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Bookblogging: The failure of trickle down

December 17th, 2009

Another section of my book-in-progress, looking at the failure of the trickle-down hypothesis. Comments and criticism welcome as always.

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Although the trickle-down hypothesis never had much in the way of supporting evidence, empirical testing was difficult because its proponents never specified the time period over which the benefits of growth were supposed to percolate through to the poor. But, just as the crises of the 1970s marked the end of the Bretton Woods era, the global financial crisis marks the end of the era of finance-driven market liberalism. To the extent that any assessment of the distributional effects of market liberal policies will ever be possible, it is possible now.

The trickle-down theory can be examined using the tools of econometrics. But, at least for the US, no such sophisticated analysis is required. The raw data on income distribution shows that households in the bottom half of the income distribution gained nothing from the decades of market liberalism. Although apologists for market liberalism have offered various arguments to suggest that the raw data gives the wrong impression, none of these arguments stand up to scrutiny. All the evidence supports the commonsense conclusion that policies designed to benefit the rich at the expense of the poor have done precisely that.


The US since 1970

US experience during the decades of neoliberalism gives little support for this view. In the period since the economic crisis of the early 1970s, US GDP has grown solidy, if not as rapidly as during the Keynesian postwar boom. More relevantly to the trickle-down hypothesis, the incomes and wealth of the richest Americans has grown spectacularly. Incomes at the 5th percentile of the income distribution doubled and those for the top 0.1 per cent quadrupled

By contrast, the gains to households in the middle of the income distribution have been much more modest. Between 1973 (the last year of the long postwar expansion) and 2008, median household income rose from $45 000 to just over $50 000, an annual rate of increase of 0.4 per cent.

Pasted Graphic.tiff

For those at the bottom of the income distribution, there have been no gains at all. Real incomes for the lower half of the distribution have stagnated. The same picture emerges if we look at wages.  Median earnings for full-time year-round male workers have not grown since 1974. For males with high school education or less, real wages have actually declined.

One result has been that the proportion of households living below the poverty line [1]<span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span>, which declined drastically during the postwar Keynesian era has remained essentially static since 1970, falling in booms, but rising again in recessions.

The proportion of Americans below this fixed poverty line fell from 25 per cent in the late 1950s to 11 per cent in 1974. <a href=”http://www.census.gov/prod/2008pubs/p60-235.pdf”>Since then it has fluctuated, reaching 13.2 per cent in 2008</a>, a level that is certain to rise further as a result of the financial crisis and recession now taking place. Since the poverty line has remained unchanged, this means that the incomes accruing to the poorest 10 per cent of Americans have actually fallen over the last 30 years.

These outcomes are reflected in measures of the numbers of Americans who lack access to the basics of life: food, shelter and adequate medical care.

 In 2008, 49.1 million Americans live in households classified as ‘food insecure’, meaning that they lacked access to enough food to fully meet basic needs at all times due to lack of financial resources. 17.3 million people lived in households that were considered to have “very low food security,” a USDA term (previously denominated “food insecure with hunger”) that means one or more people in the household were hungry over the course of the year because of the inability to afford enough food. This number had doubled since 2000, and has almost certainly increased further as a result of the recession. http://www.frac.org/html/hunger_in_the_us/hunger_index.html

The number of people without health insurance has risen steadily over the period of market liberalism, both in absolute terms and as a proportion of the population, reaching a peak of 46 million or 15 per cent of the population. Among the insured, an increasing proportion are reliant on government programs. The traditional model of employment-based private health insurance, which was developed as part of the New Deal, and covered most of the population during the Keynesian era, has been eroded to the point of collapse. At the time of writing, it remains to be seen whether Congress will pass legislation to extend health insurance to the entire population.


Homelessness is almost entirely a phenomenon of the era of market liberalism. During the decades of full employments, homelessness was confined to a tiny population of transients, mostly older males with mental health and substance abuse problems. In 2007, 1.6 million people spent time in homeless shelters, and about 40 per cent of the homeless population were families with children. And this was actually an improvement – homelessness is one of the few social problems where policy interventions have been sustained and at least partially successful in the US.

In summary, the experience of the US in the era of market liberalism has been as thorough a refutation of the trickle-down hypothesis as can reasonably be imagined. The well off have become better off, and the rich have become super-rich. But despite impressive technological progress (the most striking elements due, as we have seen, to the public and non-profit sectors) those in the middle of the income distributions have struggled to stay in place, and those at the bottom have actually become worse off in crucial respects.

Naturally, there have been plenty of attempts to deny the evidence presented above, or to argue that things are not as bad as they seem. Some of these attempts can be dismissed out of hand. Among the most popular and the silliest, is the observation that even the poor now have more access to consumer goods, such as televisions and refrigerators than they had in the past. For example, Cox and Alm in their book Myths of Rich and Poor observe that n spite of the rise in inequality a poor household in the 1990’s was more likely than an average household in the 1970’s to have a washing machine, clothes dryer, dishwasher, refrigerator, stove, color television, personal computer, or telephone. ”

The common feature of all the items listed in this quote is that their price has fallen dramatically relative to to the general price level. This means that even if incomes were exactly the same as in 1970 we would expect to see a big increase in consumption of these items. And, obviously, if these items have become relatively cheaper, others, such as health care have become relatively dearer. Unsurprisingly, we find that it is in access to health care E[2] that poor and middle class households have become worse off over time.

There are some adjustments that should be made to the data, and make the picture look a little better than suggested by the statistics quoted above.

Household size has decreased, mainly due to declining birth rates. The most appropriate measure of household size for the purpose of assessing living standards is the number of “equivalent adults” derived from a formula that takes account of the fact that children cost less to feed and clothe than adults and that two or more adults living together can do so more cheaply than adults in separate households.The average household contained 1.86 equivalent adults in 1974 and 1.68 equivalent adults in 2007 (my calculations on <a href=”http://www.census.gov/population/socdemo/hh-fam/hh6.xls”>US census data</a>). Income per equivalent adult rose at an annual rate of 0.7 per cent over this period.

In earnings terms, women have done a little better than men, with median earnings for full-time year-round workers rising by about 0.9 per year over this period.<span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span> Relatedly, the main factors sustaining growth in incomes for American households outside the top 20 per cent has been an increase in the <a href=”http://www.frbsf.org/publications/economics/letter/2007/el2007-33.html”>labour force participation of women</a> and a decline in household savings. Over the period since 1999, consumption financed by borrowing against home equity has been the main factor offsetting stagnant or declining median household incomes.

Finally, until the 1990s, the consumer price index took inadequate account of changes in product quality, so the decline in real wages was overstated somewhat. The Boskin Commission introduced changes to the CPI which, not incidentally, reduced the cost of adjsuting Social Security and other welfare payments for inflation. So, while the stagnation of the 1970s and 1980s might be overstated, that of the 1990s and 2000s is not. 


The bankruptcy boom

The failure of the trickle-down approach has been even more severe in relation to consumer finance. The idea that increasing income inequality was unimportant when households could borrow to finance growing consumption was never defensible. The gap between income and consumption had to be filled by a massive increase in debt. With sufficiently optimistic assumptions about social mobility (that low-income households were in that state only temporarily) and asset appreciation (that the stagnation of median incomes would be offset by capital gains on houses and other investments)these increases in debt could be made to appear manageable, but once asset prices stopped rising they were shown to be unsustainable.

In the US context, these contradictions have been resolved for individual households by a massive increase in financial breakdowns. Until 2005, this mainly took the form of a steady increase in bankruptcy, to the point where, as John Edwards pointed out in 2003, Americans were <a href=”http://johnquiggin.com/index.php/archives/2003/11/26/bankruptcy-and-divorce/”>more likely to go bankrupt than to get divorced</a>. Restrictive reforms introduced at the behest of the credit card industry produced a dramatic drop in bankruptcy (in part, the lagged counterpart a massive upsurge in 2003 and 2004 as people rushed to get in under the old rules). From 2006, onwards, bankruptcy rates resumed their upward trend, reaching 1.1 million per year in 2008 and appearing likely to match or exceed pre-reform levels in 2009.

In normal times the failure of bankruptcy reform, and the renewed surge in bankruptcy would have been a major issue. But in the crisis of 2008 and 2009, the upward trend has been  overshadowed by foreclosures on home mortgages. During the boom, when overstretched householders could normally sell at a profit and repay their debts, foreclosures were rare. From 2007 onwards, however, they increased dramatically, initially among low-income ‘subprime’ borrowers but spreading ever more broadly. <a href=”http://www.realtytrac.com/ContentManagement/pressrelease.aspx?ChannelID=9&amp;ItemID=5681&amp;accnt=64847″>2.3 million houses were affected by foreclosure action in 2008</a>. In hard-hit areas of California, more than 5 per cent of houses went into foreclosure in a single year.

The myth of trickle down was sustained, in large part, by the availability of easy credit. Now that the days of easy credit are gone, presumably for a long time to come, reality may reassert itself.


Econometric studies

The relationship between inequality and economic growth has been the subject of a vast number of econometric studies, which have, as so often with econometric studies, yielded conflicting results. Early studies focused on the relationship between initial levels of inequality and subsequent levels of growth. These studies consistently found a negative relationship between inequality and growth. On the other hand, increases in inequality appeared to be favorable to growth.

It is perhaps, not surprising that the initial impact of an increase in inequality should be favorable to economic growth. For example, if tax rates on high-income earners are reduced, they are likely to spend less money and resources on low-productivity investments designed to minimise tax. More importantly, perhaps, in the late 20th century, growth in inequality was closely associated with financial deregulation and the growth of the financial sector.  The short-term effects of financial deregulation have almost everywhere been favorable, while the negative consequences take years or even decades to manifest themselves. So, it is unsurprising to observe a positive correlation between changes in inequality and changes in economic growth rates in the short term and medium term.

