Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Posted at 2:55 PM ET, 01/10/2011

On equality of opportunity

By Ezra Klein

Some good thoughts from Paul Krugman:

These days, America is the advanced nation with the least social mobility (pdf), except possibly for Britain. Access to good schools, good health care and job opportunities depends [a] lot on choosing the right parents.

So when you hear conservatives talk about how our goal should be equality of opportunity, not equality of outcomes, your first response should be that if they really believe in equality of opportunity, they must be in favor of radical changes in American society. For our society does not, in fact, produce anything like equal opportunity (in part because it produces such unequal outcomes). Tell me how you’re going to produce a huge improvement in the quality of public schools, how you’re going to provide universal health care (for parents as well as children, because parents in bad health affect childrens’ prospects), and then come back to me about the equal chances at the starting line thing.

By Ezra Klein  | January 10, 2011; 2:55 PM ET
 
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Bernanke the banker
Next: The deficit doesn't care what you say, only what you do

Comments

Since when does recycled, conservative-bashing pass as "good thoughts?"

Posted by: seriousinternet | January 10, 2011 3:17 PM | Report abuse

Paul Krugman sorely misunderstands the definition of equality of opportunity.

It never meant anything resembling 'equal chances at the starting line' and never will. I can get into a basketball game with lebron james and I don't have an equal chance to win because of my height, weight, and athleticism.

Nope, what equality of opportunity means is that the government doesn't actively stack the deck in my favor simply because I have less height, weight, and athleticism. You know, by redistributing points to me so I start off with 100 points. Or by increasing the value of my baskets via a refundable point credit so I get 10 points per basket I score instead of 2. Or by taxing Lebron James points so he gets 1 point per basket instead of 2. Or by giving me 3 foul shots when Lebron gets 1.


All that is government setting 1 set of rules for person A and another set of rules for person B.

Posted by: krazen1211 | January 10, 2011 3:21 PM | Report abuse

The title of the Krugman post is 'Economics and Morality.'

I'm reminded of the last time I quit reading a book in disgust. It was 'The Undercover Economist' by Tim Harford. The moralizing language is not overt, but it's definitley there. The backbreaker for me was his description of wealth redistribution as a means to give disadvantaged kids a "head start." It's as though he's completely oblivious to the fact that these kids *need to catch up* to the lucky ones, the ones with the *real* head start that they did not earn.

And Harford's no partisan - he's just another econ popularizer. This free market fundamentalism and this tendency to identify free markets as inherently moral runs deep.

Posted by: trevindor | January 10, 2011 3:21 PM | Report abuse

Let me continue to describe what equality of opportunity is not.

It is not passing a law titled 'Affordable Physical Trainer Act' that provides Krazen with a taxpayer funded physical trainer to help him work out, while Lebron James is forced to hire his own physical trainer with his own wages.

Posted by: krazen1211 | January 10, 2011 3:26 PM | Report abuse

Equal opportunity has nothing to do with whether it's government policy or some other facet of society causing the inequality.
Inequality of opportunity is inequality of opportunity whether it's government policy keeping you down, community pressure keeping you down, or disparity in quality of education and nutrition available.

The definition krazen is giving is "equality under law" which is related, but not the same thing.

Posted by: RCBII | January 10, 2011 3:50 PM | Report abuse

Krazen being shorter and slower than Lebron James has nothing to do with equality of opportunity.

Quoting a little more of Krugman:

"The first thing one should say is that our system does reward hard work, up to a point. Other things equal, those who put more in will earn more.

But a lot of other things are, in fact, not remotely equal. These days, America is the advanced nation with the least social mobility (pdf), except possibly for Britain. Access to good schools, good health care, and job opportunities depends on lot on choosing the right parents."

Posted by: tl_houston | January 10, 2011 4:02 PM | Report abuse

"The definition krazen is giving is "equality under law" which is related, but not the same thing."

Ok, operate under that assertion if you wish. Obviously then Krugman is mischaracterizing the conservative belief.

Posted by: krazen1211 | January 10, 2011 4:27 PM | Report abuse

"Access to good schools, good health care, and job opportunities depends on lot on choosing the right parents.""


So do speed and strength. You might want to start thinking for yourself.

Posted by: krazen1211 | January 10, 2011 4:28 PM | Report abuse

I do think Krazen is speaking of 'equality under the law', and is really saying that he simply doesn't like true "equal opportunity". That said, there's a legitimate point to be made there. The well-off are always going to have better opportunities than the rest, unless government takes an active role in limiting the quality of their education. This is not a direction most of us would like to go in.

My ideal would be 'legitimate opportunity'; where no matter where you are born you can expect access to public schools that give you a chance to succeed in life. We aren't there; we aren't close. But I think it would be worth striving toward.

Posted by: eggnogfool | January 10, 2011 4:34 PM | Report abuse

"My ideal would be 'legitimate opportunity'; where no matter where you are born you can expect access to public schools that give you a chance to succeed in life. We aren't there; we aren't close. But I think it would be worth striving toward."

