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Yes, I did use the feminine on purpose.

“Sunday was lethargic from the beginning as I wallowed in a morass of general and specific dislike and pity for most people but me especially,”


My otherwise useful programming was interrupted by Dashboard Confessional. They were screaming infidelities and everything.

The Left's 'Inequality' Obsession
July 19, 2007; Page A15

The U.S. is a rich nation getting richer. According to Census figures, the average inflation-adjusted income in the top quintile of American earners increased 22% between 1993 and 2003. Incomes in the middle quintile rose 17% on average, while the incomes in the bottom quintile increased 13%. Over the 30 years prior to 2003, top-quintile earners saw their real incomes increase by two-thirds, versus a quarter for those in the middle quintile and a fifth among the bottom earners.
['Inequality' Obsession]

Reason to celebrate? Not according to those worried that the rich are getting richer faster than the poor are getting richer. The National Opinion Research Center's General Social Survey (GSS) indicates that in 1973, the average family in the top quintile earned about 10 times what the average bottom-quintile family earned. Today that difference has grown to almost 15 times greater. Thus Sen. Barack Obama complains that "the average CEO now earns more in one day than an average worker earns in an entire year." John Edwards has famously spoken of the "two Americas," while Sen. Hillary Clinton characterizes today's economy as "trickle-down economics without the trickle." She declares that a progressive era is at hand because of "rising inequality and rising pessimism in our work force."

The general view among liberals is that economic inequality is socially undesirable because it makes people miserable; they propose to solve the problem through redistributive policies such as higher income taxes. As a scholar working in the field of public policy, I have long witnessed egalitarian hand-wringing about the alleged connection between inequality and unhappiness. What first made me doubt this prevailing view was that when I questioned actual human beings about it, few expressed any shock and outrage at the enormous incomes of software moguls and CEOs. They tended rather to hope that their kids might become the next Bill Gates.

And in fact, the evidence reveals that it is not economic inequality that frustrates Americans. Rather, it is a perceived lack of opportunity. To focus our policies on inequality, instead of opportunity, is to make a serious error -- one that will worsen the very problem we seek to solve and make us generally unhappier.

The egalitarian argument against inequality starts with the claim that income is all relative: Above a basic subsistence level, they say, we care more about our financial position relative to others than about our absolute income. Experimental studies are often cited that appear to bear this idea out.

In one such study, two-thirds of subjects said that they would be happier at a company where they earned $33,000 while their colleagues earned $30,000 than at one where they earned $35,000 while their colleagues earned $38,000. In another experiment, 56% of participants chose a hypothetical job paying $50,000 per year while everyone else earned $25,000, rather than a job paying $100,000 per year while others made $200,000. Thus, the thinking goes, the very fact that some people have less than others leads to unhappiness, even without deprivation.

Moreover, the redistribution of income taxed at higher and higher levels, according to egalitarians, does not really hurt the rich, because they tend to use their "excess" incomes to purchase what they do not "need," such as luxury cars and outlandishly large houses. Some go even further, arguing that we should tax the economically successful explicitly to discourage them from working, since their work will only make them richer and thus sadden the less successful. Says British economist Richard Layard, "If we make taxes commensurate to the damage that an individual does to others when he earns more" -- the damage to others' happiness, that is -- "then he will only work harder if there is a true net benefit to society as a whole. It is efficient to discourage work effort that makes society worse off."

But the egalitarians misinterpret the experimental evidence. The studies cited above don't necessarily tell us that people would be happier in a world of total equality. Rather, they indicate that if there is no apparent prospect for getting ahead themselves (as there indeed was not in the experiment), people will focus instead on having more than others -- even to the point of neglecting their financial interests.

There is a fundamental reason to doubt the link between economic inequality and unhappiness. If the egalitarians are right, then average happiness levels should be falling. They aren't.

The GSS shows that in 1972, 30% of the population said that they were "very happy" with their lives; in 1982, 31%; in 1993, 32%; and in 2004, 31%. In other words, no significant change in reported happiness occurred -- even as income inequality has increased significantly.

