Is America a “Classless” Society?

This topic was discussed on November 25, 2013.

No we’re not going to discuss “boorish” behavior! There has been widespread focus (and concern) about the growing disparity between various groups of Americans in terms of race, education, economic resources, geography, family structure, etc. Which raises the question: “Does American society have a “class” system analogous to the feudal systems of centuries past?”  In addressing the question, we may want to grapple with the following general and specific questions:

  • What do we really mean by a “class” system? Once defined, is it inherently bad, or undesirable, or is it simple “to be expected?”
  • How important is the disparity of income (and, probably more importantly, “well-being” or “opportunity”)?
  • Are “classes” at a point in time a significant issue if there is substantial mobility between classes (however defined) over time (years, decades, generations)? What does the data about Americans’ income (or education or wealth) mobility indicate?
  • How does one identify a “balanced” disparity of income? Absolute equality leans more heavily toward socialism, which may dampen individuals’ enthusiasm for creating, innovating and trying to excel. Enormous disparity may destabilize the society and lead to revolution (“let them eat cake”). But where in between?

During the meeting, we discussed several studies on social and economic mobility. For those that are interested, here are some links to articles or studies on the subject:

A US Treasury report on income mobility:  20071113 Income Mobility in the US 1995-2005 (US Treasury Report)

A July 2012 Pew Charitable Trust report on mobility:  20120700 Pursuing the American Dream (Pew Charitable Trust)

A response to the Pew report published in American Spectator:  20131125 The Mirage of Income Mobility (Am. Spectator)

 

Government Secrets…Who Needs to Know?

This topic was discussed on November 11, 2013.

Given the recent furor over the NSA and other governmental programs, the question we will be discussing is “are there activities of the US Government about which Americans do not have a need to know.” to the extent that we agree that there are some activities best kept secret, we will undoubtedly spend most of the time exploring:

  • What sort of activities should be secret?
  • If not everyone,who should know about these activities? Oversight by Congress? A Congressional committee? The Judiciary? The Administration?

 

Executive Compensation at Non-Profits

This topic was discussed on November 4, 2013.

Given that we are now in the middle of the college football season, how can we resist turning our attention to football coaches’ pay. With at least two earning more than $5 million per year, is this really where we want our institutions of higher education, especially public ones, to be putting their resources?

Here’s a link to a USA Today article to get you started:

http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/ncaaf/2013/02/11/college-football-coach-salary-changes-ncaa/1907359/

More broadly, there have been lots of news stories about “excessive” executive compensation at non-profits…should college football coaches be paid more than their college president? Should a college president be paid more than a star faculty member? Similar examples come from many sources…non-profit hospitals, foundations, etc.

We’ll discuss this issue (and, undoubtedly, executive compensation at for-profit entities as well) when we meet on November 4.

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