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Putting the Gini back in the bottle.

“The Gini coefficient in my office is close to 1.0. How I yearn for the assembly line.” — An anonymous finance professional of arid wit.

I often see postings by friends on social media sites trumpeting the fact that the “gap between rich and poor” (whatever that might mean) is terrible in the United States and we must do something about it.

When confronted with such statements, I usually note that the Gini coefficient (which seems to be what they are referring to) is far lower in India, and yet most poor people in the United States would strongly resist trading places with someone in India at the same decile of income, while strangely most poor people in India probably would trade places with their counterpart in the United States.

The reply I generally get in return is either silence, or sometimes a pointer to some sort of document or video purporting to explain how damaging to society a big “gap between rich and poor” is. (Such materials are generally rather unconvincing, at least to me.)

I continue to hold that it is better to be eating well but to know that others are doing even better than you than it is to know that even though you are starving most other people are too. The former will keep you fed, while the latter should reasonably appeal only to those so encumbered by jealousy that they prefer universal misery to the success of others.

I suppose, however, that it is a question of personal values. To me, envy is not a rational basis for public policy, but others appear to feel it is the only one that counts.

43 comments to Putting the Gini back in the bottle.

  • Tedd

    “The gap between rich and poor” certainly can refer to the Gini coefficient. But mainly I think it’s just a rhetorical phrase that’s not tied to anything real at all. It’s just something that, for some perverse reason, a lot of people want to believe is important, in some vague way.

    As applied to income or wealth distribution, the Gini coefficient is scientism. Nobody has any idea what the ideal value would be, even if there were such a thing, and nobody can say with any certainty in any given case whether a change in Gini coefficient in either direction is a good thing, a bad thing, or neither. It doesn’t even uniquely measure distribution, since different distributions can have the same Gini coefficient. But that doesn’t matter, since there’s no plausible way to argue that any of the distributions with the same coefficient is superior to the others, either.

    “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” –Einstein

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    Perry, I think envy is the driving force that animates a lot of political feelings today. Take the calls by certain politicians for wealth taxes. They claim it is about fairness but the acrid flavour of the rhetoric gives the game away.

  • Andrew Duffin

    “those so encumbered by jealousy that they prefer universal misery to the success of others.”

    Pretty much a definition of socialism, n’est ce pas?

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Tedd: whether they mean the Gini coefficient or not, the end observation is the same: merely knowing there are much richer people than you does not tell you if you are living in luxury or squalor. The overall complaint about the “gap”, regardless of how it is measured, has more to do with an irrational desire for equality of outcomes than it does with a reasonable concern for the condition of the poor.

    I think a big part of the issue is the prevalence of the zero sum fallacy among people who are not well informed about economics. Since they presume that one man’s wealth must imply another man’s poverty, the presence of wealthy people in a society must necessarily be at the expense of others. This is irrational, but millions if not billions believe it.

  • From my admittedly narrow experience, it is somewhat different. It is about envy, but it does not mean that everyone who puts the concern about inequality high on his list of priorities is himself consumed with envy. Those who are not, are further divided into those who cynically manipulate the envy of others (i.e. politicians), and those who are genuinely (if largely misguidedly, in my view) concerned that the envy others feel is bound to incite all kinds of trouble, such as uprisings, revolutions, terrorism etc. To sum it all up, there are the envious, their manipulators and their appeasers.

  • Tedd

    Alisa:

    I like your distinctions among the kinds of people concerned with inequality. Also, there’s a group closely related to (or perhaps a sub-set of) your third group: those who treat the existence of envy in others as though it were an argument in favour of appeasement, ipso facto, without reference to any consequences of envy. I’ve never been able to figure out if those people are making an implied consequentialist argument, arguing from envy themselves but trying to look like it’s not they who are envious, or perhaps merely treating the envy of others as a valid counter-argument in itself.

