Reality breaks through the Overton window

by John Quiggin on February 7, 2013

While I was looking at sources for my post on declining middle class access to first-tier college education, I came across this piece by Arthur Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute His main point is the possibility of reducing education costs through low-cost distance/online learning, on which I might say more another time[1]. What struck me, though was this passage (emphasis added)

my 10K-B.A. is what made higher education possible for me, and it changed the course of my life. More people should have this opportunity, in a society that is suffering from falling economic and social mobility.

The change on this point has been striking in a matter of a few years. When I was writing Zombie Economics in 2009 and early 2010, I spent a lot of time citing work going back to the 1980s and 1990s to show that the US has less intergenerational income mobility than most European countries. At that time, the conventional wisdom was definitely that the US was characterized by equality of opportunity – there were still plenty of hacks willing to deny that inequality of outcomes had increased, including plenty at AEI.[2]

The Occupy movement played a big role in focusing attention on the general issue of inequality, and once attention was focused, the facts pretty much spoke for themselves. At the other end of the political spectrum, the intellectual collapse of the political right became more and more evident, to the point that they were unable to put up any effective resistance. Instead we got arguments like this from Tyler Cowen, suggesting that maybe social immobility isn’t so bad after all.

It seems to me that this is happening across a wide range of issues. A common way of talking about this is to suggest that the Overton Window has shifted. But I’m not sure this is quite the right story. The standard view of the Overton window is that there is a set of insiders who define the range of views that are taken seriously – in the US, this set runs from the centre-right of the Republican Party to the centre-left of the Democratic Party, but its most prominent members are “centrist” pundits and journalist, the archetypal examples being Tom Friedman and the late David Broder.

What we seeing now, is not a shift in the Overton window, but a challenge to this whole approach to determining what views should be taken seriously, a challenge that started with the appropriation by the left of the “reality-based” label pinned on us in Karl Rove’s famous interview with Ron Suskind, and has continued (though very imperfectly) with the rise of fact-checkers. The new approach is based on the shocking idea that objective truth, rather than political acceptability, should be the criterion against which factual claims are tested[3].

If this view is right, then the most important single development was probably Nate Silver’s successful prediction of the 2012 election. Silver was up against both the pseudo-science of the Republican “unskewers” and the faith of centrist pundits (historically exemplified by Broder) that their deep connection with the American psyche was worth more than any number of least-squares regressions. Given the centrality of horse-race journalism to the pundit class, their defeat by relatively straightforward statistical analysis of opinion polls was a huge blow.

Coming back to inequality, the negative is that the only reason the left can make such a convincing case is that the objective facts show that, for the last 20 years at least, progressives have been defeated on every front by the 1 per cent and their hired guns. They have managed to grab most of the increase in income for themselves, to buy off the rest of the top 20 per cent with more modest benefits, and still to get plenty of voting support from the 80 per cent of Americans who have lost ground, and lost the hope that their children will do better.

Still, I’m an incurable optimist. When the hired gun occupying the most prestigious single position in the right’s intellectual parallel universe accepts growing inequality and social immobility as uncontroversial background assumptions, we have at least won the battle of ideas. The 1 per cent have entrenched power, but even they can no longer pretend to believe that their huge wealth benefits everyone else.

fn1. My own experience is similar, but in reverse order. I got undergraduate degrees the traditional way, at the Australian National University (except that I was mostly part-time), but my PhD was done long-distance at the respectable, but less prestigious University of New England. So, I agree with Brooks that this can work, but I doubt that it can work for the typical high school graduate

fn2. It’s much harder to show that US social mobility has declined since, say, the mid-20th century. We’re talking about differences in differences between generations, after all). But there are good reasons to think that the image of the US as a land of opportunity was valid in the past, so presumably there must have been a decline at some time. Brooks clearly assumes somehting of this kind.

fn3. It’s particularly amusing that Republicans rhetorically espoused this position in the “Science Wars” of the 1990s, just as their parallel universe of pseudo-science, spin and talking point generators was being perfected.

{ 130 comments }

1

Rich 02.07.13 at 8:17 am

good reasons to think that the image of the US as a land of opportunity was valid in the past

Maybe. Or just that we only hear of the Edisons and Fords, and not (in that respect) of the people that went bankrupt, died of TB, etc.

2

Hidari 02.07.13 at 8:21 am

I am not quite so sure about this. Do we think that Republicans and Republican fellow travellers would be making quite so many points about rising inequality if there was not a Democrat in the White House?

Remember here is David Cameron making the same point;

“Since the immediate postwar period, the most significant extension of the state has taken place under the current Labour government. Did the rapid expansion since 1997 succeed in tackling poverty? Did it reduce inequality? It would be churlish to deny that some progress has been made. But – quite apart from the fact that it turns out much of this has been paid for on account, creating debts that will have to be paid back by future generations – a more complete assessment of the evidence shows that, as the state continued to expand under Labour, our society became more, not less, unfair.

In the past decade, the gap between the richest and the poorest got wider. Indeed, inequality is now at a record high. The very poorest in our society got poorer – and there are more of them. And studies by the Sutton Trust indicate that social mobility has effectively stalled – people are no more likely to escape the circumstances of their birth than they were 30 years ago.”

Not that I would reccommend it but if you look at the blogs of hard-right idealogues like Glenn Reynolds their case is very simple: America used to be the land of opportunity but now that the Communist Obama has seized power in a coup d’etat, we are seeing increased poverty and inequality.

In any case the blindspot of Brooks is not shared by him alone.

Krugman had a post recently in which he (belatedly) pointed out that “Better education won’t do much to reduce inequality if the big rewards simply go to those with the most assets.”

Now this is a pretty radical volte face. It has been an item of faith on both sides of the political spectrum that “education” (however that is defined) is the key to….well….pretty much everything. Get the workers into college and they will all get nice white collar jobs in the public sector or corporations and everything will be fine. And almost everyone has believed this since roughly the mid ‘sixtıes. Thatcher believed it but so did Harold Wilson. Blair believed it. Brooks clearly believes it. And Krugman clearly believed it.

But it happens not to be true. And THAT is the problem. Even if we all accept that inequality is the (or at least a) problem as long as we continue to think that education and much more of it is the solution to this problem then we haven’t really moved on that much (actually American style education, which entails taking on huge amounts of debt if you are poor, might actually be making the problem worse).

http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/08/rise-of-the-robots/

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/nov/10/big-society-government-poverty-inequality

3

Niall McAuley 02.07.13 at 8:49 am

I think that upward mobility was always a comfortable myth. Lots of people still believe it now, when the numbers show it is false. Why wouldn’t they have believed it before there were such numbers?

Here’s Kurt Vonnegut in Slaughterhouse Five from 1969:

America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, “It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.” It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: “if you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?” There will also be an American flag no larger than a child’s hand – glued to a lollipop stick and flying from the cash register.

Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say Napoleonic times. Many novelties have come from America. The most startling of these, a thing without precedent, is a mass of undignified poor. They do not love one another because they do not love themselves.

4

Niall McAuley 02.07.13 at 8:54 am

At least I see that cited online as being from Slaughterhouse Five, but it reads more like a quote form a speech. I think I remember the “If you’re so smart” line from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.

5

Niall McAuley 02.07.13 at 9:12 am

…and Louis Jordan, singing Walter Bishop Sr., from maybe 1950:

Hershey started with a chocolate bar
Wrigley with a stick of gum
Planters took his peanuts and travelled far
Now tell me – what’you doin’, chum?
I’ been hearin’ all about all your big ideas
Since you started. What’s the hitch?
You never made ten dollars yet
You say you can balance the national debt
If you’re so smart,
How come you ain’t rich?

6

Sancho 02.07.13 at 9:45 am

Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.


– John Steinbeck.

7

Andrew C 02.07.13 at 12:02 pm

Slaughterhouse V is the source of the quote. Page 129 according to Google Books.

8

Ben Alpers 02.07.13 at 1:12 pm

It is Slaughterhouse-Five. But the words are those of Howard W. Campbell, Jr., who is a (fictional) American Nazi (and the main character of Vonnegut’s earlier Mother Night, in which Campbell is really working for the OSS). All of this, of course, raises questions about how me are supposed to take his words.

9

Ben Alpers 02.07.13 at 1:19 pm

Two thoughts about the OP:

1) Although the myth of opportunity underlies a lot of conservative rhetoric historically, there’s also a strain that runs from William Graham Sumner through Charles Murray that has emphasized the cold, hard, and supposedly necessary fact of “natural” inequality. I’m not convinced that the potential reemergence of this rhetoric as a more dominant strain on the American right is an automatic triumph for the “left” (let alone the left).

2) The slow collapse of the myth of higher education as a panacea for all of the structural inequalities of our society poses real dangers for higher education (especially public higher education), as well , since higher-ed-as-social-equalizer has become the overwhelming basis for popular and political support for higher ed.

10

Steve LaBonne 02.07.13 at 1:41 pm

The slow collapse of the myth of higher education as a panacea for all of the structural inequalities of our society poses real dangers for higher education (especially public higher education), as well , since higher-ed-as-social-equalizer has become the overwhelming basis for popular and political support for higher ed.

I hate to be the skunk at the academic garden party that is CT, but: US higher ed as it now exists NEEDS to be endangered. There is far to much money flowing to too many wannabe research universities and unneeded professional schools, and far too little to institutions that focus on undergraduate teaching (especially community colleges).

11

Sus. 02.07.13 at 2:23 pm

As Hildari @2 suggested, Repubs (and some Libertarians) admitting to growing inequality has become part and parcel of their anti-Democrat talking points. They argue that that the Democrat agenda is to make as many Americans dependent on the government as possible by increasing welfare and other social programs and discouraging them from finding work. By doing so (they argue) Dems will guarantee success in future elections, since a vote for a Repub is a vote against their continued government support. The recently-retired Neal Boortz was a particularly vocal proponent of this theory (http://www.boortz.com/weblogs/nealz-nuze/2012/nov/07/its-not-always-great-being-right/), but I hear it from others, too.

