I want to reflect a little on the idea of class, and the difference between having any and being in one. The reflection, of course, is motivated by the explosion of really unclassy behavior that besmirched the comment threads following various posts here and elsewhere about who is really rich.

Like many in my generation, I first met social class distinctions growing up, in my case in New York as a red-diaper baby, in a family with the kind of unusually diverse associations the city facilitates, and that a ‘mixed marriage’  between the son of midwestern English-Scotch-Irish socialist leaders and a Polish Jewish immigrant who was the first in her family to go to college especially accretes.  Accompanying my father to print shops, binderies, machine shops and other places where things were made I had some contact with blue-collar workers, but I mostly associated with the children of solidly middle-class business people and professionals; and because of summer camp friendships with well-cared-for private-school girls from quite wealthy families, mostlybut not entirely Jewish, got to dance at coming-out parties.  I had some sense of the  fading war between the German Jews of the first immigration wave and the mittel-europa avalanche that followed and so scared them when they came off the boats in rags, barely literate, and went into the sweatshops.

Then I went to Harvard and met (for example) perhaps the tenth Protestant of my life followed by zillions more, and more important, people from an real American upper class.  At that time, Republicans were the liberals in New England politics, and the WASP aristocracy constituted a confident, stable, enduring society, even as it fairly gracefully ceded political power to the Irish and Italians – yes, and even as it was sometimes insouciantly anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic.  I know a lot of these families made their fortunes in the slave trade, but a lot of them were also abolitionists and one of them (for example) was Robert Gould Shaw and another was Oliver Wendell Holmes and still another was OWH Jr. and still another was Joseph Welch. While I could immediately see that many of them wouldn’t have had a chance academically in my high school (the Bronx High School of Science),  I had a persistent sense that many of them had, and almost all valued as a conscious part of their social capital,  something important that I had met more randomly distributed in my prior life but never quite distinguished or identified.  A memorable flash of this came when I was at a party at the home of an Adams and observed that a lot of the pictures on the wall were framed political handbills and posters going back to about 1800, all attacking one or another Adams candidate for office ruthlessly and viciously.  Another, of course, was the number of old Yankee names associated with this or that charitable gift of a building or setting up a foundation.

What they often had and usually respected was class in the “other sense”, as in, Donald Trump ain’t got none, or “doing that shows real class!”  One diagnostic of class is being comfortable, and making others comfortable, in any company.  This is harder than it looks, because getting self-confidence mixed up with arrogance or pride, or dissembling actual membership in the group you’ve fallen among, are both fatal. A real lady or gentleman adds value to any group without taking it over or getting lost in it, including groups of peers. Such a person is welcome back again, and does not have to hide out in a gated community. Julia Child had class that sat on her like a halo.

Noblesse, famously, oblige.  But it’s not the only thing: richesse oblige aussi, and sagesse, and instruction.  Oblige quoi, though: what are the duties of aristocracy whether of position, or wealth, or knowledge and capacity to create value?  Well, the first criterion of being classy in my book is benchmarking against your own most recent other-regarding enterprise and exceeding it, and not benchmarking against other people’s positions however marked.  One of the great gifts to those Yankee families was the Calvinist idea of an elect that you might or might not be in, and couldn’t attain by works, but that was particularly not a matter of being as rich as you could get: because you might not be in it, it would not be classy to swan around showing off.  Boston leadership was expected to acquire a fortune large enough for security and some charity, and then take on responsibilities for the common weal.  (For a fascinating discussion of why Boston and Philadelphia are the way they are, even after their local WASPs were displaced by immigrants who took on Calvinist and Quaker culture respectively, see Digby Baltzell’s Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia.)

As I recognized this, I realized I had seen it in people I admired across all socioeconomic divisions, and that I had seen plenty of people who lacked it across classes as well. It wasn’t a monopoly of those Yankee WASPs, and it didn’t immunize them against bad behavior, but respecting it and hoping to display it was a distinctive part of their norms.  Some people are just classy by family upbringing, or maybe they won the genetic lottery, and others with every advantage aren’t, like Larry Summers.  I think people in the latter category sort of realize this and it hurts them, but the pain often stimulates maladaptive behavior that makes it worse.  In any case, I think the right social conventions in your upbringing improve the odds.