It is only relatively recently that studies of this kind of explicitly examined the trickle-down hypothesis. Perhaps the most directly relevant work is that of Dan Andrews and Christopher Jencks of the Kennedy School of Government at ANU, and Andrew Leigh of the Australian National University who ask, and attempt to answer, the question ‘Do Rising Top Incomes Lift All Boats’. Andrews, Jencks and Leigh , find no systematic relationship between top income  shares and economic growth in a panel of 12 developed nations observed for between 22 and 85 years between 1905 and 2000. After 1960, there is a small, but statistically significant relationship between changes in inequality and the rate of economic growth. However, the benefits to lower income groups flow through so slowly that, as income inequality increases, they may never catch up the ground they lose initially. 

Andrews, Jencks and Leigh simulate some results for the US suggesting that even assuming that the increased inequality in the US after 1970 produced permanently higher economic growth, those outside the top 10 per cent of the income distribution would not have gained enough to offset their smaller share of total income over the 30 years to 2000. 

And, as Andrews, Jencks and Leigh note the situation is much worse when the distribution of income within the bottom 90 per cent is considered. Households at or below the median income level (that is, those in the bottom half of the income distribution) have lost ground relative to those above the median, even as the population as a whole has lost ground relative to the top 10 per cent. And there is evidence to suggest significant adverse growth effects when inequality between the bottom and middle of the income distribution increases.

More importantly, the financial crisis, which was the inevitable result of the policies that generated the huge growth in US inequality, has wiped out years of income growth and asset accumulation for US households. 


Social mobility

The evidence that the United States, compared to other developed countries, is characterized by highly unequal economic outcomes, and that these outcomes have grown more unequal during the era of market liberalism is undeniable. Of course, that hasn’t stopped people denying it, especially when they are paid to do so, but at least such denials must be presented, in contrarian fashion, as showing that ‘everything you know about income inequality is wrong’. By contrast, the belief that this inequality is offset by high levels of social mobility is widely held in and outside the United States, and reflected in such epithets as ‘land of opportunity’.

 In the late 19th century, the US was indeed a land of opportunity compared to the hierarchical societies of Europe, and many believe that this is still the case. But the evidence of international comparative studies is clear. Among the developed countries, the US has the lowest social mobility on nearly all measures, and the European social democracies the highest. 

 Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution found 42% of American men with fathers in the bottom fifth of the income distribution remain there as compared to: Denmark, 25%; Sweden, 26%; Finland, 28%; Norway, 28%; and the United Kingdom, 30%. Other studies, using different measures of mobility, find the same outcome

Moreover, as market liberal policies have become entrenched, social mobility has declined. Not only have the well-off pulled away from the rest of the community in terms of income share, they have managed to pull up the ladder behind them, ensuring that their children have better life-chances than those born to poorer parents.

The evidence suggests that the distinction between equality of outcomes and equality of opportunity, a central theme in market liberal rhetoric, is inconsistent with empirical reality. More equal opportunities make for more equal outcomes, and vice versa.

It’s not hard to see why this should be so. The highly unequal outcomes of market liberal policies are often supposed to be offset by an education system available to all and by laws that prevent discrimination and encourage merit-based employment and promotion. 

That might work for one generation, but in the second generation the rich parents will be looking to buy a headstart for their less-able children, for example by sending them to private schools where they will be coached in examination skills and equipped with an old school tie. 

One generation more and the wealthy will be fighting to stop their tax dollars back from being wasted on public education systems from which they no longer benefit. Those who remain in the public system will lobby to get their own children into good public schools and ensure that these schools attract and retain the best teachers, benefit from fundraising activity and so on.

Education has traditionally been seen as the most promising route to upwards social mobility. But as inequality has increased, wealthy parents have sought, naturally enough, to secure the best educational outcomes for their children, most obviously through private schooling, expansion of which has been a central demand of market liberals. As a result, both the importance of ability as a determinant of educational attainment, and the importance of educational attainment as a source of social mobility have declined over time. A UK study found that ‘low ability children with high economic status’ (or, in more colloquial terms, the ‘dumb rich’) experienced the largest increases in educational attainment. This is reinforced, particularly in the US, by the increasing segregation of higher education on class lines.

The inequalities are even more evident in higher education.  Thanks to scholarship programs, a handful of able students from poor backgrounds make it into Ivy League colleges like Harvard and Yale every year. But they are far outweighed by the mass of students from families in the top 10 per cent of the income distribution who have the financial resources to afford hefty fees the high quality high school education that gives them the grades needed for admission and the cultural capital required to navigate the complex admissions process. And of course, those with old money but less than stellar intellectual resources have their highly effective affirmative action program – the legacy admission system by which the children of alumni gain preferential admission. In the 1998 book The Shape of the River: Long-Term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions, authors William G. Bowen, former Princeton University president, and Derek Bok, former Harvard University president, found “the overall admission rate for legacies was almost twice that for all other candidates.” If inequality of outcomes is entrenched for a long period, it inexorably erodes equality of opportunity. Parents want the best for their children, and, in a highly unequal society, wealthy parents will always find a way to guarantee their children a substantial headstart. 

 While education is critical,  high levels of inequality naturally perpetuate themselves through other, more subtle channels like health status.  Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed discusses the plight of the uninsured working poor in the United States. While the problem is worse in the US than elsewhere because of highly unequal access to health care, high levels of inequality produce unequal health outcomes even in countries with universal public systems. Children growing up with the poor health that is systematically associated with poverty can never be said to have a truly equal opportunity.

There are other factors at work. A  widely dispersed income distribution means that a much bigger change in income is needed to move the same distance in the income distribution, say from the bottom quintile to the middle, or from the middle to the top. So, unequal outcomes represent a direct obstacle to social mobility.

Once you think about the many and various advantages of growing up rich rather than poor, it’s not at all surprising that widening the gap between the rich and the poor should also make it harder for the poor to become rich (or, for that matter, vice versa) so the evidence that, under market liberalism, social mobility is low and declining, should not surprise anyone. On the other hand, it is disappointing, if not surprising, that the myth of equal opportunity continues to be believed so many decades after it has ceased to have a basis in fact.


The unhealthiness of hierarchies

Some of the most striking evidence against the trickle down hypotheses has come from studies of social outcomes such as health status, crime and social cohesion. Not surprisingly, the poor do worse on most such measures than the rich. More strikingly, though, a highly unequal society produces bad social outcomes even for those in higher income groups, who are better off, in purely monetary terns, than those with a similar relative position in more equal societies. Only for the very well-off do the direct benefits of higher income outweigh the adverse effects of living in an unequal society.

It is commonly thought that, while it is better to be at the top of the hierarchy than at the bottom, there are some offsetting disadvantages, particularly in relation to health. While the poor suffer from lack of access to good medical care and other problems, the rich are supposed to suffer from ‘diseases of affluence’ like heart disease, compounded by the stresses of life at the top. ‘Executive stress’ has become a cliché. So, to some extent there is thought to be a trade-off between health and wealth.

In place of this somewhat comforting picture, Michael Marmot has some disturbing news. People at the top of status hierarchies live longer and have better health than those at the bottom.  This is true for a broad range of illnesses and causes of death. Moreover, the effect isn’t confined to the extremes of the distribution. At any point in a status hierarchy, people have, on average, better health than those a little below them and worse health than those a little above them.

Marmot’s work began with a study of British civil servants. The study population is interesting for two reasons. First, it excludes extremes of wealth and poverty. The civil service is not a road to riches, but even the lowest-ranking civil servants are not poor, on most understandings of the term. Second, the public service provides a clear-cut status hierarchy with very fine gradations.

Marmot’s study found, not surprisingly, that senior public servants, at the top of the status hierarchy, were healthier than those at the bottom. More strikingly, he found that, right through the hierarchy, relatively small differences in pay and status were associated with significant differences in life expectancy and other measures of health.

The same finding has been replicated across all sorts of different status hierarchies. As you move from the slums of South-East Washington DC to the leafy suburbs of Montgomery County, 20 miles away, life expectancy rises a year for every mile travelled. Among actors, Academy-award winners live, on average, four years longer than their Oscarless co-stars. 

Along the way, Marmot demolishes the myth of executive stress. Despite their busy lives, Type A personalities and so on, senior managers are considerably less likely to die of heart attacks than the workers they order  around. This is not a new finding, but the myth is sufficiently tenacious that Marmot needs to spend some time knocking it down yet again. 

Marmot, along with others who have studied the problem, concludes that the crucial benefit of high-status positions is autonomy, that is, the amount of control people have over their own lives. Marmot’s analysis is not focused exclusively on autonomy. For example, he has a good discussion of social isolation and its relationship to social status. Nevertheless, his main point concerns autonomy, and this is by far the most interesting and novel feature of the book.

There is a complex web of relationships between health status autonomy, both self-perceived and measured by objective job characteristics. Low levels of autonomy are associated, not only with poorer access to health care, but with more of all the risk factors that contribute to poor health, from homicide to poor diet.

The centrality of autonomy is not, on reflection, all that surprising. Autonomy, or something like it, is at the root of many of the concerns commonly seen as part of notions like freedom, security and democratic participation. When we talk about a free society, for example, we usually have in mind a place in which people are free to pursue a wide range of projects. The distinction between negative and positive liberty, popularised by Berlin goes part of the way towards capturing this point, but a focus on autonomy does better.

The points are clearest in relation to employment. Early on, Marmot debunks the Marxian notion of exploitation (capitalists taking surplus value from workers) and says that what matters in Marx is alienation. He doesn’t develop this in detail, and the point is not new by any means, but he’s spot on here. It’s the fact that the boss is a boss, and not the fact that capitalists are extracting profit, that makes the employment relationship so troublesome. The more bossy the boss, the worse, as a rule is the job. This is why developments like managerialism, which celebrates the bossiness of bosses, have been met with such hostility.

So part of autonomy is not being bossed around. But like Berlin’s concept of ‘negative liberty’, this is only part of the story. Most of the time it’s better to be an employee with a boss than to sell your labour piecemeal on a market that fluctuates for reasons that are totally outside your control, understanding or prediction. This is where a concept of autonomy does better than liberty, negative or positive. To have autonomy, you must be operating in an environment that is reasonably predictable and amenable to your control.

Of course, the environment consists largely of other people. So one way of increasing your autonomy is by reducing that of other people, for example by moving up an existing hierarchy at their expense. Similarly when employers talk about increased flexibility in the workplace, they generally mean an increase in their control over when, where and how their employees do their job. Workers typically experience this as a loss of flexibility in their personal lives. In short, within a given social structure, autonomy is largely a zero-sum good. 