The data do tell us that economic mobility -- not equality -- is associated with happiness. The GSS asked respondents, "The way things are in America, people like me and my family have a good chance of improving our standard of living -- do you agree or disagree?" The two-thirds of the population who agreed were 44% more likely than the others to say they were "very happy," 40% less likely to say that they felt "no good at all" at times, and 20% less likely to say that they felt like failures. In other words, those who don't believe in economic mobility -- for themselves or for others -- are not as happy as those who do.

Perhaps in a world where there is no opportunity for advancement, an important concern is how one's income measures up to others. In the real world where people believe there is opportunity, however, one's own income potential matters a great deal more than what others are earning. Some studies even find that the happiness of workers rises as the incomes of others climb relative to their own, because they see the incomes of others as evidence of what they themselves can achieve.

Believing in mobility, then, helps make people happy. Is this belief a delusion? Does economic mobility actually exist in America today? It does.

The U.S. Census Bureau, the Urban Institute and the Federal Reserve have all pointed out that, as a general rule, about a fifth of the people in the lowest income quintile will climb to a higher quintile within a year, and that about half will rise within a decade. True, a significant proportion of people will fall over the same period. But the studies nevertheless put paid to the claim that economic mobility is in any way unusual. Millions and millions of poor Americans climb out of the ranks of poverty every year.

Those who don't rise will probably not become happier if we redistribute more income. Indeed, the effect may be just the opposite. Redistributionist policies tend to reduce incentives to create wealth, which means less economic growth and fewer jobs, and less charitable giving -- all to the detriment of those lower on the income scale. But more important, redistribution can, as the American welfare system has shown, turn beneficiaries into demoralized long-term dependents.

An accurate and constructive vision of America sees a land of both inequality and opportunity, in which hard work and perseverance are the keys to jumping from the ranks of the have-nots to those of the haves. This vision promotes policies focused not on wiping out economic inequality, but rather on enhancing economic mobility. These policies include improving educational opportunities, addressing cultural impediments to success, enhancing the fluidity of labor markets, searching for ways to include all citizens in America's investing revolution, and protecting the climate for entrepreneurship.

To focus our policies on opportunity, instead of equality, will address Americans' real concern, and make us happier to boot.

Mr. Brooks is a professor of public administration at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Public Administration and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. This essay is adapted from a forthcoming article in City Journal.
URL for this article:

Can 35 Million Book Buyers Be Wrong? Yes.

By Harold Bloom
Wall Street Journal

Taking arms against Harry Potter, at this moment, is to emulate Hamlet taking arms against a sea of troubles. By opposing the sea, you won't end it. The Harry Potter epiphenomenon will go on, doubtless for some time, as J. R. R. Tolkien did, and then wane.

The official newspaper of our dominant counter-culture, The New York Times, has been startled by the Potter books into establishing a new policy for its not very literate book review. Rather than crowd out the Grishams, Clancys, Crichtons, Kings, and other vastly popular prose fictions on its fiction bestseller list, the Potter volumes will now lead a separate children's list. J. K. Rowling, the chronicler of Harry Potter, thus has an unusual distinction: She has changed the policy of the policy-maker.

Imaginative Vision

I read new children's literature, when I can find some of any value, but had not tried Rowling until now. I have just concluded the 300 pages of the first book in the series, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," purportedly the best of the lot. Though the book is not well written, that is not in itself a crucial liability. It is much better to see the movie, "The Wizard of Oz," than to read the book upon which it was based, but even the book possessed an authentic imaginative vision. "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" does not, so that one needs to look elsewhere for the book's (and its sequels') remarkable success. Such speculation should follow an account of how and why Harry Potter asks to be read.

The ultimate model for Harry Potter is "Tom Brown's School Days" by Thomas Hughes, published in 1857. The book depicts the Rugby School presided over by the formidable Thomas Arnold, remembered now primarily as the father of Matthew Arnold, the Victorian critic-poet. But Hughes' book, still quite readable, was realism, not fantasy. Rowling has taken "Tom Brown's School Days" and re-seen it in the magical mirror of Tolkein. The resultant blend of a schoolboy ethos with a liberation from the constraints of reality-testing may read oddly to me, but is exactly what millions of children and their parents desire and welcome at this time.

In what follows, I may at times indicate some of the inadequacies of "Harry Potter." But I will keep in mind that a host are reading it who simply will not read superior fare, such as Kenneth Grahame's "The Wind in the Willows" or the "Alice" books of Lewis Carroll. Is it better that they read Rowling than not read at all? Will they advance from Rowling to more difficult pleasures?

