Sunday, February 07, 2010

Rethinking Economics (and Education) with Samuel Bowles (of Bowles and Gintis Fame)

In . . . a very unequal society, the people at the top have to spend a lot of time and energy keeping the lower classes obedient and productive.

Inequality leads to an excess of what Bowles calls “guard labor.” In a 2007 paper on the subject, he and co-author Arjun Jayadev, an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts, make an astonishing claim: Roughly 1 in 4 Americans is employed to keep fellow citizens in line and protect private wealth from would-be Robin Hoods. . . .

“Being willing to sit in a boring classroom for 12 years, and then sign up for four more years and then sign up for three or more years after that—well, that’s a pretty good measure of your willingness to essentially do what you’re told,” Bowles says. . . .

Three more numbers, none of them lucky:




The first is how many years have passed since Bowles was inspired by King to “put his heart and his head together” and study economic inequality.

The second is the Gini measure of inequality for the US back then, a level comparable to other wealthy nations like Japan or Israel today.

The third is the most recent US Gini, as calculated by the Census Bureau. It’s at a level comparable to the Philippines, a former colony of islands where every other person lives on less than $2 a day, or Rwanda, an even poorer country in Central Africa that was home to a genocide 16 years ago—a country whose name is often synonymous with hopelessness.

Schooling in Capitalist America, Bowles and Gintis, 1976

"Schooling in Capitalist America Revisited," Bowled and Gintis, 2001

Website at Santa Fe Institute with CV etc.

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