Incidentally there are many, many examples of inner city poor districts getting bloated up with state funding and pissing it down the drain. See Detroit, Newark, etc.

In fact, the DPS school system admits to gross overspending for the last decade, and ran up debt. They clock in at some of the highest spending levels in the state of Michigan, and they still continue to be a dropout factory.

Many of these groups that are bitten by so called 'lack of opportunity' and 'lack of good public schools' self inflict those wounds.

Posted by: krazen1211 | January 10, 2011 4:49 PM | Report abuse

@krazen1211
"Many of these groups that are bitten by so called 'lack of opportunity' and 'lack of good public schools' self inflict those wounds."

Please link to examples of schools that are mismanaged by their students.

Posted by: eggnogfool | January 10, 2011 5:09 PM | Report abuse

Krazen is looking at this all wrong. Stepping onto the court and having LeBron James slam on your sorry white b**t is exactly what should happen. What shouldn't happen is that LeBron should be sleeping outside in the cold subsisting on leftover Taco Bell and only having access to a football and a hockey stick and then being asked to play Krazen in a game of basketball moments after learning to rules. Krazen would win. But not because he is more athletic or has greater potential to become a great player. But because the deck was stacked in his favor.

True, this isn't about equal outcomes for all. It's about tapping the greatest potential in our society whether it comes from old money or not.

Posted by: willows1 | January 10, 2011 5:16 PM | Report abuse

"Please link to examples of schools that are mismanaged by their students."

Who said anything about being mismanaged by their students? They're mismanaged by their administrations who of course are chosen by the parents of the students.


They're the ones choosing to fester in gangsta's paradise.

Posted by: krazen1211 | January 10, 2011 5:51 PM | Report abuse

"Krazen is looking at this all wrong. Stepping onto the court and having LeBron James slam on your sorry white b**t is exactly what should happen. What shouldn't happen is that LeBron should be sleeping outside in the cold subsisting on leftover Taco Bell and only having access to a football and a hockey stick and then being asked to play Krazen in a game of basketball moments after learning to rules."

Well then obvious Lebron needs to go find himself a basketball. No need for the federal government to give him one. That is far beyond its mandate.

Posted by: krazen1211 | January 10, 2011 5:53 PM | Report abuse

Krazen - And if we're talking about education, then LeBron should go find himself several hundred thousand dollars to afford a college education. But before that, he should go and find himself a good high school to attend (just like all of us do at that age). And while he's at it, he should go and find himself good role models of success in his community to emulate. This includes understanding how their careers began, the ladder they climbed, the tradeoffs involved in their career choices, and what steps they needed to take early on in order to succeed later. Just like all of us do. And if he can't do this (because all of us do this, after all) then I guess he wasn't meant to succeed. So cold nights and Taco Bell leftovers for him. Oh well. Maybe next generation. That's what we built a society for after all, right?

Posted by: willows1 | January 10, 2011 6:02 PM | Report abuse

Actually, we built a society for the betterment of the builders.

What happens to the freeloaders is secondary. If they flip burgers and eat Taco Bell, its on them. If they choose to become useful, well, that's great too.

Society does not need Lebron enough to be dumping hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on Lebron, especially when 'fairness' demands that you multiply that hundreds of thousands of dollars times the number of Lebron's stupid friends. We have Kobe.

Posted by: krazen1211 | January 10, 2011 6:10 PM | Report abuse

Krazen - I think your perspective has a lot to do with why the Right has hated Clinton and Obama to such a large extent. These were people whose families had gone through extensive turmoil during their formative years and both of them sought and received government help. That help offered them a bridge until things improved and lo and behold two Presidents in the past twenty years came from those circumstances. In a way, it is the ultimate justification for continuing what you call "freeloading" because our society found its leaders emerging from shaky circumstances and so proves that people can better themselves if given an opportunity to get a foot on the first rung.

But your perspective is that if people do not succeed entirely of their own volition (except in cases where their family provides the freeloaded items) they are simply freeloaders and deserve no help. They are not, what did you call them?, builders.

Posted by: willows1 | January 10, 2011 6:20 PM | Report abuse

The government spends most of its resources on protecting private property, a form of stacking the deck. Let's take government (or the state) out of the private-property-protecting business, and see how long these "builders" survive.

I'm assuming these crypto-conservatives support monopolies as well? Want to start paying tribute to your overlords and tithes to the Church (singular)?

Part of keeping society fair means breaking apart hoarding. Sorry. Just the name of the game, and the founding fathers knew it.

Posted by: falsedichotomy | January 10, 2011 6:20 PM | Report abuse

@willows1

I actually like Clinton. I am extremely disturbed however, that on every issue, whether its health care, homosexuals in our military, the Kyoto protocol, government spending on education, government spending on health care, government spending in general, the deficit, and a lot of things in between, we are reversing what we did during Clinton's Presidency.

