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The Tally Ho

Monday, February 27, 2006

TPM Posts

Check this post out by Joshus Marshall at Talking Points Memo
Under every administration there are examples of individuals or tax exempt groups (associated with the opposing party) getting audited by the IRS. It always, or usually, looks a bit fishy. But there's seldom any concrete evidence of politicized decision-making at the IRS to point to. So partisans on one side or another make their judgments in the absence of hard proof. And that's pretty much where it ends.

There's a astounding piece on page A3 of the Post today about one of these instances -- only in this case there appears to be more or less conclusive evidence that it was a political hit.

The group is question is Texans for Public Justice -- a outfit which had a lot to do with turning up the information about illegal fundraising and money distributions that eventually ended Tom DeLay's reign as Majority Leader.

They got audited by the IRS. And after what was no doubt a lengthy process, they've been cleared.

But why were they audited?

Check out the whole post. Is anyone actually surprised by this? Also check out Max Sawicky's post over at TPM Cafe titled, It's Who You Know, Stupid.
Today Krugman elevates a new progressive meme. Not necessarily brand new. I've talked about it myself. From behind the infernal NYT subscription wall, PK calls attention to what I could call the meritocratic fallacy. This fallacy is that income or wage inequality results from an increasing "skill" differential. It's your own damn fault you don't make more money. You should have spent more time drilling calculus and less in all-night games of hearts followed by excursions to Dunkin Donuts. If you're worried about outsourcing, you're a weenie; real men are not afraid to compete in the new world economy.

I would label it the Bullshit Human Capital story (BHC). BHC was big in the Clinton Administration and lives on in the Gospels of Sperling (a.k.a. Gene Gene, Neo-Liberal Machine). The Clintons attributed the suffering we must endure from free trade to lack of investment in training and education, and they had the courage to actually devote several teaspoons of resources to look like they were fixing that problem.

In an important departure, Krugman says it's about Power. It's not that more education is not always better than less; of course it is, and more public support for education and training should be welcome. But BHC does not strike at the root of the problem, nor its solution. It's about who makes the rules of the game, including the labor market game. We are not living under meritocracy. Merit is substantially compromised by privilege.

Privilege derives from wealth, race, and gender. It biases decisions in college admissions, employment, housing, political appointments, and credit allocation. It reduces economic efficiency and growth because a biased decision entails waste of real resources.

The resulting elite is what PK calls an oligarchy.

Meritocracy is not everything. Ideally, we would leaven meritocracy with public notions of social justice and divert resources from their best economic use for ethical reasons. Now we have the worst of both worlds: waste for the sake of a self-indulgent ruling class.

I posted the whole thing, but there should be more comments on the link by the end of the day. Check it out.

Update: Ed Kilgore responds. Here is the lead:
Max Sawicky's post today riffing on a Paul Krugman op-ed about the sources of inequality made a valid and important point, and then carried it across the line into a strange attack on Gene Sperling and Clintonomics. Since Max has earlier made it clear he'd rather Democrats stay out of power than repeat the "centrist" policy heresies of the Clinton era, I think we're dealing with a pattern here that's worth challenging.

Max's valid point is that income inequality in America cannot be completely explained by deficiencies in educational and skills levels. Max's invalid point is that anybody, especially "neo-liberal" Clintonites, who stresses these "human capital" assets as important to the future economic welfare of currently disadvantaged Americans is buying into a "meritocratic fallacy" that justifies inequality perpetually.

Update II:
Max Swaicky responds with Goodbye, Horatio Alger. Here is the intro
Ed's opening gambit conflates criticism of Clinton policies with a preference for Republican rule. If you're not with us, you're against us! This prompts the 'Naderesque' insult from a commenter. Trying finding any such assertion in what I wrote.

Ed claims the Clinton Administration did not limit its attack on inequality (sic) to BHC remedies. Actually the Clinton support for BHC was more rhetorical than real. And the support for remedies outside of BHC is a figment of Ed's imagination.

Here's a chart showing Federal outlays for education and training in constant dollars, from 1988 to 2006. Source is Table 9.9 in the Historical Statistics of the U.S. Federal Budget. It's clear where the valley of fatigue lies. Note that a flat profile of constant dollars means a declining ratio in terms of GDP; we should at least be keeping level in those terms.


  • Ed's mostly right here. I mean, yes, opportunity in our society is limited by membership in privileged classes. That's a discussion of the *causes* of inequality and injustice. But the best solution is not necessarily to address the cause - in fact it's politically almost impossible. Anyway, privilege in our society is mediated by education - school's not just about learing skills, it's about access to social networks.

    And as socially awkward as it is to admit it, the underclass does lack important skills - I have worked with adults who can barely read, much less learn even fairly straightforward skill sets from written materials. Is this guy arguing that without discrimination, these people could be successful in professional jobs?Cuz that's pretty naive.

    And point of fact - the racial income gap, the one I really care about, narrowed to its lowest level ever during the Clinton administration. This was a combination of rapid economic expansion and federal aid to cities, where the underclass is concentrated.

    Arguments which conflate the plight of the underskilled, uneducated underclass with the generally increasing gap between the rich and poor are being trotted out because they might be politically effective. But they are wrong - these are two related, but separate, social problems. Both the poor and the working class need more power. But by and large the poor need more training and education, too.

    By Blogger Elwood Grobnik, at 12:46 AM  

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