Hulk will smash again!

Last month, I described how the Atlantic’s economics writer Megan McArdle explained that, if Americans are poor, it’s their own fault for making bad life choices—and, in fact, it’s insulting to the poor to think social situations, the economy or bad luck might have anything to do with it.
This month, she goes that article one better, asserting that its a Bad Thing if the poor get to rise above their station and make more money (it’s not a direct link but you can click through to McArdle’s piece).
Why is this bad? Because if the poor get better jobs, they’re taking them from someone in the middle class or better. Do we really want to risk our kids losing out and getting crappy job because the talented poor kids beat them out? Sure, liberals say they want economic mobility, but they’re lying! It’s a zero sum game and they’re going to protect what they’ve got, just like everyone else!
While McArdle insists that she’s really, really concerned about lack of social mobility (and currently in America it’s very, very low), her actual arguments amount to endorsing a class system: It’s perfectly natural and understandable and reasonable for people who already have the money to keep out the filthy unwashed hordes trying to take the nice things away. And everyone who claims to want to change that is lying.
First off, her argument that we can’t all have nice things is false. It’s true “we can’t all be above average,” but we can all be above poverty level: Back in the 1940s and 1950s, we had a country of steadily rising income for the upper, middle and working class alike. The poor were still below average, but the average was constantly rising up.
Likewise, while some schools will be worse than others, that doesn’t mean we can’t have a country where even poor inner city schools (or backwoods country schools) rise above some basic level of quality, so that everyone can have a decent education rather than just swapping which demographic gets in the good school.
Second, why stop with the poor? After all, even if the poor don’t have economic mobility, that doesn’t secure the jobs for the middle and upper classes. Someone in the same class could come along and take the job. Some other rich person’s kid could take the slot in the elite private school you wanted your kid to get into. Why is it that only competition from the poor is a problem? Why isn’t McArdle worrying about that threat? (My personal guess would be because the subtext of her article is “The 1 percent should feel completely justified in hogging everything.” Or it could be that aspect didn’t even occur to her).
Third, isn’t the reason rich people get the big bucks supposedly because they’re the big risk takers? They gamble their money to start new businesses, make investments, open new product lines? Yet according to McArdle, they actually can’t handle the idea of competition: They’re so timid about it, they want a system where they and their kids can’t lose, ever. And that this is actually meritocratic.
This isn’t a new thought. Multiple liberal blogs have tracked the arguments from the business sector that they must have “certainty” in order to run their businesses. They can’t be expected to invest when the economy is uncertain. So government’s priority should be to baby them and make them feel they’re completely secure and won’t lose any money down the road.
The words “free market” and “meritocracy” do not mean what these people think they mean.


Filed under economics, Politics

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