”“If we all ate less and were less materialistic the world would be a better place.” “Only by changing ourselves can we change the world, by our living example.”

    This is the one foundational belief system of every intentional community that all members can agree on. This was also the justification that the hippies used for practically everything. The theory goes like this: Instead of acting in the world, all you have to do is become a peaceful, non-violent person — a model human, and others will follow your model. This is how you change the world, by focusing entirely upon yourself.

    The results of this experiment are, generations later, clear — changing yourself became a vast industry of self-help books and courses, dietary, fitness and personal “spiritual” planning regimes — a form of obsessive self-focusing and self-policing, which, it turns out, corporations are very happy to encourage.

    The Final Test of the Blank Slate: Children

    There is one other final and hard-to-face factor that is an unintended consequences of Utopian alternative parenting experiments. There is a reason that the average life of a Utopian project is the time to takes to settle and begin to raise children.

    Children are the authoritative test of the theory that humans are born a blank slate and that all behavior is conditioned “by society” — of Rousseau’s potent idea that man is “born free but is everywhere in chains.” Children of Utopians should behave very differently than “old world” children, because they have been brought as blank slates into an egalitarian environment, and have been raised with positivist behavioral conditioning.

    But the children of Utopians fail every test: they are selfish, they grab and steal, they fight, and love competitive sports, they bully and they lie — just like all other children. Lying, it turns out, is a necessary developmental stage in learning. These naturally dishonest, violent creatures disprove the theory of human mind as a blank slate upon which images of perfection can be drawn.

    As the behaviorist J. B. Skinner (creator of Walden Two) realized, you can’t pass what you’ve learned on through your DNA so any achievements in equality achieved have to be repeated from scratch. Utopian behavioral engineering is an ongoing struggle against something that Utopians deny even exists — human nature. Not only are Utopian parents horrified by the little dictators that they have spawned, they find that they themselves have horrible anti-Utopian cravings to put their children above all the others. The maternal bond and the need for privacy also seem to be pan-cultural. Children brought up communally suffer neglect, as other adults find ways of refusing to care for children that are not their own. The lack of childcare and of constancy in who is “mother and father” leads to kids not being taken care of at all, falling between the cracks, leading to abuse and damaged children. People care a lot more for their own kids than they do for other kids as an obligation. One frequently hears Utopians complaining that someone else’s children are ruining everything.

    As for mothers — we discovered after the 1970s that “free love” communes turn into coercive systems in which women are forced to sleep with men they don’t want to. They also lead to male dominated harems. John Humphrey Noyes, the father of “perfectionism” and “complex marriage” fathered 58 children in his commune in the 1850s. Another Utopian collective in Holland was so radical that it’s male leader removed the age of consent and slept with his own daughters and those of other parents. While, the Friedrich’s Hoff Commune, led by Viennese performance art guru, Otto Muehl, collapsed with Muehl being given a “seven year prison sentence for widespread sexual abuse of minors.” Variations on this sickening story have been repeated with convicted sex offender and cult leader William Kamm and Warren Jeffs with his “50 brides.” When a charismatic leader takes control and demands that others de-condition themselves, exploitation is tolerated and then becomes the norm. All of this is done, with the coercive Utopian alibi that all capitalist and patriarchal behaviors and boundaries must be swept away. Auroville, which attempts to be government-free, and money-free, has been plagued with growing reports of the crimes of Sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape and murder.

    No matter how much Utopian communities try to get rid of the idea of sexual ownership — the female desire to chose a mate may be a constant for our species. It does however ensure the continuation of competitive behaviors, which leads us once again to hierarchies. To get rid of this, female choice would have to be stopped, a process that we associate with cultures that are oppressive.

    The Shakers who were celibate and only adopted children became extinct after their adopted children refused to adopt the rules of Shakerism. The Harmony Society died out because it refused to reproduce. And the experiment in Fourierirsm known as Brook Farm ended after with many child related problems, one of which being when the children refused to be placed at the bottom of the Fourierist redistribution hierarchy and were forced to clean the toilets.

    So many intentional communities create trouble for themselves by trying to replace the nuclear and extended family structure with other forms of mating and child rearing, only to find that mothers and children simply want to leave.

    Intentions Are Not Enough

    One of the great mistakes we make in interpersonal behavior, is to judge people by their intentions and not by the real outcome of those intentions. To let them off with saying “we meant well.” The same is true for wider society and the many and repeated failures of applying Utopian ideas to reality are nearly always excused by the same means — people say “but we meant well” or “it’s still a good idea, it just hasn’t worked in practice yet.”

