Wikipedia:Reference desk/Archives/Humanities/2010 March 22

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March 22[edit]

Height and weight of Hitler[edit]

The above thread about the colorized picture of Hitler has me wondering, how big was he? The picture makes him look rather frail and skinny. He also doesn't look that tall. The link says that the photo was taken during his 50th birthday celebration. Though, judging by his posture, I'd put him probably 20 years past that. Dismas|(talk) 00:32, 22 March 2010 (UTC)

Adolf Hitler's health doesn't give either (bar saying he gained weight as he aged); any amount of unreliable sources Google finds put his height at 5'8" or 5'9", but I can't find anything reliable. Given all the things allegedly wrong with him (in Adolf Hitler's health) it'd be no wonder he'd look old. -- Finlay McWalterTalk 00:45, 22 March 2010 (UTC)
According to this[1], Adolf Hitler weighed 175 lbs and stood at 5'9". But yes, he does look frail in that photo. And the weird part is that this is from April 1939 before Parkinsons and the weight of the war took its toll on him. A Quest For Knowledge (talk) 00:51, 22 March 2010 (UTC)
That would make him just about my size. Interesting... Dismas|(talk) 01:57, 22 March 2010 (UTC)
You don't have any desire for world domination, do you? A Quest For Knowledge (talk) 02:09, 22 March 2010 (UTC)
Desire? Yeah. Motivation? No. Dismas|(talk) 02:49, 22 March 2010 (UTC)
Being a dictator is a stressful job. I wonder if he liked that hat because it made him look taller. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 01:11, 22 March 2010 (UTC)
They saved Hitler's height, see Heightism#In politics. meltBanana 03:47, 22 March 2010 (UTC)

Lil Rob[edit]

I heard Lil Rob died is it true? they said he died from lung cancer does anybody Know if its true —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 08:20, 22 March 2010 (UTC)

The article indicates that some users are trying to post a death date, but it's getting reverted due to unreliable sources. Probably the best bet would be to google ["Lil Rob"]. If he actually has died, it would likely pop up early in the list. And if so, see if any major news sources have it, or only blogs and other fly-by-night stuff. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 09:29, 22 March 2010 (UTC)
The first story that comes up is this one[2] which addresses this internet rumor and denies it. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 09:39, 22 March 2010 (UTC)
FYI, the page is now semi'd in order to keep most of the yokels away from it until this false rumor dies out. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 08:44, 23 March 2010 (UTC)

US health care reform - pre-existing conditions[edit]

I understand that the health care reform bill that just passed in the US includes a provision to prevent insurance companies withholding cover from people with pre-existing conditions, but I can't find any explanation of precisely what that means. One news correspondent on TV said it's to do with being cut off after you get ill (does that really happen?), others seem to think its to do with applying for new coverage. Which is it? Also, are the insurance companies required to cover treatment for that pre-existing condition or just for other conditions that arise after the coverage is taken out? --Tango (talk) 12:35, 22 March 2010 (UTC)

Basically when you applied for health care in any state that allowed pre-existing conditions, it asked you to list all of your health conditions that you were coming into the health care with (diabetes, cancer, whatever), and these would be used to assess your risk and whether they'd let you in to their plan and your premium if so. Now the trick here was that if they let you in and you are then diagnosed with cancer, if they can establish that you had the cancer before you applied for health care (whether you knew it or not), they could drop you from the health care plan, saying it was pre-existing and undeclared in your initial application (and had lawyerly ways of insinuating that you should have known about it even if you didn't) and thus violated the agreement you made with health insurance company, and thus they could terminate the agreement. Yes, this happened, and not infrequently. Additionally, if you did actually declare your cancer in your application, it would either be rejected or result in impossible premiums. So it's at the nexus of the two things you describe: it's about the application process, but it's also about how the application process gets invoked in disputing later conditions.
Even supporters of the health care status quo generally thought this was a particularly dastardly business practice (and counter to the very idea of insurance), and in many states it had already been outlawed, but it was not uniformly so. See Pre-existing condition for more details, statistics on public opinion, various state laws, etc. It was one of the more egregious examples of something that makes good, capitalist business sense (drop the expensive ones if possible), but is considered by most to be at worst morally repugnant, at best counter to the entire purpose of health insurance. --Mr.98 (talk) 13:50, 22 March 2010 (UTC)
They would also deny coverage to cancer patients who developed cancer well after they were insured, on the basis of them having "lied on their application, making the contract void", if they didn't report some minor thing, like teenage acne years ago. And I agree that unrestricted capitalism leads to some horrid practices in health insurance. StuRat (talk) 14:52, 22 March 2010 (UTC)
  • Incidentally, this exact trick (although not for cancer coverage) was dramatized in the most recent episode of the TV series The Good Wife. --Anon, 19:57 UTC, March 22, 2010.
Right, I had forgot that part. Yes, any "undisclosed pre-existing condition" could be the basis for denying later coverage, even if it was not the real reason they were denying the coverage. There are also some really ugly definitions of "pre-existing condition," famously treating domestic violence as a pre-existing condition. --Mr.98 (talk) 15:46, 22 March 2010 (UTC)
Thank you - that is a very useful description of the status quo. The article you linked to is rather unclear, though - it uses terminology without defining it (it is probably commonly used in the US, but I'm not familiar with it). For example, what do phrases like "Maximum pre-existing condition exclusion period" mean? Likewise, the rest of the headings in that section. Do you know what the recent bill will actually change? --Tango (talk) 15:00, 22 March 2010 (UTC)
The exclusion period is how long you have to wait before signing up for health care. I think it's meant to make it so that if you are dying of cancer, they can wait to see if it really crops up. The idea from the business standpoint is to limit people who buy healthcare just when they are sick. (Which makes sense in an ideal world—you don't want healthy people not paying into insurance rolls, only to sign up when they get sick. In a less ideal world—one in which health insurance is tied primarily to employment, and out-of-pocket costs for insurance are extraordinarily prohibitive—it is problematic.) "Look back" is how much time prior to your plan starting you have to declare/they can look for preexisting conditions (so if it is unlimited, they can go back forever in your life; if it is six months, they have to find things prior to that). Permanent exclusion is about whether the health care plan can ban covering certain pre-existing conditions entirely—just because you have a pre-existing condition does not mean that you can't get healthcare, obviously—otherwise nobody would ever be able to change insurance carriers. This is I think primarily in reference to pre-existing conditions you have declared, and they don't prohibit you from joining the plan. (Just because you have health issues doesn't mean you are automatically rejected.)
The bottom of the page discusses the recent bill's reforms (some of which existed in individual states already—Massachusetts, for example, had already banned most of this pre-existing condition stuff). I'll admit that some of these is insurance-ese to me, but the gist is that pre-existing conditions can no longer be used as a basis for denying or canceling health insurance.--Mr.98 (talk) 15:46, 22 March 2010 (UTC)

