Friday, August 19, 2011

Let Me Elaborate ....

Immediately after posting my last piece here, I noticed a bit of a flaw in my logic. I thought about changing it right away, but I decided I'd wait and see if any of my brilliant friends pointed it out. They didn't. So, I'm going to correct myself now . . . because I'm principled and anal that way.

So, I wrote about students with high GPAs and students with low GPAs, and the fact that some of them had earned those GPAs and some hadn't. Concerning the low GPA folks, I said, "Some kids earn a low GPA, and some have unfairly been given a hard row to hoe." The thing is, I seemed to be implying that when unfortunate circumstances in a person's life (bad teaching, bad home environment) result in that person getting a low GPA that they haven't "earned", they might be somehow deserving of someone else's extra GPA points (were this GPA re-distribution scheme ever to come to fruition -- which, of course, it won't).

But I think I kind of mis-spoke there. As I said, a GPA is a record of a student's accomplishments in class; it should be a reflection of a student's academic ability and effort. If a kid has been in a cruddy school all his life where the teachers didn't teach him what he needed to learn . . . or if a disruptive family life has kept him from being able to focus on school and learn what he needed to learn . . . that means he's getting the low grades he's getting because he doesn't have the academic ability needed to get higher grades. It may not be his fault that he hasn't been able to acquire that ability, but the GPA is still accurately reflecting his lack of ability. So, it is the GPA he earned and deserves.

The only way someone could get a low GPA that they haven't earned is if they have done the work they were supposed to do in a class and the teacher unfairly gave them a grade lower than their work deserved. I suppose that happens some, but I don't expect it happens often (although I'm sure many students think it does!). So, to take away points from the high GPA folks (even if only from those whose GPAs are inflated for some reason) to give to the low GPA folks isn't fair to the low GPA folks either. It means that their record will indicate a level of academic ability that they don't actually have -- which basically makes it false advertising for their future employers, something that will likely come back to haunt them.

And that was my problem with the whole GPA/wealth redistribution analogy anyway. A GPA is (or is supposed to be) a reflection of a person's ability and effort. Wealth is NOT necessarily. There are many intelligent and hard-working people out there who are not able to make enough money to get by.

The question is . . . WHY are they not able to make enough money to get by? What exactly is it that is standing in the way? I really don't believe that somebody else's high salary is what's holding them back -- anymore than one student's high grades are dragging another student's grades down. Wealth is not a pie to be divided up, and if one person gets more than their share, others lose out. Wealth can be created. Just like we strive to give every student the opportunity to learn well (rather than just handing out extra GPA points), we need to figure out how to give everyone an environment in which they can create wealth. THAT evens the playing field in a fair way. Wealth re-distribution doesn't.


Ona Marae said...

I'm sorry to come in at this late date in your discussion. What exactly do you consider "Wealth Re-distribution"? Do you consider disability payments (for which i paid into the system for years to "earn") a wealth re-distribution? Do you think lower taxes on the rich being raised to even the tax brackets that the middle class are paying to be "Wealth Distribution?" I can't agree or disagree with you until I have a definition for that term. I haven't heard anyone make a serious communist statement of taking money away from some to give to those who don't have. I have heard some serious socialist statements about socializing things (which works for us like socialized police, fire, etc. services) Any way, I may be one of your dork friends who only gets to read some of your posts and missed the definition, but if so, you can tell me to read back in time. I'm glad you are writing about this and thinking about's important for people of faith to consider these things. Jesus spoke so much of the time (for example in the parables) about economic justice (not everyone having the exact same slice of the pie, but everyone having enough to exist) that it is, oh I'm blanking on a word, it is you-know-what-i-mean-i-hope, for people of faith to turn a blind eye to economic consideration and discussion. Thanks Gwen.

GJK said...

A lot of good questions -- unfortunately, I don't have time right now for anything but quick answers or comments. No, I don't consider your disability payments re-distribution. I don't quite understand your tax bracket comment -- I would support a flat tax, everyone paying the same rate. But I don't have a huge problem with the wealthy paying a little bit more . . to a degree. When the "rich" are taxed at a way high rate and much of that money is used to pay for a multitude of services mainly supporting people who aren't paying taxes at all . . . that probably qualifies as wealth redistribution to me. That would be "taking money away from some to give to those who don't have." The wealthy SHOULD be helping the poor, but it should be a choice for them to do it; it shouldn't be forced on them by the government. There's a basic safety net that should be provided for all through the state (because the state has an interest in keeping people from becoming criminals to survive and such), but providing basic health-care for everyone, for example, is beyond what a government should be responsible for. That's getting into a bigger issue . . . but essentially, that's why many feel what's been happening in our country the last couple years qualifies as wealth re-distribution. (And the fact that many Democrats in power have made statements indicating that that is their ultimate goal.)

By the way, the socialized police and fire you mention are local efforts -- I have much less of a problem with local governments running things than with the national government running them, for a lot of reasons.

GJK said...

Wait -- are you implying that the rich pay less in taxes than the middle class?

webwalker said...


Really nice to have seen you again a few weeks ago.

There are two considerations I would add to the scrum:

As someone who works in the financials industry (by chance, not wholly by choice) I can comment as someone up close to the mess.

1) The flat tax, much as I like the idea philosophically, only works if the amount being taxed is above the level to preserve life. Otherwise, while the same 'percent' taxed is the same, the effect on the taxee is considerably different. To the wealthy, a tax that constitutes an itch is to the poor man a tax that requires him to decide which child to feed. So while the proportion of total wealth taxed may be the same, the amount left over for sustenance differs considerably.

2) When you lived in NJ, some fraction of your taxes paid for my autistic son's therapeutic education which costs some 3-4x what it costs to education a 'normal' child.

Without a 'wealth redistribution' he would not have that education, as Sarah and I are not able to afford the totality of his care and education, and I can assure you, no one in the state or municipal system is getting rich on working in the 'system' that provides special ed.

The way I explained it to a hardcore John-Bircher was like this: *IF* my son is capable of performing some useful job that will allow him to pay his own way through society for most of his life, and the only way to access that is by increased early educational cost to the state (eg the tax payers with 'normal' kids) then it is a GOOD DEAL. Because without access to these educational services, he is likely NOT going to be able to pay his own way and when we're gone, he's left with criminality or indigence. Or 'ward of the state.' Which means that 'We the People' wind up paying for his support anyway.

When you look at the costs, it is a fraction of long term support to pay extra for education, rather than maintenance. (And even maintenance costs less than to house someone as a criminal.)

Perhaps it is rhetorically unfair to push my son forward as exhibit A. My reason for doing so is that many of proposed ideas of 'getting the bums off the dole' are so broad as to include a lot of collateral damage to those who's misfortunes are circumstantial, rather than 'reaping what they sew.'

Let's chat later. It's always good read your blog and THINK. :)

GJK said...

Marshall (I assume you're Marshall!) -- I agree with everything you said. A flat tax should only apply on income above a sustenance level (or I think I've heard it suggested that it not be on income at all, but only on products or services that are NOT necessary for survival). Problem is, from my understanding, about half of U.S. citizens are in that category right now and not paying taxes. That's ridiculous, and it has to be fixed -- not by suddenly taxing the people who really can't afford it, but by figuring out why the heck 50% of our country is barely scraping by like that. What is standing in their way? THAT's the question.

And your son's education is a good example of a service that I say is in the state's interest to provide, for the reasons you gave.