Posted by: krazen1211 | January 10, 2011 7:28 PM | Report abuse

And of course thats the biggest issue.

Clinton left money in the hands of the builders, as evidenced by job creation, IPOs, and economic growth.

Obama takes money from the builders and gives it to the freeloaders, as evidenced by job creation, IPOs, and economic growth.

Posted by: krazen1211 | January 10, 2011 7:29 PM | Report abuse

"Access to good schools, good health care, and job opportunities depends on lot on choosing the right parents."


Mostly the latter. With an out of wedlock birthrate at or nearing 70% in many sections of the country, nothing about the public schools in those areas will save those children from bad parenting choices.

If Krugman wants to change society, he has to start there first.

Posted by: 54465446 | January 10, 2011 8:42 PM | Report abuse

Good point on the public school spending in many of these cities. Amazing Krugman is so disconnected to reality that he thinks there is a funding crisis in urban schools in America. Abbott districts in NJ like Newark and Camden are rolling in money. Of course the only black people Krugman probably interacts with are Cornell West and the guy who shines his shoes at the faculty club. . . He probably couldn't drive to Newark if he started in Princeton with no map.

Posted by: cdosquared5 | January 10, 2011 8:59 PM | Report abuse

The flat amounts of spending in public schools don't mean much as schools differ in fixed costs. Obviously a school with stronger unions, greater security need, more problem or disadvantaged students has greater fixed costs and will require a larger budget to operate effectively.

And I still don't think people are getting that "equality under law" is different than "equal opportunity." It's not Krugman who is confused.
Consevatives who use the term "equal opportunity" to describe their beliefs either have no idea what "equal opportunity" means or are being disingenuous.
By definition, if a person is raised in a crappy school, malnourished, and lacking in tutoring services, that kid has less opportunity than a kid who has those things- and, unlike height, this is a socially created inequality. It doesn't matter whether this is caused by government action or not.

Posted by: RCBII | January 10, 2011 9:20 PM | Report abuse

"The flat amounts of spending in public schools don't mean much as schools differ in fixed costs. Obviously a school with stronger unions, greater security need, more problem or disadvantaged students has greater fixed costs and will require a larger budget to operate effectively."


Actually they don't even do that. Per the Detroit Public School's own evaluation (and their 22% graduation rate, of course), they don't operate effectively despite massive cash windfalls from the broke state government of Michigan.

But wait, Detroit votes liberal, so they get stimulus laptops.


I have no idea whether Krugman is confused or not. He is, however, misrepresenting the conservative opinion. If that's the definition you want to use, few real conservatives would vouch for it.

Posted by: krazen1211 | January 10, 2011 9:43 PM | Report abuse

"The flat amounts of spending in public schools don't mean much as schools differ in fixed costs. Obviously a school with stronger unions, greater security need, more problem or disadvantaged students has greater fixed costs and will require a larger budget to operate effectively."


Actually they don't even do that. Per the Detroit Public School's own evaluation (and their 22% graduation rate, of course), they don't operate effectively despite massive cash windfalls from the broke state government of Michigan.

But wait, Detroit votes liberal, so they get stimulus laptops.


I have no idea whether Krugman is confused or not. He is, however, misrepresenting the conservative opinion. If that's the definition you want to use, few real conservatives would vouch for it.

Posted by: krazen1211 | January 10, 2011 9:43 PM | Report abuse

What you are never going to improve in unequal parents. The parent that makes their kid study all of the time doesn't have to be rich or even speak English well. No amount of money we spend on schools or parental healthcare is going to change that.

The logical conclusion of the radical change that Krugman seeks is that children should be taken away from parents that don't value education, because it is those stupid parents that are causing them to fall behind, not the school they go to.

Posted by: staticvars | January 10, 2011 10:08 PM | Report abuse

Krazen & Staticvars -
I think your positions go back to the century-old Social Darwinism debate of whether people who found themselves in poverty or lacking opportunity were somehow less fit than the rest of us. You're making an assumption that if a kid can't make it when the deck is stacked against him or her that they just don't have what it takes to be a "builder". The converse example is the rich kid given every advantage from private schooling to excellent parenting to comfort and encouragement and yet ends with a middling career at their father's company. That person is a "builder" in your eyes.

My belief is that hard times can befall anyone, particularly families in the middle and lower-middle classes and that what government can do - and does quite well - is to provide them a bridge. Some people will just never be able to help themselves and so you could argue that the spending is "wasted" (except that it does reduce the suffering of those individuals). But other individuals use that bridge to get back on track and make themselves into useful, successful, productive members of society. I used the examples of Obama and Clinton because they both came from precarious backgrounds and used the bridge provided to them to become leaders of our nation. In the absence of a bridge to the next thing, they may have made it, but in all likelihood they would not have.

You may view this as "freeloading", and probably in some cases freeloading does occur, but I believe this is an investment in our country and is morally the correct thing to do.

Posted by: willows1 | January 11, 2011 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Post a Comment

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge washingtonpost.com's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.




characters remaining

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company