Followup on Income Inequality

Several people say that I have missed the point in my post here - that the issue is
with mobility, particularly in multiple generations.   They argue that
the rich of the next generation are likely to be the kids of the rich
of this generation, that success now depends on education and
connections that only the wealthiest can buy for their kids.   

A couple of thoughts on this.  First, the Times's own data (plus
many other studies) doesn't bear this out, particularly with new
immigrants.  Thomas Sowell addresses this in more depth here and here,
and suggests that the explanation may lie more in values and
aspirations than in purchased stuff.  Marginal Revolution, for example,
had this thoroughly depressing story featuring a study by Harvard economist Roland Fryer on the social pressures in many African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods to under-perform in school.

My other thought on this is that to the extent social mobility is
slowing in this country, our public education system is a major
culprit.  Forget for a moment about quality issues.  Schools have
increasingly emphasized self-esteem over achievement and competition.
Standards are lowered, and the value of exceeding standards or
improving performance is downplayed.  Without other influences,
students will walk out of public schools with a value system vis a vis
achievement and competition and performance that leaves them totally
unprepared for the real world.  I am reminded of one of Bill Gates' pieces of advice to graduates

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS
NOT. In some schools they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as
MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest
resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

Kids with parents who have achieved in some way in the world are likely
to overcome this by the example and exhortations of their parents.  But
what happens to kids without this example?  Or kids (lacking voucher
programs) who can't afford to escape the public school system cult of
mediocrity for high-achievement private schools or home schooling?

Ironically, the very people who bemoan income inequality and lack of
mobility are the very same people who have gutted the public education
system.  These are the people who deal with inequality by flattening
down the peaks, which is exactly what they have done in schools,
eliminating valedictorians and substituting social promotions.


  1. Alina:

    A nutshell summary of why I have my African-American son in a mostly (he's not the only one, there are other Black, plus Hispanic and many Asian students)White private school known for its intense academic program and emphasis on actually, you know, achieving stuff before getting huggies.

  2. Michael H.:

    Hi Coyote
    Actually Half Sigma had a very good critique of the Roland Flyer paper cited above:
    He argues that the negative correlation between popularity and grades is not something unique to blacks and hispanics at all.

    The Bill Gates life lessons is a hoax. See snopes.

  3. MaxedOutMama:

    There's no question at all that the destruction of the public school system has been the most anti-democratic trend of the last 30 years. None.

  4. lrC:

    Income inequity and mobility seems to be increasingly (over the past few decades) to be a function of mental acuity and education. Income equality activists should look to the school system or give up the quest.

  5. Dave Schuler:

    As others have pointed out the Gates advice is a hoax. But there are other reasons not to hold Gates up as a shining example: he dropped out of college, got started in business with family money, and family connections were instrumental in securing his first customers. In other words rather than being a great example of meritocracy he's actually a pretty good counter-example.