06 November 2013

Great Expectations

A bit of history: in the late 1960s Uruguay's attempt to be the Switzerland of South America was coming unstuck. Most folks were getting poorer and a few folks were getting richer. The real economy was more surreal than real. Perhaps not the first, but certainly the first time in a long while, found the birth of the urban guerilla; generally educated and often from the dwindling middle class.

Today's news brings some related stories.

First, even US public education is mostly for the rich.
In New York, according to Peter Applebee, an expert on education finance at the United Teacher's union, only 18 percent of students in the poorest 10 percent of school districts scored above proficiency level in math last year. In the richest tenth, 45 percent did.

These gaps will be hard to close until the lopsided funding of education changes. As income and wealth continue to flow to the richest families in the richest neighborhoods, public education appears to be more of a force contributing to inequality of income and opportunity, rather than helping to relieve it.

And, as one might expect, New York is not the outlier, on the whole.
Among the 34 O.E.C.D. nations, only in the United States, Israel and Turkey do disadvantaged schools have lower teacher/student ratios than in those serving more privileged students.

Just to be fair, sort of: the expenditure figures in the piece make no (claimed) attempt to weight by local price levels. Appalachia is certainly cheaper to live in than Manhattan, so unweighted teacher pay isn't the best measure. Materials and the like cost about the same irregardless of location.

One might wonder what the result would be if all kids, rich and poor, got quality education? Would the USofA become a bastion of productivity and wealth? Is there an archetype, in the here and now, that we can look to for evidence?

Now that you mention it... China
... crowded with educated young people who are trying to figure out their futures in a country where the job market still prizes assembly-line workers willing to labor monotonous hours on backless stools.

Hmmm. No Child Left Behind? China's industry really is the 19th century New England Mill Town model. I've said it before, and here's more concrete evidence. Train kids to be rocket scientists, and they're not likely to jump at the chance to imitate Charlie Chaplin in "Modern Times". Gotta love the title, 1936 was when modern actually meant something.
The common theme of all the policies: how to create a consumer-led economy and arrest a steep increase in unemployment among young, educated Chinese.

But, Nixon opened China so that US corporations could exploit all those eager Chinese wanting US made consumer goods, right? Well, no. Nixon opened China to exploit all those rice paddy workers who would be moved to simplistic factories making goods for our 10%. Welcome to bi-lateral fascism. Now, both countries are in a fix. Payback's a bitch.
A big impediment to creating a consumer economy are the low incomes of a generation of China's young people, the country's would-be consumers.

As if this is any surprise to anyone with more than a turnip for brains.
"I want a job for which I was trained, or else my education will be wasted. I don't want to work in a factory."
But without broader policy changes, economists question how the Chinese economy will produce enough desirable jobs to bring down youth unemployment, particularly among college graduates, a group that has been among the most politically volatile in China.

Been there, seen that. And so China goes down the same black hole as the US:
Similar plenums in 2003 and 2008 produced calls for a shift to a more sustainable economy based on more consumption, more high-end services like finance and more high-tech jobs.

Just what the world needs: not just one global economy crasher, but another entire country dedicated to weapons of mass financial destruction. To quote Dirty Harry, "Swell".

Lastly, we have a Mingus on Wall Street. Steve Cohen was passionate about getting rich. He did, and proved that the way hedge fund quants make money is by cheating. Numbers are nice, but knowing the numbers before anyone else is a sure thing. And, it's good to be rich,
But there is perhaps one group that will not bear any significant costs: high-net-worth investors.

"This will not put the fear of God into the individual investor," said Martin D. Sklar, a lawyer at Kleinberg, Kaplan, Wolff & Cohen. "The S.E.C. and Justice Department have not made any of the investors bear the losses -- in a way, you are not incentivized to invest away from the crooks."

The rich still get to keep the ill-gotten gains. What a country!!??!

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