Posted by: bkivey | 29 January 2014

Barriers to Social Mobility

Probably the defining historical characteristic of American society is the opportunity for social mobility. Legions of people from all over the globe have voted with their feet and made their way here for nothing more than the promise of that opportunity. Sadly and shamefully, that promise is fast disappearing

The rise of the largely Progressive Baby Boom generation to power has fueled an ever more restrictive society, for reasons I postulated here. I’ve argued on many occasions that Progressives are nothing more than emotional teenagers who never grew up. I base this opinion not on any great knowledge of human psychology, but on decades of observation and some knowledge of history. What we’re seeing in modern America is the snowballing effects of feeling over thinking, intellectual axioms over empirical observations.

One of the consequences of a feelings-based worldview is the desire to help those judged less fortunate than oneself. Altruism has social utility, and as long as the help is freely given and desired, society is improved. The problem is that most people don’t know how to set limits, so an individual desire morphs into a perceived social obligation.

Within bounds, this can be a good thing. No one wants to see people starving in the streets, or 9 year-olds working 14 hours a day. We enjoy cleaner air and water, and more wholesome foods and medicines as a result of Progressive initiatives. The trick is determining when maximum utility for a given initiative has been achieved. People generally aren’t very good at this without specialized training.

Help is good, but the flip side is control. If you’re helping someone, you are to some extent controlling them. This can be as innocuous as helping a child with homework (you’re controlling and guiding their decision-making), to providing a livelihood without any requirement of effort on the individual’s part.

Based on recent American political history, and corollaries in the Western world, a large percentage of the population is much less interested in freedom than security. They care much less for civil liberties than the certainty of handouts. The problem is that the more ‘help’ goes to people in the form of government programs, the harder it is for those people to escape their circumstances.

Consider a person working a minimum-wage job out of high school. If they don’t want post-secondary education, they’re pretty much stuck with their native ability for social mobility. Hopefully an employer will decided that unskilled labor is worth whatever the government mandates they be paid.  Maybe they’re getting food stamps, rent assistance, perhaps some subsidized medical care. They’re getting by, but not much more.

Now suppose this person wants to improve their lot. After some time in the job they start looking for a better paying opportunity. What they’re likely to find is that they’re going to lose some or all of their government benefits if they start making more money. Their marginal tax rate will probably increase. Depending on the potential wage increase, they person may find themselves netting less money than if they’d stayed at the entry-level job. It may well be that they’ll be making more money in a couple of years, but a lot of folks are going to look at the immediate situation and think ‘Why bother? I’ve got a sweet deal now with government paying my bills.’ So they stay in a dead-end job they increasingly dislike, and turn that frustration into agitating for more government help.

The more government programs that ‘help’ the poor, the harder it is for those people to get off assistance. If someone has a child out of wedlock, the difficulty increases exponentially. But there are lots of people who will profess sympathy and use the poor as a power base, as long as the poor vote for them. People are cheerfully voting themselves into servitude while thinking they are helping themselves.

Progressives know this. Some may actually think they are helping people succeed through wealth redistribution, but this type of ‘help’ is devastating to human dignity, and I would go so far as to call the perpetrators evil.

Days of Whine and Roses

The local school district has found itself with some surplus cash, and rather than return the funds to the taxpayers or put them aside for leaner times, they’re looking to spend them. To that end the board held public meetings to get input from the community on allocating the money. Class size is a big deal with the district. and the district has cut a lot of teacher positions in recent years.

During a news break on the radio, there was some audio of a high school student advocating hiring teachers, and her quote was “I’m tired of sitting in classes with 30 people.”

Well boo-effing-hoo. There are many, many places around the world where there are many more than 30 students in a high school classroom. Considering where the US ranks internationally in education, I don’t see class size as a determining factor for academic success. If this young missy gets to college, she’s going to find herself sitting in lecture halls with hundreds of students. She may be a great person, kind to children and small animals, but she came across as a whiny, spoiled child.



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