NY Times points out the need for laissez-faire capitalism as antitode to class inequality

Well, not so much “points out” as “presents strong evidence in favor of it, but doesn’t exactly spell it out for some reason”.

In the first of a series on class in America, we see the ways in which “class is still a powerful force in American life”.

But they also point out the ways it is not:

“For one thing, it is harder to read position in possessions. Factories in China and elsewhere churn out picture-taking cellphones and other luxuries that are now affordable to almost everyone. Federal deregulation has done the same for plane tickets and long-distance phone calls. Banks, more confident about measuring risk, now extend credit to low-income families, so that owning a home or driving a new car is no longer evidence that someone is middle class.

The economic changes making material goods cheaper have forced businesses to seek out new opportunities so that they now market to groups they once ignored. Cruise ships, years ago a symbol of the high life, have become the ocean-going equivalent of the Jersey Shore. BMW produces a cheaper model with the same insignia. Martha Stewart sells chenille jacquard drapery and scallop-embossed ceramic dinnerware at Kmart. ”

At the same time:

” At a time when education matters more than ever, success in school remains linked tightly to class. At a time when the country is increasingly integrated racially, the rich are isolating themselves more and more. At a time of extraordinary advances in medicine, class differences in health and lifespan are wide and appear to be widening. ”

There’s a lot more of this, along with lots of back-and-forth about whether this is an outrage or just something we should live with. But the obvious question – “why are good education and health care be reserved for the rich while other things are not?” – never gets explicitly answered. While they come out and admit that Federal deregulation drove down the price of plane tickets and long-distance phone service, they never draw the obvious conclusion that massive deregulation would also reverse the stark and growing class divide in the ability to obtain quality education and healthcare.

When the “scramble to scoop up a house in the best school district, channel a child into the right preschool program or land the best medical specialist are all part of a quiet contest among social groups that the affluent and educated are winning in a rout”, that is a clear indication of what economists like to call a “shortage”. And where do persistent shortages come from? Price controls, barriers to entry, and other regulations, not from a free market. The proper counterpoint to “the need for better early-education and antipoverty programs to try and redress an imbalance in opportunities” is not “mobility remains quite high, even if it has tailed off a little”, but “the way to redress an imbalance in opportunities is to apply the same medicine that works wonders in redressing an imbalance in the availability of airline travel, cell phones, and computers – i.e., massive deregulation”.

Our friends on the left are correct that there is a serious problem, but not in their preferred solution; we need to offer a solution that actually works, instead of trying to pretend that the problem doesn’t exist in a forlorn hope of stopping them from applying their disastrously poisonous “remedy” – all that such pretense would do is destroy our credibility and drive voters to the solutions from the left as those would be the only ones on offer. And if the solutions that actually work are “politically infeasible” – well, over the long term, so is letting this class divide fester without even an attempt at a solution. As FDR proved, a bad solution is often more popular than no solution, even when it makes things worse. So even “politically infeasible” solutions are worth pushing, since if they don’t fly we’re no worse off than if we’d offered nothing at all but denials of the existence of problems that lots of people can see for themselves.

13 thoughts on “NY Times points out the need for laissez-faire capitalism as antitode to class inequality”

  1. Judging from the article I don’t that the NYT knows what class is. Their scales merely differentiate among different middle class people.

    I heard a good definition of upper class once: you’re upper class when no matter how badly you screw up, you won’t be allowed to fail. We do have an upper class in this country but it’s quite small.

  2. I was read a poll result that indicated about 95 percent of the population considered themselves middle class. Now thats a very big middle!

    Stands to reason to me that that families who value education and want to see their children succeed economically will have children that succeed economically. And what just what is considered rich? What is poor? By what standards are these two extremes measured? If one earns a million bucks a year and the income is more than sufficient for personal needs yet is in the bottom five percent of wage earners is that individual considered poor?

  3. they never draw the obvious conclusion that massive deregulation would also reverse the stark and growing class divide in the ability to obtain quality education and healthcare.


  4. Why would they want such a thing? It would mean their children have to actually compete with an ever growing pool of kids. This would make it that much harder to get into Harvard. They don’t really believe in meritocracy or want it.

  5. Perhaps there are deeper reasons why quality healthcare and education aren’t generally available to all. Unlike cell phones and airplanes, productivity “multipliers” from automation and technological advances don’t work so well in education and health care. There is no machine or device (currently) that enables a doctor or teacher work with 100 times the number of patients or students than he did 100 years ago. These remain human intensive endeavors. So quality education and healthcare still are only affordable to the few, because they are a scarce commodity which we haven’t figured out to mass produce.

    So it might not be by accident that the trappings of wealth that the poor can afford are only those that are the products of automation (’cause we don’t pay our machines).

  6. There is no machine or device (currently) that enables a doctor or teacher work with 100 times the number of patients or students than he did 100 years ago.

    There are restrictions placed on entry into these fields. For example if you have a master degree in mathematics you can’t get a public school teaching gig teaching math without getting a education degree. There are market distortions in these fields that can’t be easily solved with technology.

