Snarky Behavior

Entries tagged as ‘class warfare’

If this isn’t “straight talk,” then what is?

April 13, 2008 · 1 Comment

Makes...me...ANGRY

At a recent fund-raiser in San Francisco, Obama was asked the question about voters in Pennsylvania:  Why doesn’t his campaign resonate with working class white voters?

You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

While his response may have included some poorly-chosen words, for which he has since taken substantial criticism, it was at least an honest appraisal.   Consider the following:

America is often recognized for its diversity, but too often we consider this diversity as a melting pot (with the New York urban-ideal as the cognitive model) than as a heterogeneous hodge-podge of cultural identities.  Obama succinctly made this point at the 2004 DNC in his now famous “Red State-Blue State” speech (”we worship an awesome God in the blue states, and yes we’ve even got some gay friends in the red states”, etc.).

So for a wealthy donor from Marin county to understand the voting tendencies of a “fellow Democrat” pension-deprived ex-steel worker of Allentown, he/she needs an accurate explanation, and a good deal of empathy.  These donors are (in large part) the ones funding Obama’s campaign, which means they provide money for polling, focus grouping, message development, etc., and they have a right to expect an explanation of the results of that research

Right now we have a political system where the campaigns engage in election “strategies,” which CNN and others than attempt to decipher and decode, without explaining the underlying assumptions of those strategies.  It is taken for granted that Clinton “appeals” to blue-collar voters, because that is the demographic she is targeting (and resonating with).

When Barack Obama lets these donors peek inside the key-hole of voter research, he may seem like a detached social scientist professor– the Ivory Tower paradigm.  But the truth is that he cannot be all things to all people.  He can only try to understand and capture the concerns of the majority of the voters in his party, and assuming he wins the nomination, in the country.

It is not Ivory Tower to try to understand a group of voters with whom a candidate has no shared background, if the candidate’s efforts are genuine, so that he/she may better represent those voters.

On the other hand, nobody likes to be categorized and have their behavior and motivations analyzed.  The thing is, this happens all the time, in market research, in commercial advertising, and certainly in elections.

Is it a poor strategy to let people peek behind the curtain instead of relying on a lazy media as a proxy to interpret campaign messaging?  Haven’t the last few years taught us that “reality” is the favored-model of communication?

If this isn’t “straight talk,” then what is?

Categories: Uncategorized
Tagged: , , , , , , ,

Amoral Decisions…?

April 8, 2008 · 1 Comment

On the self-justifying nature of professional salaries, Ezra Klein writes:

Indeed, I’m always fascinated by how little self-consciousness the professional class has about their lives. You often hear folks with six figure salaries talking about how “hard” they worked to get ahead. But working at a law firm isn’t any harder than, say, laying tar, or standing on your feet selling cell phones all day. It’s just more highly valued. It’s smart early investments and a host of material and internal advantages that lead to one man’s labor earning hundreds of thousands, while another man’s barely pays the rent. But it’s hard to argue that attending an Ivy League school where you smoke a lot of pot and pretend you understand Focault is more taxing than entering a service sector job right out of high school. The professional class just likes to pretend that it is in order to lay a patina of virtue and ethics over what are, in fact, amoral decisions of the market.

It seems very difficult to take a stance on this issue without feeling either overtly callous or apologetically guilty.

Higher education may be over-valued as an indicator of diligence, perseverance, dedication, loyalty, or industriousness, but it is still pretty accurate as an indicator of ability, intelligence, creativity, and analysis. And those are skills that can’t be learned overnight… they are skills that represent years of time spent cultivating the mind.

Over time, the individual who reads on the subway and the individual who plays a PS3 (or does nothing at all) arrive at disparate life outcomes. Those hours should be considered (if not accounted for) when making comparisons between blue- and white-collar jobs.

Over the course of a lifetime, manual labor CLEARLY remains the undesirable career option, regardless of income. But if we are to compare apples and oranges, we should at least take into consideration the effort required to cultivate both crops, and not just their respective tastes at harvest.

