Free Markets, Free People

Daily Archives: January 9, 2012


Krugman: Redefining “Equal Opportunity”

For the left, Paul Krugman has become a reliable flack, constantly pushing ideological themes with a veneer of “critical thinking” that simply crumbles upon examination.

His latest bit of nonsense, and I’m really at a loss at what else to call it, is his riff about “equal opportunity” and how disadvantaged Americans are in that regard.  In fact, per Krugman, we’re a much more economically stratified and “class-bound” society  than Europe and Canada:

And if you ask why America is more class-bound in practice than the rest of the Western world, a large part of the reason is that our government falls down on the job of creating equal opportunity.

The failure starts early: in America, the holes in the social safety net mean that both low-income mothers and their children are all too likely to suffer from poor nutrition and receive inadequate health care. It continues once children reach school age, where they encounter a system in which the affluent send their kids to good, well-financed public schools or, if they choose, to private schools, while less-advantaged children get a far worse education.

Once they reach college age, those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds are far less likely to go to college — and vastly less likely to go to a top-tier school — than those luckier in their parentage. At the most selective, “Tier 1” schools, 74 percent of the entering class comes from the quarter of households that have the highest “socioeconomic status”; only 3 percent comes from the bottom quarter.

And if children from our society’s lower rungs do manage to make it into a good college, the lack of financial support makes them far more likely to drop out than the children of the affluent, even if they have as much or more native ability. One long-term study by the Department of Education found that students with high test scores but low-income parents were less likely to complete college than students with low scores but affluent parents — loosely speaking, that smart poor kids are less likely than dumb rich kids to get a degree.

Let’s start with his premise.  HIs premise is it is the job of government to pick up those who’ve made bad choices, in the name of “equal opportunity”, and do what is necessary to “level the playing field”.  As you might imagine, government is Krugman’s answer for all perceived wrongs.

Unlike the real world, in Krugman’s world there apparently should be no consequences for bad choices.  There should, however, be consequences for good choices – those who have done what is necessary to have advantages in life should see their priorities for their money shifted, by government, to digging those who’ve made poor choices out of the holes they’ve put themselves in.  Make no mistake about it – anything government does it has to do with money it takes from someone.  Obviously we’re not talking about those who are the subject of Krugman’s lament – the “poor”.  They shall receive.

You see, in the universe from which Paul Krugman comes, “equal opportunity” has to do with outcome.  It is a total redefinition of the word “opportunity”, something for which the left is famous.  Take a common term and redefine it by turning it on its head.  Who isn’t for equal opportunity or fairness?  But the left never means those terms as commonly accepted.  In almost every case, it means government intrusion and penalizing those who are successful in the name of their redefined word or phrase.

In my world, government’s role in providing equal opportunity means that everyone is equal under the law, treated that way and thus has the same chance as any other person to get ahead through their own effort.  While Krugman attempts to sell his ideas as “equal opportunity” ideas, they’re simply the usual leftist whine about unfairness and an appeal to have government do something about it at the expense of others.  For Krugman it is unfair that those who make poor choices have to live with the consequences of those choices while those who make good choices, work hard and attempt to provide the best for the families they form should have an advantage.  And he’s equally upset with businesses that cater too them, such as “Tier 1 schools”.

Never mentioned is the fact that the schools they are fleeing are public schools where, if anywhere, Krugman should be focusing his “equal opportunity” whine.  It is there his underclass are poorly served by the very institution he claims can change their condition if only we’d take more from the advantaged.

Government.

Krugman attempts to sell the idea of permanent underclass in this country, but in reality income mobility remains high [pdf]:

• There is considerable income mobility of individuals in the U.S. economy over the 1996 through 2005 period. More than half of taxpayers (56 percent by one measure and 55 percent by another measure) moved to a different income quintile between 1996 and 2005. About half (58 percent by one measure and 45 percent by another measure) of those in the bottom income quintile in 1996 moved to a higher income group by 2005.

