Squid and Owl

by John Holbo on April 13, 2009

When a man gets to be around 40 – maybe a bit older – he starts to look back on life and wonder: what thing have I done for which I will be remembered? The next thing he does is start a webcomic. Maybe sell a few t-shirts, other Cafe Press-type stuff. Which brings us to:


No, really. I honestly don’t know whether it’s a comic or not. It’s an illustrated childrens book for adults, maybe. I’m planning to serialize it on Flickr. Here’s the set. Subscribe to the RSS feed! I decided to start things out by posting the first 21 pages. I’ll be adding a page a day, weekdays. (Not like there’s a story or anything, but it rhymes.)

Then it will become wildly popular. (Step 3: Profit!) Maybe I’ll be able to find a publisher, eh?

The only other really good idea I’ve had lately is … Bob, can we just show them the picture? [click to continue…]

ZOMG! Facebook use and student grades

by Eszter Hargittai on April 13, 2009

It started last night: links showing up on Twitter and elsewhere to articles about how Facebook users do worse in school. It’s not hard for people then to jump quickly to the conclusion that Facebook use results in worse grades (e.g., Study: Facebook Hurts Grades). Unfortunately, I know of no data set out there that could help us answer that question. The few people who have relevant data sets could establish correlation at best. I myself have not found such a connection in my data, but let’s back up a bit. [click to continue…]

Reducing inequality: what’s the problem?

by lane on April 13, 2009

As Henry mentioned this morning, I’ll be doing a series of guest posts at Crooked Timber this week. I’m grateful for the invitation. My posts will be on strategies for reducing income inequality in the United States.

Here’s the problem (more discussion here):

There are two linked components to this rise in inequality: the surge in incomes for those at the top of the distribution and the slow growth of incomes for those in the middle and at the bottom.

Is this really a problem? Would it be better if income inequality were reduced? I think so, for the following reasons.

1. Fairness. Market processes have produced enormous incomes for various financial operators, CEOs, entrepreneurs, athletes, and entertainers in recent decades. A good bit of this is due to luck — being in the right place at the right time, genetic talent, having the right parents or teacher or coach, and so on. I don’t mind some inequality due to luck, and I recognize that monetary incentives are helpful. But the current (or recent, I should say;  the downturn will reduce top incomes somewhat) magnitude of inequality in America strikes me as unfair. An income of several hundred million dollars when the minimum wage gets you about $15,000 is too much inequality. What’s the proper amount of income inequality? I don’t have a precise answer, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong to feel that our current level is excessive.

2. Inequality’s consequences. Even if you don’t worry about exorbitant incomes in and of themselves, there’s no avoiding the fact that they have consequences for the incomes and well-being of Americans in middle and lower parts of the distribution. The social pie isn’t zero-sum. But our economy hasn’t grown faster in the past few decades than it did before, so the dramatic jump in incomes among those at the top has come in part at the expense of the rest of us. The following chart offers one way to see this. It shows GDP per family and median family income over the past six decades. Relative to growth of the economy, incomes in the middle (and below) have increased slowly since the 1970s.

As Robert Frank has pointed out, super-high incomes also have led to an arms race in consumption, especially in housing. Spending among the rich has escalated dramatically, encouraging middle- and upper-middle-class households to take on more and more debt in order to keep pace.

Over the past decade a number of social scientists have looked at the effect of inequality on other societal outcomes. We have studies suggesting that inequality is bad for education, health, crime, economic growth, economic mobility, civic engagement, political participation, political influence, and political polarization. I’m not convinced that all of these findings are correct, but some of them are quite plausible.

So what should we do? Stay tuned.

Welcome Lane Kenworthy

by Henry Farrell on April 13, 2009

Lane Kenworthy will be guest-blogging with us for a little bit. He is a professor of sociology and political science (and former colleague of Kieran’s) at University of Arizona. Lane is an economic sociologist, with a particular interest in the political economy of inequality in the US and elsewhere. His most recent book is “Jobs with Equality”:http://lanekenworthy.net/2008/07/31/jobs-with-equality/, which really does groundbreaking work in arguing that the trade-offs between employment growth and economic equality are much, much weaker than conventional wisdom holds them to be. Lane blogs at “Consider the Evidence”:http://lanekenworthy.net/. We’re really happy to have him with us.