Having good manners is an excellent strategy. This can easily go rancid, when people with no class use specific learned routines, or the lack of them, as social sorting tests, but people with really good manners have no problem learning to accept a business card with two hands in Asia or arriving at 10 for an “8 PM”  dinner in Mexico; people who think etiquette is a stick to beat their lessers with, on the other hand, don’t travel well.   A classy dresser contributes to a social occasion by showing respect for, and improving, the whole visual experience of the other guests without trying to draw a spotlight. A classy dresser is not an egotistical showoff, neither in a track suit at a formal dinner nor in a swimsuit on a red carpet.

When you have real class, you can accept compliments gracefully, neither deflecting nor expecting them.  When you have real class, you can set good things in motion and step out of the way so your group carries it forward and doesn’t depend on you more than necessary.  Real class is not whining and demanding rights but looking for duties and seeing them as a piece of good fortune.  It involves a fair amount of turning the other cheek, and is much more easily displayed going to bat for the people who aren’t as rich or smart or lucky as you than by standing on your rights and privileges. Henry Lee Higginson subsidized the Boston Symphony for years (and didn’t ask to have its building named Higginson Hall): that’s class.  Speaking of the symphony, another indicator of class (not dispositive, Goering scarfed up paintings all over Europe) is engagement with demanding, complicated, art.  Lots of people are on museum or opera boards who have no clue, but they at least know a sane society respects artistic sophistication and they try to manifest it…sometimes even try to actually get it.

Real class is what the economic aristocracy of our country has almost entirely lost. The American rich are wallowing in a moral slough, grasping for more and more money they have no clue what to do with, and venting their frustration that climbing over each other to new heights of wretched excess brings no satisfaction by lashing out at every social institution, and at a government whose largesse is never enough for them. Andrew Carnegie may have had his miners shot at Homestead, but he came to regret it and he also said it was sinful to die rich. He walked the talk; there are Carnegie libraries, a university, concert halls, and more all across America, still creating value.  (All the Vanderbilts, not so much.)  But Larry Ellison has his name on nothing and for all his billions, has absolutely no class and no idea that he lacks it, and a whole class of cowboy millionaires and billionaires have the fatal idea that he is a target to emulate. No, money isn’t a way of keeping score; great schools and passing laws that make us all better off and building a subway system for New York and a high-speed rail line in California is a way of keeping score. Anyone who thinks he’s self-made, and single-handedly created all the value he’s come to possess, has no class, no more class than a Gulf sheik who thinks the accident of living on top of an oil pool makes him admirable and distinguished.  Keeping track of (and taking care of) all the people without whose labor and pioneering you couldn’t have done anything, that’s how to keep score.

I am ashamed of  my university when I consider that its rich alumni who wouldn’t pony up for a new art museum are expected to buy enough football stadium seats to cover a half-billion-dollar sports venue.  There’s nothing wrong with sports, playing or watching, but this is a university and we do not study discus heroes of ancient Greece, or even Pheidippides’ gait: we study the Parthenon and Aeschylus and red-figured vases.  Real class is building something that lasts, not a house bigger than all your neighbors’ houses put together – yes, I’m talking to you, Bill Gates – and it’s not buying a Maybach because you can (it might be learning to actually drive a race car; Paul Newman had class).

The really classy guys among my peers are the ones who make their students and their colleagues smart.  They tend to be the last authors listed on their papers and they ask really good questions more than they pronounce really true truths.  I wish I had more class; I certainly had ample opportunity to learn it.  But I’m sure I know what it is, often I can tell when I’m getting closer to it and when I’m not, and it’s not what I’m seeing in our upper class today. High wealth and low class: it’s ugly and it’s dangerous.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

81 thoughts on “Class”

  1. Michael:

    Wow. FYI, the truthonthemarket guys deleted every post and comment thread.

    Todd both "stand[s] by the posts, the facts in them, and the points they were making" AND apologizes for his remarks while complaining about the "untold damage" he suffered.

    Although I didn't see any e-mails received by either you or Todd, obviously, I think the righty rage evident on your comment threads was far more vicious than the lefty rage evident on his. Just my opinion.

  2. OK so they are jerks, but at least they aren't Nazis like Henry Ford (I am not using the word metaphorically).

    I'd say that Gates is semi-classy. Made his money being a jerk and spent 2% of it on a house, but really dedicates time thought and effort to the Bill and Melinda foundation. Warren Buffet has class. Robert Rubin has so much class that Brad DeLong still has a crush on him.

    I know only one super duper rich hedge fund manager and that hedge fund manager has class.

    Things always seem worse than they ever were before, but humanity has survived.

