mfioretti: inequality*

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  1. what happened to cause such a profound shift in the human psyche away from egalitarianism? The balance of archaeological, anthropological and genomic data suggests the answer lies in the agricultural revolution, which began roughly 10,000 years ago.

    The extraordinary productivity of modern farming techniques belies just how precarious life was for most farmers from the earliest days of the Neolithic revolution right up until this century (in the case of subsistence farmers in the world’s poorer countries). Both hunter-gatherers and early farmers were susceptible to short-term food shortages and occasional famines – but it was the farming communities who were much more likely to suffer severe, recurrent and catastrophic famines.

    Hunting and gathering was a low-risk way of making a living. Ju/’hoansi hunter-gatherers in Namibia traditionally made use of 125 different edible plant species, each of which had a slightly different seasonal cycle, varied in its response to different weather conditions, and occupied a specific environmental niche. When the weather proved unsuitable for one set of species it was likely to benefit another, vastly reducing the risk of famine.

    As a result, hunter-gatherers considered their environments to be eternally provident, and only ever worked to meet their immediate needs. They never sought to create surpluses nor over-exploited any key resources. Confidence in the sustainability of their environments was unyielding.
    The Ju/’hoansi people have lived in southern Africa for hundreds of thousands of years.
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    The Ju/’hoansi people have lived in southern Africa for hundreds of thousands of years. Photograph: James Suzman

    In contrast, Neolithic farmers assumed full responsibility for “making” their environments provident. They depended on a handful of highly sensitive crops or livestock species, which meant any seasonal anomaly such as drought or livestock disease could cause chaos.
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    And indeed, the expansion of agriculture across the globe was punctuated by catastrophic societal collapses. Genomic research on the history of European populations points to a series of sharp declines that coincided first with the Neolithic expansion through central Europe around 7,500 years ago, then with their spread into north-western Europe about 6,000 years ago.

    However, when the stars were in alignment – weather favourable, pests subdued, soils still packed with nutrients – agriculture was very much more productive than hunting and gathering. This enabled farming populations to grow far more rapidly than hunter-gatherers, and sustain these growing populations over much less land.

    But successful Neolithic farmers were still tormented by fears of drought, blight, pests, frost and famine. In time, this profound shift in the way societies regarded scarcity also induced fears about raids, wars, strangers – and eventually, taxes and tyrants.
    Fruits and tubers gathered by the Ju/’hoansi.
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    The Ju/’hoansi traditionally made use of 125 different edible plant species. Photograph: James Suzman

    Not that early farmers considered themselves helpless. If they did things right, they could minimise the risks that fed their fears. This meant pleasing capricious gods in the conduct of their day-to-day lives – but above all, it placed a premium on working hard and creating surpluses.

    Where hunter-gatherers saw themselves simply as part of an inherently productive environment, farmers regarded their environment as something to manipulate, tame and control. But as any farmer will tell you, bending an environment to your will requires a lot of work. The productivity of a patch of land is directly proportional to the amount of energy you put into it.

    This principle that hard work is a virtue, and its corollary that individual wealth is a reflection of merit, is perhaps the most obvious of the agricultural revolution’s many social, economic and cultural legacies.
    From farming to war

    The acceptance of the link between hard work and prosperity played a profound role in reshaping human destiny. In particular, the ability to both generate and control the distribution of surpluses became a path to power and influence. This laid the foundations for all the key elements of our contemporary economies, and cemented our preoccupation with growth, productivity and trade.

