Whither Opportunity?

by Harry on December 7, 2016

In the light of the discussions of charter schools in the poss below, and given that I attended a graduate seminar of education policy students last night at which none of the students had read it, it seems worth re-drawing your attention to Greg Duncan and Richard Murnane’s edited volume Whither Opportunity?: Rising Inequality, Schools, and Children’s Life Chances. Its already 5 years old, but it is really a brilliant achievement, drawing together numerous experts (if we’re allowed to listen to experts any more) with the task of summarizing everything we know about the relationship between economic inequality and educational disadvantage in the US. The take home is fairly simple: there’s a very strong relationship between economic inequality and educational disadvantage and after reading the whole book you might still believe (as I do) that it is possible to improve educational outcomes for poor children through improved schooling but you cannot believe that we could get large changes in outcomes without corresponding changes to the environments poor children grow up in—which would require massive reductions in both inequality and poverty.

I think its fair to say that the headline study was Sean Reardon’s finding that the achievement gap (measured by standardized tests) between rich and poor students has increased during the same 50 years during which the black-white achievement gap has decreased, as shown in the following graph:

se_graph

Other findings include Meredith Phillips’ finding that between birth and age six, wealthier children will have spent as many as 1,300 more hours than poor children on child enrichment activities such as music lessons, travel, and summer camp, and the contribution by Waldfogel and Magnusson showing that the gap in ‘enrichment spending’ between rich and poor has expanded massively in the past 40 years—and that affluent families spend more than $8000 a year per child on enrichment activities. A child from a poor family is two to four times as likely as a child from an affluent family to have classmates with low skills and behavior problems – attributes which have a negative effect on the learning of their fellow students, and the rich=poor achievement gap in k-12 is accompanied by a growing income-based gap in college completion.

One of the studies shows that local job losses can lower the test scores of students with low socioeconomic status, whether or not the students’ parents have suffered the job losses; another that and students learn less math if they attend schools with high student turnover during the school year (one count against school choice, but also against allowing landlords to evict tenants with children mid-year).

Of course, to most readers none of these finding will be shocking (though, the Reardon finding is quite noteworthy). But they are worth bearing in mind. I am startled by local school officials for example, who say that citing poverty as a reason for low achievement is an ‘excuse’, and also by academics in education I come across who are reluctant to admit that poverty has seriously detrimental effects on the poor and the ability of poor children to learn (if poverty doesn’t have bad effects on those who are subject to it, elminating it might still be nice but doesn’t seem morally as urgent as it, in fact, is). As I say, I’m only mentioning Whither Opportunity again now after meeting a whole group of grad students who are concerned with educational inequality and didn’t know of it, and being prompted by the discussions of charter schools. Also I’d recommend going to Leo Casey’s comment on one of the threads which gathers together some other useful links.

{ 50 comments }

1

Ebenezer Scrooge 12.07.16 at 10:43 pm

I agree with everything you say. But I’m not sure what the question on the table is. Are we systemically trying to close the gap between rich and poor kids? Or are we just trying to assess whether charter schools (or some techniques associated with charter schools, such as “drill and kill”) are better for poor kids than the alternatives? Either topic is a valid one. But which one are we talking about?

2

Harry 12.07.16 at 11:04 pm

Not exactly either, or maybe both. I just think that the information is relevant for anyone thinking about policy details. I co-authored the chapter in the book on high commitment schools, and frankly I came away from the research we reviewed thinking that a great deal of misinformation abounds on both sides of the public/private school divide including a myth (one that most CT commentators seem to understand is entirely wrong) that schools can close the achievement gap which is manifestly false. The recommendation is more about giving people resources than any kind of intervention in an intra-CT debate.

3

nastywoman 12.07.16 at 11:06 pm

‘I am startled by local school officials for example, who say that citing poverty as a reason for low achievement is an ‘excuse’, and also by academics in education I come across who are reluctant to admit that poverty has seriously detrimental effects on the poor and the ability of poor children to learn’

And I always thought that everybody in the US is aware – that the educational level depends on what can be payed for it. It is no… accident -(or it is?) that the US has one of the worst and the best educational system of any so called advanced democracies in the world.

How much is Stanford lately?