  3. "grasping for more and more money they have no clue what to do with, and venting their frustration that climbing over each other to new heights of wretched excess brings no satisfaction"

    This might help explain what seems to be a paradox, the obsession with inflation among the elites (who unfortunately control the money supply) despite all the evidence that deflation is the problem. Even though the evidence shows inflation running ~1% with low long-term expectations, if $400k is just enough to get by these days, obviously it will be much worse if we ever return to (gasp!) 2-3% inflation. Because of the concentration of wealth and the positional goods of the upper class- houses, yachts, schools- inflation seems to them to be an ever present danger.

  4. "…much more easily displayed going to bat for the people who aren’t as rich or smart or lucky as you than by standing on your rights and privileges. .."

    Couple of stories – I was a member of the Unitarian Church in Cambridge in the late 70s early 80s. We had a member, then in his 80s, who had worked in the Harvard admissions office in the 20s. He said, well, of course we required photos. We had a saying: "They can change the 'Moses', but they can't change their noses"

    And then there was Abbott Lawrence Lowell, the President of Harvard who was proud of his role in holding the line against Jews. He liked Cabots and Saltonstalls, and didn't like Cohens. The line about him was, there were three towns in Mass. named for him, which were they?

    Well, everybody gets Lawrence and Lowell right off. The questioner then follows up with either Marblehead or Athol, depending on the audience.

  5. A large portion of Americans believe that, because of our supposedly perfect system, there is no excuse for being poor, or even middle class. This believe in meritocratic perfection is the ultimate absolution for whatever might have in the past passed for "social justice". You are either a winner, or a loser. In fact, the more money you have, the better off the country is for it; the wealthy are indeed the *drivers* of economic growth and we all ought to bow to their obvious superiority.

    So next time you see that well-groomed young lady in her couture sweat suit hop out of her lexus, just remember that it is because of people like her that America is the envy of the world.

  6. Weill's law in action. Because all those nominally "classy" conservatives are the ones who put in motion the propaganda machine that led us to "greed is good" and "Where's the birth certificate?"

  7. To Dave Schutz @ September 21, 2010 at 6:12 am:

    Dick Tuck used to tell the same story about (former MA governor) Endicott Peabody, but was clear that MA included 4 towns named for him.

  8. Listen Michael, it appears that you fancy yourself an intellectual. You tend to use a lot of big words and long sentences to make little to no point. I am trying to find a way to respond to your post that will meet your convoluted definition of class, but I suspect there is no way I can do so. Class (to you) is whomever agrees with your emotionally driven world view. Its not logically sound. Its simply your gut feeling driven by your experience as an early adolescent where you were among the rich but not one of them. You hated them for having more than you, since you believed yourself to be more "deserving." So to put it bluntly: You are a hypocrite. The worst kind of hypocrite, in fact, because you attack out of a faux-sense of intellectual superiority that is designed to protect your opinions from being called what they really are — selfish and insecure. I mean, you spend 11 excruciatingly long paragraphs (in this blog post alone) attacking those you deem rich as classless whiners. How does that show class? More importantly, how is it not whining? I know you think the rich are selfish for wanting to keep their own money, but is you that is the truly greedy one. You are the one that wants to take something that does not belong to you to give to someone you find more "deserving." Here is a trick, try let everyone be as they are. If you find the need to insert yourself in their life, and take and redistribute something that is theirs and not yours, you are the one being controlling. You are the one being greedy. You are the one being selfish. They want nothing from you.

    You are a disgrace to the profession.

  9. Aristotle's *Ethics* lists among the virtues one often translated as "magnificence": knowing how to spend large amounts of money properly when one had it. In his day, rich people in Athens were expected to finance public goods (more or less all of them: even warships). And Aristotle gives as an example of vicious behavior–truly vicious, almost on a par with injustice and somewhat worse than dishonesty–spending the same amount on a private party as you would financing a public feast.

  10. Andrew,

    While it may be ethical by Aristotle's standards to spend money on public works as opposed to private wants, we typically don't mandate morality at the will of the majority. If we did, we would put ourselves at the will a majority views homosexuality and abortion as immoral acts that (at worst) should be outlawed or (at best) should not be government sanctioned. The educated among us, however, would rather leave those decisions to the individual. The individual should be free to do with their body as they want, provided they aren't hurting someone else. Its the essence of the "my body, my choice" argument.

    Here, the rich (for the most part) have chosen to do something with their body and mind that provides them a large salary. The wisdom of this decision, of course, can be questioned. They often make money at the expense of time with friends, family and other intellectual pursuits. But its their decision and they should be entitled to the rewards. While we might hope, and even encourage them to donate money to charity and public projects, we should not mandate it any more than we would mandate someone carry a baby to give to a childless couple. People should be allowed to use their bodies as they see fit, and to keep the products of their efforts.