12

Clay Shirky 02.07.13 at 2:31 pm

@Ben #9,

I’d say the period of “real danger” for public higher education began in the mid-1970s, when, after fifteen years of skyrocketing state support, the slow “Two steps backward, one step up” defunding of public colleges and universities began.

As with so many institutional threats, the recognition of the threat came decades after the threat itself. A chart of state appropriations (http://goo.gl/9tetW) shows that there has never been a sharp period of defunding, but that the cumulative effect of the last ~40 years has been to undo about 50% of the rise in funding (in constant dollars) achieved in the 1960s and early 1970s.

13

Barry 02.07.13 at 2:31 pm

John: “Still, I’m an incurable optimist. When the hired gun occupying the most prestigious single position in the right’s intellectual parallel universe accepts growing inequality and social immobility as uncontroversial background assumptions, we have at least won the battle of ideas. The 1 per cent have entrenched power, but even they can no longer pretend to believe that their huge wealth benefits everyone else.”

I’m seconding Ben, and adding on – the obvious next step is to assert (without proof, of course) that inequality and immobility are good things. As you noted with Alex (member of another, perhaps less notorious intellectual br*thel).

As for the AEI, if there’s one thing that I’ve learned, it’s that hacks and wh*res stay that way, with painfully few exceptions. I know where I’d bet my money about the path of the intellectual br*thels of the right.

14

LFC 02.07.13 at 3:30 pm

The degree of social mobility (either within or between generations) in the U.S. probably has always been perceived to be higher than it actually is. But myths need at least a kernel of basis in fact, otherwise they don’t become myths in the first place. There is prob. a fair amount of work by economic and social historians on mobility in different eras but I’m not familiar with most of it. Of some interest/relevance, esp. for the 19th cent., may be Scott Sandage’s Born Losers: A History of Failure in America (2006) (which I haven’t read).

15

straightwood 02.07.13 at 4:17 pm

University teachers are in a seriously conflicted position. Just a year ago, the surest way for a commenter to be pelted with the posting equivalent of rotten fruit and vegetables on CT was to suggest that there was a likely shift away from the $100,000 ivy-covered-halls baccalaureate. Then came the MOOCs and the Shirkey article signalling a shift in the conventional wisdom. Instructors in economics and the social sciences now have the delicate task of explaining how dismantling the bricks and mortar higher education model that sustains their careers is desirable reform that will reduce inequality and restore prosperity.

16

bjk 02.07.13 at 5:04 pm

Is the rhetoric of “reality” useful or helpful? I can think of a ton of “Reality” that the left doesn’t want to think about. How about the complete failure of Head Start? Or if inequality is your issue, the effects of immigration on lower-skill wages? Or the reality that high education costs are driven by rent-seeking educators and administrators, abetted by Democrats? Neither party has a monopoly on “reality” and it’s essentially just a lame taunt.

17

hix 02.07.13 at 5:34 pm

My impression was always that a lack of social mobility has long been accepted and justified by appitude differences:

Something like this:

a) It is ok when people with higher aptitude make a lot more money, since this just reflects their value to society

b) Since society was so equal opportunity for such a long time, ones parents icome level perfectly reflects their aptitude

c) aptitude is almost solely based on inherited genetics

—> no need for social mobillity

This is was Sarazin did and my impression was he copy pasted American authors.

18

Bruce Wilder 02.07.13 at 5:41 pm

Coming back to inequality, the negative is that the only reason the left can make such a convincing case is that the objective facts show . . . the 1 per cent and their hired guns . . . have managed to grab most of the increase in income for themselves, . . . we have at least won the battle of ideas. The 1 per cent have entrenched power, but even they can no longer pretend to believe that their huge wealth benefits everyone else.

The extremely mild claims about the etiology of increasing inequality — that the 1% have grabbed a large share of the increase in income and the assertion that the huge wealth of the few does not benefit everyone else — doesn’t feed my optimism that reality is breaking through. The highly abstract labeling of the problem as “inequality” and the backing up of that label with statistical generalizations about social mobility at a time, when college education is an invitation to debt peonage, when Social Security is under attack by an allegedly Democratic President, when unemployment is ignored by the Media in favor of a Federal debt crisis, and the financial and health care sectors of the American economy are aggressively predatory — well, reality does not seem to making that large an impression.

19

bianca steele 02.07.13 at 5:48 pm

@9
Social Darwinism, though, never foregrounded a lack of social mobility. In fact, often Social Darwinism was seen as promoting social mobility: from the working class to the poorhouse, especially.

And Murray, from what I gather, emphasized assortative mating as much as assortative hiring as a mechanism of mobility that’s facilitated by universities, one that’s not much discussed in the economic literature, to be sure.

20

Steve LaBonne 02.07.13 at 5:48 pm

How about the complete failure of Head Start?

No, that right there is a right-wing lie.

21

bjk 02.07.13 at 6:07 pm

Page xvii:

In summary, there were initial positive impacts from having access to Head Start, but by the end of 3rd grade there were very few impacts found for either cohort in any of the four domains of cognitive, social-emotional, health and parenting practices. The few impacts that were found did not show a clear pattern of favorable or unfavorable impacts for children.

http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/opre/resource/third-grade-follow-up-to-the-head-start-impact-study-final-report

I’m sure all of the partisans of “reality” will now call for Head Start to be defunded.

22

nvalvo 02.07.13 at 6:54 pm

@16: I’m aware that the Heritage Foundation thinks that Head Start is a failure and should be defunded, but the Minneapolis Fed disagrees.

23

Harold 02.07.13 at 6:55 pm

Head Start has actually shown robust success.

24

Steve LaBonne 02.07.13 at 6:57 pm

After a while, one starts to notice that attempts to defend right-wing positions are always accompanied by bald-faced lies.

25

David Kaib 02.07.13 at 7:43 pm

I think what you’re talking about is a shift in the spheres of consensus, controversy and deviance, as theorized by Daniel Hallin, discussed in this class Press Think post: http://archive.pressthink.org/2009/01/12/atomization.html

26

SASQ 02.07.13 at 7:58 pm

@ 10: “I hate to be the skunk at the academic garden party that is CT, but: US higher ed as it now exists NEEDS to be endangered. There is far to much money flowing to too many wannabe research universities and unneeded professional schools, and far too little to institutions that focus on undergraduate teaching (especially community colleges).”

You know what else needs to be “endangered” (by your definition)? American-style “democracy” and “health care” and “grade school/high school” (all of which siphon money to the privileged, no?) The difference between you and me is that I don’t think endangering these things will mean the alternative that you and I want. The Right is fighting all these things and they have an army ready to go. If you want to endanger them, what army have you got?

27

Steve LaBonne 02.07.13 at 8:03 pm

Always keep ahold of nurse / For fear of finding something worse. Sorry, I’m not ready to embrace reactionary liberalism that defends every existing institution precisely as it exists now because I’m afraid of the right. Public opinion is not on their side and neither is time.

28

Bruce Wilder 02.07.13 at 8:04 pm

SASQ @25

So, that would be an additional helping of lesser evil for you, then?

29

SASQ 02.07.13 at 8:12 pm

@26 and @27: No, you’re confusing a difference of ideology with a difference of strategy. I’m no liberal, let alone a “reactionary” one. And no one is defending existing institutions “precisely as they exist.” Passion cannot substitute for a realistic grasp of the distribution of power and how to get it and use it. In any case, I was disputing Steve’s singular focus on higher education. Its deeper and wider than he allows.

30

Steve LaBonne 02.07.13 at 8:16 pm

In any case, I was disputing Steve’s singular focus on higher education. Its deeper and wider than he allows.

Yes, that was my “singular focus” in the zero places where I said there are no other important issues. Am I supposed to mention all the world’s problems in every comment?

31

JRHulls 02.07.13 at 8:47 pm

The ‘Overton Window’ is essentially a bowlderized version of the work of French anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu’s, ‘Theory of Practice” based on his work with tribal structure and authority. British Econ writer Gillian Tett (Fool’s Gold) is a big fan of his work in understanding Wall Street tribal behavior, and how elites manipulate society’s cognitive map. For more discussion and links to Bourdieu’s comments on media, please see “Our Half of the Deal” at: http://somewhatlogically.com/?p=472

Of equal interest are the stats and links in the recent OECD piece, http://oecdinsights.org/2013/02/07/college-or-something-like-it/ Which points to the decline of the US love affair with higher education because of cost, and the potential negative impacts.

No one has thrown a brick through the Overton Window…yet.

32

JRHulls 02.07.13 at 8:50 pm

OOps used the short-hand title of Bourdieu’s book…”Outline of a Theory of Practice”

33

Trader Joe 02.07.13 at 8:51 pm

I’ll probably regret it, but I agree with SLB @10 and Wilder’s assertion @18 that too much higher education is an invitation to debt and believe that some part of the solution (if there in fact is one) lies with MOOC as @15.

There probably haven’t been 7 things I fully agree with Mr LaBonne on, but in this case he’s right near the center of the bullseye – the U.S. higher ed system needs a serious enema….billions of dollars with no accountability have clogged up the pipes.

34

shah8 02.07.13 at 8:52 pm

Thank you for the links.

35

Steve LaBonne 02.07.13 at 8:54 pm

Don’t flatter yourself, Joe. You’re full of crap as usual. Higher education is receiving insufficient public support, and at the same time the existing support is directed in ways that are not good for non-wealthy students. I realize this may be a bit too complicated a picture to fit into your simpleminded worldview.

36

Lee A. Arnold 02.07.13 at 8:57 pm

I have been pointing out for years that the right-wing view of things was crashing into reality, in at least two different ways: 1) the ideology is untrue, and 2) they have to sell it to their only reliable supporters, who would be among the first ones to feel the pain if the policies were actually enacted. Thus, contradiction upon contradiction.

