Thursday, November 12, 2009


Political Mayhem Thursday: The value of things

Yesterday, Andy Warhols "200 One-dollar Bills" (pictured above) sold for over $43 million.

Do markets really work?

If we go by pay, here are the vocations which are favored and disfavored:


High-profile artists (or at least their estates)
Professional athletes
Corporate executives
Corporate attorneys
Children of the very rich who don't work at all
High-profile actors


Social workers
Construction workers
Police officers

Does the first group provide more social utility than the second? If not, why is it that the first group is paid so much more? How do we justify the difference in pay between these two groups?

I'm told it has to do with invisible hands, or nebuluous forces like supply and demand.

I call it reification and alienation, but them's fancy learnin' words that come out of them tharr books by Krauts and Russkies, and t'aint nothin' good that they've got to say.
Perhaps we are connecting the wrong dots.

As a member of the "disfavored" class, I would argue that my incredibly high quality of life has very little to do with what I am paid.

On the other hand, the wonderful world that Lane and I live in is a very happy consequence of harnessing market forces.

I work in a wonderful community college that serves all comers, built with the abundance from the amazing prosperity of our market economy.

I am quite ecstatic to play my role in this society--even if my pay does not equal that of a professional athlete.

It all comes out in the wash.

Vive the invisible hand.
Well, I'm just a dumb redneck (I think that is the group Lane was meaning to insult). I watch NASCAR and drink domestic light beer. I occasionally listen to country music, and I drive a pickup truck. So, I may not be smart enough to join in this conversation. Probably just better to leave it to the elite educated classes...

However, if I were to comment, I would say that the value of those various professions is a perfect representation of the market at work. There is exactly one Warhol painting like the one you discuss there. There is only a select group of people that can run a sub 4.4 40 yard dash. There are only a certain number of lawyers with the education and experience to perform certain tasks at the highest level. In other words, the supply for these types of jobs/professions is very small. Hence, the value goes up exponentially.

At the same time, every town has a police department. Every school district needs teachers. And every county needs a district attorneys office. The supply for these jobs is also high. Lots of people want to be teachers, no matter how many times they tell us otherwise. My sister just got a job as a teacher, and at every interview she was competing against 3-4 other people to be an elementary art teacher. There are lots of law students that either want to be prosecutors or just need a job. And there are lots of people filling up police academies every year. Hence, the supply never really runs out.

There is competition within these professions. For instance, police in NYC are paid more than a cop in Groveton, Texas. A teacher in Highland Park ISD is paid more than a teacher in Dallas ISD.

Obviously, the social utility of a teacher may be much higher than an artist (though I question that both based on experience with some of the teachers I've had and from the perspective of the importance of art to our culture and society). Yet, the market doesn't necessarily value social utility. The market values supply/demand.

But, those are just the thoughts of a stupid southern boy. Really, it is just remarkable that I was able to type this entire e-mail without the advanced learning that Lane got out of those fancy books.
Because the first list of professions are more selective. For example, very few can be born rich, but a great many can be taught to teach. Likewise, to get your corporate executive gig it's going to take a few years with good grades at a solid MBA school- which means good undergrad and good grades. Barriers to entry restrict supply. These jobs in turn pay better because while they don't create the most social good, they do create the most financial good.

I think the real problem is that the gap between the two has widened so greatly in the last twenty years or so. In 1990, I might have thought about a government job, but in 2010, I have to take the corporate gig to pay down my loans which are far greater than they would have been in 1990 (at least for a few years).
It's not right, it just is. A symptom of broadening American inequality.
There are important ways in which I agree with the Waco Farmer and RRL. Like the farmer, I have a wonderful job that is wonderful for reasons other than pay (which would be much greater if I were to go into private practice and I didn't do everything pro bono). It was interesting to me that in my Yale Law class, the most coveted job (law teaching) was also one of the lowest paying of those available to us.

