So Much Good News

In the US, Med Reform seems dead and the Supreme Court upholds free speech big-time.  World wide, the modal (log) income, i.e., the most common income level world-wide, has increased by a factor of ten in just 40 years!

worldincome2aworldincome2bHT Rob Wiblin.

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  • Interested in how corporate personhood and money as speech should be upheld as “good news”. Don’t these ideas put the profit motive above all else, diminishing the voices of those who personally opt not to elevate profit or who elect to pursue specialities in which performance is not closely correlated to salaries, such as teachers? In this model, don’t corporations who pursue self-interest at the expense of employees and financiers and others who leverage profit margin at the expense of all else gain the upper hand in terms of political influence?

    • Robert Koslover

      Oh please. Don’t worry too much about all that corporate influence, Mr. O’Connell. The left still has a pretty firm grip on Hollywood, academia (primary, secondary, and post-secondary) and most of the media (with the exception of Fox News and talk radio). And the left is also still in control of the House, the Senate, and Presidency. And then, to be sure, there is massive corporate money on the left too. Not enough for you? Worried that conservatives and libertarians (or anyone else who favors free markets/free enterprise) might still be able to support a modest political campaign here or there?

      • Bill


        You shouldn’t make the decision on whether something is good or not based on the locus or non-locus of corporate money.

        Ends do no justify means.

        Corporate political contributions will be corrosive to democracy.

      • Nick Tarleton

        Worried that conservatives and libertarians (or anyone else who favors free markets/free enterprise) might still be able to support a modest political campaign here or there?

        Do large corporations exercising political influence really support free markets and free enterprise, or do they support protectionism, regulations freezing out the competition, and not being held responsible for the external costs they generate?

      • Robert Koslover

        To Nick: So, should what corporations choose to say determine whether or not they are granted have free speech rights?

  • At what point did I suggest that this had anything to do with ideology?

    My concern is that freedom, in fact, becomes not free, Team America-style. Basically, that the wealthy wind up with more freedom of speech more easily consolidated in corporations than previously. And that, in order to pursue freedom equivalence one must necessarily pursue wealth.

    I’m not convinced our overall political economic system is mature enough to have worked out appropriate values for necessary skills and functions to stave off an imbalance tilted against those whose motives aren’t primarily about profit.

    • Peter Twieg

      Money might buy speech, but it certainly doesn’t buy “freedom of speech.”

    • Robert Koslover

      You specifically expressed concern with people who “put the profit motive above all else.” That is an insulting, and stereotypical way for a leftist to refer to corporations and businesses. At the same time, you lamented that those who do not pursue profit (which you rather clearly think makes them more noble) will not be heard. And then you use the example of teachers, while not even noticing that teachers have a platform to push their beliefs on others every day! In summary, if you are not a leftist, then you sure do an excellent impression of one. Am I wrong? The test of any theory is its ability to predict. I predict you vote for Democrats vastly more often than you vote for Republicans. I also predict that you favor progressive (rather than flatter) taxation and that you voted for Obama. So… did my theory pass the test?

      • Robert, the point is to discuss the impact of the ruling, not to besmirch corporations and business. I wasn’t suggesting that corporations or businesses as a rule do this; I was suggesting that anyone, individual or corporation, who pursues profit as a strategy for maximizing speech now has even more room to do so in a purely political dimension, likely giving them more influence over policy decisions affecting people in trades that accrue less financial weight. It has nothing to do with nobility.

        I chose teachers because they represent a good example of (ideally) skilled labor that isn’t ordinarily rewarded on the basis of talent or labor. I could just as easily restrict it to the domain of math teachers, who are less likely to push “beliefs” other than those underpinning the fundamentals of that domain.

        Which is the better use of a great math teacher who happens to be an above average mathematician but a well-above average teacher? To teach math or to work in finance?

        Your ability to make inferences not directly implied but still possibly predictive reveals similarly strong biases on your part. Does your inability to see past perceived bias prevent you from discussing the actual issue at hand?

    • Robert Koslover

      Heh, heh. And now I just checked the blog at the link tied to your name. Yep, you are indeed very solidly on the political left. Not saying that’s wrong, just that it was obvious, even if you didn’t realize it. You thought your comment wasn’t ideological, yet it immediately revealed your ideology. Care to try overcoming that bias?