But some social structures give more people more autonomy than others, and this is reflected both in average life expectancy and in the steepness or otherwise of status gradients in health.  In general, higher levels of inequality on various dimensions are associated with lower average life expectancy and steeper status gradients.

In The Spirit Level, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett build on Marmot’s work and other statistical evidence to produce a comprehensive case for the proposition that inequalities in income and status have far-reaching and damaging effects on a wide range of measures of social wellbeing, effects that are felt even by those who are relatively high in the income distributions. 

Wilkinson and Pickett report two main types of statistical evidence. Following Marmot, they examine social gradients, that is, the relationship between individual outcomes and positions on the social ladder. Here there are two main results. First, in all countries, there is a strong relationship between social outcomes and social rank, much greater than can be explained by income differences alone. Second, greater inequality within a country is associated with a steeper social gradient.

Wilkinson and Pickett also report cross-section studies in which a number of countries, or other jurisdictions such as US states, are compared. The standard statistical approach here is regression analysis, in which differences in social outcomes such as life expectancy are statistically related to inequality levels, in a way that controls for other sources of variation, such as mean income levels. Among the outcome variables considered are measures of life expectancy and health status, crime and measures of ‘social capital’, such as trust.

The results are striking. Wilkinson and Pickett find a strong negative relationship between inequality and measures of social outcomes. The relationship is statistically significant, and undiminished by the inclusion of relevant control variables. [3]This result is, on the whole, unsurprising. If we consider the kinds of social relationships that contribute to hierarchical attitudes, stressful low-status jobs and so on, it seems unlikely that they will  variations in income over the course of a few years, or even a few macroeconomic cycles. This is even more obvious in relation to the social outcomes such as life expectancy, it seems clear that they are the product of lifetime experience, rather than current income.

The United States is the obvious outlier in almost all studies of this kind. It is the wealthiest country in the world, the most unequal of the rich countries, and does poorly on a wide range of measures of social wellbeing, from life expectancy to serious crime and even on such objective measures as average height. In some cases, the poor performance primarily reflects the continuing black-white divide. In other cases, however, all but the very richest groups of Americans have worse average outcome than people with a comparable position in the income distribution in more equal countries, even though the average income of the non-Americans in these groups is much lower than that of the corresponding Americans.

Leigh, A. and Jencks, C. (2007), ‘Inequality and mortality: Long-run evidence from a panel of countries’, Journal of health economics, 26(1), 1-24.

Wilkinson, R. and Pickett, K. (2009) The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, Allen Lane, London. 

[1] Unlike most developed countries, the US has a poverty line fixed in real terms, and based on an <a href=”http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/povmeas/papers/orshansky.html”>assessment of a poverty-line standard of living undertaken in 1963</a>.

[2] mergency health care remains generally accessible, and has benefitted from technical progress, which has contributed to declining mortality. But regular health care has become unaffordable for many, with the result that a wide variety of chronic conditions go untreated.

[3] Some other econometric adjustments, such as the inclusion of ‘fixed effects’ do weaken the findings. The interpretation of these adjustments remains controversial.

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  1. gerard
    December 17th, 2009 at 15:32 | #1

    discussing the US since 1970 you need to mention the explosion in the prison population, which is off the charts in comparison to other developed countries, and obviously related to these broader trends.

  2. watchman
    December 17th, 2009 at 20:29 | #2


    Can I mention another factor you’ve overlooked that I believe has played a large part in these trends. Have you considered that economic policy isn’t the main problem?

    The period since the early 70s has seen the collapse of the traditional nuclear family and the rise of the singe-parent household. I myself, am a child of divorce from this period, as were many of my peers. And indeed, the long-term trend appears to be increasing numbers of children growing up in households without their natural father.

    This trend has had a negative impact on the economic motivation of large numbers of men. Indeed, much of the progress of the past couple of hundred years has been achieved by family-men. i.e. Dad getting up early to go to work because he loves his children. This motivation has now been removed in a large, and increasing number of households.

    Generally, children who grow up in households without their father are also less economically motivated.

    My guess is if you did the same analysis above, but taking into account whether the natural father is present in the household, you’d find that in the rich this is generally the case, but in the poor it isn’t. And the family structure of the poor is “trickling up” to the rich as the dreaded “patriarchy” is destroyed. Could it be that your trend is explained by the upper income distribution being still patriarchal, while the middle to lower are becoming increasingly matrilineal? Just a suggestion.

    Can I suggest you read the Garbage Generation by Daniel Amneus for a further exploration of this theme?


  3. Alicia
    December 17th, 2009 at 20:37 | #3

    Watchman, there is nothing new about women being the principal rearers and protectors of children. It’s always been that way, throughout all of human history and across all cultures. And calling the current generation of women-raised children the garbage generation is just racist, sexist and frankly disgusting.

    Back to the drawing board, oaf.

  4. jquiggin
    December 17th, 2009 at 20:40 | #4

    A big problem is that the rise in inequality is much worse in the US than elsewhere, while the breakdown of traditional marriage (through divorce and cohabitation) is common to most developed countries. However, divorce rates do seem to be particularly high in the US.

  5. jquiggin
    December 17th, 2009 at 20:41 | #5

    Let’s keep it calm, everybody

  6. Alice
    December 17th, 2009 at 20:42 | #6

    Wow – this is a biggie JQ. Ill leave this one to savour slowly but I like what I see……
    the above post (directly above) refers to the increased incidence of family breakdown…since the 1970s. I have never been able to help but wonder about an old saying of my grandmothers..
    “when you are poor love flies out the door.”
    1970s stagflation, early 1980s recession, again in 1990 (yet single women didnt recover share from 1981-83 till 1987), 1990s single mums with families – 24% of all familes. Tech wreck, workchoices (that really helped – not) and GFC.

    None of it looks stable to me….time for some post war initiatives ie (real – not media spin).

    There seriously are times when I could sack the government (constitutional changes needed?) but dont ever, for one second, mistake me for a libertarian.

  7. Alice
    December 17th, 2009 at 20:50 | #7

    JQ – Im with Alicia on that. The link posted at no 2 is utter complete garbage. The poor man syndrome doesnt wash with me when it comes to family breakdown. The stats all show its women who are poorer, much. Over and over again, plus the law and power structures on who should pay for children when it does fall apart is stacked against women.

  8. paul walter
    December 17th, 2009 at 21:05 | #8

    Just thinking of the economist ( forget the name; well-known, won a nobel prize for his ideas, I think) who dreamed up the idea of a bank in Bangladesh on the basis that working women there would employ the loan more constructively than blokes.
    Apparently so successful that its spread out to other parts of the developing world.

  9. Alice
    December 17th, 2009 at 21:25 | #9

    @paul walter
    micro loans – Muhammad Yunus – “banker to the poor”


  10. watchman
    December 17th, 2009 at 21:26 | #10

    Alice. I think you’ve made assumptions on what I’ve said without actually thinking about it. Family breakdown makes everybody poorer – especially women and children. They are the main economic victims, although many women likely feel they get some non-economic advantages as compensation. What you’ve said actually strengthens the case I’ve made.

    I don’t think linking family breakdown to economic stagnation should be taboo. And I don’t see how it’s racist. To deny it as a possible and likely factor is simply dishonest and all the huffing and puffing in the world won’t change that.

    I’m a member of the Garbage Generation, and the title doesn’t offend me. In fact, I’ve seen lots of evidence of it through my life.

  11. watchman
    December 17th, 2009 at 21:32 | #11

    @paul walter
    Yes, but I still don’t think it refutes the point that generally nuclear families are where the wealth is created. Large numbers of women in developing countries are already single-parents. Give those women loans and they’ll probably use it more wisely than their single-male peers. They’ll also be better off than without the loans.

    However, it would be interesting to compare their progress to the nuclear families in the same societies.

    No hard figures to offer, but I think it’s a safe bet that in developing countries, nuclear families are where the wealth is.

  12. Alicia
    December 17th, 2009 at 21:41 | #12

    watchman is a troll.

  13. Alicia
    December 17th, 2009 at 21:48 | #13

    Of course wealth is not created within nuclear families – gross category error – or even necessarily transmitted within them. But then Troll Watchman can’t be expected to understand or know this.

  14. Alice
    December 17th, 2009 at 21:53 | #14

    So is Sennex in the other thread (or is that Senokot?)

  15. Alice
    December 17th, 2009 at 21:56 | #15

    Watchman – you are nasty little anti female equality troll…I agree…go away and join the dead Howard “back to the fifties” Society.

  16. Alicia
    December 17th, 2009 at 21:58 | #16

    Alice ignore the idiots.

    Enjoy this.

  17. Alice
    December 17th, 2009 at 22:06 | #17


    Seriously – that was fun Alicia…better than sinking trolls any day! I have the Ella version …here.

  18. paul walter
    December 17th, 2009 at 22:23 | #18

    Ladies, Ladies…
    Why not, instead, provide him with some more up to date thinking on socialisation and individuation- he is obviously at least partly aware of the phenomena, but his own conditioning seems to have convinced him that “success” is defined in fairly one dimensional terms.
    Consider the key sentence in his earlier blog:
    “This trend (single parent families) has has a negative impact on the economic motivation of large numbers of men”.
    He could mean two things, here.
    Firstly and less importantly to the point I’m interested in, is a possibility that he is talking about disillusioned male divorcees.
    But I think it might refer more exactly to the cultural environment at home that could be creating some “new” sort of male (ie drone), in some vague sort of social engineering sense ( no, I don’t believe there is any social engineering plot, unless its from the right, after Howard, Conroy, etc).
    There is actually the germ of an interesting discussion involving sociology and ethnology, and perhaps up to and including Cultural Theory and commodification/ reification obscured within the somewhat unweildy writing style.
    Now, back to Gillard on Latteline, who appears to have been astute enough to”dress down” in anticipation of questions concerning her attitude to Abbot and the idiot “school tables” idea.

