Ending Economic Decay

The writer Paul Theroux is like no other. He’s prolific, and a restless world traveler, and he has no interest in the places where people have money. His travels have taken him to the poorest parts of the world. His most recent travel book is Deep South, a chronicle of slow trips through the forgotten places left behind by the interstate highways, with factories abandoned after business moved to Bangladesh. There is no money, no work.

And yet every single day, the world’s money flows in great flooding cascades of cash, billions upon billions, in and out of laundering facilities on small islands and banking nations like Switzerland. Theroux quotes the 19th century Portuguese writer Almeida Garrett, who observed the poverty in his own country and posed the question, “I ask the political economists…if they have ever calculated the number of individuals who must be condemned to misery, overwork…and utter penury in order to produce one rich man.” Garrett understood money well.

Our government could begin improving our economy by addressing the blatant violations of law by some of our richest citizens and corporations. Hiding money offshore is illegal, and should be punished with prison sentences, which would—ahem—“encourage” moral behavior, since nothing else does. Corporations that move headquarters overseas should be treated like foreign corporations, complete with import duties on their products and fees for usage of US infrastructure. Most important, since foreign corporations are already forbidden from influencing the American legal process, the lobbying they now do should result in significant penalties, including prison, if continued.

It is part of our great unfinished business to do something about our national poverty. The poorest Americans, in cities like Detroit as well as the obscure decaying towns of the rural south, lack the essentials for a decent life, and it’s not because of laziness or moral failure. It is because there is no work or money to be had. Millions live in severe unrelieved poverty, and it’s not their fault.

Where is the wealth? We all know. Half of all our national income goes to a few very rich people who have no need for more money, but keep it hidden anyway. The US is the richest nation in the history of the world, and yet we have failed completely to provide work and essential income for those millions of people in the poorest parts of the rural south and elsewhere. They don’t want or need to be rich; they would never be wealthy in the common use of the term, but were once wealthy enough. Now they are not even that.

The federal government does spend money to help poor people, but what people need is a way to build their own future. We need new laws and rules that prevent abusive capture of money by the very rich, regulations that encourage domestic industry, plus modern work week hours and living wage laws.

National health care insurance is probably the most important single thing we could do to improve the lives of the poor. A healthier population sharply reduces the significant money lost to illness and death. Not only would it save billions of dollars and millions of lives, it would remove a major disadvantage for companies that compete in markets where national health care is the norm.

When we look at the deep poverty found in the rural south, we see that every part of life is affected by this poverty. That includes the schools. The young do not receive a modern education because desolate state and local economies cannot adequately fund schools. If all Americans are to be educated well, funding must be equal for every student in the country. This cannot happen if a significant part of funding comes from the coffers of very poor states like Mississippi. With equal funding we would have a much better work force, ready for business rejuvenated by improved laws, as well as an intelligent and informed citizenry able to bring more wisdom to the world. This would in time diminish the scourge of ignorance from bad education, of belief in superstition and magic, and of failure to understand science we see even in certain members of Congress.

Austerity, whether a result of unaddressed economic evils or of backward bank practices that prevail in Europe, results in a downward spiral for the people. Investment in the economy, such as with President Obama’s 2009 fiscal stimulus and the Affordable Care Act, has the effect of putting money in the hands of lower income citizens, who cannot afford to hoard it. The money circulates, and improves the local economy.

Dragging the moribund economy of the old south into the 21st century is more important than we commonly believe. Those who suffer include the crabby rednecks who hate Obama, but who deserve a better roll of the dice along with the rest of us, and it will only happen with bold national practices like those I mention here. For nearly a half century, money has been taken out of the hands of these everyday Americans and put in the hideaways of the very rich. This has created unrelieved cruel poverty, and it must end.

This is What Capitalist Conservatism Really Means

Most of the current day conservative effort has been devoted to preserving and widening the divide between rich and poor. Edmund Burke, the 18th century Irish-English statesman, passionately defended the gradual approach to change, and spoke to preserve old institutions we have “sentimental attachments” to, such as the system of inherited titles and privilege. Burke was, in my opinion, a Sophist, dedicated to fine words that didn’t mean what he claimed they did. He was deaf to the plight of most of the English. Why wouldn’t the landed gentry be “fond” of the way things were? Every advantage accrued to them. The poor had no “sentimental attachment” to the worst inequality in English history, nor do our poor have”sentimental attachment” to minimum wage.

