Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.


Economic Analysis

What $1.2 Trillion Can Buy

The American Way of Equality

. . . Two great themes run through American history, Lipset wrote in his 1963 book "The First New Nation": achievement and equality. These are often in tension because when you leave unequally endowed people free to achieve, you get unequal results.

Though Lipset never quite put it this way, the clear message from his writings is that when achievement and equality clash in America, achievement wins. Or to be more precise, the achievement ethos reshapes the definition of equality. When Americans use the word "equality," they really mean "fair opportunity." When Americans use the word "freedom," they really mean "opportunity."

Lipset was relentlessly empirical, and rested his conclusions on data as well as history and philosophy. He found that Americans have for centuries embraced individualistic, meritocratic, antistatist values, even at times when income inequality was greater than it is today.

Large majorities of Americans have always believed that individuals are responsible for their own success, Lipset reported, while people in other countries are much more likely to point to forces beyond individual control. Sixty-five percent of Americans believe hard work is the key to success; only 12 percent think luck plays a major role.

In his "American Exceptionalism" (1996), Lipset pointed out that 78 percent of Americans endorse the view that "the strength of this country today is mostly based on the success of American business." Fewer than a third of all Americans believe the state has a responsibility to reduce income disparities, compared with 82 percent of Italians. Over 70 percent of Americans believe "individuals should take more responsibility for providing for themselves" whereas most Japanese believe "the state should take more responsibility to ensure everyone is provided for."

America, he concluded, is an outlier, an exceptional nation. And though his patriotism pervaded his writing, he emphasized that American exceptionalism is "a double-edged sword."

Political movements that run afoul of these individualistic, achievement-oriented values rarely prosper. The Democratic Party is now divided between moderates -- who emphasize individual responsibility and education to ameliorate inequality -- and progressive populists, who advocate an activist state that will protect people from forces beyond their control. Given the deep forces in American history, the centrists will almost certainly win out. . . .

My Quiz Results:


At 1/22/2007 11:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How come you didn't provide a link to the quiz?

At 1/22/2007 4:14 PM, Blogger Degolar said...

Lazy. But if you click on "My Quiz Results" then "How it works" on that page, you'll get a menu up top that you can use to get to the start of the quiz.

At 1/22/2007 8:12 PM, Blogger Leelu said...

I'm a moderate liberal populist. I had no idea.

I really did fall right on the convergence point of all three. It was eerie.

I've told you before that I thought I was a moderate, and everyone said I was as left as left could be. So there. :P

At 1/22/2007 8:23 PM, Blogger Degolar said...

Nevermind my earlier comment. Try this instead:

At 1/24/2007 11:25 AM, Blogger Hadrian said...

Hard-Core liberal, a couple of clicks down towards populist and to the left of Degolar... but is that really surprising? However, I felt a lot of the questions were poorly worded and expressed no opinion on some that I do have opinions on, just not in a way the question was designed to measure.


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