    It could be that the greatest failing of intentional communities is contained within this very formulation. A community that is based upon declaring intentions is apt to be fearful of outcomes that would disprove those good intentions and invalidate them. So, the burying of facts about failure (moral, practical, political) would appear to be one of the secret tasks of those who live by intentions alone, who, rather than trying to address problems as they arise would rather bury the results, hide the outcomes and continue as if good intentions were all that was required. It is precisely this denial of outcomes that leads intentional communities to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. Good intentions are clearly not enough but we shall undoubtedly continue to witness the communities of those who live by the constant re-affirmation of good intentions alone, continuing to fail and to bury the evidence of their failure in order to “keep on believing.” A result of this is that intentional communities will not learn from their mistakes, and will keep on springing up, not as a force that will gather momentum or lead to progress as we move through history, but as a ceaseless eruption of the same good intentions beset by the same systemic problems and doomed by internal contradictions to fail, all over again.
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  7. Some of the most impressive work I see being done is in a seminary, by an amazing psychologist called Inga Harutyunyan. In a classroom in the Gevorkian seminary in Vagharshapat, in the complex of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, eager young priests are trained. These are highly educated young men.

    Harutyunyan has established a relationship with the church. Privately, she tells me about ancient Armenian matriarchies and goddesses. But the key is in the way she talks to the priests. “You are clergymen,” she tells them. “The word is your weapon,” and then she gives them texts from the Bible that emphasise respect for women.
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  8. But the cultural generation gap is also a product of the specific eras during which the different groups were raised and became adults. Conceived during the prosperous post−World War II period, the baby boomers brought a rebellious, progressive sensibility to the country in the 1960s, 1970s, and beyond. With the help of the programs of the Great Society, they became the most well-schooled generation to date and the epitome of America’s largely white, suburban middle class, with which most of today’s adults now identify.

    Yet the baby boomers also came of age at a moment when the United States was becoming more insular than it had been before. Between 1946 and 1964, the years of the baby boom, the immigrant share of the U.S. population shrank to an all-time low (under 5 percent), and the immigrants who did arrive were largely white Europeans. Growing up in mostly white, segregated suburbs, white baby boomers did not have much interaction with people unlike them. Although baby boomers have been interested in righting domestic wrongs, such as racial discrimination, and bursting glass ceilings, they are now joining seniors in voicing sharp resistance to America’s new racial change. A 2011 Pew Research Center poll shows that only 23 percent of baby boomers and seniors regard the country’s growing population of immigrants as a change for the better and that 42 percent see it as a change for the worse. More than one-half of white baby boomers and seniors said that the growing number of newcomers from other countries represents a threat to traditional U.S. values and customs.

    The Pew survey found marked differences between baby boomers and millennials—who are known for their racial inclusiveness—with regard to agreement that the following are changes for the better: that more people of different races are marrying each other (36 percent versus 60 percent), that the population of Hispanics is growing (21 percent versus 33 percent), and that the population of Asians is growing (24 percent versus 43 percent).

    Underpinning the generational divide are shifts in what demographers call old-age dependency and child dependency, which now have a distinct racial dimension. By 2020, the old-age dependency ratio for whites will exceed the child dependency ratio, and for the two decades that follow, white seniors will outnumber white children. That stands in marked contrast to the position of Hispanics, whose youth dependency will remain well above 45 through 2040, even as the old-age dependency ratio inches up to 21.
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  9. For SDG 10, which aims to reduce inequality, the two main solutions the report identified involved developing a formal mechanism to recognise and protect land rights, and making global supply chains more transparent so that it is easier to track products from raw materials to stores, as well as monitor for labour, environmental or human rights violations.

    When it comes to securing proof of land ownership—this is essential so that land cannot be snatched from its rightful owners via bribery, fraud, or other unethical practices—using blockchain technology can make it impossible to tamper with land registration, and make the process transparent, the report noted. However, it cautioned that blockchain must be accompanied by broader land reforms and policies which give women, the poor, and other marginalised people better access to land.

    Globally, there are land assets worth about US$20 trillion that people do not have proof of ownership for, and in Sweden alone, the government stands to save US$106 million annually by eliminating land registration paperwork, the report pointed out. It also noted that 70 per cent of the global population does not have a legal record of the land they own, further underscoring the scale of the opportunity for solutions in this space.