This hardly differs from the capitalist conservative position in the 21st century. While the fortunes of the very richest have multiplied over the past half century, the wealth of everyone else has not changed, or has worsened. It’s the Gilded Age again. While rich Americans defend (are “fond of”) the status quo because it makes them more and more rich, citizens at the other end of the economic scale have fought a losing battle for half a century. As in Burke’s time, the conservative rich literally own the legal apparatus of the country, which they manipulate to create an inequality they can be “sentimentally attached” to.

The poor have fought a losing battle for half a century.

Capitalist Republicans are as tone deaf as 18th century English lords. “He who never was hungered may argue finely on the subjection of his appetite; and he who never was distressed may harangue as beautifully on the power of principle. But poverty, like grief, has an incurable deafness, which never hears; the oration loses all its edge, and ‘to be or not to be’ becomes the only question.” These thundering words are those of Thomas Paine, arguing for a living wage for tax collectors in England, shortly before he moved to America to inspire the American Revolution.

How very similar was the haughty attitude of the upper class English statesmen to present day super-rich Americans, neither of whom ever faced the slightest deprivation. But in our case, they are not only indifferent to poverty, but belittle those whose lives they harrangue, besieged by costs they can’t pay for with wages purposely kept inadequate, with critical services like medical care, education, and a reasonable retirement always slightly out of reach.

Rich capitalist conservatives
are not only indifferent to poverty,
but belittle the poor.

Their claim that the poor are the cause of their own poverty is ludicrous, pure racism. By The Poor, they mean African-Americans, just as they have meant every day since Emancipation 150 years ago. Republican capitalist racism has become increasingly ill-disguised of late, with public figures proclaiming that various peoples with darker skin are inferior to European immigrants of the past, meaning the pale English. Ironically, the same kinds of words were used to describe those earlier waves of European immigrants, from Ireland, Italy, and elsewhere: dark, swarthy, stupid, lazy, dishonest.

As Paul Krugman has said on numerous occasions, the claim of rich capitalists that their own great wealth brings prosperity to all has never once borne fruit. One has only to look at the financial messes wrought by Governors Brownback in Kansas or Walker in Wisconsin to see the results of tax cuts for the rich and loss of services for everyone else. Their claim that tax cuts for the rich will create prosperity is, as Paul Rosenberg said in a Salon article, “at war with basic math”.

The claim of rich capitalists
that their own great wealth
brings prosperity to all
has never once borne fruit.

But no matter how many times it fails to deliver, they continue to espouse this discredited ideology, then have the audacity to claim that the poor have no one to blame for their worsening poverty but themselves. They oppose improvements in minimum wage, worth half because of inflation, oppose national health care, and support every step that enriches those who have no need for more money.

If you cannot afford private capitalist health insurance—which costs half the pay of many full time workers—a single serious injury or illness can easily bankrupt your entire family, cause you to lose everything you own, and kill the educational future of your children. Yet capitalist Republicans have steadfastly opposed the national insurance that protects every citizen in every advanced nation except ours at half our cost, and is supported by more than 80% of Americans. The stopgap Affordable Care Act has been a godsend, providing health care insurance to some 15 million who never before had it, yet repeal has been a central goal of Republicans ever since it was enacted. The House has voted to repeal the ACA 56 times, every time falsely claiming it to be a financial disaster. A recent GAO report shows that the deficit would increase if it were repealed.

If you cannot afford
private capitalist health insurance
a single serious illness can easily
bankrupt your entire family.

Minimum wage is the pay of millions of people (median age 35) working for amorally stingy corporations, which also prevent their employees from working full time so they don’t have to provide benefits. Yet even full time minimum wage will not pay the rent on a one-bedroom apartment anywhere in the country. This condemns millions of families to the necessity for at least two jobs in the family.

The libertarian ideology says that government must eliminate every expense except “defense” (i.e., war-mongering for oil and other natural resources to rob) to avoid waste and save money, including Social Security and Medicare and anything else that helps real people. And we spend more on the military than the next ten nations combined. Meanwhile, every part of our national infrastructure is near collapse. Remember the bridge in Minneapolis that simply fell down during rush hour? There are lots of similar accidents waiting to happen, including on long outdated railroads, and some that have already happened.

Infrastructure is not an optional expense
that can simply be eliminated.

