Tuesday, July 17, 2012

An Odd Perspective

In an opinion piece, "The Inequality of Opportunity", in yesterday's Washington Post, Lawrence Summers remarks that
The number of children not born into the top 1 percent who move into it must equal the number of children born into the top 1 percent who move out of it over their lifetimes. So a serious program to promote equal opportunity must seek to enhance opportunity for those not in wealthy families and to address some of the advantages currently enjoyed by the children of the fortunate.
True enough, yet I found the notion that inequality is about the top 1 percent very odd. One could smooth out the curve considerably within the top 10 or 50 percent, yet leave troubling inequalities in place.

But Summers was president of Harvard University, where he remains a professor of economics. As viewed from the Harvard admissions office, or from the admissions office's chain of command, equality of opportunity is about the 1 percent. Those who graduate from high school functionally illiterate or innumerate aren't sending in applications. Perhaps the president of a decent state school or community college would put matters differently.

To be fair, Summers does mention the need to improve public education; still, the ending of the paragraph in which he does so doesn't quite reinforce his point.

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