  11. Anonymous ("Who is John Galt?"):

    If you think that wealth is a result of private choices alone—that the government, which guarantees the rule of law, good roads, a fairly honest and competent civil service, universal schooling, public higher education, national defense, safe and healthy working conditions, and a minimal social safety net, has nothing to do with the fact that smart and highly educated people do much better on average in the U.S. than in Congo—I'm afraid I can't help you much.

    But Mike's point, and mine, is different. Stipulate for argument that the government shouldn't tax the rich more than X (and I await a rational account of why X should be any particular amount). That still leaves the question of why so many rich people do not make the individual choice to do something that shows a modicum of concern for other human beings–which would be good for their own souls too. A Randite view that poor people are worthless weaklings who deserve to suffer and die would more or less explain lack of charity towards the poor (though not a disdain for high culture). Do you favor that explanation, or do you have another?

    By the way, I also agree with the skeptical commenters who point out that the old WASP aristocracy was inherently and deeply–not accidentally–discriminatory and exclusive. (Colleges have "geographic diversity" goals for admission because President Lowell wanted to keep Jews out of Harvard and the Board of Overseers wouldn't let him keep doing that explicitly.) It could be a melancholy truth that the "noblesse oblige" ethos was parasitic on that exclusivity: once there was no longer a closed club that levied public service as part of its dues, service was no longer worth doing.

  12. Irony is posting anonymous comments to a blogpost about class structure deriding the named author as classless.

  13. I hope I was clear that other- and community-regarding behavior is no monopoly of the rich, nor of New England WASPS of the last couple of centuries. Actually, and I should have mentioned this in the post, charitable giving as a percent of income goes down with income, not up. No group always lives up to its norms, and with the 54th Regiment monument right there on the Common, Boston was regarded as one of the most racist cities in America until quite recently.

  14. The economics of income/wealth distribution and the cultural sociology of income/wealth distribution would ordinarily seem to me orthogonal topics, but in this blog-exchange, they appear to be bases for directly opposing worldviews and collections of desiderata.

    An ordinary, dispassionate economics would acknowledge the inevitability of inequalities of income and wealth, but would never construe the happenstance of a particular outcome at a particular point of time, as

    necessarily "just". Externalities, public goods, domination, accident, rents — I just don't see where the faith Anonymous seems to have in the inherent justice of economic outcomes comes from. Even in its most idealized theoretical forms, a market-economy is not a mechanism for proportionately rewarding virtue or achievement.

    The norms of noblesse whatever are just one of many institutional mechanisms for taking the rough edges off an emergent system with a lot of rough edges.

  15. Reading the first sentence I thought we might see an apology from O'Hare for his lies about Henderson and his role in setting some really ugly things in motion. That would itself be a display of real class. Instead we get a meditation on class, and an insistence that today's rich peopole (including Henderson, we're led to believe) don't have it, from–irony of ironies here–a classless rich guy!

    Ugly and dangerous are apt words, but I prefer the words I chose before.

  16. What lies would those be, Thomas? Although Henderson has taken his posts down, the original basic data about his income came from him – O'Hare didn't make them up. In Henderson's tax bracket, with the flat Illinois 3% income tax, his combined aggregate rate is something like 25-28% of AGI. Add back the various deductions and it's pretty easy to get to 450K. OK, maybe it's just 400K. Still a very high income. You don't like O'Hare's politics, that's clear. But what's the lie?

  17. I have two things to add to the discussion.

    First, I think that the late eighteenth century word that corresponds to Michael O'Hare's "class" was "condescension". Its meaning has changed a bit since. Although a bit of the modern meaning is inherent in the old. Let's hope not too much.

    And in partial answer to the point raised by Dave Schutz: the same WASPocrats who created antisemitism were the ones who tore it down. An interesting transitional stage occurred at Harvard Law School, right after the war. They still had a quota on Jewish names, to keep the alumni happy. But the common law lets you use any name you want, if not used with intent to defraud. And Harvard Law pointedly avoided inquiring into their applicants' mothers' maiden name. There were a lot of Colemans and Casses attending Harvard Law School in those years. (I got this story from a girlfriend of my undergrad years, whose father went to Harvard Law during the postwar years.)

  18. I probably shouldn't be posting from a workplace pc, but hey!! what is this about taking posts down before I can read them????

    That's just wrong.