  7. Yes, I’d like to second jrdroll.

    Most of my colleagues are remarkably happy; we have more education, less pay, and a good deal less security. Indeed, several high school teachers fill in our night classes, but can’t justify financially moving over to our system.

    Why our happiness and their relative bitterness? Ed classes, which they need, are insulting and attract/mold people whose primary concern in paper assignments is the length (as well as margins). By concentrating on “how” something is taught, they denigrate “what” is being taught.

    Fixing what’s going on in those classrooms doesn’t need shorter work years nor higher pay; it doesn’t need powerpoint or a computer at every desk. It needs people who respect their students, families that expect students to learn but primarily it needs a love for the discipline by the teacher (once we get beyond primary grades, of course). My suspicion is that it needs carpet bombing ed schools. (Notice the two teachers Lamb has interviewed did not come to this through a traditional ed route.)

    I’d prefer charter schools, vouchers, etc. weren’t the answer. I like neighborhod schools. I love the rough egalitarian nature of my childhood, as the whole community comes together in that classroom. But we can’t go back and this just isn’t working.

    And it is hard to be willing to back up teachers (no matter how appealing some are individually) whose national organizations are condescending and even insulting to parents.

    And yes, I think lindenen is right – actually, I think that goes for the snotty attitude towads things like Walmart & Target – heaven forbid the plebes have a big t.v. and exotic coffees. And McDonald’s, etc. – heaven forbid the plebes eat out with their kids. All these are substitues for sumptuary laws, where each of us would leave no doubt of our status.

    I about lost it when one of my husband’s friends, a school teacher, complained about Bush’s Texas ed policies. I asked him where he thought the Gore kids went to school and where the Bushes did? His wife said, well, I’m sure the Bushes went to some hoity toity school. (The Bushes went to an inner city, quite integrated one in Austin – true, not a terrible one, but a public one. The Gores, of course, went to private schools.)

  8. I’d like to second… uh, third… jdroll’s point. My wife has her masters in mathematics and wanted to go into teaching, but the system kept her out. They required a teaching certificate, and the programs to get those certificates are expensive (more than we could afford with me on a grad-school TA income) and often run over a strange period of time (the one we looked at the most started in the spring and ran until the next spring, meaning she’d have had to take most of a year off after getting her masters, or else be working on 2 degrees at once.)

    She would have been a very high quality teacher. She thinks well, she explains things well, she understands math very well, and she really enjoys kids. But the school system simply made it too hard for her to work for them, so she went to Boeing and got hired for a lot more money than they pay teachers. They want quality teachers, and in fact they have a huge shortage of quality teachers, but they make it hard for people who’d be quality teachers to get in there and teach!

    I had the priviledge of working with an education program that put me into a couple of 4th grade classrooms for a few hours per week. I really enjoyed it, and I think I’d make a really good public school teacher as well — but it’s the politics that will keep me out when I finish my PhD. Once, at lunch, the teacher I was working for and a couple other teachers asked me why I planned to vote for Bush (though I’d never said anything political anywhere near the school) and then kept interrupting me every time I got halfway through a sentence in order to yell about Abu Ghraib or stem cell research. Not long after the election, I got a message from my program coordinator saying one of the teachers had asked for me to be replaced, and they gave such a weak and bogus sounding reason that I’m inclined to think it was really a political firing. I don’t think I want to go back into a system like that.

    The fact is, there are so many barriers and disadvantages to teaching — from difficult (and unnecessary) entry requirements to unions to political harassment to low salary — that a lot of very qualified people just don’t bother. People don’t have access to quality education because the public schools don’t have enough quality teachers, and the public schools don’t have enough quality teachers because they scare off half of the candidates (the Republicans) and surround another 35% of them in red tape. When you’ve only got access to about 15% of the labor force you should, it’s expected that you’ll have a weak product.

  9. Teachers in NY suburbs now earn more than 100,000$ a year. Nice. Of course, that salary is chump change compared to what the residents of those suburbs probably make.

  10. I wasn’t argueing that there are vast inefficiences and room for improvement in our education system. Or even that laissez faire isn’t a better approach for I think it would be. Just that very few of the trappings of wealth that the poor can avail themselves of are not the results of automation. Just that where require individual attention of skilled people is required, the poor (or the non-powerful) will always come up short shrift.

  11. But automation doesn’t grow on trees. Technology is not something we drill for. People design and build it, usually because they expect to make a profit selling it.

    And they can only do that if there are enough people that have a use for it and are willing, able, and permitted to buy it and use it.

    The automation that hasn’t replaced doctors isn’t prevented by any law of nature or deficiency of engineering talent. The machines they use now could, with some design modifications, be used without the intervention of doctors in many cases. But those machines are off-limits to everyone but doctors, so those design modifications never get made and thus the substitution of automation for highly skilled professionals never occurs. And prices stay high, and people say that high prices are inevitable because no technology exists to replace the individual attention of highly skilled professionals.

    (And of course the number of doctors themselves is not governed by supply and demand, but by Congress and the AMA.)

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