  • Stonyground

    I recall that a few years ago there were people declaring that anyone living on half, or less than half, of a country’s average income was defined as living in poverty. This always struck me as being absurd. Not only is the definition totally arbitrary but Bill Gates moving to your country would move several hundred families into poverty without actually changing their income at all. Whoever it was that came up with this idea, I’m wondering which group, out of the categories proposed by Alisa, that this person would belong to.

  • Julie near Chicago

    1. “You can’t get enough of what you don’t want.” So people misguidedly stuff themselves with food they don’t want, like lettuce or linguini, and still aren’t satisfied because what they really want is ice cream and a doughnut. So they end up having a double-dip cone (modern-sized: huge) with a doughnut chaser. Or a half-pint of Gordon’s. Or a leeetle shopping spree at Wal-Mart or Nieman-Marcus.

    (This is not pure theorizing, nor gotten from the pop-psych books. ;) )

    Others, I think, may have some emotional need they can’t get satisfied: for attention, for affection, for respect or admiration; or for a lessening of bottled-up anger (“channel your anger”) or pain or fear; or perhaps just “feel dead inside,” or are fairly seriously clinically depressed — so, I think, they sometimes latch onto whatever resentful envy they find within, and whip it up in themselves (perhaps in the name of others) so as to fill the hole inside.

    2. But beyond all that, almost all of us are trained to be “fair” and to expect “fairness” from others. It’s simply not fair that some people should have so much more than others!

    I think there is some natural impulse to fairness–some combination of genuine sympathy and an urge for justice. (Justice: That “people should (get what they deserve.”)

    I think maybe a lot of decent people are trying to push for what they feel is fair.

    (And when you get right down to it, What did they guy in Henry Ford’s office who spent the day with his eyes closed and his feet up on his desk do that he got the big bucks, while the men out on the assembly floor worked their tushies off for 1/4th the wage?)

    Fairness. A very problematic concept. I believe it’s done great damage, but I don’t see its being bred out of human nature anytime soon, and it probably would not be good if it were — unintended consequences and all that.

    [I think that the distinction between fairness and justice-in-the-proper-sense (and what that might be), and the interplay between them as we develop our senses of them in childhood and onward, would be an interesting topic for discussion.]

  • Tedd: I was referring to what people really feel/think, pretenses aside. If we do get into pretenses, then we’ll also often find manipulators posing (and/or acting) as appeasers.

  • I do get the feeling though that I may be missing a part of your point?

    In any case, I certainly know people who are not at all envious, but who think that it is pragmatic (read, ‘good’) to appease the envious to maintain what they think of as ‘peace and stability’ through a minimal degree of equality.

  • Those would most certainly be the Manipulators, Stonyground. I think that most people are actually not envious by nature (at least not in the Western cultures – Arab Islamic culture is different). So, as much as it is about envy, it is even more about guilt. Guilt is produced by Manipulators. They base it on what envy is there, and then inflate it well beyond that initial base (which, as noted, is not that big to begin with). It reminds me of the extensive use the Communist regimes’ propaganda machines made of various historical uprisings – from Spartacus to French revolution and beyond. The Narrative always was the unbearably stark contrast between the Haves and the Haves-Not, and the Dire Consequences thereof. And come to think of it, this Narrative has not been restricted to the Soviet Bloc. Even the latest version of Les Misérables still smacks of some of that.

  • I think that the distinction between fairness and justice-in-the-proper-sense (and what that might be), and the interplay between them as we develop our senses of them in childhood and onward, would be an interesting topic for discussion.

    Indeed.

  • Yes, I’ll shut up now…:-)

  • Tedd

    Alisa:

    I think the kind of people Stoneyground described are simply the envious. That simplistic definition of poverty is typical of the speciousness of someone who approaches the issue from a subjective, impassioned perspective.

    I may not have done a good job of describing the sub-category I had in mind. It’s the sort of person who simply says, “Some people feel envy,” as though that were an argument in itself. I’ve been met with that response (and similar responses in other contexts) many times. It seems to suggest that the mere presence of disagreement about an issue somehow implies that there’s a sound counter to the argument you’ve made, without actually making that counter-argument.