  19. Payroll taxes add ~7K + 2% maximum to the calculation, so they don't change things materially within the uncertainties. The point isn't that 450K may be off by even as much as 15% to the high side. O'Hare's effort at coming up with a number was – manifestly – a rough estimate. To call that a "lie" is to use attempt to use an all-or-nothing term to evade the point of the discussion. Suppose the Hendersons really only made 420K. Does that make O'Hare's post a lie? What about 400K? (A mere 8x the median household income.) And who else's "lie" are you talking about? I'm guessing DeLong. His point was in no way predicated on the precision of the 450K estimate. It was twofold: (1) about the sociology of how unquestionably well off people still manage to see themselves as have-nots — or at least have-not-enoughs; and (2), that anyone who is now complaining about taxes should have been making that point back when $N-trillion dollar wars and unfunded give-aways to Big Pharma were decreed by Bush and the R's in Congress. That's when the decision to raise taxes was made.

    So what's the lie? I don't see your point, except as a nitpick.

  20. Paul, How does naming yourself have anything to do with class? I am not sure you understand the definition of irony.

    Andrew, first, I agree that many of the benefits of government you list provide the foundation for a productive society. The United States is much better off than many developing countries because we have those institutions of government. I don't agree with them all, but enough that its not worth debating. (Now, some of the benefits you identify are cultural, as opposed to monetary. Things like rule of law, honest civil service, and even schooling are dictated by factors that are separate and apart from how much money is spent by the government. But that also is an aside.) My point was only that, with those systems already in place, we run the risk of decreasing the production of our economy by swinging too far in the other direction — similar to many of the European states that share those fundamental societal building blocks.

    Second, I not saying that the tax rate on anyone should be 0. I agree with you that we need a certain level of taxation to pay for all of the necessary services. (If you want to know where I would get the money, I think a great place to start is the estate tax. Why reward heirs for something they didn't earn when it requires you collect more from currently productive Americans? But again, that's besides the point.) What I have a problem with is the hypocrisy of someone like O'Hare who selfishly tries to lay claim to someone else's property, and then has the gall to suggest that the owner lacks morality or class when they object. Its very easy to decide that someone else has more than he/she needs and that you should have some. It does not make it right. To me, the fairest notion is a flat tax charges each member of society in equal proportion for these common expenses. Of course, we'll probably never get that because its much easier for the majority of lower wage earners to impose their will on the minority of high wage earners.

    Finally, to your point about why rich people don't do more: I don't know. I don't know on a lot of fronts. I don't know that the rich don't do more. I have certainly seen a number of studies that conservatives give more to charity than liberals. Of course, that doesn't mean that its rich conservatives. I also thought I saw someone post a study here that the rich give a lower percentage of their income to charity than others (I can't find it now, so please forgive me). Even if that's true though, I don't know that proves anything. The rich have more, so they can still give more and it will appear as a lower percentage. It seems odd to me that progressives will deem taxpayers giving different percentages as contributing equally to the government, but deem rich giving more but a lower percentage of their income as giving less. Oh well.

    But on to your broader point. Assuming they don't give as much, I don't know why. I suppose that some could be selfish. But I guess I think they have that right to be. (Again, a lot of people think homosexuality is immoral. I don't agree with them and I am glad that majority doesn't get to make the rules.) So you can't discount pure selfishness, but I also think that our government has done a disservice toward our moral obligation to help others. Its very easy to shirk that responsibly when you can point to the government as the one that should do something. (Especially when you point to the government funded by other people's taxes.) Rich people do this when they complain about how much the government has already taken from them. Poor people (or middle class people) do this when they argue that the rich should give more. We all to often look to others to do something about, rather than doing something ourselves.

    And, no, I disagree with anyone's view the poor people worthless weaklings who deserve to suffer and die. I just believe that personal giving by individual choice is the better than government mandated action. I don't want to force anyone to help someone, and frankly, I don't want to be forced. Its a decision I can (and do) make. Its a pretty big failing of you to assume that the other side not interested in the same goals of improving society and helping those in need. Some of us just disagree with your means, and don't believe that the ends justify them.

  21. Also, I am not sure where your comment about a "disdain for high culture" comes from. Please explain.

  22. Bruce,

    To be clear, I do not believe the market rewards virtue of achievement. I believe it rewards choice. Those who are most interested in making money will, by in large, find a way to make money. Those who are interest in having a fulfilling life will, for the most part, have a fulfilling life. The two are certainly not synonymous. Money is often made at the expense of other, potentially more rewarding pursuits.