Rowling presents two Englands, mundane and magical, divided not by social classes, but by the distinction between the "perfectly normal" (mean and selfish) and the adherents of sorcery. The sorcerers indeed seem as middle-class as the Muggles, the name the witches and wizards give to the common sort, since those addicted to magic send their sons and daughters off to Hogwarts, a Rugby school where only witchcraft and wizardry are taught. Hogwarts is presided over by Albus Dumbeldore as Headmaster, he being Rowling's version of Tolkein's Gandalf. The young future sorcerers are just like any other budding Britons, only more so, sports and food being primary preoccupations. (Sex barely enters into Rowling's cosmos, at least in the first volume.)

Harry Potter, now the hero of so many millions of children and adults, is raised by dreadful Muggle relatives after his sorcerer parents are murdered by the wicked Voldemort, a wizard gone trollish and, finally, post-human. Precisely why poor Harry is handed over by the sorcerer elders to his priggish aunt and uncle is never clarified by Rowling, but it is a nice touch, suggesting again how conventional the alternative Britain truly is. They consign their potential hero-wizard to his nasty blood-kin, rather than let him be reared by amiable warlocks and witches, who would know him for one of their own.

The child Harry thus suffers the hateful ill treatment of the Dursleys, Muggles of the most Muggleworthy sort, and of their sadistic son, his cousin Dudley. For some early pages we might be in Ken Russell's film of "Tommy," the rock-opera by The Who, except that the prematurely wise Harry is much healthier than Tommy. A born survivor, Harry holds on until the sorcerers rescue him and send him off to Hogwarts, to enter upon the glory of his schooldays.

Hogwarts enchants many of Harry's fans, perhaps because it is much livelier than the schools they attend, but it seems to me an academy more tiresome than grotesque. When the future witches and wizards of Great Britain are not studying how to cast a spell, they preoccupy themselves with bizarre intramural sports. it is rather a relief when Harry heroically suffers the ordeal of a confrontation with Voldemort, which the youth handles admirably.

One can reasonably doubt that "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" is going to prove a classic of children's literature, but Rowling, whatever the aesthetic weaknesses of her work, is at least a millennial index to our popular culture. So huge an audience gives her importance akin to rock stars, movie idols, TV anchors, and successful politicians. Her prose style, heavy on cliche, makes no demands upon her readers. In an arbitrarily chosen single page--page 4--of the first Harry Potter book, I count seven cliches, all of the "stretch his legs" variety.

How to read"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone"? Why, very quickly, to begin with, perhaps also to make an end. Why read it? Presumably, if you cannot be persuaded to read anything better, Rowling will have to do. is there any redeeming education use to Rowling? Is there any to Stephen King? Why read, if what you read will not enrich mind or spirit or personality? For all I know, the actual wizards and witches of Britain, or America, may provide an alternative culture for more people than is commonly realized.

Perhaps Rowling appeals to millions of reader non-readers because they sense her wistful sincerity, and want to join her world, imaginary or not. She feeds a vast hunger for unreality; can that be bad? At least her fans are momentarily emancipated from their screens, and so may not forget wholly the sensation of turning the pages of a book, any book.

Intelligent Children

And yet I feel a discomfort with the Harry Potter mania, and I hope that my discontent is not merely a highbrow snobbery, or a nostalgia for a more literate fantasy to beguile (shall we say) intelligent children of all ages. Can more than 35 million book buyers, and their offspring, be wrong? yes, they have been, and will continue to be for as long as they persevere with Potter.

A vast concourse of inadequate works, for adults and for children, crams the dustbins of the ages. At a time when public judgment is no better and no worse than what is proclaimed by the ideological cheerleaders who have so destroyed humanistic study, anything goes. The cultural critics will, soon enough, introduce Harry Potter into their college curriculum, and The New York Times will go on celebrating another confirmation of the dumbing-down it leads and exemplifies.

General Off-Topic Board / PSA: Big girls don't cry
« on: July 15, 2007, 10:07:10 PM »

General Off-Topic Board / Poll: Your favorite watchmaker
« on: July 15, 2007, 04:19:57 PM »

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