Monday, February 14, 2011

The Thoma Thread

Cross my heart and spit over my shoulder, most of the time I do not mind being an obscure  little barefoot backwoods blogger with a friends-and-family audience--it relieves me of all responsibility to be, well, responsible, and it keeps me sheltered from the winds (cyclones) of dogma.

But Mark Thoma picked up a piece of  mine the other day on "who gets and who pays" in government social programs.  So far on the piece, I have no two comments; Thoma, at last count, had 49 58.   Yes, I know: many of those comments were silly or simply misguided.  But quite a few really helped to move the ball down field.

One theme that emerges: I talk about transfers from haves to have-nots.  But what about transfers from have-nots to haves, or from haves to have-mores?   Ah, yes, that's a fair cop.  I believe it was Aaron Director who used to argue that if you aggregated taxes paid and benefits received, you'd find that lower and upper classes subsidize the middle.  In an age of the opulent 0.1 percent, I don't see how that can be entirely true any more.  But I can sure think of programs--yes, I'm talking about you, public higher education--where the "public" benefit does seem to redound to the middle or upper middle, at the expense of people (a) who don't need it and others who (b) will never be able to enjoy it.

There is the entangled question--much commented upon--of how much education exists for neither teachers nor students but for the absurdly dysfunctional student loan industry.  Just as the health care industry drives health policy, and the weapons industry, defense--and, I suppose, the prisons motivate the Arizona stand-and-declare immigration law.

I believe it is fairly standard social theory that as a society matures, it builds up the barnacles of special agendas, sucking the lifeblood out of the main body.  And that it gets harder and harder to claw your way into the elites.

Oh, and finally this exchange with "Lambert Strether:"
Buce writes:
[W]hoever is in the hand-out class will find himself branded with an outsider label.
Well, in this country the banksters are the hand-out class. $14 trillion, last I checked. When do they get branded?



Anonymous said...

Education of the leaders benefits the led. For example, the better training and education my captain and lieutenant have had, the better chance I have of prevailing and surviving under their leadership in a combat unit.

David said...

I really can't believe the first comment went there. Who says the Victorians are dead? Educating our 'betters' so they can help us sad sacks lead a slightly less miserable life? Really?