Jim Clark: The state of the union
January 29, 2014
President Obama's State of the Union message was a reprise of the redistributionist theme he has obsessed about ever since he was a community organizer.
He threatened Congress that if they didn't do something about economic mobility and income inequality he would. "I have a phone and a pen" he told listeners implying that he would use his executive authority to bring about taxpayer funded schemes that would make Robin Hood jealous.
Obama, and most liberals, just don't get free the enterprise system. They believe that government needs to care for the needy masses. They picture themselves as gods waving magic wands and eliminating all suffering and "unfairness" by generous spending.
Last week, on a segment of PBS' News Hour, we got a glimpse of the real solution to economic challenges. Harvard University, not known for its conservative bias, is conducting a study called the Equality of Opportunity Project.
Although ongoing the inquiry has produced some startling results already. Professor of Economics Raj Chetty told PBS' audience they have found that opportunities to advance are virtually unchanged from what they were three decades ago.
In short, the American dream is alive and well. He described income levels as a ladder, and said that although incomes have increased (pictured as the rungs of the ladder growing farther apart) the incidence of success in climbing that ladder is about the same as always.
Higher incomes at higher levels are attributed to corporate profitability, automation and increased productivity.
Dr. Chetty said that geographic differences have a major effect on economic success. His studies show that new entrants to the workplace have a 3 percent chance of climbing to the high rungs of the income ladder in Atlanta whereas in San Jose the economic success likelihood is 13 percent.
That makes sense. If you're working in an area characterized by high profit businesses you're going to do better than in a stagnant economy.
In trying to isolate the many factors that foster increased economic opportunities Dr. Chetty and his colleagues have preliminarily concluded that the quality of basic education, particularly the quality of elementary school teachers, is the most significant.
PayScale is a firm which collects information on salaries and consults with major corporations and institutions on compensation policies.
They recently published data that should be of significant interest to folks contemplating careers or career changes. They reported that employees in finance, computer science or economics can attain a higher salary rung with a master's degree.
However, those in fields of history, English or art do no better with an advanced degree … important stuff to know for those contemplating time off work and a student loan.
Moreover, vocations in which a master's degree is common, such as psychology, social work and education, don't do any better economically than those without higher degrees.
PayScale's data also show that the pedigree of an advanced degree is important. Degrees from only about 50 of the most prestigious business and law schools lead to better pay … probably because of better networking connections.
But what if there isn't time or money to seek an advanced degree? There are many opportunities for the ambitious to self-teach a trade or area of expertise.
It's not easy but can be done through university extensions, the internet, etc. Fields which show the greatest promise for the self-taught are science, technology, engineering and math according to PayScale's data.
So there you are, President Obama. Economic opportunity and mobility don't spring from endless unemployment benefits, government transfer payments or taxpayer-funded make work jobs.
All our Horatio Alger adherents need are a basic education and a little free market guidance.
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates, and has served on the Washoe County and Nevada state GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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