    As someone with a child at home who works long hours, I often agonize over the trade offs between a high paying job and time I cannot get back with my child. I have made my choice though, and for the time being, I am working on accumulating wealth for my family. I have a problem with someone thinking that they are entitled to take a portion of my monetary choice — just as someone choosing job that provides a premium on time might object if I sought claim on some of their excess. Maybe I should start demanding that government force lower hour workers to do odd jobs around my house so that I can spend more time with my family. We'll call it welfare for the temporally underprivileged.

    Ultimately, I try not to put a judgment on the choices each of us make. Those who didn't work as hard in school derived some benefits back then. They probably had more fun than I did. Others who worked harder probably had less fun. I am all for helping people that make a series of choices toward one path, and something unexpected arises that changes their course. But I don't feel the need to help people that chose to value different things and are now living with the natural and expected outgrowth of those decisions.

  23. @Anonymous: "we typically don’t mandate morality at the will of the majority"

    Actually, assuming that Congress represents the will of the majority (a big assumption), the will of the majority typically does mandate morality to the point that a student of American history would be hard-pressed to find a year in which the Court and the president combined to strike down a majority of the laws that Congress passed. Regarding your specific examples, I don't think that you would find that a majority of Americans favors outlawing either homosexuality or abortion.

    According to a 2010 Gallup poll (, respondents were most likely to favor policies that made abortion legal but restricted – exactly the outcome of both Roe and Casey. In fact, only 1 out of 4 respondents believed that abortion should always be illegal. As for restricting government sanction for abortions, such restrictions already exist, inasmuch as federal funds cannot be used to perform abortions.

    Regarding homosexuality, according to a 2008 Gallup poll, although respondents were evenly divided on the morality of homosexuality, a clear majority of respondents believed that homosexual relationships should be legal – exactly the outcomne in Lawrence. And while a majority did not favor gay marriage, this expression of the majority viewpoint is reflected by the existence of DOMA and numerous state laws banning gay marriage. (And in fact, more than 80% of respondents did not favor workplace discrimination against gays, a view not reflected by the continued existence of DADT).

  24. Well, looks like the majority is all right now, so we can pretty much do whatever they say, huh.

    In all seriousness Josh, you point is fair that the majority is making progress on these two points — although I don't believe it was historically the case. But at any point in time, this deference could justify an argument that gay marriage should remain outlawed or that slavery should continue to exist. You can take the side that the majority should rule when it comes to morality, but I think for the most part you will lose. I know I would rather argue the other side.

    As for Congress, I think we both recognize its tough to say that they really represent the will of the majority. But even accepting that assumption, I disagree that they regularly mandate morality. More often, they are consider laws designed to protect people from hurting each other, not pure morality judgments. And when they do dip their toe in the morality pool, for the most part, its liberals that are rightfully outraged. I just wish those same liberals would show consistency when it comes to objected to forced morality that they might personally agree with.

  25. Thomas:

    Back in the day when I wrote a book about taxes (and was careful to recruit a real live tax law prof to help me) I knew something about them (Patrons Despite Themselves, NYU Press, with Feld and Schuster). What's the name of your book, by the way?

    I assumed, since the UI/BI calculator includes employer's payroll tax in its gross income line, that SS and medicare were included in the number it generated for tax due. But they're not. With two kids (I realize from H's later posts that the third daughter is new this year) 145K each salary yields a federal income tax of $59K. Add in $15K local property tax, $17K payroll taxes, and $10K state income tax and we're right at $101K.

    $290K does not include all the tax-free benefits they receive, including especially their health insurance, their own contributions to a retirement plan, and their employers' contributions to the same, nor the other $17,000 of payroll taxes paid by their employers. Hard to imagine these total less than $75K, so $360K is a perfectly reasonable estimate of what a reasonable person would call "income". I regard 360 as much more than 250, YMMV.

    Under the Obama tax plan, their taxes will go down by about $8000. I see no reason to change any of my conclusions.

    You are correct that it was not classy to say Prof. H was lying. As I said, I wish I had more class.

  26. My point was positive rather than normative:

    Laws typically reflect the moral will of the majority. As the moral will of the majority changes, so to do the laws that the majority enacts and/or preserves. The mere fact that the Court and the president may unilaterally dismiss these laws does not imply that they do so with any great frequency. Thus, I stand by my assertion that we typically do allow the moral will of the majority to dictate what is permissible and impermissible within our society.

    Speaking normatively, I often find myself favoring judicial restraint when my policy preferences are popular, and judicial activism when my policy preferences are unpopular.