•      Median incomes of taxpayers in the sample increased by 24 percent after adjusting for inflation.  The real incomes of two-thirds of all taxpayers increased over this period. Further, the median incomes of those initially in the lowest income groups increased more in percentage terms than the median incomes of those in the higher income groups.  The median inflation-adjusted incomes of the taxpayers who were in the very highest income groups in 1996 declined by 2005.

•      The composition of the very top income groups changes dramatically over time.  Less than half (40 percent or 43 percent depending on the measure) of those in the top 1 percent in 1996 were still in the top 1 percent in 2005.  Only about 25 percent of the individuals in the top 1/100th percent in 1996 remained in the top 1/100 th  percent in 2005.

•      The degree of relative income mobility among income groups over the 1996 to 2005 period is very similar to that over the prior decade (1987 to 1996).  To the extent that increasing income inequality widened income gaps, this was offset by increased absolute income mobility so that relative income mobility has neither increased nor decreased over the past 20 years.

Or, in other words, we’re doing fine.  Equal opportunity exists and those who make good choices seem to be taking advantage of it.

The fact that there is income mobility in all quintiles seems to speak of opportunities for all, and it is certainly evident that those in the bottom quintile have indeed had the opportunity to move up and have done so.  And note the third bullet – even the top income groups show that sort of change.

There’s plenty of opportunity in this country – just listen to recent immigrants (legal ones) who make this country their home and are amazed by the opportunities they’ve been able to take advantage of to better their lives.  

The entire Krugman piece, of course, is aimed at Mitt Romney specifically and the GOP in general.  It all works toward this basic claim:

Think about it: someone who really wanted equal opportunity would be very concerned about the inequality of our current system. He would support more nutritional aid for low-income mothers-to-be and young children. He would try to improve the quality of public schools. He would support aid to low-income college students. And he would support what every other advanced country has, a universal health care system, so that nobody need worry about untreated illness or crushing medical bills.

Obviously you have to buy into his false premise to then buy into this litany of nonsense.  What Krugman doesn’t realize is much of what he laments are problems caused by government or government intrusion as well as pure old falsehoods.

What would you rather have, Tier 1 schools for everyone, or the status quo in which government runs the majority of the schools and the results continue to get worse?  Krugman’s answer: take more money from the advantaged and spend  it trying to fix something we’ve been spending more money trying to fix for decades.  Perhaps, instead of more government, equal opportunity requires less government and more private sector?

Not in Krugman’s world.

In that world government is always the answer, the disadvantaged are always disadvantaged because of those richer than them and equal opportunity simply means a different government run scheme for income redistribution.

Yeah, that’s worked out incredibly well to this point, hasn’t it Mr. Krugman?

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Polling independents

One of the things I do quite often is throw poll numbers up here.   But they’re usually numbers from selected polls.  You’re unlikely to see me put up numbers about what percentage of likely voters some candidate holds in an election, especially a year out.   They’re essentially worthless. 

But three I do find interesting and telling are polls that measure the satisfaction of voters, like the “direction of the country” polls, polls that look at voter enthusiasm for each side and finally, polls that attempt to determine the size of the independent vote pool.

Those three types of polls are usually trending polls, i.e. they measure these things at regular intervals.  It is those trends that I find valuable and make it easier for me, personally, to get a handle on the mood of the voting public.

For instance, in the 2010 midterms we saw a decided shift of independents from the Democratic side to the Republican side as well as much more enthusiasm on the right than the left in those elections.  The result was a resounding Republican win with them picking up around 60 seats in the House.

Today we have one of those polls from Gallup.  It measures where independent voters are trending.  So let’s take a look.

The first thing that strikes you is the fact that the pool of independent voters has increased:

The percentage of Americans identifying as political independents increased in 2011, as is common in a non-election year, although the 40% who did so is the highest Gallup has measured, by one percentage point. More Americans continue to identify as Democrats than as Republicans, 31% to 27%.

Did you catch that last sentence?  There is a 4% difference in favor of Democrats with party identification.  That’s actually an decrease for the GOP as we’ll see later on.  Look at this chart from Gallup:

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The key year is 2010.  Note that Republicans, as mentioned did very well that year in the mid-terms but still trailed Democrats in percentage of party identification.   Also note that increased identification as an independent began almost immediately after 2008, when Democrats controlled both the legislative and executive branches.