Evolution and redemption[edit]

My question is about two groups of people.

Where can I find population figures regarding the intersection set, that is to say, regarding people who believe in all of those things? (I used "figures" in the plural, in order to accommodate different times and different places and different surveys.) -- Wavelength (talk) 15:55, 22 March 2010 (UTC)

Catholicism, and Charles Darwin. Comet Tuttle (talk) 17:02, 22 March 2010 (UTC)
Your first category needs some careful definition to be useful. 'Belief in evolution' can mean a lot of things. 'Does evolution ever occur' is answered yes by most people, even those who believe that the earth is only 6000 years old. On the other hand 'did all life come into existence solely through a process of natural selection' is answered no even by a lot of people who accept science's conclusions about the fossil record and have no particular religious beliefs.
Your second category is very much a statement of Christian doctrine. I think you can safely say that believers in your second are synonymous with Christians (someone who knows more about islamic theology than me might want to correct me there).
If, purely for simplicity, we take your first to include anyone who accepts that the earth is millions of years old and that significant new species have arisen during that time, we can make some deductions.
Creationism gives some figures for those who agree with "Human beings are descended from earlier species of animals". The US figures say that 40% agree, with 20% unsure. Christianity by country says 78% of the US are Christian. Assuming that all the creationists (and unsure) are Christians, that means 18% of the population are Christians and believe in evolution, and 20% are Christians and aren't sure. The US is unusual in how many creationists it has, so let's take the UK as another example. Following the same steps we find that nearly 50% of the population believe in both Christianity and human evolution. DJ Clayworth (talk) 17:04, 22 March 2010 (UTC)
You need to be careful with statistics here. There is no necessary contradiction between 'fall-of-man/redemption' beliefs (essentially theological arguments about the nature of human consciousness) and evolutionary theory (biophysical arguments about the evolution of physical traits and characteristics). any conflict here comes form relatively small groups who insist there is a conflict, either by arguing that the theological argument about consciousness must be interpreted as a literal biophysical description, or by arguing that the theological argument is pure poppycock. Darwin himself had no problem hanging onto both thoughts simultaneously, and Gregor Mendel (purported father of modern genetics) was a priest. There are and always will be people willing to make silly arguments in order to gain sociopolitical advantages. The real core of this dispute is philosophical: Abrahamic faiths say that man was designed in the image of God; evolutionary biologists say that man evolved from monkeys; few people on either side are willing to think that God is a Monkey (or even one of the Monkees). It's a confusion that will work itself out over time, in spite of all the political gnashing-of-teeth. --Ludwigs2 20:27, 22 March 2010 (UTC)
I think something has been lost in Ludwigs2's statement above. I am neither a scientist nor a theologian, but I have some difficulty with the statement that "evolutionary biologists say that man evolved from monkeys". I understand monkeys and human are supposed to be descended from a common ancestor, and not one "evolving" from the other. (If god were a monkey, god would then have a common ancestry with humans, which may satisfy theologians, but I doubt it.) Bielle (talk) 21:41, 22 March 2010 (UTC)
The notion that "man evolved from monkeys" is a common oversimplification. Man and ape are both considered primates, so they presumably would have a common ancestor somewhere along the way. That would also have been a common ancestor of other now-extinct hominids such as the Neanderthals. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 21:44, 22 March 2010 (UTC)
Strictly speaking, humans are apes, though that term itself is a bit fuzzy. Both apes and Monkeys are of course primates, and share a common ancestor about 40 million years ago. Of course, things are muddied by the fact that old world monkeys and apes are actually more closely related to each other then old world monkeys are to new world monkeys. Oh, the joys of taxonomy. Of course, to a creationist, I'm just spouting evolutionist rhetoric. Buddy431 (talk) 01:13, 23 March 2010 (UTC)
No-one here has said there is a contradiction between those beliefs. The OP is asking how many people believe both - implicit in that is the assumption that it is possible to believe both. --Tango (talk) 21:52, 22 March 2010 (UTC)
It most certainly is possible to believe both, and many do, as Clayworth's computations show. Where it can get interesting is the claim by some Christian sects that it is not possible to believe in both, for the simple reason that Darwinian evolution clearly takes a very long time to occur, whereas the Bible is "literally true", so the only way evolution can occur is by the direct hand of God, which in their assumption would be instantaneous. In my church, we were taught that the Adam-and-Eve stories were "symbolically" true, rather than "literally" true. That's another way to get around the apparent contradictions. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 22:12, 22 March 2010 (UTC)
Well, they're right - creationism is not compatible with evolutionary biology (it's compatible with evolution, but not with evolution as the origin of species). I guess the issue is over whether you count people that don't believe in biblical literalism as Christians. Most people do, but there are some that hold onto a stricter definition. --Tango (talk) 22:22, 22 March 2010 (UTC)
Well, my point was a statistical one (or rather a methodological one): we can't really assert claims about belief in evolution by looking at statistics on religion. the debate is being carried on by some very small minorities which big axes to grind, and each minority is going to claim a lot more representation than they actually have. most people have never made the original sin of conflating scientific and religious beliefs, and so their answer to survey questions is probably not easily interpretable. You get the same result when you do research on product price comparisons: Such research invariably shows that people do not make logical price comparisons when they shop, but most such research admits that most people aren't even trying to make logical price comparisons (preferring to use brand-name heuristics or other decision strategies), so the value of the research is limited. --Ludwigs2 22:39, 22 March 2010 (UTC)

