Posts Tagged ‘social mobility’

Paul Krugman Argues that Americans Have Too Many Choices… and, as the Texas Electricity Debacle Illustrates, More Choice Is Not Always Good.

March 2, 2021 Leave a comment

Paul Krugman’s essay this morning, “Too Much Choice is hurting America“, makes a powerful argument against the notion that more choice is always a good thing. Using the recent debacle in Texas as an example of how deregulation of electricity markets led to a devastating power outage, skyrocketing bills for consumers, and the bankruptcy of one the major electricity providers, Krugman suggests that choice has been oversold. The result? EVERYONE suffers from cognitive overburden… especially the poor!

There’s a growing body of research suggesting that the costs of poverty go beyond the trouble low-income families have in affording necessities. The poor also face a heavy “cognitive burden” — the constant need to make difficult choices that the affluent don’t confront, like whether to buy food or pay the rent. Because people have limited “bandwidth” for processing complex issues, the financial burdens placed on the poor all too often degrade their ability to make good decisions on other issues, sometimes leading to self-destructive life choices.

What I’m suggesting is that a society that turns what should be routine concerns into make-or-break decisions — a society in which you can ruin your life by choosing the wrong electric company or health insurer — imposes poverty-like cognitive burdens even on the middle class.

And here’s a question I posed in the comment section: “Given the powerful arguments against choice… why do we think introducing choices into public education is a good idea? I compare my eldest grandson’s labyrinthine decision-making regarding middle school and high school— the fruits of NYC’s “choice” system— to the complete absence of choice prevalent in most of the country and wonder why anyone thinks “choice” will fix the challenges public schools face. To paraphrase Mr. Krugman’s concluding paragraphs, We’re a rich country, it wouldn’t take much to ensure that the children of ALL Americans get the same opportunities for schooling that the children of affluent parents receive… So the next time some politician tries to sell you on the notion that deregulated privatization of public schools will increase choice, be skeptical. Having more options isn’t automatically good… in fact, when it comes to public services it is demonstrably bad!

Readers of this blog know that the whole choice argument applied to public education is deeply bogus because choice is limited to schools WITHIN a district. If Bronx parents had a real choice, they might choose to send their children to Scarsdale or Bronxville, or any number of school districts that are within commuting distance— especially since the choices they are offered WITHIN NYC often require longer and more complicated bus trips than attendance at a neighboring suburban district might require. Choice, especially the bogus choice offered now to parents in underperforming and impoverished districts, is NOT the answer.

Big Government and Racial Equality are Joined at the Hip. Could THAT Be the Reason the GOP Does Not Support Aid to State and Local Governments as Part of Pandemic Relief?

February 27, 2021 Leave a comment

AFL-CIO officer Lee Saunders and anti-poverty advocate William Barber III co-authored a Common Dream posts titled “Austerity as Fake News: It Is Time to Bury the Myth that a Race to the Bottom Will Get US to the Top“. The article argues that government policy during a financial crisis presents a fork in the road for policy makers: they can either support more government funded jobs or undercut the role government can play in job creation and retention. Mr. Saunders and Dr. Barber assert that in the last government crisis, the market meltdown in 2008, the government made the wrong choice and, in doing so, eliminated government jobs that employed many minorities who have already experienced a history of economic disenfranchisement by government policy for decades. 

Through their work in public education, public transit and public health, millions of African Americans have been able both to provide for their families and strengthen their communities. But now, those jobs are on the chopping block. Without federal aid, more layoffs loom, dragging down the entire job market with it. How do we know? The same thing happened a decade ago.

With the nation in the throes of the Great Recession, politicians of both parties responded by drastically cutting spending. Austerity became the watchword. Right-wing activist Grover Norquist, who once famously said he wanted to shrink government to a size he could drown in the bathtub, had his day in the sun. States and communities nationwide slashed public services to the bone, and African American families took the biggest hit. In 2012, 200,000 fewer African Americans held public sector jobs than just four years earlier.

When I read this analysis, a light bulb went off. When the GOP was in control of spending, one of their non-negotiable items in formulating the second round of pandemic relief was the demand that no funds be allowed to help state governments fill budget gaps. This stance was built into the 2017 tax package, which included a provision that limited the deductions for state and local taxes, a notion that was disingenuously promoted as a way to shift the tax burden to wealthy citizens. What this gambit would do in the long run is gut government services at all levels, especially in those states who offered robust safety nets and jobs that enabled wage earners to “provide for their families and strengthen communities”. 

