Majestic Inequality

October 12, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston
Cross posted at Sociological Images

In 1894, Anatole France said,
The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich and the poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.
Back in June, Mitt Romney said
I want to make sure that we keep America a place of opportunity, where everyone . . . get[s] as much education as they can afford
After all, Mitt got as much education as he (his parents, really) could afford, so he thought it best if everyone had that same majestic equality of opportunity. 

Opportunity – how much is that in American money? 

Yesterday, Planet Money  posted this graph showing the costs and benefits of a college education in several countries. 

The title of the post summarizes the interpretation of the college-educated folks at Planet Money.
College Costs More In America, But The Payoff Is Bigger
But what if you look at the data from the other side?  Here’s the half-empty-glass title
    College in the US Costs a Lot, and If You Can’t Afford It, You’re Really Screwed
or words to that effect.

What the chart seems to show is inequality – specifically, the inequality between the college educated and everyone else.  In advanced economies, like the those of the countries in the chart, education is important. But some of those countries, like the Scandinavian countries, have reduced the income sacrificed by non-college people relative to the college educated. Other countries favor a more unequal distribution of income. 

I looked at the Gini coefficient for the ten countries in the Planet Money chart.  The correlation between the Gini and the economic benefit of college for men was 0.83, which seemed a bit extreme.  So I added another ten OECD countries.

The correlation is 0.44.  The US is the clear outlier.  In the land of opportunity, if you’re a male, either you pay the considerable price of going to college, or you pay the price for not going to college. 

With this inequality come the kinds of social consequences that Charles Murray elaborates in his latest book about non-educated Whites – disability, divorce, demoralization, death. 


brandsinger said...

Compared to the rest of the world, the US still has an admirably high percentage of people in college and college grads. (I googled the issue and got a CNN article from last year that said "Americans age 55-to-64 still lead their peers in other nations in the portion with college degrees (41 percent)." That sounds rather egalitarian, yes?

Our lead has been dwindling as other nations catch up—and the main problem in the US is not access to college but the disgraceful state of our public grade schools. I know that you have been for years a fervent opponent of charter schools and vouchers (and doubtless any form of experimentation that might threaten the status quo). You whine constantly about our racist, classist society—yet inner-city families line up for lotteries to get their kids in charter schools (that you oppose) which they see as one hopeful avenue toward better opportunity and perhaps the benefits of a college education. You might put away your "Gini coefficient" and recognize that African-American families who want a better education for their children should not be kept down by teachers unions and their Democratic political puppets.

As for Big Bird—you are delighted to point out that Romney's vow to end subsidies to Big Bird is such a terrible political blunder. Who would dare to attack such a popular figure? Well, it's a matter of (and this is an alien concept to you, I know, but bear with me) principle. Romney and other conservatives believe that it is wrong for taxpayers (including people with low incomes and difficult lives) to take money from their families' needs to subsidize TV programming -- especially TV programming that is as commercially successful as Sesame Street is. To you and lefty-liberals like you, standing up for principle is kinda foreign and anathema, I recognize, since the premise of your political legitimacy is taking money, sending it to the federal government, and creating programs that pander to the needs of your voters. Taking an unpopular stand just ain't in your DNA.

To wrap up my intrusion here (sorry!) and get to another recent post of yours: as for your sniping at the Boy Scouts—a national private club that the Federal Courts have allowed to function according to their members' own moral values—I don't understand why the concept of having an exclusionary organization is so provocative to you. What if you wanted to have your own club of left-leaning intellectuals and socialists who hate capitalism and despise free enterprise to the exclusion of conservative thinking? Wouldn't you think that should be allowed to exist?
Hey -- but wait! -- you already have that! --- that's what academic sociology is! It's your own intellectual club that keeps out diversity of thought, right?

According to one study at California Universities, Democrat sociologists outnumbered Republican sociologists by 44 to 1. (citation here:

Now I'm sure this was a special case and not representative of your entire profession. I'm sure your own department of sociology has a much higher percentage of Republicans and conservative thinkers than that, along with the expected diversity of racial and ethnic groups. I'm sure you do. Right? You do, don't you? I mean you snipe at the Boy Scouts for maintaining their national club based on their values -- but I'm sure, to avoid being hypocritical, your own department invites a diversity of political views in its effort to stimulate intellectual thought and expose students to a wide variety of professional thinking. I'm sure of that... am I right?

Jay Livingston said...

1. Just a suggestion, but when you want to write some long diatribe that is only tangentially related, why not, instead of posting it as a comment on someone else’s blog, put it in the main body of your own blog? It will get a wider audience, and your misreadings will be less obvious. Maybe it could follow one of those wonderful posts on seasons. You know, those posts like, “Autumn. Autumn is brand. Here, on a crisp afternoon in this New England village, I shared a coffee with Harry, the dry goods merchant, as we watched the squirrels turn brown, dry up, and fall from the trees blah blah blah” – the kind of trenchant brand analysis your readers have come to expect.

