Thomas Frank is well-known for his earlier book What's the Matter With Kansas?, which contained, among other things, the unforgettable image of the peasants armed with their pitchforks storming the castle and shouting, in a furious rage, "We won't take it anymore! We demand cuts in the marginal tax rates of the rich!" Now Frank has published a new book, Listen, Liberal, or Whatever Happened to the Party of the People. I have ordered it [the publication date is actually next Tuesday], and will say more about it when I have read it. What motivated me was a very interesting review in the Washington Post
The reviewer, Carol Lozada, writes in part:
"Bill Clinton was often described as the leader of his generation,” Frank writes, “but it’s more accurate to say he was the leader of a particular privileged swath of his age group — the leader of a class.” He ran as a populist alternative to George H.W. Bush, but once in office, Frank complains, he bowed to financial markets, globalization, and the professional class and self-serving meritocracy that this Arkansas boy had joined at Georgetown, Oxford and Yale.
There is much more, and, as I say, I shall write about it after I read the book. But just this much prompted me once again to write about something I have returned to on this blog on several occasions, namely the fallacy, fully embraced by so many "serious" people, that the scandal of income inequality can somehow be addressed by improving the educational attainments of those at the lower end of the income hierarchy.
This, as I have often pointed out, is an example of what we in Philosophy call the Fallacy of Composition -- the mistake of inferring, from the fact that something is true of each member of a group, that it is therefore true of all members of the group together. [Example: From the fact that each member of a concert audience could be the first person to leave when the concert is ended, inferring that therefore all members of the audience could together leave first.]
It is certainly true of any particular person in the American workforce that improving his or her educational credentials [not at all the same thing as learning more, of course] is a good way of improving his or her employment chances and probable income. There is a really cool BLS chart illustrating this.
But, as I have frequently observed on this blog, if all the unskilled laborers in America go to night school and earn MBAs, employers will not respond by eliminating the jobs now held by the unskilled workers and instead create millions of new upper and middle management positions in their firms.
I am reminded of my experience in the army at Fort Devons in 1957. Here is what I wrote in my Memoir:
"When I got to Devens, I discovered that I had been placed in a training platoon of six monthers lodged within a regular Army Company. My platoon mates were all members of the Mass National Guard, and many of them were college graduates. Our first sergeant was Dooley, a bullet-headed by-the-book lifer who actually was a college graduate himself. When he heard that I had a Ph. D., he set me to work typing passes for the men in the platoon. Josephs came in and asked to help, telling Dooley that he had an M. A. Dooley was unimpressed, and told him to sweep the floor."
More on this topic when I have read Frank's book.