Flickr photo by ant.photo
George W.’s speechwriter has an Op-Ed noting that we should focus more on economic mobility than economic inequality and we couldn’t agree more:
“Still, the most important measure of U.S. economic success is not income equality but social mobility. Economic inequality can be justified in a fluid society, in which economic advancement is a realistic goal. Economic inequality in the absence of economic mobility amounts to a class system in which the circumstances of birth are the main economic blessing or curse….
“There remains a considerable amount of economic mobility, upward and downward, in the middle class. But nearer the bottom of the income scale, upward mobility is weak and stuck. As a result, according to the Economic Mobility Project, the U.S. economy is less fluid than the economies of Canada, France, Germany or the Scandinavian countries.”Individual advancement is closely tied to educational achievement and family structure. An economy that rewards skills and other forms of human capital is not a good place to be a dropout with a child out of wedlock.
“Conservatives are correct that tax increases on the wealthy to fund entitlement commitments that go mainly to the elderly would do precious little to address this problem.
“Liberals are right that a combination of rising economic inequality (even if the rise is gradual) with stalled economic mobility is an invitation to destructive social resentments. Americans will accept unequal economic outcomes in a fair system. They object when the results seem rigged. That way lies the Bastille.
“So the question comes to liberals and conservatives: If social mobility is the goal, what are the solutions? What can be done to improve the quality of teachers in failing schools, to confront the high school dropout crisis, to encourage college attendance and completion, to reduce teen pregnancy, to encourage stable marriages, to promote financial literacy, to spark entrepreneurship?
“Both Democrats and Republicans should have something to contribute to the development of this agenda. Neither party, however, currently has much to say. And this is not likely to change until the discussion turns from equality to mobility.”
Read Michael Gerson, “Economic inequality is the wrong issue” (Washington Post Op-Ed, 11/4/2011)
Posted in economic mobility, income inequality, inequality, michael gerson, mobility, op-ed, washington post
Tagged economic mobility, income inequality, inequality, michael gerson, mobility, op-ed, washington post
Flickr photo by antoonsfoobar
I recently saw an interesting TED talk by Eli Pariser on the next wave of cyberbalkanization. [Read his fascinating new book “The Filter Bubble” here.]
Background: Marshall Van Alstyne predicted 15 years earlier that users would self-segregate on the net and choose to get exposed to ever more narrow communities of interest.
We’re now onto the “The Daily Me” 2.0. Some news sites originally let users click on their interests a user could limit his/her news to say sports and entertainment news. Cass Sunstein and Nicholas Negroponte predicted that it would lead to stronger news blinders and expose us to less and less common information, what they called “The Daily Me”.
Well, it turns out that users actually choose to subject themselves to more diversity in opinions and networks on the net than people predicted.
But the latest onslaught, what Eli Pariser calls “The Filter Bubble”, is more invidious. More and more user sites (Facebook, Google Search, Yahoo News, Huffington Post, the Washington Post) now automatically tailor your stream of results, facebook feed, and news feed based on your past clicks, where you are sitting, what type of computer you use, what web browser you use, etc.
Unlike in the past, this is not “opt in” cyberbalkanization but automatic. And since it happens behind-the-scenes, you can’t know what you’re not seeing. One’s search of Tunisia on Google might not even tell you about the political uprising if you haven’t expressed interest in politics in the past. Eric Schmidt of Google said “It will be very hard for people to watch or consume something that has not in some sense been tailored for them.”
Pariser notes that we all have internal battles between our aspirational selves (who want greater diversity) and our current selves (who often want something easy to consume). In most of our lives or Netflix queues we continually play out these battles with sometimes our aspirational selves winning out. These filter bubbles edit out our aspirational selves when we need a mix of vegetables and dessert. Pariser believes that the algorithmic gatekeepers need to show us things that are not only junk food but also things that are challenging, important and uncomfortable and present competing points of view. We need Internet ethics in the way that journalistic ethics were introduced in 1915 with transparency and a sense of civic responsibility and room for user control.