I was hoping that someone would find one or more pages (in Wikipedia or elsewhere) which already had the figures from surveys already conducted. I did not anticipate that someone would use other figures as preliminary figures from which to calculate the desired figures. The results of such calculations do not necessarily follow logically. For example, if one half of Americans are female and if one in 100 Americans is a nurse (hypothetically), it does not follow logically that one in 200 Americans is a female nurse. -- Wavelength (talk) 02:46, 23 March 2010 (UTC)

Fascism and obedience[edit]

A slogan of Mussolini's fascists was "Believe! Obey! Fight!", and I also recall a translated speech of Hitler's where he talked ranted about obedience.

Yet the idea of fascism seems to be about forcefully taking power over others. So how did fascists square this with obedience? (talk) 21:27, 22 March 2010 (UTC)

I've linked the article, which would be a good starting point. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 21:49, 22 March 2010 (UTC)
Hitler didn't rant. He is widely acknowledged as an excellent orator. Just because you disagree with what someone is saying doesn't mean they are ranting. --Tango (talk) 21:54, 22 March 2010 (UTC)
Most of the news clips of Hitler focused on the end of his speeches, where he was speaking loudly, with great passion, gesturing; and the audience was shouting with him. That part might be considered a "rant", especially without a translation. As I understand it, the way it actually worked was that Hitler would come onstage and stand there silently for a minute or so, gazing over the crowd, getting a sense of their mood, getting their attention and anticipation. Then he would start talking softly and calmly, slowly working up to the frenetic ending that the news clips showed. He wasn't a ranter, he was a seducer. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 22:04, 22 March 2010 (UTC)
In the fascism article that is linked to above I find the following:
Fascist states pursued policies of social indoctrination, through propaganda in education and the media, and through regulation of the production of education and media material. Education was designed to glorify the fascist movement and inform students of its historical and political importance to the nation. It attempted to purge ideas that were not consistent with the beliefs of the fascist movement, and taught students to be obedient to the state.
While it doesn't actually answer the question, it may, to an extent, confirm the premise of the question. Bus stop (talk) 21:59, 22 March 2010 (UTC)
The scary part comes when you ask yourself how different it really was from your own primary school education. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 22:05, 22 March 2010 (UTC)
Do as I say rant, not as I do. Clarityfiend (talk) 22:29, 22 March 2010 (UTC)
Fascist ideology owes a lot to a peculiar reading of German philosophy (people like Heidegger and Neitzche, and other authors I can't ever spell correctly). As I understand it, the fascist ideology was puritanical socialism. basically, the world is filled with corrupt ideals obeyed by a sheep-like populace and maintained by manipulative political figures (read the first few chapters of "Thus Spake Zarathustra" to get the right impression), and the only way for a man to liberate himself from this was to turn his back on the corrupt social forces and band together with others in adherence to a moral ideology. Obedience wasn't subservience in the Nazi lingo - obedience was the only path to liberation and what we would call self-determination. it's basically the same logic as "Dress for Success" taken to a homicidally philosophical extreme: conform to 'correct' social standards and society will reward you.
in other words, obedience was promoted as the first step in the path to personal realization. --Ludwigs2 22:30, 22 March 2010 (UTC)
Fascism qua fascism (as distinguished from Nazism, which is something of a variant) is a fundamentally collectivist philosophy, not an individualist one. It is about the strength of collective entities (for Italian fascism, this is the state; for Nazis, this is the race/Volk). Individuals only flourish in a fascist model when acting in the name of the state. An ideal fascist state is coordinated in order to support the will of the individual who truly embodies the will and interests of the state (the leader). (The obvious problem with this that someone raised with democratic values would put forward is, "How do you know who really embodies the will and interests of the state?") --Mr.98 (talk) 22:54, 22 March 2010 (UTC)