I think the most important single thing is the internet. THIS is what is enabling the “challenge to this whole approach to determining what views should be taken seriously.” For about 100 years, electric mass media — motion pictures, radio, television — were directed one-way, and were more or less controlled by corporate interests, so things like “conventional wisdom” or the “Overton window” were rather easy to establish and modulate. That time is disappearing, fast. Mass media is being superseded, we can run around it and avoid it, and moreover, many of its best writers and pundits are going to start taking their cues from the best, most intelligent discussions on the internet, and become part of those discussions.

But don’t confuse what is necessarily going to happen with what is contingent. When there are big events that show the emperor has no clothes, then it may appear that those events are seminal, but other things might have happened to produce the same revelation. The recent example of Nate Silver’s election prediction is of this type –it was possible because the New York Times is no longer solely printer’s ink on pulp, and in addition, a large cadre of bloggers was posting about it. Otherwise the story might have gone no where.

What I think is necessarily going to happen is this. The example of Wikipedia shows that most people want to be correct, and love to point out the errors of others. So, the whole world is going to go toward fact-based analysis, and political ideology is going to go extinct in our lifetimes. The powers that want to prevent this — the plutocracy — appear to have (I estimate) around 12-14% support among the population, and that is not enough for them to retain entrenched power, not enough to win.

Legislatures still work on a bad model that is becoming an embarrassment. The legislators need to do fundraising to run their election campaigns, they barely have enough time to study the issues, some of the issues are so complicated that even the experts have differing opinions, the legislators are using lobbyists’ white papers for their legislative ideas, and the whole process is being revealed as a sham because the rest of us are using the internet to follow their everyday machinations with a lot of detail. There is some kind of institutional unravelling going on, and I think there are finally going to be some big changes here.

But not all of the big changes are going to look like institutional transformations while they are happening, however.

To take an issue such as inequality: if we improve education and that still does not solve inequality (because of course it will not), then we are going to see and hear many more people who are ready with the voice to make that very point. Then, we will be able to push the system a little further. This process is going to accelerate, but the change is not going to look like some major swing in the institutions of the world, it will look a lot like incrementalism. With incrementalism, of course, the Left will still have lots of license to be pessimistic and grumpy. But the Left, too, will be superceded.

37

John Quiggin 02.07.13 at 9:06 pm

bjk @16 provides lots of teachable moments for such a short comment. A few observations

1. Rightwingers don’t even try to claim that they are the ones who base their policies on reality, or deny that Repubs are delusional, anti-science and so on. Invariably, as in this case, the response is a tu quoque, using bogus examples to show that Dems are just as bad.

2. The HeadStart lie has already been noted – this talking point is foundational for the Right, since it’s at the core of the (false) claim that the War on Poverty was a failure

3. The claim that the left won’t face the facts about immigration and wages is false, but of course we need to get the facts right. To quote Chris Bertram, here at CT

clearly if we are to wage a political battle for more liberal immigration policies in Festung Europa and the United States, then the truth about the benefits or harms to the existing population is important.

4. On education, another example of the change in debate has been the end of the easy run given to Michelle Rhee and Students First, which is now clearly recognised as a group of partisan advocates for policies that haven’t delivered the promised benefits (Fix the Debt is a similar example). A reality-based assessment doesn’t support the view that teachers are the problem, or that charters and testing are the answers.

38

Mao Cheng Ji 02.07.13 at 9:08 pm

It’s not just the cost. Jobs that can be done remotely will be outsourced to India, so what’s the point studying computer science? You are better off doing kitchen remodelings; that one is not going anywhere.

39

ponce 02.07.13 at 9:29 pm

Are there really prestigious positions in the right’s intellectual parallel universe?

As Roger Ailes says, there on only ratings on the right.

Wingnut Lady Gagas and Nicki Minajs belting out there idiocies.

40

Trader Joe 02.07.13 at 9:52 pm

@34 My regret is complete.

How you contorted my words into some sense that I thought education was overfunded is beyond me…quite the opposite (as we again agree). I’ll leave you to defend the amazingly complicated world view that we both seem to share.

41

mdc 02.07.13 at 9:53 pm

I think the right’s recognition of social immobility is likely to be entirely opportunistic and part of the weird critique of “crony capitalism” we heard so much of in the Republican primaries. The idea is that Obama and Pelosi are funneling money not only to lazy degenerates, but to politically friendly (ie, morally toxic) businesses. Once they get the White House back, the inequality problem wil mysteriously disappear.

42

clew 02.07.13 at 10:24 pm

Could someone unpack what we assume to be the result of formal education? It seems to me that the ‘lump of labor fallacy’ reoccurs. That is, people talk about the result of education largely as though it’s always a sorting mechanism to slot people into a fixed hierarchy of jobs, but I imagine that an education could slightly change the kinds of jobs that can exist.

43

Uncle Kvetch 02.07.13 at 10:38 pm

Once they get the White House back, the inequality problem wil mysteriously disappear.

As will concern about “the debt crisis.”

44

Alan 02.07.13 at 10:55 pm

Critics of Head Start of course probably never had children who were in the program. I volunteered for HS when it began in the 60s and after the very first day I could see how such a program would have a powerful positive influence on disadvantaged children, from providing much needed food to crucial emotional reassurance and support that were sometimes sorely lacking back home. Much of the real good that such programs provide is hard to quantify; thus, irrelevant talking points become that tiresome lying mantra of the Right.

45

Tony Lynch 02.08.13 at 12:05 am

“I got undergraduate degrees the traditional way, at the Australian National University (except that I was mostly part-time), but my PhD was done long-distance at the respectable, but less prestigious University of New England.”

Of course, since JQ’s PhD we are marginally MORE prestigious…

46

Bill Murray 02.08.13 at 1:30 am

Allen @ 43

“I could see how such a program would have a powerful positive influence on disadvantaged children, from providing much needed food to crucial emotional reassurance and support that were sometimes sorely lacking back home. “

This is why it’s a failure to the right wingers. Helping the disadvantaged is bad for them is one of the pillars their world view is based on. As such anything trying this fails, even if it succeeds.

47

Timothy Scriven 02.08.13 at 4:55 am

Hey John Quiggin et al I have noticed that CT often hosts debates between the radical and Liberal left inadvertently, I think it might be cool to have a Symposium especially for that. Thoughts?

48

bad Jim 02.08.13 at 5:47 am

Jared Bernstein gives us a chart of college graduation rates for different generations in different countries. He decries the lack of progress in the U.S. since the 1960′s, but what strikes me is that the U.S. graduated a substantially larger fraction of its population than most other advanced nations back then, right about when inequality began to increase rapidly, and is still above the OECD average, comparable to countries with much less inequality.

I certainly think we’d be better off if public education were nearly free, as it was when I attended Berkeley, but it’s clear that the relationship between inequality and educational attainment is not a simple one.

49

pjm 02.08.13 at 5:53 am

Sancho, re #9
Steinbeck has it wrong, as all cultural theories as to the virtual absence of socialist politics in the US. As a social movement socialism did take root in the US but it did not survive the transition (which it had to make in all the industrial democracies) from social movement to electoral institutions and organizations. This is because the US does not have political parties (it has loose electoral coalitions which have no “party discipline” and for which the ideological differences are peripheral to the political process).

Indeed, you can chart transnationally how the weakness of the Left increases with disproportionality of party systems (though the US political system has a wide range anti-majoritarian structural features – it is really quite breathtaking) After the US, the Brit derived systems and France (and Japan – a sprawling corrupt mess of system for the Japanese can thank the Americans) have the most problematic political institutions. In general, these systems are bad both for the democracy in general and for the Left (I wonder why that is?)

50

Seth 02.08.13 at 7:39 am

clew@41:

“… what [do] we assume to be the result of formal education? … a sorting mechanism to slot people into a fixed hierarchy of jobs, …[or] could [it] slightly change the kinds of jobs that can exist.”

I tend to prefer the ‘sorting mechanism’ as the better description of what formal education actually *does*. Not just because — as your ‘slightly’ suggests — education only gradually shifts the structure of the economy, but also because education will *never* solve the fundamental problem of unequal human endowments.

What really annoys me about the constant talk about “returns to higher education” is that it takes upward mobility for *some* — the “deserving” few — to be a morally adequate response to the problem of distributing the world’s work and its rewards. I suppose every starving child the world over should just go get themselves a PhD ? How is that any more intelligent a suggestion than that they should just go win “American Idol”? Does anyone stop to consider that it is logically impossible for everyone to win (even minimally) at this kind of game?

51

bad Jim 02.08.13 at 9:16 am

It’s often supposed that America is suffering from structural unemployment, that jobs are going unfilled because of a lack of qualified applicants, and that greater educational attainment for all is the way to the jobs of the future. This doesn’t seem to have been the case for the postwar generation, and it remains questionable now.

A college degree is still an advantage to anyone looking for a job, as far as I know, so it retains considerable appleal: I upped my income, up yours! Whether it’s worth its burgeoning cost or whether it’s more than a marker of class membership I have no idea. Vocational training may actually be more valuable to many.

Apart from the destruction of unions and the restructuring of the tax code, in which the electorate largely acquiesced, the drift of wealth from the many to the few was accomplished in the U.S., and to a lesser extent in other English-speaking countries, largely outside public discussion (Graef Crystal’s been yelling but no one’s been listening). We have this crazy idea that superstar executives deserve the lion’s share, not of profits, which as often as not aren’t there at all, but of changes in stock prices.

So is the strong form of the efficient markets hypothesis the culprit, or hero worship? (Both probably, because they’re nearly indistinguishable.) Preferential capital gains taxation is the symptom, not the cause, and the proof is that it always gets reinstated or enhanced. Our heroes have always been pirates.

