A Nobel Laureate’s Views on Reducing Income Inequality

How many economics papers are worth reading?  This paper by James Heckman  should be on your list. He could write an interesting blog!  He focuses on the central role of “the family” in determining early investments in children and the implications of such investments for long term skill formation as learning begets learning.

Author: Matthew E. Kahn

Professor of Economics at UCLA.

15 thoughts on “A Nobel Laureate’s Views on Reducing Income Inequality”

  1. Tell you what, Matthew. Next time you apply for a job, put the name “DeShawn Washington” on top of your otherwise unchanged resume and see just how many calls you get.

  2. “schooling does little to reduce” the problem of skill disadvantage/family dysfunction, etc.

    As a teacher, I couldn’t agree more. In theory it should be possible to do this through schools and a few other welfare-oriented interventions. In reality, we are no where near there. Current education reforms are a joke. The sooner we realize this, and move to a means(re:paper, skills) based education system, nothing will really get done, aside from gaming poor families with charter/voucher systems. It would end up costing a fraction of the budget, and the poverty trap would at least move from a cycle to a permanent intervention.

  3. A couple of profoundly true, and self-evident, statements stand out in the article.

    “There is no good substitute for a mother’s love and care.”

    “Disadvantaged families of all race groups gladly take up opportunities to enhance the lives of their children. Most mothers, however disadvantaged, want the best for their children.”

    What, then should be the prescription for enabling mothers to help their children?

    A. Encourage them to form alliances with men, most of whom have few resources or whose presence is counter-productive and who may be unrelated to the child(ren) of the woman.

    B. Push them into long hour jobs at low wages, so that they are physically separated from their children most of the time, and too busy/exhausted to properly care for the child(ren) when they finally return home

    C. Give them just enough money to fail to make ends meet, so that they seek supplemental income from alternative A. or other even less fruitful activities;

    D. Deprive girls of equality, respect, and autonomy, so that they are not able to effectively fight their own victimization or resist the currents that result in too-early motherhood, or

    E. Assume that the answer is for more women to get a grip and avoid having children, even though that “answer” hasn’t worked yet as measured across millions of data points (and that answer doesn’t comport with society, for the most part, indicating that it very much wants to continue the species).

    F. Confine the benefits of stability, protection, subsidies, and financial sufficiency to the subset, [women who do quite well at getting men to pay for them to have families], which does not include all capable mothers or would-be mothers.

    G. Other

  4. Betsy: It really is too bad, isn’t it, that men are utterly unable to contribute to their children’s nurture except in monetary fashion.

  5. First off, since this originated out of U Chicago, and I could care less about U Chicago “Nobel” “economics” laureates, having comprehensively disgraced themselves during and since the latest financial meltdown, I began my evaluation of it with a deep suspicion of the underlying motivations behind whatever policy it would promote.

    So here’s what I think. I think it’s pretty good. Color blind early childhood interventions are, I think, becoming generally understood as providing the biggest ROI for equalizing the abilities of children entering traditional k-12 schools. As Heckman notes, remediation is generally less effective the older the child. I don’t think this is controversial. As for actual policy prescriptions, I begin with a boatload of skepticism when I see jargon such as “Engage the Private Sector”. When the modern Republican Party “engages the private sector” in the pursuit of public goals, that is a direct synonym for looting and destruction of whatever the goal originally was.

    However! I did take a look at several of his examples of public/private engagement, and they look pretty good.

    So I’m for it. Perhaps Boehner will take note and earmark some funding for this.

    I guess not.

  6. The American Family in Black and White: A Post-Racial Strategy for Improving Skills to Promote Equality

    It really is such a relief to have entered the post-racial era, where discrimination is no longer a meaningful obstacle to equality.

  7. Betsy, yesterday I was talking with one pm students who (we were researching careers), said she just wanted to work at a burger restaurant ,”They *start* at $10!”

    I took out a calculator and and we looked at what kind of lifestyle that wage would offer. After we essentially spent the entire months’s pay on essentials, she responded, “I’m gonna have a sugar daddy.”

    It occurred to me that in many ways the feminist ideal of personal empowerment has not quite reached the ghettos. While the boys strive to be either rap stars or drug dealers, the girls strive to be princesses. This ideal is enshrined, glorified in the rap music so many listen to. Yet while the boys are after “bitches” – viewing themselves as “players”, the concept of fatherhood is almost abhorrent. And for the girls, wanting affirmation and the dream of a man who will take care of them, they make babies.

    So in a way, contrary to the narrative that feminism has somehow devalued marriage and family, a deep traditionalism is driving young girls into, well disempowered servitude.

    Of course, behind both of these dysfunctional gender roles is a perception of limited options and anti-social norms.

  8. Eli, thanks for your observations. There are so many things going on there from a feminist or dependency standpoint, I can’t even begin to respond, without being here all day. But for starters, examine carefully any notion that personal empowerment is the answer to dependency issues.

    Trash culture is a significant contributor, I agree. It comes in through the TV and other mass media outlets that serve chrematistic purposes only. These are like sewer pipes that open into the home.

    Trash culture. Trash culture. Trash culture. There, I said it!

  9. political football,

    I think you are drawing too big a conclusion from the title. Heckman does not ignore racial issues (though I think he makes one important mistake in his employment analysis).

  10. ” But for starters, examine carefully any notion that personal empowerment is the answer to dependency issues.”
    I’m not sure what you mean here. More empowerment generally means less dependency, right?

  11. I would say that our society has a damaged understanding of both dependency and power.

  12. Eli: It is not just in the “ghetto” that the feminist ideal of personal empowerment is missing, but most kid pop culture that glorifies gender roles where boys are told to strive to be warriors and girls to be princesses. Moreover, dating as generally portrayed in the media as well as practiced by the middle class (going out to the movies/dining at nice restaurants/even going to clubs and parties) also completely misses sampling what it means to mate for life – let alone to provide a stable home for children to be raised. Even middle class men who aspire to parenthood and women who strive for meaningful workplace involvement along with parenthood often find the reality a lot harder than they expected. Doubly so when the jobs don’t provide the financial benefit to either men or women to afford to outsource childcare anywhere. Its no accident that the rising inequality of income and the demise of labor unions has coincided with the stalled effort of the civil rights movement to erase the vestiges of discrimination in this country. Sure raising skill levels of disadvantaged kids might be a good thing (as long as it doesn’t set up a situation where improvements in pay and addressing discrimination that is still occurring gets short shrift in favor of taking a long view that education is the answer to everything). I fear that the focus on raising skills/education can not be a winning strategy unless the economy provides decent wage jobs for those skilled employees. There are already tons of underemployed college grads (let alone professionals like JDs) who are underemployed and underwater with debt and I think the focus on raising skills w/o reforming the economy is also doomed to failure.

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