I think RRL's rarity argument has limits, though. There are a lot of corporate execs, and I'm not sure it is the cream who are rising to the top, given recent results. Similarly, there are some exceptional, and rare, teachers out there, but there is no mechanism to reward them in the same way.
Please. I wasn't insulting anyone; just responding to the general feeling that using fancy terms like "reification" makes me elitist or snobby, or worse, an intellectual. After all, no one else gets told to not post anymore.

Rarity and supply/demand don't address the central problem, which is "value." How do things get value? That rare things be valued higher talks about relative value in regard to other things, but it doesn't address the question of why value it at all.

Marx does address this problem in the Critique of Political Economy, by making a distintion between use-value (I want this because I can use it for something) and exchange-value (what will you give me in exchange for something?). These types of things are absolute and found within the objects: an ingot of iron ore has an equivalent exchange value to a bushel of corn or a spool of linen. Use-value is of course determined by time and place. If I'm a blacksmith, iron is far more useful to me than linen, say. So, I might be willing to give up more horseshoes (the product I make) in exchange for AWF's corn than I would for RRL's linen.

A market economy says that the interplay between use-value (loosely, demand) and the availability of a good or service creates an exchange value. This, however, also requires a human element: if AWF comes to my smithy with a bushel of corn and asks for horseshoes, I have to be willing to forego giving him the horseshoes for that corn to see if perhaps RRL could be enticed to give me more linen since he knows I have a limited amount of horseshoes and he has to get them before AWF takes them all. I could, of course, stay up late and forge twice the horseshoes. But is that going to gain me the most value? Maybe not; I could forge less and ask for more in return, claiming "demand" is high and supply is low. The value we all assign to our work, be it linen, corn or blackshoes, is a manifestation of the amount of time we had to invest to produce it. The only real thing of value we own is our labor.
Now multiply that across a modern economy. Producers don't own what they produce; instead, they work to produce something that is ultimately owned and utilized by someone else (unless they are directly self-employed). What you are given in exchange for your labor-time is a wage or a salary, that will always be less than the exchange-value of what you've produced. That's how profit is made, by using use-value and availability to manipulate exchange-value to a greater degree than what our basic commodities exchange rate would indicate. The problem is that the worker, the producer, doesn't see this value returned in the proper ratio once reinvestment into overhead is made.

Thus, reification and alienation! We assign value by market forces and currency, claiming that people's desire for goods and services doesn't always match up with availablity (which is almost never a naturally-occurring limit) and think that this magic number pulled from the air reflects some natural fact about the world. CEOs, movie stars, heiresses, etc., all get the benefit of the system not because their talents are rarer than other jobs (being a good prosecutor or good teacher is equally as rare), but because they've managed to convince people that they deserve more for equal investitures of time as other skilled and talented people. They have convinced you that their labor-time is worth more than yours.

And people buy into it! We're sold a lemon on this one, folks. It's no different than believing in the divine right of kings handed down to the nobility through vassalage. No one set these "valued" professions at the top but us, and if we wanted, we could change it so that positions with greater social utility were valued instead. I don't mean that teachers should be paid luxurious salaries, but I think some equity or parity in income could be achieved. At the very least, livable conditions for the vast majority of people are possible, even in a partially-market-based economy, as long as basic needs like health care, housing and utilities can be met by well-supported public institutions, coupled with a living minimum wage.

And as AWF stated, quality of life doesn't have much to do with what one is paid. I get paid very little, comparatively, but find my work fulfilling and enjoy my life; others, however, do not, and that means that our society is still inequitable. Having basic needs met by one's community, one's society, goes a long way to ensuring a good quality of life for all.
My wife is a prosecutor and I am a corporate attorney.

Her job has higher social utility than mine insofar as she helps protect the safety and property of all county residents through the criminal justice system (rather than protecting an individual or corporation's interest in keeping its property when that property is sought by another invididual or entity). However, because people whose property is directly threatened in civil litigation are willing to pay more to keep it than people whose lives or property are only threatened in a general or theoretical sense, I am paid approximately two times what she is paid.