So the fascists believed that the only right and proper thing to do was to obey the boss figure, and that people who did things like thinking for themselves or taking the initiative were being willfully disobediant and had to be put down? (talk) 15:37, 23 March 2010 (UTC)

Well, fascists in a philosophical sense are idealists. They believe that there is basically one right answer at all times. That happens to be the answer espoused by the leader in their cases (which of course is tautological... is he the leader because he has the right answers, or are his answers right because he is the leader?). If you don't have the right answer, you are wrong, and there was no tolerance for many differences of opinion. Now that does not always mean execution. But it does imply negative consequences. To a true fascist "thinking for yourself" is just a cloak that wrong people use in order to justify their wrong ideas. "Taking the initiative" was generally discourages under the German model—the "coordination" of power meant that you would be expressing the direct will of the Fuehrer only if you were doing what you were told to do. Going outside of that will just showed that you were wrong (because the Fuehrer is never wrong). --Mr.98 (talk) 16:14, 23 March 2010 (UTC)
I just also want to add that my answers here are in terms of how a fascist would self-justify in philosophical terms (based on a course on the philosophy of fascism I took a long time ago now). In practice of course fascists in Italy and Germany were like many other politicians, but had greater political power. They forced out their enemies and those who threatened them. They were a pretty successful form of self-organization from the standpoint of taking over a country (running it in war, not so much). They were fairly ruthless and did not spend their time debating fine philosophical points about who was correct and who was not. Fascists are hardly unique in this respect, but the particularly linearly hierarchical nature of their systems allowed for it to be fairly streamlined. In practice even this was more complicated (organizations vied for power and could be played against each other in some situations, for example). --Mr.98 (talk) 23:52, 23 March 2010 (UTC)
The article definitions of fascism discusses different interpretations of the term. (talk) 23:22, 23 March 2010 (UTC)
In the 1950s the Frankfurt School social theorists Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer came up with the concept of the 'Authoritarian Personality' - someone with a need to submit to authority figures, who is aggressive towards those they see as 'different'.[3] Most fascist movements were essentially opportunistic and based on demagoguery and the appeal of the 'strong man' who claimed that he could solve his country's problems, as long as he was given unswerving loyalty.--Pondle (talk) 00:07, 24 March 2010 (UTC)
One of the points that other posters have overlooked is in the origin of the word "fascism" -- which comes from the Latin fasces. These were the symbols of authority that the officials of the Roman Republic were vested with: when presented with a law-breaker, they could have him beaten with the rods in the fasces, then executed with the axe. In short, it is an expression of law and order -- which is one of the characteristic themes of Fascists. Be a good boy, follow the laws, & eat your vegetables, & you would be considered a good Fascist. Unless you were found guilty of a political crime. ;-) -- llywrch (talk) 22:04, 25 March 2010 (UTC)

Why pay banks to lend to the Fed when the largest risk is they aren't lending to their customers?[edit]

Is there any actual advantage to paying interest on bank reserves [4] when the largest risk is underwater commercial real estate [5]? (talk) 22:11, 22 March 2010 (UTC)

The advantage is obviously to the banks. This was a provision rushed through Congress using extortionary rhetoric at a time of crisis by hundreds of Wall Street lobbyists (and major campaign contributors), former Goldman Sachs CEO, Hank Paulson, and by Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve System, which is essentially owned and, to a substantial extent, controlled by its member commercial banks. It is a handout to banks at the expense of every other holder of U.S. currency (in that the money supply is increased and therefore reduced in value relative to a shrinking GDP or a GDP growing very slowly). Marco polo (talk) 23:02, 22 March 2010 (UTC)
A decidedly insider point of view: [6] NByz (talk) 03:31, 23 March 2010 (UTC)

More accurately, interest on bank reserves is compensation aimed at encouraging banks to hold higher levels of reserves, thus (it is hoped) reducing the likelihood of their needing an expensive taxpayer-funded bailout. DOR (HK) (talk) 06:07, 23 March 2010 (UTC)