  19. John H
    December 17th, 2009 at 22:38 | #19

    Firstly and less importantly to the point I’m interested in, is a possibility that he is talking about disillusioned male divorcees.

    No, its much more complex than that, the same effect of deprivation of male figures in childhood can be evidenced in elephants. The other notable studies in this regard are maternal deprivation studies, first stimulated by the shocking stories of Romanian orphanages. I don’t know and don’t care what the original poster meant and I’m not going to engage in the cheap shot games. I will say this: never under estimate the impact of maternal or paternal loss during childhood, the effects vary from changes in puberty onset to adult behavior and even physiological markers like cortisol, a key stress hormone.

    Then, in 1998, the people who run the park relocated six older bull elephants from Kruger Park to Pilanesburg. The “deviant behavior” of the young males, the researchers report, was quickly “rectified.” No more rampaging, no more dead rhinoceros. What happened? Specifically, there occurred a significant reduction in musth in the young males. Put colloquially, their hormones calmed down. And why did this occur? More research is needed, but it seems clear that old bulls keep young bulls in line, and that exactly how this happens involves both social and physiological factors.

  20. watchman
    December 17th, 2009 at 23:01 | #20

    @paul walter
    Thanks Paul. Actually my point is simpler than that, and will become clearer if you read the above link. However, I’ll attempt to summarise.

    Many men today are not choosing to start families in the first place because they’re afraid of divorce. Many men are being expelled from families by the legal system. Many women are choosing to start families without intending to keep the father around.

    Bottom line: Large numbers of women are deciding that the role of “father” isn’t relevant any more (except when it comes to child support). Feminists are quite open about this and much of their lobbying is to back up this point. Many men are still in denial that this is the case, even though the evidence is overwhelming is you care to look for it.

    If men cannot rely on women and the legal system to guarantee their role in families, their incentive for providing for said families will understandably decline significantly. Thus, a man who would once have worked to provide for, protect, and advance society no longer has any motivation to do so. This is bad for men, women, and especially children.

    It is also an alternative explanation for John’s economic stagnation of the middle and lower classes. It is a credible hypothesis that warrants investigation, but unfortunately in the present political climate (as the above posts show) this isn’t possible.

    The feminist response to this lack of male motivation for providing the traditional role of and protector is to demand the government step in to fill the vacuum.

    Incidentally. I don’t often like to get into ad hominem attacks, but I find it fascinating that people like Alice and Alicia delight in breaking the taboos of others, but won’t tolerate even the slightest examination of their own.

  21. paul walter
    December 18th, 2009 at 00:06 | #21

    Am now tempted to find out a bit more on the history of the nuclear family. A phenomena that has its origins, from one source I remember vaguely, from renaissance times in Northern Europe.
    To do with the long process of acquiring of literacy, hence later marriages and increasinbg social mobility, apparently?
    Apparently society as we know it, really kicked off in the eighteenth century with the ending of th old craft cottage industries and social dislocation accompanying the shift of a near captive proletarian population to the new manufacturing cities. The new individuation processes at work during this diaspora apparently suited the new order, because it successfully commodified or reified both new middle classes and new working classes more responsive to factory and organisational structures that substituted for what used to be “the family”and community, eg, perhaps at the cost of a lifestyle that had men and women learning to fit in cooperatively through example, during an era more Aristotelian, in a “timeless” sense ; era.
    “Time”, as we understand it, being another more recent cultural contrivance.
    So for some time it’s been proposed by some that our social structures, far from being “normal” in the sense that Watchman hopes, actually breed alienation.
    If its true, what we know to be “normal” would actually be a sort of cultural hybrid that sprang out of disruption to earlier patterns out of economic and less attractively, gender and class imperatives.
    Therefore, with John H’s comment re elephants, are we offered a clue from this point, since this refers by inference to the adaptive capacity of a (given) society to respond to change in the economic base, analogous to the situation described by John H.
    This is what the feminists might be suggesting – change actually might be good, if it means the worst of the “old” state of relations (wife bashing, and incest, for example) is discarded as people adapt to new times driven by changing socioeconomic modes.

  22. Alice
    December 18th, 2009 at 08:15 | #22

    @paul walter
    Paul – Im more than happy for you to deal with the troll. Im declaring you an honorary feminist and I couldnt have said it better myself (actually I couldnt have – good points there). I just couldnt be bothered with “Manwatch” and his rampaging elephant bull stories.

  23. Alice
    December 18th, 2009 at 08:52 | #23

    Ok “rampaging elephant bull stories” attributed to “manwatch” should have been attributed to John H but nevertheless the removal of old bull elephants calmed the younger elephants down – whats wrong with that? – its rampaging bull elephants that caused a lot of trouble. John H also states “More research is needed, but it seems clear that old bulls keep young bulls in line, and that exactly how this happens involves both social and physiological factors.”

    Is he trying to suggest the younger male elephants were unfairly deprived of their “rampages.”

    Im damn sure the old bull males keep young males rampaging but they also tread on females in the process! No different in humans, except that us females are sick of getting trodden on.

  24. gaddeswarup
    December 18th, 2009 at 11:25 | #24

    As a layman, I had this naive view of trickledown: as technology progresses, the elites need people with more education and technological savvy in the workforce. This necessarily brings benefits to some and may be takeoff stage for a few others. Overall, there will be benefits to many. How much control the elites have over the state changes and the benefits change too.

  25. paul walter
    December 18th, 2009 at 12:18 | #25

    No, no, no Alice, what John was saying was that older bulls were added, not removed.
    A bit like in our society. The Brady Family implodes, say as happened with my own family (the REALITY of Brady Bunch families is at odds with what we see on teev).
    John was writing in response to Watchperson’s fears that the end of the nuclear family creates consequences that are irretreivable.
    I guess in real life the situation would be akin to my own example as a member of a nuclear family that went “bust”. Because there were other male (and female) figures more effective (mum, nanna, teachers, bosses, workmates, eg ) than my dad, who actually got in the way and just didn’t have the knack with women and kids because of his own ruinous social conditioning, I survived and maybe even prospered a little after the demise of that tense, miserable marriage of my parents.
    I just wanted Watchman to know that individual failures within the nuclear family, inevitable the current “modern context, need not be catastophic and that humans and human groups can be adaptable. John was suggesting how and why it might happen and the reality of certain biological indicators he identifies, that confirm his idea that necessity will drive humans to invention of adequate new adaptations/alternatives, even if this does not assume an outward form (Brady Bunch) that is identified by some as comforting; an ideal. but a form that is disastrous when leeched of emotional substance and also is therefore not seen as a cultural rather than organic artifact.

  26. Alice
    December 18th, 2009 at 12:50 | #26

    @paul walter
    Paul that is my view also….why mandate nuclear families on the basis that two parents = better than one? I knew of lots of miserable marriages that continued when I was kid and the divorce laws were harder and lots of nonsense went on. That larger than life character Tim Bristow, hired hand thug and standover man, was once working as a “”divorce consultant”" in the 1960s / early 1970s. His version of “divorce consultant” was to abuduct the female in a marriage, strip her, throw her in bed with an unknown or acquaintance male, take photos and then present them as a case for divorce (hired by the woman’s husband of course) or vice versa (hired by the married woman).

    Now, we really dont want to go back there, to long term marriages of misery tolerated by either party because the laws to separate are onerous. The laws as they stand on the rights of separated females are already onerous enough, thanks, without going back to “having to stay with the creep”.
    As you yourself note Paul, this area is complex and and social engineering of living arrangements between a man and a woman is one area the state should have no say in.

    Surprisingly, those like the troll Watchman often have disparate and hypocritical views. They usually believe in freedom of markets, minimal intervention by the state, de-regulation etc yet they are perfectly happy to throw in this rubbish about the nuclear family happens to be the best arrangement. I agree, disgruntled divorced male. Tough – there are lots of divorced women with the kids doing it a lot tougher.

    This view is merely a stick to keep women under control and deny them the freedoms from state intervention they expect in their business dealings. Why should women have to stay with misbehaving, drinking, rampaging men if its doing their sanity in or the sanity of their kids. Thats just an example and a simplistic one and I know the fault can lie on either side but noone wants a life of misery waking up next to a face you dont like anymore if it doesnt have to be that way.

    So much for Watchman’s entirely hypocritical male oriented views. It doesnt take much of this garbage to make women want to be feminists. Libertarianism in living arrangements between the partners in a relationship (male or female or both sexes), equal rights and freedom to choose. Same mantra they have for the markets can be applied to relationships…but I dont suppose they would understand that concept would they? Oh no.
    The “freedom” is all one way to the male here.

    We dont need (no doubt) free marketers being really bizarre and telling us how they would like women to be chained to them as part of a nuclear family now do we?

  27. Tim Tempest
    December 18th, 2009 at 13:46 | #27

    Stephen Bezruchka from the University of Washington deals with health in national populations and the effects of hierarchy on it. It largely covers the area John has gone over.


  28. watchman
    December 18th, 2009 at 13:54 | #28

    A couple of points.

    Firstly, the state IS intervening in the family and that intervention is growing by the year. Millions of people now find great portions of their lives dictated to them by the Family Court and the Child Support Agency. This state intervention is to enforce women’s demanded right to kick men out of families, and deal with the negative consequences of this.

    Of course, the rational isn’t spelt out as such, but even a basic examination reveals the true intention of this intervention. It is to release women from their traditional family responsibilities (i.e. being a faithful wife and mother) while forcing men to continue with theirs (i.e. being a provider). The tentacles of this system stretch well beyond divorcees and now reach into cohabited homes and even the lives of adults who barely even know each other.

    The result of these policies, is that millions of children grow up in homes without their natural father present, and millions of men who would otherwise have families now don’t.

    Personally, I think this is bad for men, children and also ultimately women, but this isn’t the place for a moral argument. To stick to the topic, I am pointing out that these policies destroy the economic motivation that traditionally drove many men. Lots of research also suggests the children affected do not generally compare as economic contributors in the way their unaffected peers do.

    The introduction of these policies correlates with the time-frames JQ is talking about. I think it’s reasonable to suggest that JQ should consider these developments in drawing his conclusions.