Infrastructure is not an optional expense that can simply be eliminated to honor belief in minimal government. Highways and bridges, railways and airports, communications and control operations, river channels and dams, crucially important places numbering in tens of thousands are in decrepit condition. The longer this continues, the more commerce will be negatively affected, and the more businesses will collapse. It has become a national security issue. We face the clear threat of economic losses that will affect rich and poor alike, and will last decades past the date we finally decide to do something about it.

All this is what capitalist conservatism really means.

The Poor

The poor you have with you always. Therefore government should assume no responsibility for them? Some think so.

Attitudes toward the poor are emblematic of the difference between conservatives and liberals. The conservative belief is that the poor, like everyone else, are responsible for their own wellbeing. The government should assume zero responsibility; rather, the private charity of the wealthy should relieve the worst suffering of the poor. This belief, common among conservatives today, is directly descended from England’s Edmund Burke in the 18th century, who was greatly reluctant to do anything at all about the gross inequality of his day, fearing that any change would have negative consequences.

However, the rich in the US simply do not contribute significantly to help the poor. When the rich give to charity, it is far more likely to be to support the arts, a hospital, a museum, a private university, or another place that is unimportant to the poor. And more than one person has made the point that many times the great wealth they are so generous with came from corporate profits they gained by cheating many thousands of workers.

Attitudes toward treatment of the poor
is emblematic of the difference
between conservatives and liberals.

The liberal belief is that it is the legal structure of the US economy today, constantly manipulated by the rich, that has created excessive poverty, and government has a moral duty to relieve this needless suffering.

Much of the dispute between these two approaches depends on definitions and on the actual facts of poverty. I have never heard of a liberal who approved of welfare so generous that recipients don’t want to work, but that’s what many conservatives claim. Whatever level of support causes a person to deliberately avoid finding work, we come nowhere near it in the US. Our temporary support is much more stingy than, for example, the Scandinavian countries, yet the Scandinavians on assistance are eager to get back to work. But maybe the explanation is that Scandinavians are not routinely cheated when they work.

The low wages of the poorest workers in the US keep them in poverty. These are not rag pickers, but people who go to work every weekday, yet cannot raise themselves from poverty. Nor are we short of cash. We’re the richest country ever.

Not only does their hourly wage keep them in poverty, but many of the richest corporations boost profits by allowing workers only part-time hours, thus avoiding having to provide benefits. This creates havoc with workers’ lives. They have also claimed that their full time workers are “contract workers”, that is, self-employed independent agents for which the corporation has no responsibility. All those guys in brown shorts, driving brown trucks? They don’t work for UPS; they have to supply their own bennies. In short, many US corporations can be relied on to boost profit for their rich owners on the backs of those they pay the least.

Much poverty in the US
results from the low wages
of the poorest workers.

The liberal position is that this treatment of low wage workers is inexcusable, that we all have a duty to avoid undue suffering of the poor by paying them properly, and particularly by not cheating them.

Conservatives have argued against updating the national minimum wage, now worth half what it once was. A number have claimed that there should be no minimum wage law at all, or that wages should be determined exclusively by employers. Years ago, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain managed to exempt food workers from the minimum wage law, which froze the minimum wage for them at $2.13 per hour, where it remains today.

The problem here is that many employers can be counted on to pay the lowest wage they can get away with. This includes huge, rich corporations like Walmart and McDonald’s, which pay so poorly that many of their employees qualify for government welfare. Workers take welfare—our tax dollars—to make up for the wages they don’t get. The wages they don’t get—our tax dollars—land in the bank accounts of rich owners. This is as sure a definition of corporate welfare as you’ll find. Likewise, Herman Cain’s $2.13 per hour pay forces many workers to depend entirely on tips in jobs where their official pay is a pittance, and tips are never enough to live on.

The surest way to eliminate
a large percentage of poverty in the US
is to require a true Living Wage.

Anyone who doesn’t understand the effects of such stinginess on workers should read Nickel and Dimed, and subsequent writings, by Barbara Ehrenreich, which eloquently spells out the discouraging difficulty of supporting oneself with the lousy pay that is all too common. The most telling fact is that full time minimum wage work—if you can find it—will not pay the rent for a one-bedroom apartment in any American city.

It seems very clear: the simplest and surest way to eliminate a large percentage of poverty in the US is to require, not the $12 to $15 per hour minimum wage currently being promoted, which barely makes up for inflation, but a true Living Wage, similar to what Australia and a number of other advanced countries have had for a century. Not only would this eliminate large swaths of people from the rolls of poverty at a stroke, thus saving on welfare payments and increasing tax revenue, but most of the added income would be spent on consumer goods, thus boosting employment.