4

Faustusnotes 12.07.16 at 11:17 pm

“Opportunity” is a ponzi scheme. There always has to be someone doing the jobs at the bottom, and so long as those jobs don’t pay a living wage “opportunity” and “upward mobility” are just a complex scheme for deciding who gets forced to suffer the grinding poverty. What’s needed is less focus on “opportunity” and more focus on making the jobs at the bottom of the economy pay a living wage. I know most people here know that but it’s worth remembering that so long as education is seen as the solution to inequality, it simply determines who is the victim of the inequality, not how punishing that inequality will be.

Also the chart is cool but unadjusted curves make no sense given how heavily confounded race and income are. I would be interested to see the test score gap for 90/10 black and white Americans (which I suspect would confirm the point).

5

afinetheorem 12.07.16 at 11:39 pm

A quick caveat: poverty is *associated* with poor school performance, but the evidence is a bit more mixed on whether is *causes* poor school performance. That is, poor families read less to their kids not just because they can’t afford books, but also because they are less likely to have higher education, are more likely to have broken family units, are less likely to value education, and so on.

There are a few recent papers that try to get at the effect of poverty on school performance causally, and there is certainly something there (see http://econweb.ucsd.edu/~gdahl/papers/children-and-EITC.pdf and the descriptions of related work on 1932). We oughtn’t go so far to say, however, to neglect the other ways in which poverty harms childhood outcomes.

6

Harry 12.08.16 at 12:12 am

I agree about opportunity, but so do most of the authors,some explicitly in their pieces. There doesn’t always have to be someone doing the jobs at the bottom though, except in some tautologous sense. EG, in a sufficiently egalitarian society, or just one with a sufficiently high basic income, there’d be far fewer service jobs of certain kinds (housecleaning, fast food) because nobody would be willing to do them at the wage others would be willing to pay. Wealthier people would clean up more of their own filth.

I’m being dumb about the 90/10 black and white thing — what is it you want the curves to be adjusted for? (the black and white curves are both raw scores, no controls for income and wealth of families, so the gap there is bigger than the adjusted gap would be).

7

emjayay 12.08.16 at 12:22 am

It’s not just about not reading to kids and not having books. It’s every minute of their lives. The environment outside the house. The environment inside. A study (don’t have any numbers etc. at hand – read about it a few years ago in the New Yorker) showed that poor kids got a fraction of the verbal messages from adults than nonpoor kids, and the messages were mostly negative instead of being mostly positive. And just guessing, the interactions were more complex. This affects brain development from day one. Then there’s just the overall culture the kids grow up in in the home.

Besides seeing the results as a teacher, I’ve been riding the NYC subway a couple hours a day through all kinds of neighborhoods including those with housing projects. My observations check with that study. One caveat is that the child raising I see among Asian (mostly Chinese) immigrants who are not necessarily middle class appears to be mostly consistently obviously awesome in every way. I suspect that a similar study that divided lower income people by ethnicity would show some very interesting results.

8

emjayay 12.08.16 at 12:28 am

Aaargh, no editing function. I’ll be more careful. I meant more complex interactions among non lower income people. By “overall culture” in the home I meant the values transmitted by parents to children. The subway rides I mentioned are for 13 years mostly from the far south of Brooklyn to Manhattan. Oh and the Asian kids when they are middle school and high school age? They act and interact and dress about like upper middle class kids in Minneapolis or anywhere, plus maybe cooler haircuts.

9

Harry 12.08.16 at 12:29 am

Hart and Risley is the study. Its gobsmacking. There are good chapters in WO about the effects of poverty on brain development. Good summary, and easy access to one of the publications, here

10

faustusnotes 12.08.16 at 1:16 am

Harry what I mean is that since black families are more likely to be in the 10 than the 90% quintile, the trend in difference in scores should be different among poor whites vs. poor blacks compared to rich whites vs rich blacks, or alternatively we might see a narrowing of gap between poor black and white, compared to rich black and white. It’s hard to say what the convergence of test score differences between black and white students means when it’s confounded by the income distributions of these groups.

(I don’t mean we should look at adjusted scores, because sometimes these are harder to interpret when presented graphically than when interpreted in terms of regression coefficients).

Anyway it’s a minor point, the trend in inequality due to wealth is obvious.

11

Dr. Hilarius 12.08.16 at 1:38 am

I don’t have time to review the above cited materials right now but suspect none of it would surprise me. About half of my current legal practice is representing children involved with Child Protective Services. Many of these children are subjected to environmental deficits that go far beyond a mere lack of money or enrichment. The impact of abuse, insecurity, and trauma does appear to be inversely related to age.