52

reason 02.08.13 at 10:03 am

seth @50 Well said.
And I’ll throw in my link to the always interest Chris Dillon as encore:
http://stumblingandmumbling.typepad.com/stumbling_and_mumbling/2006/10/against_equalit.html

53

reason 02.08.13 at 10:08 am

oops
….always interestING Chris Dillon…

54

reason 02.08.13 at 10:16 am

By the way that post from Chris Dillon links to another of his posts, that might also entertain:
http://stumblingandmumbling.typepad.com/stumbling_and_mumbling/2004/11/a_texan_offa.html

55

Tim Worstall 02.08.13 at 10:39 am

“Get the workers into college and they will all get nice white collar jobs in the public sector or corporations and everything will be fine. And almost everyone has believed this since roughly the mid ‘sixtıes. Thatcher believed it but so did Harold Wilson. Blair believed it. Brooks clearly believes it. And Krugman clearly believed it.”

Amazingly, this is one of the points where I think Polly Toynbee is actually correct. Not an observation I expect to make very often.

There was indeed a huge move from blue collar to white collar jobs from the 50s to the 70s. The children of those blue collars of the earlier generation become the white collars. But how much of this was due to education, or policies to increase social mobility, and how much to the simple change in the economy, from manufacturing to services? If there is some vast generational move from working by hand and working by brain then how much of the perceived social mobility (which is largely measured by moving from working by hand to working by brain) is due to any policy that was being followed or simply that generational movement?

That social mobility rose everywhere after WWII and has declined everywhere more recently is at least a vague indication that it might not be due to specific policies in any one country. Unless one wants to say that all countries have been following the same policies in each time period. Which I’m not sure is really tenable. For example, there was a very large expansion of access to higher education from 1980 to 2005 or so in the UK: but social mobility went on falling.

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Tim Worstall 02.08.13 at 10:40 am

Sorry

“working by hand and working by brain”

should read

“working by hand to working by brain

57

Rob 02.08.13 at 11:10 am

“I upped my income, up yours!”

A better right-wing slogan than the author appreciates! (You have to be British to get the joke, I think).

58

dax 02.08.13 at 12:21 pm

“If this view is right, then the most important single development was probably Nate Silver’s successful prediction of the 2012 election.”

IMHO no. The most important single development has been the lousy economy for the past 5 years. A lousy economy will always discredit official orthodoxy, and only a lousy economy will discredit official orthodoxy.

59

Hidari 02.08.13 at 12:46 pm

“There was a very large expansion of access to higher education from 1980 to 2005 or so in the UK: but social mobility went on falling.”

Precisely.

60

KRH 02.08.13 at 12:51 pm

Rob@57 – so much so that I interpreted it solely in the British way

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fill 02.08.13 at 2:27 pm

I’ll testify. I’m part of the demographic that comes from a lower middle class background. I went to the flagships campus of a big ten state U. My first year was paid for with inheritance money after my grandmother’s death. After that I was on my own and worked when I could and took out loans. I graduated. These loans and other debts will follow me around for the rest of my life. I will probably never own a house. My credit will always be damaged. I will probably never be solidly middle class. I know that I will never retire. Its pretty much a law to most social scientists that you’re born into the class that you occupy and you stay there. Classes reproduce themselves.

Who cares about ACCESS to higher ed. I probably would have been better off not going to school.

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Peter K. 02.08.13 at 2:50 pm

@58 In my opinion both you and Quiggin are correct. Silver’s correct prediction (which built on his past prescience) was emblematic. I saw a bumper sticker yesterday that read “FoxNews is my comedy channel / Comedy Central is my news channel.”

It’s the “Closing of the Conservative Mind.” Especially the nonsense about “legitimate” rape and the 47 percent. Of course the context is the back-to-back elections of Kenyan Socialist Obama by the American people (takers). As Michael Barone said, “What happened? I think fundamentals were trumped by mechanics and, to a lesser extent, by demographics.”

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reason 02.08.13 at 3:20 pm

Tim Worstall,
there is another alternative theory – the one that Chris Dillon obliquely refers to – from the book “The Rise of the Meritocracy”. The idea that a success for meritocracy was a disaster for the working class as they lost their spokespersons and lost their role models.

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Hidari 02.08.13 at 3:33 pm

@ 62

No. The right have started “losing” (and then only in the US) because they are, literally, “reactionaries”. They react, to the Left. That is their purpose. Whatever the Left is for they are against.

Nowadays the Left isn’t for anything in particular. Or to put it another way the Right has won every battle it has ever fought (except for the one over gay marriage) and the ones it hasn’t won yet (Roe Vs Wade springs to mind) it still looks like it might get them in the long run. The Democrat party has a meaningful party ideologically opposed to the Republicans has simply ceased to exist. You have the choice; Republicans “heavy” or Republicans “light”.

And so therefore the radical Right is running into difficulties as they are, literally, too successful. They have won all the economic battles: and so they literally have to create ever more risible pseudo-battles to fight as the Left simply fails to put forward any meaningful ideas that they can fight against.

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faustusnotes 02.08.13 at 3:40 pm

I agree with Seth. “Social mobility” is a ponzi scheme, and it’s been successful in the west for 20 years because poor people from low-income nations are coming in to fill the jobs that the socially “mobile” are doing, and/or the increasingly vulnerable temporarily-employed are doing those jobs. There is no “up” because the 1% control the ultimate destination of “up”. We need to go back, restructure the economy so that a single-income manual labourer can raise a family and be happy. That is our task, and if that damages the wealth of the socially “mobile” university graduates and business leaders, they just have to suck it up.

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Substance McGravitas 02.08.13 at 3:48 pm

Does anyone stop to consider that it is logically impossible for everyone to win (even minimally) at this kind of game?

Maybe the kookier elements of the right would be in favour of some kind of destitution lottery, both to clear out room at the top and demonstrate who is favoured by God.

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Peter K. 02.08.13 at 3:49 pm

@64

I agree with you in that the rightwing successfully implemented their program of deregulation and the upward redistribution of wealth during the 1980s-2000s. It blew up the economy. That is partly what the AEI scholar is reacting to. The right is “losing” because their ideas did not create widespread prosperity as advertised. That’s partly why Obama won back to back elections.

We can agree on the lameness of Democrats, but they did raise taxes on the wealthy and health care reform is moving in the right direction at a glacial pace. Obama did stare down the Republicans over the debt ceiling clown show. We’ll see how sequestration and entitlement “reform” play out. But my sense is that the tide has turned in some ways. Organized labor however seems to be in a death spiral, with defeats in Wisconsin and Michigan.

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bjk 02.08.13 at 4:16 pm

I don’t imagine JQ @37 is much interested in my response, considering that the link to the HHS repudiatino of Head Start was ignored. I just wanted to highlight points of agreement:

2) Glad to hear that the war on poverty has been won. Agreed.

3) Good to hear the left is interested in the facts about immigration, and the that the left is facing the truth. I know that Krugman has said that immigration hurts lower-wage workers, so that’s a start.

4) Agreed that charter schools are another failure. In fact, no intervention has ever been shown to work, since the invention of the blackboard. So it would be strange to think that charter schools had discovered the magic remedy.

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Hidari 02.08.13 at 4:36 pm

@64

“Top Ten Surprises of the Brennan Hearing on CIA Torture and Drones

The confirmation hearing for John Brennan allowed the country to grapple with many issues that had been swept under the rug and seldom discussed in public. While few to none of them were thus resolved, it does seem to me positive that they were brought up in public.

Surprises?

1. The LAT reports that “Republicans largely focused on whether the CIA should be capturing more terrorists, rather than just killing them.” Let’s get this straight. The GOP is pressuring a Democratic administration to be less bloodthirsty?

It’s true that Obama is slightly to the “left” of the Republicans on some issues. But it’s only fair to point out that he is also to the Right of them in others.

http://www.juancole.com/2013/02/surprises-hearing-torture.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+juancole%2Fymbn+%28Informed+Comment%29

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James 02.08.13 at 4:52 pm

Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers suggests that any successes from Head Start was due the parents involvement and a reading program in what would have been off school time. Outliers attempts to demonstrate that the difference in reading skills between rich and poor, is almost exclusive to whether children actually read at all during the summer months. If its just the reading program, the money could be better spent advertising summer and early children reading lists as a why to improve children’s reading skills.

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Barry 02.08.13 at 5:14 pm

Malcolm Gladwell is trustworthy why?

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Dan 02.08.13 at 5:16 pm

Re: Head Start, I’d love to see some actual substantiation (i.e. that doesn’t consist simply of name calling) of the claim that it’s a success. The only shred of evidence adverted to here is by Nvalvo, who says that the Minneapolis Fed calls Head Start a success. I don’t know what document he’s referring to, but my best guess is it’s the one that says this:

At present a randomized controlled study is underway investigating the impact of Head Start programs on children’s development. Beginning in 2002 about 5,000 3- and 4 year-old children applying for Head Start were randomly assigned to either a program group or to a noprogram group. Children in the program group enrolled in Head Start through one of 84 nationally representative agencies, while children in the no-program group had access to nonHead Start community services. Researchers will collect data on the children through the spring of their first grade year.

Results after one year of data collection show small to moderate gains in a number of areas for children who attended Head Start relative to non-Head Start children, but there were also a number of areas where there were no statistical differences between the two groups.

http://www.minneapolisfed.org/publications_papers/studies/earlychild/lessonslearned.pdf

True enough, it shows small to moderate gains in certain subgroups. However, happily for those of us in the reality based community, the randomized control study mentioned as being underway has now been completed. A snippet from their “Key Findings” was quoted earlier by bjk, which I repeat for emphasis:

In summary, there were initial positive impacts from having access to Head Start, but by the end of 3rd grade there were very few impacts found for either cohort in any of the four domains of cognitive, social-emotional, health and parenting practices. The few impacts that were found did not show a clear pattern of favorable or unfavorable impacts for children.

http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/opre/head_start_report.pdf

Now, to be sure, this doesn’t refute the anecdata from Alan (#44), but, then again, what use is a randomized control study against what was plain to Alan “from the very first day”.