  27. Josh, I disagree. Regardless of how often laws are overturned or vetoed, Congress does not typically demand that citizens act in a way the majority deems to be moral, when the subject immoral acts are not proactively hurting anyone. And when they do enact (or attempt to enact) such laws, it is normally met with rightful outrage from the left. I stand by my earlier statement.

  28. Boy, after perusing the thread above, I was struck just how brave one of the critical contributors is! I think his/her moniker reads Anonymous! Now that's one person willing to transparently stand by his/her arguments and have them ascribed to him/her so all of us can better judge the source of such arguments!

  29. Andrew Sabl:

    If I may join your discussion, you wrote "That still leaves the question of why so many rich people do not make the individual choice to do something that shows a modicum of concern for other human beings–which would be good for their own souls too. A Randite view that poor people are worthless weaklings who deserve to suffer and die would more or less explain lack of charity towards the poor (though not a disdain for high culture). Do you favor that explanation, or do you have another?"

    It strikes me to ask is showing a modicum of concern for other human beings something that is restricted to the poor? Does it even appear more proportionately among the poor? I don't know that it does. I've known brutal, mean, and ruthless poor people, and middle class people, as well as rich people. I've known kind and unselfish rich people as well as middle and poorer class ones. I personally know almost no one wealthy who has a Randite view. I say almost, but I can't actually think of anyone. I have known more than one person who is not wealthy who assumes the wealthy have Randite views.

    Further I wonder if your criteria for what is a modicum of concern for another human being overlooks things done by the object of your scorn that are praise worthy. I suspect that you look at what is left in his hand at any moment and think "He's holding alot. That shows he is selfish and could have done more. If he could have done more then he has not reached a modicum." In other words, I suspect you look at the scale of the leftovers when you judge rather than the scale of what good has been accomplished.

  30. "should have mentioned this in the post, charitable giving as a percent of income goes down with income"

    This is off the point but I wonder how this is determined. Is it from income tax statistics? I've known many people who are active in business who rather than write a check to some foundation preferred to actively organize and participate in some positive work in the community. They might send some of their employees and equipment out to grade a new ball field for the school, for example. They gave some checks to foundations too. It is the checks that appear on their tax returns as charitable deductions not the in-kind work. They look at it like they can get a dollars worth of result for a dollars worth of effort if they do it themselves. But running the money through a foundation first shaves off 20% for overhead.

  31. "Kevo"

    Thank you for your transparency as well. It should be easy to find you. I mean, how may kevos can there be?

    So, surprisingly, a quick Google search turned up 0 Kevos. Based on your preference to judge an argument by the author as opposed to content, I will assume you are in academia. Its the one place where an appeal to authority is not considered a logical fallacy.

    You are right to judge my anonymity harshly though. I picture you at the country's founding: "Boy, that Publius is one person willing to transparently stand by his/her arguments and have them ascribed to him/her so all of us can better judge the source of such arguments." Boom — case closed. The winner is Kevo!

  32. O'Hara: " What’s the name of your book, by the way?" Did Thomas say he wrote a book? or is this just O'Hara condescending to Thomas?

  33. Hey A – we are not building a nation for posterity here at the RBC blog, so Publius should not fear his peers!

  34. Upon reading further down I see that Thomas has not written a book therefore it is confirmed that O'Hara was partaking in classless condescension. In my opinion, flagrantly so because the subject of O'Haras book is one that he has shown a poor grasp of in his attack on Henderson. O'Hara has published a book about something he knows not well and has used it to strike another on the head. Sort of like he's using these blog posts.

  35. Kevo: "so all of us can better judge the source of such arguments"

    An argument is true or false, worthy or unworthy regardless of it's source.

    Judging the source before the argument is akin to the prior Harvard practice of limiting Jews because they were not WASPs, a practice O'Hara decries.

  36. "I have a problem with someone thinking that they are entitled to take a portion of my monetary choice — just as someone choosing job that provides a premium on time might object if I sought claim on some of their excess."

    I think you've got some perception issues at the very least, the government isn't punishing you for making the money, so it's not in the business of punishing people for not making money.

    You pay your money to the government so that the government can make arrangements for a society that features first and foremost a lack of hordes of people who would take your money from you, all of it.

    But I do applaud how you hid this libertarian fundamentalism argument in a mass of verbiage, most Randites are more direct.

    Stay classy.