    Perhaps it’s merely a symptom of the fallacy that the equal right to hold an opinion implies an equal validity of opinion. Some people do seem to think that way.

  • Perhaps it’s merely a symptom of the fallacy that the equal right to hold an opinion implies an equal validity of opinion. Some people do seem to think that way.

    I think that’s the likely explanation.

    On Stonyground’s point, I think that the Envious and the Manipulators (AKA the Guilt Manufacturers) are connected by a symbiotic relationship. The sort of “mathematical” definition of poverty described by Stonyground sounds like something that a Manipulator (i.e. a member of the political and cultural elite) would come up with. Someone with a Degree in Social Sciences. But later on such definitions and similar assertions may permeate the popular culture, and eventually you may hear it repeated by a Have-Not without a Degree to “back it up”, using it as justification for his envy towards the Haves. An envy which he may have always felt, or which may have been inflated out of nothing by the Manipulators.

  • John Francis

    This piece, and the comments that come with it, are just a sustained ad hominem, against people who have real poltical arguments, I will not offer any because it seems that rhetofic and misplaced generalization are what this blog is about and to respond to that with detailed anayisis is to waste my time. There is no real analysis of anything here. I have been reading through this, apprently radical, blog for a few weeks and it seems to me there is no radical dissent at all, just a complete defense of the status-quo in modern western (especcially capitalist) societies.

    If you assume that money is the measure of wealth, of course you think that other people are envious, because you yourself wish them to value money as much as you do, and if they don’t… well it must be them that secretly overvalues it. When in fact most people with radical ideas especcialy left libertarians think that money is not a measure of wealth, but that a measure of wealth comes in how many people are being fed, housed and given medical care. If, and this is a big if, money helped create (though I do not think it can be argued that it was solely money) these types of wealth then that is an argument that is well worth looking into; but the wealth is not the money.

  • Plamus

    Perry, add to your excellent retort about the Gini coefficient of India this and this – two of the best posts from a wealth of great ones by Mark Perry. The data are US, but I don’t expect them to be very different for the UK.

  • I have been reading through this, apprently radical, blog for a few weeks and it seems to me there is no radical dissent at all, just a complete defense of the status-quo in modern western (especcially capitalist) societies.

    Well I wish there were some really capitalist societies in the west for us to defend rather than just ‘somewhat’ capitalist societies. But as we do not support regulatory statism, we are not defending the status quo. So you have not been understanding what you have been reading very well.

    When in fact most people with radical ideas especcialy left libertarians…

    Yeah, people who are not actually libertarians. And radical my arse. Same old tired failed collectivism when you regress it to the core and decode the dissembling verbiage.

    think that money is not a measure of wealth, but that a measure of wealth comes in how many people are being fed, housed and given medical care.

    Well Jesus might have produced food out of thin air for people, fish and bread or whatever the hell it was said to be, but here in the real world, it takes a trade based system with several choices expressed via… money… to feed, house and heal people if you actually want it done effectively (which in reality many collectivist actually don’t). So yeah, money is a pretty good way of measuring wealth. It is not the totality of wealth, but it is a great way to measure it.

  • Julie near Chicago

    John Francis,

    If your “few weeks” spent reading this weblog has persuaded you that most of us here think that “money is the measure of wealth,” there are two possibilities that I can see. First, you either haven’t read with any care to speak of; second, you came with a pre-formed opinion and–well, haven’t read with any care to speak of. Or haven’t pondered what you read.

    Today’s topic, for instance, has to do with the “gap” between “rich and poor.” Those who are distressed mostly loudly and publically about this gap do, in fact, measure it in money; Mr. Metzger notes in his posting that however large the “gap” in as measured in money, it says nothing about the standard of living of “the poor” (however that designation is defined), since the real standard of living–in fact, the REAL WEALTH–of “the poor” doesn’t seem to correlate very well at all.