  29. Peter T
    December 18th, 2009 at 15:07 | #29

    The discussion on the family brings to mind Keynes remark about being slaves to obsolete or unproven ideas. There’s lots of research on historical demographic patterns – the broad conclusions are that the nuclear family has a very long history in Europe and that people in Europe adapted marriage and fertility patterns to changing economic circumstances (delaying marriage and having fewer children when land was scarce, for instance). But there was always lots of variation – absent men are not a new phenomenon (lots of pre-industrial occupations took men away from the home for long periods, men had higher mortality rates in their teens and 40s), and there always various forms of social adaptation. Correlations with growth or progress seem largely speculative. As an explanation for the trends JQ identifies it won’t wash.

    A better one might be the pressures on elite opportunities and on class relations induced by demographic pressures outlined in Jack Goldstone’s Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World.

  30. Alicia
    December 18th, 2009 at 16:41 | #30


    Beyond parody.

  31. Alice
    December 18th, 2009 at 17:21 | #31

    I dont know what paret of this you apparently feel is so objectionable Watchman

    Per yr comment “This state intervention is to enforce women’s demanded right to kick men out of families, and deal with the negative consequences of this.”

    Too damn right. Get over it. Oh and by the way – the child support agency only steps in if the male thinks he can avoid paying for his children. If he is a grown up – no-one has to use the child support agency. The debts owed to child support are stark evidence of how any men think they can walk away, and not pay for their own kids…oh and BTW – the child support agency doesnt make a lot pf men pay much at all and certainly no reflection of a 50% cost split of real costs….so get off this “poor men” zombie argument.

    The stats are all out there. Its women who do much worse after divorce precisely because a lot of men see non fair payment for their offspring as weapon of vengeance they can use against their ex partner and leave the woman with the bulk of the costs and care.
    Dont worry Watchman – the kids grow up realising why their father got “kicked outta the family” in many cases. Im sorry you appear to have such a chip on your shoulder about the issue but no court is going to force a woman to stay with a man she doesnt want t or a man stay with a woman he doesnt want to. We are not chattle and no-one owns anyone.

  32. paul walter
    December 18th, 2009 at 17:32 | #32

    Well, all the card are on the table now.
    I think that while watchman’s aims are not as diabolical as some might attribute him- he is perhaps an older person who remembers the times when the nuclear family was the norm, back in the
    Industrial era and maybe his (her?) nuclear family was one less dysfunctional than many others.
    But times have changed.
    I have seen his bitterness in many blokes in my time, but what we (blokes) were conditioned to accept and our mistaken expectations derived from that conditioning, can no longer work in a post industrial society.
    They (women) can’t be any longer just “there for us” and taken for granted, because alternatives offered by society in the new times are more fulfilling. If we try to dragoon them back into something they find confining, we will just provoke them to more resentment.
    Blokes have to adjust to changed circumstances, the same as women.
    “The race is to the swiftest”.
    And the notion that young blokes are no longer interested in doing the”father knows best”wage slave/ ratrace trip could be attributed to many factors apart from being brought up in single parent homes, not least a realisation of what the mortgage trap and so forth mean, in late capitalist society, the same as their sisters.

  33. Alice
    December 18th, 2009 at 17:35 | #33

    And Watchman – your argument that it is “women’s demanded right to kick a man out of the family” that the state has pandered to is absolute hogwash. Both males and females have that right. It seems the state is protecting “women’s rights” only when men some men, like yourself, dont like it. It works both ways and yes, it is a right worth protecting. Whats the alternative for you Watchman – you have the right to kick your partner out but women shouldnt have that right?

    This troll is beyond parody Alicia, I agree.

    Women havent fought for equal rights for 40 years (and still dont have equal pay or real equal rights when it comes to childcare and childraising, access to an uninterrupted career and equal access to accrual of superannuation) to have to put up with this twit’s odious dark ages arguments.

  34. Alicia
    December 18th, 2009 at 17:54 | #34

    Mothers don’t necessarily need the biological father to be present emotionally for the children for their children to grow and prosper. And neither do children. That’s self-serving patriarchal hogwash. Which is fortunate, because in most cases they – men – aren’t.

    Children, female equally as male yes ideally need good adult male role models, but it is immaterial the familial connection or not to those children in much the same way familial or biological connection to fathers has been immaterial for children throughout most of human history.

  35. nanks
    December 18th, 2009 at 17:59 | #35

    Got a link to some studies on that? My view is that in the last couple of thousand years most people haven’t ‘grown and prospered’. Quite the opposite. Decent studies over a reasonable historical period and cultural diversity would be very difficult to construct I would think. But I’d be very interested to get some links to some quality research if you have some.

  36. Alicia
    December 18th, 2009 at 18:18 | #36

    Nanks, I was drawing on my readings of social anthropologists of the early to mid 20thC, people like Evelyn Reed, Lewis H Morgan, Richard and Mary Leakey and many others. Studies of American matrilineal American tribes such as the Iroquois, e.g. showed that the nuclear family was preceded by social formations where the mothers’ brothers played the major adult parenting role for women’s children in ways that were arguably better than what has obtained for children in patriarchal monogamous marriage let alone latter-day nuclear family set-ups.

  37. nanks
    December 18th, 2009 at 18:35 | #37

    thanks Alicia – I think mother’s brother has been / is important in other communities as well, but social anthropology is an area I’m woefully ignorant in.

  38. Alice
    December 18th, 2009 at 18:45 | #38

    @paul walter
    Paul – you state
    “They (women) can’t be any longer just “there for us” and taken for granted, because alternatives offered by society in the new times are more fulfilling. If we try to dragoon them back into something they find confining, we will just provoke them to more resentment.”

    Ill go back to my grandmothers quote “when you are poor love flies out the door.” The reason I bring this up again is the modern Australian economy where it now requires two incomes to pay off a mortgage. Were it not for that aspect Im sure there would be a lot of women who may actually like or prefer to “be there” as you suggest. But, when men want women to be there as she has just got home from collecting the children after work from childcare and is called back to work or for a meeting….

    She is in no mood to “be there”.

    We need to look to the economy if people like Watchman wants his nuclear family back because its the economy thats failing us in the marital stakes is my suggestion, not teh legislation. If it takes two to bring home the bacon, then no man can have 1950s ideas of what a women should be like. Im sure thats half the problem. Wifey not measuring up to Mummy…but its a different age we live in.

  39. Alicia
    December 18th, 2009 at 19:04 | #39

    “Wifey not measuring up to Mummy”. LOL. Plenty could write a thesis on that.

  40. Alicia
    December 18th, 2009 at 19:11 | #40


    Alice, I have to say you’re by far the funniest, most shrewd (HT the adorable Paul Walter) kick-rightwing-male-arse, radical woman on the intertubes. Rock on sister.

  41. Alicia
    December 18th, 2009 at 19:31 | #41

    Wild women don’t have the blues Alice.

  42. paul walter
    December 19th, 2009 at 02:33 | #42

    Xmas gift.
    Alicia, some music!!
    Hope you have a good one.

  43. Alice
    December 19th, 2009 at 08:21 | #43

    Hey sister! I have so much fun troll hunting with my family in here and you are one fast spotter…..LOL….we even have Sarah Palin fan politely apologising in advance for trolling before posting at Plimer..

    It just doesnt get any better at Xmas time.

    Here is my Xmas message to all those arse kicked right wing males in the spirit of goodwill..

  44. Jill Rush
    December 19th, 2009 at 10:12 | #44

    The lack of a trickle down effect may well have a lot to do with the breakdown in social relations because marriage and coupledom are impacted by conflict over a lack of money. There are a lot of women who will put up with a great deal in a marriage if there is money and status but wouldn’t do so if there isn’t any to ease the pain of a relationship. Marriage was always about an economic union which has only in recent times been more about emotions. Women becoming more financially independent, as opposed to non financial contributions to a family has given women far more control over their lives than in the past. That independence however is severely compromised by the costs of marital breakdown which are often seriously underestimated by both parties and like the trickle down effect may take years to be recognised.

    Watchman is wrong to ascribe it to the breakdown of the nuclear family however as economic and social support are strongest in the wider family such as described in the chapter above, where intergenerational support for education is shown to be an important predictor of wealth and health. It is the absence of a wider family network which is more important. However if everyone in the wider network is poor then there is no hope to get out of that situation through education.

    I liked the analysis of education as an indicator of the failure of the trickle down effect as it made it very clear about education as a commodity creating a trickle up effect. The introduction of the American system of league tables continues the kinds of trends we have seen in Australia in recent years where more money is going from Federal Government coffers to the leafy elite schools than to public schools. Indicators will inevitably be low in the default public school because facilities are poorer and teachers have to work far harder for results. Parents don’t need league tables to know if a school will provide the education their child requires so it is a bureaucratic exercise which adds no value for families at the botoom of the income table but will certainly be used by employers to limit opportunities for those graduates from low achieving schools.

    One of the biggest mistakes in recent years has been the commodification of education and that it is seen as just another product to be bought. Those who can buy more will reap the rewards for their children and themselves. On the figures above not so much a trickle up but a full scale flood of wealth and advantage to the richest families.

  45. Alice
    December 19th, 2009 at 11:11 | #45

    @Jill Rush
    I agree wholeheartedly Jill Rush and I also think that the breakdown of the nuclear family is another much overlooked negative consequence of the failure if trickle down policies. It does no good for Watchman to call for policies that mandate imposition of a nuclear family. The question that needs to be asked is whether women embraced feminist advance because they needed to in an economic sense, rather than found the”freedoms intoxicating”.
    Of course we would find the freedoms intoxicating anyway, but they are our freedoms and we have every right to equality within the institutional and production systems of our society, as a gender.

    If you need, as a woman, to work to help support your family of course you want to be treated absolutely equally in the labor force. It is an insult not to be, but it still blithely goes on in many many institutions. Gender barriers still need to be broken down some 40 years after feminism. Child raising and responsibilities associated with it are treated as an unwanted externality (a blind spot – kids? What kids?) by the great majority of businesses and seen as a outbreak of typhoid on female work resumes.

    No business wants to pay for it if it can be avoided and in most cases it falls to the working woman and is considered “her private business”. Working man, is often assumed by working boss, to have a wifey at home “taking care of all that”. Except wifey might have got too tired and too grumpy left in search of a higher earning male.