Categories: Uncategorized
Tagged: , ,

Dropping Knowledge: On Guilty Liberals

December 9, 2007 · Leave a Comment

I found this gem while researching my paper on Globalization.  From “In Defense of Globalization,” by Jagdish Bhagwati:

I also think that an altogether new factor on the scene that
propels the young into anti-capitalist attitudes comes from a different,
technological source in a rather curious fashion. This is the dissonance
that now exists between empathy for others elsewhere for their misery
and the inadequate intellectual grasp of what can be done to ameliorate
that distress. The resulting tension spills over into unhappiness with the
capitalist system (in varying forms) within which they live and hence
anger at it for its apparent callousness.


Today, thanks to television, we have what I call the paradox of inversion
of the philosopher David Hume’s concentric circles of reducing
loyalty and empathy. Each of us feels diminishing empathy as we go from
our nuclear family to the extended family, to our local community, to
our state or county (say, Lancashire or Louisiana), to our nation, to our
geographical region (say, Europe or the Americas), and then to the world.
This idea of concentric circles of empathy can be traced back to the Stoics’
doctrine of oikeiosis—that human affection radiates outward from
oneself, diminishing as distance grows from oneself and increasing as
proximity increases to oneself. In the same vein, Hume famously argued
that “it is not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole
world to the scratching of my finger” and that “sympathy with persons
remote from us is much fainter than with persons near and contiguous.”

What the Internet and CNN have done is to take Hume’s outermost
circle and turn it into the innermost. No longer can we snore while the
other half of humanity suffers plague and pestilence and the continuing
misery of extreme poverty. Television has disturbed our sleep, perhaps
short of a fitful fever but certainly arousing our finest instincts.  Indeed,
this is what the Stoics, chiefly Hierocles, having observed the concentric
circles of vanishing empathy, had urged by way of morality: that “it is the
task of a well tempered man, in his proper treatment of each group, to
draw circles together somehow towards the centre, and to keep zealously
transferring those from the enclosing circles into the enclosed ones.”

At the same time, the technology of the Internet and CNN, as Robert
Putnam has told us, has accelerated our move to “bowling alone,”
gluing us to our TV sets and shifting us steadily out of civic participation,
so that the innermost circle has become the outermost one.
So the young see and are anguished by the poverty and the civil wars
and the famines in remote areas of the world but often have no intellectual
training to cope with their anguish and follow it through rationally
in terms of appropriate action.

Categories: Uncategorized
Tagged: , , , , , , , , , ,

Dropping Knowledge: Gini Coefficients

August 28, 2007 · 7 Comments

Dropping Knowledge: where I “laymenize” an important aspect of social science.

Sometimes, as in the previous post, I can get pretty whiny, self-entitled, and indignant when I get the vague impression that I’m being shafted in some way or another. (What can I say? I’m the youngest child).

Faithful readers will tell you that one thing in particular that really grinds my gears is uneven and unfair income inequalities within American society (and the world) today. It bothers me that CEO’s can make five digit multipliers over some of their employees, because fundamentally, I don’t believe any single person is ten-thousand times more valuable, by any imaginable measure, than any other given person– especially when you consider that 1 in 6 of the world’s population lives on less than $1 per day. (Note: exceptions include Jessica Alba and Scarlett Johannson… pay them whatever they ask).

I understand that the prevailing normative wisdom will tell you that global and internal income inequality is a necessary evil to drive growth and keep the overall standard of living within the US above the poverty line. In theory, greater income equality takes away the incentive from hard work and productivity (which makes it even more incredible how the egalitarian Dutch can survive by getting high in coffee shops all day every day).

One of the most prevelant methods of measuring and comparing levels of income inequality within and between countries is the Gini Coefficient. (Click the link for a full description). The coefficient is a number between 0 and 1, with 0 corresponding to perfect equality (i.e. everyone earns the same income) and 1 corresponding to perfect inequality (i.e. one person has all of the wealth… I’m rich, bitch!)

Now, the World Bank would tell you that 1) empirical data shows no strong correlation in either direction between income inequality (i.e. high Gini coefficients such as Brazil, US and China) and growth and 2) high degrees of income inequality, especially in developing countries (i.e. Mexico), can be disasterous to the fundamental institutions of government.

You see, it follows logically that the greater the distribution of the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, the less democratic a society becomes, because the lower- and middle-classes become either disenfranchised or disillusioned with the representative nature of their government.

Lacking regulatory measures, high income inequality allows for a permissive environment of corruption and graft. And extreme degrees of income inequality (such as in Brazil) negatively effect growth because so many people are left poor, unskilled and uneducated that the country runs well below its productive potential.

