We would look kindly on a father who helps his son get picked as starting pitcher for his school baseball team by practising with him every day after work. But we would probably feel differently about a father who secures the slot for his son by bribing the coach. After all, each father has sacrificed something, time in one case, money in the other, to advance his child.
The difference is team selection should be based on merit, not money. A principle of fairness is at stake. So, where is the line drawn? The best philosophical treatment of this question I have found is the one by Swift and Brighouse. The trouble is that in the real world this seems like a distinction without a difference. If I read bedtime stories to my son, he will develop a richer vocabulary and may learn to love reading and have a more interesting and fulfilling life.
But it could also help him get better grades than his classmates, giving him a competitive advantage in college admissions. I think this is too harsh.
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Not only will this bring them a higher income, and all the accompanying choices and security, it is also likely to bring them safer and more interesting work. Relative position matters — it is one reason, after all, that relative mobility is of such concern to policymakers. Opportunity hoarding does not result from the workings of a large machine but from the cumulative effect of individual choices and preferences.
Taken in isolation, they may feel trivial: nudging your daughter into a better college with a legacy preference [giving applicants places on the basis of being related to alumni of the college]; helping the son of a professional contact to an internship; a single vote on a municipal council to retain low-density zoning restrictions.
Over recent decades, institutions that once primarily served racist goals — legacy admissions to keep out Jewish students, zoning laws to keep out black families — have not been abandoned but have been softened, normalised and subtly re-purposed to help us sustain the upper-middle-class status. They remain, then, barriers to a more open, more genuinely competitive and fairer society. By definition, reducing opportunity hoarding will mean some losses for the upper middle class. But they will be small.
How the middle class hoards wealth and opportunity for itself
Our neighbourhoods will be a little less upmarket — but also less boring. Our kids will rub shoulders with some poorer kids in the school corridor. They might not squeak into an Ivy League college, and they may have to be content going to an excellent public university.
There will be some material costs, too.
The big challenge is to equalise opportunities to acquire human capital and therefore increase the number of true competitors in the labour market. This will require, among other things, some increased public investment. Where will the money come from? Much of it will have to come from the upper middle class. From me — and you. As parents, we naturally want our children to flourish. The effect is to strengthen class barriers.
Fix an internship using our networks. Internships are becoming more important — but are too often stitched up privately. Instead: insist on paid internships, openly recruited. Take our own kids to work for the day. Be a Nimby.
Creating an Opportunity Society | Economics for public policy
By shutting out low-income housing from our neighbourhoods with planning restrictions, we keep less affluent kids away from our local schools and communities. Instead: be a Yimby, vote and argue for more mixed housing in your area. Write cheques to PTA funds. Many of us want to support the school our children attend. Instead: get your PTA to give half the donations to a school in a poor area.
The GDPR is an opportunity for civil society, not just a challenge
Topics Inequality The Observer. US income inequality Income inequality Social mobility Class issues extracts. Reuse this content.
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To be clear, we should not blame educators for the multidimensional challenges we face in education, but we should provide tools to help them more deeply understand and support these students. What black students need more than anything else is less schooling and more education. Education, on the other hand, is an emancipatory process of lifelong learning that enables students to study and read the broader society and work to disrupt injustice. In order to do that, educators must radically shift what education is—and who decides what counts as academic and social success.
A version of this article was originally published on The Conversation on Dec. February 19, Richard Milner IV iStock. Tags: Richard Milner. More in P. Recent Books, Summer Romancing the Pen: Writing romance novels is a passionate pursuit for these four Commodores.