As a historical aside, prosecutors in ancient Rome were hired by the victim, their family, or a group of citizens. The prosecutors were paid by the person who hired them and could charge (as corporate attorneys do today) the market rate depending upon their rhetorical skill. Also, the best prosecutors were given an additional incentive because certain charges (such as treason) could entitle the prosecutor to claim 1/4 of the offender's assets. However, he faced a great downside risk if he lost a treason charge, as he would have to pay 1/4 of his assets to the exhonerated man. Our society - quite fortunately - has elected to have a staff of prosecutors whose interest is solely in justice and societal protection and whose payment is not based upon convictions. I think we made the better choice.

Returning to my point, here's a brief comparison of our jobs: She leaves work at 5. I often bring work home almost every day and go to bed at midnight or later most nights. I could be fired at any moment; absent gross misconduct, my wife could not. After she's vested (6 years in), the county pays $5 for every $1 she contributes to a retirement fund, including a retroactive contribution by the county for all of her contributions prior to vesting. I will never vest into a pension program like that; my firm pays $0.50 for every $1 I contribute to a 401K or IRA.

What I'm trying to say is that teachers, social workers, prosecutors, soldiers, and police officers are not paid like the "favored" group, but they do have job stability and great benefits.

Every person born in America can have the realistic hope that if he attends to his eduction and does not commit crimes, he can have a great job and be a contributing member of society. I think the market got it right.
Lane, there is no doubt that there is a great deal of alienation from work out there, especially by people who are not paid much. Here is what is strange-- the people who are paid a lot often seem alienated, too.
People are willing to spend more money to be entertained than to pay the taxes that would allow the lower profile professions to be paid what they are worth.

A few years back, the Kingman school district asked for a bond to build three new schools and hire new teachers. The bond would only cost each tax payer $20 per year. The bond was met with great resistance and passed through the voters by the skin of its teeth.

I wonder how much each person who voted against the bond pays for texting service or cable television every year.
Alienation is a systemic injustice. It applies to everyone, except, as I stated, directly self-employed individuals. Although those people also still feel ancillary systemic effects, like the lack of publicly funded health care.
I wrote a big long response, but my compute erased it, so I will say just these two things:

1. I am just a dumb southern redneck country boy that hasn't read all "them tharr books" but I did take history in high school, and even some college! Which is enough for me to know that Marx fella was wrong about pretty much everything he ever said.

2. The reason the market doesn't compensate good teachers better than bad teachers is that the market for teachers, at least below the college level, isn't set up to reward excellence. It is setup to reward longevity, which is what teachers unions wanted. You don't get paid more for being an excellent teacher at a highschool. You get paid more for being there a long time irrespective of how good you are. The market can't solve that problem, because below the college level the market isn't meant to compensate teachers for being good at their job.

3. There is no boardroom full of guys in three piece suits all smoking cigars that set prices for things, or value. The market controls the value. Here is an article I always liked on that point:
(1) History proves Marx was wrong about everything he ever said? I'm sure that's news to many socialist countries around the globe today. Also, do you honestly think that Mao or Lenin or Stalin or any number of other Marxist/socialist/communist leaders agreed with Marx on every facet of politics? The left is a fractious lot, and there is widespread disagreement within the left. Stalin, for instance, is anathemic to someone like Trotsky, yet both are "socialist," although Stalin isn't a Marxist. To say that "history" has proven the ideals of Marx false is to make a statement in ignorance of both history and theory.