    In other words, of COURSE “money is not the measure of welth.” Sorry to disappoint you. (Well, perhaps I’m not, really….)

  • Julie near Chicago

    LOL! Well, PdH, I guess you came from the front while I assaulted from behind. I just saw your comment. I suggest that rather than coming to blows about it, we all adjourn to the local pub or tavern and discuss it thoroughly over a few pints.

    Or perhaps there’s other more interesting stuff we could talk about. :)

  • Tedd

    When in fact most people with radical ideas especcialy left libertarians think that money is not a measure of wealth, but that a measure of wealth comes in how many people are being fed, housed and given medical care.

    For someone who complains about ad hominem arguments, you’re pretty quick to equivocate!

  • Tedd

    We may be being a bit ungenerous to John Francis. After all, he is apparently relatively new here but has already had a Perry-fisking (a daunting experience for anyone) and some snipes from me and Julie. (Not judging, Julie.)

    John, I for one would like to read your analysis of this, or any other issue posted about here. No snipe, I really mean that. I caution you to form your analysis carefully, though. Samizdata commenters are like people everywhere: we tend to scrutinize contrary points of view more carefully than concordant ones. Also, be careful not to flatter yourself regarding the originality of your ideas. I’ve been commenting here for quite a few years and I’m sure I’ve made very few arguments that hadn’t already been considered and, in many cases, rejected by other commenters. Like most places there’s a degree of mutual admiration here, but contrary points of view get a fair reading from most. Fair, but not necessarily generous. By all means comment, but bring your A game, and try not to make Perry’s day.

    Incidentally, it’s not necessarily an ad hominem argument to talk about someone’s motives or emotions. It’s only an ad hominem argument if you talk about their motivies or emotions in an attempt to invalidate their conclusions. For example, if I were to argue that the Gini coefficient is flawed because the people who use it are motivated by envy, that would be an ad hominem argument. But if I argue that the Gini coefficient is flawed for reasons having to do with the Gini coefficient itself, and also argue that it remains popular because of envy, that is not an ad hominem argument. It’s actually two arguments: an argument about the Gini coefficient per se and an argument about its popularity. Either argument could be wrong, but neither is ad hominem.

  • John Francis

    Thanks for your very kind responses, lol.

    Yes I may have been hasty in my generaliztions of your blog, I apologize for that.

    Just a couple of responses

    “Yeah, people who are not actually libertarians”

    Which is bassically a No True Scotman Fallacy.

    I think you should look into the history and usage of the word “libertarian” before you engage in fallacious arguments about it.

    “Same old tired failed collectivism when you regress it to the core and decode the dissembling verbiage.”

    Not all left libertarians are collectivist. The sentence qualifier “decode the dissembling verbiage” is 1) to restrict poltical discourse to mere word-games, and 2) shows that you engage solely in confirmation bias when trying ot evaluate other people’s arguments.

    “Also, be careful not to flatter yourself regarding the originality of your ideas”

    eh? Show me where I claimed my ideas were original.

    “Incidentally, it’s not necessarily an ad hominem argument to talk about someone’s motives or emotions”

    it is a ad hominem when 1) you don’t know each particular person’s motives, and ascribe the same diagnosis to everyone. and 2) that you think just because they are envious that it disqualifies the arguments they make in favour of the actions they propse, it might altenatively be completely rational and good for everybody. I oculd just as easily accuse capitalist of being greedy money-grubber, but I know for single fact that in some instances people genuinly do think that capitalism is good system for humanity.

    “Samizdata commenters are like people everywhere: we tend to scrutinize contrary points of view more carefully than concordant ones”

    I think Popper said it right when he said that all arguments should be equally scrutinzed, no matter what. Nietzche said it even better when he said that when you agree with someone a lot, you should be suspicious of your own motives, or question your own motives, or somehthing like that.

    “When in fact most people with radical ideas especcialy left libertarians think that money is not a measure of wealth, but that a measure of wealth comes in how many people are being fed, housed and given medical care.