    When it takes two labour force participants from many many nuclear families these days to pay the home mortgage, then affordable childcare should be way up on the political agenda but it isnt. This is another reason for the problem of growing inequality in our society. Then we need to look to the increasing debt carried by ordinary (middle class) families. Look to their deline in earnings share over the past two to three decades. Look to the lower class families on a cycle of welfare dependency and their decline in earnings share over the past two to three decades while the rich got richer and can now afford the education user pays advantages their kids will inherit (whilst the public system was shrunk and commodified).

    While most have been waiting, an extraordinarily long time, for the benefits of trickle down to arrive we see around us all the benefits of trickle up accruing to the fortunate few. It was inevitable that family breakdowns rose and single parent families rose (and this in an advanced nation like Australia?) and rise of the young who end up living alone who cannot afford a family at all.

    We have been watching these events increase for three decades. Watchman sees the forced imprisonment of women within the nuclear family as a solution. He is wrong. Watchman needs to blame the adoption of the abysmal trickle down policies and the subsequent failure by policy makers to address the rising inequality that is the most glaringly obvious outcome of trickle down (as the nose on one’s face). Watchman also should be in support of the provision of affordable childcare if he cares so much about the survival of the nuclear family in this country because not many women I know can afford to go back to Watchman’s ideal world (of being a nuclear family with Dad working and Mum not) and if we cant, we cant.

    The best thing we can do to get that nuclear family back is put more affordable and better public services back on the tables of those who were asked to make sacrifices (and suffer de-regulation and devaluation of their labour) to subsidise trickle up. That and some effective progression back into the tax system.

    Its time we all gave up on trickle down.

  46. Ernestine Gross
    December 19th, 2009 at 11:43 | #46

    “Dad getting up early to go to work because he loves his children. This motivation has now been removed in a large, and increasing number of households.”

    Watchman, in reply to your theory, I put it to you that men who don’t go to work because they don’t love their children (the corollary to your statement) are men who are not desirable mating partners. (It would be most helpful to women if those you have in mind would wear a sign on their forehead signalling their motivation.)

    The subject of this thread does not presuppose that all ‘poor’ men have stopped loving their children. The subject of this thread allows for men who love or don’t love their children but are unable to find work at all or are unable to get work which pays sufficiently well to feed themselves and their offsprings either out of love or out of a sense of duty or wishing to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions. (There are such men and they are the desirable mating partners.)

    Now to the crux of the matter: “All the evidence supports the commonsense conclusion that policies designed to benefit the rich at the expense of the poor have done precisely that.” Hence one may expect to find a lot more desirable male mating partners who are now very frustrated by the outcome of another(1) armchair theory, developed by verbal theoreticians, that has been acted upon (policy), namely: The trickle down theory.

    (1). The other one is yours.

  47. nanks
    December 19th, 2009 at 12:26 | #47

    Ernestine Gross :
    The subject of this thread allows for men who love or don’t love their children but are unable to find work at all or are unable to get work which pays sufficiently well to feed themselves and their offsprings either out of love or out of a sense of duty or wishing to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions. (There are such men and they are the desirable mating partners.)

    dang that’s confusing ernestine – I can’t figure out how some of those men are desirable mating partners eg someone who doesn’t love their children and is unable to get work out of a sense of duty ~?

  48. watchman
    December 19th, 2009 at 12:58 | #48

    Despite the fact that you’re all ganging up on me, reading the above it sounds like you agree with my key points. That is: what has happened regarding the family, why it’s happened, and that it probably has negative economic consequences. This was my key argument, and I’m glad to see you all recognise it as legitimate.

    Where we seem to disagree is on whether the nuclear family deserves to be strengthened by policy. That’s fine and an argument for another day.

    To repeat again, my main point is that JQ should take these developments into account. There is a correlation between the breakdown of the nuclear family and economic stagnation in the middle to lower classes. There is also a strong common-sense argument linking the two. As stats on the family are collected, along with a lot of research, it shouldn’t be too difficult to include this factor in his thinking.

  49. Ernestine Gross
    December 19th, 2009 at 13:26 | #49

    o.k. nanks, the term in brackets is not well written. I am happy to retract it completely or replace it with

    (There are men who wish to feed their offsprings because of love for their children, or, if this fails, because they wish to take economic responsibility for the consequences of their actions (joint product). Such men are desirable mating partners for women who know that the future reaction – in terms of paternal love of the offspring – is uncertain.)

  50. nanks
    December 19th, 2009 at 13:36 | #50

    Thanks Ernestine – clarifies nicely. At a personal level I’d love to have been rich enough to be a stay at home parent. I never have a day picking up my children from work or school where I don’t feel happier once I see them coming. :) It still amazes me the effect they have.

  51. Jill Rush
    December 19th, 2009 at 13:54 | #51

    The difference between us Watchman is the cause and effect sequence plus the solution you offer is most unattractive to women who have no real desire to return to barefoot and pregnant – just as those women who are barefoot and pregnant are anxious to leave this state as soon as possible. What is clear from the trickle down chapter is that this is far harder for some than others.

  52. Alice
    December 19th, 2009 at 15:01 | #52

    @Ernestine Gross
    says to Watchman

    ” I put it to you that men who don’t go to work because they don’t love their children (the corollary to your statement) are men who are not desirable mating partners. (It would be most helpful to women if those you have in mind would wear a sign on their forehead signalling their motivation.)

    ROFL Ernestine…it certainly would be helpful!

  53. Alice
    December 19th, 2009 at 15:25 | #53


    says “Where we seem to disagree is on whether the nuclear family deserves to be strengthened by policy. That’s fine and an argument for another day.”

    Not its not Watchman – its a fine argument for right now.

    You wont get that one past women. We are not going back there to when it was hard to disssolve a marriage, when we had to resign from jobs on marriage or childbirth. One of your little masters (no doubt) JH tried everything he possibly could to wind back feminism…like putting ineffectual woman of status into the office for the status of women, wiping out other feminist organisations and really putting the boot into single mothers with welfare to work initiatives so they would latch on to the nearest male for pure survival reasons no matter how bad he was? Meanwhile all those children suffer – that is the ugliest part of Howards gift to women… oh and then there was the rewarding of middle and upper middle and wealthy class nuclear families.

    JH’s attitude “See ladies, if you just tow the line and get paired off promptly Ill make your life better for you but if you dont…Ill make your life hell”.

    Its not half obvious his ego and ambitions for Australian families lay in the 1950s with Janet running around fetching his slippers and a cup of tea.. nice if you can afford it and he can. Except you dont get it by kicking women which is exactly what Watchman is trying to do here…

    put the club down slowly Watchman. You are outnumbered here.

    Strengthen the economy with policy so its not so unequal (broader spread of income needed) that it takes two to pay the bills and give women affordable childcare and and access to better public services and listen to what people are saying here…like Nanks Watchman …”At a personal level I’d love to have been rich enough to be a stay at home parent.”

    I hear you Nanks. Watchman doesnt and if he thinks women are going back to the days of male oppression, homebody expectations and workplace stifling, he can think again. We are still in the process of clearing out the deadwood attitudes, like his. We are not finished yet and it is far from over.

  54. paul walter
    December 19th, 2009 at 17:09 | #54

    In Watchmans defence, I’d say that even someof the right wing parties are becoming a wake up to neolib globalisation, if a conversation I participated in at Bartletts blog recently is any indication.
    I think Watchman himself said that if pressures are not taken off people doing the family thing, it can’t work, which actually parallels most of the sentiment expressed by most others here.
    I think his failure is in failing to recognise that governments are servants of market theology, not its masters.
    And neolib imperatives concerning the labour markets, etc are not concerned with the sorts of personal or socio cultural consequences the thread has been discussing- as far as they are concerned, that’s our problem, if they think about it all. They are concerned at maximising the success of a given business, even if that means putting lots of locals out of work to offshore to Asian sweatshops, say. But people still swallow the soft soap about our “Jetsons” earthly paradise.
    Finally, as a person into middle age, I really think Australians themselves make rods for their own back, with unthinking, untrammelled “pay it off on the never-never” consumerism of the sort we’ll have to witness again over this year’s Xmass rush. There comes a time, surely when people must stop blaming “capitalism”, or “the government”, or”socialism, for their own lack of discipline and imagination.
    When I was young, the oldsters used to talk about “making their own fun”, back in more austere times. My gran used to tell me about yabbying with a bit of string on the irrigation channels around Shepparton, for example. Nowadays people panic at the though of a ten minute stroll up the street to the shops without having a car to drive to them there (walking, what’s that?).
    From this point, refer back to yet another marvellous summary from Jill Rush, earlier in this thread.

  55. watchman
    December 19th, 2009 at 18:48 | #55

    “You wont get that one past women. We are not going back there to when it was hard to disssolve a marriage…”

    Marriage-minded men of the West take note. It is no longer legally possible to make a binding agreement with a woman to start a family together. The above statement is a completely typical attitude and one of the key pillars of feminism. Your wife-to-be sees it as a right to reneg on her responsibilities to you without consequence. She will also see it as morally consistent that you will be forced to meet your responsibilities to her, especially financial. And she has the enforcement machinery of the state to back her up.

    She will gain all the benefits of a husband without being required to offer anything in return. You gaining the benefits of having a wife and family are only at her whim.

    Any man who signs a marriage certificate today is a fool.

  56. Alice
    December 19th, 2009 at 19:32 | #56

    These two are especially for you Alicia, my friend and like minded soul sister (who also happens to love the blues)… and for you too Paul W – its a small tribute to two great wild (and gorgeous) women….its Xmas – lets have some music!


  57. paul walter
    December 19th, 2009 at 19:33 | #57

    Watchman, you are courting disaster!
    .You are going to get drowned in an orgy of vitriol about wife beating, financial mean-ness and males absconding in droves from their side of the bargain, etc.
    Don’t you see?
    The system changed itself, it evolved into something different to what it was when we were growing up.
    Marriage has trouble working because it doesn’t fit in with the modern economy, regardless of whether it ever worked as a mechanism for effective transfer of values from adult to kids, previously. As folk above have pointed out, the system is not prepared to input revenues into people and families any more. The drive for profits from the corporate sector has forced government to reduce taxation and hence spending on programs on health, pre schools, education etc.
    The price we’ve all paid for material security- ourselves- is the weakening of those circumstances that force people to seek each other out rather than retreat into isolate, unfullfilling, consumerist fantasy.

