In part I of this series, I argued that I do not deserve my standard of living. Though I’ve worked hard and had a few good ideas in my career, it can be argued that much if not all of my material success comes from things I had no part in — who my parents were, the rise of the internet, the importance of economists these days and so on.
In part II I argued that equalizing material well-being — extreme egalitarianism — or what might be called pure socialism, is a non-starter. It would damage incentives for hard work, destroy the role that wages play in signaling value and steering people into various tasks, some of which are either unpleasant or require a great deal of time to prepare for and execute. Pure socialism would likely make poor people poorer. Without a strong preference for equal outcomes relative to an absolute standard of living, pure socialism would make most if not all people worse off relative to the status quo. …
My dad, who passed away in March of 2020, gave me many gifts; one of the most precious was a love of poetry.
He loved Keats and Shelley, Frost and Dickenson, Teasdale and St. Vincent Millay, Kipling and Eliot, Hopkins and Tennyson. As I grew up, he shared the poems that he loved, helped me understand them, and in time, I grew to love poetry, too.
My dad wrote poetry, and sometimes I do, too.
Here are some poems and poets he loved. Eventually, the series will include poems he wrote, poems he inspired me to write, and poems I’ve discovered on my own. For each poem, I write a few paragraphs on why the poem speaks to me and provide ideas that I think might help the poem speak to you, the reader. …
The eye can hardly pick them out
From the cold shade they shelter in,
Till wind distresses tail and mane;
Then one crops grass, and moves about
- The other seeming to look on —
And stands anonymous again.
Yet fifteen years ago, perhaps
Two dozen distances sufficed
To fable them: faint afternoons
Of Cups and Stakes and Handicaps,
Whereby their names were artificed
To inlay faded, classic Junes —
Silks at the start: against the sky
Numbers and parasols: outside,
Squadrons of empty cars, and heat,
And littered grass: then the long cry
Hanging unhushed till it subside
To stop-press columns on the street. …
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep. …
The First Snowfall
The snow had begun in the gloaming,
And busily all the night
Had been heaping field and highway
With a silence deep and white.
Every pine and fir and hemlock
Wore ermine too dear for an earl,
And the poorest twig on the elm-tree
Was ridged inch deep with pearl.
From sheds new-roofed with Carrara
Came Chanticleer’s muffled crow,
The stiff rails were softened to swan’s-down,
And still fluttered down the snow.
I stood and watched by the window
The noiseless work of the sky,
And the sudden flurries of snow-birds,
Like brown leaves whirling by.
I thought of a mound in sweet Auburn
Where a little headstone stood;
How the flakes were folding it gently,
As did robins the babes in the wood. …
In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.
I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.
Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.
But now it is she who pauses,
As if to reject my thought and its easy figure.
A stillness greatens, in which
The whole house seems to be thinking,
And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor
Of strokes, and again is silent. …
There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing poetry —
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll —
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human Soul —
— Emily Dickinson (1830–1886)
When I was young, our family found ourselves in Amherst, Massachusetts for a family event. We had some free time and we were delighted to discover that Emily Dickinson’s house, the house she rarely left and where she spent most of her time, was a short walk from where we were staying. …
The fear produced by Covid-19 has created unexpected shortages in our lives, from toilet paper at home to masks for health care workers.
Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz argued that this is a market failure—that markets work poorly in a crisis:
No country in times of serious war turns to markets. We don’t use markets to allocate how our troops should be deployed, and we didn’t rely on markets for producing tanks, airplanes, and other essential matériel in World War II. We needed immediate action, with complex coordination and changing demands; markets just don’t work well in these circumstances.
Stiglitz is right that we don’t use markets to fight physical wars. Or as one governor put it, during WWII, each state didn’t buy its own aircraft carriers. …
This is an expanded version of what I said at my father’s funeral. He passed away on March 2, 2020 at the age of 89. May his memory be a blessing.
My dad never wore his heart on his sleeve. I can’t help but do so today. So Dad, forgive me.
He was an extraordinary man who acted like an ordinary one.
There wasn’t a pretentious bone in his body.
Yesterday, a friend who heard that my dad had passed away told me he was larger than life. …
A lot of things are thought to be wrong with America these days. A rising suicide rate. Opioid addiction and deaths. Unaffordable housing in America’s most prosperous cities. Rising inequality. Pockets of poverty in the Rust Belt and elsewhere. Steadily declining jobs in the manufacturing sector. A falling marriage rate. Stagnant wages. Health care costs spiraling higher as life expectancy falls. Very high levels of government debt. Very high levels of student debt. A stubbornly high trade deficit. A failing elementary and secondary education system for many.
Some of these problem may be mere statistical artifacts. Others may not be real problems at all. But it seems difficult to dismiss all of them. …