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The causes of income inequality are numerous, complex and poorly understood. Therefore I am going to present an entirely simplified thought experiment that would “solve” the problem and then take myself really seriously in terms of advancing the idea.

We should endorse the immediate and rapid end of Harvard and any other elite university in America. The logic is simple:

(1) People tell me income inequality is bad (I CAN be persuaded by research that there are links between inequality and real economic outcomes, but that is hardly what is claimed by anti-inequality-ists)

(2) People tell me income inequality is increasing (again, I can point you to data that indicate this, but few anti-inequality-ists can actually describe for you what that is, and why income inequality is of particular concern as compared to some other type of inequality, or that it’s really, really, really, hard to measure)

(3) Therefore, ban Harvard and its intellectual siblings.

Ah. Done. That was easy. Why ban Harvard? Simple. It is well known in the empirical literature that one of the drivers of increasing inequality is a change in the way people match themselves up – mostly in families, but also in other ways of interacting. The simple story was that in the 1950s there was much more marriage and relating across classes than there is today. The “typical” married couples today consist of highly educated people marrying highly educated people and lowly educated people (at lower rates) marry people from their same educational and income class. This perpetuates and deepens inequality. Of course, where does most of the high-talent, high-income, high-class sorting happen? At the elite colleges. Ban them and then you fix that “problem.” Ah. Easy peasy lemon squeasy.

Other reasons to ban Harvard on inequality grounds should be obvious. If you take the view that education is a way to enhance productivity, and you understand that those folks who are already more productive and more privileged are more likely and more prepared for Harvard, then by banning Harvard you would reduce the already large advantage the already productive people have. After all, Harvard can’t possibly enroll, in equal shares, the less productive members of society along with the more productive members. AND … there are not enough good colleges in the US to ensure that we represent people across the skill, income, productivity distribution in equal proportions, so the only obvious choice is to ban Harvard.

If you take the view that education does nothing to improve productivity but instead acts as a signal, that would seem to be even MORE reason to ban Harvard. In other words, the reason Harvard grads get paid so well upon graduation is that the mere act of graduating from Harvard reveals a signal that they are indeed more productive workers. This signal is easier for truly rich and bright people to obtain and harder for the less fortunate to obtain. Therefore, by eliminating the signal entirely, it would be harder for the truly productive to signal this to future employers (and mates) and we would therefore have a pooling equilibrium wherein inequality is reduce. So again it is obvious that we should ban Harvard.

There are all kinds of other reasons to ban Harvard too, but this post is about income inequality. If you want to tell me, “yeah, but…” then please do explain why that “yeah, but …” is any different than someone responding to arguments for extreme increases in progessivity of the tax code that perhaps there are reasons to not prefer that as a “solution.”

Enjoy digging out of the snow. Literally.

9 Responses to “End Harvard and End Inequality?”

  1. Ashley Abney says:

    Ah, this is why I loved your class at Centre…so glad that I found your blog.

    • Harry says:

      Ashley, glad you found Professor Rizzo’s blog. He used to blog daily, then threatened us all by saying he was quitting, but relented. My guess is that he is most happy to hear from a former student at the esteemed Centre.

  2. Doug M says:

    Perhaps as a less drastic measure, Harvard should be mandated to accept more “normal people.” A certain percentage of its applicant pool must score below 600/600 on their SAT and people who can otherwise demonstrate their lack of exceptional talent.

    • Harry says:

      Doug, if you can throw a football or play hockey, you need 350/350, and they have a curriculum for you; just don’t apply anywhere else.

      Al Gore got his divinity degree while loaded with drugs, doing his Easy Rider imitation, plowed DuPont Circle with mules, got elected Senator, and wrote a scientific treatise. Does it surprise anybody that progressives think all success is the result of serindipity and a rigged system?

  3. Harry says:

    In the spirit of the time, let’s have an executive order conferring a Harvard AB to anyone who qualifies for a health care subsidy or another twelve weeks of unemployment compensation. Or anyone who makes a contract with Binder & Binder.

  4. RIT_Rich says:

    Well, one answer would be that Harvard discriminates on brains, not on money. Hence the only students who can get into Harvard due to a “privileged” position are those that were privileged by nature. Vast majority of Harvard undergrads receive financial aid (which indicates that they are not from financially privileged backgrounds), and for Grads its certainly the case that its only about brains. Hence, Harvard provides the best ability for upward mobility for “underprivileged” students who are smart.

    Of course, this will not convince many on the Left. Why should natural “privileges” determine your station in life, after all.

    The second answer would be, Harvard and the case against Progressive taxation are different because the “harm” caused by the two is different. In the case of Progressive taxation, the harm is not in taking too much from one group or another, but in the de-incentivization to create wealth, and thus the reduction in economic opportunities for the “disadvantaged” to…take advantage. In the case of Harvard, the “harm” is that it creates greater incentives and opportunities to create wealth for some, nut not for others. Yes BUT…then they can provide more in taxes (because the Leftist is not going to be convinced by anything other than the benefit they get in taxes)

    PS: Did you know that U of R is actually more expensive than Harvard?

    • RIT_Rich says:

      And the third answer would be: why do we care about income inequality at all? Inequality has nothing to do with “poverty” or the absolute level of “wealth” of any particular individual, or about their particular rate of growth in wealth. Hence, explaining why inequality matters, is something I’ve always enjoyed Leftists squirm about. Even highly educated Poli Sci professors who have brought up the point in class have rather decided to call me a “nutty Nihilist” (jokingly of course) and move on, than answer the question.

      • Harry says:

        Great points, Rich. Sorry for being cynical about the academic meritocracy.

        My academic boss (years ago) taught a kid who would have gotten into Harvard had the kid not applied to Yale, and both admissions officers got up on the wrong side of the bed that day and rejected him. That unhappy story pales in comparison to another story my boss told me about another student, rejected from Amherst.

        The kid had 730 boards, played sports (required), had no prior felonies, and went for an interview. The admissions director asked him, “Do you play the glockenspiel?”

        The applicant answered he did not.

        He was rejected, and my boss told me he phoned the Director of Admissions to complain about why in Hell his student was rejected, and got an unsatisfying answer about how does one pick among so many qualified students, when you need a person to play the glockenspiel for the Amherst marching band?

        I never asked where the kid ended up, but it may have been Harvard, which then may have had looser standards.

        But that brings us to Rich’s much larger point, about inequality and covetness, the story about the dog in the manger.

        My question is, does the education establishment teach jealousy? Do ambitious politicians do the same?

        • RIT_Rich says:

          No I don’t think the “education establishment” teaches jealousy. I think Amherst teaches jealousy. I.e., if you’re going to go to a Liberal Arts school, to study the liberal arts, don’t be surprised if what you get is a simplistic primitive world view. Or, more specifically, since most people who go to Amherst aren’t in the poor house themselves, Amherst teaches “guilt”.

          Nothing worst than White Liberal Guilt.

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