    Regular surpluses enabled a much greater degree of role differentiation within farming societies, creating space for less immediately productive roles. Initially these would have been agriculture-related (toolmakers, builders and butchers), but over time new roles emerged: priests to pray for good rains; fighters to protect farmers from wild animals and rivals; politicians to transform economic power into social capital.
    https://www.theguardian.com/inequalit...lity-10000-years-ago?CMP=share_btn_tw
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  2. Whether or not one likes the logic of cowboy country, one should understand how it works and that it does work, at least by its own standards. It works very well, in fact, so it is not merely idiocy that makes people get behind it in elections. For those of us who call the United States home, articulating this logic can help us understand each other and clarify the question of whether this is really what we want.
    https://www.americamagazine.org/polit...ot-bug-its-uniquely-american-strategy
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  3. Who decides what the city really needs and will operate going forward? With a smart city comes a significant amount of decision making on what to do, who will do it, why and when to do it. The answers to the questions are not easy and can have massive repercussions. Take, for instance, the challenge of gentrification and urban displacement, which has long been framed simply as a symptom of wealthier people moving in to communities and effectively nudging out lower-income individuals. However, public investment can play a critical role in this process too. Perhaps the most shining, unfortunate example of this is what San Francisco Federal Reserve researchers refer to as “transit-induced gentrification” in which public investment in transit—light rail, buses, subway—attracts affluent individuals. So much so that several studies have found that transit investments can alter the demographic composition of the surrounding neighborhood, resulting in pushing out lower-income individuals and creating new problems within the city. Potential outcomes like these should prompt questions about who should be making these decisions about public investments associated with smart cities. Finding pathways to figure out what the public wants from its city (and perhaps more importantly, what it does not) is critical. This requires citizen participation early in the process and throughout. The New Delhi-based Housing and Land Rights Network released a report, “India’s Smart Cities Mission: Smart for Whom? Cities for Whom?” The report highlights the massive problems with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pledge to build 100 smart cities by 2020. Among the problems is the focus on technology of the future instead of issues of the present such as an agrarian crisis, insufficient civil rights for women, forced evictions to make room for the implementation of smart city projects, and so on.
    https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/...inconvenient-truth-about-smart-cities
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  4. Before now, there hadn’t been any attempts to address the measurement of global tax evasion systematically. The reason is simple: the lack of comprehensive information about who skirts taxes. The key data source used in rich countries to study tax evasion is random tax audits – but these audits do not capture tax evasion by the very wealthy, because few of them are audited, and because random audits fail to detect sophisticated forms of evasion involving shell companies and hidden accounts.

    The higher one moves up the wealth distribution, the higher the probability ​​of hiding​ assets

    In our recent study, however, we exploited a massive trove of data leaked from HSBC Switzerland, the so-called HSBC files, to fill this gap. In 2007 a systems engineer, Hervé Falciani, extracted the internal records of HSBC Private Bank, the Swiss subsidiary of HSBC. In 2008, Falciani turned the data over to the French government, who shared it with foreign tax administrations. The documents leaked by Falciani included the complete internal records of more than 30,000 clients of this Swiss bank in 2006-07.
    https://www.theguardian.com/inequalit...-rich-are-even-richer-than-we-thought
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  5. Students at Evergreen State College in Olympia, who filmed their exploits and posted the videos on social media, have occupied and barricaded the library, shouting down anyone who disagrees with them or shows insufficient passion for racial justice.

    Biology professor Bret Weinstein was berated by dozens of students outside of his classroom Tuesday morning for refusing to participate in an event in which white people were invited to leave campus for a day. Now, he says police have told him to hold his classes off campus due to safety concerns.

    Things are “out of control at Evergreen,” he said.

    “Police told me protesters stopped cars yesterday, demanding information about occupants,” Mr. Weinstein told The Washington Times. “They believe I was being sought. It appears that the campus has been under the effective control of protesters since 9:30 a.m. Tuesday. Police are on lockdown, hamstrung by the college administration. Students, staff and faculty are not safe.”

    A spokesman for the Evergreen Department of Police Services confirmed the agency had been in contact with Mr. Weinstein. He said officers would be in touch with The Times, but three subsequent phone calls during business hours were not answered.

    A college spokesman declined to comment on Mr. Weinstein’s situation or any of the other activity on campus.

    Evergreen student Blake Vincent said he was participating in the protests and was unaware of any searches for Mr. Weinstein’s whereabouts.
    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2...te-students-demand-professor-resign-f
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  6. Wouldn't it be better to just act as if we are equal, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding? That way, no people will be discouraged from chasing their dreams — competing in the Olympics or performing at Carnegie Hall or winning a Nobel Prize.