I’ve represented one young woman, now 17, for the past five years. She and her sibs were found living on their own (the oldest was then 14) in a filthy house without water, power or food after the parents discovered the joy of meth. My client was also the victim of familial sex abuse. But in their early years the family was fairly stable. All of the kids are doing very well and my client excels in school. Contrast this family with another where the kids were born into periodic homelessness, constant domestic violence and substance abuse. Even with intensive intervention (counseling, tutoring, school IEP plans, therapeutic residential placement) for years these kids are failing school, engaging in self-destruction behaviors, getting arrested and running away.

Please do not think that I am suggesting that we should not try to mitigate the impact of early-life dysfunction. My only point is that it is, in my experience, a very difficult task. Children with even a few years of nurturing in early life seem to fare so much better when things do fall apart. Expecting schools to fix kids who lack that early care is unrealistic, no matter how good the school.

12

pnee 12.08.16 at 2:48 am

FWIW, most education research doesn’t have access to individual student socioeconomic status (SES) data. For reasons of student privacy, primarily, is my understanding.

The best they can do is use percentage of students on free or reduced school lunch as a proxy for a reading on average SES at the school level only.

So, trying to determine which interventions actually help low SES students is fraught with difficulty.

13

Harry 12.08.16 at 3:16 am

OK, thanks, I get it. Well, I remember someone who was dealing with the (masses of) data saying that they tried to compare poor whites and poor blacks, but noted that when you really get deep in the data, you end up with a very large number of black poor who really are not comparable to white poor — basically, almost no whites are as disadvantaged as a substantial group of blacks. Not surprising, but very depressing. I think there’s a very interesting, and maybe important, conceptual question about how to distinguish class and race (and hence, how best to control for class). But maybe its not practically important.

14

Omega Centauri 12.08.16 at 3:27 am

These arguments seem to assume that the starting material is uniform across classes (except that in poor areas there are more disruptive classmates). But combinations of genetics, epi-genetics, nutrition, home environment, parental teaching ability and so on, means that the student quality gap is often quite stark. Those are large social and possibly genetic deficits that even well thought out and funded programs might find difficult to overcome.

And how can a class advance in the presence of the worst 10-20% students? Even if they aren’t disruptive, do you sacrifice them by going at a rate whicht is best for the other 80%, or do you slow progress to a crawl so that no-one is left behind? The alternative is the widely despised tracking system, whereby students are sorted by academic ability. In some sense neighborhood
SES partly serves the function of a tracking system.

15

LFC 12.08.16 at 3:34 am

@13
Haven’t read the Reardon study, but on a nation-wide basis and assuming access to actual yearly income data, I would guess that, in terms of absolute numbers (rather than percentages of a given group), there’s a non-trivial number of white households roughly as poor as the lowest-income black households. They probably would tend to be disproportionately concentrated in certain areas, e.g. Appalachia, but they exist. That the person who was dealing with the data apparently had a different view seems counter-intuitive (at least to me and given my admittedly completely non-expert impression about what is known re race and poverty in the U.S.).

16

kidneystones 12.08.16 at 4:11 am

All work has honor. Yes. Internalize that central fact because that is the central fact of an egalitarian society, certainly as far as social capital is concerned.

No work is menial. Indeed, the very notion of menial vs. worthy occupations imposes a hierarchy on work/status that has had, in my opinion, catastrophic effects on identity, self-esteem, and constructive behaviors.

Cleaning up after those who cannot: children/old people/the disabled is an act of filial duty/love as much as it is in our self-interest. Many of the homeless suffer from mental illness. Few exercise what we might call: free choice.

17

divelly 12.08.16 at 4:53 am

CCNY once graduated a greater % of students who went on to a greater % of advanced degrees, than any Ivy U.
And it was free!
Why?
Immigrant students- Kikes, Wops and Donkeys!
How many CIT students are named Buford?
Welcome to Merka’s future.

18

Layman 12.08.16 at 11:41 am

kidneystones: “No work is menial. Indeed, the very notion of menial vs. worthy occupations imposes a hierarchy on work/status that has had, in my opinion, catastrophic effects on identity, self-esteem, and constructive behaviors.”