      • Bill

        It is interesting that those who decry rent seeking and government regulation will find that if corporations can make political contributions–and support, er, buy their candidate–that they may see a larger government (corporations are suppliers of goods, you know) or a more inefficient economy (incumbent firms will use regulation to block entrants), and incumbent politicians will be able to raise more money than challengers.

        And, don’t forget, since corporations are free speech persons, a foreign corporation or its US subsidiary can also contribute to politicians.

        You shouldn’t pick a policy based on your current perception of who has the most money. Pick a policy that promotes democracy. If you believe the policy is good because it promotes democracy, defend it on that ground. I think it is clear that this decision does not promote democracy. Others may disagree and should be heard, unless I have to pay to speak, in which case, you may not hear this message much longer.

      • Dan

        Yep, those that think this will lead to some free market utopia is seriously deluded…
        The new corporate is going to act in THEIR “personal” interest. Subsidies,attempted monopolization. Welcome to the corporate rent seeking state (and who do you think is going to pay that rent? you!)

        What took you people so long to figure out that you live in a corporate plutocracy?

  • gimli4thewest

    It wasn’t corporate money that led me to find and consider information on this web site. I don’t fear money in information any more than I fear the ideas on this site I disagree with. I like being free to consider the stupidity of a Nike advertisement or the stupidity of my self-proclaimed communist political science professor back when I had to pay money (as well as the taxpayer) to listen to such claptrap. But, then I am just a country-bumpkin who probably needs things explained to me by the elite. Lord help me, I do love being free.

  • mitchell porter

    I wonder to what extent the increase in modal income can be attributed to rural-to-urban migration.

  • Are you seriously claiming allowing corporations to fund political parties is a good thing?

    Political parties are what is so wrong with this world!

    We’re living in the 21st Century. Party politics is 300 years old. It’s an ancient lumbering beast which shackles humanity to the will of a few.

    These people don’t care about you and me and the rest of the electorates they are chosen to represent, they only care about their position in the party.

    From left and right sides, time and time again the interests of the party are put ahead of the interests of the people and the country.

    The win in Mass. wasn’t about Obama/Dems losing hold, it was about people sick of the whole political process. It was a protest vote, but with only two parties running the country, what can people really do?

    From the highest echelons of power to the election of Shitsville USA subcommittee of the garbage management scheme, in fact all over the world, political parties are making a mockery of real democracy, and holding back humanity from achieving great things like freedom, free trade, equality, and scientific exploration.

    All this high court decision does is keep these inbred political elitists in power for longer, and holds back the American people from making real progress towards a better future.

    • Robert Koslover

      You say

      Are you seriously claiming allowing corporations to fund political parties is a good thing?

      How about labor unions? Do you believe they should have different rights than corporations?

  • retired phlebotomist

    And it is this, I think, that makes Kafka’s wit inaccessible to children whom our culture has trained to see jokes as entertainment and entertainment as reassurance. It’s not that students don’t “get” Kafka’s humor but that we’ve taught them to see humor as something you get – the same way we’ve taught them that a self is something you just have. No wonder they cannot appreciate the really central Kafka joke: that the horrific struggle to establish a human self results in a self whose humanity is inseparable from that horrific struggle. That our endless and impossible journey toward home is in fact our home. It’s hard to put into words, up at the blackboard, believe me. You can tell them that maybe it’s good they don’t “get” Kafka. You can ask them to imagine his stories as all about a kind of door. To envision us approaching and pounding on this door, increasingly hard, pounding and pounding, not just wanting admission but needing it; we don’t know what it is but we can feel it, this total desperation to enter, pounding and ramming and kicking. That, finally, the door opens…and it opens outward—we’ve been inside what we wanted all along. Das ist komisch

    • rob

      retired phlebotomist, I have long held that the dramatic recent increase in the world’s wealth is the reason Kafka’s wit is inaccessible to children.

    • retired phlebotomist ; No wonder they cannot appreciate the really central Kafka joke: that the horrific struggle to establish a human self results in a self whose humanity is inseparable from that horrific struggle.

      You can tell them that maybe it’s good they don’t “get” Kafka. You can ask them to imagine his stories as all about a kind of door.

      Kafka’s jokes; is it humor or just about tickling ones ambivalence?

      Students lack of a robust intuition, perhaps.

      Sounds like your students dislike the idea that they are the sacrifice and are unable to see the door as a doorway. Go through the doorway and there, where to sought to slay another, you will slay yourself.

  • Boris

    What’s possibly more interesting than the factor of 10 is that the overall distribution is no longer multimodal.

    And if you exclude OECD and sub-Saharan Africa, neither is the set of other distributions.

    So effectively, the low end has gone up a lot, with inequality being evened out (globally).

  • No adjustment for inflation?

    • Aris Tone

      The study used “PPP-adjusted 2000 dollars”, whatever that means.
      GDP is used in the study and the distribution is assumed to be lognormal. GDP goes up, poverty goes down according to the study.

      There was, and is, a wash of Federal Reserve Notes handed due to the world war the US government is currently fighting. The GDP in Afghanistan has risen considerably since the US democracy infusion began. This means less poverty in Afghanistan.

      The war on terror is successfully reducing poverty. Great news indeed!

      • James K

        The study used “PPP-adjusted 2000 dollars”, whatever that means.

        The “2000 dollars” part means it’s inflation-adjusted, specifically incomes are adjusted to cost of living in 2000. The PPP pert stands for Purchasing Power Parity, which is a method of adjusting for international differences in costs of living.

        In other words, the data has been adjusted for inflation, and normalised for international comparability. One PPP-adjusted 2000 dollar should be worth the same no matter where (or when) you are.

  • Popeye

    S&P 500 is down two days in a row, wiping out all the gains for the calendar year.

    Who am I supposed to pay more attention to — an arrogant status-seeking “expert” like Robin Hanson who has no clear incentives to figure out the truth about anything , or a finely-tuned financial market with heavily invested participants?

    The market has spoken.

    • psychologist

      Sometimes it is hard to tell the trolls from the merely weird.

      • Popeye

        Yes, I’m a troll, but I mean well. As far as I can tell, what I wrote fits in quite well with Robin’s beliefs and philosophy — except, of course, that my targets are not Robin’s usual targets.

        I would be interested in understanding if I’m misapplying these ideas. Calling me a troll or weird is not very helpful.

    • Bill

      @ psycholgist. I don’t think Popeye is the troll. Discuss substance. Popeye made the point that the table is not current; others have critqued the use of averages on the data, rather than in country dispersion.

      I will not call you a troll unless you act like one. It does not advance an argument.

  • MZ

    Nice how you characterized it as “free speech.” You use rhetoric with the best of them. I suppose the purchasing of child brides is also free speech, by that measure. It’s just that free speech *isn’t the only consideration in every problem*.

    Considering how inept so many large corporations have proven themselves in the last few years, I don’t feel safe having them influence politicians.

  • MZ

    If Surowiecki is correct, and crowds make better decisions when their agents are independent, then we shouldn’t support any lobbies, think tanks, non-profits, corporations, or even pundits that influence politics. People should read the facts for themselves and make independent decisions. All of the above are corrupting influences on aggregate decision making. Allowing corporations to buy influence just makes it worse.

    • Bill

      Very good point. How can we view the pollution of aggregating mechanisms by actors with more resources as a good.

      I watched this website because I like the market, think aggregating mechanisms can be useful, but not godlike.

      But, if you think aggregating mechanisms–like voting–are useful in getting information from dispersed actors, why on earth would you want to let corporate actors put a thumb on the scale.

      Why not just avoid the voting booth and just sell the vote. Auctions are aggregating mechanisms as well.

      What do you give me for my vote, Exxon. Oops, Lockheed Martin bid higher. Sorry.

    • Hal Finney

      I agree, good point. Democracy has great potential but capturing the diversity of independent thought and opinion is necessary for full effectiveness. To the extent that corporate/labor donations will harm the democratic process, I’d like to see more public discussion of why and how we allow ourselves to be so influenced by money. Maybe we could raise awareness of this problem and get people to try to be more resistant to manipulation. I don’t recall any organized campaign telling people not to allow themselves to be bought. A strong effort along these lines comparable to public health activism could have positive results.

  • Bill

    Just think: a US Japanese corporate subsidiary gets to have its free speech in US elections. A US corporate subsidiary gets to have its free speech contributions in US elections.

    Corporations are persons.


    • That is nothing, just wait for the Chinese. How is your Mandarin?

  • Dan

    I find it interesting that most Americans only now suddenly noticed they lived in a plutocracy… It has been one dollar one vote for a while now, it was going to get codified eventually ya know.

