Our mobility problem results from departures from and not our adherence to capitalism. Rising inequality in America has been blamed on the “1 percent,” the people in the top income centile making more than $400,000 a year. They alone don’t explain American income immobility, however. Rather, it’s the risk-averse New Class—the 1, 2, or 3 percent, the professionals, academics, opinion leaders, and politically connected executives who float above the storm and constitute an American aristocracy. They oppose reforms that would make America mobile and have become the enemies of promise.Yes, and the gentry will have the methods and the connections to get their spawn into the institutions that claim high honors in the U. S. News rankings. There might not be much learning going on, but there's plenty of network-building, and perhaps those youngsters already know enough to be able to handle the high-end chores. The kids of the Ragged Dicks make do with subprime party schools. Or get hard done by.
The New Class is apt to think it has earned its privileges through its merits, that America is still the kind of meritocracy that it was in Ragged Dick’s day, where anyone could rise from the very bottom through his talents and efforts. Today’s meritocracy is very different, however. Meritocratic parents raise meritocratic children in a highly immobile country, and the Ragged Dicks are going to stay where they are. We are meritocratic in name only. What we’ve become is Legacy Nation, a society of inherited privilege and frozen classes, and in The Way Back I explain how we got here and what we can do about it.
The most obvious barrier to mobility is a broken educational system. Our K–12 public schools perform poorly, relative to the rest of the advanced world. As for our universities, they’re great fun for the kids, but many students emerge on graduation no better educated than when they first walked in the classroom door. What should be an elevator to the upper class is stalled on the ground floor. Part of the fault for this may be laid at the feet of the system’s entrenched interests: the teachers’ unions and the higher-education professoriate. Our schools and universities are like the old Soviet department stores whose mission was to serve the interests of the sales clerks and not the customers. Why the sales clerks should want to keep things that way is perfectly understandable. The question, however, is why this is permitted to continue, why reform efforts meet with such opposition, especially from America’s elites. The answer is that aristocracy is society’s default position. For those who stand at America’s commanding heights, social and income mobility is precisely what must be opposed, and a broken educational system wonderfully serves the purpose. As such, the New Class will oppose school choice, vouchers and parochial schools, anything that smacks of competition to a broken system.
For the Ragged Dicks who seek to rise, nothing is more important than the rule of law, the security of property rights, and sanctity of contract provided by a mature and efficient legal system. The alternative—contract law in the state of nature—is the old-boy network composed of America’s aristocrats. They know each other, and their personal bonds supply the trust that is needed before deals can be done and promises can be relied on. We’re all made worse off when the rule of law is weak, as it is in today’s America, when promises meant to be legally binding are imperfectly enforced by the courts. But then the costs of inefficient departures from the rule of law are borne disproportionately by the Ragged Dicks who begin without the benefit of an old-boy network.Perhaps, though, the reclamation of a broken educational system will come from an area of College Lite that seems more like feature than bug.
For all these barriers to mobility we can thank the members of the New Class, who dominate America’s politics and constrain our policy choices. It is they who can be blamed for the recent run-up in American income inequality. The economy has become sclerotic, and the path to advancement over the last 40 and 50 years has been blocked by a profusion of new legal and regulatory barriers, all of which they have supported. They tell us they’re upset by inequality and immobility, but we shouldn’t believe them. You can’t suck and blow.
No matter how many passes the NCAA takes on what still has to be labeled the largest academic fraud scandal in major-college history; no matter how many coaches and championships are walled off in denial of a history of paper classes that went back 18 years, North Carolina's reputation as a highly-regarded top-level research school -- not just the athletic department -- is being questioned by a higher power.Why should anybody be surprised when "Eligibility Studies" mutates into "Retention Studies?"
Belle Wheelan can tell you. The president of the regional accrediting agency charged with approving North Carolina's academic credentials remains troubled.
In her 11 years as head of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission, she has never seen anything like it -- a school this prominent being put on probation by her organization.
"It was devastating, it really was," Wheelan said. "Everybody keeps saying this is an athletic issue. This is much more than an athletic issue."
True, this is an entire University of North Carolina issue. Boiled down, it's an issue of whether the entire system is about handing out degrees or actually educating its students.
While the NCAA hasn't come close to putting the words "academic" and "fraud" in the same sentence, for the commission, there was no tip-toeing around the issue. The school could lose federal funding because that's what accrediting agencies do.In that questioning there might exist a way to get the elevators working again for the Ragged Dicks.
They're watchdogs, making sure schools aren't defrauding the public and students in accepting those federal funds. Basically, accreditation tells the public if their degree from State U is worth a damn.
"Employers want to know, 'What good is this degree if parts of it are in question?' said Wheelan, Virginia's former education secretary. "It creates havoc, no doubt about it."