Is there any evidence that hope is grounded in reality? Isn't a bank allowed to lend a certain multiple of its reserves? If that multiple is re-deposited as additional reserves, isn't that akin to an individual kiting a check, and more importantly, doesn't that increase the risk of exposure if the banks other assets decline in value, nullifying the benefit of larger reserves? (talk) 09:16, 23 March 2010 (UTC)
Generally, a bank is allowed to lend out everything but the fraction that is required as a reserve (ignoring various capital requirement schemes like Basel II). Thus, it's assumed that, with profit maximizing financial institutions, anything not held in reserve will be redeposited (see Fractional-reserve banking), expanding the money supply to approaching R*1/RR (R = total bank reserves, RR = the minimum reserve ratio; see Money multiplier. Fractional reserve banking (also referred to as "Multiple Deposit Expansion") does indeed increase interconnectedness and the risk of the financial system. It's unavoidable, under our current system. An alternative would have to involve creating "classes" of money. (Class one money, for example, could be deposited and lent out. When it was lent out, however, it would have to turn into class two money, which could be deposited but not re-lent out. Something like that). Schemes like paying interest on deposits, some would argue, is a way of creating proper incentives - and giving central banks more control - in a monetary economy such that we live in. NByz (talk) 13:21, 23 March 2010 (UTC)
Is there any evidence that banks have used such control for their chartered purposes of facilitating commerce as opposed to enriching executives at the expense of the remaining vast majority leading to increased poverty because of the conservation of scarce resources? (talk) 13:43, 23 March 2010 (UTC)
Well the idea actually would be to take a little bit of that decision-making power away from the banks and give it to the central bank (the Federal Reserve). With this tool, the central bank would be able to control the money supply more directly (specifically, it would be able to more effectively take money out of circulation by encouraging excess reserves). An integrated, efficient and competitive banking system is highly correlated with economic growth (efficiency) and, though a western-style central bank system certainly draws its critics (this is somewhat a side note, but Political positions of Ron Paul is a delightfully well-cited and thorough article), it just seems to work well enough. Many economists would say that ideas of income distribution (equity/equality) are a separate matter and perhaps ought to be addressed through the tax code and the welfare system. High executive pay could be handled through a British-style super tax [7], if thought appropriate, for example.
Interestingly and additionally, the Dodd plan, currently in the news, tackles some of the problems of interconnectedness by creating an oversight council that can declare a financial firm (even a non-bank) "integral to the financial system" and therefore put it under the supervision of the Federal Reserve (think AIG, Lehman Bros), require all financial firms with more than $50 billion in assets to pay into a special rainy day fund (for future bailout purposes) and creates a supervised bankruptcy process designed to be as painful as possible to equity holders and long-term creditors while limiting defaults in many short-term or money markets through which systemic risk is spread.
In response to DOR (HK), there are more effective ways of reducing the likelihood that banks will need an expensive taxpayer-funded bailout. These ways include 1) tighter regulation, 2) breaking up large banks so that none is "too big to fail", 3) eliminating perverse incentives that enrich individual bankers for taking on risks. These policies would clearly have been in the interests of taxpayers and the general public. However, they would have limited profits and compensation at big banks. Instead of enacting policies that would have offered more certain protection for the public, our financial leadership pressured Congress into approving a policy that gives free money to banks. This policy in fact comes at the indirect expense of taxpayers and others by increasing the purchasing power of banks and bankers relative to other firms and individuals. In concrete terms, this preserves the privileged access of bankers to the best real estate and amenities of New York City and London (among other things) and keeps these things unaffordable to people from less favored economic spheres. Finally, by failing to address the root causes of the risky behavior that put the financial sector in need of a public rescue, and by leaving the implicit government guarantee in place, this policy allowed banks to keep playing essentially the same game with free money and made it likely that they will need an even more expensive taxpayer-funded bailout in the future. Marco polo (talk) 14:46, 23 March 2010 (UTC)

My statement on the purpose of paying banks interest on their reserves was not intended to endorse, or even hold up as efficient, the practice. Like a reference work, it is just a statement of fact. DOR (HK) (talk) 06:45, 26 March 2010 (UTC)

Paying interest on bank reserves gives the Fed more control over short-term interest rates. In addition, it gives banks more incentive to hold reserves, as opposed to, say, using sweep accounts to put customer assets in money market funds. The link given above by NByz gives much more detail. John M Baker (talk) 16:41, 23 March 2010 (UTC)

I've read the link, but the statement about reserve interest giving the Fed more control over short-term interest rates appears to have been proven false in practice, because the Fed originally had to adjust the rate sharply downwards, and has not adjusted it since, leaving interest rates relatively distant from the Fed's stated targets. You realize that money market funds used to pay for commercial paper, right? When will banks weigh the amount of interest they are losing from customers against their 0.25% reserve interest? The fact that the latter is zero risk seems to be affecting their ability to maximize profits. Do bank shareholders have a case? (talk) 11:54, 26 March 2010 (UTC)
The post from raises a number of issues, which I'll try to respond to.
  • 226 suggests that the statement about reserve interest giving the Fed more control over short-term interest rates appears to have been proven false in practice. There are actually two issues here. First, the Fed's current target federal funds rate is 0 to 0.25%, so there is no issue of needing to do anything to place upward pressure on the rate. However, the Fed will one day increase its target rate, so having an additional tool to control rates will again be relevant. Second, even before the Fed lowered its target rate, the fed funds rate traded under that target after the Fed was paying interest on reserves. NByz's link suggests that this was because, during that period, investors in the fed funds market were institutions that were not eligible for interest on reserves. This tells us that paying interest on reserves is an imperfect tool and will not alone be sufficient to maintain interest rates at a target rate. However, an imperfect tool is still a tool. The Fed normally uses a variety of imperfect tools in tandem in seeking to effect its policy goals.
  • 226 notes that money market funds used to pay for commercial paper. I'm not sure what his point is, but yes, they do so still.
  • 226 suggests that banks are failing to maximize profits because they are investing their assets in Fed reserves instead of lending them to customers. During this still-difficult period, and the far more difficult period of the recent past, banks sought to minimize risk and to rebuild their financial positions. If earning interest on Fed reserves had not been an option, banks would have invested assets in the fed funds market or other low-risk alternatives. The bank's choice to increase reserves at the Fed, therefore, is not a decision not to lend more to ordinary customers, because the bank has already made that decision. The Fed's still quite low rate of interest on reserves, then, is not impeding ordinary lending.
  • If banks thought they could make more money by lending to higher-risk customers, they would do so. Actually, they've been doing just that, for one group of relatively high-risk customers: Banks have enthusiastically turned to the risky but highly profitable credit card business during this period. For other loans, however, banks generally have insisted on much higher credit standards.
  • 226 asks if bank shareholders have a case. If the question is whether a bank shareholder is right in thinking this, that will depend on the facts of the particular case; it is not obvious in the abstract whether a particular bank should be lending more or not. If the question is whether bank shareholders have a legal case against banks that are not doing more lending, then the answer is that that would be a very difficult case for shareholders to make. John M Baker (talk) 15:06, 26 March 2010 (UTC)
Thank you for the very thoughtful response. I guess it boils down to this: If banks collectively aren't willing to refinance real estate (commercial or residential) then that will cause drops in consumer spending which could hurt bank profits to an extent similar to if not greater than expected risks from the loans, or the write-downs they would need to eliminate downside risk. So they have to weigh the risk of allowing the economy around them to fail against expected returns, in order to perform their fiduciary duty of trying to maximize profits. The zero risk options they have, including reserve interest, seem to skew this judgment towards economic destruction by hoarding. Sure, banks will get 0.25% from taxpayers, but don't bank charters state that they should lend to facilitate commerce? Is the Volcker rule about that? And there may be reason to believe it's also a politically motivated judgment: central bankers are now dominated by the political party out of power, so do they have a political motivation for seeing less consumer employment recovery? And what about executive pay bonuses -- do they cause write-downs to be resisted out of proportion to their long-term effect on banks' bottom lines, and thus their shareholders? Can FASB accounting standards address the imbalance better than shareholder class actions? (talk) 20:24, 26 March 2010 (UTC)