Why don’t we have Living Wage already? One reason is the national failure to recognize the value of all work. All jobs fulfill a crucial role in the smooth functioning of the economy. This is at least as important a reason as misplaced faith in the wisdom of the unregulated “free market”, which is indifferent to the suffering of workers who cannot earn a sufficient wage by working full time in the richest nation the world has ever known.

About My White Privilege

People like me tend not to think of ourselves as privileged by our race, but we are.

I am rich. Not in the usual American terms, of six-figure annual bonuses, Porsches, and eight-bedroom houses. I am rich in global terms, where the average income is a rather small fraction of mine.

First, let me mention some of the reasons I was never rich in American terms of income or wealth, and why that doesn’t matter.

People like me
tend not to think of ourselves
as privileged by our race,
but we are.

My father had a couple of years of college, and had a decent job as a college administrator that did not pay well. We never owned a home, but lived in a number of pleasant places. But I never felt downtrodden by poverty.

After high school I spent four hated years in the Navy (service was pretty much mandatory at the time), but my educational benefits from those years helped put me through eight years of college.

All that education did not translate to a good salary teaching college, though, mostly because college teaching jobs were scarce. We struggled to put shoes on the kids, just like everyone else. Later, I spent 17 years in the medical field, where my pay eventually made me reasonably comfortable, and left me with enviable retirement benefits.

So now I’m rich, in my own terms. But was I privileged? Am I? The answer depends on whether you define the word in terms of sheer wealth, opportunity, or something else. Much of the answer also depends on whose point of view you take.

White privilege from the viewpoint
of African-Americans is quite different.

By the typical white middle-class point of view my life has been quite average, not privileged with private schools and the like. But suppose you are an African-American looking at my life, even a very wealthy African-American. Then the answer is that I have unequivocally been privileged. Not that all doors were open to me; they weren’t, but I was never systematically excluded, nor did a police car ever came skidding up to me, cops jumping out. The worst I’ve had is security people “shopping” near me in a department store.

All this begs the point, though. The terrible scourge of slavery is a century and a half behind us, but the remnants hang on and on, in the form of bad schools and rundown neighborhoods that are difficult to escape, and virulent racial hatreds that became more obvious and unguarded in the Obama years. These social conditions are not everywhere, but they represent a failure to correct longstanding social injustice, and the surprisingly nasty racism represents a type of immaturity of far too many Americans.

Not long ago, the NYT columnist Charles M. Blow wrote about an incident his son had at Yale, where he was in his junior year. A campus cop stopped him with drawn pistol. Thankfully, the son had been carefully instructed about how to behave if stopped by the police: move slowly, do exactly as ordered. But it could easily have ended with his death, as it has so often with unarmed young black men doing nothing out of the ordinary. The son was shaken; the father was livid.

African-Americans are presumed
to be criminal solely because of
the color of their skin,
and others are not.

I recall another item from some years ago. A black senior partner of a big law firm was literally prevented from going into his own law office by a young, white junior partner who kept moving in front of him to block his way. Mind you, this was a dignified man in his fifties, wearing a suit, carrying a lawyer’s briefcase. I seem to remember this episode ending with the senior partner ordering the junior partner to appear in his office in fifteen minutes.

This is what African-Americans talk about when they speak of white privilege. Neither young Blow nor the law partner posed any threat. They were stopped because they were not white. There is scarcely a black man in the country who cannot report being confronted in some manner solely because of his skin color.

Now, the cops might have treated any of us badly—white crooks get arbitrarily beaten up too, although that is also inexcusable—but the fact is, quite literally more than once a week, some cops somewhere have brutally beaten, and often murdered, unarmed black men, with absolutely no reason for it. We’ve all seen the shocking videos. They were stopped because they were black men. They were assaulted because they were black men. They were arrested because they were black men. And far, far too often, they were killed because they were black men. Or black women. Or black children. It seems endless.

Even the Great Texas Motorcycle Shootout of hundreds of biker thugs who had a thousand weapons between them did not end in a police bloodbath. Was it because none of them were black?

African-Americans are presumed to be criminal solely because of the color of their skin, and others are not. These kinds of things are what they are talking about when they speak of white privilege.