    Interesting as a foreigner I can now also spend unlimited money to attack or promote any candidate I wish. Just set up a corp/foundation, I could probably even hide the funding sources as well, ahhh Freedom™ and Democracy™ its great isn’t it 🙂

    Regarding the world income that is really good news. So as a non-American it is indeed all good news!
    Democracy™ has at last been achieved in America, and I am rich!!

  • lxm

    There is so much corporate money and influence at work in American politics already that I doubt this ruling will have great impact.

    Why exactly it’s good that a legal fiction should have an outsized impact on government escapes me. Apparently, we should give them the vote as well. We can call it the Corporation Suffrage Act.

    Why exactly this ruling is a victory for free speech also escapes me. Corporations have no mouths. Some argue that corporations disagree on policy matters and, therefore, everything balances out. But all corporations are for corporations, and not for non-legal fiction people. They agree on that. Let us not forget that corporations often muzzle their own employees. More corporate power equals less free speech.

    Why exactly it’s good that multi-national corporations have more say in American politics also escapes me. It worries me.

    I believe that we still have campaign financing laws that prohibit donations from foreign governments. Why are we denying them their free speech rights? Because they are not American citizens? Neither are corporations.

  • Robert Koslover

    To all of you so proudly defending your assertions that corporations should not have the right to contribute to political campaigns or buy political advertising, I ask the following: Do you believe the exact same rules should apply to labor unions? If not, then your view is based not on logic, but on ideology, i.e., you support freedom of speech, but only for views that you prefer to hear. And you should not be proud of that.

    • William Meyer

      A labor union is more akin to a charity (funded by donations — i.e., dues) or a non-profit organization than to a corporation. The members of organizations like the AARP and labor unions are aware that the org attempts to “stack the political deck.” If the members disagree with the political activities of the org, they could easily rectify or adjust it. In most cases, such policing by whoever are the “members” of corporations would be much more complicated.

    • fburnaby

      Do you believe the exact same rules should apply to labor unions?

      Yes. Yes I do. Corporations and unions are both organizational tools that we use to benefit ourselves. To me, they’re both the moral equivalent of toasters or computers and should be defended only by the people they serve. People.

      For those of us who are interested in friendly AI, maybe (actually almost certainly) there’s a parallel here. Has anyone done the analagous work to establish that corporations/unions are intelligent? Is endowing them with this sort of agency any different from endowing a potentially unfriendly AI with these same powers? I think it’s quite obvious that either of these two groups are pretty good at working against the public interest by promoting protectionism or strangling innovation to protect their interests. When we can make these tools work in such as way that their interests consistently align with our own, then freeing them will start to make sense (and in fact, we may even become morally obligated to give it to them). I see no reason to think we’re there.

      Your rhetorical question betrays bias, an assumption that anyone who disagrees with your stance must be an anti-corporate union-loving lefty.

      • Robert Koslover

        I agree with you, but note that my question was not entirely rhetorical. William Meyer, for example, just defended differentiating between unions and corporations. But you didn’t, to your credit!

    • Corporations are not people. They have no inherent rights whatsoever, other than those determined by the laws that create and enable them.

      Labor unions are also not people, but their purpose is representing the interests of people.

      You could say that corporations represent the interest of their shareholders, who are (sometimes) people. But they only represent the interests of people with money. The more money you have, the more shares you can own and the bigger your voice can be. Labor unions don’t have anything approaching the monetary resources of large corporations.

      Democracy works on the principle of one man, one vote. Not one dollar, one vote. The intent of the democratic system is to have systems of communication, deliberation, and control that are independent of wealth. This is obviously difficult to maintain. Some people think we shouldn’t even try. The Moldbug plan is to convert the government into a giant corporation, issue shares, and replace the democratic process with a structure of corporate governance where your shares determine your voice.

      If that’s what you are after, then the recent Supreme Court decision is a step in the right direction. We should stop pretending that there are things that money can’t buy. If you favor anything like democracy though, then it’s a step in the wrong direction.

      • Jess Riedel

        Labor unions don’t have anything approaching the monetary resources of large corporations.

        So should we make a distinction not on corporation vs. union, but on annual revenue?