    For someone who complains about ad hominem arguments, you’re pretty quick to equivocate!”

    Where is the equivocation?

    but this (from another poster) is definelty bordering on an equivocation

    “Well Jesus might have produced food out of thin air for people, fish and bread or whatever the hell it was said to be, but here in the real world, it takes a trade based system with several choices expressed via… money… to feed, house and heal people if you actually want it done effectively (which in reality many collectivist actually don’t). So yeah, money is a pretty good way of measuring wealth. It is not the totality of wealth, but it is a great way to measure it.”

    see how you slipped the word “money” in there when it was not needed? food is not created by money, it is in fact created out of naturally occuring procceses on the earth and becomes more plentiful when it is encouraged by human effort.

    ” First, you either haven’t read with any care to speak of; second, you came with a pre-formed opinion and–well, haven’t read with any care to speak of. ”

    as to your first option, I did read with care, but probably not as comprehensively as I could, again I apologize. and your second, I actually stumbled up on the blog by accident, because of “Popper” in my google search terms, So i had no conception at all about the blog, escpeccialy pre-conceptions.

  • John Francis

    Today’s topic, for instance, has to do with the “gap” between “rich and poor.” Those who are distressed mostly loudly and publically about this gap do, in fact, measure it in money; Mr. Metzger notes in his posting that however large the “gap” in as measured in money, it says nothing about the standard of living of “the poor” (however that designation is defined), since the real standard of living–in fact, the REAL WEALTH–of “the poor” doesn’t seem to correlate very well at all.

    In other words, of COURSE “money is not the measure of welth.” Sorry to disappoint you. (Well, perhaps I’m not, really….)

    #

    Actually, this clairfies the post a lot, if indeed this was the the intended point of the Blogpost. And I see that redristibuting wealth if it means “redristributing money” is actually not what I think should be redristributed. if anything, I think society has the potential to abolish money altogethe, but that is my idealism that is mildly informed by reading too much Iain Banks’s culture novels.

    Captitalism is bias (in the technological sense) towards centralisation of money and therefore creates anoter power artifical power dynamic ( unless the capital you use is non-interest bearing).- just like states are bias towards centrilzation of power in the sense of coercion, war and levying taxes.

    By the way, if I was going to describe my views I would call it collectivist (wait…) in the sense that I believe that an anarchist society should have all types of anarchism, and people come together with the people they want to associate with, this means that I really do not think anarcho-capitalism is bad, it is only bad if there is only anarcho-capitalism and people cannot voluntarily dissociate from it, which means basically I am dead against minarchism.

  • I believe that an anarchist society should have all types of anarchism, and people come together with the people they want to associate with, this means that I really do not think anarcho-capitalism is bad, it is only bad if there is only anarcho-capitalism and people cannot voluntarily dissociate from it, which means basically I am dead against minarchism.

    I’m all for that, John, aside from a semantic – but an important – caveat: these different associations according to different forms of ‘anarchism’ (whatever that means for each of these associations) within the larger ‘anarchist’ system would, in fact, constitute different and separate societies. But like I said, I’m all for it. For example, if a group of people want to form an old-style kibbutz, I really couldn’t care less – as long as the rest of the members of the wider society are not required to join it or to subsidize it. Ditto for any other form of collectivist associations. As an individualist, I am not against collectivism per se, only against its imposition others.

  • On “ad-hominem” etc.: my personal interest – more like fascination, really – is in people’s motives, things that make them tick (psychology?). Generalization is a tool we all use to study all kinds of natural phenomena, and human behavior is no exception. Still, this is my personal interest – those who share it are welcome to comment, those who are not, are welcome to ignore, all subject to discretion of the SI Editorial Pantheon.

  • see how you slipped the word “money” in there when it was not needed? food is not created by money, it is in fact created out of naturally occuring procceses on the earth and becomes more plentiful when it is encouraged by human effort.

