2013 August 18

     A friend posted this on Facebook. It's called "Restoring the American Dream" by Fareed Zakaria on CNN World, dated 2013 August 18. The following complete message had an accompanying video that managed not to pin down any of its ideas any better than this text. I think this piece is a terrific (and terrifying) example of the kind of soft-headed thinking guiding social policy in the United States, with the horrifying economic and social consequences we have seen lately.

     "A recent OECD report points out that the U.S. is one of only three rich countries that spends less on disadvantaged students than others, largely because education funding for elementary and secondary schools in America is tied to local property taxes. So by definition, poor neighborhoods end up with badly funded schools. In general, America spends lots of money on education but most of it is on college education and most is directed towards those already advantaged in various ways.

     "What's clear from all this research is that countries that invest more heavily in all their children's health care, nutrition, and education, well-being more generally end up with a much stronger ladder of opportunity and access than America. Now, that is something we can change and with relatively little money. So if we want to restore the American dream, we now have the beginnings of a path forward."

     Mr. Zakaria's point seems to be about something called "social mobility," a worthy cause in America if there ever was one. We pride ourselves on "the American dream" (his words as well as mine) and should welcome any research that helps us improve it.

     The piece writes and talks about poor people's prospects to rise in America. Which poor people is he talking about? He doesn't say at all. I'm comfortable that "the poor" are people who don't have much money, but is he talking about the poor people on relief (Mitt Romney's infamous 47% who earn nothing and exist entirely on handouts from government) or those at the bottom of American's dwindling working class struggling to make their ever-shrinking paycheques pay their bills?

     It makes a difference, you know. Poor people on relief have made a choice, or somebody has made a choice for them, that precludes mobility. Their only path to getting more is taking more from others, hardly a virtuous or desirable trajectory for them or the rest of us. With our government expanding during 2007-2012 from one-third to one-half our economy, our private-productive sector has shrunk by one-quarter. Add the eight percent hit for federal-national healthcare and we have a productive-sector job market that is one-third smaller than it was in 2006. That's hardly a good thing for productive people trying to earn more by producing more. (Foreign oil and balance of trade have softened that blow in consumption, but not in the world of finding productive work.)

     So Mr. Zakaria doesn't tell us who his poor people are, not by monetary standards or even descriptively, and he also doesn't give us any hint about how his "social mobility" was measured, or even could be measured. He simply pronounces that we're doing worse at it than we used to in America and than other countries America is being compared to. Claiming both sides of our political aisle are concerned seems to be his way of mitigating any need to define the problem.

     So the United States is one of only three rich countries spending less than others on disadvantaged students. Is this some statistic like "half our country is at or below the median," or is it measuring something real? Dr. Zakaria doesn't say or give any reason we should think it's important to say.

     He blasts us for using local funding for primary and secondary schools as an indictment that we discriminate against poor people. I suspect we would find two-thirds of either class of American poor own better television sets than my 27-inch Sony and better cars than my 1987 Volkswagon with original engine. I also suspect the average poor family pays more local tax than I do here in Scottsdale ($100/month for police, roads, and schools with our new, vast parklands funded through a one-percent sales tax) . So by what "definition" (his word) are poor neighborhoods doomed to poor school funding? I think it's a choice being made. Federal funding of education has been a sequence of disastrous boondoggles—is this Mr. Zakaria's recommendation over local funding with local control and parents choosing their own destinies? He doesn't really say.

     "What's clear from all this research"? There's no "research" shown here and nothing is clear from this rhetoric piece. His pitch for countries "that invest more heavily in all their children's health care" has absolutely nothing to do with what he promoted elsewhere in this piece. He claims this is "something we can change with relatively little money." If that's true, then a few collection plates should do the trick. Most wage-earning, better-off Americans give generously to charity (and no evidence suggests conservatives less than liberals, quite the contrary I'm told) so we don't need government to do these things. Nothing presented here does anything to suggest otherwise.

     This piece is shamefully sloppy and shame on CNN for posting it with their logo on it. Whatever Mr. Zakaria is promoting, and I believe it is federal support for primary and seconday education in the United States, nothing here supports anything I can see. There isn't anything here to agree with or to disagree with. His strong, emotional language compels us to care about something, but wouldn't it be nice (and even professional) if the author gave us definitions and facts and told us what his conclusion is?




If you want more of this kind of material then here are my American-issues essays.

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