(2) Demonstrably untrue; both of my parents are teachers and union members. The "system" (being almost entirely under local control) isn't set up in any uniform way. Various school districts do better than others at retaining good teachers, but it often has more to do with local politics than what teachers' unions do. For instance, every good teacher at my high school was driven off by an administration that stressed uniformity, strict discipline, and performance according to the state-mandated (by politicians, mind you) test as part of the general conservative scheme of "teacher accountability." Rather than let teachers, you know, teach, and decide whether students are performing at an acceptable level, some committee of test writers in Austin gets to decide what kids should or shouldn't have to know to move on. The reason the market can't solve this problem is, however, because the market isn't set up to remedy such ills. The market cares little whether a teacher is "good" or "bad" because schools, while large consumers in the economy, aren't subject to the demands of profit. Hence, the conservative push for charter and private school vouchers. That way, those of means can purchase top-flight educations for their young at the most exclusive schools, often with government-sponsored religious leanings, and the "undesirables" (poor or minority students) can take the leavings.

(3) I'm aware of how markets set value. I'm suggesting, merely suggesting mind you, that because supply and demand can be manipulated through various means, that market value is not some naturally-occurring fact but rather a constructed thing. I'm aware of the neoclassical and behavioral economics stance on this point, and suffice to say without a long discursion into various fields like sociology, biology, psychology and philosophy, as well as micro and macro-economics, I could not give a full accounting of just exactly how neoclassical economics is flawed on this point.
"(1) History proves Marx was wrong about everything he ever said?"

Well, no, which is why I said "pretty much everything." All that book learning you would hope you would at least get that right. I'm just a dumb redneck and I was able to see how you immediately mischaracterized my claim.

"I'm sure that's news to many socialist countries around the globe today."

I didn't know socialist countries took news as a whole. I can imagine (I'm actually having trouble thinking of a country with a pure socialist system, since every country that tried that has failed or is failing, but lets go with...) Cuba sitting down to read the morning paper.

And, I imagine it wouldn't be news to lots of the people that have to live in those socialist countries.

"To say that "history" has proven the ideals of Marx false is to make a statement in ignorance of both history and theory."

Well, I didn't say that (see above), and I think saying that it has proven many of the ideas of Marx to be not only wrong but dangerous when put into practice is a statement of awesomeness and correctness.

So, na na na na boo boo.

"The market cares little whether a teacher is "good" or "bad" because schools, while large consumers in the economy, aren't subject to the demands of profit."

Everything you said before this didn't seem responsive to what I said, which was that schools don't reward teachers monetarily for excellence, which means there is no market for good vs. bad teachers. And yes, part of that is the nature of profit driven motives, but there are also other forces that can push a market. State universities, which serve the same function as public schools, do compete for professors on the basis of merit.

"Hence, the conservative push for charter and private school vouchers. That way, those of means can purchase top-flight educations for their young at the most exclusive schools, often with government-sponsored religious leanings, and the "undesirables" (poor or minority students) can take the leavings."

Isn't that what "those of means" do now?? Wouldn't vouchers allow those of non-means at least some chance to get the same opportunities?? I mean, I know you're the child of two members of the teachers' union, so an electric shock is sent through your body if you say anything good about vouchers, but c'mon....

"I'm aware of how markets set value"

You sure? I've read a lot of your posts on here, and I'm not convinced...

"I'm suggesting, merely suggesting mind you, that because supply and demand can be manipulated through various means, that market value is not some naturally-occurring fact but rather a constructed thing."

Manipulated by who? Again, we are back to the black helicopters transporting a group of corporate fat cats in three piece suits and top hats to to a secret underground hideout where they smoke cigars, subjugate women, watch old reruns of "Leave it to Beaver" to remind themselves what America should be like, and pull the strings of the economy. Its paranoia.

Can the market be manipulated? Sure. But it isn't the prevailing or even a pervasive force on the market.

"I'm aware of the neoclassical and behavioral economics stance on this point, and suffice to say without a long discursion into various fields like sociology, biology, psychology and philosophy, as well as micro and macro-economics, I could not give a full accounting of just exactly how neoclassical economics is flawed on this point."

