Need Help Rebutting Washington Post Column
- From: "Al in Dallas" <alfargnoli@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: 15 Sep 2005 16:09:49 -0700
My GF is an ardent lefty. She thinks there's something that needs
to be rebutted in this column. Any advice would be welcome.
Note, please set follow-ups.
Boats Rose in New Orleans, but Not for the Poor
By Steven Pearlstein
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Put your hands together, folks, for Barbara Bush! Her sentiment
may have been reprehensible, her choice of words unfortunate,
but our Queen Mother has managed to blurt out the unpleasant
truth about the harsh realities of life in the American
In New Orleans, these were people living check-to-check in
crummy, racially segregated neighborhoods, with no car or access
to transportation, suffering all manner of physical infirmities,
lacking the information and connections and life experiences
that might have landed them somewhere other than the hellish
Superdome. And among them were a handful of young men so soaked
in social pathology that their response to suffering around them
was to rape and pillage and shoot at those who came to rescue.
So powerful were these stories and these images that even the
Republican leadership in Congress understood it would have been
unseemly to push ahead with tax cuts that would benefit the
In their hearts of hearts, of course, Republicans draw no
connection between tax cuts and income inequality. For if you
are secure in your knowledge that a rising tide raises all boats
and that every American has the opportunity to grow up to be an
owner of the Texas Rangers, you know that growth-enhancing tax
cuts will be good for all Americans.
Only one problem: It's not true.
For reasons that are not exactly clear, the boats no longer are
all rising like they used to. Despite four years of economic
growth, driven by impressive productivity gains, the average
worker is no better off than he was in 1997.
Late last month, the government reported that inflation-adjusted
income for the median household fell for the fifth year running.
During the same five-year period of recession and recovery, the
number and percentage of households in poverty has also risen.
So where have the benefits from economic growth gone?
Some have gone to the top 20 percent of households in the form
of higher salaries and bonuses. This is the only class that has
seen its income rise.
The rest of the benefits have gone to those who own stocks,
bonds and real estate -- for the most part, the same 20 percent.
Normally, the share of national income going to holders of
capital declines during the later stages of an expansion. But
four years into the recovery, capital's share of national income
is still rising, and at 17.7 percent remains near the top of its
It wasn't always this way. The period from World War II to the
mid-1970s was characterized by rising income equality. But the
steady reversal since then suggests that the forces that are
combining to make labor, product and capital markets more
efficient are also making incomes less equal. They are part and
parcel of the same structural changes.
It is unclear whether we as a society find that morally
unacceptable. If we do, we will have to accept slower economic
growth and more aggressive redistribution of income through
government tax and benefit and regulatory systems. There is no
realistic high-growth, low-inequality solution.
The other thing to remember is that, over time, inequality
breeds more inequality. New research shows rags to riches may be
more myth than reality in America. In a book titled "Unequal
Chances," the liberal-minded Russell Sage Foundation has
gathered a dozen scholarly essays that lay out a strong
correlation between the income of parents and their children.
The mechanisms are both genetic and environmental. The genetic
influences include not only IQ, which turns out to be relatively
insignificant, but inherited traits like stature, looks, health
and an optimistic outlook. And among the cultural and
environmental factors, monetary inheritance turns out to be less
significant than educational quality, connections, social
graces, marrying well, work ethic and an appetite for risk.
Importantly, the lack of intergenerational mobility is strongest
at the bottom and top.
A child born in the top 10 percent of households, as measured by
income, has a 30 percent chance of ending up there -- and a 43
percent chance of attaining the top 20 percent. His probability
of ending up in the lowest 20 percent is only 3.5 percent.
By contrast, a child in the poorest 10 percent of households has
only a 1.3 percent chance of getting to the top decile, and a
mere 4.3 percent chance of attaining the 20 percent. There's
about an even chance he'll wind up in the bottom 20 percent,
which is effectively in poverty. If he's black, the odds are even
It's unlikely Barbara Bush was aware of any these sobering
statistics before her visit with the "underprivileged" at the
Houston Astrodome. But in her ham-handed way, she has shined some
needed light on the depth of poverty in urban America and the
difficulty of escaping it.
Steven Pearlstein will host a web discussion today at 11 a.m. at
washingtonpost.com. He can be reached atpearlsteins@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
© 2005 The Washington Post Company
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