What Inequality Means

Because of our terrible history of slavery, we cannot separate inequality from race. Slavery seems like a long time ago, but evidence shows that all kinds of repression are very slow to heal all over the world. That said, when we talk about inequality, we also speak of class, which affects all races.

Inequality begins with a child born to poor parents, which means in a bad city neighborhood or rural area. Poverty is everywhere. Homes are rundown and unsafe. Crime is common. Jobs are scarce. Schools are underfunded. The police are abusive. It’s not his fault. He just got here.

Each of these factors works its unhappy effects on him in turn. The child may be born underweight. He may be malnourished as an infant. These are classic signs of poverty that can affect him his entire life. If his mother failed to learn the dangers of alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs to her unborn infant, he may even be brain damaged. If there is lead in his environment he probably will be brain damaged. None of these things are his fault.

Inequality begins with a child
born to poor parents.

Even if his brain is normal, school may be chaos because of those who were brain damaged, or whose home life is chaotic and abusive. The school is probably underfunded, because we fund rich districts highest, from property tax on the propertied. If there is never enough food at home, learning will be difficult. There may be dangers out of school because of local crime. As he passes into later grades, he may be bullied or threatened.

This is what inequality means. It means that no matter what a kid is like, no matter how bright or talented, getting a good education begins with difficulty and gets worse. Everything conspires against him. Even when he does everything right, he might still be robbed, beat up, shot, or assaulted by police.

Inequality is a policy choice.

But suppose he does manage to survive all these dangers, and graduates from high school with good grades. He is a kid who should go on to college, but this may or may not be possible, depending on his family situation. The new graduate may have no choice but to go to work.

But there are often few jobs in such places, and those that do exist are often low wage and part time. There is no future in such jobs, and they cannot lift you from poverty.

That’s what inequality means.

Inequality is a policy choice. We can either try to arrange our society to encourage equality, or we can do what we’ve been doing for the last few generations: give all the money to people who have absolutely no need of it. Giving it to the rich dooms millions to remain poor all their lives.

Equality cannot be earned by the poor.
Hard work has nothing to do with it.

Equality cannot be earned by the poor, particularly at minimum wage. Hard work has nothing to do with it. Equality has to come about as the result of deliberate governmental policies encouraging equality. Further, given the gross inequality that characterizes life in the US today, equality cannot be achieved in reasonable time by anything less than policy designed to overcompensate for inequality, because inequality has grown steadily worse over the past four decades as a result of deliberate policy choices.

A report in the NYT offers hope that a policy of moving the poor to better locations can help them rise from poverty, especially in the next generation. This is new and encouraging information. The trouble is, we don’t know exactly what a better location consists of. The policy doesn’t work very well in some cities and neighborhoods, and we don’t know why.

Inequality has nothing to do
with welfare benefits.

Life is a daily struggle for the poor. Their lives may be completely upended by any of a number of events over which they have no control. Billionaire Wall Street criminals brought many families down in 2009. Someone in the family may have a cancer that, without national health care, drains away every dollar, and postpones educational plans for at least a generation. They may be killed by crossfire, or simply unable to find work after many months of searching.

Republican presidential hopefuls think the poor have no incentive to find work because welfare benefits are so generous. They believe all these millions of people who can’t find a decent job have to do is buckle down and quit being lazy. Their belief is simply not true. You can’t work your way out of poverty with a part-time, low-wage job even if you find one, and welfare benefits are bare-bones and temporary.

Many people who have initiated programs to help such people have found their charges frustrated and discouraged when, day after day, week after week, they are unable to find any work at all, with no evidence they might eventually succeed. Almost all of us would lose heart under the circumstances. Millions of people are trapped in low wage jobs that mean they will always be poor, no matter how hard they work.

Our policy is to pretend that poverty
is the fault of those trapped in it from birth.

Inequality is a deliberate policy choice, one that has put the richest country the world has ever seen on an ever-worsening downward path, while the rich accumulate ever more money that is absolutely useless to them, and the party of the rich does everything it can to make it worse.

The Schools Aren’t Broken—Society Is

Those who believe private enterprise and the free market are the answer to all the world’s problems claim public schools are everything but what they actually are—one of the crown jewels of American democracy, the most efficient and effective way to bring education to the 319,000,000 of us, an institution whose superiority is recognized the world over. They are doing a great job. That’s not where the problems are.

