The Following is a guest post from Baker of That’s Just Peachy:
A few of you may know who I am, but in case you do not I am the editor of Georgia’s best (only?) news aggregation site, That’s Just Peachy. As hopefully evidenced by the site, I am interested in politics and the potential Georgia has to be a leading state in the country.
So, a few days ago when Charlie posted an item regarding a panel discussion Wednesday evening brought to us by the Charles Koch Institute called “Climbing the Ladder: Overcoming Obstacles to Achieving the American Dream” I was intrigued.
One thing that caught my eye was that the panel discussion was to be moderated by Atlanta’s own Alexis Scott. For those who may not know, Ms. Scott was the longtime publisher of the Atlanta Daily World and the Georgia Gang’s resident self-proclaimed “bleeding-heart liberal”, so having her moderate a discussion hosted in some sense by the left’s favorite bogeyman was a can’t miss opportunity. By the end of the hour-long discussion, I was frankly impressed by Ms. Scott’s self-control at not jumping in when some particularly libertarian points were put forward. (She may be my “Winner of the Week”)
The panel consisted of:
- Max Borders, Editor, The Freeman & Director of Content, Foundation for Economic Education
- Benita Dodd, Vice President, Georgia Public Policy Foundation
- Richard V. Reeves, Fellow, Economic Studies & Policy Director, Center on Children and Families, Brookings Institution
- Doug Shipman, Chief Executive Officer, National Center for Civil and Human Rights
Borders and Dodd were the two libertarian-minded folks, Reeves and Shipman balancing it out from the left. The sense I got of the audience in the room was a good mix of conservatives and liberals, old and young, black and white. The room was not full but for getting a decent size group of people together to listen to policy wonks on a Wednesday it was pretty good.
The panel touched on a wide swath of topics, from the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow in the south, to education, the success or lack thereof of welfare programs and criminal justice reform (probably the one point the whole panel agreed upon).
Out of the gate, Benita suggested that a large reason for the poverty trap is the breakdown of the family. Borders talked about crony capitalism, even mentioning Atlanta’s little stadium kerfuffle as evidence of misplaced priorities.
Reeves made the point that when talking about climbing the ladder, we have to narrow down what we are talking about. Are we trying to help those already on the welfare rolls or the children of those on the welfare rolls? He cited a statistic that those born in the lower 20% of earners have only a 5% chance to make it into the top 20% of earners (he did not mention how many make it to other quintiles). Because of this and other facts, Reeves suggests the U.S. is not really a meritocracy.
Different policies are needed to help kids in poverty versus adults and Reeves stressed that helping the children was the most important piece of the argument and that poor education is the central problem, noting that he moved a few hundred yards inside the border of Maryland outside of D.C. because the schools are amazing while D.C. schools languish at the bottom. A question from the audience suggested that the problem begins before kids even get to school and Reeves suggested possible solutions of pre-K or home visitations. Benita emphasized the importance of charter schools on helping poor and minorities get out of poor-performing school districts and that your “zip code shouldn’t define your education.”
Borders made the interesting point that because of our robust welfare state, he thinks we’ve lost the central core of community engagement. The belief that the welfare state will come and help out the poor has given people the false-confidence that the problem is being addressed by the government and they can put it out of their mind (A look at Europe’s charitable giving would seem to confirm this theory). The only way to really lift people up is with empowered communities, through active citizen groups.
The one point that Benita kept coming back to was that the government is not a person, it cannot save people; it takes responsible parents and a message of responsibility for people to move out of poor situations.
Personally, I felt like the discussion could’ve gone on much longer, but I’m a politics nerd. In any case, I thought the discussion was great and look forward to the next event like it. We all know about Americans for Prosperity and, for conservatives at least, the great work they do, but I encourage everyone to keep an eye out for other events from the Charles Koch Institute and the work they do on promoting discussion and solutions for economic freedom and mobility.
There is now a YouTube video of the whole forum.