Reduce inequality by reducing inequality

Absent magical accounting techniques, the only way to reduce inequality is to transfer income and wealth from those who have more of it to those who have less of it. There are reasonable disagreements about how best to do that, but one way or another, it has to be done. Despite this reality, armies of people — liberals in particular — seem intensely focused on trying to reduce inequality without actually doing so.

The most popular liberal non-solution focuses on college. As I wrote previously:

Almost every milquetoast liberal effort to reduce poverty centers around trying to funnel more poor people into college. The reasoning for this proceeds as follows: people with college degrees make significantly more money; therefore if everyone had a college degree, everyone would make significantly more money.

As I explain later in that post, this reasoning does not actually add up. Ultimately we can not all be highly-paid executives, doctors, and lawyers even if we all have the requisite degrees. The labor market does not work that way. In an excellent report today, the Economic Policy Institute lends support to my point:

An analysis of the education and training levels projected to be necessary for the labor force of 2020 shows that jobs will not require a significantly greater level of education or training than workers currently possess. Therefore, a simple increase in the share of workers with a college degree will not ensure that tomorrow’s economy generates better and more equitable outcomes than today’s economy.

The labor market determines how many good-paying jobs exist, not the number of people who possess the qualifications necessary to hold them. If we want to make income and wealth distributions more equal, funneling more people through college simply will not do. Instead, we will need to make low-paying jobs higher-paying, make transfer payments and social programs more robust, or some combination of the two. Why so many people — especially those in the Education Reform Movement — put so much emphasis on college as an inequality-reducer remains a mystery to me.