If we want to see improvement in the schools, we have to quit beating down the regular people who sell stuff to us, deliver our packages, shelve our groceries, and so on. It doesn’t help to close “failing” schools or fire teachers because of test scores, because that’s not the problem—not to mention that our scores have shown nothing but consistent improvement. The problem is that regular folks can’t earn a living.

All we have to do
to see great improvement is
quit beating down the regular people.

Almost all the problems with schools come from poverty, not from the schools. Poverty is so pervasive and deep in the US that the poor universally feel hopeless. Why care about what you learn in school when everything in your life tells you that it will not matter?

The answer is super simple: pay a Living Wage, and in time the schools and their students will improve. “In time” is the operative term here. Results will take at least one generation, and will not result from standardized tests. This makes it very difficult for politicians whose time horizon is never beyond the next election.

Almost all the problems with schools
come from poverty.

The fact is that we are doing everything except what we must do in our effort to fix the problems in our schools. Notice that I did not say the problem “with” our schools. That’s because the problems arrive with the students on Day One, and began long before that. They don’t get enough to eat. Their family life is turmoil. There is never enough money in the house to buy necessities, in spite of the fact that the adults in the house work full time. Their neighborhood, urban, suburban, or rural, has too much crime, too much violence, too many drug dealers, all the usual problems of poverty. In the US, 1 out of 4 children are poor, which is an appalling statistic.

The single most important factor in fixing everyday life and the schools is the Living Wage laws we do not have. A rather long list of advanced countries have Living Wage laws. People with any job at all in those countries are not undernourished, and all can afford a decent place to live.

If you want change,
you have to be talking about
at least one generation down the line.

As I have said before, when the poorest earn a Living Wage, they are magically transformed from welfare recipient to tax payer, a double benefit for the whole nation.

We expect the problems with public school students to evaporate with the latest influx of profit-making corporate investments that force teachers to prepare students for standardized testing, provide charter and private school supers and principals with more money than they are worth, and put the lifetime careers of devoted veteran teachers in jeopardy because their students come from chaos and deep poverty.

We expect all the problems with students
to evaporate with the latest influx
of profit-making investments.

Sorry, folks. Foundation funding to test poor students still leaves them poor, and still leaves teachers struggling to help them with not enough resources. Not to mention that standardized tests are incapable of measuring some of the most important elements of a good education.

If you want student improvement, you have to be talking about at least one generation down the line. If you want change, the newest students have to arrive in school after a good night’s sleep and a nutritious breakfast, and wearing decent clothing. And good preparation would have started long before the first day of school.

In fact, school success starts with sex ed in the previous generation. It is absolutely essential that every child learn about human reproduction and understand the responsibilities and dangers inherent in sex. When a young woman becomes pregnant, it is often because of ignorance, and she is also likely to be ignorant about the grave dangers to her child from alcohol, smoking, and drugs. When she does know these things, she is far less likely to become a teenage mother in the first place, and when she eventually does become pregnant, her child stands a far better chance of doing well in school, and thus in life. There is an endless progression of the young, and each new kid needs to learn these things.

We are failing because
we fail to understand
that nobody can survive
on $7.25 an hour.

However, delivery of a normal weight infant with no developmental injuries is only the first step. It’s important, but what happens after that is only minimally under the control of the new parents if they can’t earn a decent living. Absent a Living Wage, the child is more likely to be undernourished, and to have difficulty learning.

Much of the rest depends on us, and we are failing because somehow we don’t understand that nobody can survive on $7.25 an hour, which will not pay the rent in any city in the country, let alone provide other necessities of life, like food, shelter, clothing, and health care. We endlessly debate whether we should do anything about minimum wage, which is rather like standing around and debating whether we should administer CPR to the unconscious kid we pulled out of the pool.

Yeah, but what about the lousy teachers? There are teachers who should be fired forthwith, and the teacher unions exist only to keep them on. Obviously, the unions are preventing progress, and should be ended as well. That’s what testing does.

Except that’s exactly wrong. There have been highly effective teacher evaluation systems functioning for many years. One such program is called PAR. In such systems the unions and administrators work together to identify ineffective teachers, help them improve, or move them out of the system if they can’t. It works well.

I have mentioned only the poor. The middle class counts too, of course, but it is the lowest earners who count most. When the poor can earn a living, the middle class will find itself boosted by the bootstraps of the formerly poor. The students will be OK, and the schools will be too.