It’s an interesting talk and I clearly agree with Pariser that gatekeepers should be more transparent and allow user input to tweak our ratio of dessert to vegetables, to use his analogy. But I think Pariser, in forecasting the degree of our Filter Bubble, misses out the fact that there are other sources of finding about news articles. Take Twitter retweets. Even if my friends are not that diverse — and many of us will choose to “follow” people we don’t agree with — as long as one of the people I’m following has diverse views in his/her circle of followers and retweets their interesting posts, I get exposed to them. Ditto with e-mail alerts by friends of interesting articles or social searches using Google. We live in far more of a social world where information leads come from many other sources than Google searches or Yahoo News. So let’s work on the automatic filters, but the sky is not falling just yet.
See “The Filter Bubble.” (Feb. 2011 TED talk)
Posted in Cass Sunstein, cyberbalkanization, Daily Me, Eli Pariser, facebook, Filter Bubble, Filtering, google, Huffington Post, internet, marshall van Alstyne, Nicholas Negroponte, preferences, TED, The Filter Bubble, twitter, washington post, yahoo, Yahoo News
Tagged Cass Sunstein, cyberbalkanization, Daily Me, Eli Pariser, facebook, Filter Bubble, Filtering, google, Huffington Post, internet, marshall van Alstyne, Nicholas Negroponte, preferences, TED, The Filter Bubble, twitter, washington post, yahoo, Yahoo News
Sargent Shriver, who inaugurated the Peace Corps in the early ’60s and shaped it for decades, led a life full of service to others. He passed away yesterday at the age of 95. In an inspiring life, he also helped launch Head Start, the Job Corps, VISTA, and the Legal Services Corporation. And he provided essential leadership to groups like the Special Olympics that his wife Eunice founded.
But more than anything else, he breathed life and vision into JFK’s immortal question “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” By enlisting the talents and energy of a generation of young Americans in the Peace Corps, he brought education, clean drinking water, housing, medical care to some of the poorest countries in the world, and helped the world to see Americans as a shining beacon of hope.
He often said: “”When our deeds match our ideals, we will be living life as it ought to be lived.”
During the JFK Presidential campaign, “Shriver, who had fought for integration in Chicago, helped persuade JFK to make a crucial decision despite other staffers’ fears of a white backlash. When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was jailed in Georgia that fall, Kennedy, urged by Shriver and fellow aide Harris Wofford, phoned King’s wife and offered support. His gesture was deeply appreciated by King’s family and brought the candidate crucial support….
“He was a man of giant love, energy, enthusiasm, and commitment,” the Shriver family said in a statement. “He lived to make the world a more joyful, faithful, and compassionate place. He centered everything on his faith and his family. He worked on stages both large and small but in the end, he will be best known for his love of others.” (Huffington Post)
Shriver said at a 1981 reunion for Peace Corps alumni: “The cure is care. Caring for others is the practice of peace. Caring becomes as important as curing. Caring produces the cure, not the reverse. Caring about nuclear war and its victims is the beginning of a cure for our obsession with war. Peace does not comes through strength. Quite the opposite: Strength comes through peace. The practices of peace strengthen us for every vicissitude. . . . The task is immense!”
With many thanks for a life richly led and to someone whose deeds did match his ideals.
See also Colman McCarthy’s “Sargent Shriver’s Grace” (Washington Post Op-Ed, 1/19/11); “What I Learned From Sargent Shriver” (NYT Op-ED, 1/20/11 by Bono)
Posted in bono, Colman McCarthy, Head Start, Job Corps, John F Kennedy, legal services corporation, new york times, Peace Corps, public service, sargent shriver, service, VISTA, washington post
Tagged bono, Colman McCarthy, Head Start, Job Corps, John F Kennedy, legal services corporation, new york times, Peace Corps, public service, sargent shriver, service, Special Olympics, VISTA
Flickr photo by Herve Demers
Doyle McManus (of the L.A. Times) has a nice piece citing Robert Putnam on some of our unpublished research evincing “canaries in the coalmine” that are likely to block upward mobility in the US in the decades ahead if unremedied.
