Free Markets, Free People

equal opportunity

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