Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Aug/11

30

A New York Times reporter tips his hand

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In the course of a column blasting media entrepreneur Steven Brill’s new book on the school reform movement, New York Times reporter Michael Winerip inadvertently sets out his economic assumptions.  A revelation of an entire world view does not get any more crystalline than this.   (Regarding education, Winerip almost equally tellingly criticises Brill for not showing enough respect to teachers and teachers unions.)  

Winerip lists several of Brill’s sources—the “millionaires and billionaires who attack the unions and steered the Democratic Party to their cause”—then adds:

I expected Mr. Brill to explore why these men single out the union for blame when children fail. If a substantial part of the problem was poverty and not bad teachers, the question would be why people like them are allowed to make so much when others have so little.

Who exactly is doing the “allowing” here?  In Winerip’s world, people earn, keep, and invest money only by the sufferance of some greater authority—presumably the government, which implicitly decides how much they should be “allowed” to make.  What if I decide that Michael Winerip is making too “much when others have so little”?  Winerip’s income undoubtedly dwarfs that of a teen mother on welfare in Harlem.  Why should he be “allowed” to make so much?  My guess is that Winerip feels that his income is at best commensurate with his labors, if not inadequate to those labors.  Yet there have been plenty of governments in recent human history—the Cultural Revolution comes immediately to mind–for whom Winerip’s income and class status would be a clear sign of bourgeois decadence and injustice, requiring radical redistribution or even the destruction of all such cushy Times positions. 

There are other notable assumptions behind Winerip’s passing remark.  Winerip implies that “not allowing” businessmen and investors to “make so much” would actually solve the multi-generational poverty problem of the inner city or lead children there to show a greater zeal for schooling.  Inner-city poverty, however, is rooted in behavior, not in the absence of sufficiently redistributionist tax and regulatory policies.   You could pump up the welfare payments by magnitudes, and the self-defeating behaviors of bearing children out of wedlock, not studying in school or attending class, and getting involved in gang life would change very little. 

This assumption that inner-city poverty is a mere question of household income rather than behavior and values is a more common and explicit feature of standard liberal rhetoric, however.  Winerip’s revelation regarding the merely “on loan” aspect of wealth generation is the real gem of his column and worth remembering the next time the mainstream media claims that it is bias-free.

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15 comments

  • Andrew · August 30, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    I socialize with a number of people on Facebook who are members of very left-leaning groups (atheist and skeptic associations) and they quite regularly “tip their hand” in this way. They are quite baffled by any challenge to this way of thinking. It is axiomatic and obvious to them that this is correct. They lack any skepticism of government power and authority (at least so long as the Democrats are in charge) and have an infinite degree of faith that corporations are definitively evil and that “the rich” should gratefully accept limits on their income. One can argue until one is blue in the face about non-zero sum games, and Austrian economics and whatever else you can think of to bring them down to Earth. They will simply ignore you. “Yes, but…” is the most you can hope for. It can be quite frustrating.

  • steve · August 30, 2011 at 11:26 pm

    More to the point, the greatest social injustice of all, why should Winerip be “allowed” to inherit his parents’ DNA, including their IQs, which “allowed” him to get his current job?

  • nazgulnarsil · August 31, 2011 at 1:24 am

    it is another advantage of the negative income tax that it would put the household income myth to bed.

  • John · August 31, 2011 at 3:15 am

    Why should Hugh Hefner be allowed so many girlfriends when so many others have none?

  • Polichinello · August 31, 2011 at 4:01 am

    Next we’ll find out that sun rises in the east.

  • Ken · August 31, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    If Mr. Winerip indeed inherited his parents’ IQ, either he or his parents oughta sue. Don’t have enough information at the moment to say which of ‘em has the better case.

  • Jim · August 31, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    I hear some academics on the Left would like to institute ugly people as a protected class, much like minorities. With his apparently totalitarian viewpoints, will Mr. Winerup qualify for his inner or outer qualities?

