Response to David Cay Johnston
By David Henderson
David Cay Johnston has replied, in three lengthy comments (here, here, and here), to my post and other commenters’ comments. I want to reply to what he said that challenges my statement that he is confusing poverty and income inequality, because that is the issue I addressed in my post.
I’ll quote from various parts of his response and then give my response.
Second, you write that I “confuse poverty and income inequality.” No I don’t and never have. Try reading these words, published last month:
“Inequality is not synonymous with poverty. Inequality is about the distribution of resources.” http://bit.ly/15OXBj2
I was not claiming that he always confuses income inequality with poverty. I was claiming–and still claim–that he does so in the recent column at issue.
You wrote “if the income of the people at the bottom doubled and the income of the people at the top tripled, there would be less poverty–and more inequality. Johnston shows no awareness of these basic statistical facts.”
I am intimately familiar with the math, statistics and the concept. While your math is correct, there is exactly zero evidence of rising incomes for the vast majority. That’s your straw man.
I gave a simple hypothetical example to make the point that inequality could increase while poverty decreased. That is why the word “if” is in there. Johnston is right that I gave zero evidence of rising incomes for the vast majority. I didn’t need to give such evidence to make my point.
Most of the rest of Johnston’s comments reargue his case or claim (correctly) that I don’t present evidence on what is causing the various phenomena he discusses. I never claimed to present such evidence and, as readers can see, my point was to point out that in this piece he confused income inequality with poverty. Here’s a quote from his piece that I didn’t quote in my earlier post:
Women look for mates who will be committed to them and their children and who will be able to provide for them. In a world where stable jobs at all levels become less common, where working class jobs are scarce and where the median wage has been stagnant for almost a generation, those in the market adapt.
Stable jobs being less common; scarce working class jobs; stagnant median wages. Those are all about poverty or low income or failure of income to rise. They are not about income inequality.
I will, though, mention one argument that Johnston makes that isn’t about what I wrote about but that confuses the issue. He writes:
You cite zero evidence that poverty per se damages marriage, but if you can back that up that I would be interested in seeing the data so I can determine whether I should revise my understanding of the facts.
Of course I cite zero evidence for this claim. There’s a good reason: I never made the claim. What I said was that Johnston “shows, at most, is that poverty and low income damage marriage.” Moreover, my very next two sentences were to cast doubt on that claim. I wrote:
Even there, I’m skeptical because two people with low income who got married would, if they were both earning income, automatically create a higher-income family than either of them had. In other words, marriage is, and has been, a way to get out of poverty.