Call-for-Papers: The Society for Values in Higher Education has issued a call for papers for its upcoming conference on “Minding the Gap Educating for Economic Justice,” July 16-20, 2014 in Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN. [I went the their conference last year and it mainly consists of non-lawyers -- at my session there were lots of financial aid advisors -- but they are super nice and it is one of those conferences that is more kid-friendly than most.]
New Article: Eldar Shafir, Poverty and Civil Rights: A Behavioral Economics Perspective, 2014 U. Ill. L. Rev. 205. Abstract below:
The International Bill of Human Rights recognizes a universal entitlement to “the continuous improvement of living conditions.” A dignified existence is a common concern of modern civilization and of the social sciences. But the mindset that emerges when we have too little creates challenges that often impede the improvement of living conditions. Poverty is a shortage not merely of financial resources but of cognitive resources as well. When people are preoccupied with budgetary concerns, they have fewer mental resources to devote to other things. For the more wealthy, everyday budgetary considerations represent manageable intrusions. The wealthy have slack in their budget and can manage unexpected expenses with relative ease. The poor, on the other hand, have little slack: unexpected expenses require giving up essentials, like rent payments or utility bills, and making frequent and difficult tradeoffs. The frequent challenges and heightened stakes eat up comparatively more of the poor’s mental resources, leaving less mind for other problems.
This Article employs a suitcase metaphor for people’s budgeting. The wealthy have a “big suitcase” which allows them to pack modest items casually. The poor have a “small suitcase” which must be packed intently and with great care. The packer of a small suitcase must carefully consider the size of each new item, and what can be removed each time they want to put something in.
The Article describes the results of empirical research done by the author and his colleagues into decision making under conditions of plenty and of scarcity. Among the topics examined in the studies are the impact of easier versus more imposing financial challenges on cognitive capacity, the psychology of borrowing, and the potential impact of financial concerns on other, nonfinancial behaviors.
Scarcity impacts a person not only directly, as wants or needs go unfulfilled, but also indirectly, as we struggle to make do with less. Persistent financial concerns impose a cognitive load on a limited bandwidth, which can impinge on other aspects of life, and can create poverty traps. The solution for alleviating the problem cannot be to reduce the already modest needs of the poor, nor to try to increase our inherently limited bandwidth. When the suitcase cannot be enlarged through higher wages or wealth transfers, the next option is to facilitate packing. By creating a more reliable, stable, and forgiving context, which the wealthy already enjoy, the everyday management of life under scarcity can be made easier, some bandwidth liberated, and costly mistakes and their menacing consequences reduced. This approach may bring us closer to the delivery of the universal entitlement to “the continuous improvement of living conditions.”
The University of California Davis School of Law will host the ClassCrits VII Workshop on November 14-15, 2014. A Call for Papers & Participation will be circulated in early March. As in past years, the Workshop will also extend a special invitation to junior scholars (graduate students and non-tenured faculty members) to submit proposals for works in progress. For more information about ClassCrits and past ClassCrits Workshops, go to classcrits.wordpress.com.
The U.S. Is Locking People Up For Being Poor.
-Thanks to Juliet Brodie for the the heads up!
New Article: Eric M. Zolt, Inequality in America: Challenges for Tax and Spending Policies, 66 Tax L. Rev. 1101 (2013). Abstract below:
The goal of this article is to provide a guide to addressing tax and spending policies in an era of increasing inequality of income and wealth. This is challenging because it requires a good understanding of inequality and economic mobility, the changing role of taxes and government social spending, the constraints on policy options, and the possible misconceptions that may influence tax and spending policies.
Inequality in the United States has increased dramatically over the last 30 years. Perhaps even more troubling than the rise in inequality may be the persistence of high levels of poverty and the decline in economic mobility. The same thirty-year period during which inequality has increased, poverty levels have not declined, and economic mobility has decreased has seen major changes in fiscal policy. Tax law changes have altered the relative tax rates, the relative revenue contributions from different tax instruments, and the tax burdens of different income groups. Government spending on social programs has increased substantially, but perhaps not in ways one might expect. The United States likely has a smaller percentage of government social spending going to the needy than other developed countries. In recent decades, an increasingly larger percentage of social spending has been directed to the elderly (without regard to need) and to the upper-half of the income distribution through tax subsidies for healthcare, education, housing, and retirement savings.
The essential first step in shaping fiscal policy is to identify clearly the relative priorities among reducing inequality, reducing poverty, and increasing economic mobility. Tax and spending policies will differ depending on the weight given each of these objectives, and especially in a world of relatively limited resources, the government needs to make difficult choices. Perhaps the most significant implication of this reality is that it may be time to stop thinking about increasing the income tax burden on the wealthy as the only, or perhaps even the primary, way to increase funding for social spending programs. The United States may need less progressive (or even regressive) taxes to fund more progressive spending programs.
Video: Making America Stronger: U.S. Food Stamp Program — Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Note: This is a professionally put together video that lasts 15 minutes and is done well enough for use in class.