  58. paul walter
    December 19th, 2009 at 19:35 | #58

    Alice, many thanks for gifty. Am out for a while and look forward to catching up when I get back.
    Don’t be too sore at Watchman…

  59. Alice
    December 19th, 2009 at 19:48 | #59

    @paul walter
    How can I help it??? – he thinks sending women back to the kitchen by force of legislation is going to solve his lonely problems…..Paul, most women will move to get out of the kitchen fast when the bills are coming through the door…who thinks women wont fight to keep their families well and safe??..if it means we need more money, we need it (we all need it) and we will work, but when we are working to get it, we sure as hell dont want any handicaps or discrimination (many are already overloaded working two jobs. Lord it aint easy!).

    Sending us back into the home and the nuclear family by force of legislation, wont solve any of these problems. It wont keep us there. Watchman isnt thinking straight.

    Plus, more importantly, we will not go back (we will not back down) unless we can afford it and its safe to do so and we want to, as Nanks indicated.

    Thats up to the economy and how its run.

  60. Alice
    December 19th, 2009 at 19:50 | #60

    “Any man who signs a marriage certificate today is a fool.”

    I dont know what you are worried about. Lots of people dont.

  61. Alice
    December 19th, 2009 at 19:58 | #61

    also says
    “Your wife-to-be sees it as a right to reneg on her responsibilities to you without consequence. She will also see it as morally consistent that you will be forced to meet your responsibilities to her, especially financial. And she has the enforcement machinery of the state to back her up.”

    Get a grip watchman.

    a) It is the right of both parties to leave an unhappy marriage. Its not woman reneging or man reneging. Both are capable of reneging without the other parties consent.

    b) No one makes you responsible for “her” but you are responsible for your own offspring and you are responsible financially for a division of assets with her if she has been using her unpaid labour and you have all the super while she has been doing the laundry, shopping, childminding and cooking. What do you expect? Get over it.

    c) She and he has the enforcement machinery of the state to back “them” up where kids are involved. Get over that as well.

  62. watchman
    December 19th, 2009 at 21:26 | #62

    “…he thinks sending women back to the kitchen by force of legislation is going to solve his lonely problems.. ”

    Ha ha. I was waiting for that one. Feminist argument strategy 101…

    Step 1: Act outraged and insulted.

    Step 2: Accuse opponent of sexual inadequacy.

    Step 3: This step is still under development.

    Stop flattering yourselves ladies. Convincing modern women to provide company and benefits is not difficult. Save your emotional manipulation for naive baby-boomers and Disney-movie-loving virgins.

  63. watchman
    December 19th, 2009 at 21:39 | #63

    “It is the right of both parties to leave an unhappy marriage. Its not woman reneging or man reneging. Both are capable of reneging without the other parties consent.”

    But the reneging man must leave his wallet and children at the door. It all sounds so fair!

  64. SJ
    December 19th, 2009 at 21:55 | #64

    That’s enough. Apply the DNFTT rule.

  65. Alice
    December 19th, 2009 at 23:08 | #65

    Here little troll…. What exactly is your problem with feminism? – Havent you heard of shared care or is it your wallet you care most about? I dont recall accusing anyone of sexual inadequacy here…you raised that one. Im not as outraged as you clearly are.Why not go somewhere where you can relive your past powers with other disgruntled types. Pass your wallet on the way out and Ill give it to your ex. Sounds like she could do with some help.

  66. watchman
    December 19th, 2009 at 23:37 | #66

    “Why not go somewhere where you can relive your past powers with other disgruntled types.”

    Step 2.5: Step 2 is your most powerful weapon. If it is ineffective first time, try again. Rinse. Repeat.

  67. Alice
    December 20th, 2009 at 06:45 | #67

    I just cant help myself with this troll…it was obviously ineffective the first time so Watchman, lets run Step 2.5 again shall we?

    Open your mouth wide…..say ahhh…. Ill just pop the feminism word in….its not that hard is it? Try not to gag or choke.

    If that fails Rinse and repeat. Eventually you will swallow it.

  68. Alice
    December 20th, 2009 at 07:40 | #68

    SJ I know…I know…..but how about TTNTTT (try to blow up the trolls?)…..hmm maybe I should go eat breakfast.

  69. Alice
    December 20th, 2009 at 09:42 | #69

    Anyway – this discussion is waste entirely of JQs brilliant thread here and we are now wildly off track…..of interest in this article, to me, are the pat ideologies associated with trickle down proponents…
    “Among the most popular and the silliest, is the observation that even the poor now have more access to consumer goods, such as televisions and refrigerators than they had in the past. For example, Cox and Alm in their book Myths of Rich and Poor observe that n spite of the rise in inequality a poor household in the 1990’s was more likely than an average household in the 1970’s to have a washing machine, clothes dryer, dishwasher, refrigerator, stove, color television, personal computer, or telephone. ”

    This has not been helped by the rise of the ubiquitous US sitcoms – ever noticed their sitcom houses are chock full of expensive versions of those very items people want now. The reach of subliminal marketing into people’s wish lists. I was astonished, Xmas shopping at JB Hifi yesterday………the queues of the young to pay stretched from till at back to front door…imported electronic gadgets. Is it the old high apc of lower income earners we see at work? (not in all cases obviously but I do wonder). If you cant quite afford your rent or mortgage then relatively cheap electronic gadgets may provide temporary amelioration from the burden. Does the status once provided by a nice house with a nice garden in a nice street get replaced with ie “have you seen our new entertainment system”?.

    Then the other stock standard is “wealthy executives deserve the pay they get because they work so hard”….to the point of exhaustion and heart attacks presumably, given the link to type As.

    This would appear to be another nonsense. I would suggest many CEOS actually do not work that hard, have an army of interpreters, and strategic analysers, are mostly figureheads and actually lead very closeted and comfortable lives. When I worked for Mayne Nickless it was well known the executives might not turn up until Midday when they were entertained with very fine lunches and fine wines for most of the afternoon in the grand corporate boardroom in Melbourne, and went on numerous overseas trips staying at ultra exclusive resorts…thanks to Marmot for his mythbusting contribution…there is no trade off between wealth and health. I would also suggest there is little tradeoff between wealth and leisure time for many executives at the top of the income distribution.

  70. nanks
    December 20th, 2009 at 09:50 | #70

    the whitehall study and various follow ups would seem to challenge the idea that executives are doing it tough – absurd though the idea is anyway.
    I’d be only too happy to try life without bullying alpha types (male or female) running the show. Check it out for a few thousand years then evaluate.

  71. Alice
    December 20th, 2009 at 10:40 | #71

    LOL nanks “Check it out for a few thousand years’

  72. Alice
    December 20th, 2009 at 14:06 | #72

    @paul walter
    On this point you made about people “making their own fun and not indebting themselves to the never never’ its interesting to note that hire purchase didnt really take off until the 1950s…add returned soldiers, immigration, getting over WW2 baby boom, higher than usual inflation which makes repayments cheaper relatively, houses, motor cars, hoovers victa lawnmowers, kelvinator washing machines….was it there we find the source of the never never?

    Well, it never never left and got bigger and uglier…

  73. paul walter
    December 20th, 2009 at 14:28 | #73

    Yep Alice. Am a baby boomer (lowers head) meself and remember the brave new world of the black and white telly era very well.
    Remember as a kid, watching a very early 4 Corners on the New Guinea, “Cargo Cult”, where the natives were told to wait for the great silver bird last seen flying about during WW2 in the form of a USAF Douglas Dakota cargo plane, returning with Christ, bringing all the Western consumer goodies.
    Trinkets for the natives, a passable analogy for western consumer capitalism in macro?

  74. Alicia
    December 20th, 2009 at 19:34 | #74


    Alice, thank you so much for these youtube gifts.

    To know these two women’s voices so wel, yet to see for the first time still and moving pics of them performing as beautiful passionate young women, words cannot describe the pleasure.

    Children and midwives both of feminism and so much more, these goddesses contribute so much to the fact that feminism today, while hugely assaulted, twisted and tamed has not been able to be put back into the box and quashed.

    To their – and our – sweet sorrowful joy, loss and success!

  75. Alice
    December 20th, 2009 at 19:53 | #75

    Alicia….so far still to go. Will this battle for equality ever be won? Arent they gorgeous those women? Just beautiful. Do you or I need the meaness or greed I see in here when we can just listen to them and get away from all that?

  76. Alicia
    December 20th, 2009 at 20:07 | #76


    It will be won Alice. We are invincible as well as gorgeous.

  77. December 20th, 2009 at 21:11 | #77

    “In The Spirit Level, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett build on Marmot’s work and other statistical evidence to produce a comprehensive case for the proposition that inequalities in income and status have far-reaching and damaging effects on a wide range of measures of social wellbeing, effects that are felt even by those who are relatively high in the income distributions. ”

    From http://andrewleigh.com/?p=2400

    A few people have asked me recently for my view on “The Spirit Level” by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett…I’m about as anti-inequality an economist as you’ll find. But my own empirical work on the issue has convinced me that when you look at within-country changes, the picture that emerges is very different to what you see when you look at a snapshot across countries over time. For example…countries that experienced big increases in inequality saw bigger improvements in health than those where inequality stayed stable or fell….After working on inequality and mortality, I have had similar experiences in looking at data on inequality and savings with Alberto Posso (we find no relationship), and in looking at inequality and growth with Dan Andrews and Christopher Jencks (we find that inequality has no impact on growth over the period 1905-2000, and conclude that inequality is good for growth over the period 1960-2000). In both cases, I had begun the project secretly hoping to find that inequality was bad, and wound up reluctantly reporting no such thing.”

