“The Other America” Revisited: Why Are We Ignoring the Advice of Our Best and Brightest? Our Nobel Prize Winners.

“The greatest capital that you can invest in is human capital, and, of that, the most important component is the mother.”

Since the 2008 burst housing bubble and the resultant “worst recession since the Great Depression” the Republican Party and their acolytes have supported steep deficit reductions: across the board budget cuts – from Social Security to Medicare/Medicaid to virtually every program in the federal government – with the Domino Effect rolling across the states.

Congressman Paul Ryan and his fellow Tea Partyers cry: cut budgets, cut deficits and the economy will recover.

Stock prices and home sales increase while unemployment remains at high levels- the recovery is precarious. (Read “Where Have the Jobs Gone?”)

“Austerity, including sequestration, is the economic version of medieval leeching …Politically, as union power declined, the concerns of Democratic policy makers shifted from working-class issues like jobs and toward the concerns of upper-income constituents, like inflation, taxes and budget balancing.”

Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize winning economist and NY Times columnist has bashed the Republican policies almost daily in his columns and blogs (see his latest, “The Chutzpah Caucus

U.S. conservatives have long followed a strategy of “starving the beast,” slashing taxes so as to deprive the government of the revenue it needs to pay for popular programs.

The funny thing is that right now these same hard-line conservatives declare that we must not run deficits in times of economic crisis. Why? Because, they say, politicians won’t do the right thing and pay down the debt in good times. And who are these irresponsible politicians they’re talking about? Why, themselves.

To me, it sounds like a fiscal version of the classic definition of chutzpah — namely, killing your parents, then demanding sympathy because you’re an orphan. Here we have conservatives telling us that we must tighten our belts despite mass unemployment, because otherwise future conservatives will keep running deficits once times improve.

Paul Ryan, the intellectual Republican leader in Congress, “…has argued that any ‘pain’ suffered by working Americans—in the form of restructurings of Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid, post office closures and cuts to state and local aid—was necessary in order to avoid an economic meltdown.” Turns out the Harvard Study that underpins the Ryan argument is based on flawed data. Krugman chides the Republicans, “… the really guilty parties here are all the people who seized on a disputed research result, knowing nothing about the research, because it said what they wanted to hear.”

In spite of the sharp criticism of a Nobel Prize winner, in spite of the use of flawed economic data, in spite of the views of the vast majority of economists the Republicans continue to support policies inimical to the nation, harmful to the 99% and supportive of the 1%.

On the education side the Obama-Duncan agenda is just as maddeningly foolish as the Republican push for austerity and bashing of economic stimulus Keynesian policies.

An OECD report, “Doing Better for Children,” 2009, compares child well-being in the 30 OECD nations, the report divides “child well-being” into material well-being, housing and environment, educational well-being and health and safety. Of the 30 nations the best we can say is “we’re better than Mexico and Turkey.” In three of the four categories the United States is near the bottom of the list.

Child well-being is defined as a “multi-dimensional construct incorporating mental/psychological, physical and social dimensions.”

The OECD reports percentages of child poverty (circa 2005):

Denmark 2.7%
Sweden 4.0
Finland 4.2
US 20.2
Mexico 22.2

In the wealthiest country in the world our child poverty rates are among the highest of the thirty OECD nations.

Nobel Prize economist James Heckman has researched and written extensively about the economic and social impact of early interventions in the lives of disadvantaged youth.

Heckman writes, “Early interventions promote schooling, reduces crime, fosters workforce productivity and reduce teenage pregnancy.” These are no off-the cuff pronouncements, they are the result of decades of deep research. For a detailed look at reams of research findings check out the “Heckman Equation” site, and click on the video link.

The winners of the Nobel Prize are an elite group, a very elite group. The winners are selected by peers and represent the most significant thinkers on the planet.

Sadly, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Barack Obama and Michael Bloomberg have chosen to ignore research findings that the Nobel committee has honored with their highest award. In “The Case for Investing in Disadvantaged Young Children,” Heckman tells us.

Life cycle skill formation is dynamic in nature … skill begets skill, motivation begets motivation, motivation cross-fosters skill, skill cross-fosters motivation. If a child is not motivated to learn and engage early in life, the more likely it is that when the child becomes an adult, he or she will fail in social and economic life. The longer society waits to intervene in the life cycle of a disadvantaged child, the more costly it is to remediate the disadvantage.

Billions of federal dollars are funneled to the national consortia (PARCC, Smarter Balance) and to states through Race to the Top to create high stakes tests, to drive teacher evaluation systems and data dashboards to collect tetra-bytes of student data – without a scintilla of evidence that these dollars will benefit students.

There is no comprehensive plan to address disadvantaged young children, whatever programs exist are fragmentary and primarily run by states and localities.

Why are the Tea Party Republicans and the education (de)formers so dismissive of the “best and the brightest,” American Nobel Prize recipients?

Clearly the wealthiest, the Gates, the Broads, the Koch brothers, the hedge funders, control the media message. Print media is disappearing while cable and social media flood the ethernet with messages – not news.

A half a century ago Michael Harrington on “The Other America” wrote,

… tens of millions of Americans are, at this very moment, maimed in body and spirit, existing at levels beneath those necessary for human decency….. They are without adequate housing and education and medical care.

The Government has documented what this means to the bodies of the poor . . . . But even more basic, this poverty twists and deforms the spirit. The American poor are pessimistic and defeated, and they are victimized by mental suffering to a degree unknown in Suburbia . . . .

The millions who are poor in the United States tend to become increasingly invisible. Here is a great mass of people, yet it takes an effort of the intellect and will even to see them.

The poor remain invisible as our nation becomes more and more segregated. How many of us have ventured into Brownsville or Hunts Point or South Jamaica, or journeyed down the dirt roads in the Adirondacks or Appalachia?

We are a nation with a long history of anti-intellectualism, and, unfortunately policy decisions have created an underclass – generations of poverty.

If Paul Krugman and James Heckman were the philosophical underpinnings of economic policy our nation would be far better off, and, hopefully, their voices are beginning to be heard.

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2 responses to ““The Other America” Revisited: Why Are We Ignoring the Advice of Our Best and Brightest? Our Nobel Prize Winners.

  1. When Sequestration was adopted the underlying assumption was that politicians, not LEADERS, were RATIONAL enough not to let it happen and would find a way to deal with our fiscal situation. There is the fatal mistake, assuming politicians are RATIONAL. Why should we expect them to be any more RATIONAL about Education? After all, we put them there!

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  2. Carole Silverstein.

    Love reading your blogs but it is so depressing to keep on reliving the worst of educational theory in NYC. When are they going to invest in the future of young children whose families can’t afford private or non profit daycare? I have always been convinced that the Israeli model is one of the solutions. My grands all went or go to daycare and what a difference it makes. They are reading and writing in Kgn. The community based model is a beginning.

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