    The answer is no, for two reasons.

    The first is that failure is costly, both to society and to individuals. Pretending that all people are equal in their abilities will not change the fact that a person with an average IQ is unlikely to become a theoretical physicist, or the fact that a person with a low level of music ability is unlikely to become a concert pianist.

    It makes more sense to pay attention to people's abilities and their likelihood of achieving certain goals, so people can make good decisions about the goals they want to spend their time, money, and energy pursuing. Moreover, genes influence not only our abilities, but the environments we create for ourselves and the activities we prefer — a phenomenon known as gene-environment correlation.

    For example, yet another recent twin study (and the Karolinska Institute study) found that there was a genetic influence on practicing music. Pushing someone into a career for which he or she is genetically unsuited will likely not work.

    The second reason we should not pretend we are endowed with the same abilities is that doing so perpetuates the myth that is at the root of much inaction in society — the myth that people can help themselves to the same degree if they just try hard enough.

    Societal inequality is thus justified on the grounds that anyone who is willing to put in the requisite time and effort can succeed and should be rewarded with a good life, whereas those who struggle to make ends meet are to blame for their situations and should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

    If we acknowledge that people differ in what they have to contribute, then we have an argument for a society in which all human beings are entitled to a life that includes access to decent housing, healthcare, and education, simply because they are human. Our abilities might not be identical, and our needs surely differ, but our basic human rights are universal.
    http://www.businessinsider.com/the-10...-perpetuates-a-cruel-myth-2017-3?IR=T
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  7. there is a darkness spreading over part of our society. And we don’t really understand why.

    There has been a lot of comment, and rightly so, over a new paper by the economists Angus Deaton (who just won a Nobel) and Anne Case, showing that mortality among middle-aged white Americans has been rising since 1999. This deterioration took place while death rates were falling steadily both in other countries and among other groups in our own nation.

    Even more striking are the proximate causes of rising mortality. Basically, white Americans are, in increasing numbers, killing themselves, directly or indirectly. Suicide is way up, and so are deaths from drug poisoning and the chronic liver disease that excessive drinking can cause. We’ve seen this kind of thing in other times and places – for example, in the plunging life expectancy that afflicted Russia after the fall of Communism. But it’s a shock to see it, even in an attenuated form, in America.

    Yet the Deaton-Case findings fit into a well-established pattern. There have been a number of studies showing that life expectancy for less-educated whites is falling across much of the nation. Rising suicides and overuse of opioids are known problems. And while popular culture may focus more on meth than on prescription painkillers or good old alcohol, it’s not really news that there’s a drug problem in the heartland.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/09/opi...air-american-style.html?smid=tw-share
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  8. Tutto è come vaporizzato: il capitale e il lavoro. Il capitale è diventato finanziario, e in Occidente ha abbandonato quasi del tutto il cimento imprenditoriale, quello della produzione. Il lavoro è sbriciolato e disperso, in parte annichilito dalla più grande rivoluzione tecnologica della storia umana, per altri versi dalla delocalizzazione e dal precariato.

    A parità di fatturato, il rapporto di occupati tra Silicon Valley e il vecchio capitalismo fordista è uno a cento. Tra i lavoratori bianchi disoccupati o sottoccupati che votano Trump, questa decimazione (al quadrato) non è passata inosservata… Non siamo in un’altra epoca. Siamo in un altro evo. In breve, e per non annoiare te e i lettori: penso, esattamente come quando avevo vent’anni, che sia sempre più vero il celebre assunto di Rosa Luxemburg: «socialismo o barbarie».