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Frank in midtown 02.08.13 at 5:19 pm

Capitalist win, Soviet commie’s lose! The Individualists have defeated the Collectivists. So the capitalist’s offering in the marketplace of ideas has been modified in response to a competitor’s failure. No pensions, no cheap education, no unions (collectivist loosers all,) no income growth below the 80th percentile, and much less mobility. What good is it to garner superior positional goods for your children if they are going to have to share them with children who’s parents didn’t do it for them.

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Lee A. Arnold 02.08.13 at 5:35 pm

#58: “A lousy economy will always discredit official orthodoxy, and only a lousy economy will discredit official orthodoxy.”

For heaven’s sake NO, a lousy economy very rarely discredits official orthodoxy. History shows that the orthodoxy usually has plenty of room to tweak its explanations — and it will even help you get your purse out, to help pay for it. The “conventional wisdom” has self-maintenance and self-protection features built-in and ready to go.

For example, it is attempting to do so now, with the “austerity” logic.

What is new, is altogether different. The official orthodoxy is slowly losing control of the public debate, largely due to a barely foreseen technological development in communication. (Barely foreseen, that is, beyond some 1950′s science-fiction dreamers.) Simply put, the plutocracy cannot fund enough communication channels to ensure that its rhetorical strategy will continue to dominate.

Once your ideology is busted, you have to rely on facts, and that is not going to go in their favor.

Big Finance had, very basically, been riding high in the saddle since at least the early modern period, or the end of the great monarchies. Their most recent strategy was to pump-up the developed economies from the demand-side with a price rise in house assets (which almost had to be explicit in Greenspan’s thoughts) while the supply-side absquatulated to the shores of cheaper labor.

And it almost worked, too — but they won’t suffer being regulated, so they pumped up a lot of subprime. They inevitably NEED paper junk.

And the failed strategy also clearly does not address the growing inequality.

So it is the beginning of the end of our domination by the mysteries of finance. This is a momentous, enormous historical eclipse.

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Lee A. Arnold 02.08.13 at 5:40 pm

By the way, I just finished some new shorties:
http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLT-vY3f9uw3ADgyYqUVo2R8kxM4Agc3aw

Next up will be the difference in the hydraulics between supply shock inflation and demand shock deflation.

Would love to know what anyone thinks about the central bank and monetary policy snowflakes

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chris 02.08.13 at 5:43 pm

But there are good reasons to think that the image of the US as a land of opportunity was valid in the past

I’d say it still is… if you’re starting so far down that ending up at the 20th or 30th percentile in the US is an improvement. And a lot of people, especially from the Third World, *are* starting that far down.

The problem is the glass ceiling — once you reach US working class, it’s hard to move up. But US working class is still above truly desperate poverty, most of the time.

I suppose every starving child the world over should just go get themselves a PhD ? How is that any more intelligent a suggestion than that they should just go win “American Idol”? Does anyone stop to consider that it is logically impossible for everyone to win (even minimally) at this kind of game?

Yes — I posted in several previous similar threads that unglamorous but necessary jobs like taking out the garbage are still going to have to be done by someone, and so if everyone in your society has a PhD (assuming that all of what we think of as learning disabilities can be corrected somehow, and what is ordinarily described as low intelligence is always caused by environmental factors that can be remedied) then people with PhDs will be taking out garbage. So you are either the kind of society that pays and treats its janitors decently or you aren’t, education is beside the point.

Now of course someone may suggest a garbage-collecting robot, but in spite of the considerable mechanization we have already applied to the garbage industry, there are still a pretty substantial number of garbage-handling jobs, pretty much all of which are poorly paid and get no respect. Mechanization has limits, and someone who handles garbage at one remove is not, in general, treated all that much better by society than one whose hands are literally dirty, even though he may be an order of magnitude more productive in an objective sense than his predecessor. To the extent that there is a return to the increased productivity it seems to inure mainly to the owner of the machines.

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Watson Ladd 02.08.13 at 5:50 pm

Sorry, the Minneapolis Fed agrees about Head Start being a failure. The interventions they believe work are much more intensive: they note the Perry Project as an example. If you actually bother to read the report you will see that no long-term well designed studies have been conducted of Head Start specifically, and the followup that does exist is discouraging showing exactly the washout effect that the Heritage Foundation cites. Could the defenders of Head Start please give studies that neither I nor the Fed know about?
here is the report

pjm: In Germany the SDP is competing with the CDU over who will screw Greece harder. The idea that the problems of a post 73 world are unique to the US is not one I have seen shared by members of the Lefts of other countries. Germany also has high unemployment, declining social mobility, and complete depoliticization.

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shah8 02.08.13 at 6:42 pm

I find the whole cop thing in LA fascinating with thoughts toward the topic here. Makes it one of those few times where I itch, “mebbe I’ll start a blog, what’s the worst that can happen?”

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Harold 02.08.13 at 7:15 pm

80

Harold 02.08.13 at 7:17 pm

“Head Start’s Lasting Benefits”
http://depts.washington.edu/isei/iyc/barnett_hustedt18_1.pdf

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Salient 02.08.13 at 7:27 pm

Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers suggests that any successes from Head Start was due the parents involvement

Let’s run with this. How could we go about soliticiting parents’ involvement, in some organized and guiding way? Creating some sort of social structure seems essential; mere advice or written guidelines tend to get ignored, and participating as part of a social organization gets us past that stumbling block. So we have parents and their kids enroll in some kind of structured program, through which parents and kids receive not only guidelines for working with one another productively, but also a support network of parents attempting to do likewise along a common trajectory with the same tools. Since it might be hard to coordinate parents’ time and schedules, have the kids meet as a group periodically and socialize through activities that resonate with what they’re doing with their parents. Having someone able to evaluate progress, notice stumbling blocks, and bring the kids together as an educationally minded social group fulfills the need for this, and reinforces the childrens’ understanding of what they’re doing as encompassing. (This is certainly reasonably true even if that someone, by themselves, would not have all that much success leading that group of kids without parental support.) Voila, we just recreated the core of HeadStart from scratch via a Gladwellian ‘hypothetical’ thought trajectory. Voomph. Fun times. If you push yourself to get through the entire (re)construction process in sixty seconds or less, it’s actually kind of an invigorating exercise. So, what were we talking about again?

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Hidari 02.08.13 at 7:33 pm

“So it is the beginning of the end of our domination by the mysteries of finance. This is a momentous, enormous historical eclipse.”

That!s a brave prediction.

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Tim Worstall 02.08.13 at 8:07 pm

“I agree with you in that the rightwing successfully implemented their program of deregulation and the upward redistribution of wealth during the 1980s-2000s. It blew up the economy.”

Which economy? The economy of the actual poor, as opposed to that of the relatively so, seems to be going gangbusters. We’re in the midst of the greatest reduction of absolute poverty in the history of our species. Heck, even global inequality is falling.

Assume, for a moment, that everything that has happened in the global economy since 1980 is indeed the result of that right wing. Given what has actually happened, doesn’t that mean that right wingery is pro-poor? Billions, yea billions, have moved from peasantry to petit bourgeois.

I’d say it was bonzer myself….

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hix 02.08.13 at 8:18 pm

The Oecd chart is very interesting. Did not expect such a huge differences in college graduation within the former communist blocks. Helps me to understand Czech society better to know they have such low college graduation rates.

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JRHulls 02.08.13 at 8:33 pm

If you want to look at an educational program that produces overwhelmingly positive outcomes, consider education and access to birth control. Please see ‘Polluted, Political, Pregnant or Profitable’ at http://somewhatlogically.com/?p=674 which contains a description and links not only for the environmental impacts of endocrine disruptors from birth control entering the aquatic systems but the Contraceptive Choice Project, a @10,000 woman cohort study across all ages and ethnic groups by Washington University of St. Louis. If you want to understand how to avoid the social and economic costs of unwanted pregnancies, especially in teens, the program show the huge beneficial results from providing education, counseling and choice.

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Polonius 02.08.13 at 8:43 pm

A case study of how mobility has decreased. My father had to go to
work at 14 in 1921 because his father died and there were no family savings, even though his father had had a middle class job. He lucked out, partly through family connections, and just before the Depression hit got a job as an asst. to the North Jersey salesman for the flagship manufacturing company in an electrical industry. When the Depression hit, the company fired the older salesman and kept my father, even though he had only an eighth-grade education. By the time my father died in 1970:

1. He had managed to accumulate enough wealth for him and my mother to live a very comfortable retirement, including extensive travel, and to leave an estate of several million dollars when he died in 2006;

2. his company had long before 1970 instituted as a prerequisite for hiring a salesperson an undergraduate degree in business, engineering, or science;

3. his company had long before 1970 restructured its salesmen’s compensation so that it was no longer possible for someone who, like my father, spent his entire career as a salesman for the company to earn anything like the living that my father had.

This company has been extremely successful and extremely good to its shareholders since my father retired, but not nearly as good to its well-qualified salesmen as it had been from 1928 to 1970. With SS survivors’ benefits, someone today in my father’s place after his father died might be able to get an undergraduate degree but would inevitably graduate with considerable debt and would not likely be able to earn as a career-long salesman anything near what my father earned with an eighth-grade education in the mid-20th century. Of course, the “value added” surplus went to the mostly 1 percent shareholders and/or the high-level company executives, a perfect example of the upward redistribution of income that has nothing to do with foreign competition (the company basically has none in its market) or any of the other usual suspects that corporatists try to utilize in their rationalizations for growing income inequality and reduced social mobility.

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Polonius 02.08.13 at 8:47 pm

Error correction: My father “retired” in 1970 rather than “died.” As a psychotherapist, I’m not sure I want to look too deeply into that typo and flawed proofreading and will rely on the all-purpose rationalization about cigars.

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Steve LaBonne 02.08.13 at 8:51 pm

Polonius, that really helped me to understand better how so many couples in my parents’ generation (I’m 57), with only the husband working and that too in occupations that don’t appear all that lucrative to us today, were able to put away amounts of money that we, their kids, haven’t even been able to imagine saving during our careers. Thanks.