Well, let us not trouble you sir. We will just take your word for it then. Argument over. Matter settled. You used three words with "ology" at the end, both micro and macro, and "neoclassical" so who are we to question you. No need to go through the "full accounting."
Re: Marx

You said "pretty much every." Nitpicking aside, your claim taht the ideas of Marx are "not only wrong but dangerous" when put in to practice is not specific enough. Certainly there have been widespread abuses by those in power in socialist countries. Then again, right-wing dictators and autocrats have a similar track record. Might we say that the problem is authoritarian/totalitarianism and not the political-economic system of the country that's to blame here?

Re: teachers

If schools reward teachers monetarily, then the question becomes: how do we tell which teachers are performing at an acceptable rate? Secondly, how do we fund it? I'm all for more taxes for better pay and benefits for teachers, because I think teachers are underpaid by any standards. Merit pay (something I am opposed to, contra many liberals in the US) is a bad idea, however, because the motivating force for teachers should be effective pedagogy and not monetary gain. I realize, however, that teaching is an unattractive job to many with high degrees of loan debt and skyrocketing costs of living. It's why I haven't (yet) pursued that career field, though ultimately I want to. The problems there are again wider-spread than "teachers aren't paid enough." If I had public health care, no loans from education to pay off, no daunting prospect of obtaining further education, and affordable and reasonable public housing, I'd consider it.

Re: private schools

To a certain degree, yes, people who can often do send their kids to get private education. Vouchers do not present that same opportunity; too many people look at them like merit scholarships to private universities. Vouchers also do not detract from the public funds used for schools, as those come from taxes irrespective of where your kids go to school, and less people in public schools (which are overcrowded) isn't a bad idea. My objection to vouchers is that they appear to be government financing of religious education in some cases, especially with charter schools, and that the exclusivity of private schools will be preserved even with voucher programs.

For the record, my mother, though not my step-father, supports vouchers, even as a teachers' union member. Dear old Mom doesn't read the articles I send, I'm afraid.

Re: markets

Markets can be and are manipulated by two principal forces, stock market speculators and multinational conglomerate producers. It's not a back room cigar-smoking deal when it's all done in plain view. I'm not saying that they're manipulated without any transparency; quite the opposite. That's the point of supply-side economics.

As for the rest, I wish economics and modern political culture were simple enough to digest into a readable form for a blog. I would never ask anyone to take my word as authority, when there is a wealth of information available for free online dealing with the intersection of these subjects. The behavior of people as consumers within an economy, market or otherwise, their psychology, social conditioning, and culture (not to mention things like gender, ethnicity, education level, etc.) all affect how they act. Neoclassical economics often assumes, as do many other vestiges of the post-Enlightenment era, perfectly rational actors within a closed system that obeys determinative laws. So does dialectial materialism (Marx's philosophy of economics), to a large extent, though I do think it takes into account the sociology of society more. Neither of course is a perfect model of human behavior, and so there are flaws with each approach. However, one of them has (I believe) a certain normative, ethical force behind it as far as being transformative and progressive and capable of ushering in a better, more just society.
Wow -- this is truly a mayhem-filled Thursday! So much so, with so many lengthy discussions, I don't have time to comment, except to say...interesting post Prof Osler! I agree!
"If I had public health care, no loans from education to pay off, no daunting prospect of obtaining further education, and affordable and reasonable public housing, I'd consider it."

Yes I'm sure that if we all had that, then we'd all be doing everything we could to get the top-flight education we'd need so that we could become teachers!

Or maybe, just maybe, some of us would sit on our lazy asses and say that those little punks at school don't deserve our wisdom, and enjoy the free government cheese without doing any work???
Just because some people are selfish doesn't mean everyone is. In fact, some thinkers like Willem Bonger seem to lay the blame for selfishness at the feet of the system in general.

In other words, don't ascribe your moral failures to others.
There isn't much I can possibly add to this heady discussion, except one liberal bomb that may be even farther left than Lane.

I think that private K-12 schools should be illegal in the US. They should not exist. Every kid should go to a public school. There would still be inequalities depending on location and funding, to be sure, but private schools siphon off many of the most concerned and involved parents.

