Fighting Poverty And Inequality The Proven Way

David Brooks is at it again, prescribing bad solutions to inequality and poverty problems. Here is the payoff point:

Third, emphasize that the historically proven way to reduce inequality is lifting people from the bottom with human capital reform, not pushing down the top. In short, counter angry progressivism with unifying uplift.

In context, this passage appears to be concerned with the poor and bottom more than overall inequality (a common mix-up), though it doesn't really matter for the point I am about to make because the analysis is the same for both focuses.
 
"Human capital reform," a most deceptive name for increasing education, is the thing we have already been doing for the last forty years and it has not proven itself capable of reducing poverty and inequality. As I wrote elsewhere:
 
Since 1973, the percentage of the population with a college degree has increased from 12.6% to 30.4%, and the percentage of the population with a high school degree has increased from 59.8% to 87.6%. Meanwhile, the [market] poverty rate has never been lower than it was in 1973. So how much more education do you suppose we need to knock out poverty? Somehow 40 straight years of educational attainment gains have not caused any drop in [market] poverty rates. It is not just poverty of course: in this same 40 straight years of educational attainment gains, the average market income of the bottom 90% of households hasn’t risen either.
 
More education is the rallying cry of defenders of inequality and the rich because it allows them to simultaneously favor institutions that distribute the national income extremely unequally while also saying they have some plan for fixing the inequality that their favored institutions deliver. They do not have any such a plan and the reference to education is a deflection strategy more than a serious proposal. Education is good and we should want to increase it for all sorts of reasons. But it is not sufficient to achieve a humane and just resource distribution.
 
Though market poverty has increased over this period of massive "human capital" expansion, disposable income poverty rates have been reduced significantly by transfer programs:
 
 
If one were looking at the historically proven way to cut poverty in this country, this would be it: increase transfer programs so as to ensure the national income is distributed more broadly. This is also what actually-existing low-poverty countries do. That's what a "just the facts" analysis turns up.
 
That Brooks is wrong here is not surprising: he is often wrong because he writes in that old-school op-ed style where you kind of just shoot from the hip. Brooks writes as if he is just a level-headed analyst relaying history. But he isn't. That graph is the history of the last half-century in American poverty and low-end inequality. Brooks' ideas do not come from research. They are pure ideology.

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