Only someone who was never been poor, never worked at menial jobs, never labored at mind-numbing, tedious, thankless work to the point of exhaustion every single day, never been repeatedly humiliated by cretinous managers and customers – all while still not earning enough to pay for shelter and food and clothing for one’s family – could write such claptrap. I salute you and your apparent good fortune.

19

kidneystones 12.08.16 at 12:23 pm

18 I cleaned toilets for a living and loved it. Carrying crates of bottled water is better than carrying sacks of 40 kilo sacks of flour, as you know I’m sure, because you get a much better purchase on the crate when leveraging it onto you your shoulder. Flipping lumber is cold, hard wet work, but relatively easy once who get the knack of letting the green chain and the wet wood do the work. Working as a skiff-man is better than doing the tie-ups on a purse seiner because you don’t have to scramble up wet, barnacle encrusted rocks, but both jobs are physically-demanding. Washing dishes (my first job) is hot, sweaty, honest work, but we usually got a good meal. Working as a roofer could be scary if we’re carrying hods of tiles along a roof five floors up in the rain, and carrying buckets of ‘hot’ across an asphalt roof in the summer isn’t much fun.

I’ll close by observing that one of the great pleasures of working on the bottom is that we get a clear view o which salesmen treat the guy opening the door for stock traders with a measure of courtesy. And one of the great joys of teaching at a really fine university (with real live Marxists) is that we treat the cleaning staff with exactly the same courtesy and respect as the deans and the president. I’m in charge of the toilets at our place and by the time I’m done you could eat your meal off the floors, they’re that clean.

Thanks for thinking good thoughts about me.

20

nastywoman 12.08.16 at 12:35 pm

@16
‘All work has honor.’
@18
‘I salute you and your apparent good fortune.’

That’s weird – as contradicting as the two statements seem to be – one could agree with both.

Like ‘the very notion of menial vs. worthy occupations imposed a hierarchy on work/status in the US – that it had the catastrophic effects on identity, self-esteem, and constructive behaviors of rust belt workers – that many of them felt the need to elect a F…face von Clownstick.

And about ‘only someone who was never been poor, never worked at menial jobs, never labored at mind-numbing, tedious, thankless work to the point of exhaustion every single day, never been repeatedly humiliated by cretinous managers and customers – all while still not earning enough to pay for shelter and food and clothing for one’s family – can write such ‘claptrap’ – proves that it just depends on your perspective – like the perspective about the Charter Schools? –
You can see them as the efforts of some very ‘idealistic’ and honorable teachers trying to help also ‘the Poor’ to get a ‘good’ education – if the Charter School you are looking at is such a school – or the complete opposite – but that also seems to be just about what you are looking at?

21

kidneystones 12.08.16 at 12:36 pm

@19 Sorry about the typos.

The short version: I’m not my job; I’m how I do my job.

I’m not sure how many believe that, or understand it. I will say I’m doing my assessments at the moment and part of the grade better students earn is from both assisting and treating ‘weaker’ students with respect. There’s a lot more to success than success.

22

engels 12.08.16 at 12:51 pm

we treat the cleaning staff with exactly the same courtesy and respect as the deans and the president

You pay them the same, give them the same sized offices, pensions, cars, Deans and cleaners play golf together, intermarry, etc? Sounds like a cool place.

23

engels 12.08.16 at 1:05 pm

I cleaned toilets for a living and loved it.

Why did you give it up, if you don’t mind me asking?

24

engels 12.08.16 at 1:11 pm

I think there’s a grain of truth in what you’re saying—describing low-status but often essential in dismissive terms can be patronising and reactionary (I remember an old CT thread about ‘shit work’ that made me think this)—but in general I agree with Layman. No good purpose is served by pretending all or even most work in a capitalist society has dignity and honour or whatever. It doesn’t.

25

kidneystones 12.08.16 at 1:25 pm

@ 22 There’s nothing a person who cuts the grass wants to do more than take responsibility for ensuring thousands of students are recruited, supported, taught, and placed.

We all exchange jobs and salaries all the time because all jobs are basically the same, require identical skills, and can be done by practically anyone. We’re all inter-changeable. And did I mention that there are no grades cause all the students perform at the same level? We have no need for any of that.

Anything else?

26

kidneystones 12.08.16 at 1:32 pm

One thing I do know, is that everyone here has a lot more free-time than the the majority of people we’re discussing. It would be nice if those who profess to love the working-class did something other than treat the actual people doing the work as dupes, or lackeys.