    O si ritrovano forme di nuova solidarietà, di ripartizione del reddito, di alleanza tra i deboli e gli esclusi, di allargamento delle basi del potere, insomma di democrazia e di uguaglianza, o il futuro sarà sempre più iniquo e – di conseguenza – sempre più doloroso e cruento. In questo senso non solo sono ancora «di sinistra», ma lo sono perfino più radicalmente di come lo ero da ragazzo: per esempio sulle questioni ambientali e agricole, sulla sovranità alimentare dei popoli, sui cambiamenti climatici e sull’impatto delle nostre scelte di consumo e dei nostri stili di vita, penso si giochi moltissimo del futuro del pianeta. Ma di una sinistra che di queste cose si occupi con radicalità e fantasia, libera da pregiudizi, rivoluzionaria nello spirito e ragionevole nella prassi, quasi debba riscrivere daccapo i propri statuti, per ora non vedo tracce sostanziose.
    http://www.unita.tv/opinioni/la-mia-sinistra-fantasiosa-e-senza-pregiudizi
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  9. For England, the New World was a place to dispose of the dregs of its own society.

    Class distinctions were maintained above all in the apportionment of land. In Virginia in 1700, indentured servants had virtually no chance to own any, and by 1770, less than 10 percent of white Virginians had claim to more than half the land. In 1729 in North Carolina, a colony with 36,000 people, there were only 3,281 listed grants, and 309 grantees owned nearly half the land. “Land was the principal source of wealth, and those without any had little chance to escape servitude,” Isenberg writes. “It was the stigma of landlessness that would leave its mark on white trash from this day forward.” This was not just a Southern dynamic. The American usage of squatter traces to New England, where many of the nonelect—later called “swamp Yankees”—carved out homes on others’ land only to be chased off and have their houses burned.

    The Founding Fathers were, as Isenberg sees it, complicit in perpetuating these stark class divides. George Washington believed that only the “lower class of people” should serve as foot soldiers in the Continental Army. Thomas Jefferson envisioned his public schools educating talented students “raked from the rubbish” of the lower class, and argued that ranking humans like animal breeds was perfectly natural. “The circumstance of superior beauty is thought worthy of attention in the propagation of our horses, dogs and other domestic animals,” he wrote. “Why not that of man?” John Adams believed the “passion for distinction” was a powerful human force: “There must be one, indeed, who is the last and lowest of the human species.”

    By the time the nation gained independence, the white underclass—its future dependents—was fully entrenched. This underclass could be found just about everywhere in the new country, but it was perhaps most conspicuous in North Carolina, where many whites who had been denied land in Virginia trickled into the area south of the Great Dismal Swamp, establishing what Isenberg calls “the first white trash colony.” William Byrd II, the Virginia planter, described these swamp denizens as suffering from “distempers of laziness” and “slothful in everything but getting children.” North Carolina’s governor described his people as “the meanest, most rustic and squalid part of the species.”
    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/a...016/09/the-original-underclass/492731
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  10. 1) The US is bifurcated into two (actually a few more, but at the highest level only two). There are the “elites” and there is everyone else. These two Americas are segregated, culturally, socially, geographically, and economically. They have gotten more segregated over the last 40 years.

    The growing income inequality is one measure of this. Yet it is more than that. The elites have removed themselves physically. They cluster in certain towns (NYC, LA, Northern Virginia, Boston) and within those towns in certain neighborhoods. They dress differently. They eat differently. There is a culture of elitism.

    The best single measure of elitism I see is education, the type and amount. A Harvard professor of sociology is more similar (despite different politics) to a Wall Street trader, than either is to a truck driver in Appleton, Wisconsin, or a waitress in Selma, or a construction worker in Detroit.

    If you earn your money using your intellect (like Jonathan Chait), you score high on elitism, and you probably view the world very differently from a man driving heavy equipment in Birmingham, Alabama, who uses his body for labor. Or a guy flipping burgers in the Bronx.

    2) The elites by and large control things. They control the money. They control the rules on how you make it. They also control the social capital. They set/define what is acceptable, what is allowable, and what is frowned on. (In snazzy academic speak: The elites define what is valid cultural capital, and have defined it to further empower
    http://qz.com/737452/why-trump-voters-are-not-complete-idiots-a-photo-essay
    Tags: , by M. Fioretti (2016-07-24)
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