Oh, Brookings. Some day I want to travel to the happy, warm, comfortable planet that your institute headquarters sit upon.
Yesterday Ron Haskins, Co-Director of Center on Children and Families (not "for," but "on") and a senior fellow of economic studies in Brookingsland, dropped some wisdom about income inequality ("about," not "on"). You will never guess whose fault it is.
Okay, it's Brookings so you probably will. The income gap is the fault of the poor. Honest to goodness, the Onion could not write this stuff.
First, Haskins notes that while, yes, the figures about how the top 1% saw their share of the wealth pie jump from 10.5% in 1979 to 21.3% in 2007 (Why he stops in 2007 I don't know? Has anything significant happened since then? Like, I don't know, an economic crash that wrecked the poor but from which the wealthy bounced back stronger than ever? Anybody? I'm sure there must be something I could find with a two-second google.)
But-- not so fast, young whipper-snappers. Those figures fail to account for the effects of wealth distribution by Uncle Sugar, which made the poor practically wealthy and serious cut into the wealth of the actually wealthy. So, you know, income gap so not wide, really. Great news for everyone in the bottom 90%.
But Haskins is just warming up. He correctly notes that A) nobody really knows what an optimal wealth redistribution would be and B) the Republicans are in charge so talking about how to redistribute wealth is like talking about the best way to shine unicorn horns. He mentions that the GOP will use current high tax rates on the rich to justify their stance. Hmm. If only there were some way to add some context to that claim, just in case it's, you know, bogus.
So, Haskins says, since DC won't be doing anything about the gap, there are only two things to fix it.
Education has always been a major key to economic mobility for individuals and demographic groups, but despite almost permanent reform since publication of the Nation at Risk report in 1983, schools are doing little to equalize opportunity across income groups. Recent research shows that children from poor and minority families come to school already behind their classmates from more affluent homes, and the schools actually increase these differences in achievement.
I had to emphasize that last part. Yes, schools cause students to fall behind and not learn stuff. Also, having firemen come to your house increases the likelihood that your house will be on fire, so if you want your house to never catch on fire, make sure that firemen never, ever come there.
Poor People Should Make Better Choices
Do you know how I found this article in the first place? Because Brookings put the following quote in a graphic on twitter, because apparently they are actually proud they said this!!
Inequality and poverty could both be substantially reduced if more adults were married and had two incomes, but the trends in declining marriage rates and growing rates of nonmarital births have been progressing for four decades with no reversal in sight.
Yes, you lazy fornicating poor people! You would have more money if you were properly married. From this one can only assume that every single member of the 1% is currently married-- and not just married, but married to somebody who also works, because that is the road to prosperity! Haskins does not comment on whether the rise of gay marriage might offset some of this; now that The Gays can all get married, I can only assume they will also get rich. Good for you, The Gays!
That's it. Haskins figures that unless education can suddenly propel lower-wealth people up into (not "onto") the non-existent middle class, or "unless individuals and families can make better choices about their own education, work, and marriage," this massive income inequality will continue and the government won't be able to do a damn thing about it. Sorry, irresponsible fornicating poor people.
As God is my witness, he actually said this stuff.
Somehow this economist, this senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, seems to have overlooked the possibility that other factors could influence the distribution of wealth in this country. I mean, I'm just an English teacher, but isn't the whole corporate-business-employment-wages thing supposed to be a natural engine for moving money around? I feel like we're overlooking some obvious ideas, like if Glut-Mart paid its workers enough to shop at Glut-Mart, Glut-Mart would sell more stuff and have to hire more people and then more wages would be paid etc etc etc.
I don't expect a Brookings economist to suggest things like getting the government involved in business matters, but couldn't he even muster a simple, "If corporate leaders would start pumping some of their huge profits back into the economy instead of jamming coin into their already stuffed pockets, that might help."
Instead we've got to go with the Magic of Education! Yes, if we just got poor kids to do better on standardized tests, they could go to college, rack up some massive debt, and find out that nobody is hiring in their field. If I just teach harder, companies will just start hiring more people and paying them more? Try as I might, I just can't figure out the cause and effect on this one.
I mean, I believe in education. I believe in it big time. Kind of why I went ahead and became a teacher and, like some kind of sucker, stuck with it for decades instead of quitting after two years to go work in a brokerage firm. But how can an actual economist for a living look at the vast complex engine that is our economy and conclude that the only thing wrong here is Not Enough Education and Too Many Poor Fornicators. I'm beyond amazed (that's "beyond," not "beneath.")