April 21, 2014

The roots of inequality

Many progressives have their hearts in the right place, that is not the problem.  The problem is where they have placed their heads.

Liberals want to stamp out inequality, but so do conservatives.  The difference in how they want to stamp it out stems from what they see as inequality.  It also stems from how they assess the circumstances causing or contributing to the inequality.

With respect to how progressives see inequality versus how conservatives see it, the difference is pretty simple.  Progressives see inequality in terms of outcome.  Conservatives see it in terms of inputs.
For a progressive, inequality is in circumstance.  Someone making $10/hour and living in poverty when there is someone who owns a company and is making millions of dollars a year is not only inequality, it's patently unfair.  They focus on the outcome.  For a conservative, the free market system may have found the equilibrium for these two individuals.  The individual making millions may have spent a lot more time in school, he may have studied a lot rather than partying with friends or dropping out of high school.  In other words, the unfairness that liberals see, may actually be justified.  The inputs - study versus not - may have justified the outcome.  Surely someone who is a doctor and spent almost a  decade in post secondary education, deserves a richer reward for his effort and sacrifice than someone who didn't put the same effort in.

But conservatives can still see inequality in that situation.  The free market rewards effort, but it is merely the most effective way to sort outcomes, not a universally 'fair' one.  Perhaps the person who went to medical school came from a rich family who could afford the university tuition while the person who is working at a minimum wage job may have had the ability to be a highly skilled neurosurgeon but no means to pursue it. That's where conservatives see the roots of inequality - the inequality of opportunity.  That's why conservatives generally favor school vouchers as a way to help level the playing field and create an equality of education, thereby creating an equality of opportunity, rather than a socialistic equality of outcome.

All people deserve an equal opportunity, but not all people are equally skilled at all possible jobs, or even equal at study.  So not all people, given the same opportunity to learn and develop skills will achieve the same results.  Therefore the rewards should not be the same.  Similarly, with the concept of supply and demand, not all professions are equally valued by society.  The best actors make a lot more money than the best garbage men.  I'm sure many liberal elite actors would not want their pay scaled back to level the playing field with a garbage man.  Because society deems some skills more valuable than others, equality of outcome simply isn't possible.  At say $25 per hour as a flattened outcome valuing all professions equally, would the world have seen an Al Pacino, a Mick Jagger, or even a Steve Jobs?  Maybe.  But the likelihood is much smaller.  That's why there is no Chinese band with the worldwide impact impact of a Rolling Stones.

With respect to the circumstances surrounding inequality, there was an interesting article today in the Wall Street Journal about the social aspects of inequality.
...in the current discussions about increased inequality, few researchers, fewer reporters, and no one in the executive branch of government directly addresses what seems to be the strongest statistical correlate of inequality in the United States: the rise of single-parent families during the past half century...

In the past four years, our two academic professional organizations—the American Political Science Association and the American Educational Research Association—have each dedicated annual meetings to inequality, with numerous papers and speeches denouncing free markets, the decline of unions, and "neoliberalism" generally as exacerbating economic inequality. Yet our searches of the groups' conference websites fail to turn up a single paper or panel addressing the effects of family change on inequality.

Why isn't this matter at the center of policy discussions? There are at least three reasons. First, much of politics is less about what you are for than who you are against...intellectual and cultural elites lean to the left. So, quite simply, very few professors or journalists, and fewer still who want foundation grants, want to be seen as siding with social conservatives, even if the evidence leads that way.

Second, family breakup has hit minority communities the hardest. So even bringing up the issue risks being charged with racism, a potential career-killer...

Finally, there is no quick fix. Welfare reform beginning in the mid-1990s offered only modest marriage incentives and has been insufficient to change entrenched cultural practices...

But the first step is to acknowledge the problem.
The roots of inequality it would seem are social issues. To argue that the rich are to blame is to dumb down the debate. To ignore the details, is to ignore the problem.

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