    Food is created out of naturally occurring processes for hunter gatherers. Farms are factories for food rather than naturally occurring processes just as even though brick might be described as made of naturally occurring sand and clay, I doubt you would think of bricks as coming about via naturally occurring processes.

    A farmers field requires a huge amount of effort to maintain and much of that work involves fighting against naturally occurring processes. For farmers, it requires tools, machinery and chemicals. They acquire those by paying someone else to provide them. With money. That is how the farmer express his several choice to invest in a tool (as opposed to, say, a holiday in Bognor Regis). The reason we use fungible money as a measure of wealth is that it facilitates people expressing different choices about how to use disposable ‘wealth’ very effectively.

    It is much more flexible than, say, going to a agricultural planning committee and asking them to allow you to have a tractor (who even if they appear to use money as a measure of things, they actually allocate resources by pointing a Kalashnikov or a spear at someone and saying “You will produce this and give it to that person over there or we will kill you” rather than paying for them via a market) … or holding a vote in the local village to allow the farmer to ask another village who can produce a tractor to hold a vote to allow the production of a tractor in return for 50 bags of grain or whatever democratic anarcho-syndicalist economic fantasy one can imagine.

    So money is used to measure wealth and allow easy choice as to how that wealth gets moved around in return for ‘stuff’. So yes, the two things, money and wealth are not the same thing, but there is a very large overlap between them to the point that money is generally a very good indication of ‘wealth’.

  • Laird

    “When in fact most people with radical ideas especcialy left libertarians think that money is not a measure of wealth, but that a measure of wealth comes in how many people are being fed, housed and given medical care.”

    I have problems with both halves of that sentence.

    First, money is indeed “a measure of wealth”. True, it is not the only such measure, but it is indisputably one measure. Wealth is merely accumulated surplus, and whatever form it takes (land, tangible assets, undivided interests in productive activities, etc.) for simplicity it is quantified in terms of money. Money (meaning currency) itself is not wealth, but it is representative of wealth in a very meaningful sense.

    Second, “how many people are being fed, housed and given medical care” can be a measure of the collective wealth of a society, but that is not helpful when discussing disparities of wealth or income among individual members of that society. And it certainly says nothing about how wealth should be distributed among those members. It’s a tautology which adds nothing to the discussion.

  • Tedd

    John:

    An equivocation is when you use one meaning of a term in place of another meaning, without distinguishing between them. For example, “ad hominem” can mean either an ad hominem logical fallacy or merely any personal attack. The former meaning is what you’ll more commonly find used here; the two meanings are often distinguished by using the phrase “ad hominem argument” to clarify, as I did. I explained why the comments so far presented (at least my own, and what I had read of others) were not ad hominem arguments. You responded that they were ad hominem, apparently using the other meaning, which was clearly not what I was talking about. That’s called equivocation.

    That, of course, wasn’t the equivocation I referred to when I called you out on equivocation earlier, since you hadn’t made that one, yet. In that case, you used the phrase “a measure of wealth” to refer to both money as a literal measure of wealth, in a metrological sense, and the well-being of a society in terms of food, housing, etc. — a metaphorical measure of wealth. Two entirely different meanings of the phrase, not differentiated in your argument. Hence, an equivocation.

    It may be that these equivocations weren’t deliberate on your part. It may be that you didn’t understand that ad hominem could mean two entirely different things, for example. But that’s what I meant about bringing your A game. Using a term or expression here that you don’t really understand is risky; I know from experience.

  • people with radical ideas especcialy left libertarians

    I have long been curious about the use of the term ‘radical’, especially since more often than not in the political context it is used in conjunction with the term ‘left’. I therefore wonder, is ‘radical’ by definition ‘left’, or is ‘left’ by definition ‘radical’?

  • Tedd

    Alisa:

    The word “radical” was used more or less as a synonym for “socialist” by socialists in the late nineteenth century. I’m not sure if it was to avoid stigma associated with the word socialist, or perhaps just because they liked the word and, at that point in history, socialism seemed to be only alternative that was radically different from the status quo. If you read English literature from that era you will often see “radical” used that way.