How much income equality is optimal?[edit]

I've recently become familiar with which presents evidence that about a dozen separate quality of life measures are more highly correlated with the Gini index of income equality than economic (GDP) growth. That makes sense, but growth is very important for things like sanitation in the developing world, competition, technology, etc. Canada seems to be advanced in these respects, with Mexico trailing.

I would like to find a reliable discussion of the optimal quantity of income equality in the developing and industrialized world. Firstly, does the most appropriate amount of income equality depend on how developed a country is? (talk) 22:32, 22 March 2010 (UTC)

I understand what you're saying. Under capitalism, for there to be an incentive to work, you must let people who work harder get richer. This promotes an increase in total wealth, however, it also leads to an inequality of wealth. And, while an increase in total wealth helps with something like infant mortality, the inequality in wealth actually hurts it. So, what level would minimize infant mortality ? (I just picked that as one measure, but we could use others).
Rather than take a theoretical approach, I propose looking at infant mortality rates around the world, and then looking at the inequality rates in each nation (Gini index). This should give a good indication of what level of inequality is ideal, at least for that measure. You could then repeat this study looking at another measure, like life expectancy. Then it would be a matter of weighting the different results based on which measures you think are the most important, in order the come up with the ideal level on inequality overall.
You compared Canada and Mexico, but Canada and Mongolia might be a better comparison, since they have a similar Gini index, but Canada has far more per capita income and wealth. Note that I'm assuming a more or less zero-sum-gain between wealth and inequality. That is, I'm assuming that when one goes up, the other goes down. If this is not assumed, then the problem becomes much more difficult to solve. For example, if the inequality of wealth is too severe, total wealth may also suffer, due to violent revolutions that this level of inequality will spawn. Also, an uneducated and unhealthy workforce may result, even in times of peace, and this workforce won't be very productive. So, we may find that there is also a certain Gini index that leads to maximum growth. Now, whether this same Gini index is also ideal for the health of the population, or not, might be more difficult to determine. StuRat (talk) 03:06, 23 March 2010 (UTC)

I really don't think that there's any one single invariable number (measured according to the Gini index or any other method) which marks the boundary between a healthy society and a sick society in all cases, ignoring the detailed specific context of each society. Furthermore, sometimes inequality of wealth can be at least as important as inequality of income (in the statistics of the United States, for example, it's very noticeable that the difference in average wealth between white families and black families is not leveling out anywhere nearly as rapidly as the difference in average income between white families and black families is leveling out). In simplistic broad-brush terms, if there's such a marked degree of inequality that a society is effectively polarized into two classes of "peasants" and "lords" (or whatever terms the two may be called by), and there's only a very small middle class between the two extremes, and only a very tiny chance that a "peasant" will ever be able to become a "lord", then that's a very strong disincentive for people to try to achieve new things. On the other hand, if taxes on high incomes are so confiscatory that people will see very little direct personal benefit to themselves if they significantly increase their pre-tax incomes, then that can also be a disincentive to economically productive innovations... AnonMoos (talk) 05:04, 23 March 2010 (UTC)

The Equity Trust’s solution for reducing inequality: more progressive income and property taxes; more generous benefits; higher minimum wages; more generous pensions; running the national economy with low levels of unemployment, (contradicting previous solutions, IMHO); better education and retraining policies; and the bargaining power of trade unions. No indication how to (or who) will pay for all of this.

I’m going to disagree with StuRat on his point that inequality in wealth hurts infant mortality, with an example. Two groups of people in the same society, A and B. A’s income goes up by 779%, and B’s income by 594%. In both cases, it would be nonsensical to posit that B’s infant mortality rate increases. Sure, it might not improve as much as A’s, but that is a whole different idea, and one that does nothing to encourage efforts to reduce inequality. (By the way, the case is a real one, and it represents urban and rural China, 1990-2008. Infant mortality among both groups fell during the period as their income inequality grew worse.)

