Friday, September 26, 2014

America Is the Greatest Country on Earth, Except for All the Takers

I'm a fan of Paul Krugman, and he's my go-to guy when in most things economic, including the subject of income inequality. I could, of course, get what I need from any number of left-of-center economists, like Dean Baker, Jared Bernstein, Brad De Long, Joe Stiglitz, Robert Reich, and Noah Smith. The list goes on.

Not surprisingly, those of the right side of the political spectrum hold quite nearly opposite views in this area. They either deny that income inequality is that big of a deal or find ways to blame it on the losers. This puts them squarely in the "it's the poors who are lazy and deserve what they get" camp, which of course is occupied by Mitt Romney, John Boehner, Rick Santorum, Paul Ryan, and the Republican Party in general.

It's funny that the Republican Party, which spends a good deal of its days saying variations of "America is the greatest" this-and-that, would find that the "greatest country on Earth" has about fifty percent of its citizens defined as "takers."

Where, then, is the proof that America is the greatest at anything except malingering? Riddle me that, Republicans.

You can't, except to change the subject. Weird, huh? Now, back to the right-wing economists. Where do they stand on income inequality, as exemplified by the figure above? Why on Earth did the top 10 and the bottom 90 diverge back in about 1980? Stanford economics professor and darling of conservatives, John Taylor, has an explanation:
A large body of research documents that returns to education started increasing in the 1980s as evidenced by the growing college and high school wage premium. If the supply of those completing high school, with some going on to college, had increased to keep pace with the increase in returns, it is unlikely that we would have seen such a large widening of the distribution. But supply did not increase. High school graduation rates hit a peak around 1970 and then started declining. The US international rank in test scores fell.
The source of the income distribution problem is thus related to a poor education system. We are restricting educational opportunities, especially for those who are disadvantaged.
In other words the explanation for the widening inequality is the restriction of economic freedom rather than the promotion of economic freedom. Economic freedom did not mean economic freedom for all. Remember the students from the movie “Waiting for Superman”: Bianca, Emily, Anthony, Daisy, and Francisco who had such a small chance of winning the lottery to get into a school that would open up such opportunities? Adhering more closely to the principles of economic freedom requires giving those kids more freedom of choice.
See what he did there? It's all about education. the "greatest nation on Earth" has a poor education system that doesn't produce enough high-school graduates. The solution to this is exemplified by the movie "Waiting for Superman," a deeply flawed portrait singing the praises of charter schools. Read this about its inaccuracies. Taylor's suggestion that "adhering more closely to the principles of economic freedom requires giving those kids more freedom of choice" would solve our education system is a barely cloaked promotion of charter schools -- which often under-perform local regular public schools -- while also an attack on unions and a clear push for private-school vouchers so beloved of the Republicans.

As for those declining high-school graduation rates? In April of this year, Arne Duncan announced that the nation had hit its highest graduation rate in history. Weird, huh? And what about this?

John Taylor is right! Graduation rates declined beginning around 1975 before rebounding in 2000 and moving higher by 2010. So Taylor proves absolutely nothing.

To reiterate: John Taylor blames income inequality on something that barely happened, which could be fixed by charter schools, which have a very spotty record of improving anything, and if we'd only grant "school choice," then, boom!, we fix income inequality.

He teaches at Stanford but also is a fellow of the conservative Hoover Institution. And this is the drivel he produces when asked about income inequality. I wonder which side he's on?

Wonder no more.

Just a reminder: The richest man in the world, Bill Gates, is a college dropout. So was Steve Jobs. And so is Oracle's Larry Ellison. Clearly, education is where the ultra-rich get their advantage.

Dropping out of college ruined Bill Gates' chances of making the top .0001 percent.

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