  78. SJ
    December 20th, 2009 at 21:52 | #78

    Leigh’s paper looks like complete rubbish. He doesn’t give any t-stats for those graphs, but just on an eyeball test, the results are not significant. t is much less than 2. In the health outcome/GDP graphs in the paper (they don’t appear in the blog post), they purport to show that outcomes decrease after a certain level of GDP/capita. It’s not a significant result, and Leigh should have recognised that it was only due to the piss-poor health outcomes in the US.

    The results look to be entirely spurious.

  79. Cynic
    December 20th, 2009 at 21:55 | #79

    What about trickle down welfare economics? The govt collects taxes and uses it to expand govt bureacracy and buy votes from special interest groups. Eventually (maybe), what is left goes to those who need it the most.

  80. SJ
    December 20th, 2009 at 22:16 | #80

    Leigh’s paper can be found here.

    I challenge anyone qualified in econometrics to examine Figure 2, and agree with the fitted curves.

  81. Alice
    December 20th, 2009 at 22:32 | #81

    Yes Jarrah – and lets not selctively quote and cherry pick Leigh to twist things your way huh? Sneaky and dishonest to cut and snip like that – the quote is below…at least make it real rather than cutting bits an pasting together to suit yourself. There was a sentence you left out.

    Leigh says

    “I’m about as anti-inequality an economist as you’ll find. But my own empirical work on the issue has convinced me that when you look at within-country changes, the picture that emerges is very different to what you see when you look at a snapshot across countries over time. For example, it’s certainly true that in unequal countries, lifespans are shorter and infant mortality is higher.”

  82. Cynic
    December 20th, 2009 at 22:38 | #82

    What don’t you post on his blog, then let us know what he says?

  83. Cynic
    December 20th, 2009 at 22:39 | #83

    Sorry: “Why don’t you post on his blog, then let us know what he says?”

  84. iain
    December 20th, 2009 at 22:43 | #84

    SJ – Figure 2 is weird, it seems to be an argument for equality producing better health outcomes. eg Japan and Scandanavia do well and the US is an obvious outlier.

    Alice’s quote makes this point as well.

    Pretty weird, given the title of the paper.

  85. SJ
    December 20th, 2009 at 22:45 | #85

    Done. If he replies, you can read it yourself.

  86. paul walter
    December 20th, 2009 at 23:07 | #86

    Boy, that Andrew Leigh quote is a grisly piece of work.

  87. December 20th, 2009 at 23:10 | #87

    Sneaky and dishonest? I gave an honest summary. YOU are the one being sneaky and dishonest, by selectively leaving out important sentences:

    “For example, it’s certainly true that in unequal countries, lifespans are shorter and infant mortality is higher. But here’s what you get if you compare changes in inequality with changes in mortality (from a paper with Tim Smeeding and Christopher Jencks). [graph] Yup, the graph slopes up. In other words, countries that experienced big increases in inequality saw bigger improvements in health than those where inequality stayed stable or fell. In most cases, the effect isn’t significant, but the data certainly don’t support the hypothesis that rising inequality harms population health.”

    Anyone can see that I have reported Leigh’s findings correctly, while you have cherry-picked the only sentence that could possibly support your blinkered worldview, without including the part immediately afterwards that starts with “But…”! Don’t you think that was a freakin’ clue that his point was not yet complete? You essentially truncated his thought halfway through! And you have the gall to call ME sneaky and dishonest!

  88. December 20th, 2009 at 23:12 | #88

    “Figure 2 is weird, it seems to be an argument for equality producing better health outcomes. eg Japan and Scandanavia do well and the US is an obvious outlier.”

    As Leigh quotes Kay as saying: “Japan, rated one of the most equal, has long life expectancy, a small prison population and low levels of violence. Within Europe the Scandinavian countries are generally distinguished by high levels of both equality and social performance. These observations probably account for most of Wilkinson and Pickett’s findings.”

    I don’t have the technical skill to answer SJ’s questions, but I look forward to Leigh’s response.

  89. Alice
    December 20th, 2009 at 23:16 | #89

    Actually SJ – Im inclined to agree on this one. This one looks like a re run of an earlier paper by someone else and perhaps not a convincing argument in the first version. Just because a stats pack can lay a line doesnt mean its a good fit. Diagram two is all over the shop and most of diagram three as well. Compare the same countries in diagram 2 a) and b).

    Just because the stats pack can fit a curve through a maze at the press of a button doesnt mean we should believe it exists. In diagram three for the three panels on life expentancy (LE) in this paper Leigh states “for all countries where inequality rose more, life expectancy rose more”. The same claim is made about the infant mortality diagrams below. I dont think thats a clear call and I dont see that. They have also only examined IM and LE against either the Gini or selective Percentile ratios for two decades – the 90/50 (top to middle) and the 50/10 (middle to bottom) but why not examine the 90/10 ratio or the 90/20? ie top to bottom. Are these ratios an adequate measure?. Also three or four OECD countries are omitted and when added back there is not a positive relationship except for the 50/10.

    But none of this excuses Jarrahs selective usage of Leigh.

  90. December 20th, 2009 at 23:20 | #90

    “But none of this excuses Jarrahs selective usage of Leigh.”

    Alice, you’re being a hypocrite, as I’ve conclusively demonstrated. Sadly, I don’t expect an apology for your slander.

  91. Alice
    December 20th, 2009 at 23:21 | #91

    Even Leigh is quoted as saying..in his review on the Spirit Level (your link at 27)

    “For example, it’s certainly true that in unequal countries, lifespans are shorter and infant mortality is higher.”

    Yet he apparently finds and argues the reverse in this paper Health and Economic Inequality – see Sjs link at 30.

    Bit odd.

  92. Alice
    December 21st, 2009 at 06:35 | #92

    In a meta analysis of observational studies specifically done in this area on the links between equality and health Kondo et al find

    “income equality is associated with a moderate excess risk of premature mortality and poor self rated health”
    “if the inequality mortality relation is truly causal then the population attributable fraction suggests that upwards 1.5 million deaths (9.6% of adult mortality) could be averted in 30 countries by levelling the Gini co-efficient below the threshold value of 0.3″

    Last page

    Im inclined to have more faith in this work, because of the meta analysis aspect. It examines a large number of studies that specifically address this area.

    Link is here


  93. nanks
    December 21st, 2009 at 07:35 | #93

    Inequality as measured in the studies seems so crude a measure I can’t find much value in the exercise in terms of public health. For example, the gini measure of inequality does not take into account wealth and does not take into account egality – yet both wealth and egality seem to underly to significant degrees the framing of the problem and interpretation of the results in both papers mentioned.
    Regardless, what outcomes could arise in terms of public health policy improvement? – We already know about poverty and health with greater confidence, we already know about stress and health with greater confidence. In other words, more direct studies would be of more value.

  94. Graeme Bird
    December 21st, 2009 at 07:38 | #94

    I don’t think there is any actual theory of trickle-down economics in economic history. But some of us have the theory of “funnel-up” economics. In my rendering of this theory any financial system short of 100%-backing, growth-deflation will have a situation where wealth is being “funnelled upwards” towards the people who are already wealthy. Plus the already wealthy will likely have sorted any number of very subtle advantages that allow their money to make money while they sleep.

    On the alleged libertarian side of things some thought has gone into our rights as consumers. But almost no thought has gone into the little blokes right as a producer. The right to get out of the proletarian mega-pool and get into a business of ones own. The alleged libertarian set seem to be utterly flippant about that side of things. And this bias towards the big corporations and against the sole trader, while it may be a small thing, small insipid forces that work around the clock for long periods of time will have dramatic effects.

    I would argue that over a period of (lets say) five decades, this small bias against the sole trader and in favour of the big corporates can lead to essentially a rigged market at both ends. Not enough people getting top executive business experience in their twenties to compete down the salaries of this new managerial class overlords….. At the same time too many people in the proletarian pool, leading to stagnant wages at the bottom end.

    It may be only a subtle bias. And it may take a long time to cause a lot of trouble. But if we bring in the time factor it can be all the difference between utter cronyism and the just society.

  95. iain
    December 21st, 2009 at 07:43 | #95


    So you agree that figure 2 is clear evidence that more equal countries produce better health outcomes?

  96. Alice
    December 21st, 2009 at 07:47 | #96

    Nanks – the gini itself can be an unreliable measure depending on what it is being related to – even Kondo notes that the Gini can be large (more inequality) when you have large numbers of affluent or when you have a large number of poor. It is also insensitive to changes in certain areas of the distribution.

  97. Cynic
    December 21st, 2009 at 17:07 | #97

    Here’s another paper that may be worth dissecting:

    The incomes of the poor are intimately linked to the incomes of the rich. While the relationship is not one-for-one, it is notable. The incomes of the poor rise more with increases in the incomes of the rich than vice versa. More importantly, the incomes of the rich have a discernable effect in reducing the UN’s conventional measure of poverty. Notably, growth in the incomes of the rich reduces the effects of poverty proportionally more than is the case for increases in the incomes of the poor. In addition, economic growth clearly reduces poverty. The results for sub-Saharan Africa are not appreciably different from the rest of the world.

    The term “trickle-down” is a misnomer: growth actually entails a cascade, not a trickle. The quality of growth may be important, but growth itself is the surest way to reduce human deprivation around the world.

  98. Alice
    December 21st, 2009 at 18:58 | #98

    Utter crap Cynic.

    On the CATO institute that published this piece of rubbish (even the reference list is developmentally delayed)


    Freaking libertarians…they keep coming aout of the woodwork.
    Go home Cynic and take this termite infested piece of faked rubbish publication with you.
    Its an insult to real academics. Are we dealing with children? Looks that way.

  99. Freelander
    December 21st, 2009 at 19:03 | #99


    Atlas shrugged! The poor ruthlessly exploit the rich. So it has ever been. If the rich stopped working so hard we would all starve. Lets hear it for the rich from whom all bounty flows. Thanks Cato, and all the other loony libertarian think tanks for putting us right on this one.

  100. Cynic
    December 21st, 2009 at 20:00 | #100

    “Its an insult to real academics.” Well, maybe. The article was published in Cato Journal, and according to the link you supplied, the Cato Journal (and Regulation) are peer-reviewed academic journals.

    So why is the article crap?

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