In the News: This Is the Wrong Way to Fight Inequality

By 08/04/2017

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In the New Republic, Rachel Cohen reviews Richard Reeves’s Dream Hoarders. The subtitle of the book is “how the American upper middle class is leaving everyone else in the dust” and in it, Reeves catalogues the ways in which the top 20 percent hoards the American dream by using its political strength and social ties to gain unfair advantages for itself and its children.

In a review of the book for Education Next, Matt Chingos focused on government policies that exacerbate inequality.

It is not obvious what the “right” levels of economic equality and mobility are, much less how to achieve them. But the idea that government policy should not disproportionately benefit affluent families should be uncontroversial. Reeves’s most significant contribution in this book is his condemnation of such policies and practices, including exclusionary zoning policies that drive up housing prices; advantages in college admissions for children of alumni (“legacy” preferences); favored tax treatment for 529 college savings plans; unpaid internships; and the mortgage-interest tax deduction.

Reeves’s list is far too short. First, I’d add neighborhood-based school attendance policies, which, coupled with exclusionary zoning, keep poor children from attending better-funded schools with higher-achieving peers. Second, I’d include higher-education tax credits, which are regressive and have failed to increase educational attainment. Third, I’d throw in student loan–forgiveness plans, which are likely to disproportionately benefit upper-middle-class families who borrow heavily to attend graduate school.

In her review for the New Republic, Rachel Cohen focuses on what she calls Reeves’ clumsy attempts “to demarcate which of the upper middle class’s advantages are legitimate, and which are ‘unfair’ and ‘anticompetitive.’”  Why does Reeves think SAT tutors and Mandarin lessons are ok but unpaid internships arranged by parents wrong? wonders Cohen. “After all, in both cases, wealthy parents are leveraging their position to give their children a head start over their peers.” Cohen argues that we need to build a society where you don’t have to make it to the top 20 percent to have a comfortable life.

— Education Next

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