Poor You: Economist Samuel Bowles Has Some Bad News

A Santa Fe economist has some sobering facts and figures for you.

It turns out that New Mexico is losing jobs more than a hundred times faster than the state's Economic Development Department is creating them – and you could probably extrapolate those grim numbers to many other states.

According to this must-read story in the Santa Fe Reporter, Samuel Bowles, who runs the Behavioral Sciences Program at the Santa Fe Institute, also has numbers suggesting that economic inequality in the United States runs twice as high as in Sweden. And that the chances of someone in the bottom 10 percent of society rising to the top 10 percent is a little more than one percent. Which is to say that social mobility is increasingly difficult. Jobs guarding the rich, however, are increasingly available. According to the increasing disparity in income, Bowles argues, nearly one in four New Mexico jobs is dedicated to keeping people in line, either as police, guards, or corporate IT spies.

Does education help? Not according to Samuel Bowles. “Being willing to sit in a boring classroom for 12 years, and then sign up for four more years and then sign up for three or more years after that—well, that’s a pretty good measure of your willingness to essentially do what you’re told,” he says.

Three more numbers, none of them lucky:


The first is how many years have passed since Bowles was inspired by [Dr. Martin Luther] King to “put his heart and his head together” and study economic inequality.

The second is the Gini measure of inequality for the US back then, a level comparable to other wealthy nations like Japan or Israel today.

The third is the most recent US Gini, as calculated by the Census Bureau. It’s at a level comparable to the Philippines, a former colony of islands where every other person lives on less than $2 a day, or Rwanda, an even poorer country in Central Africa that was home to a genocide 16 years ago—a country whose name is often synonymous with hopelessness.