Opportunity in America isn’t what it used to be either. Among children born into low-income households, more than two-thirds grow up to earn a below-average income, and only 6 percent make it all the way up the ladder into the affluent top one-fifth of income earners, according to a study by economists at Washington’s Brookings Institution…. Children born into poverty in Canada, Britain, Germany or France have a statistically better chance of reaching the top than poor kids do in the United States….
[In addition to the decline of public schools,] Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam argues that thanks partly to the rise of two-income households, intermarriage between rich and poor has declined, choking off another historical upward path for the underprivileged….”We’re becoming two societies, two Americas,” Putnam told me recently. “There’s a deepening class divide that shows up in many places. It’s not just a matter of income. Education is becoming the key discriminant in American life. Family structure is part of it too.”…
“Success in life increasingly depends on how smart you were in choosing your parents,” Putnam said. “And that flies in the face of the fundamental American bargain — that every kid ought to have access to the same opportunities.”…Most Americans accept inequality in the economy as long as the ladder of opportunity is accessible to anyone who wants to work hard. The best way for America to reclaim its self-image as a land of opportunity is to ensure that every kid has access to a decent education — now more than ever the first step onto the ladder. That’s why bipartisan education reform isn’t just about fixing schools; it’s about repairing the fabric of American society.
Read “The Upward Mobility Gap” (Doyle McManus, L.A. Times, 1/2/11)
See also some interesting recent articles in NY Times on how pay of superstars stifles everybody else, and another article that attempts to reconcile Americans’ dislike of equalizing income with declining mobility by showing how in America being middle class is more driven by aspirations than income. And finally, research conducted at Harvard Business School that ironically shows that most Americans would prefer an income distribution more similar to Sweden’s (far more egalitarian than in the US) over the current American income distribution.
Paul Krugman in “A Tale of Two Moralities” (NY Times Op-Ed, January 15, 2011) writes: “…I’ll also have a lot to say about how far we really are from being a society of equal opportunity, in which success depends solely on one’s own efforts.”
Michael Gerson (Washington Post columnist) also had a very thoughtful column on this issue, indicating that this issue (upward mobility) should be the issue that Republicans should be discussing. See “The economic debate that we should be having” (Dec. 14, 2010) Gerson writes:
“…the main reasons for inequality are failing schools, depressed and dysfunctional communities and fragmented families. For the most part, inequality does not result from a lack of consumption by the poor but from a lack of social capital and opportunity.
This does not release conservatives from responsibility because the distribution of social capital and opportunity is dramatically unequal. Economic inequality can be justified as the reward for greater effort – so long as there is also social mobility. In the absence of mobility, capitalism becomes a caste system. And this is what America, in violation of its self-image, threatens to become. The United States has less upward economic mobility among lower-income families than Canada, Finland or Sweden. Americans who are born into the middle class have a roughly equal chance of ascending or descending the economic ladder. But Americans born poor are likely to stay on its lowest rungs.
Addressing the actual causes of inequality should be common ground for the center-left and center-right – and politically appealing to American voters, who are generally more concerned about opportunity than income equality. A mobility agenda might include measures to discourage teen pregnancy; increase the rewards for work; encourage wealth-building and entrepreneurship; reform preschool programs; improve infant and child health; increase teacher quality; and increase high school graduation rates and college attendance among the poor. Children of low-income parents who gain a college degree triple their chance of earning $85,000 a year or more. If America had the same fraction of single-parent families as it had in 1970, the child poverty rate would be about 30 percent lower.”
Posted in aspirations, Brookings Institution, Doyle McManus, economic mobility, education, family, family structure, Harvard Business School, income, inequality, L.A. Times, michael gerson, mobility, new york times, opportunity, paul krugman, robert putnam, superstar pay, Sweden, The economic debate we should be having, Upward Mobility Gap, washington post, youth
Tagged aspirations, Brookings Institution, Doyle McManus, economic mobility, education, family, family structure, Harvard Business School, income, inequality, L.A. Times, michael gerson, mobility, new york times, opportunity, robert putnam, superstar pay, Sweden, The economic debate we should be having, Upward Mobility Gap, washington post, youth