What does this all mean? Well, as I mentioned before, the accepted theory is that high income disparity is the necessary biproduct of healthy economic growth. In a global context, this means that governments (and their economic advisors and ministries) are increasingly pressured to pursue aggressive economic policies, paying scant attention to the distribution of their country’s wealth, because they are largely acting under the assumption that growth benefits all (i.e. trickle down economics) and that redistributive measures (i.e. progressive taxation) are undesirable because they dampen growth. Overall then, I suppose we should expect to see an upward global shift in the Gini coefficients.

I will say (and I don’t have any empirical data to back this up, it’s just my hypothesis) that while greed and self-interest may be a motivating factor up to a certain level, the returns are diminishing once Maslow’s basic hierarchy’s are met. I believe that successful people work hard for the prestige and power after they’ve obtained the wealth. I believe that nose-to-the-grindstone poverty doesn’t incentivize hard work, but just the opposite: despair and anomie. And I believe that the country that grows together, stays together.

Thoughts?

Categories: Uncategorized
Tagged: , ,

Dropping Knowledge: Relative Deprivation

August 6, 2007 · 2 Comments

Dropping Knowledge: where I “laymenize” an important aspect of social science.

Seat-belts on. I’m about to enter a stratosphere that is way above my head. Disclaimer, disclaimer, disclaimer.

Ok. Anyone who has ever visited another country for an extended period of time will tell you that one of the major unexpected benefits of travel abroad is learning about your OWN country and culture in the process, via comparison. That is to say, travel gives you a fresh perspective with which you may reexamine how your own society behaves, chooses to organize itself, interacts, etc.

Yesterday when I wrote about Michael Moore’s SICKO, I neglected to mention that Moore uses a similar tactic by introducing middle- and working-class Americans to other countries’ perspectives and systems, so that we might re-evaluate our own preconceptions.

Americans are socialized to believe that they are the wealthiest, most powerful country in the world– that this success is predicated upon our system of government and economy, which ensure freedom and liberty, and allow for equality in opportunity. So it follows that when Americans discover that they aren’t the bees’ knees in major categories which evaluate standards of living, they tend to get pissed off about it.

The “hey look what they have!” is a powerful motivational and emotive tactic. The message elicits a gamut of emotions: pride, surprise, betrayal, anger, indignity – and most of all, jealousy. The fragile human ego cannot tolerate being slighted or unjustly recognized within the hierarchy of society. This “oversight” has been the motivating cause of revolutions from Moses to Martin Luther King, Jr.

The same phenomenon I’ve discussed above from a sociological perspective is termed in Economics as “relative deprivation: the discontent people feel when they compare their positions to those of other similarly situated and find out that they have less than they deserve. It is a condition that is measured by comparing one group’s situation to the situations of those who are more advantaged. And it’s also known as “unfulfilled rising expectations.”

There’s an important debate going on in our country right now and the heart of the issue is relative deprivation. I’m too much of a simpleton to weigh all of the factors, but I can identify the major variables: Hedge fund managers, protected behind the veil of their privately managed companies, are reaping historically unheard of annual profits. Their massive income is further skewing the distribution of wealth in our country, and pushing social norms (and prices) of luxury goods ridiculously skyward.

Think of it this way: the higher you rise in the income bracket, the less you can accurately evaluate the absolute value of a dollar, because the relative value is so depressed (i.e., you stop understanding the difference between a $20 tip and a $100 tip when you’re wiping your ass with both bills). You can then single-handedly set the price on luxury goods, to make those items truly exclusive.

And when you’re paying eight-figures or for a flat in Manhattan or an estate in the Hamptons which were previously listed in the seven-figures range, it logically follows (and again, I’m no economist) that you’ve dictated the ceiling price for the entire housing market in New York, which then trickles down to schleps like me who are looking for a shared-apartment in Harlem.

If there’s one thing American’s HATE, it’s getting a raw-deal. We expect to be compensated exactly what we deserve, to be able to obtain a certain lifestyle if we dedicate ourselves to achieving it. When the over-class unintentionally takes away our society’s ability to guarantee the “rags to riches” ideal, or at least maintain some potential for upward social mobility, the proverbial shit hits the proverbial fan.

