On income inequality in America, this comes from Scott Winship:
Only 13 percent of children starting in the bottom fifth [of income] will end up in the top two-fifths in adulthood (compared with 63 percent of children who start out in the top two-fifths).
What conclusions should be drawn from this? There are lots of possibilities:
- The genetic fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. In today’s economy, self mastery and intelligence determines your value as an entrepreneur or employee. The rich are rich because their temperaments and intelligence match the work to be done, and they’re rewarded accordingly. Rich kids inherit the temperament and intelligence genes of their rich parents (not just their money), and it’s those genes that largely determine life’s outcomes. The opposite dynamic is obviously working (unfavorably) in poor children.
- Biology has nothing to do with it. Each human is a lone island with free will, a rugged and Romantic individual. How you end up is no fault of your biology or society. 13% of poor children claw their way into the top 40% when they reach adulthood. That’s not a terrible number. It suggests it can be done. If you’re a poor kid, be in that 13%. It’s all on you.
- No man is an island (left). This is the social structuralist explanation. The reason the poor are poor and the rich are rich is because we’ve collectively structured society in an unequal manner. Shame on us. Level the playing field in various ways (early childhood education programs, etc.) and poor children can start to perform as well as rich children.
- No man is an island (right). The poor are poor because of culture. They don’t go to church at the same rates as the rich. They don’t stay married. These are the kinds of structural elements surrounding poverty that government can’t address.
- Nudge the needle. All of the above have some element of truth to them. Each is a contributing factor as to why the rich are rich and the poor are poor. We can do some things to change outcomes, but there are factors at work in the rich-poor dynamic that are beyond our direct and collective control. Keep trying things, but no guilt if they don’t work.
- Give up. Whatever the reasons, the poor will always be with us. Jesus said that. Go back to reading your Nietzsche and Ayn Rand and get on with your life. Maybe your own productivity will inadvertently help the poor downstream. And you can give to charity if you want. In any case, it’s largely out of your hands. Be happy. Vote Republican.
I’m in the “nudge the needle” camp. How about you? And is there a plausible conclusion that, in my blinkered liberalism, I’ve missed?