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Substance McGravitas 02.08.13 at 9:01 pm

My work requires a degree. Any degree. If you’re asking for ANYTHING it’s just an employment tax.

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Uncle Kvetch 02.08.13 at 9:49 pm

Germany also has high unemployment

Only if you consider 5.4% “high.”

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Watson Ladd 02.08.13 at 10:04 pm

@Harold: Thanks for the link! The big question is why these gains exist: the obvious suggestion is that behavioural changes, rather then increases in intelligence are responsible. This would explain why examinations of academic progress show a washout effect.

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John Quiggin 02.08.13 at 10:26 pm

The authority on early childhood intervention is James Heckman, generally regarded as an exemplary member of the Chicago School. I’d suggest reading his work, linked here, which gives a fairly clearcut case in favor.

https://www.earlychildhoodaustralia.org.au/early_childhood_news/feb_2006_nobel_winning_economist_invest_more_in_early_childhood.html

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johne 02.08.13 at 10:43 pm

I am as interested as anyone else in any studies that have been done of Headstart, but I’m also a bit curious as to why a kindergarten program whose positives can be traced into the third grade should be regarded as a disappointment.
Also, re parental involvement, my anecdotal experience with a rural Headstart group that we tried (and failed) to get our child in to, was precisely that it did involve parents in its program.

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John Quiggin 02.08.13 at 10:47 pm

Tim W, I really think you should give this point a rest. To encourage you, I’ll concede that China’s economic policies are better now than under Mao, and that the same is broadly true of India and Africa. Your insistence that this tells us something important about economic policy in the developed world is getting tiresome. I’ll give you one right of reply on this, and from then on I plan to delete on sight any comments you make along these lines (unless the post in question concerns LDCs).

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John Quiggin 02.08.13 at 11:03 pm

I hadn’t previously seen the recent HHS evaluation of HeadStart. It is negative evidence, though the statistical power of tests like this is quite low, even with a sample size of 5000.

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Harold 02.08.13 at 11:14 pm

Head Start may be regarded as “an academic washout” in that its effects, all other things being equal, did not persist beyond third grade. But in terms of life outcomes the children who had attended Head Start did better than their peers and siblings who had not. The gains in Head Start, in other words, did not offset the effects of poor environment and schools on academic progress, but did affect social outcomes such as employment and avoidance of jail. The takeaway from this is not that Head Start has no effect, but that high quality programs like Head Start that address the well being of the whole child should be extended into the years of academic learning as well. Studies in other countries (such as France and Finland) also affirm the positive effects of high quality early childhood nurturance programs.

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John Quiggin 02.08.13 at 11:40 pm

To amplify my point about test power, suppose that we assume a simple linear relationship between quality-adjusted hours of education and desirable outcomes. For 3-yos and 4-yos, the Headstart group will have received significantly more education on average, and we’d expect to see significantly better outcomes, as we do. But by the time they reach third grade, the relationship between Headstart participation and total quality-adjusted education is going to be much weaker – a really good or bad school or teacher in 1st grade is going to have more impact than a preschool program, for example. So, detecting positive or negative effects is going to be that much harder.

Can a similar case be made regarding the (more consistent) negative findings about charter schools and test scores? My guess is that it can’t, but that there might be positive social/behavioral effects – does anyone have any further links on this.

In any case, the central point of the OP is that we should be guided by evidence, and the comments thread has been a good example of this. By contrast, the approach of the right, exemplified by bjk is to look for talking points to support predetermined positions and to resort to snark when the evidence goes the wrong way.

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Alan 02.09.13 at 12:11 am

I was well-aware my little tale was an “anecdatum”–thanks for that–that’s an excellent term I will incorporate into my vocabulary–but my point was that I wonder if improvement in intangibles like emotional and social security are measurable in reliable ways. I’m aware of the studies that claim no net intellectual gain beyond the third grade; I was not of those that indicate reduced incarceration rates for comparable cohorts (thank you Harold). I’m no social scientist but a nobody teaching philosopher. I read this blog to learn stuff–and I must say I’ve learned quite a bit.

One more anecdatum. My parents were products of a rural poor Southern heritage, and never went to high school. By my good luck–my parents’ unemployment from factory work–I was swept from the South to California and good public schools (Vallejo, CA). I attended college on scholarships and loans, the same in grad school along with food stamps (no longer possible), and now a long-time PhD professor in a state university system who managed to get a job in the early 80s. Relative to my parents I’ve had a terrific life thanks primarily to (i) adequately public-funded schools, (ii) government programs providing reasonable loans and those much-needed food stamps, and probably most of all (iii) luck. But publicly-supported opportunities made a huge difference to me. By its end I will have had a rewarding career, opportunities to contribute to social goods and charities in gratitude, and good prospects for a comfortable retirement. What galls me without end is the far Right’s attempts to choke off opportunities for people who do not have a background of privilege.

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Harold 02.09.13 at 1:43 am

Sorry to keep harping, but, I should have written: “Head Start may be regarded as “an academic washout” in that its academiceffects, all other things being equal, did not persist beyond third grade.”

But its positive affect on life outcome (outside of academics) in adulthood was significant.
This is very important in itself. We want all citizens to finish school, hold a job, and stay out of jail.

Obviously, academic success is cumulative and cannot depend on input given at ages three and four alone.

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Curmudgeon 02.09.13 at 2:24 am

@Tim Worstall, #55:

It’s not a stretch to say that the entire anglosphere has been following roughly the same policy template since the Reagan era. The entire anglosphere has been defunding education, weakening protections against predatory economic actors, signing on to unbalanced trade agreements that favor capital over labor, empowering intellectual property predators, following monetary policies that promote slack labor markets, shifting the risk and tax burdens from those most able to bear them onto those least able to bear them, and reinventing government from an institution that provides services to people into an institution that provides revenue to the well connected. Every country has done some or all of this in the past thirty years. The only differences are how far down the Reagan road various formerly humane countries have gone.

Pursuing a set of policies designed to funnel money up the income distribution will increase inequality. This isn’t rocket science.

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Watson Ladd 02.09.13 at 5:03 am

Doesn’t that seem like rather small potatoes? We’ll just be satisfied if you can avoid committing violent felonies, let alone read Cicero. Then again I’m much more convinced that the Perry intervention is a better model then the Head Start model. We shouldn’t let the good be the enemy of the perfect.

Subjects stay out of prison. Citizens participate in the deliberations about the formation of society. I want a nation of citizens, not a managerial state of subjects.

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Harold 02.09.13 at 6:44 am

The Perry project had only 38 subjects and was sponsored by Bill Gates’ foundation, not exactly known for its honesty. Just saying.

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Tim Worstall 02.09.13 at 9:26 am

“Tim W, I really think you should give this point a rest. To encourage you, I’ll concede that China’s economic policies are better now than under Mao, and that the same is broadly true of India and Africa. Your insistence that this tells us something important about economic policy in the developed world is getting tiresome. I’ll give you one right of reply on this,”

So that one reply. Globalisation.

We would expect it to increase in country inequality in the developed world. We would also expect it to reduce poverty in the developing world.

We can also note that the last 30 odd years has seen an increase in developed country inequality and a reduction in developing world poverty. As globalisation has advanced.

The link to developed world economic policy is that it’s the same darn policy. Let the $1 a day folks into the global economy, trade with them. This has both effects, moving the $1 a day people to more than that and also limiting the pay rises of those they are competing with in the developed countries.

There’s nothing heterodox about such a theory, it’s what we’d expect to happen from the actions taken.

I don’t claim that it’s all of it either: only that it is the explanation for some of what is being seen.

And a great bargain I take it to be too.

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John Quiggin 02.09.13 at 9:31 am

OK, Tim, next time we are talking about globalisation, feel free to raise this point.

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Peter Whiteford 02.09.13 at 10:39 am

Harold at 162 – are we talking about the Perry project that started in 1962?

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Peter Whiteford 02.09.13 at 10:42 am

Apologies – Harold at 102

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bad Jim 02.09.13 at 11:05 am

Many countries have done better than the U.S. and the U.K. in promoting equality and prolonging life and enhancing happiness. It may be that we can’t get there from here, that America’s legacy of slavery and genocide makes the goal of universal community inconceivable and thus unachievable, but for the sake of argument it would be nice to have operating instructions for the unthinkably horrible socialist hellhole my country might be, just because it could work.

It’s tricky to the extent that every other economy leans up against the U.S. economy, and every military faces the U.S. military, and so on, but it’s a more credible fantasy than the impossibility of universal health care, the imminent debasement of the currency, the explosion of debt due to low interest rates, or [your joke here].

It seems intuitively obvious that we could make things a lot better by doing XY and Z, at least in terms of socioeconomic equality, since a lot of other countries can. When it comes to energy policy, where I actually know a little bit about the technology, I’m more cautious, deeply pessimistic, and grateful that I won’t be around to see the consequences. Here, there and everywhere, we can do the right thing and won’t.

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dsquared 02.09.13 at 12:09 pm

The Perry project had only 38 subjects and was sponsored by Bill Gates’ foundation, not exactly known for its honesty. Just saying.

that’s an awful lot of mistakes to cram into such a short comment. Even “Just saying” is wrong because you were typing.

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Mark English 02.09.13 at 1:15 pm

Alan said @98, “I read this blog to learn stuff – and I must say I’ve learned quite a bit.”

I’m learning a bit too. About just how ideologically polarized (between left and right, and between the moderate and extreme left) debate about politics and economics has become, amongst other things.

The tribalism is what bothers me. Isn’t there some way, somewhere, big political and economic questions can be discussed without the mocking and hyperbolic rhetoric?

Granted, by comparison with many other sites, Crooked Timber is a haven of intelligent and civilized discourse. Even here, however, there are signs of tribalism.

Look at the curious mismatch in John Quiggin’s little piece between the hyperbolic rhetoric (about the recent “intellectual collapse of the political right”, for instance) and claims to a fact-based approach.