Categories: Uncategorized
Tagged: , , , ,

On Oppressive Student Debt

July 26, 2007 · 4 Comments

Wow! Reading through Dani Rodrik’s blog on his upcoming course curriculum at Harvard’s KSG, I noticed a brilliant comment by Per Kurowski (who is the former executive director of the World Bank (2002-2004) for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Spain and Venezuela). His idea seems to answer the conversation we’ve had on “Doing Well vs. Doing Good” :

Higher Education needs to be more of a joint venture

Hearing so many young professionals in the USA describing their problems with debts they incurred while studying, I guess that soon some of them could be suing their Alma Maters for misrepresentation or plain failure in delivering the services offered.

Perhaps the incentive structure of the education system needs to be revised so that at least some of the higher education providers offer to collect a part of their fees through a profit participation scheme, like for instance by receiving a small percentage of the student’s future earned gross income that is above the level that the student could have been estimated to earn without further education, during his first 20 years of work.

How are then the universities going to pay for their professors now? Easy, that is what the financial markets are for. These participations in the future of our youngsters could be securitized and sold in the markets, perhaps even as a good investment for a professor’s retirement fund… of course, that is if the professor delivers on his promises.

For a university to show a willingness to invest in their own students, because they are sure of what they are giving them, might be a better marketing tool than outright grants and “we invest our money in your future” is my slogan. Also, for students, the question of what university offers to invests the most present dollars against the smallest percentage of the expected future earnings… should rank among the first when selecting an Alma Mater into which to invest their own future.

A joint-venture! Every student would be an individual investment for the University. Students would only be responsible for repayment above and beyond a certain income threshold, and would feel less pressured to immediately enter high-yield professions.

What do you all think? Would you be willing to share your future earnings (as a flat percentage of your income over a 20 year period) with your undergraduate or graduate schools if they footed your bill now?

Categories: Uncategorized
Tagged: , , ,

Bill Gates Skews Philanthropy

July 24, 2007 · 8 Comments

I’ve gotten quite a bit of reaction to my last post. Already, it’s by far the most widely read of anything I’ve previously written. The topic of “choosing” a fulfilling career path obviously resonates with you all.

On the topic of “doing good,” Rohit suggests (rather tongue-in-cheek):

do what Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, et al., did, i.e., spend your life amassing wealth (often times at the expense of the consumer—see, e.g., every crappy product produced by M$), and then donate all your excess wealth to charity.

He’s joking, but for many this has become the surrogate “American Dream.” Lacking any institutional control over run-away executive salaries, it seems we have entered a new gilded-age where personal wealth amasses on top of itself to such a degree of “excess” that the only feasible procedure of egalitarian redistribution is self-imposed philanthropy.

We’ve been here before, of course. The “Robber Baron” industrialists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries have literally left behind landmark institutions as a lasting tribute of their contribution to mankind: Carnegie’s Endowment, university, and hall; Vanderbilt’s university; Rockefeller’s art collection and television show; Ford’s Foundation, etc, etc.

To Gates’ credit, he certainly doesn’t have to pursue any humanitarian activities. And it’s not like he made his billions that despicably (i.e. blood diamonds, withholding patented prescription medication from the world, rationing national resources, etc.) He simply introduced the world to a technology (operating system software) that consumers adopted in droves; slapped a copyright on it, and shrewdly boxed out competitors. Gates has provided the world with a service– a technology — that the world in turn, directly compensated him for. Amply.

But what the hell else is the man going to do with his income? Put it under his mattress? Go Howard Hughes on us? Anyone concerned with their reputation and legacy (read: with a humongous ego) is of course going to seek worldly recognition…of course!

There is a phenomenon in social science called “The U-shaped income-giving profile” (see graphic) where those in the lower and higher income brackets give higher percentages of their income to charity than do the middle-class. In the chart at the top of this post (which isn’t in any way accurate, aside from the overall “U-trend”), Bill Gates would represent S2, and say, a single-mother on welfare would represent S1.

The income-giving profile blows the “philanthropy” model which Gates represents out of the water. That is to say, the assumption that you must first be wealthy and established before you can give back, or before you can “do good,” (represented by the middle dip of the “U-curve”) is clearly misguided. Remember: Gates is donating “excess” wealth. The single-mom is donating her second-hand income, provided by the government.

THAT’S trickle-down economics.