As for the toilet-cleaning career, that was in a stunning national park high in the Rockies. Why’d I leave? I met a girl in town and took a job in the bar to stay close. Those of us willing to do ‘menial’ work well enjoy a certain mobility, too.

Time to flush.

27

Layman 12.08.16 at 1:36 pm

engels: “Why did you give it up, if you don’t mind me asking?”

This is, of course, the right question.

I’m reminded of the politicians, pundits, and wonks who opine that, after all, as they are white, wealthy, 70, and still working, everyone should be able to work a few years longer, and so we should continue to raise the eligibility age for Social Security, etc. Ditch diggers of the world of course agree!

28

cs 12.08.16 at 2:01 pm

Something I thought of based on your parenthetical “the achievement gap (measured by standardized tests)”:

As schools focus more on getting their students to pass specific standardized tests, do those tests become less useful as a way to measure the quality of education?

After all, actually taking standardized tests is not exactly what we want the students to be learning. We want them to learn some skills that the tests are supposed to be measuring. But as the students get more and more practice at test-taking, their tests scores become (at least slightly) less dependent on those skills that the test is supposed to be a proxy for. Does this seem right?

29

engels 12.08.16 at 2:52 pm

I’m reminded of the politicians, pundits, and wonks who opine that, after all, as they are white, wealthy, 70, and still working, everyone should be able to work a few years longer, and so we should continue to raise the eligibility age for Social Security, etc. Ditch diggers of the world of course agree!

On leaving this sphere of simple circulation or of exchange of commodities, which furnishes the “Free-trader Vulgaris” with his views and ideas, and with the standard by which he judges a society based on capital and wages, we think we can perceive a change in the physiognomy of our dramatis personae. He, who before was the money-owner, now strides in front as capitalist; the possessor of labour-power follows as his labourer. The one with an air of importance, smirking, intent on business; the other, timid and holding back, like one who is bringing his own hide to market and has nothing to expect but — a hiding.

30

nastywoman 12.08.16 at 3:20 pm

@27
engels: “Why did you give it up, if you don’t mind me asking?”
This is, of course, the right question.

or the wrong one – as I have this theory that a baker should earn a lot more money than a banker and if a baker would earn a lot more than a banker would more students want to become bakers than bankers?

So perhaps the question should have been -(like with these charter schools) would you have asked the same question if cleaning toilets would be better payed than teaching students?
And a few years ago I learned how to make (a really great cheese) – together with a whole group of stressed out managers from everywhere in the world who thought to spend a few days on a isolated Swiss mountain – learning how to make cheese was a good idea – and one of these guys afterwards quit his job and is now concentrating just to be a good cheesemaker and if you would ask him why he gave up his job he would tell you: It was really a s… job…

31

John Garrett 12.08.16 at 3:46 pm

Kidneystones, you chose to clean toilets before you worked in a bar, and now you teach. Wonderful for you. But talk to people without choice: a friend of mine, single parent, loves working and works three jobs (one hospital, one driving, one cleanup), loves the hospital but can’t afford it so does two more jobs. Tell her about how all work is dignified and wonderful, or tell the next fast food cashier you meet. We are all incredibly lucky here, and as long as we are not now doing shit work, we have no right to value it.

32

nastywoman 12.08.16 at 4:40 pm

@31
‘and as long as we are not now doing shit work, we have no right to value it.’

What?

Now this is getting completely out of control.
Let’s insist to value the ‘sh… work of the next President. And I understand that somebody who has to do three jobs in order to feed his family has a different perspective about what can be called a s… job – or who is allowed to value it but that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be any efforts of evaluation of the quality of jobs – especially as this point originally was brought up as defending people who have s…. jobs -(as least that’s the ways I read it)

So you want on top of it that your friend has to struggle with three jobs – forbid to tell him that ‘All work has honor’?

33

engels 12.08.16 at 5:49 pm

and one of these guys afterwards quit his job and is now concentrating just to be a good cheesemaker

And the others?

34

Rob Chametzky 12.08.16 at 6:05 pm

>Harry 12.08.16 at 12:29 am

> Hart and Risley is the study. Its gobsmacking.

Well, yes, this study is certainly much pointed at. As usual, however, things are not nearly so straightforward as many of the at-pointers apparently suppose.

