Facilitating Opportunity Is the Path to Charity
Reviewing Creating an Opportunity Society, by Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill, Duncan Currie emphasizes that advocates for the poor (and such) focus on the wrong measure of social progress:
Mobility, not inequality, is the key indicator of economic opportunity. The two are not necessarily correlated: If income inequality has gone up since the early 1980s, that doesn’t necessarily mean income mobility has gone down. Indeed, a 2007 Treasury Department study concluded that “relative income mobility has neither increased nor decreased over the past 20 years.” …
[Haskins and Sawhill] advocate a three-pronged strategy for boosting mobility: Improve public education, encourage work, and strengthen families [especially by reining in the surge in nonmarital births].
This argument runs right along the line that divides the modern American left and right (at least those on either side who are socially conscious). On the left, the the thread across the three strategic issues is government-directed action. Not trusting the masses to contrive a fair system, progressives wish to utilize the Smart Class to lay out a plan that the government can then implement objectively. On the right, we’re a bit less convinced of mankind’s capacity, first, to comprehend all of the necessary variables that an all-encompassing plan must consider and, then, to collect and apply the dictatorial force necessary without corrupting those who must perform the implementation.
And so, focusing on the conservative side of the comparison, the keys to strengthening public education are liberty and choice — giving those closest to the children (especially their parents) as much room as possible to determine the best focus and structure for educating them. The keys to encouraging work are to maximize incentive by removing long-term handouts and to ease the path from concept to profit — removing regulations and other restrictions that keep prices up and competition down. The keys to strengthening families are to be clear about the ways in which various relationships are similar and different and, with an emphasis on cultural institutions, to encourage the behavior appropriate to each — or, conversely, to encourage those inclined to a particular behavior toward the appropriate relationship types.
It is patently false to accuse those who agree with the preceding paragraph of not caring for people in need. Indeed, it is long overdue for naturally conservative groups, such as the Roman Catholic Church, to take the longer view, which is more in keeping with notions of individual autonomy.