I work at a semi-private school (complicated; it's partly subsidized by the French government and has their national education system . . .). But I see the advantages the kids have: smaller classes, more of my time as their college counselor than they would have in most public schools. And parents overall are much more involved. All I have to do is pick up the phone or send an email and the parent is all over it.

This is cultural in part as well, not just economic--the parent involvement. You can bash me as I;m sure you will, but I like to at least imagine what that would look like.
And RRL, not all teachers are in unions. Non-union states have teachers' associations that have some clout, but mainly as a check on excesses of legislatures, not clout in getting higher salaries. Public-school teachers often go a few years without raises.

And lest anyone think it's easy and those great benefits far outweigh the low salaries, spend a week or a day in a room with 20 or 30 9th-graders and see whether you still think it shouldn't pay as high as other professions.

I once--and this was in a private school, with a small class--had an 11th-grade class with a severely anorexic girl who shivered all the time because she was cold; a smart boy with severe depression who had to be coaxed to do anything; a guy who was a year older because he'd been held back a year for behavioral problems--and wanted the windows open while the anorexic girl shivered; a girl who was dyslexic; another guy who was repeating the year and who never turned anything in; a girl who had zero attention span and whose English wasn't very good; and three really bright girls who were model students. Public-school teachers deal with this variety of students all the time, and do not necessarily have a union to advocate for them.

I was lucky enough to be paid well. But there are plenty of teachers who have classes like that who are not paid the salary they deserve. Shouldn't someone who has to deal with these issues every day be paid well--a college professor's salary, or a principal's salary or even a superintendent's salary? I'm not even asking for a corporate executive's salary.
Unions are easily demonized as the "bad guys" in education, the same as in labor, because they ask for the unimaginable: parity between the managers and the workers. Not that unions do not sometimes defend bad teachers.

To analogize it to a familiar theme, defense attorneys must sometimes defend guilty, bad people. But everyone is entitled to the same defense before adjudicative bodies. If you will not stand up to defend those who don't deserve it, how can you make a principled argument to do it for those that do?
"In fact, some thinkers like Willem Bonger seem to lay the blame for selfishness at the feet of the system in general.

In other words, don't ascribe your moral failures to others."

I wouldn't dare presume to ascribe my FAILURES to others...especially my moral ones. Your lack of understanding of sarcasm, however, seems to make you want to ascribe what you think I meant, into points for your "fancy learnin' words."

And yet you make my point by saying that selfishness is caused by the system. Though I would hope you didn't meant the system we have in place now.

While your goal of educating dumb folks like us and our kids, may be laudable, it wouldn't work in practice because of people like me who clearly are lazy and ignorant and would just take our free education, free housing, free healthcare, equal pay for all jobs, sit on our happy socialist butts.

How do I know this? Well because I actually lived it. While the country I lived in clearly had many political and economic issues, it was by most measures, considered a socialist country.
Now, as for my moral failure of a family, I'm personally glad that they have, in the couple decades of good ol' capitalism, learned that those who work hard, don't expect handouts, and are measured against others find their place in the world, and at pretty lucrative rate.

I'm just glad I got here much sooner and benefited from learning all that on my own.
Normally, I very much enjoy the discourse that follows one of Professor Osler's thought provoking posts. Today, I was shocked with outright endorsements of Marxism and a proposal to statutorily prohibit private education for children. I use to tell people that strongly embraced "radical" positions to move to a country that had adopted similar priciples and see how long it takes for them to come crawling back to the USA. Now, some of these "radical" positions are legitimate national topics of discussion. You have till 2012 folks to keep floating these ideas as legitimate. Then us dumb, unedumucated rednecks with voting cards will demonstrate that fool me once, shame on me, fool me wait....wel you get the point. America won't be fooled twice.
Anonymous 5:59, my proposal will of course never happen. I know that, but my motives (as are Lane's, I'm sure) are very American: to give every citizen equal access to the same good education. I do think that US education would be better if all of us participated in the same system, rather than some opting out. My proposal is in the spirit of a vision where all Americans participate in the same goal: of keeping schools accountable for providing good education. And I don't know if that will ever really happen if some people are allowed to opt out.

