Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Beyond Arthur Brooks' Social-Justice Agenda

Arthur C. Brooks is a real good guy.  He's the one that wrote Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism and found out that it wasn't liberals that cared.  And now, writing in Commentary, he's found out that people that believe in redistribution don't give much to charity.
According to the 1996 General Social Survey, those who strongly agreed that “the government has a responsibility to reduce income inequality” gave away $140 on average to charity. Among those who strongly disagreed, the average gift was $1,637.
But still, he says, conservatives believe in redistribution to the extent of a basic government safety net, and more.

A proper conservative social-justice agenda should include -- well what exactly?  Somebody decided to ask the poor, and this is what the poor wanted:
The real answer is both simple and profound. They need transformation, relief, and opportunity—in that order. On these three pillars, conservatives and advocates for free enterprise can build the basics of the social-justice agenda that America deserves.
So off goes Brooks into an enumeration of the programs that would be needed to do that.

But I'm not so sure.  Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) gave an education speech recently "Making Higher Education Affordable Again." According to Daniel Doherty Rubio starts with a "Student Right to Know Before You Go Act." Oh Good.  That sounds just like the Affordable Care Act that isn't.  Rubio then proposes that employers step in and start to invest in education for their employees with equity deals, etc.  But surely the problem is bigger than that.

In fact I would imagine that any conservative social-justice agenda for the poor must start with zeroing out the middle class entitlements.  Why?  Because otherwise we get right back to where we are today, where the middle class entitlements completely dwarf the goodies going to the poor.

What do we see today?  The poor get shafted when it comes to education. The schools in the "inner city" -- meaning more generally wherever the poor send their kids to school -- are dreadful.  So what's the point of government education?  The middle class will find a way to educate their children.  In fact the latest fad is for home-schooling that does not plan any specific program.  It assumes that middle-class kids will pick up what they need to know as they grow up just as they teach themselves to speak their mother tongue.  So we have an education system that was  originally intended to make the poor literate, and instead it amounts to a middle-class baby-sitting service.

Then there's welfare, which seems to be intended as a middle class jobs program rather than relief for the poor.

It would be nice, e.g., to have government assistance to the poor for retirement income and health care.  But instead we have the monster Social Security Medicare/Medicaid system that's a feast for the special interests, privileges the middle class, and elbows out the poor.  Well-to-do middle-class grandmas make a hobby out of visiting their cardiologists for their heart problems and their neurologists for their Parkinsons problems whenever the mood takes them: meanwhile the poor have to hope to elbow their way in at some government clinic.

It seems to me that Point Zero is to say that, whatever it is -- education, retirement, health care -- the middle class ought to be able to do it and afford it on their own.  If it takes government for the middle class to afford it, as in health care, then the whole thing is screwed up so bad with government programs that we need to start again.

So that's why I can't get too excited about a conservative social-justice agenda that starts tinkering away with the current subsidies and government programs.  I don't believe that we'll end up helping the poor if we do that.

First of all, we've got to get us, the middle class, off the government teat.  Then we can start to talk about a conservative social-justice agenda for the poor.

There's another thing.  Brooks' three ideas, of "transformation, relief, and opportunity," are great.  But let's think about how we can get government out of it.

In transformation, of course, we are talking "personal moral transformation."  That means government must have nothing to do with it, because of the separation of church (meaning any morally oriented organization) and state.

Then with relief we must deal with the basic problem that the poor climbing out of poverty and dependency face the highest marginal tax rates of any Americans, often over 50%.  Every time a poor person works, they face the removal of some benefit.  So if a poor person is receiving government benefits, then that poor person is facing severe fiscal headwinds.  The less the government is handing out relief and the more that the private sector (that means you and me) is stepping in the more the marginal tax problem goes away.

Then there is opportunity.  Writes Brooks:
An opportunity society has two basic building blocks: Universal education to create a base of human capital and an economic system that rewards hard work, merit, innovation, and personal responsibility.
Really?  I'd say that an opportunity society is one that goes out of its way to make it easy to learn and to work.  I'd say it combines education and work.  Right now we have a government education system that doesn't educate and we have extensive workplace regulation and taxation that makes it very difficult for marginal workers to get ahead.  The current system puts barriers in the way of people that want education, and puts lead weights on the feet of people that want to work.

I'd say that what the poor need is child labor.  Yeah!  Poor children need to get into work early and start doing something useful.  Then, when they are still young they might start to see that a bit of education could really help them live a productive and well-paid life.  OK.  Let's provide lots of ways for people to get their Three Rs under their belt.  And they might do that before they have gotten socialized into the dead-end inner city school and before getting socialized into the local gang culture.

Actually, I'd say that -- never mind the poor -- most children, excepting only the professional and creative elite, would thrive with a combined work-and-education system.  It is only the hot-house flowers of the elite that benefit from an academic education, kids with Tiger Moms that are destined to live by the written word, because Mom said so.  But most people learn by doing; they are kinesthetic learners rather than auditory or visual.  Check out Learning Styles at Wikipedia.  So why in the world have we forced everyone into a audio-visual system?  I'll tell you why.  It's because system is domination and the point of today's government education is not to educate but to dominate.

Of course all this is way too scary for policy analysts like the excellent Arthur C. Brooks and good presidential candidates like Marco Rubio.  They have to appear sound and sensible to brain-dead liberal media types.  But you and I are not public figures.  We can afford to think big, think beyond the conventional wisdom, and try to think of a world beyond the failed world of the administrative liberal welfare state.

And we should.

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