Ross Douthat on saving the working class

I’m grateful to Ross Douthat for his shout-out to Frank Zimring’s work, and mine, on reducing crime and incarceration, but it seems to me that no amount of fiddling at the edges will substitute for a substantial set of tax, spending, and transfer policies that can reverse the growth in income inequality. One of the important differences between the poor (or near-poor) and the rest of us is that they have less money.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

11 thoughts on “Ross Douthat on saving the working class”

  1. Every so often I read about someone winning the lottery and being back to poverty in five years. Five years of a hell of a ride, but five years. People comport themselves in ways which make them (relatively) rich, or they don’t. So I’m with Douthat: fiddle at the edges to encourage behavior, and more people will earn their way into the middle class. Solve the problem? no. Make it less? yes.

    1. Ha sit occurred to you that there may be selection bias in the reporting on lottery winners? “Took holiday in Venice, bought new Lexus, paid off mortgage, paid kids through college, invested in index funds and tax-exempt munis” doesn’t reach page 1.

      1. Well, Sensenbrenner made page 1, here in Dee Cee:

        “In 1977, Sensenbrenner married Cheryl Warren, daughter of former state attorney general and U.S. District Court Judge Robert W. Warren. The couple has two sons, Frank (born 1981), and Bob (born 1984). When not in Washington, Sensenbrenner resides in Menomonee Falls. His family also owns a summer home on Pine Lake near Delafield.

        Sensenbrenner has a net worth of about $11.6 million.[28] He has put his money into stocks, as detailed in the Congressional Record.[5] The Sunlight Foundation pointed out that among the 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Sensenbrenner has the fourth-highest amount of investment in oil stocks.[29]

        In January 1998, Sensenbrenner won $250,000 on a D.C. Lottery ticket, purchased on December 18, 1997 at Congressional Liquors, the liquor store on Capitol Hill.[30] He won $1,000 in the Wisconsin Lottery in the spring of 2007, and he won another $1,000 in that state’s Super 2nd Chance lottery in September, 2007.[28]”

        1. News here: rich guy wins lottery, three times. My point, like your original one, was about the working class person who wins the lottery.

    2. Playing the lottery is hardly the most sensible financial decision; playing it more often and more per go – which will cause you to be overrepresented among lottery winners – is a still worse financial decision. Lottery winners almost by definition start as a lower-income, lower-education, higher-debt population demonstrably given to making poor financial decisions. They’re also easy prey for scoundrels and wastrels.

      1. 100% correct. The worst exploiter of poor people is…government!! And there is hardly a better place to view it first hand then in your local liquor/lottery sales store.

        But the exploitation is constant and goes much deeper. The left’s programs, which on the surface sound like they should be helpful, foster a culture of dependency that has been an enduring and disgusting black mark against this country. There have been few (Such as Daniel Patrick Moynihan) who have had the courage to brand this strategy for what it is.

        1. Leaving aside the rest of your diatribe, the lottery, for all that it is wrong and exploitative, is far from the worst institution to prey on the disadvantaged in America. It’s way, way behind the (private-sector) Payday Lenders in that respect, to name just one competitor.

          1. I’d disagree: While playing the lotto with any expectation of actually winning is always stupid, there actually are circumstances where utilizing a payday lender might be the least bad of a set of bad options. (Generally the result of a string of previous bad mistakes, but still at that point your best move.) Typically, of course, the crusaders don’t want to acknowledge any nuance, and are out to just ban the practice entirely.

            Far too often that people sometimes make bad choices is used as an excuse to take their choices away from them.

            I will agree to this extent: Given that the government actually permits people to not buy lotto tickets, it’s not the worst thing the government does, by far, as many of the government’s abuses have not the least element of choice in them, and harm even those who know better.

  2. If it’s about saving the working class, then the tax policy and spending priorities have to be about job creation, and only marginally transfer payments. And, somehow, about compressing the income scale.

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