      • Make whatever distinctions you like, but the presence of large concentrations of wealth is dangerous to democracy and the American ideal. This is not just my opinion but the opinion of many of the founders of the country, ie Ben Franklin: “An enormous Proportion of Property vested in a few Individuals is dangerous to the Rights, and destructive of the Common Happiness of Mankind; and therefore any free State hath a Right by its Laws to discourage the Possession of such Property.” The law overturned by the Supreme Court was much less radical; it wasn’t trying to prevent concentrations of wealth, just trying to keep them somewhat removed from politics.

        Here’s another version of my point, more or less.

    • diogenese

      I’m not sure what the right answer to this question is — but its pretty obvious that labor unions are in dramatic DECLINE.

      I would lean to treating labor unions similarly to corporations, but pragmatically speaking, since they are already losing power due to other forces — I’m not sure there would be a need to kick them in the butt on their natural way out anyway.

  • Bill

    In case you are sceptical about what this decision will do to our democracy, here is a quote from the attorney who represented the Swift Boat Veterans:

    “Thursday’s decision, in Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission, “is going to flip the existing campaign order on its head,” said Benjamin L. Ginsberg, a Republican campaign lawyer at the law-and-lobbying firm Patton Boggs who has represented both candidates and outside groups, including Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group formed to oppose Senator John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign.

    “It will put on steroids the trend that outside groups are increasingly dominating campaigns,” Mr. Ginsberg said. “Candidates lose control of their message. Some of these guys lose control of their whole personalities.”

    “Parties will sort of shrink in the relative importance of things,” he added, “and outside groups will take over more of the functions — advertising support, get out the vote — that parties do now.”

    Democracy RIP.

    • >Some of these guys lose control of their whole personalities.

      Have any of the last four presidents even had a personality?

  • josh

    Politics is indeed the mind-killer.

  • magfrump

    Robin–I thought you had previously determined that reform would decrease medical consumption and waste (especially with taxes on excessive health care plans). Did your view shift on this, or did you never believe that?

    • I agree regarding reform. In the absence of any changes, healthcare will eat up larger and larger portions of GDP. The averted change may not have done any good, but the outlook is still bad. A pretty low standard for “good news”.

  • tim

    Everyone seems surprisingly clueless about this Supreme Court decision. Corporations have always been allowed to fund campaigns! They just weren’t allowed to do it directly, so they set up PACs and channeled money through less transparent avenues. All this really means is that it’ll be more obvious where the money is coming from, which is a good thing.

    And yes, this is a win for free speech. That’s a good thing only if you believe that free speech should always win. You can’t support campaign finance laws and unlimited freedom of speech at the same time. Nothing wrong with that.

  • Doug S.

    I’m worried about the ruling because I suspect that it will reduce the power of the groups I’d prefer to have power.

    • Bill

      If you think of it as an outcome based issue–that it does or does not favor a group you favor–you will get screwed up in your thinking.

      • Popeye

        Nonsense. Pretending that consequentialism has absolutely no role to play in our morality is ridiculous.

        I mean, let’s say you are right and he will get screwed up in his thinking. Why is that a “bad” thing?

        Why do we treat freedom of speech seriously?

        I’m not saying that we can completely reduce right and wrong to tribal politics. But politics is part of life and to pretend that there is some way to “neutrally” decide political disputes is itself a political position that creates winners and losers.

      • Bill

        Well, I think that if people were to look at this more abstractly from its effect on an aggregating system of individual voter input, rather than from converting our voting system into a corporately weighted exercise, they would reach a different conclusion about the likely effect on their lives in the polity. I suppose that is consequential, but it is consequential only in the sense that it tilts the system to money and not voice. We’re free to screw ourselves and our system of citizen voting if that is what we want. Its just that when you get into the constitutional hole, its hard to get out if you change your mind and begin to see the horrors of corporate free speech.

      • Bill

        Following up on my last point, because it may not be clear, the Supreme Court traditionally tries to decide issues which raise constitutional issues on the narrowest of grounds, and also not to depart from precedent. When you create–and that really what this case does–something new, and put it into a constitutionally protected category, you really put it off limits to legislation. The court could have made a more narrow ruling in addressing the case before it, and it did not. That is not typically the way the Court works.

        Now, you should have an interest in the court being careful and slow on these issues. If McCain-Feingold has a problem, the court can narrow part of it, or the legislature can change it. But, if you create a constitutional right–like even abortion–legislation is off bounds and is in the hands of the court.

        This was a brazen decision. If you want voting to be an aggregating mechanism, you should be concerned.

        God save the United States.

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