My point is: you can do good at any time in your life. The concern I was trying to express before isn’t that “doing good” and “doing well” are mutually exclusive. It was that the decision to pursue either/or in the instances in which they are exclusive is increasingly difficult to make, due to oppressive student loan obligations.

When our choices are limited, our opportunities are diminished, and our freedoms are constrained.

Categories: Uncategorized
Tagged: , , ,

Doing Good vs. Doing Well

July 24, 2007 · 9 Comments

My friend Robby has pointed out that I’ve been rather harsh on the types of people who gravitate toward the seat of national power (which I will call home for only one month longer). He suggested that “they” — a convenient target of my criticism– might actually be exaggerated extrapolations of “us” — my beloved inner-circle.

I suppose there’s a small bit of truth to the assertion. But moreover, I think that my true inclination is to distance myself (and my friends) from all parties; to paint ourselves as the Swiss neutrals in this hipster/douchebag war.

But why would I want to be the bard, or the impartial observer(s)?

Well, part of me recognizes that I too am an ideologue, and so are many of my friends. But of a different sort. We came to DC for the two-year stay only, and not the lifetime committment. We leaned to the left, wanting to do good. Wanting not to “sell-out.”

But two years out of college, and I’ve barely scraped together a positive net-worth. “Doing good” can be a fruitless and frustrating exercise. At the very least, it’s trying on one’s patience. “Doing good” moves at a slower pace than someone like me, who’s been in a hyperbaric chamber of competition since the age of 13, is comfortable with.

So my priorities, like many of my friends, have shifted to “doing well.” That implies elite education. Professional school. Complex problems and creative solutions, on demand. Long hours. High reward. And high compensation.

It all sounds dangerously close to “selling out.” Compromising my values of leisure, creativity, exploration of intellectual curiousity, etc. for comfort, security, and status. And a big fucking plasma TV.

For two years in DC, I didn’t have to make that decision. But once I signed a promissory note for $50,000 in student loans, I did. And in doing so, I severely limited my professional options.

SIPA is an interesting school. Of the 250 or so students in every class, I would guess nearly half go into the humanitarian/peace keeping/development tracks. This path leads to NGOs and other third-sector organizations that are very rewarding metaphysically, but don’t help much in making those $1000 per month loan payments. The rest of the students go into the security/management/finance concentrations, which result in careers in the consulting/finance/management sectors. And nice suits.

And then there’s me. I still feel like Keeanu Reeves in The Matrix, deciding which pill to take. Sure, I’d like the TV, but I’m going to sweat through the suit anyway… might as well get one on the cheap.

I’m certainly not alone in this. Daniel Brook calls our predicament “The Trap.” The gist of his book? Rising economic inequalities lead to rising inequalities in freedom and opportunity. In the world of relativity, even the uber-wealthy private equity shmucks are serfs lining the coffers of the Blackstone billionaires.

So, without an affordable education, our opportunities are limited. The decision to “do good” or “do well” is often times made for us. Which, you know, sucks. I want to do good, and feel good about doing it. But I’m not sure how soon I’ll be able to.

Categories: Uncategorized
Tagged: , , , , ,

Late Night Potshots

July 14, 2007 · 1 Comment


Look at me! I’m blogging from a coffee shop! Wheeeeeeeeee!

With 32 oz. of caffeine surging through my arteries (I’ll be free-basing espresso by September), I am currently one of those annoying scumbags who takes up entirely too much space at a cafe to plug in their desktop-replacement laptop. Pretty proud of myself about that.

Why am I here? Ostensibly, to fulfill a remedial distance learning requirement for math/econ. But there are entirely too many distractions — the most dangerous of which are summer sun-dresses, my absolute downfall– to relearn integration at a coffee shop.

And I would just do it from my apartment but a.) I need the coffee b.) I’d fall asleep at home c.) I’d rather sit in a freely-provided air -conditioned environment and d.) social norms limit me from surfing inappropriate or embarrassing websites while in public, which keeps me on task.

Clearly, I’ve found other ways to goof off. Including reading The Washington City Paper , a coffee-house staple. This month’s front page article is a half-hearted exposee into the young Washingtonian social-club, Late Night Shots. LNS is an oft-derided target of Wonkette for its ironically ostentatious exclusivity.

Though the writer attended a social event and took seemingly diligent notes, the article itself is severely slanted. She comes across as a loyal soldier lobbying grenades at the army of WASPS, under direct orders from her editor-general. (Nothing like a good class-based prejudicial argument to get tempers heated and people talking.)

Now don’t get me wrong… LNS by all accounts, is a cluster-fuck of douchebaggery. Its members are the vapid, status consumed young Republicans that severely chap my ass every time I’m in Georgetown (formerly recognizable for their popped-collars, they’ve since adapted –”they say no one pops their collars these days.”) This is a social class of future Roves and Cheneys that deserves to be exposed for its hypocritical value systems and latent underlying elitism and social prejudice.

Well, attacking the establishment, or the young spawn of the establishment, is never a difficult task. The article is fast and loose, interviewing members of the group who purportedly “hate what it stands for,” but never explaining why, or what they think the group actually does stand for. Anonymous or pseud0nonomous internet rants are included to demonstrate the groups’ apparently amoral world-views or supposedly ironic brand of humor. But this is done without exploring the pernicious relationships between exclusivity, in-groups, ironic humor, prejudice, racism, insecurity, politics and the rest.

All of which makes the in-group (rightly) suspect that such an article, lacking genuine criticism, is merely sour-grapes… a targeted attack by indie liberal hipsters that resent them for their wealth and influence.

It all reminds me of the Duke lacrosse players. When their rape charges were dismissed, I remember watching them indignantly condemn the media for presuming their guilt, and exploiting the racial and class dynamics of the case.

This pissed me off.

Look, assholes… maybe you didn’t rape a prostitute. Congratulations. But you still wrote an e-mail joking about “killing her as soon as she walked in the door.” And you still embody the old-boy entitlement that is pervasive in our country’s elite institutions.

America needs a legitimate conversation on the degradation of moral values, not on the left, where the “morals” front is always entrenched, but on the RIGHT. The City Paper’s superficial treatment is a missed opportunity to explore the systemic problems of conservative values.

Somewhere between Tom Wolfe’s literary hand jobs and Wonkette’s snarky pot-shots there needs to be critical analysis of the value-system of the ruling class. The City Paper swung and missed.

UPDATE
Two things to add to this:
1.) I called this article “fast and loose.” I meant: It all seems very presumptuous. You would never see an exposee into a gang (another young social group) without extensive research into the backstories of the individual members… some attempt to explain why they choose to behave the way the do.

2.) During a visit at Harvard (which is, fairly or unfairly, the consummate conversation piece , when it comes to issues in higher-education), I remember incredulously listening to a sociology major defend his senior thesis — arguing that social elite are just as constrained (in terms of limitations of opportunities) by their formative environment as are young black youth in America’s urban ghettos. I couldn’t believe it. This gross misconception, I believe, is the pervasive attitude we need to be challenging.

Categories: Uncategorized
Tagged: , , ,

Reading Through the Lines: No White Collar Worker Left Behind

June 13, 2007 · Leave a Comment

Reading through the lines: where I take a crack at translating a mainstream article or op-ed. Responses in italicized blue text.

Today’s inaugural article: The New York Times – “Economic Life After College”

Economic Life After College

Commencement is a time for idealism.

Read: Oh shit, it’s June! Better write up that hackneyed article to hedge recent graduates’ expectations, even though they’re coming out with a more refined and productive skill set than our generation ever had.
function getSharePasskey() { return ‘ex=1339300800&en=8c9eaf1cda546891&ei=5124′;}
function getShareURL() { return encodeURIComponent(’http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/11/opinion/11mon3.html’); } function getShareHeadline() { return encodeURIComponent(’Economic Life After College’); } function getShareDescription() { return encodeURIComponent(’A college degree does not ensure a bigger share of the economic pie for many graduates.’); } function getShareKeywords() { return encodeURIComponent(’Education and Schools,Income,Economic Conditions and Trends,Colleges and Universities,Editorials’); } function getShareSection() { return encodeURIComponent(’opinion’); } function getShareSectionDisplay() { return encodeURIComponent(’Opinion’); } function getShareSubSection() { return encodeURIComponent(”); } function getShareByline() { return encodeURIComponent(”); } function getSharePubdate() { return encodeURIComponent(’June 11, 2007′); }

But economic reality is lurking everywhere, and new college graduates are vulnerable to ambush. They have been told repeatedly that a college degree is an open sesame to the global economy. But that’s not necessarily so, according to new research by two economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Frank Levy and Peter Temin.