Like I said, it'll never happen. But I think what Lane and I are talking about is simply easing the rich-poor disparities which are embedded in our current way of life, disparities which keep getting worse, not better.

The question is, how far should individualism be allowed to go? That's where the debate is.
Even though it's Friday, I'm going to post something short:

1) I'm with you Swissgirl; what is and is not "American" has shifted radically over the last two hundred years, just as the policy positions endorsed by each party. So easy on the "unamerican" rhetoric; anyone can twist hollow words to their end (as most politicians try to do every election).

2) More importantly, to echo Anon 5:59, I normally enjoy the thought-provoking discourse that follows one of Prof. Osler's posts, but the tone yesterday was tinging towards disrespectful, often forming more as personal attacks you see sometimes in the youtube comments more than a blog populated by intelligent people with different opinions.

I also don't like the direction that, perhaps Lane initiated, and RRL exacerbated, labels the redneck/southerner as either dumb or "authentic." This figure is a social construction, utilized and abused by all sides, and not helpful (or respectful to real southerners, conservative and liberal).
Agreed, Anon.
And people wonder why I react with hostility, whenever I continually get told by others not that they disagree with me, but rather that they are "shocked" that I might express a legitimate, if unpopular at a place like Baylor, political opinion, or get told that no one wants to listen to what I have say regarding politics.

It's all well and good and everyone is willing to indulge popular or widely-shared political opinions. A million of you people could come in here and say basically the same very moderate, very temperate things about politics and no one bats an eye. But the second someone has an opinion that's the least bit out of the American mainstream (although that blessedly isn't true of the rest of the world, thank you, Swissgirl), and all of a sudden people are "shocked" and appalled, as if it were somehow deviant to have Marxist beliefs in the United States.

So yes, perhaps I don't understand sarcasm, and perhaps I was a little harsh in my initial post, but c'mon -- am I supposed to bear outright hostility with good grace all the time, simply because my opinion happens to be the unpopular one?

1. I wasn't shocked by any of your opinions. Quite the contrary, they didn't surprise me in the slightest.

2. "at a place like Baylor" - alright man, come after the South, come after conservatism, come after my mama, but if you keep running down my beloved Baylor we about to have a problem.

3. I like hearing what you have to say about politics, I just disagree with all of it, for the most part.

4. "as if it were somehow deviant to have Marxist beliefs in the United States."

I wouldn't use the word "deviant" per se, because I don't consider Marxists to be on par with pederasts and people that practice bestiality or anything.

5. "am I supposed to bear outright hostility with good grace all the time"

No. I don't know when everyone got so sensitive around here, but I was just having fun. Verbal sparring. The back and forth. For goodness sakes, I used the line "na na na na boo boo" as an argument. For my part, I think I make my sarcasm fairly obvious. I enjoy the hostility that Lane expresses towards my opinions, and even the personal barbs, because IT IS OK TO FIGHT WITH EACH OTHER as long as we keep our gats out of it.

I think all caps conservative guy is funny. I think Lane can be funny, but it is difficult because the cold Siberian winters dull his wit.

I think polite discourse is fine, but discourse without humor, even sarcastic humor, is just no fun at all.

And I think you're all very American. And you probably have the birth certificates to prove it!
Yes, I think conservatives who appropriate that "dumb, uneducated redneck/Southerner" guise when they are actually highly educated are, for one, insulting people who have not been so fortunate and 2)making the debate more insidious and getting away from real issues and real solutions.

I'm a proud Southerner, too, and equally proud that I've been lucky enough to have received a good public education in my little Southern town. And proud that I have been able to use that education . . .

