post by Bill Gardner
Arnold Kling and Nick Schulz argue that the growth in US inequality derives from two factors:
- Technology that allows a few very able persons to achieve extraordinary things (think Sergey Brin), and
- Defective families and assortative mating based on ability that result in large groups of people at the bottom who lack the talent to produce much of value.
These are important causes of inequality. Kling and Schulz would do something about these things if they could, they really would, but
there may be less that government can do than one might hope. Research from Heckman suggests that education is a relatively feeble remedy for the effects of family background (although Heckman believes that early intervention, in preschool or even before, shows promise). In order to make a dramatic impact on inequality, government would have to do something about the fundamental causes: technology and marriage patterns. However, putting a brake on technological progress seems hardly feasible or desirable. And forcing people to select mates at random rather than on the basis of similar backgrounds and tastes seems similarly unlikely. As much as inequality may be a problem, no real solution is in sight.
OMG, if the only alternatives are freezing technological progress or making people marry random partners (on second thought, this is the best explanation for my first marriage, and the kids turned out great anyway), then I guess there really is nothing to be done.
Or maybe we could try the following:
- We could give every mother good prenatal care, and institute programs to reduce premature delivery.
- We could provide every child with universal, high-quality preschool education. Please, read Heckman for yourself. He isn't saying that early interventions "show promise." He's saying that "Early interventions promote schooling, reduce crime, foster workplace productivity, and reduce teenage pregnancy."
- We could reform our criminal justice system. The US has 751 persons in prison per 100,000 population. Canada has 117. England's rate is 151; Germany's is 88; and Japan's is 63. Mexico has 204. The global median is 125. Are Americans really six times as violent and criminal as the rest of the world? The burden of US incarceration falls on the poor and above all on people of color. It destroys families. But it could be fixed.
America could do these things and it would still have considerable inequality. But these are solutions that would help and, contrary to Kling and Schulz, they are in plain sight.