Arnold Kling  

The Last Quarter Century

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Brad DeLong writes,


The true history of the U.S. since 1980, IMHO at least, is not Sean Wilentz's "Age of Reagan" but is instead composed of a half dozen or so deeper and broader tides, like:

1. The end of the Cold War
2. Other winner-take-all factors that have, in combination with education, pushed American income polarization back to Gilded Age levels.
3. The failure of American taxpayers to support their state and local governments in expanding funding for public education--and the impact of reduced public education effort in sharpening the distinction between rich and poor.
4. The computer revolution in productivity growth.
5. The rise of China (and soon, we hope, India) as industrial powers.
6. The extraordinary social liberalization of America


Tyler Cowen quarrels with number 3, and I will quarrel even harder. No one who claims to be reality-based would argue that (a) spending on public education has fallen or (b) that spending on public education makes a large difference. Brad DeLong needs to spend some time with James Heckman.

I don't think you can tell the story of the last quarter century without saying something about assortative mating. Also, keep in mind what Kay Hymowitz calls Marriage and Caste, in which affluent people are more likely to have their children within marriage and to remain married, while less-affluent people have out-of-wedlock children and higher divorce rates.


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COMMENTS (10 to date)
dearieme writes:

It's very hard to know what to make of anyone who purports to believe that what ails public education is lack of funds. We can start with "Is he a fool or a knave?" but kindness also demands that we enquire whether he's quite right in the head.

8 writes:

The comparisons to the Gilded Age are not helping the liberal argument because it makes the Gilded Age sound even better. All the taxes and social programs have failed to stop income inequality, but succeeded in making everyone poorer through slower conomic growth.

The decline of the American family should be first on the list. It has a greater impact on education than public spending, which rose non-stop in most of the country. It also is a great indicator for poverty and inequality. I bet income inequality goes way down if the divorce rate goes back to 1950s levels.

Stuart Buck writes:

Here are the stats on education spending.

Scott Wood writes:

How many people are able to switch from intelligent, thoughtful commentary to partisan hackery as quickly as Brad DeLong does?

He should have two blogs. I'd read one.

Independent George writes:

#3 is a huge source of contention among education bloggers. What decreased in the 80s wasn't education spending, but educational effectiveness. Specifically, it marked the widespread adoption of 'whole language', which is one of the single least effective pedagogies ever developed.

This indirectly caused the income inequality, as wealthier families started spending large amounts of money out-of-pocket on tutoring, and middle-class families started afterschooling or homeschooling, in order to compensate. Consequently, poorer families with neither the resources nor education to supplement the declining public education fall further and further behind. The sudden popularity of 'Hooked on Phonics' wasn't a passing fad; when whole language failed to teach kids to read, parents immediately sought a solution on their own.

Media reporting on this is horrendous. Reporters are generalists by nature, and they naturally seek out expert opinions to frame their story. The problem here is that the experts - the professors of education - are in fact the very cause of these problems. So instead of looking at the tutoring and afterschooling done by middle and upper class parents and seeing an educational deficiency, we get stories about helicopter parents and the pressures of hyper-competitive achievers.

Stuart Buck writes:

How many people are able to switch from intelligent, thoughtful commentary to partisan hackery as quickly as Brad DeLong does

Exactly my puzzlement. He's clearly a smart guy, but occasionally he just lets rip with some unaccountable silliness. As in recently, when he disliked what Thomas Sowell said about Obama's foreign policy judgment, and compared Sowell (a black guy who grew up under segregation) to "Orville [sic] Faubus." As William Sjostrom pointed out, it's not a good idea for a guy whose life epitomizes white privilege to accuse an elderly black man of being segregationist, based on a difference over foreign policy that has nothing whatsoever to do with segregation.

Snark writes:

Political Correctness (an insidious form of Cultural Marxism) and the credit card explosion (like tribbles, all they do is multiply and consume) would have made my short list for the last quarter century.

randy writes:

glad i followed the link and read this entry. ANYTIME you mention assortative mating i get a little excited. you're really onto something, i think. i will take a look at the book you mentioned (Marriage and Caste) and see what it's all about. thanks!

What people don't realize is that Reagan and Gingrich were flukes. The GOP has historically been dominated by people whose economics most resembles that of Nixon.

Pedant writes:

Thomas Sowell himself is an example of a very capable thinker who will also engage in partisan hatchet jobs.

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