Okay, I'm really stopping now. This post generated a lot of emotion because it gets to the heart of what we believe as Americans.
RRL, I wasn't talking about you. I was talking about the anonymous commentor and something Dallas_ADA said a few weeks ago. You've never been discourteous to me, and I apologize if you thought anything was directed at you.
So RRL: Are you saying I'm not American because I don't have a birth certificate to prove I was born here?!? Geez, you rednecks will never learn!

And Lane, as I said before, don't take things so seriously. Most of us aren't here to drive you nuts, but to intelligently discuss things, and yes sometimes throw some sarcastic comments your way if we disagree.

I happen to think the comment that got your undies in a bunch last time was pretty spot on because you like to often post here. Nothing wrong with it, but I made it as a joke. Truth be told, if you weren't here to post, this would be a pretty boring blog without the back and forth comments section.
At 5:59 I did not intend to suggest anyone is unamerican. I respect free speech. I only hoped to point out that I have always enjoyed the well written opinions that I read here (NO, NOT YOU ALL CAPS GUY). I guess I just have never seen Lane go so far as to suggest that Marxism would work, its just that those other countries that tried it let politics get in the way (we would never let that happen here in the USA). And Swissgirl, I agree that a quality education should be available to everyone, but you suggested that it be illegal for private schools to even exist for K-12. Why do you draw the line there? Why not eliminate Baylor too? After all, there are a lot of privileged kids here that could give there money to the state instead. I mean, lets make it illegal to attend a private school at all. No wait, lets make all professional training in a private setting illegal, that way the government can give everyone an equal shot at the same education. I know I am being absurd.

At the end of the day, I am scared of big government. I would say "Sue Me," but thats just another area of politics I have a problem with.

My apologies if my original post at 5:59 smacked of an "unamerican" attack. It was not my intent at all. Guess I should have had a cup of coffee first, but not from South American beans...too much socialism down there.
What is more "util"--water or diamonds?

What is valued higher--water or diamonds.

For the majority of your list the marginal improvement those rare talents add (sports, execs) make them rare and valuable.

Society does not reward children of the wealthy (unless you think we /allow/ the dead to dispose of their things to the living)--their parents do.
Dallas_ADA, you misunderstand. I don't care if people disagree with me, and sarcasm doesn't bother me. But have you noticed that other people rarely are the targets of sarcasm? I don't post here any more than other people, but being singled out doesn't feel good.

And yes, RRL, sadly, Baylor has a higher incidence of ostracism of people that think or act differently than any of the other various schools I've attended. If it seems like I'm hypersensitive to it, well, right now I am.

Now that the dead horse is sufficiently beaten, I'm going to bed.
Anon 5:59/7:40, if you are still reading, thanks for your second comment. I do sincerely wish that there were only PUBLIC K-12 education in the US, although I know it would never happen. As for colleges, the US is the only country in the world with so many private colleges. Virtually every other country I can think of provides extremely low-cost public universities--Canada is the closest one. There are only a handful of private colleges there. Some of the best universities in the world are public.

My vision, though, stops at the level of K-12 education, simply because it's the education that is compulsory in the US. We don't require anybody to go to university or law school. At least if kids had the same level of exposure to good schools in their compulsory education, that would be a wonderful thing, in my mind.

No, I don't wish that every single bit of education would be public. Maybe it would be best,maybe not, but I am already too American to imagine that in our country.
Anon 5:59/7:40:

What is "big government"? How big is "big"? What parts are you ok with being big, and what parts are you ok with not being big? If you are ok with "small government," what is its essential role?

I might be convinced on this no private k-12 education thing! Call Arne Duncan!!!
MV-- How are you, man? I hope you are doing well.

As for children of the rich and their parents-- they are a part of our society, and the decision to pass loads of money to kids is common in our society. That is, it's fair to say that our society expects and approves of that generally; it is a societal value affirmed by individuals, just like all other societal norms.
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