kitchen table math, the sequel: Have I mentioned I don't like policy elites?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Have I mentioned I don't like policy elites?

I opened up my NY Times app the other morning to discover this opinion from Richard V. Reeves, fellow in Economic Studies and policy director for the Center on Children and Families at Brookings:

"Let" affluent children fail is a thinkable public policy goal?

At Brookings?

The logic shoots off in all kinds of horrifying directions. E.g.: granting for the sake of argument that letting affluent children fail is a good thing, wouldn't giving them a little push off the cliff be even better?

(And how much should we pay suburban teachers for that service?)


I haven't been able to bring myself to read the column, especially after spotting this line:

"It is a stubborn mathematical fact that the top fifth of the income distribution can accommodate only 20 percent of the population."

Twenty percent is 20%, so the "bottom" 80%, a supermajority of the population, is forevermore locked into the bottom 80% unless we "let" affluent children "fail."

By that reasoning, whenever a child grows up in the top 20% and then, as an adult, descends to the top 21%, that child has "failed."

I skimmed long enough to spot the term "opportunity hoarding" and to discover that it originates with Charles Tilly, with whom I think Ed and I had dinner in Los Angeles years ago. I remember liking Professor Tilly immensely, assuming our dinner companion was in fact Charles Tilly; Ed doesn't remember. On the other hand, Ed did know Tilly, so I think it was Tilly.

Anyway, on the strength of one nonverifiable memory of a fabulous evening with Charles Tilly, I have decided that if I want to know more about opportunity hoarding, and I may want to know more about opportunity hoarding, I will go directly to the source and bypass Brookings.

In the meantime, I am now sufficiently well-versed in macroeconomics to know that the answer both to twenty percent being twenty percent and opportunity hoarding is a roaring economy and a weaker dollar.

Today's factoid: our strong-dollar policy apparently originated with Robert Rubin.

Another member of the policy elite.


Glen said...

According to US News & World Report, Brookings employees' political donations from 2003-2010 were divided 1.2% Republican and 97.8% Democrat. In what possible way do you imagine that liberal elites promoting the sabotage of (others' less) "affluent children" to be in any way out of character?

Most of my neighbors here in my affluent neighborhood in the San Francisco area send their children to elite private schools while doing the liberal penance of voting for politicians who fight against parents of public school kids (like us) who try to increase school choice. No, they oppose school choice for "affluent kids" who aren't as affluent as they and their private school friends, because that would "weaken the public schools by allowing the cream to go elsewhere" as they themselves use their money to go elsewhere.

What percentage of Brookings employees with children would you imagine send theirs to private schools, while advocating the sabotage of "affluent" public school kids in the name of "social justice"?

Anonymous said...

According to the article, three fifths of the children born into the upper 20% will not land in that quintile as adults. If true, means a majority of the children raised in the upper fifth will not land in the upper fifth. I am skeptical that is a good number: I would have thought it was much lower. It also begs the question of how much more failure the author thinks is necessary. A random distribution would place 20% of those in the upper quintile as children into the upper quintile as adults. Would that satisfy the author?

lgm said...

>>Eliminating the income gap is relatively straightforward (if politically fraught): raise taxes and expand government assistance for lower-income workers.

Good to know that rank&file wages will remain stagnant while this group is in charge.

Hainish said...

I did read about this a short while ago. You'd have thought they were advocating rounding up these children and summarily executing them, the way people are reacting. But...I'm not sure you're taking away form it the same things I am. I see it as a call for a more meritocratic system in which, if a child who is not academically inclined is born into a wealthy family (and here I mean the top 5% and up, rather than the top 20%), then that child does NOT get into an Ivy League university and does NOT go on to hold a prestigious job with generous compensation. You know, like all the rest of us.

cranberry said...

Why do you listen to someone who doesn't understand math? He's absolutely wrong, in context, when he states, While politicians discuss social mobility as a pain-free goal, the unspoken, uncomfortable truth is that relative mobility is a zero-sum game.

In 1980, the population of the US was 227 million.

In 2012, the population of the US was 314 million.

The top 20% in 1980 were 45 million people.

The top 20% in 2012 were 63 million people.

I'll say the man's purposefully misleading his audience.

Hainish said...

Cranberry...huh? Your example confirms that relative mobility is a zero-sum game.

I don't think that it needs to be, but the facts and statistics that I find relevant differ from yours. Even though the top quintile will always be limited to 20% of the population, what *can* change is the distribution of incomes in each quintile and, more importantly, what that income gets you.

C T said...

As to looking at what income gets us, if I can live like a queen (which I arguably do if you look at the lives of royalty up until the modern era, despite being lower middle class), I don't care if I'm not in the top 20%.
Time to go see how my cook (the crockpot) and the laundress (the dryer) are doing at their tasks before I go drink some apple-passion-mango juice that I got for $1.25 at the store just now. My scullery maid (faucet) is always so prompt at bringing me sanitary water to use in reconstituting my juice drinks. It's so lovely not having to put away my own carriage horses (I did have to remember to beep the car locked with my key fob, though. I'm so burdened.).

Anonymous said...

CT -- all true and LOL.

The problem with being in the lowest 5th (or even the 2nd lowest 5th) is the job insecurity, inability to help ones children go to college, lack of health insurance (ACA will help on that score, and quite a lot), and the need to live near or with the troublesome poor, even though you might be the deserving poor.

Hainish said...

CT - Yes, those are all examples of "what income gets you" and do not have much to say about relative mobility.

Anonymous - also good examples of "what income can(not) get you," though as you point out with ACA, none of that is written in stone.

SteveH said...

"It is a stubborn mathematical fact that the top fifth of the income distribution can accommodate only 20 percent of the population. If we want more poor kids climbing the ladder of relative mobility, we need more rich kids sliding down the chutes."

This isn't a zero-sum proposition.

This also isn't a Harvard legacy problem. In fact, many affluent students "fail" to get into Harvard because of affirmative (oops, holistic) admissions.

Why are K-12 educators so giddy when first generation college attendees get to the community college level? There are huge opportunities at elite colleges for these kids if only their K-12 schools would give them the proper education. What, specifically, are parents expected to do to cover the education necessary to go from the community college level to a top 50 college level?

I hate these macro opinions - ones that are based on some philosophical bias and supported by carefully-selected facts. The facts don't drive their opinion, it's the other way around.

Anonymous said...

It's a stubborn political fact that in order to determine the nation's policy you have to be part of the policy elite.

Catherine Johnson said...

Haven't read the comments thread, but just saw this:

It's a stubborn political fact that in order to determine the nation's policy you have to be part of the policy elite.

You mean parent bloggers don't set national policy?

(Love your line ---- !)

Catherine Johnson said...

Actually, I can tell you why I'm surprised to see this coming from Brookings. Tom Loveless has been their main guy on education (one of them), and he's been an advocate of ability grouping, etc.

Russ Whitehurst (Bush's guy) is there, too.

In the realm of public education, the normal left-right distinctions don't hold in the same way...