Monday, November 07, 2011

The Return On Luck (And Access To Opportunity)

Republicans appear to oppose “class warfare,” unless they are waging it!

Representative Paul Ryan, Republican from Wisconsin, titled his speech to the Heritage Foundation last week in part as “Rejecting Fear, Envy and the Politics of Division.”  While there is much for which to recommend reading or listening to the speech at that link, I couldn’t help but remember a line on page 25 of the budget proposal he authored stating that it will:

“…ensure that America’s safety net does not become a hammock that lulls able-bodied citizens into lives of complacency and dependency.”

As David Stockman noted as a former senior official in President Reagan’s very conservative Republican administration and also a former Republican member of the House of Representatives, wronte in an April op-ed in the New York Times:Which Group Got How Much - New York Times October 30 2001

“Trapped between the religion of low taxes and the reality of huge deficits, the Ryan plan appears to be an attack on the poor in order to coddle the rich.

To the Democrats’ invitation to class war, the Republicans have seemingly sent an R.S.V.P.”

Ryan’s seeming hypocrisy aside, a line caught my eye in an excellent essay published in the same newspaper last Sunday by Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen co-authors of the new book published in October entitled Great By Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck – Why Some Thrive Despite Them All:

“The difference between Mr. Gates [Bill Gates] and similarly advantaged people is not luck. Mr. Gates went further, taking a confluence of lucky circumstances and creating a huge return on his luck. And this is the important difference.”

Calling it a “Return On Luck” (ROL, the authors make a good point that people like Gates “zoom out to recognize when a luck event has happened and to consider whether they should let it disrupt their plans.”  But it isn’t that simple and fortunately Gates is very articulate about the dramatic need to improve education and to reinvigorate upward mobility.

People in their 30s tell me horror stories of friends and older relatives, many even from very conservative, values-based cultures such as Mormonism, who do just what Ryan was describing in that line above from his budge proposal.  Some phony business expenses to cheat on taxes, others go on Medicaid while going to college, others milk unemployment benefits until they are dry before looking for work and some cavalierly recommend foreclosure to friends as an easy way to game the system.

Maybe the safety-nets have become too complex and instead of simplifying them to root out fraud, bureaucrats unwittingly add layers of complexity that make them harder to detect.  However, starving fraud out of the system through the draconian budget cuts Republicans seek are far more likely to thwart only the innocent, the hard-working, those legitimately pursuing the American dream.

There are just as many stories of people using forms of “corporate welfare” to achieve a phony upward mobility, many documented by Pulitzer-prize winning investigative journalist David Cay Johnson in his book Free Lunch including the insanity around the prescription drug benefit passed during the last Republican-era that was not only un-funded, fueling much the current deficit, but grossly inflated healthcare costs by prohibiting government from seeking bids from companies to provide drugs for the program.

Where in Ryan’s plan is the effort to address that end of the so-called “class-warfare” spectrum?

I’m not sure staying “lost in the 1960s” as many Democrats seem to recommend is the answer.  And the chart shown as an image in this blog definitely confirms that retaining the Republican zero-sum policies of the 1980s would be worse.

Occupy Wall Street is more than a talking point and much more than metaphorically using the greed of the financial services industry, unbridled by deregulation.  From those I’ve met and talked to, I am convinced that the movement is about the need to dramatically overhaul the tax code and reinvigorate the post-WWII policies which were focused on growing the middle class as well as the cultural values as the heart of the American dream.

Exploring ways to do this is anything but “class warfare.”

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