Home > Uncategorized > NYTimes Misleading Headline Suggests Moral Arguments Outweigh Economics in Housing and Health… If ONLY That Were True for Schools

NYTimes Misleading Headline Suggests Moral Arguments Outweigh Economics in Housing and Health… If ONLY That Were True for Schools

May 8, 2017

Into today’s NYTimes Paula Cohen’s article “On Health and Housing, Moral Arguments Can Outweigh Economics” actually reaches the opposite conclusion. After delineating all the reasons moral arguments should outweigh economics, the article focuses on the ongoing debate about who “deserves” government assistance and who doesn’t…. a debate that was started in the 1870s! While the “end of welfare as we know it” supposedly “desegregated” those two groups by mandating that everyone who CAN work MUST work, the practical reality is that the government has not kept its end of the bargain by providing employment for all those who seek it. Ms. Cohen quotes Ron Haskins, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, who was appointed by Mr. Ryan to be a co-chairman of the federal Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission, a longtime advocate of work requirements, as one who is dismayed over the government’s failure in this regard. She notes that Mr. Haskins “argues that ethics and effectiveness mean the government should not “not take anybody’s benefits completely away without actually offering them a job” but while seeing this as crucially important, “…sees little support in Congress for funding such initiatives“. Why? “We’re just not trying hard to do it,” he said.

Neither Ms. Cohen nor Mr. Haskins say so, but the real reason “we’re just not trying hard enough” is because economics outweighs morality.

The article article concludes with this analogy from Mark Rank, a professor of social work at Washington University in St. Louis:

Mr. Rank uses the game of musical chairs to illustrate his point (that “deserving vs. undeserving” is a false dichotomy). Looking solely at the difference between winners and losers turns the focus to individual traits: who is faster, pushier or more strategic. Instead, he suggested looking at how the game is structured — that there are fewer chairs than players — and why it is impossible for some people to win.

Rather than an individual problem, this is a systemic problem,” he said. In the case of the economy, that means shifting attention from who lost to why the system produces so many losers in the first place. (Perhaps because of a shortage of well-paying jobs or insufficient wage growth.)

“That shifts from this idea of the deserving and the undeserving,” he said. “It’s a different framework.”

Instead of headlining the notion that “moral arguments outweigh economics” the Times could have headlined that housing and health are systemic problems and NOT individual problems…. and systemic problems require government intervention, not individual resilience, gumption or effort.

And as an important footnote to this article, it is imperative for us as a nation to face the fact that public education is our biggest systemic problem. If a child is born into poverty, it is increasingly difficult for them to believe that they can possibly “win” in the game that is set up for them… a game where they can “choose” from underfunded neighborhood or community schools while affluent children fortunate enough to be born into wealth can attend well funded public schools.  And if we are unwilling to provide the funds needed for all children to have the same opportunities, how can we argue that we are a moral nation?

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