  • kyle8 · August 31, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    Why should all these left wing Hollywood celebrities like Matt Damon and George Clooney have so many good looking girlfriends while I do not. I DEMAND the right to one night every week with one of their girlfriends!

  • Fred · September 1, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    “the question would be why people like them are allowed to make so much ”

    Somewhere Ayn Rand is laughing and saying, “I told you so”.

  • Mike · September 1, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    Harrison Bergeron once again.

  • Anthony9 · September 1, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    Kyle8 you have the right to equal patronage. Beautiful women should not be allowed to discriminate between men they go with!

  • Edward Sisson · September 1, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    I hope “Andrew” above will come back to share some more examples of his experiences — I have no doubt his point is true, and do not ask in a doubting way, but because it would help us better understand the problem to see additional examples and the contexts in which they arise.

  • bobby b · September 1, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    I think y’all take such comments as being far more innocuous than they really should be taken.

    It’s a question of tone. You can read such comments (about receiving permission from the government) as implying a nationwide acceptance of the idea that Nanny Knows Best, that there could reasonably be some published list somewhere detailing allowable levels of pay for various positions, and that we’d all understand about the list and maybe lobby for changes that we saw as appropriate. In short, this view implies a benign parental government doing what’s best for us, open to suggestions about details and fair in how it resolves differences.

    The other view, I think, reflects how such systems usually function. In this view, government “allows” you a certain level of pay, with the knowledge that it can and will come after you with force of arms and promises of punishment and death should you not obey. Suggestions about changes to its listed decisions are not entertained, as the deciding basis for those decisions are unrelated to the rationales that might be offered by a subject in such a discussion – what would be the point of listening to someone discuss why a fireman who risks life deserves higher pay when the pay level they were awarded had more to do with how much their union donated to the “correct” causes?

    If Obama has made a difference in this nation, it is to be found in how he alters our perception of government’s tone. Prior to his takeover, there was a well-maintained facade to the Democrat philosophy that our move to socialism would leave us with the Benevolent Nanny described above.

    But Obama’s seeming unconcern with trying to disguise the overt patronage/rewards/votebuying machine he’s developed makes it clear that his ultimate goal would be the second model described above – the one that lets us know that he’s going to continue awarding millions – billions – of our money to his backers and his votegetters and his friends, and if we are heard to complain about it too loudly, the IRS and the DOJ and La Migra will be out to see us toot sweet, and they won’t be subtle about leaving bruises that show in public.

    Prior Democrats could maintain the illusion that they lusted after a Swedish system. Obama lusts to be Stalin.

  • Sharinlite · September 1, 2011 at 8:02 pm

    It took over forty years for me to come to a conclusion about the progressive leftists in order to save my sanity: at birth they have chips embedded in their frontal lobes. That explains their complete inability to see or hear anything other than what they are taught from birth. Since the educational systems in this country are hard left, they just encourage the chips as they go long through ever level until they graduate.

  • Younger Cato · September 3, 2011 at 9:57 am

    @ Andrew

    Many atheist liberals try and replace their God void with a more tragic belief in Big Brother. They can’t believe in the invisible hand because it reminds them of the supposed lack of empirical evidence for a creator. They believe in scientism unfortunately. Most don’t even know enough science, or haven’t even thought about philosophical/theological issues deeply enough to realize that atheism is just as plausible as theism. They’re not satisfied by experiences not influenced directly by the senses. They must “have something to hold on to”. Since God isn’t there for them, they choose government. It’s sad really, because they end up losing faith in their fellow man, replacing it with the coercive tools of the state. If they could even influence the direction of this powerful machine, they may even come to believe that they are God. These are dangerous people indeed.

    The old method of culturally passing on moral teachings goes down the drain as well, replaced by the arbitrary whims of an elitist few. It’s no accident that those who have such a blind faith in government ridicule those who choose to have faith in more traditionally moral institutions.

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