I missed last week’s digest somehow. I had 4 posts over at Demos’ Policy Shop this last couple of weeks. Here is a rundown with links:
No One Actually Cares About Meritocracy. Excerpt:
You can’t live in the United States and not be acquainted with at least a handful of extremely prominently legacy cases who, whatever their individual talents, would not be where they are but for their parents. If folks were as serious about meritocracy as they claim to be, these would be outrageous stories. These people should be despised. But they aren’t even remotely disliked for their parental assists. It’s not even an issue of discussion that they’re the beneficiaries of totally in-your-face unfairness.
Certain kinds of everyday heroism will always be important and unavoidable, but the goal of a set of social institutions should be to destroy as many opportunities for heroism as possible. Heroism is only possible where some kind of tragedy is imminent. But a good social system snuffs out avoidable tragedies before they even have a chance of approaching imminence. In many cases therefore, the existence of heroism is actually a deeply troubling symptom of overall political dysfunction. It should not be met with adoration, but with horror and concern.
However, if there is one thing to be concerned about it is that, as a general matter, long lists of tons of programs and policies can make the poverty problem seem more complicated than it actually is.
Dramatically cutting poverty can be done fairly easily by efficiently altering the income distribution so that the poor get a larger share. If we take the above list, trim down some of the more marginal programs, and collapse all the jobs items into “full employment,” we can squeeze a program down to three lines:
- Full employment (i.e. getting to NAIRU).
- Basic income.
- Negative income tax.
The obvious case in point is the Social Security program, which is the most successful anti-poverty program in the history of the country. I decided to run the numbers on the program for 2012 using the recently-released March supplement microdata. If you subtract each family’s Social Security (OASDI) income from their total income, the number of impoverished individuals in 2012 jumps from 46.5 million to 68.7 million. That is, without Social Security income, 22 million additional people would have fallen below the official poverty line last year.