See this paper by Lila Gleitman (arguably THE major figure in child language acquisition over, I dunno, the last 40 years) and some of her associates. Main point/finding is that it isn’t the quantity as such of linguistic input to kids that matters for later vocabulary size but rather the quality of linguistic inputs. Read the paper for answers to your immediate questions/objections.

http://www.psych.upenn.edu/~gleitman/papers/Cartmill_et_al_2013_Quality_of_early_parent_input_predicts_child_vocabulary_3_years_later.pdf

–RC

35

dbk 12.08.16 at 6:51 pm

I guess three days is the limit for long drawn-out, difficult interchanges over multiple posts before things start devolving.

kidneystones, layman, engels: I think we all can feel grateful we are not doing manual labor (or, as you seem to prefer, “menial” labor) any longer (or perhaps ever). I certainly do. Every day of my life I think, “There but for the grace of God (or for the atheists out there, ‘the grace of Bernard Williams’ moral luck’ go I”, and I mean it.

Apparently a lot of people characterize some/many jobs as undignified (my term is “hard”, but hey). An undignified job doesn’t mean that its doer lacks dignity, or that he is unworthy or undeserving of our respect – even gratitude.

Engels, we know the cleaning staff at kidneystones’ school aren’t making what the deans and president make – but I’m pretty sure they aren’t making 400x more than the cleaning staff, either (probably more like 40 – 50x). Not that your point wasn’t taken.

But I digress. I located Chapter I of Whither Opportunity online (in full), and read it this morning. The issues, as we’ve read over these threads, are complicated, but it pretty much boils down to what Harry (and quite a few others) have said: the ultimate culprit is not race or “bad” schools, but poverty itself. To me this came as no surprise.

I’d be willing to consider charter schools that (a) offered creche programs beginning at age 2 with a 2-1 or 3-1 caretaker-toddler ratio; (b) hired unionized teachers and worked them under 60 hours a week (many charter school teachers work 80 hours weekly); (c) accepted all special-needs groups in their catchment area, including the disabled and ESL-EFL students.

As it is, charter schools are accepting students too late (age 6 is way too late); some (esp. for-profits) hire only young, just-out-of-school non-unionized teachers and burn them out faster than even I (a burned-out teacher/administrator) thought possible (making turnover rates entirely unacceptable), and (c) not accepting special-needs students (I’m not sure how they get around this one).

Another thing to look at is the success (or not) of other privatization efforts in public goods and services (if you don’t believe there are public goods and services, then we’re not on the same planet in this discussion).

I am not impressed by the ACA’s course over the past couple years, although it’s still early days and things could improve; I think Medicaid and Medicare and yes, even the VA are better models for health care (as did most of the Western world until the rise of neoliberalism – and as our Congressmen and Federal employees, naturally, agree “public health care for me but not for thee”). And I’m very distressed at the results of the U.S.’s 30-year foray into private prison service provision.

Once again, just to repeat the point I tried to make elsewhere: public services, if done properly, are expensive. It is in a state’s long-term interests to provide the highest possible quality it can (not to do so, if I may be so bold, is short-sighted), and this is why we look to the state to provide such services.

The goals of the state in the case of education (well, theoretically) are a well-educated, literate citizenry who are participating members of civil society. The goal of a corporation is profit, period. In all case of services which are costly and labor-intensive, corporations will cut corners. And the weakest among us, once again, will be harmed.

I had reason today to investigate the Big Brother Big Sister Program in NYC, which I’m sure you are all familiar with so I won’t describe it. The numbers are striking: There are 500,000 potential “Littles” in NYC versus 5,000 “Bigs”. This is a great program, but it’s an NGO consisting mostly of trained volunteers who pay out of pocket to do things with their Littles. Those 500,000 children living in poverty in the five boroughs need the state to provide this sort of one-on-one, long-term mentoring (intellectual, emotional, spiritual, artistic – all forms). Even an old and respected program like BigBrothersBigSisters (www.bigsnyc.org) can meet only a fraction of demand.

If anyone thinks charter schools are going to step up to a need like this, well, I’ve got a bridge available and I need the money.

36

engels 12.08.16 at 8:47 pm

kidneystones, layman, engels: I think we all can feel grateful we are not doing manual labor (or, as you seem to prefer, “menial” labor)

Er wtf are you talking about?