    I think John is using it in the same way, but it’s possible the word has taken on a somewhat different meaning on the left over the past hundred years or so. There seems to be a tower-of-babel problem with political debate, wherein common terms keep shifting their meaning, making it difficult for people on different sides of an issue to have a proper conversation about it.

  • Yes Tedd, I am aware of that usage – ditto ‘anarchists’. John wrote in his first comment here:

    I have been reading through this, apprently radical, blog for a few weeks and it seems to me there is no radical dissent at all, just a complete defense of the status-quo in modern western (especcially capitalist) societies.

    Yep, I think you may be right, and John still lives in the 19th century:-P (no offense, John:-)) Seriously, it’s as if it is automatically assumed that dissent can only come from the left.

  • Tedd

    Alisa:

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to tell you how to suck eggs, I just though from your question that you might not have been aware of the word’s history.

    Seriously, it’s as if it is automatically assumed that dissent can only come from the left.

    I’ve always found that odd, too. That and what seems to be a fetishization of dissent, as though the act of dissenting was what mattered, not your reasons for dissension. You see a similar phenomenon in the use of the word “activist.” It often seems as though it’s either the fact of political action itself that matters, not what is being acted on, or perhaps that “activism” itself is only conceived of as political action toward a certain kind of goal. Political action toward a different kind of goal is perhaps not considered “activism” at all.

    I can never decide if these lexical shifts are a clever tactic to limit debate by controlling the terms of reference, or merely the normal human tendency to create in-group jargon. Probably a bit of both, I suppose.

  • John Francis

    An equivocation is when you use one meaning of a term in place of another meaning, without distinguishing between them.
    An equivocation is a little bit different to this. it is when you employ both meanings of the term to win yuor argument. I did not do this I made it clear that I do not accept that money is a measure of wealth.

    For example, “ad hominem” can mean either an ad hominem logical fallacy or merely any personal attack. The former meaning is what you’ll more commonly find used here; the two meanings are often distinguished by using the phrase “ad hominem argument” to clarify, as I did.

    I think if I said ad hominem about an argument I mean it as a logical fallacy which in this case, was obviously clear, and if not then you can rely on my clarification in my follow up post. sorry, but you are quiblling.

    I explained why the comments so far presented (at least my own, and what I had read of others) were not ad hominem arguments. You responded that they were ad hominem, apparently using the other meaning, which was clearly not what I was talking about. That’s called equivocation.

    not eqivocation, you just misunderstood me.

    Yep, I think you may be right, and John still lives in the 19th century:-P (no offense, John:-)) Seriously, it’s as if it is automatically assumed that dissent can only come from the left.

    I am not a socialist, in any sense. No offense taken, I would rather have been influenced by 19th century poltics than, for instance Ayn Rand, Rothbard etc. the former being stuck in 4th century bc and the latter being stuck in a dead end intepretation of economics.

    dissent can come from all areas, and its defined as going against the status-quo. Capitalism is part of the status-quo.

    you might say “merr, but its not true captialism,” which is clearly a no true scotsman fallacy (yet again), I could easily just say well, the other end of the status-quo i.e socialism, is not real socialism. Both of these (capitalism and socialism) are both the problem, especcialy when they are pitted against eachother in a mixed economy, they both seek to remove rights etc. Socialism (especially of the marxist variety) through the state, and capitalism through the economics of scarcity.

    Actually Tedd, stirner was a radical but he was not a socialist. Stop engaging in historical revisionism. Socialists might have said they were “radical” and used it as a synoym for socialist (I think it was more likely the media trying to paint socialists in a bad light, radical being a pejorative term in those times, and the socialists reclaimed it as a good thing, same happened with the word “libertarian”), but they were wrong. Now, tedd, anarcho-capitalists have succeed in re-intepreting the meaning of libertarian so that it is synonymou with Anarcho-capitalism, which is exactly the same thing you accused socialists of doing with the word “radical”.