In any case, the general impression given, as I see it as an infrequent visitor, is that ideologically alien comments are tolerated rather than welcomed, and that this is “our” website (note the “we” in “we have … won the battle of ideas”), and we have not set it up to have our fundamental assumptions questioned.

I see the logic of this approach, but I also see it as a symptom of a much larger problem: a shrinking space for serious discourse across ideological boundaries.

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Watson Ladd 02.09.13 at 1:45 pm

bad Jim: What about America’s legacy of free speech, democracy, violent revolution to end slavery? Why is it that the country to whom all eyes turned in 1860, you can see nothing about worth redeeming?

The US is the center of global capital. Only in the US can global socialism begin.

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EqualToJake 02.09.13 at 4:43 pm

Focusing on the reality of what university education is, its primary function is as a class identifier for the middle class. The actual learning is, for most people, secondary. Apart from specialised careers such as medicine or engineering most people dont use what they learn at college. And in any case pure knowledge aquisition works fine in a distance learning scenario.
A 4 year college degree tells the world you are reasonably intelligent, capable of basic timekeeping and deadline meeting, and most importantly, that you know how to fit in and interact with other middle class people. This is why people are willing to spend so much on it, and why so many jobs insist on it even though there isn’t usually any direct connection with the actual work that is done.
It wouldn’t be able to fulfill this function if it wasn’t by its very nature exclusionary, but by tying that exclusivity more and more closely with wealth and/or exceptional intelligence it becomes a barrier to class mobility instead of a boon.

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Cranky Observer 02.09.13 at 5:57 pm

= = = And in any case pure knowledge aquisition works fine in a distance learning scenario. = = =

Well, that’s very much the question innit? The distance learning / online learning / for-profit training / certification-stands-in-for-knowledge approach has been tried for the last 20 years in the information management world (business information, IS, IT) with, IMHO, very limited success and often disastrous outcomes. The “project management” industry is now going down the same road with, again IMHO, similar dubious outcomes. I’m under the impression that most academics don’t do much job interviewing and hiring – one really needs to spend a few days a month interviewing candidates from around the globe who can present all types of ‘certificates’ but who are unable to solve or even figure out the basis of the the most fundamental business problem to understand the difference/dangers.

Cranky

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Harold 02.09.13 at 7:27 pm

I may be wrong about the number of kids who participated in the Perry Project study, my info came from a cursory google search quoted from memory — another search said the number was more like c. 123 of whom half were controls — not a very big group.
http://www.highscope.org/content.asp?contentid=219

There is no indication that the Perry Program is better or different in its results than Head Start.

According to the program’s own press release: Larry Schweinhart, HighScope’s current president, and author of many articles touting the program, states:

“These [positive] findings can be expected of any Head Start, state preschool, or child care program similar to the program HighScope coordinated and then studied.”

It is my impression that in the study in which the Head Start program was pronounced a “failure” included abbreviated, underfunded afterschool programs that did not offer truly high quality care.

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Hob 02.09.13 at 8:03 pm

shah8 @78: I’m sure it will be a fascinating blog, especially if you start every post with some catchy phrase that conveys your intellectual engagement with the subject at hand.

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shah8 02.09.13 at 8:55 pm

Why, that is a useful identifying phrase! I do do that, actually. Mind runs one track, and certain words sticks to the wheels, making a click, click, click. I sometimes peek out the engine room and edit the phrase so I don’t repeat words, but a more global sticky phrase in the superhighway of my mind is a new perspective!

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EqualToJake 02.09.13 at 11:22 pm

@122 – but is that because knowledge can’t be acquired in that way, or is it because the low status of “certificate” education in contrast to the traditional 4 year undergraduate edication means that it attracts less capable people? The middle class signifier effect I was talking about means that the smart, capabable people will usually go after the higher status education.

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Bruce Wilder 02.09.13 at 11:30 pm

Mark English @ 109: The tribalism is what bothers me. Isn’t there some way, somewhere, big political and economic questions can be discussed without the mocking and hyperbolic rhetoric?

It’s a bit like quicksand, isn’t it? The mocking and hyperbolic rhetoric — an attempt to break free from the suck of the conventional wisdom and/or of the cant of the ideologues — just seems to drag one deeper into the muck. (shah8 take note: suck-muck, click-clack-one-track, this could get out of hand really fast)

Every phrase quickly becomes laden with emotional resonance, in the context of the partisan dialogue, and it becomes really difficult to even identify what the big questions actually are, when the answers to which we cleave come pouring forth in the Ping-Pong rally, to which we are accustomed.

Mark English: the hyperbolic rhetoric (about the recent “intellectual collapse of the political right”,

I have to admit that I read that rhetoric in the OP as projection. The political left collapsed long ago. As an historical matter, the emergence of co-ideologies of libertarianism/neoconservativism on the one hand, and neoliberalism (American dialect) on the other, in the late 1970s, reflected a debasement of the foundations of the intellectual houses of both conservatives and liberals/social democrats, establishing a weird symbiosis between the two, which keeps reality at an apparently mutually agreed, great distance, for left, right and center.

I think JQ’s determination to embrace reality, and look for factual truth, is sincere and genuine. If I didn’t respect his integrity, I wouldn’t bother to comment. That’s not the issue — stated, just so we’re clear.

Mark English: . . . ideologically alien comments are tolerated rather than welcomed, and that this is “our” website (note the “we” in “we have … won the battle of ideas”), and we have not set it up to have our fundamental assumptions questioned

The principals at CT should get more credit than they do, for undertaking the work of moderation. It is one thing if frequent commenters sometimes disdain an interloper, but it is the posters, who must exercise judgment in truncating pointlessly provocative and repetitious thread hijacks, to keep the whole place from falling apart. It requires a lot of unrewarding work by the principals.

That said, just stopping the ritualized, runaway action-reaction cycles isn’t enough.

JQ in the OP, uses the metaphor of the Overton Window to stand in for the stale dialectic of libertarian-neoliberal discourse, and suggests that facts might subvert the alternate reality manufactured by this dialectic. It made me think of Neo in the first Matrix movie; does he take the red pill or the blue pill?

It seems to me that Arthur Brooks is offering the blue pill of trollish concern about inequality, alongside a ritualized acknowledgement of the pieties of the neoliberals about the role of education in legitimizing inequality (see Brad DeLong for abundant examples). So, my judgment on this differs from JQ’s more optimistic take. I see it as well within bounds of the established dialectic. That Brooks is making this concession, while selling the latest phase of the plutocratic plan to cash-out of the public goods investment in education, just confirms me in my view, for what little it’s worth.

If some — left, right and center — together took the red pill, and slid from our behind-the-looking-glass world of mutual projection, into reality, and started talking from there, what would that look like? Really try to imagine that discussion, outside the ideological boundaries of our accustomed, virtual-game partisan contests. Try to imagine mutual observation of the structure of power in action, without the fierce, compulsive effort to narrate the spin.

I think political economic reality, right now, is really ugly and depressing, and that, more than anything, keeps most of us reaching for this brand or that of blue pills. That’s what the stale ideological battles are about — beyond the wish of the plutocrats to keep the sheep in separate pens, that is — we’re arguing about which brand of blue pill is to be preferred, which set of illusions to cling to.

Factual, objective reality is impinging on our shared, cultural consciousness in movies and television shows about political conspiracies and vampires-werewolves-zombies and the impending apocalypse. Reality is coming to us in waking nightmares of popular culture and the gun violence of the news cycle, not the smarmy sales tactics of a professional grifter like Arthur Brooks. When the Looking-Glass/Overton-Window breaks for real, screams will follow the tinkle of broken glass.

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shah8 02.09.13 at 11:34 pm

Embracing some perceived reality is something people do all the time. It’s one of the tenants of leadership.

What’s really sexy is being able to get other people to accept complexity wholly into their minds.

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Bruce Wilder 02.10.13 at 12:28 am

EqualToJake @116

It seems to me that it is deeper than status considerations. The new industrial state of the 1950s and 1960s really did need technical and managerial expertise. That demand was an extension of the needs of an ever more organized industrial, mass-economy, for a literate, numerate and technologically savvy populace, stretching back into the 18th century. Progress was public education. And, upward mobility was not a zero-sum game; it was an expanding middle-class, satisfying the aspirations of parents to send their kids to college and a better life. The core, though, was that increasing productivity was tied to the increasing use of expertise in bureaucracies, public and private. There was a need for people, at a range of middling levels, who could make the great machines of a decentralized industrial economy work, who could make law, science, municipal regulation, the bureaucratized economy and technology work. It wasn’t about certificates. As Henry Ford purportedly said, the question of who should be boss is like the question, who should sing tenor in the choir; the answer must be, the one, who can actually sing tenor. It wasn’t about status, per se. The automobile industry could explode across the American landscape, because there were lots of people, ready to be competent auto mechanics or traffic cops, gas station managers or insurance agents. It was possible to organize licensing and registration and traffic laws and highway construction.

Sometime in the 1980s, the American economy passed some sort of inflection point, and the demand for middling expertise began to dry up. The concern at the top to ensure that the Great Machine was run competently was attenuated. Probably it had something to do with the explosion in CEO compensation. A pattern of disinvestment/deregulation emerged, public and private, and gradually accelerated. Debt peonage and certificates is just the end-game, of a broad process of disinvestment, which has been blithely unconcerned about whether the economy qua machine worked well, or worked at all, for 50% or 80% of people.

In the U.S., it is conventional wisdom that public education, even at a primary level, is, increasingly, an abject failure. Some of this is plutocratic propaganda and some is the age-old belief that the youth are going to hell in an handbasket, but some is real enough. I don’t know where to look for objective measurement. In the 1950s or 1960s, many ambitious people could expect training in corporate or government jobs, where they might spend most or all of a career. That investment complemented secondary and tertiary education, which could, therefore, be generalist in its focus; public education prepared someone to be trainable, to acquire and exercise expertise inside the bureaucratic, marketplace, or professional machinery. It seems to me that for-profit issuing of certificates is just an attempt to profit from short-circuiting both sides of that scheme of investing in what we know call, human capital.