Every day of my life I think, “There but for the grace of God (or for the atheists out there, ‘the grace of Bernard Williams’ moral luck’ go I”, and I mean it.

It’s not moral luck, it’s structural injustice which is sustained in part by the cooperation of people like you and for the benefit of people like you.

37

engels 12.08.16 at 8:52 pm

(I specifically said that I objected to characterisations like ‘shit work’ etc.)

38

nastywoman 12.08.16 at 11:19 pm

@36
‘it’s structural injustice which is sustained in part by the cooperation of people like you and for the benefit of people like you.’

That’s why we need to go back to the sozio-economical structure of empathetic Italian hill-towns – where the most talented craftsmen are running the show -(in a matter of speaking) – and the local school is run by Signora Alessa –
(transl: Protector of humanity) -and I’m serious –
and you asked: ‘And the others?’
I guess they went back to their s… jobs.

39

engels 12.09.16 at 12:29 am

Blessed are the cheesemakers (I’m confident it will be at least a decade before they’re automated away / outcompeted by Unilever)

40

Harry 12.09.16 at 12:52 am

According to the in-coming Secretary of Labor, a decade is a large overestimate!

41

kidneystones 12.09.16 at 4:10 am

@31 I’d go back to cleaning toilets if I got paid the same money as I do listening to faux friends of the working class in faculty lounges. I’m sympathetic to your friend’s plight. I work four jobs myself live in a family unit of five with four earners combining incomes to make ends meet. Raising children alone is particular challenge. I live with my mother-in-law who requires some care. We adjust as best we can. I hope your friend has some similar support network. I’m not sure you’re helping much by describing the work people do as ‘shit’ work. Why don’t you ask her and find out?

Re: drudge work. There are plenty of boring tasks that involve doing the same thing day after day. Paper-pushing is one of them. My own research involves poring over a very sizeable number of old documents rummaging for needles. I’m convinced my expertise and the tiny recognition my research merits is directly connected to my patience and ability to focus on mundane, mind-numbing tasks. So, there’s that.

If I think of myself as lower than, I’m going to have difficulty avoiding the ‘lower than’ lifestyle. Then there’s all that bitterness and resentment that does so little to improve anything. I don’t much care what I do. I don’t get paid one penny more for choosing to dislike the tasks in front of me. So, I choose to enjoy just about everything and I don’t give a fig what anyone thinks about this approach. What’s more, I’d rather be happy than right. (even though both frequently occur, like in November!)

Silly me.

42

Anononymous 12.09.16 at 4:32 am

Interesting connection between poverty and education results.

What do the twin studies say? I could be very wrong, but I remember reading that of poor twins, one adopted by a rich family and one not, the educational outcomes were not different at a statistically significant level. Which would suggest it has nothing to do with reading to your children. Seems like a specious connection, similar to Mozart in the womb etc.

43

nastywoman 12.09.16 at 6:37 am

@39
‘Blessed are the cheesemakers (I’m confident it will be at least a decade before they’re automated away / outcompeted by Unilever)’

I doubt it – as ‘the cheesemakers’ (the Swiss) run ‘the most competitive economy’ in the world and their cheesemaking has been refined in a way where the ‘automated cheeses’ have no chance against the truly ‘handmade’ ones.

and don’t forget the guilds – or Zünfte in German – who still kind of run Switzerlands biggest city Zürich since the 14th century – one of their functions was to lay down rules for the different crafts and trades, so that competition between craftsmen stayed fair. Each Zunft organised particular crafts. The Zunft zur Safran was home to merchants of textiles and spices, the members of the Zunft zum Widder were cattle merchants and butchers and the Zunft zur Schmiden accepted blacksmiths, goldsmiths, clockmakers and doctors.

And there is no end in sight for their domination!

44

nastywoman 12.09.16 at 7:08 am

@40
about the in-coming Secretary of Labor – the s… job creator of the s… iest jobs in the United States of Trump he definitely needs to join one of the cheesemaking seminars in the Swiss mountains.
Together with these Mc Donalds dudes – who now try to automate their checkouts -(let’s hope that’s their last effort to save their s… company)

And they might learn in the Swiss mountains how far ahead these Swiss mountain towns truly are. As they went to the notion a while ago – that cheaper ‘automated made cheese’ – trucked in from far away – not only tastes terrible – but it also destroys their (cheesedependend) towns and villages – and so they went back to ‘their’ much more expensive ‘local’ cheese -(using ‘cheese’ as an example for rebuilding sustainable local economies) – which seems to be a wide European trend and (already) also made it all the way to one of US most competitive economies – California.