    That, of course, wasn’t the equivocation I referred to when I called you out on equivocation earlier, since you hadn’t made that one, yet. In that case, you used the phrase “a measure of wealth” to refer to both money as a literal measure of wealth, in a metrological sense, and the well-being of a society in terms of food, housing, etc. — a metaphorical measure of wealth.

    I still do not think you have substantiated your claim that I was equivocating, you have only succeeded in showing me that you do not understand my argument.

  • Also, the Left is sometimes Radical, but the Right is Extreme far more often than sometimes.

    Probably a bit of both, I suppose.

    Yes, I think so too.

    Oh, the activists. Don’t they become Community Organizers when they grow up?

  • Julie near Chicago

    The Left is also (also???) “Extreme” far more often than sometimes. I’d call 120 million dead of Leftism in the 20th Century fairly extreme–and the homefolk Far-Lefties have no problem with putting some 20 million of AMERICANS to death, at least such is the idea of Young Billy and his followers.

    Not meant as a snark, Alisa–I think I don’t really understand what you’re getting at in your first sentence.

    . . .

    “Radical ideas”–either radically (that is, profoundly) different ideas, the adjective “different” having been left out; or actual “radical ideas,” that is, “root ideas” or “profound ideas.” I think more likely the first understanding. I hate to tell John, but I think we do dissent from the political and ideological “mainstream,” let alone the Left, pretty radically (dissent on the very root of things; at the radix; on the fundamentals). OED: “Radical: A basis; fundamental thing or principle.”

    “Activists”–it seems to me that term arrived with the arrival of specifically leftist political-ideological activism in the 1960′s, but then I was pretty much out of the loop until college. IF that’s correct, I assume the label attached to the lefties. Of course now the liberals have started accusing conservative judges of “activism,” and non-lefties/liberals are beginning to look at our own efforts as “activism.” Well…so “activism” is just the policy of being active in trying to gain support for your political ideological agenda. Fine.

  • Julie: I could be wrong, but its original meaning (i.e. something akin to ‘fundamentalist’) notwithstanding, the word ‘radical’ has long been used pretty much synonymously with ‘extreme’, at least in the political context. The only difference between the ways these two terms are used is that ‘radical’ always used to describe the Left, while ‘extreme’ is always used to describe the Right.

    the Left is sometimes Radical, but the Right is Extreme far more often than sometimes

    What I meant by that in light of the above, is that judging from the media etc., the Right has a much stronger tendency towards extremism than the Left does.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Ah! I get it. And of course “radical” is always rather flattering (since to be a Radical Dissenter who Speaks Truth to Power, i.e. a Leftie), whereas “Extreme” is certainly a pejorative.

    I don’t suppose there would be any point in my sending one of English Lessons to the New York Times, HuffPo (although I very rarely go there), and suchlike. Ah well…I can communicate, sort of, with two cats and a dog (or at least they can communicate with me), but I’m really pretty busy trying to teach them simple imperatives, such as “NO!”

    Thanks, Alisa. All is clear now. :)

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    Julie, maybe you have an accent, but are unaware of it? Your ‘companian animals’ a.k.a. pets, might think you are saying NOW instead of NO. Just listen to a few Dr. Who episodes as a pronounciation guide. Then you’zell be speaking proper.

  • Julie, is this one of yours by any chance?

  • Julie near Chicago

    NO !!!! *SNARL*

    Or…well…probably…yes (tiny, pathetic, whispery admission)

    Cats have staff…yes…but do they HAVE to act like The Donald beating up the Apprentices on The Apprentice?

    Excellent find, Alisa. Thanks for the laugh! ;)

  • Julie near Chicago

    NickngG, Perhaps that’s the answer then. I’ll try your method. At the least it should put my son-in-law in a good mood, as he is a huge WHO fan. :>)

  • John Francis

    I am sorry about the atrocious editing on my post, I am not used to the editor here.