Ivanka and the American dream

I think one of the most under-appreciated features of American society today is how much less social mobility there actually is compared to what people think there is.  Of course, Ivanka Trump is convinced that hard work gets you anywhere.  Quite clearly, all her success is born of her personal brilliance and work ethic.  Great column from Krugman on this:

The subject under discussion was the proposal, part of the Green New Deal, that the government offer a jobs guarantee. Ms. Trump trashed the notion, claiming that Americans “want to work for what they get,” that they want to live in a country “where there is the potential for upward mobility.”

O.K., this was world-class lack of self-awareness: It doesn’t get much better than being lectured on self-reliance by an heiress whose business strategy involves trading on her father’s name. But let’s go beyond the personal here. We know a lot about upward mobility in different countries, and the facts are not what Republicans want to hear.

The key observation, based on a growing body of research, is that when it comes to upward social mobility, the U.S. is truly exceptional — that is, it performs exceptionally badly. Americans whose parents have low incomes are more likely to have low incomes themselves, and less likely to make it into the middle or upper class, than their counterparts in other advanced countries. And those who are born affluent are, correspondingly, more likely to keep their status.

Now, this isn’t the way we like to see ourselves. In fact, there’s a curious disconnect between reality and perception: Americans are much more likely than Europeans to imagine that their society is marked by high social mobility, when the reality is that we have considerably less of it than they do…[emphases mine]

And the association between “socialism” and social mobility isn’t an accident. On the contrary, it’s exactly what you would expect.

To see why, put it in a U.S. context, and ask what would happen to social mobility if either the right wing of the G.O.P. or progressive Democrats got to implement their policy agendas in full.

If Tea Party types got their way, we’d see drastic cuts in Medicaid, food stamps and other programs that aid Americans with low income — which would in many cases leave low-income children with inadequate medical care and nutrition. We’d also see cuts in funding for public education. And on the other end of the scale, we’d see tax cuts that raise the incomes of the wealthy, and the elimination of the estate tax, allowing them to pass all of that money on to their heirs.

By contrast, progressive Democrats are calling for universal health care, increased aid to the poor, and programs offering free or at least subsidized college tuition. They’re calling for aid that helps middle- and lower-income parents afford quality child care. And they propose paying for these benefits with increased taxes on high incomes and large fortunes.

So, which of these agendas would tend to lock our class system in place, making it easy for children of the rich to stay rich and hard for children of the poor to escape poverty? Which would bring us closer to the American dream, creating a society in which ambitious young people who are willing to work hard have a good chance of transcending their background?

Look, Ms. Trump is surely right in asserting that most of us want a country in which there is the potential for upward mobility. But the things we need to do to ensure that we are that kind of country — the policies that are associated with high levels of upward mobility around the world — are exactly the things Republicans denounce as socialism.


Photo of the day

The Duke-UNC game made a recent Atlantic photos of the week compilation.  It existed, but definitely much less face/body paint going on back in my student days (1990-94):

Fans watch as Luke Maye of the North Carolina Tar Heels waits to throw the ball inbounds against the Duke Blue Devils during their game at the Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, North Carolina, on February 20, 2019.

Streeter Lecka / Getty

This post is late; there’s value in reading it anyway

So, one of the cool things about having my oldest in college is seeing things from the perspective of a parent as well as a professor.  For the most part, it has only confirmed my various convictions about how I do things, but it has definitely made me more aware than ever (and I already was decently good) on the price of textbooks, etc.

I’ve always had a policy where I allow late papers and tests, but, with a significant grade penalty.  Obviously, not having any grade penalty at all is like not having a deadline, so that’s a no-go.  And, there are, of course, professors who just don’t accept late assignments.  My thought has always been that, sure, some students will take advantage, but life intervenes and you just need to give people a break.  My deadlines are ultimately arbitrary and this is not life and death here.  So, my take was that because I’m a “nice” professor and because life is complicated, sure, I take late assignments.  And I never thought too much more about it than that.

Until, recently, though when said son had a professor refuse to accept any late assignments.  What really frustrated me about this was that I realized without doing the assignments, my son was simply not going to learn the material they were based upon nearly as well.  What’s the point of giving assignments as professors if we don’t think there’s really value in those assignments help the students learn the underlying material?!  By refusing to accept late assignments at all a professor is saying they think the goal of teaching the importance of following (ultimately, arbitrary) deadlines is more important that the goal of teaching the underlying course material.  That’s nuts.  I don’t question for a moment a professor’s prerogative in teaching their class this way, but I do think they are flat out making a mistake in privileging teaching deadlines over teaching the value of the course material.  Unless your class is “proper adult behavior, deadlines, and other real world stuff” your primary goal should be on students learning history, math, chemistry, etc.

So, in this case, my policy on lateness has not changed at all, but my rationale has.  I now accept assignments late not because I’m “nice,” but because I actually believe my assignments are important and help my students learn the course material and important research and writing skills.  And, yes, there’s still a late penalty because deadlines matter, they are just not the most important thing.

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