G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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As I’m now focused on this concept of “accident of birth”, Nobel Prize winning economist has an essay at Boston Review which begins, front-loaded:
The accident of birth is a principle source of inequality in America today. American society is dividing into skilled and unskilled, and the roots of this division lie in early childhood experiences. Kids born into disadvantaged environments are at much greater risk of being unskilled, having low lifetime earnings, and facing a range of personal and social troubles, including poor health, teen pregnancy, and crime. While we celebrate equality of opportunity, we live in a society in which birth is becoming fate.
This powerful impact of birth on life chances is bad for individuals born into disadvantage. And it is bad for American society. We are losing out on the potential contributions of large numbers of our citizens.
If you believe that birth is a lottery, that your being is the function of chance rather than fate, then you’re more likely to buy into this argument that birth is an accident. As such, your success or failure is not your own. It is shared in a sort of pre-natal pool. As if you were sitting around pre-sparkle-in-your-father’s-eye vowing to share in the misery or success of your pre-natal peers. Others accept the opposite, that a being is a function of the genetic investments and choices of their ancestors. They don’t have to share. I understand both arguments but I cannot bring myself to accept that I am so random. I am not a blank slatist.
Heckman’s essay has several responses, most notably from Charles Murray, Geoffrey Canada (Harlem charter school czar and another Obama succubite), Robin West, and Cato’s Neal McCluskey.
West points out that Heckman is making a rational economic claim on a topic that is usually addressed in terms of social justice. I was struck by the same thought. Is this about what is most profitable for the State or what is morally right? Or are the two concepts always tied together?
Charles Murray points out that many studies which show that early investment in infants and children lose their impact as these children age. As McCluskey also argues, it is probably not correct to allow institutions which have a vested interest in promoting these social programs to design these types of studies.
Finally we come to Geoffrey Canada who hits on the arguments I’ve been making all day. He writes:
To make the kind of dramatic progress we need, we have to rethink our definition of public education, so it begins before kindergarten and goes beyond classroom walls.
In other words, cradle-to-grave paternalism. You just can’t succeed without the government intervening as soon as you shoot out of the womb.
Canada later writes:
Children at risk belong to all of us; we need to start acting that way.
Is this true? Would a wealthy parent exercise their claim on a poor child with as much gusto as a poor parent would exercise their claim on a wealthy child? Going back to the Gawker piece which sparked all of this, something is lost when we begin thinking of our existence as random chance. Our autonomy isn’t ours; society rules us. Freedom is ultimately lost, and the State comes to own our soul and then our body. If the paternalists can convince us that we’re all functions of chance then they have us by the moral short hairs.