Americans still believe hard work is critical to success but is it enough?
Liberals in Congress and the media are selling the idea that poorer Americans are held back by structural racism, sexism, big-tech monopolies, and whatever new ism an enterprising academic or pundit can dream up.
Granted, not every child starts in the same place. Those from higher-income families have a better shot at an education that pays off but less so for non-blacks or males.
Eighteen percent of the Harvard freshman class is black versus 13% of the U.S. population, and about 57% of new college graduates are female.
Attorney General Merrick Garland has targeted the new Georgia election law because 29% of blacks use absentee ballots versus 24% for whites. He should be apoplectic about what’s going on in higher education.
I’ll let the reader decide if Mr. Garland is a man hypnotized by the Theology of Woke.
Even the starting line does matter. That’s why Senator Mitt Romney has proposed a Child Allowance similar to Democrats. But so much of the national debate centers on the ideological competition between Critical Race Theory—whites have racism written into their DNA—and the 1619 Project—capitalism and America were founded to entrench slavery—and conservative orthodoxy—free-markets, free-trade and limited government are the only enlightened path.
The truth lies somewhere in between, but the pushing and pulling have given rise to federal welfare and social-police states that have handicapped children and young adults trying to succeed. And encumber working- and middle-class Americans thrown to the mat when disruptive technologies, import competition, financial crises, or pandemics destroy their jobs.
Too much of the federal educational support system and local school policy is aimed at getting all qualified—and too many unqualified—high school graduates to college, when fully half who enroll either drop out or obtain degrees that don’t yield decent-paying jobs. They end up saddled with debt into middle age and ultimately attracted to politicians who tell them they are victims and offer handouts in the name of equity.
In reality, they are the collateral damage of lousy elementary and high schools. Those talk to children too much about social justice and focus hardly enough on math skills, hands-on mechanical puzzles, critical thinking, and conceptualizing approaches to tough engineering challenges to cultivate interest in STEM disciplines.
High schools let the children sort, and we end up with too few college students with the math and analytical instincts for STEM disciplines and too many majoring in the humanities and soft social sciences.
High school counseling gives short shrift to the private-sector apprenticeship programs sponsored by the Department of Labor. After two years, those deliver wages greater than the average for college graduates.
The upshot is employers lack the workers they need.
Virtually nothing is done to enable the army of displaced workers to enroll in those programs. Relocation assistance and income support are almost non-existent for the mid-career unemployed.
Consequently, the economy has too many folks making sandwiches and serving coffee, on food stamps and in Section 8 housing and not enough engineers and trained technicians.
If politicians, teachers, and activists constantly tell young people the country is racist beyond repair and the disadvantaged are purely victims, then they will do too little to better themselves. Other than look to the government for a program that discriminates against someone else and offers a guaranteed income.
The Biden-Harris administration is blind to facts and deaf to reason. It is doubling down on failed policies by expanding higher education and lacing racial and gender preferences into American Jobs Plan and American Family Plan at every available opportunity.
The administration’s industrial policies and congress are targeting subsidies for physical manufacturing—pharmaceuticals, semiconductors, advanced batteries, and critical materials and rare earth minerals—while seeking to dismember the high-tech giants that are doing the expensive R&D that creates the software essential to the success of manufacturing.
That would be akin to subsidizing steelmaking but taxing automotive design in the 20th Century, but the president is obsessed with factories and union cards. He has appointed anti-trust officials with publicly pronounced prejudices against big-tech.
Every child should have the essential resources to succeed but giving families free money with a daily dose of victimization theology, repackaging the myth that college offers the golden ticket, and denigrating our founding heritage is the surest way to kill our prosperity, extinguish America’s beacon of democracy and hand the future to the autocrats in Beijing.
• Peter Morici is an economist and emeritus business professor at the University of Maryland and a national columnist.