45

dbk 12.09.16 at 8:34 am

engels@36
It’s not moral luck, it’s structural injustice which is sustained in part by the cooperation of people like you and for the benefit of people like you.

You don’t know me, so I won’t take your observation personally.

I assume you didn’t read my previous comments on this thread, so I’ll just repeat the takeaway in your preferred terms: imho the stealth privatization of what has long been seen as a public good will exacerbate, rather than mitigate, structural injustice in an already structurally-unjust system.

How much clearer can I be?

46

engels 12.09.16 at 9:59 am

Dbk, I was referring to the division between mental and physical labour (it’s not a natural fact but a social arrangement, which is sustained in part by the cooperation of privileged labourers and partly benefits them.)

47

Collin Street 12.09.16 at 11:51 am

(I specifically said that I objected to characterisations like ‘shit work’ etc.)

Ehn. If work were fun nobody would have to pay you to do it. But it’s a lemma of basic market-liberalism that the wages of a job adjust in line with[1] the cost of doing the work, which — if market-liberalism were correct — would include the emotional cost[2].

Or: jobs that suck should get paid more. Then it would all work.

In reality, of course… they don’t. The way we actually organise society is to build careful market-segmentation walls — misogyny, racism, etc — that prevent certain segments from getting some “nice” jobs, forcing them to work for jobs that both “suck” objectively[3] and pay poorly if they want to, you know, live.

[1] Note I didn’t say “match”; that’s what you need to, you know, not be an exploitative arsehole, but it’s not a requirement of market liberalism per se.
[2] Note that the biggest part of the emotional cost is tied up with management practices, not the actual tasks-nominally-required.
[3] Note again footnote 2.

48

dbk 12.09.16 at 1:02 pm

engels @ 46

OK, sorry I misunderstood. As an intellect worker (for piecework wages), I get it, and will be more aware in future. Thanks.

49

engels 12.09.16 at 1:45 pm

Dbk, I wasn’t complaining at you personally, just stressing the difference between luck and contingent social arrangements. One old left-wing demand used to be abolition of distinction between mental and physical labour.

50

Charles Peterson 12.10.16 at 9:00 pm

If perhaps inequality and poverty were not the entire cause of poor educational and life performance, directly and indirectly, it would almost certainly be vastly reduced in a society of vastly reduced inequality and poverty.

If only we could have and arm and eliminate inequality and poverty, which is of course what politicians sometimes do, especially of the conservative streak, or make outrageous claims that unloading tax from the top will somehow cure all, when it typically has the reverse effect, enabling the top to cash out more freely from social investments. So we have fewer factories, and fewer laboratories than we should have, and way more gilded on great mansions.

Well, actually, we could. Poverty and inequality are greatly affected by public policy choices. A modern society requires a large and useful social democratic state. Free healthcare and education for starters (not unknown in the world). Ultimately, there should be nobody unfed, unhoused, uneducated except by truancy.

And how could this be paid for? Well, the USA is the richest country in the history of the world, has incomparable advantages, incomparable resources, many of the world’s smartest people, and an informative history. We spend a vast fortune on a fantastically wasteful imperial enterprise, almost just for the sake of spending the money, and in fact
actual citizens (if not foreign investments) would almost entirely be safer if the whole project were abandoned, and defense became an entirely internal affair, such as building badly needed renewably energy based infrastructure.

For starters, resume taxing corporations, high incomes, speculative trading. Add to that carbon, offshoring, rents of all kinds. Everything but consumption.

Of course, the trend of the past 36 years is exactly the reverse, and the current scenario is acceleration simultaneously into the sinkhole and over the cliff. And while the democratic socialist approach gained some appeal recently, there has been a longstanding effort of eliminating all such thinking, and mainstream america believes somehow that the source of all their problems will be the cure for it.

This could be reversed by better education, historical and scientific. So maybe the bug is a feature?

Well, there’s another part to this. Are the financial and administrative elite themselves so uneducated as to believe their doing the right thing, that somehow they can continue to live in their isolated sanctums accumulating accounting wealth while the rest of the world collapses? Don’t they understand that true wealth is the ability to create, and that is maximized by having everyone doing their best?

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