But since 2010 Democrat identification has flattened out.  In fact, if you look back toward 1988 the current percentage of identification with Democrats is at what one could consider a low.  But the same can be said for Republicans.

So what do the trends tell us?  Well, to me they indicate a very deep dissatisfaction with both parties.  And, in fact, in terms of self-identification, each party is “bottomed out” with those identifying with them being what one would consider their hard-core base.  For whatever reason they unswervingly identify with one of the two parties and, if I had to guess, go to the polls and pretty much vote a straight ticket.

Looking at the numbers, however, you realize that they’re obviously not enough, within these bases, for either party to win an election.  Democrats have a 4% lead in what they have to make up, but that’s not necessarily as much of an advantage as it might seem.  Because it all depends on how many independents they have leaning their way as to whether they can get the required majority of voters.

How dissatisfied is the voting public with the two parties?  Well, this little tidbit should give you an idea:

Gallup records from 1951-1988 — based on face-to-face interviewing — indicate that the percentage of independents was generally in the low 30% range during those years, suggesting that the proportion of independents in 2011 was the largest in at least 60 years.

So now the question is, even with that level of dissatisfaction, assuming no third party run, who do (or will) independents side with?  First keep in mind that while Democrats enjoy a 4 point lead in party identification, that’s down from the  7 point lead they enjoyed in 2008.

Secondly, in 2008, Democrats enjoyed a 12 point advantage among independents, with 52% leaning Democratic compared to 40% leaning Republican.  Now?

 

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Now a virtual tie.  The huge advantage that Democrats enjoyed in the last presidential race among independents has dissipated. 

Of course everyone knows, or at least those who follow politics know, that the fight for the presidency will be determined by the “big middle” – those who identify as independents.

Given this chart, and despite the fact that their party identification has dropped a couple of points, it would appear that the GOP has made huge gains among independents.  This is a trend I’ve been remarking on for quite some time.  The 12% advantage is gone.

So now, what if anything does this tell us?

Well, it tells us that the presidential election isn’t a slam dunk on either side, but neither, at least at this point in time, is it a run-away for either side.  It will be exceedingly close, no matter who ends up as the nominee for the GOP. 

But I’d also say this – so far most of the blood-letting, politically speaking, has been on the Republican side with these interminable debates going on.  The numbers you see above reflect one party with its nominee already decided and the other still in the midst of deciding.

So given that point, I’d have to say that being tied among independents at this point is not particularly good news for the incumbent party.  Independent voters have trended away from Democrats and, for the most part, stayed away.   What one has to wonder is if the tie will be broken when the GOP finally settles on a nominee and which way it will go.  If I had to guess, once that is done, we’ll see another fairly significant change in “leaning” independents for one side or the other as they decide whether or not they can indeed support the nominee the GOP has named.

And that’s what is going to be interesting.  Instead of talking about who can beat Obama, the GOP needs to be concerned with who can and will attract independent voters.

That will not appeal to the staunch conservatives, especially the social conservatives, because, those independents still to be influenced most likely are moderate or, as some activists like to characterize them, from the “mushy middle”.  They are that 10% that don’t show up in the 45-45 tie.  They are the prize.

Unfortunately, that means appealing to a group that may be just as likely to vote Democratic as Republican and less likely to be attracted to either side pushing what they consider extremist ideas.

Just a point to consider.

Meanwhile, on the right, another choice is going to have to be made.  They are going to have to decide if they’re going to hold out for the perfect candidate or do what is necessary to get Barack Obama out of office.   And that means some probable nose-holding and lever pulling (that’s where the enthusiasm gap comes in).

Yes, friends, 2012 promises to be a political junkie’s dream in terms of watching the politics of the day develop.  Unfortunately, it promises the same sort of election we’ve had for decades – making another choice among a field of poor choices and then somehow expecting that poor (but best relatively speaking) choice to work miracles.

What was Einstein’s definition of insanity?

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO