Bill Clinton is the only speaker I heard raise the issue that makes me most uncomfortable about voting Republican: the increasing income inequity. Reasonable people can reasonably disagree about almost every issue and reasonable people can reasonably disagree about whether the country is, as a whole, heading in the right direction. But an increasing gap between have and have-nots is simply wrong. The problem is I fear the Democrat’s approach will not close the gap by making the have-nots better off but by attempting to make the haves worse off. That’s not helpful. On the other hand, if the Republicans approach simply widens the gap further that’s not helpful either.
Now comes Ross Douthat writing about the same issue and making a convincing argument that other policies I favor - school choice and limited immigration - and a behavior I favor - raising children in stable two-parent households - are factors that could do far more than tax policy and other forms of income redistribution to narrow the income gap.
I believe we would be better served in this country by a government that focused on getting the economy going again and left issues like cap-and-trade and major health care overhaul until the financial picture improved and steps had been taken to help those on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder hoist themselves up. Steps like school choice and limited immigration and explaining clearly that a single-parent household is almost always a good predictor of poverty:
The report found that sons and daughters have approximately the same likelihood of moving up or down the economic ladder. The exception is women whose parents were at the bottom of the income distribution. Partly because they are more likely to be single mothers, nearly half (47 percent) of daughters born to parents at the bottom remain at the bottom, compared to 35 percent of sons.
For those who cannot stomach such policy and behavior changes, Douthat does offer another path to income equality:
There is, however, one way that a Democrat majority can plausibly bring down inequality: Just let government keep growing. [snip]
The European experience suggests that ... [i]f you funnel enough of a nation’s gross domestic product through a bureaucracy, the gap between the upper class and everybody else usually compresses.
But economic growth often compresses along with it. This is already the logic of our current fiscal trajectory: ever-larger government, and ever-slower growth.
That combination could eventually create the more egalitarian America that Democrats have long promised to deliver. The question is whether Americans will thank them for it.
Thank them for it? Me, not so much. I’d prefer a nation in which those who are not sharing in the American dream are given the education they need to succed; are protected from unfair competition caused by an unending stream of immigrants willing to work for lower wages (yes, I would be willing to pay more for goods like hotels and strawberries); and clearly understand** that they do themselves and their children no favors by raising those children in an environment where success is far more difficult than it needs to be. That seems to me to be a formula for a more egalitarian America with greater economic growth for everyone.
* There is, of course, another side to the income inequality argument: a rising tide lifts all boats. I’ll have something to say about that in the next day or so.
** I am not arguing that single parents who do not carefully consider the economic effects of raising children alone - whether because the child is born our of wedlock or because of divorce - are stupid. Rather they are ill-served by the representations of single-parenthood they see around them. I watched “Private Practice” last week. The show has two single parents - one father, one mother. When the single father told his employer he was struggling to cope with getting his daughter settled in his household, the employer said it would be fine if he took some time off. I anticipate that when the single mother returns to work she will be able to cut back on her hours (despite a previous plot line about her firm desperately needing more income); flex her hours as she pleases; and bring her newborn to work.
The real world doesn’t work that way. Not even close. Employers are going to have limited sympathy - in some case, no sympathy - for a single parent who cannot make it to work because of childcare issues or who wants to bring his or her children to work or who gives a job less than adequate attention because of constant child-related distractions. Furthermore neither the sheer cost of having children nor the incredible drain on time and energy of having children is likely to be raised in popular depictions: television, movies, novels. Combine this with the idea that someone somewhere (or everyone everywhere) - the government, your employer, your co-workers, your neighbors - should and will help you bear the burden and you get an extremely unrealistic view of what single parenthood is like; of the financial constraints it puts on the parent; and of the barriers it raises to the children’s eventual success. This applies as much to a parent whose financial situation is worsened by divorce as it does to a parent who has a child without ever being married.