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David Brooks: The Inequality Problem

David Brooks offers a wonderfully written article in Friday's NYT about a current (and critically important) topic.

The only paragraph that made me shake my head in disagreement is this one:

"At the bottom end, there is a growing class of people stuck on the margins, generation after generation. This is caused by high dropout rates, the disappearance of low-skill jobs, breakdown in family structures and so on."

He confuses the relationship, but he corrects himself latter with this paragraph:

"There is a very strong *correlation* [emphasis mine] between single motherhood and low social mobility. There is a *very strong correlation* between high school dropout rates and low mobility. There is a *strong correlation* between the fraying of social fabric and low economic mobility. There is a *strong correlation* between de-industrialization and low social mobility. It is also true that many men, especially young men, are engaging in behaviors that damage their long-term earning prospects; much more than comparable women."

The difference/issue? Correlation is not causation. So although he errs in his introduction of the problem, he rebounds with second paragraph's accurate description of the relationship.

In an early morning e-mail exchange between a group of friends about this article, Allison DeFoor, observed the missing element of spirituality. This revelation exposed another missing element: the erosion of social capital (read: community).

Coincidentally, I was meditating on a chapter in Michael Storper's book, Keys to the City, when the flurry of e-mails about this article appeared in my inbox. Storper's writing made me think of a comment made by an attendee at one of the visits I made to a meeting of the Alachua County church network. The pastor asked, "How can our parishioners be expected to be in church on Sunday and tend to their families when they are exhausted after working as many as three jobs during the week to get by?"

Also coincidentally, I listened last night briefly to a segment of the Colbert Show (one of my wife's favorites) until I was so disgusted I had to leave the room. He, as Brook's warned, was confusing the issues and, as a result, worsening the problem by deepening America's misunderstanding of what we face. He got laughs, but he deepened our ignorance and divide.

An economic system cannot right cosmic injustice. We are not all equal in socio-economic terms. Equality is not an attainable in that sense. This does not mean, however, that society cannot (theoretically) address this. However, I fear that the cause is lost with the prevailing "us vs. them" so deeply embedded in every discussion.

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