Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Mobility or Higher Standards?

James Surowiecki would have us consider derailing the focus on mobility before it gets full steam and instead think about a general higher standard of living.
"More important, in any capitalist society most people are bound to be part of the middle and working classes; public policy should focus on raising their standard of living, instead of raising their chances of getting rich. What made the U.S. economy so remarkable for most of the twentieth century was the fact that, even if working people never moved into a different class, over time they saw their standard of living rise sharply. ... Raising living standards for ordinary workers is hard: you need to either get wages growing or talk about things that scare politicians, like “redistribution” and “taxes.” But making it easier for some Americans to move up the economic ladder is no great triumph if most can barely hold on."

It's a strong point, one which Paul Krugman then takes up and restates more snappily with,
"if you want a society in which everyone has a decent life, you need to construct a society in which everyone has a decent life — not a society in which everyone has a small but equal chance of living the lifestyle of the rich and famous. ... Since anyone could find himself or herself downwardly mobile, social mobility arguably actually strengthens the case for a strong safety net."
Mobility isn't all it's cracked up to be. It has downs with it's ups. Unlike an overall higher standard of living.

The American way is a melting pot or at least a mixing bowl, not a sieve.

The American way is a melting pot or at least a mixing bowl, not a sieve.

We may preserve elements rather than fusing into a homogeneous mass, but we mix. It's how we come up with our best, by exchanging ideas and forging something new.

This isn't the first time folks have fought against the melting pot. But those who fight it are just as wrong now as they were before. We gain much from being a harmonious mixture of different ingredients that stand together. Baking soda is great in a cookie; not so good on its own.


See also Paul Brandeis Raushenbush's "'Sincerely Held Religious Beliefs' and the Fraying of America" regarding "discriminatory and deeply un-American" legislation in Arizona.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

College Versus Trade School: At What Cost These Technical Skills Come?

They're missing something, those like Robert Reich who would argue that we should worry less about four-year college and rally behind trade and technical schools as a low-cost alternative. Many of us who've been in the position of interviewer or boss are looking for someone with the critical thinking, creativity, and understanding fostered by general education in the humanities and basic sciences. It may be possible for a great candidate from a tech school to have that critical thinking on their own without that general education, but it's less likely.

Further, there's value beyond the directly vocational in the general education that comes with a bachelor's degree. More knowledge in the humanities and basic science makes for better citizens, a more informed electorate, and an all around improved society. While some very few attain such knowledge through self-study, on the whole we're more likely to get that from widespread college education. It truly is a public good and good for the general public.

Full college may not be for everyone. Trade and technical schools serve well to train workers who are not prepared for college. But if we confuse their playing a useful part with somehow replacing the benefits of expanded college graduation, we risk the reduction of potential for whole generations.