2. My post was about the large gap in life consequences between those with and without a college degree. I don’t think that this gap is a good thing. Maybe you do. Other countries with similar rates of post-secondary education have less income inequality. They also had higher rates of growth 1999-2009, which for us were those wonderful Bush/Republican tax-cut years. (Check the data here, for example). Interesting that you pick (i.e., cherry pick) the old farts – 55-64 year olds – who look pretty good on education. But their children (20-34), who are more numerous and more relevant for the future, rank 14th among the 37 OECD countries (the OECD report is here ).

3. I have never said I opposed charters and vouchers. If I have, please bring the statement to my attention. Quote me, throw my words back in my face. Otherwise, shut up and stop attributing to me positions I have never voiced.

What I have actually said is that policy should be based on the best evidence, and the accumulated evidence on charters does not show their superiority to public schools. I do however recognize that true believers will believe what they want to believe about the facts and seize on the few studies that show a difference in favor of charters. But the totality of the research, especially when weighted for quality, shows no such advantage.

True, the people you refer to do in fact want charters. But their preference does not mean that charters are better. In 2008, those same people voted overwhelmingly for Obama and will do so again in a few weeks. They also overwhelmingly vote Democrat. So by your logic, you must agree then that the policies of Obama and the Democrats are best for them. Right?

(More on your other comments after the break.)

Jay Livingston said...

4. I was not “delighted to point out that Romney's vow to end subsidies to Big Bird is such a terrible political blunder.” I wondered whether it was in fact a blunder. Again, you are responding to what you would like me to have said rather than to what I actually said. (How’d you do on those reading comprehension tests way back when?)

4. Ditto on the Boy Scouts. I did not discuss the moral or Constitutional issues. The closest I got was a two-word sentence: “Fair enough.” Hardly a “sniping” condemnation. (Reading comprehension question: In this passage, the author's position on the BSA's exclusionary policy is
a. He agrees with it.
b. He disagrees with it.
c. There is too little information to know.

You picked the only choice that is clearly wrong.)

5. As for Mitt Romney as a man of principle, I’m not the one who said that his campaign has “no principles.” That was Newt Gingerich. Nor am I the one who said that he was “inconsistent” and “compromised.” That was Rick Santorum. Good Republicans both. And good Christians. They want the Ten Commandments posted in public schools. Surely they would not break the Ninth Commandment, especially regarding a fellow Republican.

On abortion, on global warming, on health care and individual mandates, on the stimulus, on assault weapons and the NRA, on Grover Norquist’s no-tax pledge (see Politifact on these) . . . mostly what Romney’s “principles” call to mind is Marx’s famous quote.

brandsinger said...

Whew - okay, Jay, I'll "shut up" (a typical lefty reaction to criticism), but first a quick response:

First, in your systematic, numbered reply, you skipped my point about sociology. I wrote that academic sociologists are overwhelmingly left-leaning Democrats and not interested in infusing their profession with political diversity. I then said that you -- such a champion of diversity -- must have a department with culturally, racially and politically diverse colleagues. No answer to that in your point by point response -- and you don't have to answer. That's fine. I happen to see hypocrisy as the salient quality of liberalism in our day -- but seriously, this may be off-base for a public discussion, and on this point, I'll "shut up."

I'll quickly reply to the rest, but your readers will know that I'm right on all points without having to rummage through your oeuvre to cite specific declarations. You oppose charters. Period. You may never have written "I oppose charters" but you oppose them. Your reply to me above is, implicitly, a statement of your opposition. Why deny it? In a society desperate for education reform, actively assembling reasons for not adopting a popular and promising strategy for reform is to oppose it.

The rest is not worth responding to. Your blog is very interesting and full of engaging facts, charts and videos. Your blog is very well done and very active. But please, let's not try to deny that this blog also flacks for Democrat positions and policies. It's called a "soci" blog but c'mon, it's so steeped in conventional left-liberalism that you might as well call it soci-move-on or soci-Mondale-Carter. You provoke with your politics -- and yes, my modest blog on branding will never cause people to laugh in disbelief or to get their blood boiling as this politically-oriented blog will.

Time for me to "shut up." I'll try to keep away!

Jay Livingston said...

There’s a difference between “shut up” and “put up or shut up.” I said the latter. If you don’t have evidence to support what you say, then shut up. Is this requirement of evidence a lefty thing? Apparently so. You do not have any such evidence about my stance on charters or anything else in this post, so you resort once again to mere assertion and name-calling.

Or to put it in your idiom, c’mon brandsinger, you know you have no facts.