If President Obama wants to roll up his sleeves and solve “income equality,” he needs to look at least two easily available sources: the U.S. Census Bureau and a new book by two Yale law professors.
Census analyses provide some interesting information about what causes inequality.
“Divorces, marital separations, births out of wedlock and the increasing age at first marriage have led to a shift away from married-couple households to single-parent families and nonfamily households,” one key report said. “Changes in household composition have been associated with growing income inequality.”
Furthermore, the data showed that Chinese-Americans earned more than whites as of 2012.
Why? That’s where a new book comes in. “The Triple Package,” by Amy Chua and her husband, Jed Rubenfeld, outlines three specific traits that have made certain groups far more financially successful than others in the United States: Chinese, Cubans, Indians, Iranians, Lebanese, Jews, Mormons and Nigerians.
First, the individuals hold a sense of superiority, such as those who are encouraged to believe they are part of a chosen group that has higher standards and values than others. Second, the individuals have a sense of insecurity that they have to accomplish more than others. Third, these successful people have impulse control or self-discipline.
Rather than looking at the book for its menu toward success, which noted how other ethnic groups could learn from these traits, such as using impulse control, the authors have been vilified as racists in numerous book reviews throughout the country. Ms. Chua, who already upset some people and encouraged others with a 2011 book about tough parenting, is Chinese-American; her husband is Jewish. Both groups receive praise in the book.
In a scathing attack in Time, Suketu Mehta, who was born in India, wrote: “Whereas making sweeping observations about, say, African-American or Hispanic culture — flattering or unflattering — remains unthinkable in polite company, it has become relatively normal in the past 10 years to comment on the supposed cultural superiority of various ‘model minorities.’ I call it the new racism.”
Mr. Mehta, who teaches journalism at New York University, quoted a variety of academic sources that dispute the findings in the book, including a good bit of anecdotal evidence.* He then outlined his descriptions of artists, computer geeks, musicians and writers who engaged in what he called “an individual striking out against the expectations of his culture.”
I find two points interesting here, which are similar to other reviews. First, many academics in these fields who attack anything outside of the liberal thought-jam often don’t get tenure and usually have trouble getting published. Second, Mr. Mehta cannot argue against anecdotal evidence while using it to support his argument.
Despite the negative press, the book stood at No. 9 on The New York Times’ nonfiction list.
I don’t think the authors would add Wyoming to their list, but I think my family’s story may resonate with people from flyover country. My family comes from Rawlins, Wyo., not exactly the economic and intellectual hot spot of the country. My two brothers and I were the first from our family to graduate from college. Each of us has a graduate degree — mostly earned by having a chip on our shoulders and an inability to buy much of anything when we started life’s journey.
It seems to me that the past programs — whether you come from India or Wyoming — to ease income inequality have failed miserably. Perhaps it is time to take a look at other ways of attacking the issue by promoting traits, such as initiative, humility and discipline.
• Christopher Harper is a professor at Temple University. He worked for more than 20 years at the Associated Press, Newsweek, ABC News and “20/20.” He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @charper51
*The original story incorrectly stated that Mr. Mehta himself described the findings as “anecdotal evidence” in his Time article. He did not use that phrase.