Mr. Saunders and Dr. Barber assert that we have not learned from our experience of a decade ago:

Ten years later, inexplicably, we are in danger of making the same public policy mistakes again. It is devastating enough that African Americans are disproportionately contracting Covid-19 and dying at higher rates than the population at-large. But because of the gutting of public services, we are also being pummeled economically. In just a year’s time, between September 2019 and September 2020, the number of Black people on the nation’s public payrolls shrunk by 211,000. This is one of the critical, yet often unspoken, reasons the pandemic has raged out of control. Giving pink slips to the very people who can bring the virus to heel is the worst possible crisis management strategy.

And things will get worse if Congress does not step in. Who will get shots into arms if more public health professionals are axed? How will laid off Americans get the unemployment benefits they have paid into when states shed more claims processors? How will small businesses survive when basic services like sanitation, clean water and road maintenance—normally so dependable that they are never included in any business model—erode even further?

Mr. Saunders and Dr. Barber do not state the obvious: the GOP has conflated government anti-poverty spending with providing assistance to “undeserving recipients”, and when they speak of “undeserving recipients” they refer implicitly or explicitly to the “Welfare Queens” Ronald Reagan wrongfully singled out decades ago. The article concludes with these paragraphs:

In the immediate term, we need Congress to come through with emergency aid to save these jobs and services. But in the long term, to vanquish the virus, build a prosperous economy for all and ensure that people earn a living wage as well, it is time to bury for good the fake news of austerity: that somehow a race to the bottom will take us to the top.

This is the moment to remind people about the power of government action, especially but not exclusively during moments of crisis. When it is run competently, when public services are performed by dedicated and compassionate people, government can affirm human dignity, provide basic needs and improve lives on a grand scale.

Let’s get public service workers back on the job and bring back real investment in the essential services that sustain us all.


Minimum Wage and Student Debt are Linked… Loans Would be Lower or Non-Existent if Workers Earned More

February 26, 2021 Leave a comment

A light bulb went on when I read this article on the minimum wage controversy by Kenny Stancil. In the article Mr. Sancil calls out GOP Senator John Thune for sharing an anecdote on his work as a teenager:

A story of the $6 wage he earned working in a restaurant as a kid blew up in the face of Sen. John Thune overnight after economic justice advocates pointed out that the powerful Republican’s personal anecdote only goes to show that, adjusted for inflation, that seemingly low wage would now be somewhere north of $24 an hour—helping solidify the case that increasing the minimum wage to $15 by 2025 is the very least Congress should be doing.

“I started working by bussing tables at the Star Family Restaurant for $1/hour and slowly moved up to cook—the big leagues for a kid like me—to earn $6/hour,” Thune, who represents South Dakota and is the second-most powerful Republican in the Senate, tweeted Wednesday night. “Businesses in small towns survive on narrow margins. Mandating a $15 minimum wage would put many of them out of business.”

Several progressive critics quickly pointed out that, depending on the exact year when Thune, born in 1961, started earning $6 an hour, the seemingly modest wage he pulled in as a teenager would be equivalent to roughly $25 today.

This resonated with me, because I worked de facto minimum wage jobs throughout my youth: mowing lawns; delivering newspapers; and several bona-fide part-time minimum wage jobs as a painter, a mover; and a factory worker. I was not raised in poverty. Rather, my father encouraged me to work part-time so that I could pay for college and learn the work-ethic at a grass root level. I DID pay for my freshman year at Drexel University with my earnings and covered the costs for the balance of my college through the co-op jobs I worked. But there is no way I could do that with today’s prevailing wages for two reasons: the wages today are too low and the cost of college has gone up. This creates a gap that can only be filled by having a college student take out loans or working throughout their college careers— either of which compromise the experiencing college in the same way as a student whose tuition, room and board is fully funded.

If our country is serious about creating a world where equal opportunity is real we need to pay higher wages for entry-level and part-time work and pay higher taxes so that state colleges can be more affordable. We need to reinforce that part of our humanity that is willing to make sacrifices for others instead of feeding our selfishness.