Read: College degrees are the new high-school diploma, and employers who don’t know to value the difference between tiered institutions are keeping entry-level salaries low across the board. Which encourages the cycles of transience, as graduates from top schools flounder to find salaries to match the income they expected when they took out (x) amount of dollars in loans.

It is true that people with college degrees make more money than people without degrees. The gap has narrowed somewhat in recent years, which is disturbing. But the earning power of college graduates still far outpaces that of less-educated workers.

Read: Lower standards and entry barriers to obtain a college degree deflate its value. As a result, the baby-boomer generation has expanded its bottle-necked bulge at the executive level by keeping salaries and benefits low at the entry level. (You blood-suckers… thanks for leaving me a depleted environment, an over-inflated housing market, a bankrupt social-security system, a devalued dollar and a massive trade deficit… )

The bad news, though, is that a college degree does not ensure a bigger share of the economic pie for many graduates. In recent decades, Mr. Levy and Mr. Temin show, only college-educated women have seen their compensation grow in line with economywide gains in productivity. The earnings of male college graduates have failed to keep pace with productivity gains.

Read: The male statistic is the control here because more women pursued full-time careers.

Instead, an outsized share of productivity growth, which expands the nation’s total income, is going to Americans at the top of the income scale. In 2005, the latest year with available data, the top 1 percent of Americans — whose average annual income was $1.1 million — took in 21.8 percent of the nation’s income, their largest share since 1929.

Read: As a reminder, October of 1929 began a period called “The Great Depression.” That’s what we have to look forward to. Buy your cardboard boxes now. Wait for it… we’re going to go ahead and blame this on “globalization” and “fair trade.”

Administration officials, and other politicians and economists, often assert that income inequality reflects an education gap. But Mr. Levy and Mr. Temin show that in the case of men, the average bachelor’s degree is not sufficient to catch the rising tide of the global economy.

Read: There it is! Blame the labor supply for expanding income gaps when the middle-class’ end is stagnant! Please explain: what leverage do I have? I have taken out loans, so unless I had decided to narrow my studies to an explicitly career oriented degree (which in terms of American industry means finance, computer technology, or to a lesser extent, engineering), I am forced to accept the salary offered to me. There are no unions to protect my interests, and few profit-sharing plans exist as incentive to commit myself long-term.

They argue that the real reason inequality is worsening is the lack of strong policies and institutions that broadly distribute economic gains. In the past, for example, a more progressive income tax and unions fostered equality. Affirmative action has also helped and probably accounts, in part, for the pay growth of college-educated women. But such institutions have been eroding and new ones have not yet emerged. At the same time, corporate norms that restrained excessive executive pay have also eroded, making the income gap even greater.

Read: Well that makes sense. We live in society where two employees of the same corporation, the CEO and the janitor, have a salary multiplier of x1000+. Does anyone really think that’s fair? Do you honest to God believe any one person on this earth contributes enough to humanity to deserve to be compensated 1000x more than anyone else? And all the while CEOs are bitching about how much hedge-fund managers and professional athletes make. It’s a fucking shit show. It makes me sick.

Mr. Levy and Mr. Temin conclude that only a reorientation of government policy can restore general prosperity. That’s a challenge to the nation’s leaders and today’s graduates. America needs them to build the new institutions for a global economy.

Read: Oh, ok, it’s “my challenge” to resolve the problem your generation has created for me? Is that so? How do you expect me to enter a career of public service when I have to take out six-figures in debt just to finance an education that will advance my career beyond the artificial glass-ceilings and inhibitors you have imposed upon me?

As sadistic as it sounds, these are the kinds of trends and attitudes that will influence my conscience in 15-20 years when I’m voting on whether to cut funding to prescription drug plans, to vote against capping property taxes, to lobby against patient’s rights,
to vote for massive estate taxes and restructuring the tax-code against retirement funds, to levy capital gains taxes and progressive tax-codes across the board, etc., etc.

The 2008 election very well might prove to be the consolidation of Generations X and Y against their parents. Race politics in America are played out. The future is age and class. All revolutions start with a pissed-off middle class. I don’t intend on living a life aligned to 19th century conceptions of labor and leisure because of “globalization.”


Categories: Uncategorized
Tagged: , , , ,