The problem is that this thirty-year policy of disinvestment is running the economy off a cliff, where Wily Coyote looks down and sees no superstructure under him anymore. And, it won’t just be the lights going out at the Superbowl.

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Bruce Wilder 02.10.13 at 12:47 am

shah8: one of the tenants of leadership

You really should collect these phrases somewhere. There’s a zen quality . . .

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UserGoogol 02.10.13 at 1:57 am

Treating politics as a conflict between different factions seems to seriously ignore the broad social factors at play. Conservatives got more powerful within the Republican Party because of the post-civil rights realignment of politics, then the Republican Party won a bunch of elections because of the convenient timing where Carter oversaw a very unpleasant economy (and foreign policy events) and then Reagan was able to take credit for the recovery. After all that the Democratic Party was more inclined to swing to the right to try to “adjust” so the Overton window got shifted to the regardless of what rich people happening to think about it. That rich people were happy about it certainly didn’t hurt things, but there are a lot of other factors at play. (Of course the simplistic summary I just gave isn’t particularly complete either.)

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shah8 02.10.13 at 2:17 am

That was accidental. I did meant tenet. Tenants probably stuck in there because I was in a whimsical mood and wrote it and didn’t realize that it sounded weirder than I intended to be, and yeah, the “zen quality” let it get past quality control when I should have rewrote it in general. Tenet was just not prejorative enough, and tenant had that lovely squatter feel.

This is why I never became one of the juicebox mafia even though I was, in recollection, a big time early adopter of a number of things from the late nineties and early 2ks. Being able to write well is a skill I really admire. Especially having gotten through Valente’s A Dirge For Prestor John.

As far as the thread topic goes, the twining of “status” and education serves as a lodestone. As always, what tended to matter was defined by what was fashionable to matter. Pierre Bourdieu made an entry with the idea of “doxa”, but it goes quite a bit further than that. If one examines Wendy Doniger’s history through the lens of Hindu myths and people’s participation in their spread, one sees that part of what unifies people is the uncertainty over what truly matters, and not what people could see and test for themselves. In this sense, science and reason has always been peripheral to the tying together of societies. Anxiety is central, and anxiety is what people argue over, not on the shape of the world. However, you can’t be anxious about anything if you’re not even sure of who you are (and how real). Therefore, fashion supplies the essential mirroring act throughout the web inside a social unit. Kierkegaard might have railed against this inauthenticity, but it is human to insist that your humanity is just like the humanity of the people who matter to you.

If everyone flies by the star of their own personal meaning of death, how do they seek freedom in anything other than fiction? How can any rock have a real meaning in comparison to the feeling that you’re an momentary accident? If one bends down in a direction, purely to contemplate some stone or other, it had better have a story. If a rock or any other real thing must have a story, how do you choose which story? Vote the same way as everyone else? Why? Or just for the guy with that nasty sword and gesturing in a threatening way? Everyone lives in a sea of promises, oxygenated by praise, and seeking vivid capture of success, avoiding the grip of disappointment, and escaping the jaws of failure.

So when we’re talking about Overton Windows, we’re talking about what people are allowed to *be*, not really about what policies are part of acceptable discourse. What embodies the frames of the Overton Window tends to be praise and validation. The fixation on the deficit and the incorrect use of the household debt scenario is fundamentally about corralling people’s sense of the norms, and the preservation of stability that sticking to those norms are suppose to effect. It’s not just about securing Pete Peterson some more wealth, but also a way to reconnect a certain elite to the broad sector of society, same as any priest-king in the ancient world, doing a fertility rite. The fixation of education as a visible means of social mobility is intended as a reassurance to the populace that society is fair. Whether that education is useful or not–to the person’s inner life, to the person’s utility to the society around it, or any other use, is secondary to the creation of the sense that the world can be made known, and can be made fair. To have usable skills, one generally has to live life, according to the needs of the self and the people around themselves. A passive reception of education, no matter how much actively furious the ingestion of knowledge, cannot make anyone more powerful. Any power that you have, is usually power that others let you have, and for that, you must live for others, no matter how selfish you are. An education can make you weak, if you cannot seem pliable to others who fear…whatever

If education might almost be besides the point in terms of profitable skills, why do we fixate on it for things it cannot provide? Fashion. And like the fashion of perfumes, it can date you far more than you could bear, if anyone were to comment on your taste. So, would internet classes be the next big thing? Nice, new certificates? Nah. ‘member, it has to be something that you can be *praised* for, that when you mention it to others in your circles, the light of their eyes changes in the a way that pleases you. That marks you as a someone, inside a secure web of promises. A technology that makes people ever *more* anon is not going to catch on, even if it had policy merits–at least without leadership carefully showing how they use and like it and give power to those that also use it.

If I had my guess, where I think is the future, is where Tedra Osell might be found, worming her way through the technical difficulties. Homeschooling (past postsecondary education as well), and the use of the Internet to connect like-minded students such that they can coordinate learning and be useful to one another. I think it will be some flavor of that.

As for politics, well, that’s defined by the biggest easy slice of the voting public, and promises will be made in *that* language. That’s why you see Obama do and talk about things in a deliberately incorrect manner. I do think that the impact of the Republican collapse in terms of social legitimacy has a chance to send the momentum of US society on a slightly different track.

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William Timberman 02.10.13 at 6:10 am

It’s always been possible to look at the world and to assess it in a genuinely different way. The problem with doing it in fact is that even under the most favorable social and political circumstances, you have to develop your own language to do it, and if you’re not careful, you’ll wind up being labeled a solipsist, or a schizophrenic — not always inaccurately, and almost never without good reason, the limitations of human faculties being what they are. People willing to pay that price select themselves for all sorts of reasons, both respectable and otherwise. Sometimes it works out for them — and for us — but often it doesn’t.

This is the principal reason why it seems fair to me to call David Broder or David Brooks a moron. It’s not that either of them is (or in Broder’s case, was) actually a moron; it’s that they’re stupidly comfortable wearing the medals that other people have earned.

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ponce 02.10.13 at 9:21 am

@97

” By contrast, the approach of the right, exemplified by bjk is to look for talking points to support predetermined positions and to resort to snark when the evidence goes the wrong way.”

The Reality Based community only enjoys a 4% advantage over the Faith Based communty.

And that gap may just exist because Obama was such a better candidate than what’s his name.

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Bruce Wilder 02.10.13 at 3:56 pm

William Timberman @ 123

Consider for a moment the Broderization of CT’s bête noire, Matthew Ygelsias. I can remember when I read his blogposts with frequent pleasure at having my IQ boosted a point or two by his thinking aloud. Now, he just spins out neoliberal rationalizations for various complacent attitudes and pet peeves, just like the brain-dead denizens of the Post and Times op-ed pages.

JQ, in the OP, was optimistic about an acknowledgement of inequality from one of the professional libertarians feeding at the wingnut welfare trough at a conservative Washington think-tank. I was made pessimistic this week, by conservatives accusing liberals of hypocrisy for the failure to criticize Obama’s architect of murder-by-drone as state policy. It doesn’t require a new dictionary or new language, to recognize that Mr. Lesser Evil is evil — just the stomach to tell the truth in the plain old language, even if that means falling out of cadence, or facing a harsh reality.

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William Timberman 02.10.13 at 6:11 pm

Bruce Wilder @ 125

True enough, but recognizing evil — be it lesser or greater — is an easy task compared to doing anything about it. Forgive my genius for stating the obvious, but the willingness, even the ability, to think your own thoughts is eroded by contact with the sheer mass of the status quo. Matt Y certainly hasn’t gotten any stupider since the Serious People welcomed him to the club, and I doubt it’s what Digby used to call the cocktail wieners available at their table that’ve turned his head. It’s far more likely to have been access to the greater resources available to him to advance his own cause — or so certain kinds of self-deception might have persuaded him, as they’ve persuaded others.

Self-censorship in those surroundings is both insidious and demoralizing — see Aaron Swartz for an extreme example in our own time of what happens when you resist it — but remaining outside those surroundings can be terminally isolating. People in the past who’ve refused the fawning, the largess, and the corruptions of adoption by the Serious, those we remember, anyway, have tended to write books, which, after several generations or so, have eventually been incorporated into the sum of human self-knowledge. To delay your own gratification until you aren’t even around to benefit from it, though, isn’t very attractive to today’s whiz-kids, who probably think originality — and genuine clarity — is either a) a commodity, or b) overrated. A pity.

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Lee A. Arnold 02.10.13 at 6:44 pm

You guys are reinventing the concept of what John Kenneth Galbraith termed the “conventional wisdom” in his book, The Affluent Society (1958). The description and dynamics of the thing are all there — the book has not aged a day.

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William Timberman 02.10.13 at 7:09 pm

Yeah, Lee, you’re right. These observations, which go back at least as far as conventional wisdom itself, are hardly original, but it does seem that they need periodic reiteration. On the whole, it’s a thankless task, but the hope is that if you perform it often enough, some of the smart people will find better things to do with their talents than head off to Washington, or New York, or wherever it is that they imagine they’ll be appreciated. (And we’re nothing if not a hopeful species.)

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Area Man 02.13.13 at 3:24 am

a challenge that started with the appropriation by the left of the “reality-based” label pinned on us in Karl Rove’s famous interview with Ron Suskind…

A slight correction. The article was about Karl Rove. The phrase in question came from an interview with an anonymous Bush administration insider. This matters because it wasn’t approved messaging of the kind that Rove would have condoned, it was the uncensored thinking-out-loud of a Bush conservative.

That at least is my recollection; if I’m mistaken, please let me know.

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John Quiggin 02.13.13 at 4:40 am

@Area Man. My understanding is that the anonymous insider *was* Rove.

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