    Examples of companies that have already made strides in this area include BenBen, a blockchain-powered land transaction platform in Ghana, and Uhurulabs, a Tanzanian company which uses drones to create accurate maps of land borders and ownership rights.

    Blockchain and other technologies can also help companies and consumers alike gain better visibility into international supply chains, which in sectors such as food and retail, can be marred by unsustainable natural resource use and labour exploitation. Companies that have done so have already reaped the benefits, the report pointed out. For instance, when tuna brand John West introduced a way for consumers to trace tuna all the way back to fishermen who caught the fish, it increased sales by US$22 million.

    Ultimately, there is a US$1.3 trillion opportunity for brands that make their sustainability credentials clear, and blockchain can help with this, said the report.

    Through developing breakthrough innovations and forging critical partnerships, the business community has the resources and creativity we need to create the world we want.

    Lise Kingo, chief executive officer and executive director, United Nations Global Compact

    To advance SDG 12 on responsible consumption and production, solutions such as the circular economy—where resources are recovered and reused at the end of the product’s life cycle rather than discarded as waste—and dramatically different lifestyle choices such as eating insect protein need to be scaled up, the report recommended.

    For the latter trend, the global market for edible insects was US$33 million in 2015, but is expected to soar to US$773 million by 2024, the report predicted, calling this alternative food source “a breakthrough market to watch”. Examples of companies already cashing in on this trend include Chirps Chips, a US-based firm which makes cookies and chips from cricket flour; and BiteBack, an Indonesian firm which extracts oil from edible insects as a sustainable alternative to palm oil. The edible oil has long been linked to driving deforestation and habitat loss in Indonesia and other tropical nations where it is cultivated.
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  10. interests are assumed to be determined by their membership in groups, particularly their sex, race, sexual orientation, and disability status. Its signature is the tic of preceding a statement with “As a,” as if that bore on the cogency of what was to follow. Identity politics originated with the fact that members of certain groups really were disadvantaged by their group membership, which forged them into a coalition with common interests: Jews really did have a reason to form the Anti-Defamation League.

    But when it spreads beyond the target of combatting discrimination and oppression, it is an enemy of reason and Enlightenment values, including, ironically, the pursuit of justice for oppressed groups. For one thing, reason depends on there being an objective reality and universal standards of logic. As Chekhov said, there is no national multiplication table, and there is no racial or LGBT one either.

    This isn’t just a matter of keeping our science and politics in touch with reality; it gives force to the very movements for moral improvement that originally inspired identity politics. The slave trade and the Holocaust are not group-bonding myths; they objectively happened, and their evil is something that all people, regardless of their race, gender, or sexual orientation, must acknowledge and work to prevent in the future.

    Even the aspect of identity politics with a grain of justification—that a man cannot truly experience what it is like to be a woman, or a white person an African American—can subvert the cause of equality and harmony if it is taken too far, because it undermines one of the greatest epiphanies of the Enlightenment: that people are equipped with a capacity for sympathetic imagination, which allows them to appreciate the suffering of sentient beings unlike them. In this regard nothing could be more asinine than outrage against “cultural appropriation”—as if it’s a bad thing, rather than a good thing, for a white writer to try to convey the experiences of a black person, or vice versa.

    To be sure, empathy is not enough. But another Enlightenment principle is that people can appreciate principles of universal rights that can bridge even the gaps that empathy cannot span. Any hopes for human improvement are better served by encouraging a recognition of universal human interests than by pitting group against group in zero-sum competition.

    How high are the stakes in universities? Should we worry?

    SP: Yes, for three reasons. One is that scholars can’t hope to understand the world (particularly the social world) if some hypotheses are given a free pass and others are unmentionable. As John Stuart Mill noted, “He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that.” In The Blank Slate I argued that leftist politics had distorted the study of human nature, including sex, violence, gender, childrearing, personality, and intelligence. The second is that people who suddenly discover forbidden facts outside the crucible of reasoned debate (which is what universities should be) can take them to dangerous conclusions, such as that differences between the sexes imply that we should discriminate against women (this kind of fallacy has fueled the alt-right movement). The third problem is that illiberal antics of the hard left are discrediting the rest of academia, including the large swaths of moderates and open-minded scholars who keep their politics out of their research.!
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