    (Not anonymous)

  37. Thanks to the wide definition of 501 c(3) and other deductible vehicles in the US, it's not at all easy to go from numbers for charitable giving on tax returns to what most people would call charity. (At the extreme end of the gamut, we'll note Abramoff's charitable money-laundering operations and the high-overhead foundations run by various politicians.) If you're giving to the opera, for example, the number of poor people benefiting per million deducted is not very high.

    Which is just fine as a matter of law — you probably don't want governments going over charitable purpose with a fine-tooth comb — but complicates the ethical picture.

  38. Russell — So I am paying an extortionist? ("Give me your money or our hordes will take it by force.") Or do you prefer mugger? Terrorist? I have not heard a liberal so forthright. I guess its refreshing. Stay classy yourself.

    We all are responsible for funding the government. I am spending my time making money. If you are going to take a greater percentage of my money because I have more, I want a greater percentage your time. Its a simple trade off.

  39. because most giving comes from people who do not itemize (standard deduction) tax data cannot be used to analyze philanthropy

  40. because most giving comes from people who do not itemize (standard deduction) tax data cannot be used to analyze philanthropy. Giving statistics come from surveys.

  41. "$290K does not include all the tax-free benefits they receive, including especially their health insurance, their own contributions to a retirement plan, and their employers’ contributions to the same, nor the other $17,000 of payroll taxes paid by their employers. Hard to imagine these total less than $75K, so $360K is a perfectly reasonable estimate of what a reasonable person would call “income”."

    This seems disingenous to me. To an ordinary person, "income" is your salary, plus your investment income if you have any. We're comparing the X family to a family with the US median income of around $50K. That median income doesn't include the median family's employer-supplied health insurance if they have it, so we shouldn't include the X's health insurance when we calculate their income. Let's be fair, and say that the Xs have around a $290K income. Which is a whole lot of money and certainly qualifies them as rich, no matter how much boo-hooing Professor When-I-Spend-All-My-Enormous-Income-I-Have-None-Left does.

  42. "We all are responsible for funding the government. I am spending my time making money. If you are going to take a greater percentage of my money because I have more, I want a greater percentage your time. Its a simple trade off."

    Even though I make more money? That's, uh, strange.

    But I see why you love, as a Libertarian Fundamentalist, this idea. If we implemented this right now, you'd get your own personal slaves, drawn from the current 14.9 million unemployed. And I'm aware enough of the purer regions of Libertarian "thought", to know that slavery, if voluntarily entered into, is considered moral. And of course every one of those 14.9 million unemployed are that way by choice.

    I don't have anything further to say to this […].

  43. Anonymous writes, "To be clear, I do not believe the market rewards virtue of achievement. I believe it rewards choice."

    And then, "I am all for helping people that make a series of choices toward one path, and something unexpected arises that changes their course. But I don’t feel the need to help people that chose to value different things".

    What to make of such a statement? If we all make our own choices (and are accountable as such), then how can we be helped to make choices? Am I missing something?

    Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one in the world interested in how the determinism/free will debate drives liberal/conservative politics.

    Now mind you, I know plenty of liberals who consider themselves to believe in free will. But then you start talking about reality and it is soon clear they do not. I suppose maybe the real problem is that the subject is difficult to parse and meanings become confused.

    But Anon's point is clear, as is any conservative you'll ever meet. In fact, the degree to which they are conservative is basically expressed in the degree to which they believe that we are rational actors, aside from biological/environmental causality.

    Basically, Anon believes that the rich have chosen to be rich, just as the poor have chosen to be poor. The devil is in that terrible word "choice". Because yes, most people are aware of their actions to a degree, and the rich and poor have done things differently – but in only a strict sense of the word is this a "choice". Rich kids don't generally stay rich out of choice. Neither do poor kids stay poor.

    *They have had it all handed to them by the world.* They are not little Gods.

    Liberals grasp this. Conservatives do not. I think in both regards it is an intuitive understanding; the details get tricky pretty fast. But liberal phrases like "it takes a village" say it all.

  44. Yes, Michael, they do, based in part on the fact that they think that Henderson is a "senior law professor" at Chicago, which he most assuredly is not. He's a very very junior law professor at Chicago. Apparently Blodget isn't any better at working the calculator than you are, and in addition he doesn't know anything about Henderson, or about what junior law professors make. Why we should take uninformed speculation over first-hand reporting still isn't clear to me.

  45. Anonymous,

    the fact that you do not understand me is, in fact, the point. It also serves as a pretty solid proxy for understanding you. So, which Rush album are you listening to right now in your dorm room? My money is on "Hemispheres" 🙂

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