As for the Canada-Mongolia (or, Mexico) comparisons, one has to assume that the legal systems, crime rates, infrastructure and a whole host of other things are identical before one can come to the conclusion that income inequality reduces infant mortality. DOR (HK) (talk) 06:28, 23 March 2010 (UTC)

To consider the effect of inequality, you must find a case where inequality changed and every other variable stayed the same. In the case of China, which you used, obviously total wealth has also improved dramatically (no doubt due to China ditching communism and moving to capitalism). Now ask yourself, had the wealth of those above the median income gone up, and those below gone down, would that improve infant mortality ? No, because there are far more people below the median, and those above were likely already getting good health care and nutrition, anyway. StuRat (talk) 13:57, 23 March 2010 (UTC)
By low levels of unemployment contradicting previous solutions, do you mean the balance between employment levels and inflation? Can that balance be addressed by reducing the money supply at the top brackets of steeply progressive income taxes? Don't more progressive income taxes themselves pay for more generous benefits, etc.? (talk) 07:49, 23 March 2010 (UTC)
To be honest income equality is a bad measure (on its own) of welfare. It's all well and good to divide the pie up equally, but if it's a really small pie everyone's still gonna be doing pretty badly. You would be better looking at the median income as well as the lowest quartile and perhaps some measure of poverty (beware that poverty lines are normally constructed relative to average income, not some objective measure). To go back to your question, what do you been by optimal? If you asked an economist what is the optimal level of income equality they would probably say "whichever level maximised GDP growth". It also depends on the way governments spend money. A high taxing and spending country with highly unequal income levels may provide better outcomes for the less fortunate than a low taxing and spending country with far more equal outcomes. Simply correlating outcomes and the gini co-efficient doesn't help you understand why those outcomes have come about.Jabberwalkee (talk) 08:05, 23 March 2010 (UTC)
To the questioner: the correlation of all those quality-of-life variables with the Gini index doesn't mean that the increase in the Gini index caused increases in those measures. Zain Ebrahim (talk) 09:29, 23 March 2010 (UTC)
Indeed, so the question becomes, does increased quality of life cause income equality, or do the two share a common cause? The book The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better goes in to detail about how, for example, income inequality can lead to problems with higher education and health care affordability, quality parenting (e.g., who can afford babysitters), and other factors which suggest that chain of causation travels from income equality to quality of life. (talk) 09:40, 23 March 2010 (UTC)
Before you can work out what is optimal, you need to work out what you want to achieve. What are your priorities? Happiness? High life expectancy? Low infant mortality? Peace? Freedom? Global influence? Chances are, you want a balance of all those things, so the question becomes how do you weight them. There is then the issue that inequality is not directly controllable. You have to change other things (tax structures and benefit structures are the obvious ones, but education has a big impact too, as do various other things). Those things will affect more than just inequality. That makes it all very complicated and I doubt there actually is a unique optimal level of inequality for most reasonable weightings of priorities. --Tango (talk) 09:53, 23 March 2010 (UTC)
I think with extreme inequality (feudalism, Czarist Russia, banana republics of various sorts) you get violent revolution, and with enforced equality (various attempts at socialism) you get a Handicapper General situation. That suggests there is an optimum somewhere, and it would be interesting to draw a graph comparing social unrest to inequality level in various societies through history. (talk) 23:33, 23 March 2010 (UTC)
There may be an optimum of a sort, but it's unlikely to be something which can be validly expressed as one single abstract number, independent of all the particularities and specific characteristics of each society. AnonMoos (talk) 01:05, 24 March 2010 (UTC)
This isn't probably very helpful, but I remember one Economics professor from my past mentioning and emphasizing that the tradeoff between efficiency and equity necessarily required some sort of value judgement and though Economic theory could certainly help with quantifying or estimating results, it could say nothing of substance about at what rate one ought to trade off against the other. NByz (talk) 01:22, 24 March 2010 (UTC)
One other point I should mention, is that there's a difference between the optimal level of inequality for best quality of life now, versus at some point in the future. Imagine that we were able to achieve absolute equality of income and wealth right now, via redistribution of wealth, without violence. In the short run, this would likely improve all measures of quality of life. However, as there would be little incentive left to work in such a society, in the long term the economy might collapse and quality of life would go down with it. So, we might find that more and more inequality is desirable, the further out we look, until we reach some equilibrium level. Just what that level is, or how many years out you have to look, I do not know. StuRat (talk) 03:19, 24 March 2010 (UTC)
I notice that we here on this site, together, are working pretty hard to write a high-quality encyclopedia that is clobbering professional ones, without getting paid a nickel. So the incentive must come from some other place. (talk) 12:45, 24 March 2010 (UTC)
Sure, some people will be incentivised to do some things out of altruism. You would still see an enormous drop in productivity, though, unless you did something to force people to work. --Tango (talk) 12:51, 24 March 2010 (UTC)

StuRat, there is no point in asking what if questions in this context. What happened in China, happened. That’s enough to discredit the notion that increases in inequality must necessarily harm the less well-off. As for’s question about progressive income taxes, such levies serve to transfer wealth from the more wealthy to the less wealthy. I should also point out that The Spirit Level compares rich countries to rich countries, not rich to poor or middle-ranking. DOR (HK) (talk) 06:53, 26 March 2010 (UTC)

Obviously, no change is guaranteed to either increase or decrease quality of life, if you can also include other massive changes at the same time. But, the fact remains that increasing inequality, without simultaneously increasing wealth (or making other changes), decreases average quality of life measurements, such as infant mortality. Hence the original Q. StuRat (talk) 16:29, 26 March 2010 (UTC)


Politics: Who was the last Republican president to balance the budget? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 22:52, 22 March 2010 (UTC)

According to this source, the last Republican president under whom the Federal budget was not in deficit was Dwight D. Eisenhower, exactly 50 years ago in 1960. (I have not bothered to link to a source showing the deficits under Ford, Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II, but if you do the research, you will see that they ran deficits every year they were in office. The last president of any party under whom the budget was not in deficit was Bill Clinton.) Marco polo (talk) 23:19, 22 March 2010 (UTC)
Those were budget balancing within a given fiscal year, of course. The last time the U.S. was out of debt or nearly so was around 1920. United States public debt has a good overall history and also a number of links to related articles, including one showing debt levels during administrations since WWII. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 01:20, 23 March 2010 (UTC)
Interesting, true and unrelated. Deficits aren't debt (yet). DOR (HK) (talk) 06:31, 23 March 2010 (UTC)
Although the questioner implies that it's the president who can balance the budget, the modern process is better understood as a joint effort (or battle) between Congress and the president. And for the two branches to achieve a balanced budget, factors outside their immediate control often play a major role. In The Federal Budget: Politics, Policy, Process (rev. 2000), Allen Schick concluded that Clinton had "little to do" with the underlying reasons that allowed for a balanced budget "on his watch" (particularly a booming economy and the end of the Cold War), but that it made political sense for him to take credit for the achievement, since he would have gotten the blame had it gone otherwise. —Kevin Myers 08:12, 23 March 2010 (UTC)
I agree that the parties in control of Congress are as important as the president in determining the budget balance. As it happens, Clinton balanced the budget during a time when Republicans controlled both houses of Congress. However, George W. Bush failed to balance the budget even though he had the benefit of a Republican House from 2001–2007 and a Republican Senate from 2003–2007. It's true that GWB's first years in office were during a recession, when it is difficult to avoid a budget deficit. The same excuse cannot be made for the six years from 2003–2009, during most of which he enjoyed a Republican majority in both houses. I would also point out that the last Republican president to balance a budget, Eisenhower, did so when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. Marco polo (talk) 14:34, 23 March 2010 (UTC)
Clinton and the Democrats raised taxes in 1993 before the Republicans gained control of Congress the following year. Of course there is endless political spin on both sides about how that affected the economy in the years that followed, but as a zeroth order approximation, deficits are when expenditures exceed revenues, so increasing revenues may have had something to do with decreasing/eliminating the deficit. (talk) 00:24, 24 March 2010 (UTC)

Looking for a book I read about five years ago[edit]

I can't remember anything except the plot. A man was expelled from a city for practicing "wild magic" (as opposed to regular magic). He escapes the subsequent manhunt with the help of a unicorn, and he must promise celibacy for 1 year in exchange. Outside, he meets his sister, elves, and other things. (Here's where my memory gets vague). There is discussion of the elves and humans joining forces in advance of some menace or another... Ring any bells? (The book is first in a series.) Mxvxnyxvxn (talk) 22:52, 22 March 2010 (UTC)

Googling "wild magic unicorn" finds The Outstretched Shadow. -- Finlay McWalterTalk 23:45, 22 March 2010 (UTC)
That's it! Thanks. Mxvxnyxvxn (talk) 17:28, 23 March 2010 (UTC)

Charles Manson[edit]

Has charles Manson ever lived in or near to Lyons, Oregon —Preceding unsigned comment added by Averybound (talkcontribs) 22:56, 22 March 2010 (UTC)

According to the article, now linked, Manson was born in the midwest and stayed there until he moved to California. His mother once lived in "the Pacific Northwest", but not with Charles. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 01:23, 23 March 2010 (UTC)
You know, I'm always curious what the parents of people like Manson, Dahmer, Bundy, and etc think about the whole thing. did anyone ever do an interview with Manson's parents? --Ludwigs2 03:54, 23 March 2010 (UTC)
I'm not aware of one. I recall seeing interviews with Bundy's mother and with Dahmer's parents. They were as perplexed as anyone about why things turned out as they did. I think Bundy came from a broken home. Dahmer is the puzzler. As I recall, they said he had a sadistic bent even when he was five years old - killing animals and dissecting them, stuff like that. I don't think there was any suspicion that his parents were abusive. He just had some weird genetic bent, apparently. As with H. H. Holmes, perhaps. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 05:26, 23 March 2010 (UTC) suggests that the parents of terrible criminals are often poorly skilled at parenting and/or unable to obtain affordable parenting support facilitation. (talk) 12:25, 23 March 2010 (UTC)
also, I just noticed that his next parole hearing is scheduled for 2012, the same year that the Mayan calendar ends. coincidence? I think not! --Ludwigs2 03:56, 23 March 2010 (UTC)
They should grant him parole just as the earth is breaking apart. That would be a little joke on the old guy. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 05:20, 23 March 2010 (UTC)